Most flights into Southern Africa arrive at Johannesburg (South Africa) and this is usually the cheapest access point for the region. You may find flights that arrive in other Southern African cities – notably Windhoek, Maun, Victoria Falls, Maputo and Lusaka – but options are limited and usually restricted to flights from elsewhere in Africa.
Airports & Airlines
The major air hub for Southern Africa is OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, which has had a major upgrade. It is now a world-class airport with a full range of shops, restaurants, internet access, ATMs, foreign-exchange bureaus, and mobile-phone and car-rental outlets. It also has a full board of connecting flights to cities across Southern Africa.
Other international airports that serve as minor gateways to the region:
South African Airways has the largest selection of flights into Southern Africa from Africa and elsewhere, but numerous other international airlines fly into Johannesburg from across the globe.
Departure tax is included in the price of a ticket.
Unless you're willing to brave Angola and/or Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the only way to enter Southern Africa by land is from Tanzania to Zambia, Mozambique or Malawi.
For a long time, the most frequented routes into Southern Africa were from Tanzania into Malawi at Songwe, and from Tanzania into Zambia at Nakonde. With two bridges now crossing the Rovuma River, it is now straightforward to drive from Tanzania into Mozambique.
As long as you don't mind taking at least 30 hours to get there, buses connect Lilongwe and Dar es Salaam five times a week; you can also get on/off at Mzuzu.
If your journey involves shorter hops, the towns of Mbeya (southern Tanzania) and Karonga (northern Malawi) serve as gateways to the Songwe border crossing.
There are three land border crossings between Tanzania and Mozambique: Kilambo/Namiranga (130km north of Moçimboa da Praia); Negomano Unity Bridge; and Mtomoni Unity Bridge 2 (120km south of Songea). Moçimboa da Praia (Mozambique) and Palma are sea ports only.
Of these, the main vehicle crossing over the Rovuma is via the Unity Bridge at Negomano, while the main routes with cross-border public transport are Dar-Mtwara-Negomano-Pemba-southwards or via Songea over Unity Bridge 2 to Lichinga. Crossing at Kilango requires an unreliable ferry crossing, while the Palma entry point is for those arriving by dhow or charter flight.
And a word of warning: don't turn up at this border without a visa for both countries already in your passport.
There is a road and train crossing between Nakonde (Zambia) and Tunduma (Tanzania); there are two international rail crossings per week, as well as buses. Once across the border, chances are you'll end up in Kapiri Mposhi (Zambia), which is within easy reach of Lusaka, Livingstone and Victoria Falls.
If you're heading north, it's best if you have a Tanzanian visa in your passport before setting out.
The situation has improved in Angola since the end of the 27-year war in 2002. Some travellers are crossing to Angola from Namibia, and independent travel is possible although it's recommended only for the intrepid; you need to arrange your visa in advance before entering, and this can take a long time through Angolan embassies in Namibia, as well as ultimately being a frustrating experience. From Angola, the main border crossings into Namibia are at Ruacana, Oshikango and Rundu. Another thing to remember is that Angola can be extremely expensive – Luanda is one of the world's most expensive cities.
A few intrepid travellers are also crossing the border between Angola and Zambia, but this is a very remote crossing and you should research this in advance.
From DRC, the most convenient crossing connects Chingola in Zambia's Copperbelt with Lubumbashi in Katanga Province, via Chililabombwe (Zambia) and Kasumbalesa (DRC). However, due to safety issues (and because DRC visas are only available to Zambian residents or those with a letter of invitation from the DRC government) few travellers use this option.
Car & Motorcycle
Driving into Southern Africa from Tanzania is relatively straightforward, one of few such sectors on the once-well-worn overland route from Europe to South Africa. The main points to emphasise include the following:
- It involves incredibly long distances; expect to take longer than planned thanks to the constant challenge of dealing with police and/or border officials.
- Drivers should be mechanically competent and carry a good collection of spares.
