- Not to be confused with South Africa, a country in southern Africa.
Southern Africa is marked by sub-tropical, semiarid and temperate climates, in contrast to the tropical savannas and dense jungles of Central Africa. Dramatic landscapes such as, Victoria Falls, the Fish River Canyon Park, the Drakensberg Mountains and gorgeous beaches such as those of Bazaruto Archipelago National Park, Pemba, the South Coast (KwaZulu-Natal) amongst others are a huge draw for visitors, especially in the Southern hemisphere summer when Europe is in the depths of winter.
Not to be outdone are Southern Africa's cities and towns, chief among them majestic Cape Town with its scenic setting, as well as underrated gems such as formerly Portuguese-ruled Maputo and historic Bulawayo. This is all rounded out by the regions near unmatched national parks such as Kruger National Park and Mana Pools National Park. Overall, Southern Africa offers the flora and fauna that Africa is known for, with a diversity and modernity that may surprise visitors.
Famous for the rich wildlife of the Okavango Delta.
|Eswatini (Swaziland) |
Home to the Swazi Kingdom. A small landlocked country between South Africa and Mozambique.
The Kingdom in the Sky.
The warm heart of Africa, ample recreational activities around Lake Malawi.
Relax on the stunningly beautiful beaches and reefs or get into the backcountry and do some exploring. One of Africa's few Portuguese-speaking nations
Namibia produces some of the world's highest quality diamonds. Home to ancient Bushmen and Herero tribes as well as German speaking farmers and Teutonic architecture. Diverse arid and semi arid landscapes abound
|South Africa |
One of the most accessible countries in Africa with its share of wildlife and tourist-friendly sites. Has overcome its dark and tragic history to become the Rainbow Nation once more. Beautiful, diverse cities, welcoming locals and dramatic landscapes
A peaceful and landlocked country in the north of Southern Africa. Offers a welcome respite to its busier southern neighbors
Once known as the breadbasket of Africa, widely known for its famous landmarks, tourist attractions and varied scenery. A curious and lively mix of African and British cultures
A number of other countries are sometimes considered part of Southern Africa due to their accessibility from the countries listed above, such as Angola and some East African islands such as the Seychelles and Mauritius. In some instances all of the countries south of the Equator are viewed as Southern Africa. For the purpose of this guide, these countries are described in other regions.
- 1 Cape Town — South Africa's legislative capital and vibrant port city. Full of history and home to outstanding natural beauty, where you can climb a mountain and tan on the beach all in the same day.
- 2 Gaborone — The capital of Botswana is a friendly, though somewhat sleepy place that lies at the nexus of two countries
- 3 Harare — The capital of Zimbabwe that hosts numerous cultural, sporting and historic attractions. Home to many an affluent English style garden suburb as well as vibrant workaday neighborhoods.
- 4 Johannesburg — The largest city in South Africa. The regions centre of commerce, culture, shopping and traffic. Slowly shedding its former crime capital image and a great representative of life in modern South Africa.
- 5 Lilongwe — The capital of Malawi
- 6 Lusaka — The capital of Zambia. Friendlier and much more African feeling than cities to its south, Lusaka feels like an introduction to the 'real Africa'.
- 7 Durban — South Africa's resort city par excellence. Home to the largest Indian population outside Asia and a growing Zulu middle class, the city is subtropical, exotic and hedonistic. Home to a vibrant house music scene and equally impressive nightlife.
- 8 Maputo — The Mediterranean-like capital of Mozambique is laid-back, warm and inviting. Scenic beaches, art deco buildings, an emerging art scene and excellent cuisine.
