11 East African Hidden Gems You Should Add to Your Bucket List

Mt. Nyiragongo
Mt. Nyiragongo | © MONUSCO Photos / Flickr
Leah Feiger

East Africa is a region teeming with unbelievable activities and things to do. Hiking to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, experiencing the savannah of the Serengeti, trekking with the endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda, and observing the lion prides of the Maasai Mara are all well-known bucket list items in East Africa. While those hot spots are undeniably incredible, there are so many adventures and sights in the area that intrepid tourists shouldn’t miss. Check out our guide to some of the best hidden gems in East Africa for your next trip.

Safari in Akagera National Park

Tourists in East Africa generally check out the famous safari parks of Tanzania and Kenya. Although the Serengeti and Maasai Mara are impressive beyond belief, the hordes of tourists sitting engine to engine in these serene spaces are much less enjoyable. Plus, it is wildly expensive. For a more quiet, cheaper, and off the beaten path safari experience, check out Akagera National Park in Rwanda. Akagera has recently been able to reclaim its title of a Big Five safari park, with both lions and rhinos reintroduced to Rwanda in the past few years. For just $40 USD in safari fees per day, roam the stunning wetlands and savannah of East Africa’s most underrated safari destination.

Zebras in Akagera National Park

Hike Mt. Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Mt. Nyiragongo, located just outside of the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is an active volcano that boasts the world’s largest lava pool. Tourists are welcome to participate in an overnight hike to the crater, and though the hike is incredibly steep and long, it is doable and so worth it. Spend the night basking in the red volcanic glows, while marveling at the stunning and expansive views from the top.

Mt. Nyiragongo

Visit Mafia Island in Tanzania and snorkel with whale sharks

Located just off the coast of Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam, Mafia Island is one of East Africa’s best diving locations. Scuba divers visit this small archipelago from all over the world in order to see an assortment of healthy coral reefs and massive schools of fish. The real reason, however, to visit Mafia Island is to encounter a whale shark. These gentle sea giants are found just a few kilometers from the Mafia Island harbor, and snorkelers can spot up to 20 of these graceful creatures at a time.

Mafia Island

Explore the ancient streets of Lamu in Kenya

Although Stone Town in Zanzibar is a beautiful old island with fascinating Arabic influences, it is often critiqued as being overrun by tourists. If you’re looking for a calmer destination, check out Lamu Island in Kenya. Reachable only by boat from Mombasa or Diani, this island possesses the similar Arabic influences of Stone Town at a fraction of the price. Explore old ruins, indulge in fresh seafood, and laze your days away on bright white sand beaches.


Go white water rafting on the Nile in Jinja

The roaring white rapids of the Nile river in Jinja have delighted travelers and locals for many years. Located just a few hours from the Ugandan capital of Kampala, spend a day or two testing your wits and physical prowess against some of the roughest waters on earth.

Rafting on the Nile

Hang on the beaches of Lake Tanganyika in Burundi

Though Burundi has experienced political unrest since the attempted coup in 2015, Bujumbura, the country’s capital city, still possesses one of the best beach scenes in the region. Head to Bora Bora beach club for parties every weekend, or just spend the days relaxing on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Lake Tanganyika

Party in Nairobi

No where else in East Africa does a city throw down like Nairobi. A lot of tourists do a quick layover in Nairobi on their way to go on safari, but for a real Kenyan experience, include a few extra days in your trip to bar hop and dance the night away in East Africa’s most bumping capital.

Nairobi at night from Kicc rooftop

Kayak the calm shores of Rwanda

Known for gorillas, Rwanda has a lot more to offer the intrepid traveler than just primates (though hiking with the gorillas is a pretty special experience too). Check out Kingfisher Journeys, and consider booking a multi-day kayaking trip along the vibrant coastline of Lake Kivu. Kayak through small towns, coffee roasters, and fish farms, while getting a chance to experience Rwanda’s stunning hills through a unique perspective.

Kayaking Lake Kivu

Visit Gombe Stream National Park in Tazania for chimpanzee trekking

Made famous by Jane Goodall, Gombe Stream National Park is home to the Kasakela chimpanzee community. A limited number of trekking permits are available daily, as visitors are led through the park by rangers familiar with the chimpanzees and their habits. This park is not easy to reach, as Gombe Stream can only be accessed by boat, making this experience all the more adventurous.

Chimpanzee in Gombe Steam National Park

Hike through Sipi Falls in Uganda

Sipi Falls is a collection of stunning waterfalls in Eastern Uganda. Independent or guided hikes can be arranged from an assortment of comfortable guesthouses in the area, as well as rock climbing, abseiling, and more. Used by many travelers as a base for climbing Mt. Elgon, the falls themselves are worthy enough of a visit.

Sipi Falls

Bike through Hells Gate National Park in Kenya

This national park, located just a few hours northwest of Nairobi, sits in a particularly beautiful area of the Great Rift Valley. Cheap park entry fees and a lack of big cats and predators have made this park known for its excellent bike trails. This is one of the only major safari parks in the world where visitors can bike alongside herds of zebras, buffalos, and gazelles.

Biking through Hells Gate

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