A remarkably diverse region fused by its prolific wildlife, breathtaking landscapes and remnants of a fascinating ancient culture, Southern Africa will etch itself on to your heart.
The many and diverse faces of Southern Africa make it the continent’s most accessible destination. It’s perfect for the intrepid traveller – think Zambian wilderness, remote Mozambican archipelagos and Namibian deserts; and it’s ideal for new visitors wanting to slide a toe on to the continent for the first time.
Think sophisticated South Africa, compact Swaziland and friendly Malawi. From Okavango Delta luxury lodges to Cape Town budget digs, this is truly Africa.
Southern Africa has some of Africa’s great safari destinations: Etosha, South Luangwa and Hwange National Parks, Kruger and the Okavango Delta. The sheer number of elephants, lions, leopards, hyenas, rhinos, buffaloes, antelope and myriad other species will quickly overwhelm your camera. Spot them on self-drives, guided wildlife drives or charter flights and if that’s not up close and personal enough, what about the opportunity to track the highly endangered black rhino, on foot?
There’s famous Victoria Falls, the mighty Fish River Canyon, and the desertscapes of the Kalahari, but the lonely rural tracks that expose visitors to a wandering wilderness are just as memorable. In Namibia, huge slabs of flat-topped granite rise from mists of windblown sand dust. And Zambian flood plains are dotted with acacia trees and flanked by escarpments of dense woodland. Want to see all the landscapes the region has to offer? Put aside a lifetime.
For insight into extraordinary rock art left by ancestors of the San, an ancient people with direct links to the Stone Age, visit Tsodilo Hills in Botswana and the extensive rock art galleries in Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Peel back the centuries in the cultural melting pot of Mozambique Island; stay in a mud hut in Zimbabwe and watch Shona sculptors at work; prop up the bar at a shebeen in Soweto; or mingle with Basotho people in highland villages in Lesotho.
Namibia is Southern Africa’s headquarters for adrenalin-pumping fun, but there’s adventure to be had all over the region. Sail by dhow past remote islands off Mozambique’s jagged coastline, abseil Livingstonia in Malawi, tackle the ferocious rapids down the Zambezi River or bungee from a bridge at Victoria Falls. And that’s just scratching the surface.
Five Top Experiences
1. Victoria Falls
The largest, most beautiful and simply the greatest waterfall in the world. As iconic to Africa as “Dr Livingstone, I presume”, thunderous Victoria Falls will blow your mind. It’s the sheer scale of the falls that is its most impressive feature. A million litres of water per second are funnelled over the 108m drop, creating a plume of spray seen for kilometres. This is a sight that, when you’re in Southern Africa, you should move heaven and earth to see.
2. Etosha National Park
There are few places in Southern Africa that can compete with the wildlife prospects of extraordinary Etosha National Park, Namibia. A network of waterholes dispersed among the bush and grasslands surrounding the pan – a blindingly white, flat, saline desert that stretches into the horizon – attracts enormous congregations of animals. A single waterhole can render thousands of sightings over the course of a day. Etosha is simply one of the best places on the planet for wildlife viewing.
3. Fish River Canyon
The enormous gash in the surface of the planet in the south of Namibia is an almost implausible landscape. Seen most clearly in the morning, Fish River Canyon is desolate, immense and seemingly carved into the earth by a master builder. The exposed rock and lack of plant life is quite startling, and any attempt to take pictures is soon replaced with thoughtful reflection. The canyon’s rounded edges and sharp corners create a symphony in stone of gigantic and most imposing proportions.
The towering red dunes of Sossusvlei consist of incredibly fine sand that feels soft when it falls through your fingers and changes hue with the light. It’s astounding, especially given that the sands originated in the Kalahari millions of years ago.
The valley is dotted by hulking dunes, and interspersed with unearthly, dry vleis (low, open landscapes). Clambering up the face of these constantly moving giants is a unique experience. Survey the seemingly endless swath of nothingness that surrounds you, and feel as though time itself has slowed.
5. Okavango Delta
The Okavango in Botswana is an astonishing, beautiful and wild place. Home to wildlife spectacles of rare power and drama, the delta changes with the seasons as flood waters ebb and flow, creating islands, river channels and pathways for animals that move this way and that at the waters’ behest. No visit to the delta is complete without drifting in a traditional mokoro (dugout canoe). Exclusive and remote lodges are an Okavango speciality, and self-drivers can find outstanding campsites in the heart of the Okavango’s Moremi Game Reserve.
This is an edited extract from Lonely Planet Southern Africa (6th Edition) by Alan Murphy
Date: 18 August 2013