- 9 Windhoek — The capital of Namibia. Home to impressive German style architecture, this small city is well ordered and captures the growing confidence of its diverse inhabitants
- 1 Chobe National Park in Botswana — great wildlife viewing
- 2 Etosha National Park in Namibia — another park good for seeing wildlife
- 3 Fish River Canyon Park in Namibia — the second largest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon in the USA
- 4 Ilha de Mozambique in Mozambique — an island with some of the most notable historical heritage anywhere in Africa
- 5 Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in Botswana and South Africa — huge park in the Kalahari region
- 6 Kruger National Park in South Africa — one of the best managed wildlife parks in Africa
- 7 Okavango Delta in Botswana — a unique geological formation where a delta is formed by the Okavango River flowing into the Kalahari desert instead of the ocean; part is designated as Moremi Game Reserve
- 8 South Luangwa National Park in Zambia — one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world
- 9 Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe — amazing falls in the west of the country, also accessible from Zambia
The Drakensberg (mountains of the dragon) range stretches some 1000km through Southern Africa, from the Eastern Cape through Lesotho (most of this country is on a plateau of the mountain range), central KwaZulu-Natal (where one can find the Tugela Falls, the second highest waterfall in the world), divides Mpumalanga in half creating the Escarpment and the Blyde River Canyon (the third largest canyon in the world) from where it reaches up into the southern parts of Limpopo.
English is an official language in all countries in the region except Mozambique, and most urban dwellers speak it quite well. It will be by far the most useful while travelling through the region. Afrikaans is widely spoken in South Africa and Namibia, and German is also spoken by some in Namibia. You may encounter Portuguese in the region as well, especially in Mozambique where it is the official language. French speakers are few and far in between, largely limited to Congolese and Cameroonian immigrants, French expats and less commonly upper middle class residents. The situation for Spanish speakers is even more dire, and they may better off trying their best at Portuguese.
Bantu languages dominate the area. Learning a few local words in the area you are in will greatly endear you to locals and if nothing else serves as a great icebreaker. The most spoken languages are Zulu, Shona, Nyanja-Chewa and Tswana. Zulu and Tswana are two languages that both contain to the famous African 'click' that may be a challenge for the uninitiated. Visitors should not feel intimidated though, any attempt to speak a local language is likely to go well with locals and earn you a few laughs.
The Khoisan languages, including Nama, are spoken by the Khoikhoi and the San peoples, prevalent around the Kalahari.
South Africa's O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB IATA) in Johannesburg and Cape Town International Airport (CPT IATA) are two of the easiest entry points into the region, with many direct international flight landing there from Amsterdam, Bangkok, Lisbon, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich, Athens, Dubai, Doha, New York, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Buenos Aires, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Sydney, Perth and others.
Connections to the rest of the Southern African region is easily made from here with flights to Blantyre, Cairo, Gaborone, Dar es Salaam, Harare, Lilongwe, Livingstone, Luanda, Lusaka, Kinshasa, Maputo, Manzini, Maun, Mauritius, Nairobi, Victoria Falls, Windhoek and more.
Numerous ocean liners stop in multiple ports throughout Southern Africa, and can make a great way to explore the sub-continent. Europe or South America are the most frequent location to find a boat heading to Southern Africa. For the truly adventurous, there are infrequent ships coming up from Antarctica.
Southern Africa is easily reachable by yacht, but be sure your route avoids the pirate-infested waters of North Africa.
Entering Southern Africa by car is an amazing way to see all the region's beauty as well as to get to places off the normal tourist routes. This can be done in a normal car with careful planning but a 4x4 is highly advised and many locations are only accessible with a high wheel base 4x4.
Keep in mind while planning that although Southern Africa is stable not all neighboring countries are. Please research all countries before entering them. Visa requirements and costs vary from nation to nation and are affected by the country you come from.
Each country also has unique laws requiring what emergency items need to be in the car. It is well worth looking into getting a 'Carnet de Passage' as it can save you small fortune in import taxes for your car.
Unfortunately corruption still infects certain of these countries and you'd be best advised to look into best travelling practices for each country before you arrive.
Reaching Southern Africa by train ranges between highly impractical to impossible, with many former routes either closed down or in a state of disrepair. The only scheduled service from another country outside Southern Africa is the TAZARA route from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia.
Southern Africa has limited airline options, and varies from country to country. Most countries have a national airline that will fly at least to Johannesburg (O.R. Tambo International) and other neighboring countries. The two largest carriers in the region are South African Airways and British Airways. Smaller airlines include most of the local countries national airlines, but prices can be excessively high.
