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24 experiences (almost) anyone can have in Southern Africa

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There is so much to do in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana besides just looking for wildlife from your Land Rover! Here are 24 wild activities to inspire your next African adventure - how many of these would you do?

1. Get soaked by the spray of Victoria Falls at sunrise.

Forget trying to take pictures when the Falls are thinner in September – go in June and July when the Zambezi explodes into Batoka Gorge sending spray up as fast as the water is coming down. Mosi-oa-Tunya meaning "The Smoke That Thunders" can be seen from miles away. Best place to stay nearby: Batonka Lodge Zimbabwe.

Pro-tip: take the scenic helicopter flight and capture the full grandeur of the Falls from the air.

2. Take a close-up photo of a leopard. 

These elusive cats are hard to find and even harder to photograph. Getting to spend some quality time with one is a rare and special experience. Best place for leopard sightings: Londolozi in the Greater Kruger National Park area in South Africa. 
Pro-tip: Use Londolozi's interactive digital database to record your sighting and learn about the long-recorded family history of each of the leopards that they monitor.

3. Track a lion during a walking safari in Zambia.

Imagine spending a day walking between remote bushcamps with just your guide and park ranger. Learn about all of the things you miss out on when driving around looking for wildlife: tracking predators on foot, following a hard-working dung beetle, tasting wild herbs, and picking out birds by their song. Being out of the vehicle heightens the senses and immerses you in the wild! Best place to stay: Kapamba Camp in South Luangwa, Zambia.

Pro-tip: Do your walking in Zambia where the walking safari started – if you're active, you can even do multi-day walks!

4. Fly in a hot air balloon over Sossusvlei, Namibia.

Get a bird's eye view over some of the highest sand dunes in the world before touching down to a champagne breakfast in the desert. You'll feel like you are at the edge of the Earth in Namibia where these towering desert dunes meet the ocean. Best place to stay: Little Kulala Desert Lodge.

Pro-tip: Reserve your spot ahead of time and dress warm because it can get really cold overnight.

5. Sleep out under the Milky Way. 

Southern Africa has some of the darkest skies on Earth and its typically clear enough to see the Milky Way at night. Falling asleep in a comfortable bed with the universe above and the sounds of Africa all around is incomparable. At some camps, you can choose to sleep out on one or more of your nights. My favorite places: Luwi Camp's Return to the Wild sleepout in South Luangwa Zambia; Skybeds at Sable Alley in Botswana; Sleeping on the deck at Jozibanini in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe and Huab Under Canvas in Namibia.

Pro-tip: This is an amazing place to try your hand at astrophotography just do a bit of practice before the trip because you don't want to spend all night messing around with your camera!

6. Visit a school or local village.

It's easy to get so focused on the wildlife that you overlook the communities that live right next door. Visiting a village or school can sometimes be the highlight of a trip for our guests as they get a chance to really connect with locals. Best places to stay for a community encounter: Bomani Camp, Hwange National Park Zimbabwe (Ngamo Village); Chobe Bakwena, Kasane, Botswana (school visit). 

Pro-tip: Bring a deflated soccer ball (easy to pack) and give it to the principal or headmaster to give away to a top learner.

7. Slip through the waterways of the Okavango Delta in a mokoro (dugout) canoe.

Time seems to slow down and you will be wrapped in tranquility as you glide through the reed-lined waterways of Botswana's Okavango Delta. As you are poled along you have a chance to check out birds, insects and amphibians (Angolan Reed Frogs!) while surrounded by the sounds of the bush. My favorite place for a mokoro ride is at Sable Alley in the Khwai Cocession. 

Pro-tip: Going at sunset makes for AMAZING photos and videos or leave the camera behind and just immerse yourself in the experience.

8. Sip world-class South African wine in Franschhoek.

A short drive from Cape Town is the premier wine growing region of South Africa. With a private specialist wine guide leading the way through this idyllic valley, you'll be spoiled for choice between South Africa's best varietals. Best places to stay in the valley: tranquil and rejuvinating Angala, centrally located Leeu House or the stately Franschhoek Country House

Pro-tip: Don't forget about all of the amazing places to eat where you can pair your wine with amazing food – my favorites (reservations encouraged): Marigold, Le Quartier's Garden Room and Foliage.

