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Across Africa, Part 3 (Final): 10 Best Southern Africa Travel Destinations for Wildlife, Waterfalls, Nature, and Marine Life Exploration

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Key Facts to Know Before Planning Your Southern Africa Travel Itinerary

  • What is the difference between South Africa and Southern Africa? While often confused, these terms refer to different entities. South Africa is a single nation located at the southernmost tip of the African continent, celebrated for its rich diversity in cultures, languages, and landscapes. In contrast, Southern Africa is a broader geographical region that encompasses several countries.
  • What are countries in Southern Africa? The region of Southern Africa is commonly comprised of several countries, including Angola, Botswana, the Comoros, Swaziland, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. 
  • What Southern Africa countries are worth traveling to? All of them! Each country in Southern Africa offers its own unique travel experiences. We plan to explore the paradisiacal islands of the Comoros and Mauritius in an upcoming post dedicated to the world’s best travel islands. Be sure to stay tuned for our blog updates! We also invite you to read our other article on the best Sub-Saharan travel destinations. These countries will not disappoint you! In the post you’re reading, we will focus on Southern African mainland destinations worth visiting (see the Southern Africa map below). 
  • What desert is located in Southern Africa? Southern Africa features notable deserts, primarily the Namib and Kalahari. The Kalahari, spanning Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa, is famous for its red sand dunes and diverse wildlife like meerkats, lions, and antelope. The Namib Desert, mainly in Namibia but also extending into Angola and South Africa, is one of the world’s oldest deserts, renowned for its towering sand dunes and unique beetles and reptiles.
  • What is the largest desert in Southern Africa? The largest desert in Southern Africa is the Kalahari Desert. It covers an area of approximately 350,000 square miles.
  • What health precautions should I take before traveling to Southern Africa? Consult your doctor 4-6 weeks before your trip to discuss health concerns and vaccinations. Ensure you are up to date with the following routine vaccinations: Flu, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), Polio, Hepatitis A & B, and DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus). Consider a yellow fever vaccination if traveling to affected areas. Malaria is prevalent in many parts of Africa; discuss antimalarial medication with your doctor to prevent and treat it effectively.
  • Do I need travel insurance for Southern Africa? Securing travel insurance is essential before traveling to Africa. Healthcare costs can be high, whether at private or state hospitals, where all treatments and medications are chargeable. To avoid hefty medical bills, ensure your travel insurance provides substantial coverage. Ovago, in partnership with XCover, offers straightforward, hassle-free protection for your journey. XCover simplifies the claims process with digital filing and instant payment for approved claims, supported by a responsive customer service team ready to assist you.
  • Looking for safety, transportation, and budget-saving tips for your African travel? Read them here and then return to explore our selection of top travel destinations in Southern Africa. We also suggest exploring the top North African destinations to choose the most suitable option for your African trip.
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1. South Africa: Rainbow Nation

  • Visa Requirements: US citizens can stay visa-free for up to 90 days
  • Official Languages: South Africa has 11 official languages, including English
  • Global Peace Index Score: 2.4 (Moderate Level)
  • Currency: South African Rand
  • Plug Type: C, M, and N
  • Best Time to Visit: May to September (dry season, ideal for wildlife viewing)
  • Main Travel Hub: Johannesburg
  • Major International Airports: O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg, Cape Town International Airport (CPT), King Shaka International Airport (DUR) in Durban
  • Cape Town: Known for landmarks like Table Mountain and Cape Point
  • Kruger National Park: Home to diverse wildlife, including the Big Five
  • Durban: A coastal city with stunning beaches, cultural diversity, and exquisite cuisine
  • Garden Route: A scenic coastal stretch along the southeastern coast of South Africa, offering picturesque landscapes, charming towns, outdoor adventures, and wildlife encounters
  • Pilanesberg National Park: A malaria-free wildlife reserve, offering safari experiences and opportunities to see the Big Five
  • Drakensberg Mountains: A stunning mountain range offering breathtaking scenery, hiking trails, and outdoor adventures
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2. Angola: Home to Unique Angolan Giraffes, Spectacular Waterfalls, and the Magnificent Namib Desert

  • Visa Requirements: US citizens can stay visa-free for up to 30 days at a time
  • Official Language: Portuguese
  • English Proficiency Index Score: 416 (Very Low Proficiency)
  • Basic English is spoken in the service sector
  • Global Peace Index Score: 2.02 (Moderate Level)
  • Currency: Angolan Kwanza
  • Plug Type: C and F
  • Best Time to Visit: June to September (the coolest and driest months)
  • Main Travel Hub: Luanda
  • Major International Airport: Quatro de Fevereiro Airport (LAD)
  • Waterfalls: Angola boasts a number of breathtaking waterfalls, each celebrated for its distinct beauty and features. Among the most impressive are Kalandula Falls, renowned for its immense size and volume; Ducal Falls, noted for its serene and picturesque setting; Ruacana Falls, which straddles the border with Namibia and is spectacular during the rainy season; and Epupa Falls, known for its series of cascades and cultural significance to the local Himba people.
  • Beaches: Angola’s coastline is renowned for its pristine beauty, rich marine biodiversity, and striking scenery. The coastal waters teem with a variety of marine life, including dolphins, whales, and numerous fish species, making them ideal for activities such as snorkeling and diving. Prominent beaches in Angola include Cabo Ledo, known for its surf-friendly waves and dramatic cliffs; Mussulo, a popular escape with calm waters and sandy shores; and Baia Azul, which captivates visitors with its stunning blue bay and serene environment. These destinations offer unique and memorable beach experiences for travelers. 
  • Events: Experience the vibrant cultural festivals and carnivals of Angola, showcasing the country’s rich heritage and diverse traditions. The Luanda Carnival, held annually in February or March in the capital city, is Angola’s most famous and widely celebrated carnival. It features colorful parades, traditional music, lively dances, and elaborate costumes. Additionally, summer brings other captivating events like Festikongo and the Lubango Festival, each offering unique cultural experiences through music, dance, and community celebrations.
  • Other Must Dos: Explore Kissama National Park, one of Angola’s most accessible and renowned national parks, home to diverse wildlife, including the Angolan giraffe. Venture into Cangandala and Iona national parks for stunning wildlife sightings and scenic beauty. Delve into the Sumbe Caves, set within a lush jungle-filled canyon. For an exhilarating experience, embark on a tour of the Namib Desert and enjoy breathtaking adventures.
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3. Malawi: Warm Heart of Africa

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4. Lesotho: The ‘Kingdom in the Sky’ – The Highest Country Above Sea Level

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5. Botswana: Home to the “Louvre of the Desert,” Vast Salt Flats, and the Majestic Kalahari

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6. Mozambique: Stunning Indian Ocean Coastline, Captivating Marine Experiences, and Vibrant City Life

  • Visa Requirements: US citizens need a visa
  • Official Language: Portuguese
  • English Proficiency: English is spoken in tourist areas, but not widely outside of them
  • Global Peace Index Score: 2.26 (Moderate Level)
  • Currency: Mozambican Metical
  • Plug Type: C, F, and M
  • Best Time to Visit: September to November (the weather is calm and warm)
  • Main Travel Hub: Maputo
  • Major International Airport: Maputo International Airport (MPM)
  • Bazaruto Archipelago: Off the southern coast of Mozambique lies the idyllic Bazaruto Archipelago, a group of five tropical islands, with Benguerra and Bazaruto being the largest. These islands are the epitome of paradise, featuring golden beaches and vibrant blue seas. Visitors can sunbathe on soft sands or dive and snorkel in the warm Indian Ocean. Bazaruto Island hosts Bazaruto National Park, protecting diverse marine life. It’s also home to Two Mile Reef, a renowned spot for scuba diving, snorkeling, and deep-sea fishing, where you can see or even catch giant trevally, marlin, and sailfish.
  • Maputo: Mozambique’s lively capital invites visitors to delve into the country’s rich cultural tapestry, admire its stunning architecture, and explore its intricate history and fascinating customs. This urban hub is teeming with restaurants, markets, guesthouses, hotels, and a vibrant nightlife. After a day of sightseeing, enjoy a drink and some peri-peri prawns before heading out to a bar or disco to experience the city’s energetic nightlife.
  • Other Must Dos: Vilanculos, a small coastal town, offers pristine beaches perfect for horse riding and guided walks, while its calm waters are ideal for traditional dhow cruises. Top activities include spotting marine life such as manta rays, whale sharks, turtles, and humpback whales. You might even see the rare Dugong. Inhambane, a historic city surrounded by coconut palms and stunning beaches, is renowned for diving and surfing. It’s also one of the last places to see Dugongs. Reliable sightings of manta rays and whale sharks are common during the fall, and you can even swim with them.
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7. Eswatini (Swaziland): The Valley of Heaven, Scenic Protected Areas, The Big Five, and Renowned Cultural Festivals

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8. Zambia: Legendary Victoria Falls, 54 Protected Areas, 750+ Bird Species, and Walking Safaris

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9. Zimbabwe: Great Ruins, the Other Side of Victoria Falls, and More Natural Wonders 

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10. Namibia: Stunning Stargazing, Towering Sand Dunes, and the Ancient Namib Desert

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