Must see attractions in Southern Africa

  • Top ChoiceSights in Zambia

    South Luangwa National Park

    For scenery, variety and density of animals, South Luangwa is the best park in Zambia and one of the most majestic in Africa. Impalas, pukus, waterbucks, giraffes and buffaloes wander on the wide-open plains; leopards, of which there are many in the park, hunt in the dense woodlands; herds of elephants wade through the marshes; and hippos munch serenely on Nile cabbage in the Luangwa River. The bird life is also tremendous: about 400 species have been recorded. The focal point is Mfuwe, an uninspiring though more prosperous than average village with shops as well as a petrol station and market. Around 1.8km further along is Mfuwe Gate, the main entrance to the park, where a bridge crosses the Luangwa River. Much of the park is inaccessible because of rains between November and April. All lodges/camps run excellent day or night wildlife drives and some have walking safaris (June to November). These activities are included in the rates charged by the upmarket places, while the cheaper lodges/camps can organise things with little notice. A three-hour morning or evening wildlife drive normally costs around US$40, while a wildlife walk is about US$50. The wide Luangwa River is the lifeblood of the park. It rises in the far northeast of Zambia, near the border with Malawi, and flows southward for 800km through the broad Luangwa Valley – an offshoot of the Great Rift Valley, which cuts through East and Southern Africa. It flows all year, and gets very shallow in the dry season (May to October) when vast midstream sandbanks are exposed – usually covered in groups of hippos or crocodiles basking in the sun. Steep exposed banks mean animals prefer to drink at the park’s numerous oxbow lagoons, formed as the river continually changes its course, and this is where wildlife viewing is often best, especially as the smaller water holes run dry. The park is famous for its herds of buffaloes, which are particularly large and dramatic when they congregate in the dry season and march en masse to the river to drink. Elephant numbers are also very healthy, even though ivory poaching in the 1980s had a dramatic effect on the population. Elephants are not at all skittish as they are very used to human activity and wildlife vehicles, especially around Mfuwe. This park is also a great place to see lions and leopards (especially on night drives), plus local species including Cookson’s wildebeest (an unusual light-coloured subspecies) and the endemic Thornicroft’s giraffe, distinguished from other giraffes by a dark neck pattern.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Cape Town

    Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

    Location and unique flora combine to make these 5.28-sq-km botanical gardens among the most beautiful in the world. Gate 1, the main entrance at the Newlands end of the gardens, is where you’ll find the information centre, an excellent souvenir shop and the conservatory. Added for the garden's centenary in 2013, the popular Tree Canopy Walkway (informally known as the 'Boomslang', meaning tree snake) is a curvaceous steel and timber bridge that rises through the trees and provides amazing views. The gardens run free guided walks, or you can hire the MyGuide electronic gizmo (R40) to receive recorded information about the various plants you’ll pass on the signposted circular walks. More than 7000 of Southern Africa’s 22,000 plant species are grown here, including the Cape Floral Kingdom's famous fynbos (literally, 'fine bush'; primarily proteas, heaths and ericas). You’ll find a fragrance garden that has been elevated so you can more easily sample the scents of the plants; a Braille trail; a kopje (hill) planted with pelargoniums; a sculpture garden; a section devoted to 'useful' medicinal plants; two hiking trails up Table Mountain (Skeleton Gorge and Nursery Ravine); and the significant remains of Van Riebeeck's Hedge, the wild almond hedge planted by Jan van Riebeeck in 1660 to form the boundary of the Dutch outpost. The outdoor Summer Sunset Concerts, held here on Sundays between November and April, are a Cape Town institution. The gardens are a stop on the City Sightseeing bus. The quiet Gate 3 (aka Rycroft Gate) is the first you’ll come to if you approach the gardens up Rhodes Dr from the south. There are three cafes, including the excellent Kirstenbosch Tea Room.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Victoria Falls (town)

