Southern Africa Safaris offer an amazing opportunity to view profound terrain, as it is very varied, ranging from forests, grasslands and deserts. The region has beautiful low-lying coastal areas, and huge mountainous areas offering the traveller plenty of activities to partake in during their budget safari.
If you looking for wildlife safari experience, then Southern Africa is extremely hard to beat. Botswana, Namibia and South Africa are the most popular countries to experience the big 5.
Southern Africa is made up of Namibia, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Madagascar, South Africa, Lesotho and Eswatini (Swaziland).
Amazing Southern Africa Game Reserves for your Safari
Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia
Home to some truly bizarre forms of life, much of the 80 – 250km-wide Namib Desert is situated within the Namib-Naukluft Park of Namibia. This is one of the largest national parks in Africa. In fact, Namib means ‘vast’ in the Nama language.
It’s most famous for its incredibly high rust-red sand dunes, which have blown into peaks and razor sharp ridges by the wind.
Activities in Namib-Naukluft National Park
Sossusvlei and Sesreim National Parks
Steenbok, springbok, oryx, kudu, zebra, rock dassie, klipspringer and much more
Huge red sand dunes
Etosha National Park, Namibia
One of the most fantastic wildlife sanctuaries in Southern Africa, Etosha National Park, is located in the expanse of dry land that lies in Northern Namibia. The reserve supplies travellers with spectacular game viewing in one of the continent’s most accessible destinations. This park stretches over 22,270 square kilometres and derives its name from the massive Etosha Pan. The reserve hosts exquisite wildlife, with zebra and springbok peppered across the horizon, and various waterholes drawing in abundant animals such as the threatened black rhino, lion, elephant and huge concentrations of antelope.
Etosha (‘place of dry water’) houses a massive salt pan that provides a silver-white background of glimmering mirages to a region of parched plains and thorn scrub. The pan itself only manages to hold water after heavy rains, and sometimes only for a couple of days each year. However, this water seems to be enough to grow blue-green algae which attract thousands of beautiful flamingos. The Park is free of malaria and contains a large variety of accommodation, as well as restaurants, viewing platforms, stores and petrol stations. There are also a couple of luxury camps to reside in for those less suited to the bush.
Stay in Etosha Camps
Etosha would have a selection of three camps in which to stay in the Park – Namutoni, Halali and Okaukuejo. These three camps have the best floodlit waterholes, providing marvellous night game viewing. Okaukuejo draws in rhino and elephant, Halali attracts leopard and Namutoni, though containing less big game to view, supplies visitors with awe-inspiring views over the Etosha Pan and its abundant birdlife.
Etosha Wildlife and Fauna
There are 114 species of mammal, 340 species of bird, 110 species of reptile, 16 amphibious species and, astonishingly, just one species of fish. The most common plant in the region is Mopani, which covers so much of northwest Namibia that an area is named after it. One of the most incredible trees located in the reserve is the African moringa, or ‘ghost tree’. A dedicated fence protects this unique, strangely-shaped tree in what is known as the haunted forest. Bushwillow is also quite common in the Park, known locally as ‘Kudubusch’ due to the many Kudu that thoroughly enjoy munching on its leaves. Rhino eat the whole branches of bushwillow, whilst elephant favour its bark.
For thousands of years, the region that is now the Park was inhabited by the Hai||Om (bushmen). Their complex society, consisting of hunters and gatherers, acquired a wealth of knowledge regarding the local biodiversity. They learned which plants to use for medicine as well as the various patterns of animal behaviour. Though the tribes were evicted from the area in the 1950s, their cultural identity is still evident in the region. Morning, afternoon and evening guided tours are conducted throughout the Park, giving you a unique view of the different fauna and flora that inhabit the area. If you wish to be fully immersed in exquisite nature that has transformed itself over millions of years, a visit to Etosha National Park is most certainly recommended.
Game drives viewing zebra, springbok, black rhinoceros, lion, elephant, antelope and flamingos
Floodlit waterholes for night-time game viewing
Kafue National Park, Zambia
Did you know that Kafue National Park is the second largest park in Africa with over 55 different animal species? It is located in the centre of western Zambia. The Park is named after the Kafue River and was established in the 1950s by Norman Carr. The landscape consists of savannah grasslands which can become marshy in the rainy season, with evergreen forests lining the river’s edge, attracting loads of birdlife and wildlife.
Activities in Kafue National Park
A highlight of the National Park is the Zambezian flooded grasslands in the north where large herds of herbivores and their predators reside. They can easily be spotted in the dry season where they wallow in the marshes and swamps.
South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
For scenery, variety of animals, accessibility and choice of accommodation, South Luangwa is the best park in Zambia and one of the most majestic in Africa. Among the varied terrain of dense woodland, oxbow pools and open grassy plains lurk beasts of all shapes and sizes, from massive elephants to pesky tsetse flies. Take precautions against malaria.
