My son recently asked me if it ever snows in Africa. His eyes rolled as I once again babbled on about the fact that there are 54 countries in Africa, each with its distinct geographic features affecting weather patterns, so let's not use the blanket term "Africa". "Yes, I know" he said, "but does it snow?".
The answer is "yes, it does" and today, it snowed in Cairo for the first time in over 100 years! Locals are our building snowmen and shivering away. I have yet to see some shots of Pyramids in the snow, but I'm sure they'll be posted on Facebook!
There are even a few small ski resorts in Morocco, courtesy of the Atlas Mountains. Tunisia and Algeria got snow-laden a few years ago during a particularly cold winter. Snow even fell in the Sahara desert in 1979, but it lasted just half an hour.
Heading further south, snow does fall (on higher elevations), even close to the equator. Regular snow fall has created ice-capped peaks (although most are fast disappearing) on Kenya's Mount Kenya, Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro; Uganda's Rwenzori Mountains and Ethiopia's Semien Mountains. But it's not enough to ski. For that, you have to head all the way south.
South Africans can actually build snowmen somewhat regularly during the winter months (June - August) especially those living in the inland regions of the Eastern and Northern Cape provinces. Sutherland is considered to be the coldest town in South Africa with temperatures going well below freezing throughout the winter. Despite its wonderful penguin population, it very rarely snows in Cape Town.
And the chilliest country in Africa? The tiny kingdom of Lesotho. It's in the mountains and it has the highest low point of any country in the world (wrap your mind around that one, son). There are a few pistes here and the skiing isn't so bad in the Maluti Mountains.
Image of a Skiier in the Eastern Cape, South Africa -- © South African Tourism
'Tis the season for gift buying and I've put together a list of gift ideas that should appeal to anyone planning a trip to Africa. Gifts include African music, books, beasts of burden, newspapers, air travel vouchers and more ....
Christmas is celebrated widely throughout Africa but for most Africans sharing a meal and attending church is what it's all about. But you will still see window shops decorated with fake snow and people dressed as Santa, so the commercial aspects of the holidays are somewhat alive and well.
Image of a Maasai Lade holding necklaces from the Leakey Collection (i.e. what I want for Christmas) -- © Leakey Collection
What's the best way to spend time if you're not on safari in Africa? Watch hours of videos on YouTube. I've wasted days of my life doing this, so I thought I'd share a few of my personal favorite amateur African wildlife videos with you...
Christmas is very widely observed in Africa. There are approximately 350 million Christians living on the continent. Even non-Christian communities will often join in the fun. On Christmas day carols are sung from Ghana on down to South Africa. Meats are roasted, gifts are exchanged and family visits made.
Here are links to video footage of Christmas celebrations in various parts of the continent. Some videos are a bit shaky, but it's all fun and gives you a good idea of what Christmas in Africa in looks like.
- 12 Days of Christmas Nigerian style - "On the first day of Christmas my motha gave to me fufu with egusi"...
- A choir in a small church in rural Tanzania celebrating Christmas
- "Christmas" by a Kenyan musician Kimangu, a somewhat raucous Christmas song.
- Spontaneous Christmas song and dance in Botswana
- A short clip of a Zambian Santa, running through the streets with people staring in disbelief. And a great Santa in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
- Ethiopian Christmas Song, Ethiopians celebrate Christmas on January 7th.
More about: Christmas in Africa
I'm already tired of shopping for Christmas. I've decided the kids are each getting a pile of manure, and my husband will just have to be content with a donkey cart. My dad is helping take care of the children in the New Year, so he deserves a couple of goats and a pair of chickens.
I am of course browsing the list of "funusual gifts" offered by Oxfam. My children may not appreciate a whopping pile of manure in their Christmas stocking, but luckily for them they won't be smelling it. The beauty of shopping with Oxfam is that your gift will actually go to person who truly needs it elsewhere in the world, and you get to keep the bragging rights.
Oxfam is one of the best charities working in Africa, so you can be assured your gift will end up in the right hands. A goat won't suddenly appear on your doorstep, but the true gift of giving will. If you run out of ideas for teacher gifts, how about getting a some school supplies in their name? It'll set you back just $35 and will truly help a family in need.
I'm about to embark on a 32 hour trip from Denver to Cape Town. I usually travel alone, but this time the family is coming along for the ride. Of course we're all excited, but the amount of travel time required to get there is quite daunting. I make this trip at least once, if not twice a year, so I have developed some strategies to keep myself hydrated and somewhat sane once I've emerged on the other side.
Traveling with children always adds some stress for parents, but luckily in this age of Kindles, I'm not having to cram their carry-on bags with games, books and puzzles. However, traveling with a ten year old who has a severe nut allergy, has been a packing challenge -- I'll let you know how it goes!
We'll be flying South African Airlines, their direct flights are the most convenient way to get to Southern Africa especially if you live on the East Coast and need to connect to a further flight beyond Johannesburg. While they serve the most delicious wine on board, unfortunately one of my tips to surviving their 16 hour flight, is to go easy on the alcohol! Read more: Tips on Surviving Your Longhaul Flight to Africa ....