9. Support environmentally friendly and green initiatives.

Many lodges and camps are working to reduce their environmental footprint – using solar electricity, reducing or eliminating single-use plastics, composting, utilizing lodge-based gardens, and recycling. It's important for guests to affirm these moves and encourage even greater efforts. My favorite innovation is by Ila Lodge in the Kafue National park of Zambia which has introduced the first electric Land Rover for game drives and developed a community garden to support the local village as well as supply fresh locally-sourced produce to other nearby safari lodges! 

Pro-tip: Bring a re-useable water bottle that you can fill with filtered water at all of the camps and lodges and take the TAP pledge to eliminate single-use plastics within travel and tourism!

10. Stay in the Honeymoon Chalet on Sindabezi Island.

Escape to your own thatched chalet on a private island in the middle of the Zambezi river upstream from Victoria Falls. This secluded retreat is complete with a clawfoot bath with room for two, private dining decks and traditional hurricane lamp lighting throughout. How romantic can it get!? 

Pro-tip: plan on spending an extra day here at the end of your safari to decompress before returning home.

11. Meet a living fossil: the Welwitschia!

This plant is only found in the Namib Desert of Namibia with some living plants aged at over 2,000 years old! It won't win a beauty contest but this hearty and tenacious plant is fascinating to see and learn about. Namibia's austere environment is home to all sorts of amazingly adapted flora and fauna. Best way to see it all is on our 10-day Ultimate Namibia Safari.

Pro-tip: The best months to visit Namibia are May through October – but beware of sandstorms in Swakopmund between June and August.

12. Ride a horse across the savanna into the sunset.

The open forests and grasslands of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe are the perfect place to ride. With abundant plains game and even a village visit, riding enthusiasts and beginners alike will enjoy this very different mode of travel led by your highly qualified guide. For those with a lot of riding experience you might even consider a full-day or multi-day ride. Best camp for riding: Bomani Tented Camp

Pro-tip: Take some riding lessons before your trip because falling off your horse at a gallop in the African bush is not ideal!

13. Explore Botswana with a mobile camping safari.

With meals cooked over an open fire, a skilled naturalist guide accompanying you throughout your adventure and some of the best wildlife and camping spots on the continent, a mobile camping safari is a great way to immerse yourself, your family or group of friends in the wilds of Africa. My recommendation: our 12-day Wild Botswana Mobile Camping Safari which is one of the best value safaris in Botswana. 

Pro-tip: This is more glamping than camping with beds in the tents, warm water showers and en-suite bathrooms!

14. Paddle a canoe down the Zambezi.

There's something special about being on the water in Africa and especially on a big river like the Zambezi. While the Zambezi does offer some world class whitewater for extreme paddlers, the mere mortals among us can still be thrilled by the more tame stretches of the river. Best place to stay nearby would be Zambezi Sands River Camp

Pro-tip: There are hippos and crocodiles in the river which means you still need a guide and there are some waves and mini-rapids that you paddle through so you'll need a reasonable level of fitness.

15. Treat yourself to some luxury.

Punctuating your trip with an upgrade to a plush lodge or camp is a wonderful way to celebrate a special occasion, surprise your family or just to put the perfect ending on a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Gourmet food, attentive hospitality, top guides and stunning décor set these places apart. My favorites are Xudum in Botswana, Thorntree River Lodge in Zambia, Phinda Vlei Lodge in South Africa and Sossusvlei Desert Lodge in Namibia. 

Pro-tip: Give yourself permission to splurge on something really special and this will be the most memorable stay of your entire adventure!

16. Take a private tour through Cape Town.

Go with a local behind the scenes of the most beautiful city in the world! Foodies will love Bree Street, families and couples will love having a picnic on the Cape Peninsula and the active will love the hike up Table Mountain and kayaking with the penguins! My favorite places to stay are Cape Cadogan and Kensington Place in the city and the Sea Five Boutique Hotel in Camps Bay if you want something a bit quieter. 

