Are mid-year blues getting you down? Or have you already booked tickets to Southern Africa? Whatever the case, it may be time to start building the perfect itinerary and visit one of the world’s top travel destinations. Southern Africa has a thousand different landscapes, and countless more possible adventures. We’ve done our very best to narrow down those activities you absolutely have to try.
The Big 5 has captured the imagination of people all over the world. While we all love the Lion King, these majestic creatures do exist outside the confines of Disney films. And while lions, rhinoceroses, leopards, buffaloes, and elephants don’t roam the streets (sorry), they can be found in national parks and reserves. These parks are often bigger than most European countries, so going on safari is hardly a trip to the zoo. The Kruger National Park, one of our tops picks, is a Big 5 enthusiast’s utopia. Granite outcrops scatter the bushveld where zebra, hippopotamuses, cheetah (and the Big 5, of course) live out their lives. Tembe Elephant Park, another must-see, is home to a robust population of elephants. These babies can weigh up to seven tons; their saber-like tusks grazing the ground as they pound across the grassland. Southern Africa is full of opportunities to witness ancient creatures in their natural habitats, so go grab a pair of binoculars and get ready.
This 600-million-year-old behemoth has the whole of Cape Town, South Africa right at its feet. Covered in dainty florals and often hiding behind a swathe of clouds, Table Mountain is far from simply being a pretty sight to behold as it is best enjoyed while hiking. Take a few hours to summit this beauty, admiring the ocean views and curious hyraxes along the way, before hitching a ride on the cable car down for mind-blowing city and ocean views. The Cape Floral Kingdom is one of the most diverse in the world, with the Flinstones-esque protea being its crowning glory. This mountain is also one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the Earth, and when you get to the top, you’ll understand why.
Southern Africa has loads of thrills for the extreme sports enthusiast (whether amateur or expert). Adrenaline junkies flock to bungee jump off the Victoria Falls bridge every year, so why not give it a go. Four seconds of free fall dangling over the Zambezi River? Sign us up. The night before your jump will certainly be less than restful, but the rush will be worth it. Get ready to stretch out those arms and have a jump expert (politely) push you over the edge. If the jump is good enough for Will Smith, its good enough for us.
What better way to get in touch with your inner mermaid than by swimming with dolphins? This is no SeaWorld equivalent, certain spots along the Mozambican and Tanzanian coast allow for an otherworldly experience in the wild ocean waves. These spots of paradise come with swaying palms, talcum-powder beaches, turquoise waters, and plenty of sunshine. It’s a shame that most safari-enthusiasts will miss this side of Africa’s nature, but that doesn’t mean that you have to. Feel free to leave your wet suit behind, the water is warm enough by a long-shot, but goggles, flippers, and a snorkel will take you as far as you need to go.
There’s little that can beat a night spent under the swirling Milky Way – free from interfering pollution or light. Thankfully, Southern Africa has plenty of stargazing hotspots. Chobe National Park in Botswana is one of the best hideouts for this. Get ready to spot the Southern Cross or Orion’s Belt; we’re not sure if these make our horoscopes seem more or less convincing, but it’s fun even so. So, take a seat around the campfire, swap some stories, and marvel at the churning galaxy above.
‘History’ is hardly accurate as Southern Africa is diverse enough to require the term ‘histories’. There are tons of ways to learn more about your chosen destination and these efforts are the ones that will likely set your trip apart from any other. Traditional ways include visiting memorials, museums, and even art galleries. The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa pays homage to the triumph of activism over social injustice while mourning the losses that warranted such activism. The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art in Cape Town, South Africa is the largest collection of modern African art in the world. It explores history (and identity and expression) in breath-taking ways. Of course, you could always ask Southern Africans what their own stories and perspectives are; prepare to have your perspective changed.
‘Africa is a country’. If that phrase was painful to read, welcome. Africa has 3,000 different ethnic groups, and at least 2,000 languages. It is the second biggest continent and the second most populous. Moreover, its history is the oldest, tracing back thousands of years leaving countless empires to have come and gone. This means that a trip to Africa is a trip to one of the most diverse places on earth. There are so many opportunities to learn and be immersed, including homestays, special cultural tours, or just some extra-thoughtful traveling.
The Cape region in South Africa has vast stretches of wine farms dating back hundreds of years. These wines are now among the best in the world (though we may be biased) and are surprisingly affordable. What better way to spend an afternoon than basking in the sunshine, tasting some gorgeous wines, while enjoying homegrown culinary delights. If wine isn’t quite your… cup of tea (excuse the expression) then chocolate, gin, beer, coffee (and yes, tea) tastings might be. Africa has loads to offer, including local twists on international favorites.
Whitewater rafting on the Zambezi River is exhilarating. There are 19 level 4 and 5 rapids over 23km. You’ll start at the indomitable Victoria Falls (the world’s biggest waterfall and one of the Seven Natural Wonders) before paddling through water ledges, gorges, and splendid landscapes. The thrills are real, but you’ll be in good hands. An expert guide will always be with you, rapid to rapid, to ensure you make your way safely and ready for round two.
One of the simplest ways to experience a destination is to contribute your time to responsible service learning and conservation efforts. In between all your delightful sightseeing and adventure-having, you could pop onto a project to put your time, energy, and ideas to good use. There are plenty of outreaches – enough to match your interests. Volunteering isn’t just about giving, its also a chance to pursue your passions. You can volunteer with the Big 5, in healthcare, in early childhood development, or even through photography. It’s a great opportunity to stop being a tourist and start being a welcomed guest.
Where do I get started?
Can’t decide which item to put at the top of your list? We’ll make it easy for you. You have the opportunity to do most of these activities on our 2-Month Southern Africa Expedition. You’ll spend your time volunteering and traveling with fellow adventurers across South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Click here to get started – we can’t wait to begin.