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8 Unforgettable Experiences in Southern Africa

Seasoned Africa visitor Ross Jennings takes us through his favourite eight things to do in southern Africa...

Wander through a Skeleton Forest

Deadvlei, Namibia’s most iconic landscape, is one of the most photographed spots in Southern Africa. The direct translation from Afrikaans is “Dead Marsh” but it’s been a fair few years since this place has been close to marsh-like. Drought and encroaching sand dunes have led to a lifeless valley full of acacia tree skeletons surrounded by towering sandy slopes. If there’s one thing to do in Namibia, this is it. Deadvlei sits in Sossusvlei National Park and it gets bloody hot. Wear closed shoes if you’re planning to stay past 11am as the sand becomes excruciatingly painful to walk on!

Dhow cruise in Mozambique

If you’re fan of crystal blue waters, unspoilt beaches and bit of sailing, then Mozambique is definitely for you. Whether you’re cruising through the Bazaruto Archipelago or spotting humpback whales near Ilha de Mozambique, there’s no other way to explore Mozambique’s incredible coastline than on a wooden dhow. A handful of companies in Vilankulos, Beira and Maputo offer cruises of various lengths, but my recommendation would be “Ilha Blue” on the Island of Mozambique!

White Water Rafting on the Zambezi

A healthy kick of adrenaline combined with some stunning scenery, white water rafting on the Zambezi is a good choice for anyone looking for a bit of action. The Zambezi River (below Victoria Falls!) offers some of the best white water rafting in the world, and although the water levels change drastically throughout the year, rafting is still an option during both rainy and dry season. Many of the rafting companies offer half day, full day and multi-day trips all the way to Lake Kariba. I visited in March 2018, went for the half day option and due to the high water levels, we started at rapid 10. This was, hands down, the most amusing and enjoyable morning I had in the Vic Falls area and I’d thoroughly recommend it!

Elephant safari in Botswana

Over the years Botswana has become increasingly famous for its conservation efforts and strict anti-poaching laws. As a result, to put it simply, elephants love Botswana! It has the highest density of elephants at any time of the year, which means you’re guaranteed on seeing them if you visit the Northern districts. The Okavango Delta (via Maun) is a fantastic place to go on safari, but often the prices can be pretty steep. If you’re looking for a slightly more cost effective option then head to Kasane, book into a guesthouse and opt for the daily game drives into Chobe National Park.

Explore a ghost town swallowed by sand

In its heyday Kolmanskop was the absolute lap of luxury, decked out with ballrooms, casinos, theatres, swimming pools, an ice factory, a hospital and even the first X-ray machine in southern Africa. Twice a day each household would be delivered a giant block of ice, fresh lemonade and their daily allowance of water. Opulent to say the least, but semi-justified given the town's shiny export, diamonds! After the discovery of an "unusually shiny rock" in the area in 1908 people went nuts and Kolmanskop became a diamond boom town for almost 50 years. Unfortunately it all ended after WWII with the drop in diamond prices, scarcity of precious stones and the discovery of larger diamonds down South. By 1958, the town was abandoned and left to the mercy of the desert dunes. Skip 60 years and it's now an eerie ghost town & photographer's dream. 

Kolmanskop does have an official opening time of 8am, but if the guards are there they sometimes let you in earlier. Entry tickets are purchased at the gate, which include a tour that is definitely worth it if you have the time!

Helicopter tour above Vic Falls

Offering some for the most breathtaking views of Victoria Falls and the surrounding landscape, a helicopter tour above the falls is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There are plenty of companies that offer the flight above the falls, taking from 15 mins to 30 mins. No matter who you fly with try and make sure you get a window seat! 

Swim with whale sharks in Tofo

There are few places in the world that you can get up and close with whale sharks, and Tofo, in Mozambique, is one of them! Being a bit of surfing mecca, this beach town is fairly kitted out for tourists, but even on a busy day you feel like you have the place to yourself. Wander down to the beach where you’ll find a handful of dive centres and book yourself on an ocean safari. If it’s whale shark season, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see these fishy giants and the best thing is that you’ll likely be the only boat around!

Explore the Highlands of Lesotho on horseback

Lesotho, aka ‘The Kingdom in the Sky,’ is one of Southern Africa’s hidden gems, but it’s limited infrastructure means getting around the country isn’t easy. Like many places, the further you are from a road the better the scenery gets, so to truly embrace it all the best way to explore is on horseback! If you’re blessed with time and connections, you can try and arrange horses through the local villages yourself, but the easiest way to go about it is through Melealea Lodge or Semonkong Lodge. Both these lodges are beautifully located in the Basotho Highlands with a healthy selection of horses (and horsemen!). 

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Written by Ross Jennings

I travel so that I can learn but I mainly do it so that I can share. Simply put, If I can convince you to go somewhere I've been then I'm a happy man. You'll usually hear me before you see me, but if you want to get in contact before that happens, drop me a message @RossOCJennings