10 Best Destination Countries in Africa

Tourism in Africa is an important economic activity. The tourist characteristics of Africa lie in the wide variety of points of interest, the diversity, and variety of landscapes, as well as the rich cultural heritage. According to the World Tourism Organization (WTO), Africa could “more than double the number of tourist arrivals from 50 million in 2010 to 134 million in 2030.”

Approximately 57.8 million Tourists traveled to Africa in 2016, with 4.4 million more than in 2015. This is “a strong rebound, after lower performances in 2014 and 2015, following health, geopolitical, and economic problems,” summarizes WTO in its annual report published on 15 August.

An Analysis of Seat Capacity for the Top Ten International Airports in Africa, produced by ForwardKeys reveals that there has been stand-out performances from Tunisia and Egypt, which are recovering from the outcomes of the revolution, up 33.5% and 24.8%, respectively. In addition, Morocco and Tunisia received a huge boost in arrivals from China, up 450% and 250%, respectively, after they relaxed visa restrictions. The one disappointment is Nigeria, which has seen a 0.8% drop in the wake of recession in 2016, caused by a collapse in the oil price to a 13-year low.

Historic vestiges such as the Egyptian pyramids, the rock churches of Ethiopia, the South African Robben Island Prison where Nelson Mandela stayed for 27 years, or the island of Gorée in Senegal, a symbol of the memory of the slave trade in Africa, as well as safari parks and other grandiose landscapes (Victoria Falls, Sahara desert) are all assets that make the African continent an increasingly coveted tourist destination.

In addition, many initiatives have been launched in recent years to encourage more tourists to visit the continent. This includes progress in visa facilitation and regional cooperation with the introduction of e-visas and single visas. A single visa is sufficient for all member-countries of the Southern African Development Community, for example.

Speaking to Africa.com, Moroccan Professor, Khalid El Messaoudi, an expert in urban development, tourism and environment, thinks that Africa has a rich tourist potential which can explain the dynamism of the sector on the continent.

“Tourism in Africa has grown since the last decade of the twentieth century. The rate of arrivals is in rise thanks to the natural characteristics of the continent and the “virginity” of its regions, making it a destination of many types of tourism. Africa is a great destination of  safari and wildlife tourism where tourists can watch animal species in their natural habitats and experience a unique excitement that can only be found in Africa. The continent welcomes, also, a great number of sports trips because of the rough terrain and diversity of climate in addition to the density of its water network (falls, rivers, and lakes). Africa is also a destination for historical tourism where there is a rich history and memories of the primitive life,” explains Dr. El Messaoudi.

However, much remains to be done to truly boost the growth of this industry in Africa, starting with the development of adequate and functional transport infrastructure and services. According to Dr. El Messaoudi, Africa should develop its infrastructure and promote security and democracy, in addition to adopting modern marketing strategies based on leading research centers in the field. African countries, according to the same expert, must also encourage South-South cooperation to promote the local tourism on the continent.

Here are Africa’s top ten destination countries as published by ForwardKeys, based on the international arrivals from January to July 2017.

South Africa

With 6.5 million international tourists, South Africa appears as the first destination of the African continent by 18% of international arrivals in Africa. South Africa is experiencing a steady rise in tourism. The discovery of national parks and other animal reserves with excellent reception facilities remains one of the main arguments for the stay, but the country has many other attractions. The beauty of the countryside, the magnificent exteriors, the sunny climate, the cultural diversity – all of these reasons have made the country one of the fastest-growing destinations in the world in terms of leisure and business.

South Africa is very diverse in terms of climate, culture, tourism activities and infrastructures meeting the needs of each tourist niche, economic, and cultural tourism, adventure, sport and paleo-tourism. The country hosts a great diversity of cultures, ranging from the Zulus who resisted the European conquest to the San nomads of the Karoo Desert. Each culture has evolved to develop its own music, its own forms of art and traditional rites, while the descendants of settlers have evolved on the basis of variations of their European roots.

According to the South African Ministry of Tourism, China was, in 2016, the market of having grown the most in the tourism sector of the country. With a 38% growth compared to 2015, the Chinese market is now one of the most important for South African tourism, behind the usual leaders of Great Britain, the United States, and Germany. The growth in the number of tourists arriving from China is mainly linked, according to Derek Hanekom, the Minister of Tourism, to the improvement of the visa process.

In 2017, tourism is strengthening its position as the engine of the South African economy. The attractiveness of the country is expected to continue to strengthen in 2018, thanks to the efforts of professionals in the sector to offer tourist-varied experiences at an affordable price.


According to ForwardKeys, the country has reached 13% of international arrivals from January to June 2017, which means that it has been able to recover and improve its tourism after the negative outcomes of the revolution.

