From the shores of the Mediterranean to the snows of Kilimanjaro; from mountain gorillas to whale sharks, and from rafting to pony trekking, we've sifted the highlights of this extraordinarily rich and diverse continent to bring you the best of the best. And if that wasn't enough of a challenge, we've also graded them, from No. 50 to No. 1. Controversial? We hope so. Part of the magic of Africa is that it stirs such strong emotions – so let us know what your No. 1 is. Are we way off the mark? What's on your African dream list?
Here follows the Top 40-31
40. Take a trip to Timbuktu
Because it's there? Because of the singular sense of absenteeism its name evokes? I say yes, others would differ - a few years ago, Bob Geldof dropped in, took a quick look around and asked: 'Is that it?' Yet the old town's 13th century mosques retain the organic beauty characteristic of the West Sudanese style. The 15,000 manuscripts collected in the CEDRAB Foundation give tangible form to Timbuktu's medieval status as a remote centre of Islamic scholarship.
And a camelback ride with the Tuareg into the surrounding Sahara - which stretches northward like a sandy ocean all the way to the Mediterranean - brings with it the realisation that what Timbuktu is figuratively today, so was it literally in medieval times. To the Arabian trade caravans of that era, the phrase 'going to Timbuktu' would have implied crossing the Sahara to the very end of the world as they knew it. - Philip Briggs
39. Dive the reefs of the Red Sea
Ras Mohammed seems like just another bit of desert until I bail off the back of a dive boat into the cobalt-blue offshore. The vista before me stretches left and right while I dangle, suspended in hundreds of feet of clear blue nothing. Barracuda circle below while I cruise past coral outcrops, reef walls, the remains of a wreck and an anemone city with hordes of emerging clownfish.
In one dive, the smorgasbord of what the underwater world offers is laid out before me in all its glory, from giant Napoleon wrasse to tiny sea slugs. Diving in the Red Sea is like opening a gift: I'm never sure what I'll get but I’m always smiling when I'm done. - Andrew Woodburn
38. Stand in the Awe of Ramses II
There were only ten passengers on the boat for our sunset cruise to the Great Temple of Ramses II. Dwarfed figuratively and physically by the spectacle in front of us, few spoke as the final rays of light played on the colossal statues of the great pharaoh.
Then, when the sun finally sank, a guard appeared with a huge brass key and let us wander inside. By torchlight I saw the famous reliefs and then the sanctuary where Ramses' statue sits among the gods, lit by the rising sun's rays every 21st February and 21st October. Back outside, our little group stood uncertainly in the shadow of the facade. After three thousand years, Ramses still demands awe. - Siona Jenkins
36. Witness the desert in flower
From a pass high in the Kamiesberg mountains there was a brief, tantalizing view of the Atlantic Ocean – searing blue against the tawny haze of Africa. But I didn’t stop. My sights were set on the road’s edge and beyond, into the fields and arid plains of Namaqualand, where swathes of copper-coloured daisies glowed like fresh magma.
I was driving through one of the world’s greatest wildflower spectacles, where each spring (following good rains), the bleached desert turns technicolour. Over 4000 species join the floral riot – from ground-hugging, fleshy-leaved succulents to the dramatic, metre-tall flowering spikes of the yellow katsterte, each one glowing like the trail of a firework rocket.
But the show-stealers were the daisies – each one a mini-miracle, enduring summer’s torment as dormant seeds, germinating after winter rains and then flowering and setting seed in spring before wilting and dying. - William Gray
35. Meet Africa's Ocean Giants
There is no greater thrill than a close encounter with some of the world's largest sea creatures. Being able to swim with whale sharks, manta rays and humpback whales all in one day is particularly mind-blowing. Mozambique is one of the very few places worldwide where this opportunity exists.
Witnessing the immense power of a humpback whale's rhythmic tail, leaves you gasping for breath through your snorkel. Diving with giant manta rays is like being surrounded by graceful magic carpets, while snorkelling with a peaceful, harmless whale shark (the world’s largest fish) is both sobering and emotive. - Andrew Woodburn