South Luangwa is where walking safaris (Jun-Sep) began. Being in the park, on foot, with the wildlife all around is a truly exhilarating experience. Despite its many charms, South Luangwa attracts far fewer visitors than other African parks, especially during the wet season, making it all the more attractive. (Note that lots of wild animals in this area makes walking around at night very dangerous.)
The Matopos National Park forms the heart of the Matobo Hills, a region covered in undulating hills and wooded valleys that begins approximately 35 kilometres south of Bulawayo in southern Zimbabwe. The hills were formed more than two billion years back, with rock being pushed to the surface which has since eroded, resulting in smooth ‘whaleback dwalas’ and broken hills, peppered with boulders and scattered plant thickets. The Park was given its name by Mzilikazi, founder of the Ndebele nation, and means ‘Bald Heads’.
The Hills spread over around 3,100 square kilometres, of which 424 square kilometres are National Park, with the rest being mostly communal land and a small section of commercial farmland. It stretches along the Thuli, Mtshelele, Maleme and Mpopoma river valleys. A portion of the reserve is set aside as a game park that has been filled with plenty of wildlife, including white rhino. The tallest point in the Hills is the promontory, ‘Gulati’, at 1,549 metres just outside of the north-eastern edge of the Park.
The Matopos National Park is one of Southern Zimbabwe’s most stunning and well-loved areas. It can be easily reached from the good tarred road, and is a real treasure to be explored. This region is in fact a World Heritage site and is renowned for its balancing granite rocks. Baboons and monkeys are common in the area, and the Park holds the largest population of leopard in the entire country.
The reserve has worked very hard over the years in order to preserve their game and exquisite scenery. In this Park, you will be able to spot more than 200 tree species, 100 grass species, 175 bird types, and around 88 different kinds of mammals, including 39 snake species. This entire region is protected and fenced off. Within the National Park is the small game reserve where rhinos have been transferred from Hwange. Due to this reserve’s small size, you are almost guaranteed to spot a rhino at a very close range.
From November through to March, the Park is turned into dense greenery due to this period being the rainy season. However, you will still be able to scale the rocks and spot various Bushmen artworks concealed under rocks or inside hollows. From the highest rocks’ summit you will have a wonderful vantage point from which to observe the stunning sunsets of the area. With no urbanisation around, the skies at night are crisp and clear, giving you a chance to enjoy beautiful evenings beneath a blanket of sparkling stars.
Though Zimbabwe has experienced horrific inflation of more than 200 million percent per year, trading is now in American currency and the economy has become much more stable. The country is a safe place, but does contain wild animals that can be unpredictable and dangerous. Despite the people of the country, especially those in Matabeleland, having suffered heavily over the past thirty years or so, they continue to smile and are always friendly and hospitable to any visitors.
There is plenty to do in Matopos National Park, including hiking amongst stunning landscapes. Take a stroll to Maleme Dam, hike up Mount Pomongwe, or venture to check out the rock paintings in Pomongwe Cave. Horse rides are conducted near Maleme Dam and in the actual Park itself. You could also take part in some fishing at some of the Park’s dams, where you can usually catch tilapia and bass with no risk or crocodiles. Boating is also available to do in the bigger dams of the area.
Lower Zambezi National Park, Zimbabwe
This Park is part of the World Heritage Site together with Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park. There is a possibility that these two parks will amalgamate and form a large trans-fronteir park. The park is 4092 square kilometres and is home to an abundance of game. Along the river’s edge you will see large herds of elephant, buffalo and waterbuck.
It is a popular fishing spot (especially in September and October), and there is nothing as tranquil or rewarding as canoeing down the river.
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Located on the edge of the Kalahari sands, Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s biggest national park, covering 14000 square km – the same size as Wales in the United Kingdom. It lies in western Zimbabwe on the border with Botswana and is famous for its huge herds of up to 20 000 elephant that migrate across to Chobe National Park. The Big Five also roams around here.
From desert sands, to sparse woodland, as well as grasslands and granite outcrops make up the park’s landscape and provide a sanctuary for over one hundred species of mammals. Along with the Big Five, you’ll also spot some zebra, eland, kudu, giraffe, and the wild dog. These wild dogs were at a time almost extinct, but thanks to conservation efforts in supporting a breeding programme, these wild creatures are finally starting to increase in number. The landscape’s shallow pans make it easy to see the animals. Bird lovers will find Hwange enthralling with over 400 species of birds.
Because Hwange has no permanent water sources, there are 60 man-made waterholes in order to make sure the animals don’t dehydrate during the dry season. All of them have viewing platforms, and because of these waterholes, Hwange is one of the few African parks where game viewing is consistently good all year round.
Activities in Hwange National Park
Early morning bush walks
Sitings of wildlife at the waterholes
The Big Five
Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe
At Mana Pools National Park, you can summon up the courage and make use of a special privilege not many parks give their guests: you can go wandering around on foot from dawn to dusk. The word ‘mana’ means four, named after the four pools around the park headquarters: Main, Chine, Long and Chisambik. Except in the heat of the middle of the day, Long Pool can get very busy, with hippos, crocodiles, zebras, elephants and antelopes coming for a drink of water.