Tourism is Egypt’s largest foreign currency resource and one of its main sectors of activity with revenues of around $7 billion per year, higher than the transfer of Egyptian emigrants abroad. However, the sector was weakened by the attacks targeting tourist sites in 1997 and 2004, and also  between 2010 and 2014 due to the political instability of the country.

Now, the situation is becoming more and more suitable thanks to the efforts made by Egyptian authorities to attract more tourists. Egypt recorded $1.6 billion in tourist revenues from approximately 1.7 million tourists who visited the country in the first three months of 2017, compared with about 1.2 million tourists during the same period last year, Tourism revenues in the country recorded about $1.5 billion from January to March of last year.

The Germans are first on the list of tourists with 227,000 visitors, an increase of 35% compared to the same period last year. The Ukrainians come in second, followed by British tourists.


Morocco has a relatively comfortable place in terms of tourism on a continental scale as part of the leading trio of South Africa and Egypt. A total of 4.6 million tourists visited Morocco between January and June 2017, an increase of 9% compared to the same period a year earlier, according to the Ministry of Tourism, Air Transport, Crafts and Social Economy. The country has received 11% of international arrivals in Africa from January to July 2017, while arrivals of Moroccans living abroad increased by 3%.

In the case of emerging tourism markets, Morocco is maintaining its upward trend, said the ministry of tourism, pointing out that China recorded a 565% growth, while Japan, South Korea, the United States, and Brazil posted increases of 46%, 42%, 27% and 41%, respectively.

The total number of nights spent in classified accommodation establishments increased by 18% during the first six months of 2017 (22% for non-resident tourists and 8% for residents), the ministry said.

The two tourism centers, Marrakech and Agadir, alone accounted for 60% of the total overnight stays at the end of June, with an increase of 19% and 18%,, respectively.

Other destinations also posted good performances, particularly the cities of Fez and Tangier, with increases of 38% and 29%, respectively.


International tourism is an essential economic sector for the Republic of Mauritius, the small island country in the Indian Ocean which has few natural resources.

Tourist arrivals to Mauritius are increasing month after month, and after a good start in 2017, growth forecasts have been revised upwards.

Some 1,350,000 visitors are expected to have arrived in Mauritius by the end of 2017. According  to ForwardKeys, there is already an increase of 6% between January and June 2017, compared to the same period in 2016. About 1,275,227 tourists travelers enjoyed spending their holidays  under the hot Mauritian sun.

Mauritius is a multicultural country with a population coming from several communities: Asian, African and European. Thus, the country has an abundance of people who have come from many corners of the world with their own cultures.


Tourism in Tunisia is one of the important sectors of Tunisia’s economy and a source of foreign exchange for the country. Tourism has a ripple effect on other economic sectors, such as transport, communications, crafts, commerce, and construction.

According to ForwardKeys, Tunisia has welcomed 6% of the international tourists coming to Africa, but with noticeable progress. Tunisia, therefore, is overcoming the outcomes of the revolution on the activity of the sector. The year-to-year variation has reached 33,5 between January and June according to the same source.

Approximately 1,776,976 tourists entered the Tunisian territory on 10 June 2017, according to figures published by the Tunisian National Tourist Office (ONTT), nearly 500,000 tourists more than in 2016. This is largely thanks to the return of French and German tourists. Indeed, compared to the year 2016, approximately 46% of tourists were French and 33% German. Moreover, English tourists also returned to Tunisia with a 16% increase in arrivals from England.

In fact, the geographical position of Tunisia south of the Mediterranean basin, with 1,300 kilometers of mainly sandy coasts, a warm Mediterranean climate in summer and mild winter, a rich civilizational heritage (eight sites inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List), and, above all, a low cost of tourism make this country one of the main destinations for European tourists in Africa and the Arab world.


The tourism sector of Kenya is taking off after a drop in tourist arrivals in recent years. From January to June 2017, the country received 6% of international  arrivals to Africa.

On the Kenyan Coast, the tourism sector is struggling to lift its head after the crisis triggered by repeated attacks by Islamic Shebabs in the region between 2012 and 2013. Until last year, European countries and the United States advised travelers not to go to the coast. As a result, to attract customers, hotels and travel agencies have had to lower their prices and diversify their offers. Additionally, the Kenyan Government has strengthened security at tourist sites.

There is a noticeable increase in the number of Chinese visitors to Kenya in the first six months of 2017. While about 69,000 Chinese tourists have arrived in the country in 2016, the local authorities are expecting that number to double in 2017, according to the Tourism Marketing Agency in Kenya. The same agency has explained that  China will be the largest market source of Kenyan tourism in three years. At present, the United States is the largest source market for tourism in Kenya, followed by Great Britain, India, and China.


Algeria is the fourth North African country after Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia in terms of international arrivals to the continent by 5%. The local authorities are not satisfied with this figure. Therefore, recently, travel agencies and hotel infrastructures announced before the end of the year of the establishment of a national confederation, the aim of which is to awaken the Algerian tourist industry and attract more foreigners to the destination of Algeria. These different concerns were at the heart of this 18th International Tourism Fair in Algiers. For the participants of this fair, it was an opportunity to further promote their products to Algerians.

