Kristina’s Southern Africa Experience
In October/November, I was lucky enough to do a 3-week tour around Southern Africa which included short visits to Namibia and Zambia, and an in-depth tour of Botswana. This pairing of countries is a very popular tourist trail as it seamlessly combines the dunes and deserts of Namibia with the deltas and wildlife of Botswana, as well as the majestic Victoria Falls in Zambia. All three countries delivered incredible experiences and all should be on your travel bucket list!
My tour started in Namibia and took me to the country’s two main cities, Windhoek and Swakopmund; both incredibly safe and welcoming cities with huge German influence from their colonial pasts…I’m talking German tourists, architecture, and schnitzel on most menus! Windhoek is the capital and the typical entry point for International flights; just outside we enjoyed some time at a desert lodge where we spent the mornings on a horseback safari which allowed us to get face-to-face with the animals in this dry terrain. But the adventure really begins in Swakopmund where some of the most popular excursions include: skydiving, sandboarding, 4×4 dune tours, or kite surfing. My travelling companion took full advantage and went skydiving, explored the dunes, and enjoyed a wildlife boat tour on the Atlantic. Sadly, our tour time in Namibia came to an end in this coastal city, however while I was there I fell in love with the people and the incredible travel opportunities so I will be returning. On my return, I plan to explore this desert country from bottom to top, starting with Fish River Canyon, Sossusvlei, the Skeleton Coast, the unique desert lions, and all the way up to the wildlife in Etosha National Park.
I toured this country with our partners at Explore Worldwide on their two week tour ‘Botswana Wildlife Safari’. The tour description said we’d stay in simple, but nice accommodation, we’d travel at a busy pace as you cover most of the country, and promised to show you all the wildlife that this country has to offer – from my experience, they absolutely delivered on every front! My overall impression of this country is that like Namibia, it was fairly developed as far as Africa is concerned and very safe. The people were welcoming and the wildlife was abundant! Our guide describes Botswana as ‘wild’ which I thought was an apt descriptor. In many parts of Africa, water is in short supply and the animals on safari all appear together at whatever watering hole they can find, which is also where you’ll find plenty of safari vehicles. In Botswana, however, water is in abundance, and full rivers flow through the national parks which delivers a few unique features: 1. The animals are plentiful! 2. At times you really need to hunt to find some of the more elusive game 3. When you find wildlife, there is often no other human being in sight and they tend to get extremely close to you! 4. The landscapes of the Okavango Delta and surrounding areas are lush and breathtaking.
The main reason people visit Zambia is to experience the majestic Victoria Falls. Vic Falls can be seen from Zambia and Zimbabwe year round, however as we visited during the dry season, what we saw was really more of a canyon than falls. It was still absolutely massive and very impressive, but it matched the season and was pretty dry. In order to get a full falls experience even during the low season, we decided to head to Livingstone Island and swim in the ‘Devil’s Pool’. This incredible excursion takes you to the island where David Livingstone first saw the falls. As you step onto the island the mist surrounds you and the excitement raises as you approach the area in which you can stand and admire or swim if you dare…this spot is literally on top of the falls. We opted to swim as these are the only falls in the world where during dry season, you can get into the water that feeds the falls and hang over the edge with a fairly strong feeling of security. As you do so, with a guide of course, you get a huge rush and more importantly a true appreciation for the magnitude of the falls, which from this vantage point, are anything but dry!
Our group consisted of 11 travellers; one in their 20s, two in their 30s, and the balance in their 40-60s with one very fit and adventurous 80 year old in the mix. Most of our group was British and about half had been to other parts of Africa before, while the other half enjoyed their visit steps on the continent with this tour. Our guide was from Maun, Botswana and has been a lead guide for over 15 years. He was passionate about his country and all of the wildlife contained in it.
I loved this trip because of the varied accommodations. We started in a simple hotel in Maun, spent 3 nights on a houseboat on the Okavango River, 2 nights in a great lodge/hotel in Livingstone, then the balance of the trip camping under African stars. The camping equipment was top tier; our tents were spacious and sturdy and came with a camping bed, mat, and full bedding. The mess tent and tables/chairs were comfortable, and our site had two portable toilets and two portable showers for the 11 of us. Both the toilets and the showers were surprisingly nice! This was not a participation camping trip; rather the tents were set-up and ready on our arrival. Camping in Africa has become an increasingly popular option as it’s affordable, allows you to stay in the parks and game reserves which cuts way down on drive time, and comes complete with a natural noise machine; one night it was lions purring, the other hippos mating, and once hyenas howling. But buyers beware, there are many levels of camping and touring in Africa, and you should consult with a travel professional before booking anything to ensure your expectations and requirements are met.
This tour was a great value! It costs just over $200 per day for accommodations, transportation, the overwhelming majority of meals, all park entrance fees, local guide, and two camp hands.
What we saw
This tour was focused on wildlife and wildlife is what we saw! We got extremely close to leopard, lion, elephant, and hippo on countless occasions; crocodiles, zebra, buffalo, giraffe, several types of antelope, wild dogs, hyenas, and monkeys were all regular sights; and by the end of the trip you can’t help but become a bird-watcher with hundreds of uniquely beautiful species flying around you all day long. The wildlife in Botswana exceeded my expectations!
Overall, I highly recommend this trip which combines three great countries in Southern Africa. Namibia for the culture and vast landscapes, Botswana for the ‘wild’ wildlife, and Zambia for the rush of water. There are several different ways to explore this region of the world, from camping to 7* luxury, and everything in between. Many travellers also wonder what part of Africa to visit; East or South for their safari experience. I’ve now been to both and while they delivered different experiences, they were equally fabulous. Be sure to consult with a travel professional to ensure your once-in-a-lifetime experience to Africa exceeds your expectations with respect to where you go and how you explore!
November 27, 2013