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Africa is not a destination - it is a point of origin. The continent holds a very special place in the psyche of the human race, and many of the earliest explorers of Africa found that once they visited, there was no return. The African land mass held them there, captivated by the beauty of its land, the wild jungles and savannahs, and the amazing mix of cultures that have flourished. Underlying the face of modern Africa, beneath the veneer of colonial artifact, is a brief glimpse at the most archetypal of human endeavors and imagination - the pyramids, tribes of Zulu and Masai, wild life red in tooth and claw. Today's visitors will often speak of how Africa is in some mysterious way a life-changing experience. At the very least, it is the experience of a lifetime.
Africa is the planet's second largest continent, with 54 countries and more than 11 million square miles of surface area. Its highest point is the snow capped Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, rising some 19,340 feet above sea level. Its longest river is the Nile, which runs more than 4,000 miles from Burundi to Egypt. Lake Victoria, Africa's largest body of water, is surrounded by Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya. The great Sahara Desert forms the northernmost boundaries to the continent, while the untamed waters surrounding South Africa are the original trading route of the former European colonialists with India, Asia and the South Pacific.
The nations that make up Africa are far from homogenous. Each has its own distinct character and attractions. From Egypt to South Africa, a vast expanse of adventure awaits.
Northern Africa is comprised of those nations boardering the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean and Atlantic Oceans, and those adjacent sub-Saharan countries. It is a varied mix of countries, some highly westernized and modern, with others steeped in more eastern tradition. Some are openly encouraging of tourism, others still reticent after years of contention with the rest of the world. There are real treasures here, with as varied a geographical and cultural landscape as any traveler could hope.
The sands of the Sahara lay atop an ancient plateau of crystalline rock, some of which is as old as the planet itself. The Atlas Mountains, extending across much of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, meets the Sahara desert which covers more than 90% of the region and form the southern range of the European Alpine system. Some sheltered valleys in the Atlas Mountains, and along the Mediterranean coast provide excellent farmland where a variety of valuable crops grow. The Atlas Mountains provide a passage between the coast and the Sahara Desert.
The great Nile River flows through one of the driest deserts on earth the narrow green Nile Valley. Home to one of the earliest civilizations in history, more than seventy million people now live along the banks of the Nile.
The ancient Berbers occupied the western area of North Africa and the Egyptians, Abyssinians and Nubians settled in the eastern regions. During the Muslim-Arab conquest of the 7th century AD, the region became largely Islamic, an event that has since defined its culture. Nomadic tribes such as the Bedouin, live a traditional pastoral lifestyle, moving their herds of sheep, goats and camels on the fringe of the great deserts.
For a while, Northern Africa was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. During the 19th century, it was colonized in turn and in various regions by France, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy. Northern Africa was the setting for several World War II campaigns including the great North African Campaign. During the decades of the 1950s and 1960s the North African states gained independence from their colonial overseers. The ownership and polity of Western Sahara remains in dispute to this day.
The sub-Saharan countries of Northern Africa are rich in mineral and oil deposits but they are equally rich in untapped points of interest that abounds in history, culture, wildlife and scenery. As sub-Saharan Northern Africa opens increasingly to travelers, its wide variety of unusual sights and experiences, from camel treks through stunning desert landscapes to hikes through jungle and riverscapes.
Southern Africa is a region of extremes, an area of vast potential and contrast. It contains that region of the world that is very likely the birthplace of all humankind, where scientists have found the first true ancestors of the human race. Southern Africa has the world's largest preserves of free-ranging animals, both carnivore and herbivore. Large jungles cover much of its topography, as well as wide-open savanna. This is the world of the safari, a word which in the native Swahili languages means "journey". Here, adventure travelers on safari see cheetah, lion, water buffalo, hippo, leopard and elephant.
Each country is remarkably different. The scenic beauty of Southern Africa, from Tanzania's Kilimanjaro to South Africa's vineyards is breathtaking. Those countries possessing a tourist infra-structure work zealously to preserve their natural gifts as a national treasure, the source of much needed wealth.
The history of Southern Africa has not been easy. The scars of colonial rule are deeper here than any place on earth. Once the great colonial powers left the continent, the political vacuum quickly resulted in desperate political strife between tribes and between native Africans and Europeans three and four generations deep in local rule. Many nations quickly rose to the occasion while some required decades to rebuild - others still struggle today.
Modern Southern Africa offers the traveler adventure and culture found nowhere else. Here are opportunities to reach out and touch nature at a very primal level. People often talk of leaving Africa somehow "changed." Certainly many colonial explorers arrived never to leave again, changed from the lands of their ancestry into natives themselves.
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