Southern Africa's Greatest Hits

  • 2 Weeks

This sampling of the best of what Southern Africa has to offer is a bit of a whirlwind tour, but it maximises your time in the best way possible by focusing on a few big-ticket destinations. It requires a mix of flying and 4WD adventuring.

Begin in Cape Town, Southern Africa's most beautiful city. After a couple of days enjoying its sophisticated charm, fly north to Windhoek to enjoy the colonial-era architecture and launch your Namibian journey. Overnight there, pick up your car and drive north the next day to Etosha National Park to look for lions, black rhinos and so much more. After a minimum of two nights, drive southeast then northeast to Rundu, where you can overnight on the banks of the Okavango River, before continuing on the next day to Maun in Botswana. From Maun, an unexciting town with excellent infrastructure, drive northeast through some of Africa's wildest, most beautiful and wildlife-rich country as you traverse the Okavango Delta on your way through Moremi Game Reserve, Savuti, Linyanti and Chobe Riverfront, camping at least one night in each. From Chobe Riverfront, it's a short hop across the border into Zimbabwe and on to Victoria Falls, arguably the world's greatest waterfalls.

South Africa, Mozambique & Swaziland

  • 3 Weeks

This 2000km-plus route serves up delightful variety, and you can get a good sampling of wildlife and local culture and still have time to laze on the beach. Short on time? Whiz through the Swaziland leg and stick to motorways where possible.

Using Johannesburg as a gateway, head east via Nelspruit to world-renowned Kruger National Park (Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park). The teeming wildlife will undoubtedly captivate you for several days. One option here is to cross into Mozambique via official border posts within the park, taking a look around in the Mozambican side of this gigantic transfrontier park. The wildlife is sparse but it's a serious bush adventure. Then you could nip across to the coast and do the rest of this itinerary in reverse, making a nice loop back through Swaziland and into South Africa again. Otherwise, if you’ve time, duck out of Orpen Gate for a look at remote and off-the-tourist-radar Blyde River Canyon. This awe-inspiring natural sight has good access points such as the Three Rondavels and Gods Window, and if you're really captivated, consider a 2½-day walk along the valley floor.

Continue south into Swaziland, where you can spend a few days hiking through the grasslands and forests of Malolotja Nature Reserve before heading on via Mbabane to the tiny but brilliant Mkhaya Game Reserve, noted for its black rhinos. After sampling the fine hospitality and food of this tiny mountain kingdom, it's time to get your feet wet. Head for the border town of Lomahasha in Swaziland and cross into the former Portuguese colony of Mozambique (formalities are straighforward) via the Mozambican border town of Namaacha. Motor down the approximately 50km to culturally intriguing Maputo and then head north on the EN1 and, if you’re getting desperate for a dip, stop at Xai-Xai’s surf-pounded beaches. Continue up the EN1 to Inhambane, one of the country’s oldest and most charming towns. Beaches close by include legendary Tofo, with azure waters, and the more sedate Barra. If you’ve got more steam, trundle a bit further north to Vilankulo, the gateway to the tropical paradise of the Bazaruto Archipelago.

South Africa & Namibia

  • 3 Weeks

For road-trip lovers. Even if you can’t squeeze in all of this 3000km-plus journey, you’ll come away with an immense appreciation of this remarkable region. Looking to make cuts? Shave some kilometres off the Western Cape loop. A car (4WD useful but not necessary) is definitely your best bet for this mega road trip.

After a few days in Cape Town, ogling Table Mountain from various vantage points around town, tear yourself away from this wonderful city and head to the fertile valleys of the Winelands, with a night or two in Stellenbosch or Franschhoek.

From here, continue east to the artists enclave of Montagu, and then via the scenic Rte 62 through the Little Karoo to Oudtshoorn, South Africa’s ostrich capital. Some possible detours along the way include a trip to Hermanus for whale watching if the season is right, or to Cape Agulhas for the thrill of standing at Africa’s southernmost point.

From Oudtshoorn take the N12 north and then loop back towards Cape Town via the N1, link up with the N7 and head for Namakwa to see the fabulous wildflower displays, which are especially good in August and September.

Keep tracking up the N7, cross into Namibia at Vioolsdrif and head to Hobas to see the Fish River Canyon – a mighty gash hacked out of the Earth's surface – one of the continent's great natural wonders. The best way to appreciate this work of nature's master builder is a five-day trek along the valley floor.

Further north along the B1, Keetmanshoop has some colonial architecture; but don't linger, head west along the B4 to surreal Lüderitz, a coastal colonial relic sandwiched between the desert and the Atlantic seaboard. Heading back to the B1, turn north at the C13 and make a beeline for the baroque Duwisib Castle, which is well worth exploring. You can stay 300m from the castle on a rustic farm or camp. From there head to Mariental back on the B1, and it’s another couple of hours to Windhoek, Namibia's small but colourful and cosmopolitan capital city with its bracing highland climate.

Zambia & Malawi

  • 3 Weeks

A 2000km route through the Southern African outback. Travelling in Zambia offers a taste of the real Africa, though the dusty roads will become a distant memory once you’re lazing by the crystal-clear waters of Lake Malawi.

Start with a few days in Zambia’s cosmopolitan capital, Lusaka, with its genuine African feel and the country’s best nightlife. Then head out on the highway to the stunning Lower Zambezi National Park, with its beautiful flood plain that’s dotted with acacias and other large trees. There’s no public transport to the park, so you’ll need your own car to get there, or go on an organised tour.

