Archive for the ‘40 things to do before 40’ Category

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 29!

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

29. Cross the Arctic Circle and see the Midnight Sun

What would you do if you have a few extra hours of sunlight each day? Would you be motivated to make the most of it and do some late-night exercise, socialise with friends or just enjoy the outdoors? Well, what if the sun never set and you had 24 hours of sunlight each day for a couple of months? For those who live in parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Russia, the United States and Canada that are above the Arctic Circle, days that are full of sunlight are not so uncommon.

Before jumping straight into the phenomenon that is the Midnight Sun, let’s talk ‘Arctic Circle’. The Arctic Circle is one of Earth’s major circles of latitude in which the area northward will have the sun above or below the horizon for a continuous 24 hours at least once a year. This area north of the Circle is known as the Arctic and it’s generally a pretty cold place to be with the lowest recorded temperature hitting a cosy -68 °C! Brrrrr!

Due to the extreme weather conditions, the Arctic is not a very populated area of the world. Some of the most inhabited areas belong to Russia, with around 500,000+ Russians calling the Arctic home.

The Midnight Sun is a spectacle that many people from around the world travel to see as it’s something that is so strange and incomprehensible. As the Earth has a slightly tilted axis, during summer the North Pole faces the sun and creates lengthy periods of sunlight. On the contrary, during winter there are extended periods of darkness.

The North Cape, or Nordkapp, in Norway is one of the more popular spots for travellers to go and see the midnight sun as it’s the most northern point in Europe and has around 76 days of midnight sun per year. That’s approximately 1,824 hours of continuous sunlight over a 2-3 month period! Norway provides an incredible backdrop for the Midnight Sun and all-day sunlight with picturesque mountains and fjords, amazing ocean views and beautiful fields of tundra.

It may be difficult for some to cope with days full of sunlight, but if a truly unique experience is what you’re after then crossing the Arctic Circle and seeing the Midnight Sun has to be on your list!

Topdeck Top Tip: Sunlight is a powerful thing! It is known that travellers to the Arctic Circle during summer can feel as though they have more energy and need less sleep. Before you go, prepare yourself for a change in your body-clock and get ready to make the most of the additional hours of sunlight.

5 tips for photographing the Midnight Sun via

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 28!

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

28. See the Sagrada Familia before it’s finished

Have you ever started a work project, school or University assignment that just seemed to take forever to complete? Well… this one trumps all!

Described as the Bible written in stone, built by ‘God’s architect’ Antoni Gaudi, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain is an important monument in the religious community and is an incredibly amazing architectural masterpiece. As the most visited monument in Spain and the third most valuable monument in Europe, the Sagrada Familia is not only an incredible architectural masterpiece but is a vital part of Spain’s tourism, attracting around 2.8 millions visitors each year.

It’s fair to say that it’s one impressive landmark… and it’s not even complete!

Paid for entirely by public donations, combined with the intricacy of the detail and features, plus a Civil War, it’s no wonder it’s taken over 100 years to build! Construction officially began in 1882 and the acclaimed Gaudi dedicated over 40 years of his life to the structure, which was only a quarter complete at the time of his unfortunate death.

Gaudi was an architect said to be well ahead of his time, introducing a new style of design that had not been seen before. Many of Gaudi’s most famous works can also be found in Barcelona, including the heritage listed Casa Batlló and the Park Güell.

Photo courtesy of

The Church, declared a basilica by Pope Benedict XVI in November 2010, has three façades: Nativity, Passion and Glory, each having strong Christian themes.

Nativity: The only façade to be completed by Gaudi, it represents a celebration of the birth of Jesus and is also referred to as the façade of Joy, Life and Christmas.

Passion: As the name suggests, this façade is designed by Gaudi to represent the passion of Jesus, his last days, death, and sacrifice. Facing the west, this part of the Church receives the last sunlight, creating an eerie effect that is well worth watching if given the opportunity.

Glory: Signifying the creation and glory of man, his origins, his problems, the roads he must take and his purpose. Still under construction, this will be the main entrance to the Church when completed.

During the 1936 Spanish Civil War many of Gaudi’s plans and models were destroyed or damaged leaving a difficult job for current architects to piece together information from photographs of the plans. Consequently, there is criticism that the modern construction is of a style dissimilar to Gaudi’s vision. Nevertheless, work continues and the President of the Sagrada Família Trust, Joan Rigol, has announced that the landmark may be entirely complete by 2026, almost 150 years after work began on the site in 1882 and a century after Gaudi’s death.

