The African autumn is prime safari season as temperatures cool and incomparable wildlife preserves like Kruger National Park dry out. But the shoulder season of May is also an excellent time to get to know a different side of the so-called dark continent. Africa is filled with modern, cosmopolitan cities where you can enjoy museum hopping, fine dining, and unique urban adventures.
While much of the continent is marching into fall, northern countries like Morocco are enjoying the warm days of spring. May is still firmly in shoulder season, however, and so makes for a wonderful time to visit mystical Marrakesh. Spend at least a full day and night getting lost in the labyrinthine Jemaa el-Fna market square. You’ll find everything from carpets to spices in these lively souqs. Other top attractions in Marrakesh include Koutoubia Mosque, Ben Youssef Medersa, Jardin Majorelle, and the city’s nearby tanneries.
Get off the typical Egyptian tourist trail from Cairo to the pyramids of Giza and make way for the coast. You may no longer be able to see the legendary Lighthouse or Pharos of Alexandria that made the city so famous in the days of Antony and Cleopatra, but the ancient library – once the largest in the world – has been reconstructed. No trip is complete with a visit to the new contemporary Bibliotheca Alexandria. If you have more than a day to spend in town, catch a view over the Mediterranean from the romantic Montazah Palace Gardens.
An unexpected powerhouse of arts and culture, Lagos is an African city worth the challenge. The largest city in Nigeria isn’t for the faint of heart, boasting high traffic, pollution, and crime. Past all that, however, is a vibrant culture that knows how to turn up. Your first night in Lagos (and probably a few after that) is sure to be spent clubbing into the wee hours. Fuel up for party scene on a spicy beef suya and jollof rice. Once you’ve slept off the hangover the next day, the National Gallery of Art is a must-see, and the city is chock full of art galleries like the Centre for Contemporary Art. There are even high-quality exhibition spaces inside hotels and shopping malls.
Namibia may be best known for its desert views of ancient sand dunes, but colonial Windhoek is worth a stop too. You’ll have a hard time believing you’re not in Europe as you wander through the city’s traditional German architecture and slice into a juicy schnitzel. In May, you won’t get to enjoy Windhoek’s Oktoberfest, but the town has ample nightlife year-round. The Katutura township in particular is party central in this corner of southern Africa.
South Africa’s Mother City is full of heritage, wining, and dining galore. Once you land, you’ll instantly be struck by the incredible façade of Table Mountain and you won’t want to miss the view from the top. Take an hour and a half on a clear day to hike up to its plateau or hop on the aerial cableway. Learn about art and history along the centrally-located Museum Mile or Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner. Get your heart pumping with a cage dive in Shark Alley, or relax with a glass of Chenin Blanc in the nearby Cape Winelands.