Hook up with the Great East Rd and head to chaotic Chipata. Before you get here, you'll come across Tikondane, a small grassroots NGO working with local communities that has decent budget accommodation and meals. At Chipata you can organise a trip to South Luangwa National Park, one of the most majestic parks on the continent. Make sure you do a walking safari when you’re here – it's one of the best places in Southern Africa to do it. From Chipata you can drive to Mfuwe Gate, or take one of the minibuses that make the trip to Mfuwe village. The really adventurous could try to reach the wild and spectacular North Luangwa National Park, but it’s important that you seek local advice before doing this; you need to be well prepared.

Return to Chipata, then it’s on to Malawi and the town of Lilongwe, which is worth a day or two to check out the old town and the local Nature Sanctuary. From Lilongwe strike out north along the M1 to Nkhata Bay on Lake Malawi, which is perfect for swimming, kayaking or just lazing about after some hard weeks on the road. Possible detours on the way to or from Nkhata include historic Nkhotakota, from where you can organise a trip to the revitalised Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, where you have a good chance of seeing elephants and roan and sable antelope. There's excellent lodge accommodation available in the park.

Malawi & Mozambique

  • 3 Weeks

This 1500km Mozambican bush adventure takes you into the heart of one of Southern Africa's most intriguing and diverse countries. Mozambique Island makes a wonderful contrast to the bush, and you can finish on the beach in the tropical island paradise of Quirimbas Archipelago.

Drag yourself out of the crystal waters at Nkhata Bay and, if you have time before heading across the lake, make a beeline to the enigmatic Nyika National Park. Here, you can briefly forget you're in Africa on a multiday hike among rolling grasslands and a surprisingly cool climate. When you're ready, hop onto the Ilala ferry for the blissful Likoma Island, where swimming, snorkelling and local cultures are the star attractions. Splash out for a night at Kaya Mawa if you’ve the pennies – it’s one of Africa’s finest paradise retreats. Take the ferry over to the Mediterranean-esque Chizumulu Island, with its idyllic beaches, and return by dhow (if the waters are calm enough).

From Likoma hop back on the ferry to Metangula and from there take a chapa (converted passenger truck or minivan) up towards Cóbuè, on the other side of the lakeshore in Mozambique. (Or, take a dhow direct from Likoma to Cóbuè). Stay the night just south of Cóbuè at Nkwichi Lodge, a magnificent bush retreat that is part of an important development and conservation project; it’s well worth a splurge. If your budget isn’t up to Nkwichi, try one of several backpacker-friendly places in Cóbuè itself.

After exploring the lake area, head south to cool Lichinga; surrounded by scenic, rugged terrain, it is the capital of remote Niassa province. Carry on through to Mandimba and on to bustling Cuamba, where you can pick up a train all the way through to Nampula. Then jump on a bus to magnificent Mozambique Island, with its intriguing architecture and time-warp atmosphere. If you need a beach break after exploring the island, hire a dhow to take you over to Chocas and the lovely nearby beach at Cabaceira Pequena. The trip finishes up a bit further north at Pemba, which is the gateway to the superb Quirimbas Archipelago.

Namibia & Botswana

  • 1 Month

This itinerary takes you from Namibia's Atlantic coastline to the heart of the Kalahari in Botswana. Although it touches on some of the big attractions, it mostly follows lightly trammelled routes.

Starting on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, a treacherous coastline with rusting shipwrecks and desert wilderness, check out the Cape Cross Seal Reserve. Then travel north into the wonders of Damaraland, with its wild, open spaces and memorable wildlife, then make a beeline for Twyfelfontein, one of the most extensive galleries of rock art in Africa. Next, journey to Etosha National Park, teeming with animals and one of the continent’s great wildlife-viewing areas. Exit Etosha via Von Lindequist Gate.

Track along the B8 into Botswana at the Mahango-Mohembo border crossing. Drive down the west side of the Okavango Panhandle, perhaps stopping in Sepupa to do a mokoro (dugout-canoe) trip in the Okavango Panhandle. The last leg of this ambitious trip is the iconic Central Kalahari Game Reserve to the southeast, lying at the heart of Botswana. Enter at the Matswere Gate at the northeastern end of the reserve: wildlife includes lions and brown hyenas. You can finish your trip by exiting the same gate and travelling east to Francistown, a busy town with plenty of good places to stay and eat at journey's end.

Zambia, Botswana & Namibia

  • 1 Month

From Zambia's central savannah plains to Namibia's remote northwest, this route combines wild landscapes, remote trails and brilliant wildlife. You'll need your own vehicle to cover the whole route.

Starting in the magnificent Kafue National Park in Zambia – classic wildlife country and one of the largest parks in the world – head south to the iconic Victoria Falls, a thunderous sight. From here head into Kasane in Botswana to duck your head into the wildlife-prolific Chobe Riverfront. Charter a boat to Mpalila Island, a luxuriously remote retreat stranded in the middle of the Zambezi. From here, head into Namibia's Caprivi Strip, and visit the mini-Okavango of the Nkasa Rupara National Park where the rains bring a delta-like feel to the forested islands. Then drive to the untamed wilderness that is Khaudum National Park, a serious adventure destination. From Khaudum the road takes you south through Grootfontein, from where it's worth making a short detour to the Waterberg Plateau Park. North of Grootfontein the road takes you into Namibia's cultural heartland, the Owambo region, and on into the remote and mysterious Kaokoveld, homeland to the Himba people, and possibly one of the last true wildernesses left in Southern Africa.