If you’re one for memorable life experiences, there’s no question that Sagrada Familia should be on your own personal travel list. To go down in history as one of the greatest architectural works, combined with the story behind it’s development and construction, it’s an experience that you will look back on in awe and amazement and be delighted to say, “I’ve been there!”.

Topdeck Top Tip: For visitors to Sagrada Familia, don’t just stop at entering the Church. If given the time, make your way to the incredible tombs below where Gaudi is buried. You can then make your way to the top to enjoy incredible views over Barcelona!

Sagrada Familiar video journey: An incredible video taking you on a journey outside and inside the Sagrada Familia

Virtual Tour: Go on a virtual tour throughout many parts of the Church and get a taste of it’s awesomeness!

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 27!

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

27. Spend a night in the Sahara

Picture this - endless amber vistas, Berber villages that ooze charm from every aged corner and roaring camp fires beneath glittering Saharan stars. Welcome to number 27 on our hotlist; spending a night in the Sahara.

The Sahara Desert is the world’s hottest dessert and is rather phenomenal, fact. Covering a whopping 9,400,000 square kilometres and covering most of North Africa, this African gem rivals the U-S of A and China in size! Its sandy savannahs are home to a heck of a lot of camels (every nomad’s vehicle of choice), addaxes (large white antelopes which alarmingly can survive a whole year in the desert without drinking!), African Wild Dog (not to be messed with) as well a whole host of spikey scrubs and Acacia trees.

This natural wonder is also home to the oh-so-friendly Berber folk who are the ethnic group indigenous to North Africa (west of the Nile Valley). These guys will undoubtedly welcome you proudly to their beloved Morocco and might even invite you round for a tagine and a round of mint tea if you’re lucky! Traditionally, the Berber men take care of livestock and focus their efforts on grazing cattle, creating shelter and producing an abundance of wool, cotton and plants which are used for dyeing and producing goods. The women on the other hand look after their family and handicrafts - first for their personal use, and secondly for sale in the local souks. The Berber life is a refreshingly simple one and will definitely open your eyes to their fascinating culture.

Famously in 1978, a year after a certain French motorcycle racer (Thierry Sabine) got lost in the depths of the desert and decided a year later that the Sahara would be a perfect spot to host a rally raid type of off-road race. Thierry’s crazy idea then morphed into the ‘Paris-Dakar’ rally that originally ran from Paris, France, to Dakar, Senegal. However nowadays, due to politics the mammoth rally (now known as ‘The Dakar’) has varied over the years and the 2013 rally went from Lima, Peru to Santiago, Chile.

Get yourself face to face with the Saharan way of life and make some Berber buddies along the road too on our 8 day Sahara Adventure. On this whirlwind Moroccan trip you’ll ski the sandy slopes of the immense Chegaga sand dunes,  dine under a sparkling symphony of stars at a desert camp where you’ll rest up in traditional Berber tents, visit Ouarzazate (also known as ‘Hollywood in the desert’) and follow in the tracks of the original Paris-Dakar Rally.

Well that’s the Sahara in a nutshell, so all that’s left to say, in the words of The Clash…is…rock the Kasbah!

Topdeck Top Tip: Don’t even think about venturing the Saharan alone, there is an extremely high chance you could vanish permanently.

Want to get up close with the legendary Sahara?

Tick this natural beauty off of your bucket-list and book onto Topdeck’s 8 day Sahara Adventure

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 26!

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

26. Sail the Mediterranean Sea

It sounds beautiful doesn’t it? Sailing the Mediterranean Sea… What are the first things you think of when imagining it? The crystal clear water, the warmth from the bright summer sun shining down or perhaps the incredible island landscapes you’ll see along the way? How about looking down to see schools of fish swimming beneath you or looking across the Sea to see the odd dolphin or two jumping out of the water? Chances are, whatever you’re thinking, unless you do it for yourself the thoughts will only be a fraction of the true experience!

There are many countries with a coastline along the Mediterranean Sea. Touching the African, Asian & European continents some of these countries include Morocco, Egypt, Cyprus, Lebanon, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Spain & France. The number of stunning locations and islands throughout the Mediterranean are endless. For this week’s entry we’ll just focus on a few of the best locations to sail through and around – Croatia, Greece & Turkey.


With over 700 Croatian islands in the Adriatic division of the Mediterranean Sea, some of them have to be good, right? Correct! In fact, there are also some amazing coastal cities that deserve just as much recognition as the islands.