- You’ll need vehicle registration papers, liability insurance, a driver’s licence and International Driving Permit, as well as a carnet de passage, effectively a passport for the vehicle and temporary waiver of import duty, designed to prevent car-import rackets.
- Your home liability insurance won’t be valid in many countries, and some require international drivers to purchase expensive (and effectively useless) insurance when crossing borders. In most cases, this is just a racket, and no matter what you spend on local insurance, you’ll effectively be travelling uninsured.
Although overlanding across Africa from Europe or the Middle East has become quite difficult due to the various ‘roadblocks’ imposed by unrest, some overland tour operators still take up the challenge. Thanks to troubles across the Sahara and North Africa, most now take the easier option and begin in Kenya. If you're driving these routes, they can represent an epic trip.
The other possibility is as part of an overland tour. While these trips are popular, they’re designed mainly for inexperienced travellers who feel uncomfortable striking out on their own or for those who prefer guaranteed social interaction to the uncertainties of the road. If you have the slightest inclination towards independence or would feel confined travelling with the same group of 25 or so people for most of the trip (although quite a few normally drop out along the way), think twice before booking an overland trip.
For most people, reaching Southern Africa by sea is not a viable option. The days of working your passage on commercial boats have vanished, although a few travellers do manage to hitch rides on private yachts along the east coast of Africa from Mombasa (Kenya) to Mozambique or South Africa.
Alternatively, several cargo-shipping companies sail between Europe and South Africa, with cabins for public passengers. The voyage between London and Cape Town takes about 16 days.
If you feel inexperienced, are unsure of travelling by yourself or are just a sucker for constant company, then tours can be a very good option. However, many find the experience quite suffocating and restrictive.
Around Southern Africa
A few things to remember when considering booking a tour:
- Hedge your bets and take a shorter tour – this gives you the option of either taking another tour or striking out on your own, with the benefit of having visited some of the places you may like to spend more time in.
- In Europe it’s becoming increasingly popular to look for late bookings, which may be advertised in travel sections of weekend newspapers, or even at special late-bookings counters in some international airports.
- One of the best places to begin looking for reputable agencies is weekend newspapers or travel magazines, such as Wanderlust in the UK and Outside or National Geographic Adventure in the US.
- Speciality magazines for flower, birdwatching, wildlife-viewing, railway and other buffs may also include advertising for tours focusing on their own areas of interest.
African Wildlife Safaris Customised tours and safaris in South Africa and neighbouring countries.
Peregrine Guided and independent tours and safaris in South Africa, Swaziland and beyond, including family adventures.
Africa Safari Co Uses small lodges and tented camps when planning Southern African itineraries. These include routes such as Cape Town to Vic Falls.
Makila Voyages A reputable French outfit offering tours that cover seven of the region's nine countries.
Explore Worldwide Ltd Organises group tours throughout the region, focusing on adventure and wildlife safaris.
In the Saddle Appeals specifically to horse aficionados, and includes a range of adventurous horse-riding routes.
Naturetrek This company’s aim is to get you to where the animals are. It offers specialised wildlife-viewing itineraries.
Temple World This sophisticated and recommended company organises middle- to upper-range tours to the best of the region.
Wildfoot Travel High-end wildlife-focused tours to some of the region's best lodges and wildlife areas.
Africa Adventure Company These top safari specialists can organise any sort of Southern Africa itinerary.
Born Free Safaris & Tours Itineraries covering areas from the Cape to Swaziland and further north in Southern Africa.
Bushtracks Expeditions Luxury safaris and private air charters.
Exodus A travel specialist that organises budget to midrange tours and is the US agent for several overland operators, including Guerba, Dragoman and Karibu.
International Expeditions Specialises in photographic and wildlife-viewing safaris.
Mountain Travel Sobek Tours to the big safari destinations across the region.
Premier Tours & Travel Premier specialise in detailed, customised itineraries all over Southern Africa, including accommodating special interests.
Wilderness Travel Much-applauded culture, wildlife and hiking specialist.