10 small towns in Africa to add to your bucket-list

Posted by Chloe Cowley on 24 March 2022

Africa is culturally rich and steeped in history, with an abundance of different places to visit and explore. We have compiled a list of 10 quirky towns that you can add to your bucket list. From desert towns in Namibia and tropical beaches in Mozambique to cool high-altitude getaways in Zimbabwe – here are our top picks.

If you want to venture a little closer to home, then you can check out our article on South Africa’s favourite small towns and see what adventures each town has on offer.

1. Tofo, Mozambique 

Tofo, Mozambique. Picture: Wikimedia Commons / Martijn Munneke

If you love the beach, this is the spot for you. Tofo is an awesome small beach town with a population of  just over 5 000 people. Located in the Inhambane province, it boasts an 8km stretch of sandy beach.

Tofo has some of the best scuba diving in the world and the warm Indian Ocean is the perfect spot to give it a go. Fishermen can go deep-sea fishing and if you’d prefer to stay closer to shore, you can give surfing a go in Tofinho or explore the quaint town via horseback, on trails through the villages and dunes. If you’re lucky you might even spot some dolphins or whales in the surf.

For those who just want to relax and eat good food, there are plenty of bars and restaurants that offer cold beers and cocktails as well as fresh and delicious seafood. If you’re up for some retail therapy, you could browse the small markets for handmade crafts that you might want to take home as souvenirs.

2. Luderitz, Namibia 

Luderitz, Namibia. Picture: Flickr Commons / VoY TeC

Lüderitz, once named Angra Pequena by the Portuguese navigator Bartolomeu Dias who stopped there in 1487 is a small town on the coast. With a population of 14 000, Lüderitz later became a booming mining town after diamonds were discovered in the Namib Desert during the construction of a railway line in 1908. You can visit the Lüderitz Museum to look at old artefacts and learn more about the town’s long history.

The town showcases some of the finest examples of German architecture and can be explored by boat or on a four-wheel-drive vehicle. For a surreal experience, you can visit the Kolmanskop ghost town that has been engulfed by the desert sand after it was abandoned many years ago. It must be noted that visitors need a permit to explore this area.

The town is also home to one of the oldest Lutheran churches in the country. Constructed in the 1910s, Felsenkirche has beautiful stained-glass windows that take your breath away. Among these historical adventures, there are also delicious restaurants to dine at, as well as the Agate beach to enjoy a day in the sun.

3. Watamu, Kenya 

Watamu Beach, Kenya. Picture: Wikimedia Commons / Jenny Kellett

Watamu is about 105km north of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast. Its main economic activities include fishing and tourism. This small town has 27 857 inhabitants and is known for its picturesque white sandy beaches and coral formations that make up different bays and beaches. Some of these include Turtle Bay and Garoda Beach which are protected as part of the Watamu Marine National Park. This Marine Park is said to have some of the best snorkelling and diving on the coast of East Africa, so if you want to get up close and personal with incredible marine life, this is your place.

Watamu has a lot on offer. To immerse yourself in some history you can take a visit to the Ruins of Gedi where you can explore the fascinating remnants of a medieval Swahili coastal settlement. Visitors can bird watch in a canoe down the Mida Creek or even visit the Watamu Reptile Centre to get a close look at some of the world’s most deadly snakes.

If you are looking for a way to stretch your body and clear your mind in a magical environment, you can visit the Watamu Treehouse for sunset yoga and freshly pressed juice.

4. Nyanga, Zimbabwe 

Mutarazi Falls, Nyanga, Zimbabwe. Picture: Flickr Commons / Andrew Ashton

For those looking to escape the heat and experience an extremely relaxing country getaway in a cosy cottage or hotel, Nyanga should be on the list. This high-altitude town surrounded by the mountains of the Manicaland Province in Zimbabwe is immersed in nature and has many freshwater lakes perfect for trout fishing or canoeing.

This small town has a population of 2 973 and is one of the most scenic areas of Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands. Be sure to pack your camera if you like to take pictures because there are many untouched hiking trails with wonderful waterfalls and viewpoints. The town is home to the highest peak in Zimbabwe, Mount Nyangani, which has a challenging hike to the top but breathtaking views.

To experience the Mutarazi Falls, the second-highest waterfall in Africa, you can take The Sky Walk over two suspension bridges that reach up to 90m above the entire Falls. It’s not for the faint-hearted but is worth the unforgettable experience. If you’re a little braver, you can go on The Sky Line zipline which takes you 500m above the waterfall for a 15-minute, adrenaline-filled glide through nature.

5. Aus, Namibia 

Aus Church, Namibia. Picture: Flickr Commons / jbdodane

Aus lies on a railway line in the Aus mountains overlooking the plains of the Namib Desert in the ǁKaras Region of southern Namibia. The town only has a population of 1 066 and has an interesting history for those who like to learn about the past. The village used to be a prisoner of war camp, established by the South African army in 1915 during the First World War to keep German inmates. Travellers can visit the remains of the prisoner of war camp.