Cars can be hired in all Southern African countries but South Africa is the cheapest country to hire in. Rates start from $20 a day or $300 a month for a cheap get around car (e.g. old VW Beetle), to $130 per day or $330 per month for an entry level 4x4. Depending on who you hire from there most likely will be a fee to cross borders but this should include a tow fee back to South Africa if you break down in elsewhere in the region. This can easily be arranged on line and there are plenty of forums giving advice on the best options available.
Buying a car is also easiest to do in South Africa as they are most amenable to non-citizens owning vehicles. A second hand entry level car can be purchased for less than $200 (e.g. Classic VW Beetle) to a 4x4 costing less than $5100. If you do purchase a second hand vehicle it's best to personally inspect it, as well as have mechanic inspect it before purchase. Be careful of were you go to buy the car as many areas in South Africa are not tourist safe, so make sure to meet at a mall or some other convenient location.
Driving your own car or hired car through Southern Africa will require that you have a fully road worthy car and all the legal accessories in your car. These accessories are country dependent and you should check each country you plan to enter before leaving, the items may include red triangles, fire extinguisher, spare wheel, etc. Corruption in Southern Africa is a problem (country dependent), so be cautious about best practice for each country and that they have no excuse to fine or in the worst case arrest you. And be warned Africa is bigger than you expect, so expect lots of long drives.
There are numerous Yachting Companies or Ocean Liners that travel the Southern African Coast line, depending on your budget.
There's no coherent rail system across Southern Africa with the quality of passenger trains varying widely. Old colonial systems have become fragmented and services might both be slow and infrequent compared to for example bus travel. That said, travelling by train travel can be an amazing way to travel through Southern Africa and is well worth looking into.
Cross-border services are non-existent with the exception of a train between Botswana and Zimbabwe. However, some trains terminates at border stations, from where it's possible to continue by foot or taxi across the border.
- South Africa has by far the most developed system with almost daily overnight services, including luxury trains, between Cape Town and Johannesburg as well as departures several times per week to other major cities. Regional services around Western Cape and Gauteng are well developed too, although overcrowding is a major issue on some routes.
- Both Botswana and Namibia has decent connections between major cities, however with a lower standard compared to trains in South Africa.
- Overnight trains in Zimbabwe are popular with both locals and tourists. The route to Victoria Falls is very scenic with excellent chances to see wildlife. However, ongoing economic difficulties means that cancellations is common and a deteriorating standard onboard trains.
- Mozambique has three separate lines running from the ocean to the interiors. The routes are generally of low standard but an intrepid traveler might find them useful on some routes.
- Zambia has one major north-south route connecting its major cities, including Livingstone next to Victoria Falls. The trains are generally of good standard but there are usually only 1-2 departures per week.
- Malawi has no passenger rail system to speak of, but there are weekly departures on some routes.
For travelers with deep pockets, luxury excursion trains is a very popular choice. Most famous (and expensive) is Rovos Rail which operates routes across most of Southern Africa. Fine dining, opulent carriages and excursions to be best wildlife reserves are common features. The cost of tickets starts at expensive-but-within-reach on short routes and then continues sharply upwards depending on the length of the trip.
Many countries in Southern Africa are amazing to cycle through, but the size of these countries are often comparable to France or Texas. You will have long rides often with few or no towns in a day's cycling, so be prepared to carry all you need. In certain areas it is legally required that you have a follow car with you for emergencies.
It most likely goes without saying that if the area is marked as a wild life preserve, cycling is a bad idea unless clearly indicated otherwise! (You may wind up as dinner...)
In many areas this is highly inadvisable and may even be illegal, so check before you hit the road.
That said, if you do hit the road, with nothing but your backpack, you might want to read up on what the local customs are as sticking your thumb out will not get the message out in all countries. Watch the locals and expect that in some countries, you may still need to pay for the ride.
This is the preferred way to travel through Southern Africa for people who don't have access to a car. The buses vary in quality which is related to cost, but they will take you anywhere and normally it is easy to cross a border as a bus passenger. But the chance of a break down on a long African bus trip is high, hence you should always have sufficient time for transfers as buses often run late. The South African bus company Intercape operates a network of bus lines in most countries in Southern Africa, all the way up to northern Malawi.
