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What to Do in Africa—Beyond an African Safari

I’ll be honest: as I was planning my first trip to South Africa, I had safari on the brain — and not much else. Like so many other Africa novices, I really didn’t know what to expect. What I found wound up blowing me away, so much so that I ended up moving to Cape Town for a 3.5-year stint. While wildlife is always a key part of any African adventure, there’s so much more to the region, from glamorous cities to beguiling wine regions to sophisticated beach breaks. Here, the non-safari Africa you have to see.

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Cape Town 

While the South African bush is legendary, there’s so much more to the country than Kruger National Park. Johannesburg — Africa’s financial hub — and Cape Town — one of the world’s most breathtaking cities — are dynamic urban centers with exciting art, culinary, and design scenes. In Cape Town, book a room at the just-opened Silo Hotel, set on top of the eagerly anticipated Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art. Tear yourself away from the 360-degree views over the Waterfront and Table Mountain to explore Woodstock, the city’s arts district, where dilapidated old Victorian-era buildings have been revived to house markets and artists studios — and many are splashed with vibrant street-art murals.

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In Johannesburg, learn about South Africa’s troubled past with a visit to the poignant Apartheid Museum — guests are randomly assigned “black” or “white” tickets, and are sent to experience the museum through different entrances. Afterward, get a taste of the city’s buzzy urban regeneration projects with a visit to the Maboneng Precinct lined with hip galleries, restaurants, and bars. It’s where creative Jozi natives congregate to eat and play.

RELATED: 25 Photos That Will Have You Packing for South Africa

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Namibia’s dramatic landscapes could not be more different from its lush neighbors — vast tracts of barren, harsh terrain alternated with misty coastlines and sandy interiors. The Sossusvlei dunes in Namib-Naukluft National Park are a once-in-a-lifetime experience: some of the world’s tallest sand dunes, rising up over a thousand feet, descend toward the Deadvlei, a stark, photogenic clay pan dotted with a forest of dead trees. Make your base at Wilderness Safaris’ Little Kulala camp, set right at the gates to the national park.

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While both Zim and Zam have some of Africa’s best wildlife, they’re also home to one of its biggest non-animal-related attractions: Victoria Falls, one of the most striking natural wonders of the world. It’s also Africa’s adventure capital, with countless adrenaline-spiking activities. Once you’ve taken a scenic helicopter ride over the mighty falls, try your hand at whitewater rafting, bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge, or ziplining across the gorges. After all that action, the genteel environs of the historic colonial grande dame Victoria Falls Hotel makes for a refined contrast.

RELATED: Stunning Photos of African Wildlife

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The beaches of this southeastern African nation might be among the finest in the world — though hardly enough foreigners seem to visit, making them something of a best-kept-secret among savvy beach bums. All that’s begun to change with AndBeyond’s 2015 foray into the pristine Bazaruto archipelago — the 13-villa AndBeyond Benguerra Island has a luxe vintage Portuguese-meets-African aesthetic, complete with a beachside bar set beneath the sails of a restored dhow.

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