The Guardian, April 19, 2013
1 Forge the Malaqi Trail: Wadi Mujib, Jordan
From its northern reaches in Syria, the Great Rift Valley cuts a swathe through Jordan, pushing up the mountains that define many of the country's beautiful and well-managed nature reserves. For an intimate encounter with this geology and the water that helped to form it, head to the canyon systems of Wadi Mujib to take on the Malaqi Trail, a sandstone assault course of rocky scrambles and dizzying waterfall rappels.
• The Malaqi Trail is open from April to October. A guide, £44pp, is compulsory (rscn.org.jo)
2 Discover the Nuweiba coast: Red Sea, Egypt
Departing the Middle East, the Great Rift runs the length of the Red Sea, where warm water temperatures have given rise to abundant coral reefs. In recent years, the tourist pull of the region's dive sites has taken a heavy toll on parts of the Sinai coast, but quiet Nuweiba is holding out as the antithesis of the more developed resorts further south. Look north or south of the unsightly port and you'll find laid-back beach camps reminiscent of Dahab 20 years ago.
• Nakhil Inn (+20 6 9350 0879, nakhil-inn.com) has double rooms from £37. Its six-day diving course costs £183pp
3 Brave Africa's lowest point: Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
The Rift hits the African landmass with a sizzle as three tectonic plates converge to create a sun-baked griddle of salt pans and active volcanoes, among them the other-worldly lava lake of Erta Ale. The searing heat, inhospitable landscape, and ferocious reputation of the Afar peoplecorrect that call the region home mean some refer to this area as the cruellest place on earth. If you like it extreme, look no further.
• Wild Frontiers (020-7736 3968, wildfrontiers.co.uk) has a 14-day Danakil Depression and Tigray Highlands tour from £3,095pp
4 Trek over the 'roof of Africa': Simien Mountains, Ethiopia
Looming high among the extinct volcanic outriders of the Ethiopian Rift, the Simien Mountains national park is nature junked up on steroids: a basalt escarpment 40 miles long and up to a mile high, populated by super-sized plants and armies of gelada monkeys. With relatively gentle trail gradients and relentless cliff-top views down to the eroded pinnacles of the lowlands, this is one of Africa's great trekking destinations.
• Simien Mountains Tours offers a four-day trek with renowned guide Dawoud Sulayman from £260pp
5 Journey to the Jade Sea Lake Turkana, Kenya
Twenty miles wide and 180 miles long, Lake Turkana joins Victoria, Tanganyika and Malawi on the list of truly giant Rift Valley lakes. Yet it is by far the most remote. Nicknamed the "Jade Sea" because of the light-green algae growing on its surface, it lies in a wind-scoured desert region of startling beauty. Getting here can be an adventure in itself, but some agencies can arrange light-aircraft flights to the outpost of Loiyangalani.
• Africa Budget Safaris has an eight-day Northern Kenya camping safari, including a visit to Lake Turkana, costing £609pp
6 Climb Kili's little brother: Mount Meru, Tanzania
Sure, at a height of nearly 15,000ft it's not as big as Mount Kilimanjaro, but neither is it anything like as congested, time-consuming or expensive. The ascent up Tanzania's second-highest peak (which takes three to four days) begins on the buffalo-patrolled grasslands of the Arusha national park, before winding up the volcano's eastern slope, with overnights at mountain huts. The summit day is challenging and spectacular, as the trail follows a razor-back crater rim that culminates in a scramble up to Socialist Peak (4,566m).
• Tribes Travel offers a four-day climb from £865pp based on a group of at least two
7 Cross Lake Victoria: Tanzania and Uganda
The only way to cross Africa's biggest lake is to hitch a ride aboard the MV Umoja. This tireless, Glasgow-built cargo ship has been tramping between Kampala and Mwanza, Tanzania's second most populous city, for more than 40 years. The journey was made famous by Paul Theroux in his travelogue Dark Star Safari and, though the crossing itself takes less than 24 hours, the experience captures all the joys and tribulations of independent travel in Africa.