Starting in Split – Croatia’s second highest populated city, you’ll encounter some authentic Croatian lifestyle, red tiled houses, delicious food & a beautiful mountainous landscape. It’s not a bad place to dock yourself for the night! If you have an appreciation for good nightlife then Hvar is where you’ll want to sail to next. It’s not only an attractive town with great nightlife but it also has a long history. Stari Grad or ‘Old Town’ is situated on the island and is one of the oldest towns in Europe with civilization dating back to 3500 BC!

Another city on the coastline of Croatia is Dubrovnik which boasts spectacular views. You can take in these views by walking around the city walls, or hop on a gondola to the top of the mountain. Keep an eye on the old buildings here as you can still see post-war damage!


Sailing throughout the Greek Islands is truly incredible. There are around 3500 islands in Greece although only a very small portion of these are populated. The two islands that get most of the attention in Greece are Mykonos & Santorini however Paros, Corfu, Skyros and Hydra all deserve some credit of their own. If you’re looking for a romantic getaway for you and your partner – you cannot go wrong in the Greek Islands.

If time is not on your side then perhaps catching a ferry between the islands is the best option for you. Sailing from Mykonos to Santorini non-stop can take over 48 hours with the ferry taking just a few!


Although there may be fewer islands to sail around than neighbouring Mediterranean countries, do not discount Turkey for an incredible sailing adventure. Sailing around Turkey on a traditional Gulet boat is an amazingly relaxing experience, offering magnificent beaches with crystal blue water, ancient ruins, waterfalls and many other picturesque sights. Plus, you’ll have access to some of the world’s best Baklava! Is that not reason enough to get on a boat and travel there!?

Some of the places you’ll want to check out when on a Turkish Gulet cruise include the 12 Islands of Fethiye, Kas, The Sunken City of Kekova, Simena Castle and for those who want to let their hair down and boogie the night away - Smugglers’ Island!

Topdeck Top Tip: Pack as light as possible when heading out on a sailing adventure, don’t forget to fill your music player with your favourite tunes and take a good book! If you can think of something more relaxing than listening to your favourite music or reading a good book while sailing the Mediterranean Seas, we want to know about it!

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 25!

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

25. Surf in the Pacific Ocean

Whether you’re a keen surfer or not, you may know that some of the best surfing locations in the world can be found somewhere along a Pacific Ocean shoreline. Put your surfboard under your arm and skateboard to Australia, the United States, Indonesia, Peru, El Salvador, or any of the Pacific Islands and you’ll be sure to find those gnarly, far out heavies that will make you want to hang ten all day, everyday.

Covering one third of the total surface area of Earth, the Pacific Ocean is big. It’s so big that even if all the continents of the world were put together, it would still cover more surface area. Nice try, continents!

The Ocean was originally named ‘Mar del Sur’, or ‘Southern Sea’, by Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa however it was Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan who sailed into the apparent ‘calm waters’, naming it ‘’Mar Pacífico’, or ‘Pacific Ocean’. Whether Balboa or Magellan had time to wax their boards and go for a paddle, we will never know.

In Australia, surfing hot spots can be found up and down the East Coast of the country with Sydney, Byron Bay and the Gold Coast being amongst the most popular locations. The United States are lucky to have the Californian coast and Hawaii - the home of surfing, to attract surf-lovers from around the world. The Pacific Islands and South America also host some amazing surf spots and are popular locations for many dudes and dudettes. This year the ASP World Championship is hosting surfing competitions at a variety of Pacific Ocean locations including the Gold Coast (Australia), Tavarua & Namotu (Fiji), Bali (Indonesia), California and Hawaii (USA). If you’re looking for the best surfing spots, just follow these guys!

Whether or not surfing is on your personal bucket list, the Pacific Ocean coastlines boast some of the world’s best beaches and are definitely worth seeing.

Topdeck Top Tip: If you’re a beginner, don’t forget to lay on the sunscreen. You might feel cool and refreshed by being in the water but the sun still packs a punch! It might also be worth getting to know your surf spot, including any possible dangers, before jumping into the water.

Kelly Slater and co. riding some tubes at a surf competition in Fiji:

Can’t make it to the beach? Here’s 4 hours of surf waves to make you feel like you’re there:

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 24!

