The massive continent of Africa is home to more than 1.2 billion people, has 54 countries, the longest river in the world and the largest-remaining populations of lions, elephants, rhinoceros, cheetahs, hyenas and leopards. Humans have lived here for nearly 7 million years, archaeologists believe.
It's a huge place, and rich with history, culture, wildlife and both natural and man-made wonders. You probably won't get to see it all, but you've got to start somewhere. To help you narrow it down, here are some of the top destinations and things to do in Africa, based on TripAdvisor's Traveler's Choice Awards, and suggestions culled from Africa.com.
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The rich cultural heritage of Marrakech is expressed in its museums, architecture, markets, gardens and fascinating history. The cuisine is unique-Mediterranean with Arab and Jewish influences. Gardens and green spaces are everywhere in the city.
Pictured are the Saadian tombs, sepulchres that date to the late 1500s. They were abandoned for centuries, then rediscovered in 1917 and restored.
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Stroll through the souks of Marrakech and take in the beautiful crafts, from leather goods, woodwork, metalwork (shown above) clothing and other items.
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Don't miss the El Mouassine mosque, the Berber Art Museum and the medina (old quarter) and its souks, rich with the scent of spices. There's top-notch golf in Marrakech, too.
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Zanzibar Island, Zanzibar
The beautiful Zanzibar archipelago is just 15 miles off the coast of Tanzania. Stone Town, above, Zanzibar City's historic center on the island, is one of the oldest cities in the world and a World Heritage site.
There's evidence of trade with Zanzibar going back more than 4,000 years ago, and likely people lived here 20,000 years ago. Pictured is a typical narrow street in Stone Town.
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Escape to beautiful, white sand beaches with clear, turquoise water and shallow sandbars perfect for wading. There are several tiny fishing villages, and many nearly deserted islands. Visit the Chole Island Marine Park just off Stone Town -- and nearby Prison, Grave, and Snake Islands, too.
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This medieval walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to the oldest university in the world. Wander the maze-like ancient medina and see the Gates of Fes, with their distinctive Moroccan tile work.
In Fes you'll see extraordinary handmade leather goods made here. Above, vats for dying leather in the tannery, within the walls of the ancient city.
Photo: Agnieszka Zalewska / Shutterstock
Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town, at the southern tip of the African continent, features beautiful beaches and amazing botanical gardens. Hike in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve or visit the prison where Nelson Mandela was held for 27 years.
Take a cable car to the top of Table Mountain, where you can see sweeping views of the city. See penguins on Boulders Beach, above, one of the few places where African penguins can be observed at close range. The penguins live incongruously in the middle of a residential area and wander freely in a protected area.
A port town and resort on the Atlantic, Essaouira features Portuguese, French and Berber architecture and maze-like streets. An 18th-century walled fortress, this is another World Heritage site.
Enjoy the beaches here, which are popular among surfers. Essaouira is generally less hectic than Marrakech, which is just a daytrip away.
Kenya's capital city of 3.1 million has a lively nightlife and music scene and is the main jumping-off point for safari trips. Pictured is a summer music festival, Blankets and Wine, in Nairobi.
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Close to Nairobi are the Karen Blixen Museum (she wrote "Out of Africa") the Giraffe Centre, above, and Nairobi National Park, a good place to see wildlife.
This Tanzanian city sits at the foot of Africa's highest peak, the 19,341-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro, within the Great Rift Valley, and is surrounded by a number of national parks. Arusha is another good launching point for some of the best wildlife safaris, where you can tour Serengeti National Park, above, Tarangire National Park, and Lake Manyara.
The region around Arusha is home to the semi-nomadic Maasai people, some of whom lead safaris or offer stays in their villages.
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Overstrand, South Africa
This area on the Atlantic coast of South Africa between Cape Town and Cape Agulhas includes the towns of Hermanus and Kleinmond. It is a top whale-watching spot. It has beaches, as well as vineyards and wineries and a scenic seaside golf course, seen here.
Nearby Gansbaai is known as a good spot for seeing, or if you dare, swimming with great white sharks, above. The Whale House at the Old Harbour Museum houses a skeleton of a whale.
Grand Baie, Mauritius
Grand Baie is a seaside village in northern Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean. It has a popular tourist beach, lively restaurants, and a natural harbor, and is a good spot for swimming, sailing, windsurfing, and water skiing, as well as a departure point for deep-sea fishing trips and boat excursions to other nearby islands.
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Visitors will enjoy the crafts and fashions in the shops in Grand Baie. Above, the ornately carved Tamil Surya Oudaya Sangam Temple on the island, where sometimes you can see monkeys.
The largest waterfall in the world is also one of its greatest natural wonders. It roars on the Zambezi River on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. The waterfall is more than a kilometer wide and 328 feet high. There are several vantage points to see it. According to the Zambia tourist site, visas for entry into both countries are available at all major ports of entry.
A rock lip at the top of the imposing Victoria Falls forms a natural pool, known as Devil's Pool. When water levels are low, people are sometimes allowed to swim in Devil's Pool (with a guide).
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If you visit Victoria Falls at night on a full moon, you might see a lunar rainbow, shown here.
In one trip you get the best of both worlds. Take off on one of these bush-to-beach trips from Tanzania, Mozambique, Kenya, Namibia, Madagascar, or South Africa. See a variety of wildlife on an inland safari, such as lions, cheetahs, elephants, zebra, giraffes, hippos and wildebeest. Above is Ngorongoro Crater National Park in Tanzania.
Afterward, you'll head to a beautiful tropical beach on the coast where you can swim, surf, fish, or just relax.
The Bwindi Forest National Park in Uganda and Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park are the top choices for seeing gorillas, according to Africa.com. It's called gorilla trekking because you'll have to hike quite a few hours with a guide into the forest to find these shy, mountain-dwelling primates.
See the Sahara Desert
The massive desert spans 11 countries, including Egypt, Morocco, Libya, Algeria, Mauritania, Chad, Niger, Mali, Tunisia, Western Sahara, and Sudan. Most tourists enter through Morocco and Egypt. These golden sand dunes of Erg Chebbi are in Morocco.
You can see the Sahara by taking a boat cruise along the Nile River or a camel ride at dusk, when you can see abundant wildlife and an astonishingly starry sky. Pictured is the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou in Morocco, a World Heritage site.
Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro
Though it is one of the highest mountains in the world, you don't need technical skill or gear to hike to the top of the 19,341-foot Kilimanjaro.
However, a trip up Kilimanjaro should not be taken lightly - it can take at least a week to get to the top, there are several routes, the weather is tricky, and there's not a lot of oxygen at 19,000 feet. Most people use a guide to make the trek.
See the Egyptian Pyramids
The largest and best preserved of these ancient tombs of pharaohs are at Giza, and were built around 4,500 years ago. The largest was over 480 feet tall when it was first built. The Sphinx, which faces the sunrise and guards the pyramid, is 241 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 66 feet high.