    Victoria Falls National Park

    Here on the Zimbabwe side of the falls you're in for a real treat. Some two-thirds of Victoria Falls are located here, including the main falls themselves, which flow spectacularly year-round. The walk is along the top of the gorge, following a path with various viewing points that open up to extraordinary front-on panoramas of these world-famous waterfalls. One of the most dramatic spots is the westernmost point known as Cataract View (just before you reach the David Livingstone statue), where steps lead down to outlooks of Devil's Cataract, a dramatic view of the falls often accompanied by a rainbow prism effect. Heading back eastwards takes you past multiples viewing points of the main falls, where you'll witness the drama with full 180 degree views. Another track leads to the aptly named Danger Point, where a sheer, unfenced 100m drop-off will rattle your nerves. From there, you can follow a side track for a view of the Victoria Falls Bridge. If you're here in April, you'll need to hire a raincoat and umbrella just inside the gates – you will get soaked! During a full moon (and just before and after), the park opens again in the evenings in order for visitors to see the amazing lunar rainbow; tickets cost an extra US$10. The falls are located around 1km from the town centre (just before the border to Zambia) crossing, so you can easily walk here. Payment is accepted in US dollars, euro, pound and rand, as well as Mastercard and Visa. At the entrance there's a series of detailed information boards, and a decent souvenir shop selling a good selection of cultural books. Here there's also the quality Rainforest Cafe, which is a good spot for food or a drink.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Johannesburg

    Constitution Hill

    Do not leave Jo'burg without visiting Constitution Hill. One of South Africa's most important historical sites, the deeply moving and inspirational exhibitions here are split across four locations: the Old Fort, which dates from 1892 and was once a notorious prison for white males; the horrific Number Four Jail, reserved for nonwhite males; the Women's Jail; and the Awaiting Trial Block – now mostly demolished and replaced by the Constitutional Court. Tours depart on the hour and provide essential context. What you will hear and see will be shocking – the brutal facts of prisoners' incarceration here speak volumes. You will come away with an integral understanding of the legal and historical ramifications of the struggle. Many of the country’s high-profile political activists, including Nelson and Winnie Mandela and Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi, were once held here. Most tours last one hour and cover the Number Four Jail and Constitutional Court; tours at 10am and 1pm last two hours and cover all sections of the hill. After the tour you are free to wander around. If visiting with children ask directions to Play Africa, an interactive children's play facility in a previously unused section of the Old Fort. Also keep an eye out for regular concerts and cultural events hosted at Constitution Hill. There's a good cafe, called the Hill, inside the Old Fort.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Simon's Town & Southern Peninsula

    Cape of Good Hope

    This 77.5-sq-km section of Table Mountain National Park includes awesome scenery, fantastic walks, great birdwatching and often-deserted beaches. The reserve is commonly referred to as Cape Point, after its most dramatic (but less famous) promontory. Bookings are required for the two-day Cape of Good Hope Trail, a spectacular 33.8km circular route with one night spent in a basic hut. Contact the Buffelsfontein Visitor Centre for further details. Some 250 species of birds have been spotted here, including cormorants and a family of ostriches that hang out near the Cape of Good Hope promontory, the southwestern-most point of the continent. There are many bus tours to the reserve but, if you have the time, hiking or cycling through it is much more rewarding. Bear in mind, though, that there is minimal shade and that the weather can change quickly. It’s not a hard walk uphill, but if you’re feeling lazy take the Flying Dutchman Funicular, which runs up from beside the restaurant to the souvenir kiosk next to the old lighthouse (which dates from 1859). A 1km trail runs from here to its successor. It takes less than 30 minutes to walk along a spectacular ridgeway path to look down on the new lighthouse and the sheer cliffs plunging into the pounding ocean.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Namibia

    Sossusvlei

    Sossusvlei, a large ephemeral pan, is set amid red sand dunes that tower up to 325m above the valley floor. It rarely contains any water, but when the Tsauchab River has gathered enough volume and momentum to push beyond the thirsty plains to the sand sea, it’s completely transformed. The normally cracked dry mud gives way to an ethereal blue-green lake, surrounded by greenery and attended by aquatic birdlife, as well as the usual sand-loving gemsboks, and ostriches. This sand probably originated in the Kalahari between three and five million years ago. It was washed down the Orange River and out to sea, where it was swept northward with the Benguela Current to be deposited along the coast. The best way to get the measure of this sandy sprawl is to climb a dune, as most people do. And of course, if you experience a sense of déjà vu here, don’t be surprised – Sossusvlei has appeared in many films and advertisements worldwide, and every story ever written about Namibia features a photo of it. At the end of the 65km 2WD road from Sesriem is the 2WD car park; only 4WDs can drive the last 4km into the Sossusvlei Pan itself. Visitors with lesser vehicles park at the 2WD car park and walk, hitch or catch the shuttle to cover the remaining distance. If you choose to walk, allot about 90 minutes, and carry enough water for a hot, sandy slog in the sun.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Livingstone