Despite its dark past, Aus is also known for its wild horse population that roams freely through the desert. There are between 90 to 150 Namib Desert Horses in Aus, so keep an eye out if you visit and you might be lucky enough to spot one. There is beautiful accommodation in Aus such as The Desert Horse Inn and if you like to go mountain biking, the Gondwana Sperrgebiet Rand Park has great trails to explore. The park is also perfectly good for walking and you can learn all about the beautiful scenery, flora and fauna.

6. Vilanculos, Mozambique 

Vilanculos, Mozambique. Picture: Wikimedia Commons / Cornelius Kibelka

Vilanculos is a popular tourist destination and is just 750km north of Mozambique’s capital, Maputo. It has a population of 24 433 people and is easily accessible via tarred roads suitable for most vehicles. Situated on the mainland, this is the ideal beach destination with many places to stay, ranging from hotels and lodges to self-catering resorts.

Just across the bay is a magnificent chain of islands in a marine national park called the Bazaruto Archipelago. It is perfect for snorkelling safaris where people often see manta rays, whale sharks and turtles. When the water is clear, visibility can be up to 40m and if you’re extremely lucky, you might spot a rare Dugong. For a more rustic adventure, sail out over the crystal waters onboard a dhow (a local sailing boat).

The food is just as great as the snorkelling in Vilanculos and there are many markets where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Restaurants also serve delicious Portuguese food along with the famous Mozambican prawns, which are often enjoyed with an ice-cold local beer.

7. Nkhata Bay, Malawi 

Nkhata Bay, Malawi. Picture: Flickr Commons / David Berger

Over 150 years ago, Nkhata Bay was reached by David Livingstone on his African expedition and is the most northerly point on Lake Malawi. This bustling port town is often described as having a ‘Caribbean’ feel and has an incredible craft market that visitors can explore. Lake Malawi has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1984 and is Africa’s third-largest and second-deepest lake.

With a population of 14 270 people, this town has plenty of small shops, restaurants, bars and ATMs. There is a stunning sand beach called Chikale that has a choice of beautiful lodges where visitors can stay. The lake is a great spot for a swim as the water is clear and inviting. You could even learn how to dive at the Aqua Africa Dive School or relax on the beach with a drink in hand while you catch a tan.

8. Siwa, Egypt 

Siwa Oasis, Egypt. Picture: Wikimedia Commons / Mohammed Moussa

The Siwa Oasis is an urban oasis in the Western Desert between the Qattara Depression and the Great Sand Sea. It is only 50km from the Libyan border and although the drive there is long, it is considered worth it as this place is the hidden gem in Egypt. The oasis, with a population of 33 000 is famous for its palm trees, olive trees and stunning crystal-clear salt lakes.

Despite being known for its natural beauty, the oasis is also steeped in Egyptian history and there are many ancient attractions to see. The Temple of the Oracle dates back to 2000 BC and it was once believed that it could tell you your future. It is said that Alexander The Great even paid a visit to it. The ruins of The Shali Fortress, built to protect the Siwans from outside attacks in the 13th century, was made of salt and clay and is a fascinating piece of ancient architecture for visitors to explore.

If you’d like to cool off from the desert heat, tourists can take a dip in the crystal clear emerald-coloured Siwa Salt Quarry. This quarry has a higher water-to-salt ratio than the famous Dead Sea.

9. Grand Baie, Mauritius 

Grand Baie, Mauritius . Picture: Flickr Commons / J. Philipp Krone

Grand Baie, otherwise known as Grand Bay, is a coastal village in Mauritius with a population of 11 910. The village is a very popular tourist destination and is well suited for any holiday-goer looking for a beach destination with a lot of different things to do. There are many luxury hotels and resorts to lounge at and white sandy beaches to relax on.

If you’re looking to break up a beach day with retail therapy, Grand Baie should be on the bucket list as there are many fashion stores and craft shops in Port Louis to browse through. For the adventure-seekers, you can windsurf, jet ski or sail over the incredible Indian Ocean. There are also fun activities to do with the kids such as a cruise on a glass-bottom boat or even an adventure beneath the surface in a submarine.

For a full-day adventure, there’s even the option to hop onto a catamaran cruise where you can expect to see more of the coastline and perhaps be lucky enough to swim with dolphins.

10. Manakara, Madagascar 

Manakara, Madagascar, collapsed bridge. Picture: Wikimedia Commons / Hardscarf

Manakara is on the east coast of Madagascar and is known for its traditional paper made from the bark of the araho tree. There is a population of 44 234 who live in the town that is surrounded by farmland where many products are farmed, including coffee, coconuts, vanilla and pepper.

Manakara has a small port and a beautiful waterfront and although the water looks inviting, swimming in the sea is not recommended as the currents are strong and you may bump into a few sharks.

Visitors can paddle down the Canal des Pangalanes in a local canoe and get to see and photograph all the quaint villages on the way, or even spend the day at a water- or theme park. There are also fascinating nature reserves to visit and boat rides that visitors can enjoy. Tourists will also notice an abundance of fruit and spice trees growing along roads and paths. In the evenings there is a vibrant nightlife with a good choice of bars and clubs to visit.

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