Travel & Places Africa & Middle East

My Favorite Small Towns in Africa

Many visitors to Africa come for the wildlife, beaches and ancient sites. A few cities such as Cape Town, Marrakech, Fez and Cairo also draw tourists in their own right, but you don't often associate Africa with urban culture that's worth a trip in itself. However, that's not to say there aren't some absolutely lovely little towns that should be included in your travel itinerary! Here are some of my favorites, click through and you'll soon find out why.

1. Chefchaoeun, Morocco

Chefchaouen is situated in the heart of Morocco's Rif Mountains. Chefchaouen (sometimes called Chaouen) is relaxed, with very affordable accommodations, and above all, quite stunning to look at. The streets and most of the buildings in the old part of town (medina) are painted a most brilliant sky blue. The mountains which you can see at the end of every cobbled street are rugged and majestic. The clear mountain light just adds a magical touch to the place. It's no wonder that Chefchaouen is a favorite destination for backpackers visiting Morocco. The main square in the medina is lined with cafes and filled to the brim with locals and tourist mingling easily.You'll feel like you are in a very foreign place with all the delights that entails.More »

2. Stellenbosch, South Africa

Stellenbosch is a wonderful university town in South Africa's Western Cape. Settled by the Dutch almost 400 years ago, this little town is packed with historic gems. Stellenbosch lies just an hour drive outside of Cape Town and is best known for it's fabulous vineyards and top notch restaurants. There are over 100 wine cellars to enjoy in the surrounding areas, but don't miss out on the town itself. A wonderful "bites and sites" walking tour guided by Hanli is the perfect introduction to the cultural, gastronomic and historic delights of Stellenbosch. Stay at D'Ouwe Werf for the night, and enjoy South Africa's oldest hotel.

3. Livingstone, Zambia

Livingstone is the closest town to the Victoria Falls on the Zambian side. The Victoria Falls are of course the main reason people come to town, and there are lots of decent budget places to stay. I love this town as it reminds me a little of Blantyre (Malawi) where I grew during the 1970's. The Livingstone Museum is a wonderful little gem of a place to visit, lots of interesting facts about the explorer, but also about the rich culture of Zambia. The mains streets in town are lined with little shops, curio markets, and local restaurants. Apart from all the usual fun activities at the Falls, you can also explore a little more of the local culture in the area. I did a wonderful cooking tour, that included shopping for live chickens at the local market.More »

4. Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia

Sidi Bou Said is a lovely town just north of Tunis, located on top of a steep cliff overlooking the Mediterranean. The cobbled streets are lined with art shops, souvenir stalls and cafe's. Brilliant blue doors are framed with white-washed walls, draped in fragrant, cascading flowers. It's just a beautiful place to explore. Sidi Bou Said has inspired artists like Paul Klee and writer André Gide. Sidi Bou Said has one of the best boutique hotels in Tunisia, the Dar Said. It's a good place to base yourself if you want visit Tunis and explore the Roman ruins of Carthage. There are also some very nice restaurants with excellent views.More »

5. Arusha, Tanzania

Most visitors spend just a quick night in Arusha before venturing out to some of Tanzania's top attractions including Mount Kilimanjaro, The Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti -- all a few hours drive away. But taking an extra day to enjoy Arusha town is well worth it. There's a very good colorful vegetable market, where Maasai mingle with Indian traders and local Meru, to bargain for tomatoes and potatoes. The Arusha Cultural Heritage Center has some interesting arts and crafts on display (and for sale) There are some lovely coffee plantations close to town where you can enjoy lunch and great views. A quick game drive in Arusha National Park will give you an excellent safari experience to get you in the mood for greater things to come. Arusha's many stores offer better prices on curios, t-shirts and and carvings than you'll get at the more "tourist" craft centers when you get closer to the Crater and Serengeti. Buying local coffee and tea at the supermarket is the best way to go for authentic, cheap gifts to bring home! Stay at the African Tulip or Arusha Hotel for an easy walk into town.More »

6. Stone Town, Zanzibar

Stone Town is one of the oldest living Swahili towns in East Africa. It's unique winding, narrow streets are adorned with (some crumbling) beautiful buildings. Established by Arab slave and spice traders in the early 19th century, Stone Town is the cultural heart of Zanzibar. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site which has enabled some of the beautiful houses to get much needed renovation. It's right on the Indian ocean and faces Tanzania's mainland and commercial capital, Dar es Salaam (easy ferry crossings). It's good to get a guide for at least half a day when you're exploring town, just to get a better insight into what you are seeing, but also to keep a few hawkers at bay! An evening Dhow cruise is wonderful too. The Serena in Stone Town is one of my favorite places to stay. If you can time it, try to catch the annual Sauti za Busara Music Festival (February).More »

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