Pro-tip: While it may be tempting to go it alone in Cape Town, our local guides will show you places you'd never find and give you the inside scoop that only a local friend can!

17. Get a bird's eye view from a helicopter.

Travel is all about having new experiences and getting a new perspective on things. Taking to the air above some of the most incredible landscapes in the world is great way to do both! My favorite places to fly are at Linyanti Bush Camp in Botswana and at Victoria Falls (see #1 on the list). 

Pro-tip: Buckle up, listen carefully to the safety briefing and make sure to use your camera's neck strap to avoid and technological skydiving incidents.

18. Take to the rails with a historic train ride in the bush.

Experience a part of history on some of the tracks that were a part of Cecil Rhodes dream of a Cape to Cairo railway line. The best place for trains is Zimbabwe: have dinner on a historic steam train overlooking Victoria Falls, take the Stimela Star sleeper train overnight to Hwange National Park or sip sundowners while spotting sable, lions and elephants on the Elephant Express

Pro-tip: For true train enthusiasts, combine all 3 train experiences into one custom itinerary.

19. Feel small by getting up close to an elephant.

Some of these giants are actually gentle, but not all! There are some places where you can get close enough to look up at an elephant that is particularly mild mannered and well habituated to human presence. Best place to stay: Vundu Camp in Mana pools where you can meet the resident wild ele Tusker. 

Pro-tip: These are wild animals and it is only the rare individual, well known by your guide, that will allow for an encounter like this; in other words, don't try this on your own!

20. Support a meaningful community development project.

Every adventure we sell includes a contribution to local development projects, non-profits and other programs working to positively impact the communities where we travel. Meeting the people working with these projects and some of those who are benefitting can be a transformative experience. My favorite project that we support is uThando based in Cape Town, South Africa. 

Pro-tip: Everyone can make a difference and every contribution, no matter how small or large, is something that everyone can feel good about. We feel so strongly about this we create adventures like our 2019 Water for Hwange Safari to directly support conservation and community developmetn projects.

21. Greet the Himba.

Some of the last remaining nomadic herders in Africa, the Himba of Namibia still roam Damaraland. These indigenous tribes still keep to their traditional dress, customs and lifestyle and have chosen not to settle in towns and cities. Best place to stay to get a chance to meet the Himba would be at Damaraland Camp

Pro-Tip: The Himba are nomadic so it may take a bit of time to locate them in the vast wilds of Namibia - also, greetings are very important – use "Tjike!" to say hello.

22. Catch a tiger…

…fish, that is! These river monsters are the stuff of nightmares with their pointy teeth. They also put up a great fight if you like fishing. The Zambezi River is full of these guys and the best place to stay for some fishing is at Ruckomechi in Mana Pools Zimbabwe or at Victoria Falls Safari Club in Victoria Falls. 

Pro-tip: It's catch and release only for these fish as they are filled with small bones and not particularly tasty.

23. Play hide and seek with the wildlife.

Hides and blinds are great ways to conceal your presence and check out wildlife up close and from different perspectives. My favorites are the look-up blinds at Jozibanini and Nehimba in Zimbabwe.

Pro-tip: Great wildlife sightings reward the patient – just when you are about to give up is usually when something amazing happens – wait for it!

24. Find the middle of nowhere at the end of the Earth.

The Skeleton Coast of Namibia is one of the most remote and austere places on the continent. Dotted with shipwrecks and pounded by the frigid South Atlantic Ocean this is about as far as you can go to really get away from it all. The very best place to stay is the inspired Shipwreck Lodge

Pro-tip: Enjoy a scenic flight over the Namib sand sea en route to the Skeleton Coast.


Interested in more Africa travel tips, check out my blog!

Ready to plan your own African adventure, let me know! 

Your friendly African safari expert,

Chris Moriarty

206-365-0686

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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