Africa is dangerous, violent, poor, backward, diseased, corrupt ... let's see, what else can be said about Africa? It's very upsetting to people like myself who have been raised in Africa and traveled extensively throughout the continent, to hear people talk about it this way. There's a lot of fear, ignorance and misunderstanding about Africa. I think most of it stems from the fact that people have no real concept of the sheer size and diversity of the continent. In fact, some people even think Africa is a single country (that includes former US Vice President candidate Sarah Palin).
The focus of the news being reported from Africa does not help much either. You can hardly blame people for thinking about Africa in largely negative terms when all they hear about is war, famine and AIDS statistics. The only positive news stories tend to be about long-distance runners from East Africa winning marathons, just like in New York a few weeks ago (yay!). And no - not all East Africans run very fast for long periods of time. The obvious solution to dispel any myths about Africa, is to actually go and visit a few African countries yourself and see them with your own eyes. Barring that, please read my latest piece on Top 10 Myths about Africa.
Image of a Maasai man checking cattle market rates and doing a little mobile banking -- Getty Images
Thousands of wildebeest have returned to the Mara over the past few days, and river crossings are at their peak. It's very unusual for this to take place in November, normally the herds are deep into the Serengeti at this time of year. But the lack of rain in the northern Serengeti has forced the turn around back into Kenya's Masai Mara. This aptly proves the point that the migration is unpredictable at best.
The few tourists taking advantage of great rates during this "low-season" are truly getting value for money! The wildebeest are also able to cross the rivers without bumping into minibuses. The crowds of safari vehicles around the river crossings during the height of the migration in the Mara (July - September) have been especially unnerving these past years.
About the Great Migration
The great annual migration of 1.5 million wildebeest, around 200,000 zebra and thousands of gazelles usually starts in March. The most spectacular scenes will unfold over the next few months as the herds gather in ever larger numbers and make their way from the Serengeti and Ngorongoro regions in Tanzania, to Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve. They will have to cross the Grumeti River and the Mara River in search of the sweet grasses of the Mara plains.
The river crossings can be very rough and dangerous, with thousands of hungry crocodiles lying in wait. But once the herds have reached the other side, they still have to contend with the hundreds of predators that follow this migration. Hyenas, lions, jackals, leopards and wild dogs really like the taste young wildebeest.
Experiencing any part of this incredible natural spectacle is truly the greatest safari experience you could wish for. Whether you're enjoying watching hundreds of thousands of young wildebeest calves on the plains of the Serengeti; witnessing the great river crossings; or simply enjoying the vast numbers of wildlife on the Mara plains -- it's all pretty fantastic. Find out more about best places to see it, where to stay and more from my article about The Annual Migration of Wildebeest and Zebra.
Getty Images/Daryl Balfour
African athletes are legendary in long distance running events. In the recent NYC marathon, Kenyan athletes Geoffrey Mutai and Priscah Jeptoo won both the men and the women's race. The top ten finishers in the men's race were all African except for two runners. Long distance races at the Olympics are also dominated by East and North Africans. But you don't hear enough about marathons being run in Africa.
If you want to run a marathon and be on safari at the same time, I'd highly recommend heading to Kenya at the end of June for the Safaricom marathon. The race takes place in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and runners will be up against non-human contestants as well, zebra, impala and maybe even a rhino or two. More than 2000 runners will take on the challenge and the money raised will go toward wildlife conservation and community projects. The mere possibility of spotting a lion while running, would certainly propel me to the finish line.
Other Marathons Taking Place in Africa in 2013/14
Running a marathon is always a great excuse to travel. So why not try one of these marathons and run in the desert, mountains, savannah, or forest. All of these marathons can be combined with safaris, treks and cultural tours.
- Kilimanjaro Marathon - Moshi, Northern Tanzania - March 2, 2014
- Marathon des Sables (extreme 6 days) - Western Sahara Desert, Morocco - 4 - 14 April, 2014
- Two Oceans Marathon - Cape Town, South Africa - April 18/19, 2014
- International Peace Marathon Kigali - Kigali, Rwanda - May 18, 2014
- Big Five Marathon - Entabeni Game Reserve, Limpopo, South Africa - June 21, 2014
- Knysna Forest Marathon - Knysna, South Africa - July 12, 2014
- Amazing Maasai Marathon (Ultra) - Mt Kenya, Kenya - September TBA, 2014
And for more dates and races check this African marathon calendar
Image © Safaricom Marathon
Coming up with a list of Africa's Most Dangerous Animals tends to get tricky. Do you measure potential or actual danger? The Boomslang for example is a highly poisonous snake whose venom is haemotoxic, causing its victims to bleed to death from every orifice. But it's a deadly shy creature and it only has a few human fatalities under its belt.
The mosquito on the other hand is responsible for more than a million deaths a year but some may argue that the mosquito doesn't really count as an "animal". Well, it does make my Top 10 list of Africa's Dangerous Animals. I'm sticking with the definition that an animal is any living thing, but I didn't head into the realm of bacteria -- the mosquito is as small as I go.
Image of the Anopholes Mosquito, one of Africa's Most Dangerous Animals