    Devil's Pool

    One of the most thrilling experiences – not only at the falls but in all of Africa – is the hair-raising journey to Livingstone Island. Here you will bathe in Devil's Pool – nature’s ultimate infinity pool, set directly on the edge of the Victoria Falls. You can leap into the pool and then poke your head over the edge to get an extraordinary view of the 100m drop. Here also you'll see the plaque marking the spot where David Livingstone first sighted the falls. You can only visit Livingstone Island as part of a tour, and swimming in Devil's Pool is only possible during the drier months, usually from the middle of August to mid January. Five trips depart daily by boat to Livingstone Island, from where you'll swim to Devil's Pools. When the water is low around October and November, you’re able to access it via walking across, but a guide is compulsory. Note that access to the island is closed from around March to May when the water levels are too high. Prices start at US$90 which includes a full English Breakfast, US$158 for lunch or US$133 for high tea, including alcohol.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Bazaruto Archipelago

    Bazaruto National Park

    This1400-sq-km park protects the five islands of the Bazaruto Archipelago, plus surrounding waters. Thanks to this protected status, and to the archipelago's relative isolation from the ravages of war on the mainland, nature bursts forth in full force, with dozens of bird species, including fish eagles and pink flamingos, plus red duikers, bushbucks and, especially on Benguera, Nile crocodiles. Dolphins swim through the clear waters, along with 2000 types of fish, plus loggerhead, leatherback and green turtles. Most intriguing are the elusive dugongs, who spend their days foraging among seagrass meadows around the archipelago. Living amid all the natural beauty are about 3500 Mozambicans who call the archipelago home. National-park entry fees are normally collected by the island hotels, and in advance by most Vilankulo-based dhow-safari operators. Park headquarters are located at Sitone, on the western side of Bazaruto Island. While fees for diving, walking and other activities within the archipelago have been approved in principle, they are not currently being enforced.

  • Top ChoiceSights in South Africa

    Kruger National Park

    In terms of wildlife alone, Kruger is one of the world's greatest national parks. The diversity, density and sheer numbers of animals is almost unparalleled, and all of Africa's iconic safari species – elephant, lion, leopard, cheetah, rhino, buffalo, giraffe, hippo and zebra – live out their dramatic days here, along with a supporting cast of 137 other mammal species and more than 500 varieties of bird. The landscape is on a grand scale, stretching over 19,485 sq km, and though less in your face than the wildlife, it certainly has the power to charm. Beautiful granite kopjes (hills) pepper the bushveld in the south, the Lebombo Mountains rise from the savannah in the east and tropical forests cut across the far north. But what makes Kruger truly special is the access and opportunities it provides the visitor. A vast network of roads is there to explore on your own (incredibly), guided wildlife activities are everywhere and accommodation is both plentiful and great value.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Zimbabwe

    Great Zimbabwe

    The mysterious ruined city of Great Zimbabwe dates back to the 11th to 15th centuries AD and remains the emblem and heart of the nation. The Unesco World Heritage–listed site provides evidence that ancient Africa reached a level of civilisation not suspected by earlier scholars. The site is divided into several major ruins with three main areas – Hill Complex, the Valley and the Great Enclosure. The site is easily explored by yourself, but for more info, maps and the best routes, duck into the information centre at the site's checkpoint to pick up one of the booklets. If you want to delve even deeper, you can arrange a two-hour guided tour (about US$12 per person) at the checkpoint. The best time to explore (and beat the heat) is dawn and dusk when the sunrise, or sunset, enhances what is already a stunning site. Allow at least three hours to explore.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Johannesburg

    Apartheid Museum

    The Apartheid Museum illustrates the rise and fall of South Africa’s era of segregation and oppression, and is an absolute must-see. It uses a broad variety of media to provide a chilling insight into the architecture and implementation of the apartheid system, as well as inspiring stories of the struggle towards democracy. It’s invaluable in understanding the inequalities and tensions that still exist today. Located 8km south of the city centre, just off the M1 freeway. To do the museum justice schedule 1½ to two hours here. The sheer volume of information can make it an overwhelming experience; particularly distressing is a small chamber in which hang 131 nooses, representative of the 131 government opponents who were executed under antiterrorism laws.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Skeleton Coast