In 2017, Algeria recorded more than 2 million tourists, an increase of 19% compared to 2015, but the high cost of hotel infrastructures and the lengthy visa issuance procedures are often obstacles to the take-off of the sector.

Algeria is the largest country on the African continent, famous for its main tourist attractions, the Sahara, the second largest desert in the world. It is also a destination for lovers of prehistoric and ancient vestiges. Visitors can also enjoy the very mild and temperate Mediterranean climate, in addition to a very hospitable population.


With 4% of international arrivals to the continent, according to the Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB), the number of tourists visiting the country is expected to double to 2 million by the end of 2017. Tanzania is one of the preferred travel destinations for safari enthusiasts, and one can understand this desire to visit. These vast expanses are populated by one of the largest concentrations of wild animals in the world -Zebras, wildebeests, monkeys, antelopes, lions, cheetahs, giraffes, buffalos, gazelles, pink flamingos. By falling head-to-head with the wildlife of Tanzania, the traveller feels, before all else, the feeling of his smallness. This destination is a living treasure that explorers have always dreamed of seizing, formerly by means of a gun, today by the more peaceful one of a camera. Indeed, visiting Tanzania is most often done through safaris.

An economically-developing country, mistreated by the opportunism of the colonial powers, Tanzania has some of the most beautiful animal reserves on the African continent. Serengeti National Park, Mount Kilimanjaro, or the Ngorongoro Crater quickly forget the sadness of the cities of the country. The visitor will also be seduced by Zanzibar, the most famous of the islands of Tanzania.


Ethiopia has reached 3% of international arrival to Africa in the period between January to July, according to ForwardKeys.  The country has been able to receive  918,000 tourists during the first seven months of 2017, an increase of  5.7% compared to 2016 (3.32 billion USD, the third source of revenue after agriculture and industry). New international links, expanded airport capacity in Addis Ababa, increased international hotel chains in the capital, and increased business and diplomatic tourism are all factors explaining growth. With nine sites classified as UNESCO Heritage, Ethiopia aims to become, by 2020, one of the top 5 tourist destinations in Africa (2.5 million tourists).

Ethiopia has a very interesting tourist profile with the capital, Addis Ababa, and its ancient palaces, Lalibela, the monastic city classified as World Heritage of Humanity, famous for its 11 churches carved in the rock in the twelfth century; Bahar Dar, Lake Tana and its 37 islands; the ruins of the City of Aksum, which represents ancient Ethiopia; the fortified historic town of Harar Jugol and its 82 mosques, three of which date back to the 10th century and the walls built between the thirteenth and sixteenth century, and its 11 medieval stone churches dating from the 13th century, and its 102 sanctuaries, etc.

The wealth and excellent conservation of the historic monuments of Addis Ababa have also enabled the country’s capital to participate in the “victory” of Ethiopia in tourism. Addis Ababa, the capital, is housing various international and regional organizations, including the headquarters of the African Union (AU), as well as the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).


Nigeria remains the biggest surprise. The Study of Seat Capacity for the Top Ten International Airports in Africa, conducted by ForwardKeys, shows that Lagos is seeing substantial declines in both domestic and international capacity, reaching only 2% of the total of international arrivals. This decrease can be explained by the ravaging effect on the lack of security mainly in the north of the country, the collapse of the oil price, in addition to the fall in dollar exchange, which has also had a negative impact on the sector of tourism in the country.

Nigeria remains a business destination rather than a tourist attraction. It is one of the biggest economic powers in Africa. However, the country is culturally diverse and can become a leading tourist destination thanks to the number of attractions for tourists such as the  historical sites, the colorful festivals, and the diversity of cultures. Lagos, the capital, is the largest city on the continent, with more than 15 million inhabitants, a huge metropolis, and one of the musical capitals of Africa, where one can experience astonishing achievements. In fact, travelling in Nigeria is also necessarily a musical experience: Afro-beat was born here and is exported all over the world; juju, Nigerian hip-hop, refers to African music. The city counts a multitude of box nightclubs and music clubs.

Moreover, Kano, south of the Sahara, is one of the oldest cities on the continent, founded more than 1,000 years ago. In addition to other sites, the city has a strong tourist potential that can be improved so as to overcome the decline of the sector in the country. Authorities are now doubling their efforts to promote the industry of tourism in the country.

Share it!

Scroll to Top


Stay informed and ahead of the game with our curated collection of the top 10 stories from Africa each day, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. On Fridays, gear up for the business world as we bring you the 10 most relevant and game-changing business stories. And on Sundays, prepare to be whisked away on a delightful journey through Africa’s vibrant lifestyle and travel scenes.