• The only way to secure passage is to turn up and speak to the crew
8 Raft a grade five rapid: Jinja, Uganda
At Jinja, the Nile leaves Lake Victoria to start its 4,000-mile journey to the Mediterranean. But it doesn't leave quietly. The raging cataracts that characterise the river's early passage have made it a rafting hotspot, one of the few places in the world where amateurs can take on "grade five" whitewater. Foreboding rapid names such as Vengeance and the Bad Place allude to the kind of head-dunking, body-buffeting exhilaration that awaits, though fierce competition between outfitters has helped to ensure that safety levels are high.
• A full dayrafting with Adrift costs £82pp
9 Explore Lake Bunyonyi by dug-out canoe: Kabale, Uganda
A canoe trek with The Home of Edirisa, a charitable project based in Kabale, is the ultimate way to get beyond the lakeside lodges of Bunyonyi, among the prettiest of the Great Lakes to have been carved out by the Rift margin. The trip takes in many of the lake's 29 islands, while side treks through the surrounding backcountry can lead to impromptu encounters with the region's last communities of Batwa pygmies, as well as endless entourages of curious children. Proceeds go to local educational projects.
• Edirisa's three-day canoe and trekking trip costs from £88pp
10 Weep for Rwanda: Kibuye, Rwanda
Nowhere does the contrast between Rwanda's beautiful scenery and its apocalyptic past seem more poignant than in Kibuye, a picturesque town scattered over hillsides jutting into Lake Kivu's eastern shore. In 1994, 90% of the region's Tutsis were massacred during ethnic violence. Now 18 years on, tourism has returned to Kibuye in a recovery that symbolises the wider country's painful progress to reconciliation.
• Moriah Hill Resort, doubles from £82, or Home Saint Jean (+250 7 8882 3135), rooms from £5
11 Meet the relatives: Nyungwe national park, Rwanda
A trip to see Rwanda's mountain gorillas features high on many a wildlife-lover's wishlist. But for those after something more off-track, or who balk at the $750 gorilla-tracking permit fee, the chimpanzees of Nyungwe are a beguiling alternative. There are thought to be over 500 of our closest primate cousins living within the park's mountainous hardwood forests. A sprawling network of trails and canopy walkways provides plentiful opportunities to run into them.
• A chimp-trekking permit costs $90pp rwandatourism.com)
12 Go barefoot in paradise: Likoma island, Malawi
Cast adrift in Lake Malawi, little Likoma Island is renowned as the friendliest part of an already very friendly country, and an ideal place to do nothing at all. Its coast is framed by stately baobabs and swathed in white sand beaches, where accommodation ranges from camps offering simple reed cabanas to Kaya Mawa, one of southern Africa's most indulgent resorts. The island can be reached from the mainland on the Ilala passenger ferry, which passes through on its weekly circumnavigation of the lakeshore.
• Full-board stays at Kaya Mawa start from £237pp pn (+44 7453 326398, kayamawa.com). For something more affordable, a double chalet at Mango Drift costs from £20 (+265 999 746122, mangodrift.com)
13 Traverse the 'island in the sky': Mount Mulanje, Malawi
This far south, the Rift's volcanic origins show up in eroded mountains, known as inselbergs, rising steeply from the surrounding plains. The king of them all is Mount Mulanje, a 3,000m-high granite outcrop of forested slopes and tawny plateaux across 230 square miles of southern Malawi. The "grey, old, pre-human world" that Laurens van der Post wrote about in 1952 retains the same sense of wildness today, albeit tamed by charming colonial-era mountain huts that stitch the walking routes together.
• Guides and hut reservations can be arranged at the InfoMulanje office in Chitakale (malawitourism.com). A full traverse takes four to five days
14 Visit a world resurrected: Gorongosa national park, Mozambique
The grazing herds at this national park at the Great Rift's southern tip were once denser than those of the Serengeti but were all but destroyed during Mozambique's long and brutal civil war. Today a pioneering restoration project financed by the US-based Carr Foundation is reintroducing zebra, buffalo and wildebeest into its vast tracts of savannah and miombo woodland, and the predators are duly following. To come here on safari now is to witness a Mozambican gem brought back to life.
• Visitors pay a conservation fee of $20 (+258 823 082252, gorongosa.org). Accommodation ranges from camping (£8pp) to bungalows (£103 for a double)
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk