While geographically it may be one of Africa’s smallest countries, the people of Malawi make up for this with the largest of reputations. Known as one of Africa’s warmest and friendliest populations, the celebrated Malawian welcome has earned the country the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’ tag. Lake Malawi, the continents third largest freshwater body, dominates the landscape and with its kayaking, snorkelling, and sailing options, features high on most itineraries. While the country does not carry extensive wildlife populations, Liwonde in the south and the Nyika Plateau in the north are fantastic national parks with some unusual sightings to be had, and for keen birders, Malawi is an absolute must with a host of rewarding birding hotspots.
Blanketed by vast tracts of true desert and semi-arid mountainous terrain, Namibia is the most unique destination within the region. Named after the Namib Desert, one of the planets oldest and driest desert environments, these expansive and ancient landscapes provide for some of the continent’s most startlingly desolate, yet enthralling scenery. And being a large country with an extremely sparse population, traveling here, whether by road or air provides a sense of never-ending remoteness.
Highlights include the mountains of sand that comprise the dune scapes of Sossulsvlei, the haunting beauty of the Skeleton Coast and the windswept Atlantic Ocean, and the rugged majesty of the mountains that dominate Damaraland and the northwest. And the wildlife is surprisingly bountiful, particularly in Etosha Pan and along the seasonal river systems of the Caprivi Strip in the northeast.
South Africa, the most southerly destination on the continent, is truly the giant of Africa, and as the marketing slogan goes, ‘a world in one country’. A new era dawned in 1994 when the country emerged from its Apartheid past, and since then, it has become a favourite destination on the global tourist map. Blessed with a well-developed transport and tourism infrastructure, the country offers an array of exciting possibilities linking wilderness, coastal and city attractions, all within comfortable distances of each other. Cape Town, renowned the world over as one of the most captivating cities, is a must, while the Kruger National Park and the private game reserves and lodges of Mpumalanga offer outstanding game-viewing options. The Garden Route takes in some of the most enchanting coastal drives to be enjoyed anywhere, and the Drakensberg Mountains, the Karoo plains and Kwa-Zulu Natal are all fantastically scenic destinations.
Landlocked Zambia is one of the most under-rated safari destinations on the continent. It does however have a legendary reputation for its walking safaris and being rather less developed than most of its neighbours, it has great appeal as a more remote and rustic option.
Like Zimbabwe, the mighty Victoria Falls and all the adrenaline activities that are associated with the falls and the Zambezi River are Zambia’s major attraction. Further afield, the vast wildlife sanctuaries of South Luangwa, Kafue and the Lower Zambezi are the most popular wildlife destinations. The country also offers some hidden gems with Liuwa Plain, the Bangweulu Swamps and then Busanga Plains in North Kafue being the best of them.
Zimbabwe has an incredible diversity of landscapes and destinations and despite the recent political and economic setbacks, it still offers a safe and rewarding safari experience. The hugely impressive Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, remains the primary drawcard and is a must for all visitors.
Hwange is a short hop to the south and, with its sizeable elephant populations is one of the regions premier national parks. Additional attractions include Mana Pools in the Zambezi Valley, which offers the most exciting and adventurous canoe trails, and Matusadona on the shores of Lake Kariba is unbeatable for its thrilling African sunsets. In the far eastern sector, the Eastern Highlands offer great hiking and birding trails, while the impressive ruins of Great Zimbabwe in the central regions are well worth a visit for the history buffs.