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Get soaked by Niagara Falls

Not sure about the hype surrounding Niagara Falls? Treat yourself to a little taster. Next time you turn your kitchen sink tap, turn it as far as it can possibly go until the water is pouring out exceedingly fast. Put on a hooded raincoat, get yourself as close to the running water as possible so water is splashing your face, hold for 10 seconds, stop, realise what you’re doing is absolutely ridiculous and take off your raincoat.

Perhaps one of the poorest comparisons ever made to the experience you’ll have at Niagara Falls, the above might be as close as you’ll come to experiencing the excitement in your own home.

In order of size, the Niagara Falls are made up of three waterfalls: the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls which lie on the international border of the United States and Canada. Unlike the above comparison, the three falls combined are quite impressive, and they have the numbers to prove it.

· Approx. 168,000 cubic metres flow from the Falls every minute.

· This per-minute flow is enough water to fill over 50 Olympic sized swimming pools.

· The largest of the three, the Horseshoe Fall, is roughly 57 metres in height and 670 metres wide.

· The fastest rapids at the Fall have been recorded to reach 68mph or 109 kph.

OK, enough with the numbers, we know why you’re here. You want to know if anyone has ridden down the falls in a barrel! What’s the point of a waterfall if nobody goes down it in a barrel, right? Well, wouldn’t you know it, there are a group of daredevils, stuntmen and women who have at one point taken the life threatening plunge. In 1960, a 7 year old child was involved in a boating accident and was swept over the falls. Amazingly, he survived with minor injuries and was the first person to survive after going over without any protection. Barrels aside, walking across the Falls on a tightrope is also an exciting prospect for stuntmen. See the video at the end of this!

Maid of the Mist, Niagara Falls

The future of the Falls is a concerning issue as each year the Falls erode by an estimated 1 foot or 30 centimetres per year. At this current rate of erosion it’s possible that in 50,000 years the Falls will be transformed into a less thunderous flowing river. Nevertheless, for now the Falls are incredibly thunderous and an experience that must be had when on any North American tour.

The best way to see the Falls is to take a ‘Maid of the Mist’ tour, an inclusion on all Topdeck North American tours visiting Niagara Falls. The Maid of the Mist tour is North America’s oldest tourist attraction and has transported millions of passengers to get up close and personal to the waterfall since 1846. Getting soaked will never have felt so exciting, and it will make you look back to the time you had your face next to your kitchen tap and wonder what on earth you were thinking…

Tightrope Walker Nik Wallenda:

Maid of the Mist boat tour:

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 23!

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

23. Kiss the Blarney stone

Ever dreamed of puckering up and kissing Winston Churchill on the lips? Hopefully not, but hey, whatever floats your boat! Without grave digging (and really, who still does that in 2013?), the closest you could come to your fantasy is kissing the Blarney stone. At the same time you’d be kissing the same spot which millions of people have placed their lips on - all with the goal of obtaining the famous Irish ‘gift-of-the-gab’.

The origins of this magical stone are murky. The best (and therefore most true) story is that Cormac McCarthy, the 12th century King of Munster, saved a witch from drowning so she awarded him the powerful stone, which he kept in his stronghold of Blarney Castle - where it remains today. After the witch empowered the stone, she (obviously) gathered the local leprechauns and requested they tell all the good people of County Cork that anyone who had the courage to kiss her ‘Stone of Eloquence’ would be rewarded with “the eternal gift of gab.”

Eight centuries later, around 300,000 people each year make the trip for a quick smooch with the rock, which is located in the beautiful grounds of Blarney Castle in the south of Ireland. Cormac McCarthy did not make getting to his prized stone an easy task. Firstly, you have to climb up a narrow and spiralling rock staircase to get to the top of his tower. Secondly, the stone is wedged deep underneath a battlement. In days gone by, people were held upside-down by their heels in order to reach the stone. With dozens of them falling to their deaths, the clever people at Blarney Castle have developed a much safer method! You approach the stone, lie on your back, slide backwards and pucker up. And not to worry, a little Irish man will be holding your legs tightly.

No one knows the full amount of articulate and eloquent politicians, actors, literary giants, and business and religious leaders, who owe some, or perhaps all, of their success to the magic of the Blarney stone. Just think, this year you could be kissing the stone, and next year you could be collecting the Nobel Prize for Literature. It’s more or less guaranteed*.

(*not a guarantee).

You can snog the Blarney stone on Topdeck’s Britain & Ireland, Celtic Trail, and Winter Britain & Ireland trips, where we enjoy a ‘Totally Topdeck’ included trip to Blarney Castle.