One of the most popular holiday activities in Southern Africa is wildlife safaris where travelers try to spot the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, rhino). There are game reserves within South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe. They all have lodges ranging from basic camping to five-star luxury.
South Africa has beautiful beaches stretching all the way from Cape Town around the coast up to Durban, which is a surfing mecca. Further north, Mozambique - known for its excellent diving and warm, clear waters - takes over.
Limpopo - Bela Bela has a beautiful warm water you can swim in.
Southern Africa is an adventure heaven. The region has some of the highest bungee jumping spots in the world; fantastic hiking and biking trails, great rivers for white-water river rafting and canoeing and excellent surf for surfing and kite-boarding.
The area at the tip of Southern Africa around Cape Town is known as the Wine Route and produces award-winning wines. Most wine farms are open for public tastings. Some of the towns to visit on the Wine Route include Stellenbosch, Franschoek, Paarl and Robertson.
Southern Africa was is home to a great variety of peoples and experienced notable immigration, beginning with the arrival of the Portuguese and the Dutch, lending a surprising amount of diversity to its cuisine. Many large cities (such as Cape Town, Johannesburg, Harare, and Maputo) have a broad array of dining options to offer tourists. These cities host fine dining restaurants (albeit not quite as cutting edge as the latest from Paris and London), as well as enclaves of various ethnic groups offering inexpensive cuisines from their homelands. In addition, a visit to the region is an excellent opportunity to try indigenous fare that is generally unavailable in Europe and North America such as Cape Malay or Mozambiquean cuisine.
You will want to experience the foods of the region you are visiting: seafood in Beira, fresh fish in Malawi, boerwors in the Free State, curry in Durban, braai (barbecue) throughout South Africa and to a lesser extent Zimbabwe, with each region having its unique meats, sauces and preparations. If you can get invited to one of those... be sure to go! Southern Africans (especially outside Mozambique and Malawi) are meat lovers at heart.
Fresh food availability is particularly obvious in the Western Cape, which is also enjoying a prominence of fruit and vegetables and fine restaurants. In Zimbabwe, try the native mazhanje and amarula fruits, the latter of which is made into a delicious liqueur. Also sample oranges of the Mazowe Valley, as well as the eponymous beverage you'll find throughout the country. Lake Malawi National Park has amazing specimens of fresh fish and Mozambique, serves one of Africa's finest cuisines, a mix of influences from the spices and flavors of Portugal, Eastern Africa, India and Brazil.
Visitors should also be on the lookout for Cape Malay food, unique to Cape Town and the Western Cape and brought to the area by Malay, Indonesian and Madagascan slaves in the 18th century. Additionally, Durban hosts one of the largest Indian populations outside Asia and is an ample opportunity to try spicier cuisine than is the norm for the South African palate. The Gatsby sandwich and bunny chow are two specialties associated with both cities respectively.
Afrikaner food, tends to be milder than east coast cuisines and developed to reflect the practicalities of nineteenth century frontier and farmer life. Expect meat, sausages and potatoes in the center of the country, and similarly starch and meat heavy cuisine among rural Black South Africans, with pap a staple across the region. That said voetkoeks and koeksisters are delightful and filing fast food snacks.
Zimbabwean food largely follows above trends albeit with more vegetables and relish due to the relatively higher price of meat and a twist from the strong presence of British cuisine staples such as baked beans, jacket potatoes, tea with milk, pork and meat pies and trimmed down versions of an English breakfast.
Nearby Mozambique is a gourmand's delight and arguably the culinary heart of the region, known for its excellent seafood and specialties like peri peri chicken.
Southern Africa's tap water is generally good but the exceptions are Lesotho, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In the cities or where indicated outside these four countries it is advised for those with weak stomach to at least boil the water. In Lesotho, Zambia and Zimbabwe you should always boil the water or use chlorine pills. It's best to buy bottled water if you are worried about the quality of the tap water and this concerns all the water you use including toothbrushing, ice cubes, cleaning fruit (always rinse fruits before you consume them!) or any other time you consume water.
