Africa accounts for 20% of the world’s land area and is home to 1.3 billion people but in terms of tourism, only relatively few countries attract large numbers of visitors each year. In this post we will look at the five most visited countries in Africa according to official UN figures for global tourism.
The figures quoted are for 2018 and rounded up or down to the nearest 100,000. They do not include a number of countries (listed at the bottom) which did not release official tourist arrivals data for 2018.
Top 5 Most Visited Countries in Africa
1. Morocco – 12.3 million visitors (2018)
Africa’s most popular travel destination is Morocco. Its proximity to Europe gives it a significant advantage over other African countries with a host of budget air connections connecting cities such as Marrakech, Fez and Agadir with the European continent.
Marrakech is the standout destination with its medieval walled city and mazy medina drawing in millions of visitors each year but Morocco is a diverse country with beach resorts, mountain retreats and vast desert landscapes helping attract a wide range of different types of travellers. Check out our 3 week Morocco backpacking route for a bit of inspiration.
2. Egypt – 11.3 million visitors
Egypt’s travel industry has taken a significant hit over the past decade or so due to political instability and safety concerns. However over 11 million people still visited in 2018 and it’s likely that it will soon reclaim its status as Africa’s top travel destination.
History lovers will always be attracted by its range of millennia-old monuments with so much history and culture to be discovered on the banks of the Nile. Well away from world famous sites such as the Pyramids of Giza, Egypt does also have a few considerably more modern coastal resorts such as Sharm El Sheikh on the Red Sea which also push its visitor numbers up.
3. South Africa – 10.5 million visitors
At the other end of the continent, South Africa is by some distance the most popular country to visit in Sub Saharan Africa. Highlights include the stunning city of Cape Town, giant game reserves such as the Kruger National Park and a vast coastline dotted with wild beaches and rugged landscapes. While it is a nation of great contrasts, South Africa does have greater transport and tourist infrastructure than many of its neighbours which are still struggling to attract visitors from afar.
Read more – Cost of Travel in South Africa
4. Tunisia – 8.3 million visitors
Back to North Africa and Tunisia is the fourth most popular country with visitors. It is much smaller and doesn’t have such a wide range of potential travel experiences as Morocco, although it does boast some of the Mediterranean’s best beaches. Resorts such as Djerba, Sousse and Hammamet account for a large percentage of its total visitor numbers, although recent terrorist attacks have contributed to a fall in visitor numbers.
5. Mozambique – 2.7 million visitors
There’s a significant drop in numbers from Africa’s top four destinations to the rest. Mozambique ranks as the 5th most popular in 2018, emerging just above the likes of Kenya and Uganda as the most visited East African nation. Its main draw is its long Indian Ocean coastline which is full of gorgeous beaches, offshore marine parks and remote islands that reward the adventurous traveller. A lack of easy, affordable flights in and a limited internal transport network are the main factors preventing beautiful Mozambique from attracting far higher numbers of visitors each year.
Africa’s most popular tourist destinations conclude from 6th to 10th with Algeria (2.7 million visitors in 2018), Zimbabwe (2.6 million), Ivory Coast (2 million), Kenya (1.9 million), Uganda (1.9 million).
It should be pointed out that Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, DR Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gabon, Guinea, Lesotho, Liberia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal and Somalia have not released official tourism figures for 2018. However it’s very unlikely any of those countries would have featured in the top five.
This article was published in September 2020 although the figures relate to the 2018 calendar year.