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 22!

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

22. Watch a show on Broadway

Mamma Mia! If you’re in Chicago you’re in the wrong city and if you’re surrounded by Jersey Boys you’re in the wrong borough. Guys and Dolls, get yourself to New York and come to the Cabaret!

As if there isn’t enough to do in New York already, it’s also home to one of the most electrifying entertainment centres in the world – the theatres of Broadway. Broadway is actually a 24km long street running through the entirety of Manhattan and The Bronx, but the name is almost universally associated with the theatre district - encompassing 40 theatres, only four of which are actually located on the street of Broadway.

The 1940s ushered in the golden era of the Broadway musical when Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein combined their skills to create dozens of smash shows. With Rodgers composing the music and Hammerstein writing the lyrics, they created shows such as Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I and The Sound of Music. West Side Story followed not long after, and musicals quickly became big business in the Big Apple.

As the famous line from Cabaret goes: “Money makes the world go round”, but that’s not to say that any musical showing on Broadway is guaranteed to rake in the big bucks. It’s a cutthroat industry, and during the past 50 years, 75% of Broadway musicals have failed to make a return.

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, another famous musical writing team, combined to create Jesus Christ Superstar in 1970, one of the first examples of a rock opera. Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway in 1988 and you can still see it today, over ten and a half thousand performances later!

Current hot tickets on Broadway include Kinky Boots, Wicked, the Book of Mormon, and Avenue Q, but with 40 theatres and fierce competition between shows, it’s a safe bet that you’ll have a memorable evening whatever you see. That’s showbiz, kids!

Topdeck Top Tip: You can bag a discount between 25 to 50% on Broadway tickets by lining up for same-day tickets at the two TKTS kiosks in Manhattan. One is in Times Square at 47th Street and Broadway, and the other is in the Financial District at the corner of Front and John Streets. The most popular shows are unlikely to be available, but tickets may be released several times a day, so it’s still possible to grab great seats by stopping by at 6 or 7pm when queues are shortest.

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 21!

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

21. Touch the Berlin Wall

It’s April 1945 and Berlin is a long way from the “utopian” capital of the world Adolf Hitler had planned. Hundreds of thousands of Russian troops surround the bombed-out city preparing for a final attack on the Nazis, which has only women, children, pensioners, and a handful of soldiers left to defend it. Hitler and his wife Eva Braun leave their bunker rarely, but when they do they close the curtains in their Mercedes-Benz to avoid seeing the reality of their shattered city. That same month, Hitler and Braun commit suicide and Berlin falls to the Russians. The Second World War is over - 60 million people have died, and Berlin is left devastated.

Two months later, three of the most important men in the world meet to discuss the future of Europe - British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, US President Harry Truman and Soviet leader Josef Stalin. Over a couple of cigars, they agree to slice Germany into four quarters, each giving themselves (along with France) a piece of a very lucrative pie.

Crucially this story (pay attention here!), Berlin, as well as Germany, was split into four zones. The location of the city is bang in the middle of Soviet-controlled East Germany. This means that the French, American, and British sectors of Berlin were tiny islands of capitalism surrounded by a sea of communism. Check out where Berlin is in the diagram below -

The incredible events which followed are best explained in a timeline:

1948 – Conflict begins between the Soviets and the Allies regarding reconstruction and a new German currency. In response, the Soviets block off West Berlin, trapping its two million residents in their own city. The only way in and out of West Berlin is by air, and the Allies airlift in thousands of tonnes of food and fuel.

1950 – Tensions between the Soviets and Allies worsen – the name “The Cold War” is coined to describe the frosty relationship. West Berlin is prospering under capitalism, while life under communism in the East is grim. Thousands of residents begin moving to the West in search of more money and a better life.

1955 – By this time millions had defected to the West - mainly skilled workers and intellectuals (a so-called ‘brain drain’). In response, restrictions of movement between the two sides of the city increase.

1961 – On the 13th August a barbed-wire barrier was erected overnight between East and West Berlin. The following morning, families wake up separated, mothers split from their children, and workers cut off from their jobs. A few days later, a 91 mile concrete block wall is built. Residents of East were no longer allowed to enter the West - the “Iron Curtain” had fallen.

1963 – American President John F. Kennedy visits West Berlin and declares “”Ich bin ein Berliner” – a much needed morale boost to the residents. The Americans pump millions of dollars in aid into West Berlin. Attempts to flee into the West increase and the Russian guards at the wall are ordered to “shoot to kill”. It is estimated that approximately 5,000 people successfully made it to the West, however, up to 75,000 others were caught and imprisoned, and around 1,000 killed (the last person was shot in 1989).