There are areas with contaminated waters! but this is rare near cities and normally signed, but if the locals don't drink it, you shouldn't.
River water and water in rural communities is often contaminated or will at least give travelers diarrhea. Bring fresh water were possible and in an emergency at least boil or add chlorine pills to the water. Be careful of were camp sites get their water, as it some time for the local river.
Beer, wine and spirits
Southern Africa generally has or had a lot of control on its alcohol beverage manufacture, which limited creativity or variety. Most countries have at least one local beer or beer brand. That said alcohol is readily available, though price can fluctuate greatly depending on where you buy them from.
South Africa has the largest variety as there has been more freedom in the market over the last 15 years, with around a thousand vineyards, numerous micro-breweries (beer) and a variety of other drinks being produced. You are most like to find some of the older names of South African Alcohols throughout Southern Africa, though certain international Spirits and whiskeys are available in areas.
Travel to the region is a great opportunity to discover the regions wine, which is overwhelmingly concentrated in South Africa's Western Cape region. Prices are generally a fraction of those in Europe and the United States, making them a bargain for oenophiles. Chenin blanc, syrah/shiraz and the unique pinotage are particular varieties worth sampling and taking back home, with many winegrowers producing vintages of exceptional quality. Additionally, Western Cape wineries have found success in growing Bordeaux-style and other cooler climate wines, which are a steal compared to the Old World originators. South Africa's wineries are well geared towards visitors, with many offering tours, tastings and food pairings. In addition, Zimbabwe has a small wine scene based around wineries such as Mukuyu and the Western Cape based Kumusha.
In contrast, the regions beer scene is rather unremarkable dominated by large breweries such as SABMiller, Namibian breweries and the Delta Corporation who produce exceptionally bland, mass market varieties. European visitors will also be disappointed to find the likes of Heineken and Carlsberg prevalent, particularly in tourist areas. Local brands worth sampling include Windhoek, Mitchells brewery and pilsner-esque Zambezi lager. Despite this dominance, a small craft scene is developing in urban and resort areas such as the scenic town of Knysna.
Many of the above brewers are also in the spirits business producing a variety of local and international gins, vodkas, whiskeys and brandies. British brands such as J&B, Gilbert's and Johnny Walker are especially ubiquitous. Aside from the superb Amarula cream liquer, few are worth a mention unless, you're absolutely parched for a G&T or a whiskey.
Accommodation in Southern Africa varies to serve all budgets, from those backpacking to 5 star hotels and game resorts. In tourist areas, you will normally find something that meets your needs and budget but it's best to have cash at hand outside of South Africa or do an EFT in advance as few place accept bank cards.
Cost are often affected by time of year, Christmas (Summer) and Easter are two large local holidays that send the local tourist swarming and cause prices to rise. You can often end up paying twice as much at this time of the year in all accommodation types.
Back Packers (Hostels)
In South Africa, Back Packers (known as hostels in other parts of the world) are common in most tourist areas or medium to large cities. In the rest of Southern Africa the trend of Back Packers is slowly growing and most countries now have at least a few, especially near tourist locations, e.g. Victoria Falls, Lake Kariba or the Mozambique Coast.
Normally accommodation varies from large rooms with up to 20 beds, to smaller rooms with up to 6 beds. The number of beds in the dorm affect the cost but cost is normally around $10 per night, excluding food, per person.
Private rooms are normally available, but cost increase depending if you have a private or shared bathroom, or double bed. Normally between $35 and $70, location dependent.
Most Back Packers will also have camping facilities, with a shared amenities. Prices are around $5 per person per night.
Most Back Packers have a small restaurant inside, but often only serve a small variety of dishes (Though there is normally 2 or 3 vegetarian options), and only breakfast and dinner are served. There should also be a basically equipped communal kitchen for those that prefer to prepare their own (definitely not halal and you might want to wash any equipment before using it).
A bar, communal relaxation area, pool and even a TV are common in most back packers, but expect to find treasures like cliff top baths and tree house for the adventurous.
Backpackers tend to function as informal tourist information centers and will often help you make bookings or find out what is available with in the local area.
