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The other Africa Add to ...

It's also possible to combine a few days of game-viewing on the mainland with a trip to magical Zanzibar - the spice island is just a few hours away by ferry. Stay in one of the charming and affordable beachfront hotels, such as Mnarani Beach Cottages, where you can dive, snorkel, tour a plantation and learn about the island's tragic slaving history, all in easy reach.

SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa has not only the world's most luxurious lodges but also excellent options - just about the only ones in Africa - for budget safari seekers.

Take Kruger National Park. The flagship of a stellar national park system, Kruger is bigger than Wales, and visitors can cover all of it in self-drive safaris. And the park has accommodation for every taste. Want a safari tent lit by paraffin lanterns and just a thin fence between you and the lions? A cottage with a barbecue,

pool and Ping-Pong for the kids? Kruger has an abundance of those, and everything in

between.

The park is also staffed with knowledgeable guides who can take you on morning walks or evening game drives. Or try a three-day walking safari, which gets you up close to the lions and offers the chance to learn about the equally fascinating flora here - and the indigenous people whose traditional lands the park now covers.

While Kruger draws most of South Africa's guests, Addo Elephant Park is also worth considering. It's chockers with elephants, of course, but because it covers an area leading right up to the sea, it also offers a very different view of the great South African bush.

Here too, visitors can choose the lush lodge experience or book themselves into spotlessly maintained national park accommodations (which, in Addo, include charming old Cape Dutch farmhouses) and drive themselves.

The advantage of a holiday in South Africa is that you also can combine the animal adventures with other kinds - if you go to Addo, fly through Cape Town and tour Nelson Mandela's former prison cell on Robben Island and loll on the beach with the penguins at Simon's Town.

Or eat some of the world's best food in the village of Franschhoek in the Cape wine lands.

With the rand at more than seven to the dollar, a five-star dinner at Reuben's - food so good it will leave you near tears - costs about $50 these days.

MALI

If it's people, rather than animals, who draw you to Africa, think about a trip to Mali, in the heart of West Africa.

This is the home of the "desert blues," the steely sound made famous by the late Ali Farka Touré, and many of the musicians who played with him gather on Saturday nights in the bars of Bamako, jamming until the sun rises over the River Niger in a cool, mauve dawn.

From Bamako, head to the legendary cliff villages of Dogon Country. Clamber up the escarpment, called La Falaise, meander through the ancient houses carved into the rock and visit the sacred sites of the Dogon's vivid animist culture. It's easy to organize a hiking trip - of one day or a week, depending on how hardy you're feeling - through the hotels in Bandiagara, the last town before the cliffs.

When you've had your fill of Dogon dance, textiles and sculpture, you can also make the day-long, bone-shaking drive up to Timbuktu. Here, the ancient mud mosque is

undergoing painstaking

restoration, and eager librarians are happy to translate 1,000-year-old Islamic texts

for visitors.

All that said, let's not rule out Kenya.

Parliament is now debating a power-sharing deal that seems to have quelled the violence. Although hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced from their homes, transport and trade are quickly returning to normal. And in any case, as hoteliers will be at pains to tell you, not a single tourist was harmed in the fighting.

In many ways, there has never been a better time to visit: Prices have been slashed - in some cases up to 50 per cent - lodges are empty, and you may travel the lengths of the Serengeti without seeing another Land Rover.

And if you flake out in a seaside hammock in Lamu, your serenity will be marred only by the flock of eager waiters bearing cocktails - more than 30,000 Kenyans working in tourism have already lost their jobs, and those still employed are desperate to ensure that any brave tourist has a good time.

Stephanie Nolen is The Globe and Mail's Africa correspondent.

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