1987 – Nearly fifteen years have passed since the wall was built when US President Ronald Reagan delivers a famous speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate. 25,000 Berliners cheered as he said: “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalisation - come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

1989 - An announcement from the East German government that they’d start granting exit visas to anyone who wanted to go to the West was misinterpreted as meaning the border was now open. News spread rapidly and, within hours, thousands of Germans ran to the wall and starting smashing sections down with tools. East German border guards were unable to stop the rush of people to the wall. Thousands of families and friends are reunited after nearly three decades apart.

After the devastation of the Second World War and the segregation of the Cold War, Berlin has reinvented itself beyond belief since the fall of the wall. It’s now one of the most liberal, tolerant, safe, and hedonistic cities in the world, and one of the best travel destinations in the world. As you walk around this modern, thriving city, there are constant reminders of its unenviable recent history – a sprawling Holocaust memorial, the headquarters of the dreaded S.S. (now a fascinating free museum), and surviving sections of the hated Berlin Wall.

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 20!

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

20. See Africa’s ‘Big Five’

“The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa - for he has so much to look forward to.” - Rich Mullins

So much has already been said of the powerful effect Africa has on a traveller’s psyche that it’s difficult to write anything without repeating the same clichés. Perhaps it’s the thought that the entire human race can trace their origins to this continent, or the vastness of the landscape which puts the significance (or more to the point, insignificance) of yourself into perspective. Whatever the reason, for almost everybody, a trip to Africa is an introspective and life-changing experience.

I come from Scotland where, if we had a ‘big five’, it would probably be squirrels, deer, badgers, otters, and voles. Sorry guys – you’re all lovely but you wouldn’t last long in Africa! The wildlife in Africa has evolved over millions of years to reflect the challenges of life in a continent with intense heat, a lack of water and vegetation, and most crucially - other extremely dangerous animals to protect themselves from. This has created, over millions of years, the most amazing animals on earth.

There’s no better way to immerse yourself in the astoundingly diverse wildlife of this continent than taking a safari through its national parks. Safari comes from the Swahili word for ‘journey’, and will take you deep into the natural habitat of the ‘big five’. This refers to the rhino, elephant, leopard, lion and Cape buffalo. The phrase was originally coined by big game hunters decades ago to refer to the difficulty in hunting these massive creatures on foot, but now, with huge efforts to conserve and protect these animals, it is more commonly used by safari tour operators to refer to five of the most incredible animals to spot in the wild. Africa overflows with a diversity of life and many other animals, such as the baboon, cheetah or giraffe, could easily be named on your own ‘big five’ list.

Some amazing facts about the ‘big five’ –


  • A lion’s roar can be heard up to 5 miles away.
  • The lion is the only member of the cat family with a tasselled tail, which is often used to signal to other members of the pride. Messages range from directional “this way” commands to flirtatious “come hither” invitations!
  • A lion’s claws are not only very sharp, but also retractable, which helps maintain the big cat’s slice-and-dice capabilities by preventing injury during play.


  • Leopards can drag prey weighing up to three times their own body weight up into trees over 20 feet (6 metres) tall!
  • They have amazing hearing. Leopards can pick up five times more sounds than humans can.
  • Leopards don’t need to drink much water - they can live off the moisture in their prey.


  • Baby elephants are born blind and some individuals suck their trunks for comfort, similar to the way young humans suck their thumbs.
  • African elephants are the largest land mammals on the planet, and the females of this species undergo the longest pregnancy - 22 months.


  • Black rhinos can pick up small objects and even open gates and vehicle doors with their upper lips.
  • The rhino’s horn is made of keratin - like human fingernails and hair.
  • The world’s rhino population has decreased 90% since 1970 due to hunting.

Buffalos -

  • Buffalo are said to have killed more hunters in Africa than any other wild animal.
  • Buffalos have fantastic memories and are known to ambush hunters that have harmed them in the past.
  • Cape buffalo are known to kill lions, and can seek out and kill lion cubs as preventative punishment.

Check this out - quite simply one of the most amazing videos of all time! This shows an epic battle between cape buffalos, lions, and crocodiles at Kruger National Park in South Africa:

To visit Kruger and other incredible African national parks with Topdeck, check out our superb range of African safari trips -