Bazaruto Archipelago National Park, Mozambique
The Bazaruto Archipelago National Park in Mozambique is the epitome of a tropical paradise. It consists of six main islands, which you can read about in the article below. Here you’ll find every cliché ever written about an idyllic location, such as clear, turquoise waters; loads of colourful birds; serene, white sandy beaches; and incrediblediving and snorkelling. This is also home to the elusive dugong, a large marine mammal that spends its days foraging among sea-grass meadows around the archipelago.
The Bazaruto Archipelago has always been protected, and if you’re there, you’ll see why. Its coral formations are in perfect tact, and life above and in the sea is invigorating.
Activities in Bazaruto Archipelago National Park
Massages on the beach
Deep-sea fishing excursions
Moremi National Park, Botswana
Mostly described as one of the most beautiful wildlife reserves in Africa, Moremi National Park is a mixture of lagoons, floodplains and mopane woodland and acacia forests in Botswana. Its incredible diversity of plant and animal life has made Moremi famous.
Fauna and Flora of Moremi National Park
There is a wide variety of wildlife in the park (an estimated 200 000), such as antelopes, lion, leopard, cheetah, crocodiles, kudu, rhinoceros, zebra, not to mention over 400 species of birds, including the African Fish Eagle. The animals migrate to lusher pastures in Summer, and then return with the rains in the Winter months.
The Delta is a sandy and wet plain, and as a result there is quite a diversity of vegetation in the area, namely hardweld, sandveld and Okavango deltaveld. Hardweld vegetation is mostly your woody plants, while Sandveld consists of large expanses of grasses. Okavango delta veld has a combination of both grasses and woody plants. Hence one has a wide variety of fauna that thrives on this diverse vegetation.
In the swamp areas you will find lots of trees such as mopane, baobab, acacia, camel thorn, marula, papyrus and sycamore-fig trees. Beautiful water lilies and aquatic plants also grow in the swamp area, providing colour and fantastic photographs.
Chobe National Park, Botswana
Chobe National Park was established in 1968, and covers over 11,700 square kilometres of floodplains, swamps and woodland. Located in northern Botswana, the Park is home to one of the biggest game populations in all of Africa. It is the third biggest reserve in the country, following the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the Gemsbok National Park. It is the country’s first national park and houses a massive variety of incredible wildlife.
Chobe National Park Wildlife
The Chobe Riverfront is renowned for its big herds of elephants and Cape Buffalo, which gather at the river to drink during the more arid months of the year. During this season, you might have the chance to witness hundreds of elephants at once during an afternoon game drive. As these magnificent creatures make their way to the river to drink, bathe and play they often will block the roads, providing fantastic close-up photographic opportunities. When you travel around the edges of the river, you will have a chance to spot up to fifteen varied animal species, including waterbuck, lechwe, puku, giraffe, kudu, roan, sable, impala, warthog, bushbuck, monkeys and baboons. Along with these, you will also be able to see the accompanying predators, such as lion, leopard, hyena and jackal.
A river cruise on the Chobe River is the perfect way to do some relaxing game viewing, during which you will have the chance to observe nature up close. Some of the animals you might see during this include hippo, crocodile and a wide variety of water birds. The park contains more than 460 bird species, making it one of the leading African venues for bird tours. The Chobe River rises in the northern highlands of Angola and journeys huge distances before arriving in Botswana. Whilst the River makes its way through the Kalahari Basin, its southern bank rises from the floodplains to create a flat stretch of vast grasslands and woodland. Majority of the soils in the Park are either sand or clay, characterised by a wide range of pans and waterholes.
Chobe National Park is renowned for its large lion concentration. Prides can be spotted all over the reserve, and are unique in their behaviour. Other big cats in the Park include cheetah and leopard. The cheetahs tend to inhabit the open grasslands and floodplains, whilst the thick scrub, rocky outcrops and riverine forests are inhabited by the leopards. The original human dwellers of this region were the San bushmen, nomadic hunter-gatherers who were continually traveling from place to place in search of food sources, water and wild animals. Presently you will be able to view San painting inside the rocky hills of the reserve.
The Park houses around 50,000 elephants which might be the biggest elephant population in Africa. It is also part of the biggest continuous surviving elephant population, which has consistently increased since 1990 from just a couple of thousand. Elephants dwelling in this Park are Kalahari elephants, which are the biggest of all known elephant species. They are characterised by rather fragile ivory and short tusks that are due to the lack of calcium in the soils. During the raining seasons, these beautiful animals begin a 200 kilometre migration to the southeast area of the reserve. With so much to offer in fauna, flora and scenery, any trip to Botswana would not be complete without a visit to the spectacular Chobe National Park.