An astonishingly diverse region fused by its prolific wildlife, breathtaking landscapes and remnants of ancient culture, Southern Africa is Africa at its most memorable. Southern Africa has some of Africa’s greatest safari destinations: Kruger, Chobe, Etosha, South Luangwa 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 chance to track highly endangered black rhino...on foot? Or the chance to see the fabled black-maned lions of the Kalahari, or the desert elephants of Namibia? Or explore the Caprivi Strip, one of Africa's emerging wildlife destinations, before the rest of the world catches on. There's famous Table Mountain rising high above Cape Town, that mighty gash hacked out of the earth’s surface at Fish River Canyon, and the desertscapes of the Kalahari, but the lonely rural tracks that take you out into an otherwise trackless wilderness are just as memorable. In Namibia, huge slabs of flat-topped granite rise from mists of wind-blown sand and swirling dust. And Zambian floodplains 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.
Black-maned lions framed against Kalahari dunes; powdery beaches lapped by two oceans; star-studded desert skies; jagged, lush mountains – this truly is a country of astounding diversity. South Africa is one of the continent's best safari destinations, offering the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino) and more in accessible parks and reserves. You can drive right into the epic wilderness at Kruger, Kgalagadi and other parks, or join khaki-clad rangers on guided drives and walks. But it's not all about big-game sightings – wildlife watching here also teaches you to enjoy the little things: a leopard tortoise ambling alongside the road, a go-away bird chirping its distinctive chant in the trees, or an encounter with seals, whales or a great white shark along the coast. South Africa's landscapes are stunning, from the burning Karoo and Kalahari semideserts to the misty heights of the Drakensberg range and the massive Blyde River Canyon. Even in urban Cape Town, you need only look up to see the beautiful fynbos (indigenous flora) climbing the slopes of Table Mountain, while nearby, two of the world's most dramatic coastal roads lead to Cape Point and Hermanus. Add the vineyards carpeting the Cape Winelands, old-growth forests along the Garden Route, wrinkly mountain ranges from the Cederberg to the Swartberg, and Indian Ocean beaches, and there's a staggering variety to enjoy.
If Namibia is 'Africa for beginners', as is often said, what a wonderful place to start. Few countries in Africa can match Namibia's sheer natural beauty. The country's name derives from its (and the world's) oldest desert, the Namib, and there are few more stirring desert realms on the planet, from the sand sea and perfect dead-tree valleys at Sossusvlei to the otherworldliness of sand dunes plunging down to the sea at Sandwich Harbour and the Skeleton Coast. Inland, running through the heart of the country, a spine of mountains creates glorious scenery – the Naukluft Mountains, the Brandberg, Spitzkoppe, Damaraland and the jaw-dropping Fish River Canyon. With rivers and wetlands in the Caprivi Strip and the endless gold-grass plains of the Kalahari, it's difficult to think of an iconic African landscape that Namibia doesn't possess. Make no mistake: Namibia is one of Southern Africa's best places to watch wildlife, at least in the country's north. Etosha National Park belongs in the elite wildlife-watching destinations – big cats, elephants, black rhinos and plains game in abundance. Two other areas are emerging as complements to Etosha. Damaraland is a wonderful place to see desert-adapted elephants and lions, and also happens to host Africa's largest population of free-ranging rhinos – rhino tracking is a real highlight here. Over in the Caprivi Strip, the wildlife is returning, with Bwabwata and Nkasa Rupara becoming wonderfully rich parks to explore. This being Namibia, there are private reserves (Okonjima and Erindi premier among them) as well as game farms that serve as havens for rescued wildlife.
While from afar Zimbabwe's plight doesn't paint a rosy picture, the reality is different on the ground for tourists – most insist it's hands down one of the safest, friendliest and most spectacular countries in Africa. A journey to Zimbabwe will take you through an attractive patchwork of landscapes, from highveld, balancing boulders and flaming msasa trees, to laidback towns, lush mountains and lifeblood rivers. Here you can spot the Big Five (leopard, lion, rhino, elephant and buffalo) in its national parks, discover World Heritage–listed archaeological sites and stand in awe of one of the natural wonders of the world, Victoria Falls. Throughout its past two decades of governmental mismanagement, political violence and economic disaster, Zimbabwe continued to welcome visitors with the same grace and politeness that they were famed for. And as a result those who did travel here usually left insisting that that the country was hands down one of the safest, friendliest and most spectacular countries on the continent. In 2017 the post-Mugabe dawn that millions of Zimbabweans longed for finally arrived, and their excitement of what the future may hold is still palpable to all who visit.
Blessed with some of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth, Botswana is one of the great safari destinations in Africa. The Okavango Delta – there's nowhere quite like it on earth. This is a place where wild creatures roam and rule, where big cats and much bigger elephants walk free in one of the world's last great wildernesses. The delta is a byword for abundance – for animal numbers, for the variety of species, for the birdlife, for floods of Biblical proportions. And it is also a place of singular and unparalleled beauty where safari possibilities can seem as endless as the waters themselves. The Kalahari Desert, the largest unbroken stretch of sand on the planet, is not your ordinary desert. From the salt pans of Makgadikgadi, the baobabs of Nxai Pans, and the spare magnificence of Kubu Island in the north, to the wonderful wildlife of Kgalagadi in the south, this is a desert of exceptional variety. Throw in the fossil river valleys, swaying golden grasses, black-maned lions and the echoes of the indigenous San people in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and there are few more beautiful deserts on Earth.
Morocco is a gateway to Africa, and a country of dizzying diversity. Here you'll find epic mountain ranges, ancient cities, sweeping deserts – and warm hospitality. From Saharan dunes to the peaks of the High Atlas, Morocco could have been tailor-made for travellers. Lyrical landscapes carpet this slice of North Africa like the richly coloured and patterned rugs you’ll lust after in local cooperatives. The mountains – not just the famous High Atlas but also the Rif and suntanned ranges leading to Saharan oases – offer simple, breathtaking pleasures: night skies glistening in the thin air, and views over a fluffy cloudbank from the Tizi n’Test pass. On lower ground, there are rugged coastlines, waterfalls and caves in forested hills, and the mighty desert. Morocco's cities are some of the most exciting on the continent. Join the centuries-old trail of nomads and traders to their ancient hearts, from the winding medina maze of Fez to the carnivalesque street-theatre of the Djemaa el-Fna in Marrakesh. In the rocky deserts medinas are protected by kasbahs, on the coast by thick sea walls. But it's not just a heritage trip, as Morocco's cities are forward-facing too, with glitzy new urban design in Casablanca, Rabat and Tangier looking to the future as well as paying homage to their roots.