Though not conclusive coast to coast  [formerly dead link] is a free guide that you will find in most Back Packers throughout Southern Africa.
Bed and Breakfast
Throughout Southern Africa, in places frequented by tourists you will find a Bed and Breakfast. Mostly these are located in large cities or towns with popular tourist attractions, though in South Africa you will find one in just about every small town no matter how far off the beaten track you are.
The quality of Bed and Breakfasts vary greatly, some are no more than an old bedroom that's now open for stay, while others are professionally run and will rival top hotels.
Depending on were you chose to stay, most will offer only breakfast or tea and coffee; while a few will do dinners as well. Though if you plan in advance you can often make arrangements for extra meals.
In many ways you are staying in someone's home, so only enter the areas that the owner shows or invites you and feel free to make use of amenities where indicated. However, unlike a hotel, the staff are not always available 24/7, so don't be surprised or offended that you will be let in by someone in a bathrobe if you arrive late.
Hotels and Lodges
Cities in Southern Africa are filled with lodges and hotels to fit your budget and better rates are offered for longer stays. You will find most of the large international chains in most of the Southern African countries. On the rare occasion you will find a hotel claiming to be 4 or 5 star that is not (or more likely no longer is). Doing a little research online about other people's experiences or following a travel guide can get you a long way to finding the perfect spot to stay.
Southern Africa is full with public or government run game reserves. Reserves such as Kruger National Park are easily accessible by any vehicle but many can only be accessed by high based 4x4's. Some are associated with tour operators that will get you there.
Accommodation varies from camping to five star lodges, but you will need to check what's available and where it's best to stay in which season as some areas of the reserves are not accessible during the rain season.
If you looking for the house boat experience Lake Malawi or Lake Kariba are you best bets, though certainly not the only ones. As with selecting anywhere to stay do your research in advance as some of the best option at 30km of dirt road and a long drive from anywhere but the beauty of the lakes will make the journey worth it.
Though most animals can be hunted at some private game lodges, please take into consideration the animals you are hunting. Please consider carefully if the animal you are hunting is endangered or high risk of becoming endangered. Do not go hunting without a professional and certified guide or a spotter, hunters have been attacked by animals they did not see while focused on their quarry. Hunting is an art you will not master in a two African safaris, if you're not exceptionally competent with a gun, master it before you leave your home country, for sake of the animal and those you hunt with.
Stay away from grey practices such as canned lion hunting - when people realize you shot a drugged animal after wounding it three times, you just going to embarrass yourself.
There are numerous hunting lodges within easy access of international travel and are normally located close to tourist areas. The quality of accommodation varies and cost is affected by what you hunt.
The people of Southern Africa tend to be friendly and helpful, but unemployment is high and thus a lot of opportunistic theft happens. Violent crime is common in certain cities or regions, please check each country before going. In addition, extra vigilance is required for South Africa's larger cities, especially Johannesburg and Cape Town, whose crime rates greatly exceed the regional average.
Some basic safety tips include:
- Do not leave items visible in cars.
- Park in secure areas, parking lots with security or visible guards.
- Avoid leaving possessions unattended.
Urban and tourist areas of Southern Africa tend to have decent health infrastructure, and all major cities will have at least one hospital or clinic (often private) that provides excellent healthcare. Visitors are encouraged to visit their home country and destinations health websites for more detailed information. In addition, it is also worth looking into purchasing travel insurance before you travel.
Depending on the country you are visiting, tap water might not always be safe to drink. Consult the page for the relevant country and check with locals when in doubt, especially outside of cities.
HIV and AIDS
Southern Africa has a very high HIV infection rate by world standards. Though much lower than its peak in the 2000s, casual or unprotected sex is strongly discouraged.
In practice, yellow fever is not a problem in Zambia anymore, except perhaps in the extreme west along the Congolese borders. However, many countries will insist on a yellow fever vaccination certificate if they find out you've been to Zambia, so it's best to get a jab at least 10-14 days before arriving.
Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Diphtheria are advised for most of Southern African countries.
Other less common vaccinations maybe advised for certain countries, depending on region and duration of stay. Consult a travel doctor before leaving.