    Cape Cross Seal Reserve

    The best-known breeding colony of Cape fur seals along the Namib coast is in this reserve, where the population has grown large and fat by taking advantage of the rich concentrations of fish in the cold Benguela Current. The sight of more than 100,000 seals basking on the beach and frolicking in the surf is impressive to behold, though you’re going to have to deal with overwhelming piles of stinky seal poo. Bring a handkerchief or bandana to cover your nose – seriously, you’ll thank us for the recommendation. No pets or motorcycles are permitted, and visitors may not cross the low barrier between the seal-viewing area and the rocks where the colony lounges.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Blyde River Canyon

    Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve

    This stunning 260-sq-km reserve centres on the 30km-long Blyde River Canyon, where epic rock formations tower above the forested slopes and eagle-eye views abound at the dramatic meeting of the Drakensberg Escarpment and the lowveld. It's one of the world's largest canyons and one of South Africa’s most outstanding natural sights. Most visitors drive along the canyon’s edge, where Rte 532 offers plenty of viewpoints for gazing in awe. If you have enough time, however, the canyon is even better explored on foot. There are separate entrance fees for each attraction within the reserve.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Cape Town

    Table Mountain

    Around 600 million years old, and a canvas painted with the rich diversity of the Cape floral kingdom, Table Mountain is truly iconic. You can admire the showstopper of Table Mountain National Park and one of the 'New 7 Wonders of Nature' (https://nature.new7wonders.com) from multiple angles, but you really can’t say you’ve visited Cape Town until you’ve stood on top of it.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Livingstone

    Victoria Falls World Heritage National Monument Site

    This is what you're here for: the mighty Victoria Falls! It's a part of the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, located 11km outside town before the Zambia border crossing. From the centre, a network of paths leads through thick vegetation to various viewpoints. For close-up views of the Eastern Cataract, nothing beats the hair-raising (and hair-wetting) walk across the footbridge, through swirling clouds of mist, to a sheer buttress called the Knife Edge. If the water is low, or the wind is favourable, you’ll be treated to a magnificent view of the falls as well as the yawning abyss below. Otherwise, your vision (and your clothes) will be drenched by spray. Then you can walk down a steep track to the banks of the great Zambezi to see the huge whirlpool called the Boiling Pot. Watch out for cheeky baboons. Note during the dry season (from August to January) the water flow can be low to non-existent, in which case it's recommended that you cross over to the Zimbabwe side for a look at the main falls; visas are available at the border. When there's a full moon (and just before and after) the park is open in the evenings in order to see the amazing lunar rainbow.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Namibia

    Deadvlei

    Although it's much less famous than its neighbour Sossusvlei, Deadvlei is actually the most alluring pan in the Namib-Naukluft National Park – it's arguably one of Southern Africa's greatest sights. Sprouting from the pan are seemingly petrified trees, with their parched limbs casting stark shadows across the baked, bleached-white canvas. The juxtaposition of this scene with the cobalt-blue skies and the towering orange sands of Big Daddy, the area's tallest dune (325m), is simply spellbinding. It's an easy 3km return walk from the Deadvlei/Big Daddy Dune 4WD parking area – follow the waymarker posts.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Blyde River Canyon

    Three Rondavels Viewpoint

    The area's highlight, with a staggering view of these enormous rounds of rock, their pointed, grassy tops resembling giant huts carved into the side of the canyon. There are short walks in the surrounding area to points where you can look down to the Blydepoort Dam at the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve's far north.

