Southern Africa’s incredible diversity makes people come back time and again. The wildlife viewing is world-class, but it’s the landscapes forming the backdrop of your trip that really set the region apart. Among Southern Africa’s top attractions is Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall. Cape Town offers the perfect mix of cool urban vibe and natural beauty. Here are 5 of the top places to visit in Southern Africa..
Kruger National Park, South Africa
Kruger National Park is one of Africa’s largest game reserves. At 20,000km2/7,722mi2, it’s the size of a small country such as Wales. So it’s not surprising that the variety of wildlife is amongst Africa’s best. Aside from the sought-after Big Five, lots of other creatures, both great and small, inhabit this vast ecosystem.
You’ll be amazed by the number of species you’ll be able to check off. However, more important than the quantity of wildlife sightings is the quality. At Kruger, patient visitors are regularly rewarded with something special. It might be a mother cheetah teaching her cubs to hunt. Or two majestic kudu bulls fighting. Or it could be social interaction between the spotted hyenas that often den in roadside drainage lines.
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Zambia
When you visit Victoria Falls, you’ll understand why it is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. This is where the mighty Zambezi River, at 1.7km/1mi wide, tumbles down more than a hundred metres. The sheer power of this curtain of flowing water is likely to move you today, as it did David Livingstone when he first arrived here in 1855.
Livingstone, a Scottish missionary and explorer, named the falls in honour of Queen Victoria. However, the local name is Mosi-oa-Tunya, or ‘the smoke that thunders’. It is this name that evokes an overwhelming sensation of being submerged in the roaring sound and mist of spray surrounding this World Heritage Site.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
The Okavango Delta, one of the world’s largest inland water systems, is a maze of lagoons, channels and floating islands surrounded by the Kalahari Desert. This vast permanent oasis attracts large numbers of animals. Elephant, buffalo and lots of antelope thrive here, and predators are never far off. Moremi Game Reserve offers excellent wildlife viewing on land, but I love to explore the channels by mokoro. The silent, slow movement through the water is almost hypnotic. The low-level vantage point makes for some great photo opportunities such as a hippo yawning or a delicate jacana walking on waterlilies.
South Luangwa, Zambia
If you want an in-depth safari experience in Southern Africa, consider going to South Luangwa National Park. Although most iconic animals can be found here, it is not only about checking off the Big Five. The quality of the guiding is superb and there is a lot of emphasis on spending time out in the bush learning about almost everything. The highly qualified guides supplement the drives with bush walks.
Seeing buffalo, elephant or any big predators on foot is not for the faint-hearted, so be prepared for the odd adrenaline rush. South Luangwa is great for night drives too. I saw a caracal pouncing on its prey, a leopard patrolling his territory, and two porcupines scurrying off in the distance, all in one evening.
Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe
Remote and rugged Mana Pools National Park, set on the south bank of the Zambezi River, is a great destination for the adventurous wildlife enthusiast. The best way to explore the park is on foot. However, be aware that there is a good population of wildlife around and encountering big animals is a real possibility.
Canoe trips are also recommended. Hippos and crocodiles are everywhere. Dodging between them is one of the most important skills a river guide can possess. When you canoe the narrow channels that flank the main river, you might see anything. Paddling past a pride of lions approaching the water to drink was one of my most exciting wildlife encounters.