Welcome to another look at some of my favourite cities, and this week I am looking at the continent of Africa! Now, Africa is not necessarily a continent where cities are the main reason to visit. In fact, its attractions are generally outside cities when you think safaris, mountains, jungles, islands and the like. Some of the fabled places such as Timbuktu or Agadez are not nearly big enough to be considered ‘cities’. So I have to reach into my bag of experiences (hence I am not including places I haven’t actually been yet) to produce a list of cities that I liked significantly more than, well, others I didn’t!
Cairo – Egypt
The Egyptian capital is a seriously busy, over-populated place which over the last decade has seen its fair share of dramas. But it remains the only city that I know of where you can see pyramids. Not the only pyramids in the world mind you, but ones that are basically on the outskirts of the city which you can catch a local bus to.
Mind you there is plenty to recommend Cairo as a destination, once you deal with the number of people, the dust and the pollution. It’s an incredible mix of the modern and the not-so-modern, the mighty Nile storms through it whilst the traffic jostles for position on either side. The Egyptian Museum is simply a must, and when I was there a long time ago it really did feel like something out of an Indiana Jones’ movie. But it houses some of the world’s most amazing historical artefacts.
Cairo isn’t strictly what you might call an ‘African’ city. It’s certainly feels more Middle Eastern in most respects although I haven’t found a city like it anywhere else in the Middle East, or indeed… anywhere! By far the biggest city on this list, and one of the biggest in the world, Cairo amazes and inspires, you see life before you in a way you hadn’t imagined. And despite the odds being that not every experience you have there will be a positive one, it will be one that stays with you for a long time.
For a complete change of pace, from the largest on this list to the smallest, Lome is the capital city of Togo, a thin strip of a country in West Africa. In 2006 I spent a few nights there, and found it had its own vibe, its own style. Filled with strange buildings, expats from France and jazz music, with a very attractive beach – loads of sand and space, Lome was a surprise to me when I got there.
I think I could have spent longer there. I’d have probably needed better French admittedly, and I don’t think I’d be getting up to much as it’s not a city with loads to see as a visitor, but once night rolled in the nightlife was laid back and chilled. It’s lack of pace was its most attractive quality I think. There are strange buildings galore built in the 1970s when Togo came into a bit of oil money, mixed with the very occasional colonial structure. It’s walkable with a great little market. I’d be happy to return someday.
Addis Ababa – Ethiopia
The Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa is somewhere between the two. It’s much larger than Lome but nowhere near as large as the behemoth of Cairo. I stayed in the Ras Hotel, an institution and a meeting place for people travelling or doing business in the region and from there I got a fair sense of a great city.
Addis is hilly, and also at altitude so it doesn’t ever get that hot, not much more than around 25 degrees Celsius. Addis is abuzz and I found the locals to be really friendly – went out for a few beers at a local watering hole which was great and generally I met with friendliness for all I met.
It’s a pleasant enough place to walk around and the Ethiopian museum is one of the better museums I’ve been to in Africa. You can get pizza here, there and everywhere. Ethiopia was never really colonised as almost every other African nation was by Europeans, but they spent time occupied by Italy and so pasta and especially pizza is widely available in the capital. There are several monuments to socialism as well which are interesting, the last century has been a very interesting time in Ethiopia.
Accra – Ghana
When I first thought about this post and what cities I was going to include, I certainly didn’t think that Accra would make the list. My first exposure to Sub-Saharan Africa was Accra, the capital of Ghana and frankly I didn’t have a great time in this city, and I got myself out of there as quickly as I could.
But I had to go back to make my way eastward as per my itinerary at the time, and I had a better time the second time around. I think I feel negatively towards the city because of the weather and particularly the accommodation. It was sweltering and so hot and humid every single day, and I was in a bit of a dive. When I got out of the hotel I had good experiences, people where friendly and it’s not an unattractive town.
The Kwame Nkrumah Museum and monuments are worth spending time at, as is the centre of town with some interesting architecture. It’s well laid out in parts and the central market is excellent. I would really like to visit again one day staying in better digs with air conditioning which I think would make a world of difference allowing me to sleep and escape the heat when I need to. Strange to think of a place that hit me for six on first impressions being one I say I like now! But that is often the way with travel!
Thanks for popping in today. Obviously there are a LOT of cities and countries in Africa I haven’t visited yet and hope to one day. What would be on your list? Please Comment should you feel the urge! May the Journey Never End!