  • Top ChoiceSights in North West Province

    Madikwe Game Reserve

    Madikwe is the country’s fourth-largest reserve and one of its best, covering 760 sq km of bushveld, savannah grassland and riverine forest on the edge of the Kalahari. It offers Big Five wildlife watching and dreamy lodging among striking (and malaria-free) red sand and clay-thorn bushveld. Madikwe does not allow self-drive safaris or day visitors, which means you must stay at one of its upmarket lodges to explore the reserve, but you get what you pay for at these exclusive bush hideaways. Wildlife watching is the main event here, whether from an open-sided safari vehicle or on foot with an armed ranger on a guided walk. Madikwe's numbers are pretty impressive when it comes to wildlife. For a start, there are around 1200 elephants, six lion prides, 400 giraffes, 340 bird species and healthy populations of klipspringer, kudu, gemsbok, springbok, leopard, caracal, rhino and buffalo. Tragically, one of the two packs of African wild dogs succumbed to a rabies outbreak, and late in 2017 the remaining pack numbered 14 dogs. Also at the end of 2017, three female cheetahs were about to be released into the reserve, hopefully to breed with the four resident males. Although nothing is guaranteed, top-notch sightings are the norm. In one 24-hour period, we saw close to a dozen rhino, elephants and a large buffalo herd all eyeing each other at the same waterhole; a pack of wild dogs; male giraffes fighting; two cheetahs on the hunt; and a pride of 13 lions. Most lodges include two wildlife drives per day (or one drive and a guided walk) in their full-board rates. Rangers communicate via radio with the other drivers in the reserve, so if a family of lions napping in the shade of a thorn tree is spotted nearby, your driver will hear about it. Restrictions on driving off road are minimal and the jeeps are tough enough to tackle most terrain, getting you close to the animals. The rules in Madikwe dictate that only three vehicles may be present at any one sighting, and this is strictly observed. While this may be frustrating while you wait in line and out of sight, it ensures that animals are not pursued/harassed by a convoy of vehicles, and retains Madikwe's credentials as a wonderful place to get up close with the animals. Madikwe has a full suite of outstanding places to stay. Most of them are exclusive and supremely comfortable. Advance booking is mandatory: you will not be allowed through the gates without a reservation (the guard will telephone your lodge to check you have a booking). For extensive information on all of the lodges, visit www.madikwegamereserve.net.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Limpopo

    Mapungubwe National Park

    Stunningly stark, arid, rocky landscapes reverberate with cultural intrigue and wandering wildlife at Mapungubwe National Park. A Unesco World Heritage Site, Mapungubwe contains South Africa’s most significant Iron Age site. The birdwatching here is excellent, as is the wildlife, which includes lions, leopards and elephants. But the park is as much about history as wildlife – archaeological finds from the 1930s are on display at the excellent Interpretative Centre and the site itself can be visited on a tour. In addition to the big cats and elephants, watch also for black and white rhinos, meerkats and some bird species that are hard to find elsewhere in South Africa, such as the rare Pel’s fishing owl. The park is divided into an eastern and western section (with private land in between). The main gate is on the eastern side along with the Interpretative Centre, Mapungubwe Hill, a Treetop Walk, Leokwe (the main camp), and the magnificent viewpoints that overlook the confluence of South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Mapungubwe has excellent organised activities, all of which must be booked in advance at the main park gate. The Heritage Tours are the only way to access the archaeological site, which is otherwise off-limits. All activities begin at the main park gate unless otherwise arranged. These include wildlife drives at sunrise (from 5.30am; three hours) and sunset (from 4pm; three hours); both cost R303 per person. night drives (from 7.30pm; two hours) cost R303 per person, while guided walks (from 6am; three hours) cost R444 per person. A Heritage Site Tour (from 4pm; two hours) costs R247 per person, while Heritage Tour and museum (from 7am and 10am; two hours) will set you back R283 per person.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Northern Cape

    Big Hole

    Although the R50 million that turned the Big Hole into a world-class tourist destination came from De Beers, touring the world’s largest hand-dug hole gives an honest impression of the mining industry’s chequered past in Kimberley. Visits start with an entertaining 20-minute film about mining conditions and characters in late-19th-century Kimberley, and a walk along the Big Hole viewing platform. The open-air steel contraption, jutting out over the 1.6km-round, 215m-deep chasm, enhances the vertigo-inducing view of the 40m-deep turquoise water. A lift takes you down a shaft for the simulated mine experience, where audio and visual effects give an idea of how bad life was for the early diamond miners. Sounds of tumbling rubble and explosions add to the claustrophobia. After exiting the mine, spend some time in the exhibition centre, which covers South African history and diamonds in general, as well as Kimberley’s story. Also here is the guarded diamond vault, holding more than 3500 diamonds and replicas of the Eureka and 616 (the world’s largest uncut eight-sided diamond, weighing 616 carats), which were unearthed here. Outside, and entered for free, is a partial reconstruction of Kimberley’s 1880s mining settlement, constructed using original relocated buildings, including a corrugated iron church, funeral parlour, sweet shop and bank, as well as a functioning pub-restaurant and guesthouse. Try your luck panning for diamonds and hitting skittles in the bowling alley. There is also a restored Victorian tram that takes visitors on a short ride (R10) to the other side of the Big Hole. There are plans to extend the line to City Hall. If you just want to see the hole itself, a reduced rate is offered (though not generally advertised).