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Top 10 Secret Places in East & Southern Africa

Africa is full of incredible secret destinations that are just waiting to be discovered. Based on our extensive travels across the continent since 2001, these are our top picks of hidden gems in East and Southern Africa. 

1. Mahale Mountains - Tanzania

Lake Tanganyika is a massive freshwater lake hemmed in by the mountains of Africa’s Great Rift Valley. On the eastern bank of the lake, the Mahale Mountains National Park in Tanzania comprises golden sand beaches and lush tropical forests. Due to the size and remoteness of the park, it is home to one of the largest remaining populations of wild chimpanzees, and is the only place where chimpanzees and lions cohabitate. Mahale can only be reached by boat, and it is one of the few national parks in Africa that permits guided nature walks within park boundaries. Other adventures include kayaking, birding, waterfalls and deep-water swims. 

Where to stay Check into Greystoke Mahale for beach bandas surrounded by pristine forest or Kungwe Beach Lodge where you can enjoy plenty of downtime in a relaxed atmosphere.

Top 10 Secret Places

Chimp trekking is the main attraction at Greystroke Mahale but there is so much more to explore. 

Top 10 Secret Places

Kungwe Beach Lodge is set on the golden shores of the Mahale Mountains National Park

2. Volcanoes National Park - Rwanda

While Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is well known for offering Africa’s easiest gorilla trekking, this destination remains an under-explored gem where you definitely won’t have to contend with any crowds. The park, and indeed the country, has come leaps and bounds in the last two decades when it comes to sustainable tourism – not only has the park grown significantly in size and succeeded in bolstering its gorilla population from 254 to over 600, local communities are also benefitting directly through a revenue-sharing scheme, as well as multiple projects that provide both infrastructure and opportunity. 

Where to stay Bookings are open for Rwanda’s newest luxury offering, Bisate Lodge. This unique and eco-friendly lodge is located within easy driving distance from park headquarters and looks out over Bisoke and Karisimbi volcano peaks. Volcanoes Virungas Lodge puts you in the middle of Gorillas in the Mist country and Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge has views of the lush rainforest that cover the Virunga mountains.

Read more on our beginner’s guide to gorilla trekking. 

Top 10 Secret Places

The lake views from Volcanoes Virungas Lodge – an excellent base for gorilla trekking, hiking Karisimba or Bisoke volcanoes, golden monkey trekking, visiting the tomb of gorilla researcher Dian Fossey, cultural tours and more.   

Top 10 Secret Places

Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is beautifully positioned in the foothills of the Virunga Mountains.              

3. Lewa Wildlife Conservancy - Kenya

Forming part of the Mount Kenya World Heritage Site, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is a frontrunner in community-based conservation in northern Kenya. Testimony to this, local communities act as a first line of defence against poaching, supplying crucial information to park rangers before any potential poachers are able to set foot in the reserve.

The snow-capped peak of Mount Kenya is visible in the north, and the Big 5 conservancy has a diverse range of habitats including forest, acacia woodland, extensive natural springs and fertile grasslands. (PS Prince William has often been spotted in Lewa, very occasionally with wife Kate Middleton.)

Where to stay Lewa Safari Camp is a down-to-earth tented lodge with exceptional guides. At Sirikoi you can appreciate the true scale of Lewa by biplane or helicopter.

Top 10 Secret Places

Lewa is home to 10% of the world’s black rhino population, and 20% of the remaining Grevy’s zebra. Mount Kenya is visible in the distance. 

Africa's Secret Places

Camel-back safaris and visits to the nearby Ngare Ndare Forest are on offer at Sirikoi. 

4. Kalahari Desert - South Africa & Botswana

The Kalahari Desert is as fascinating as it is vast - extending into South Africa, Botswana and connecting with the Namib Desert in Namibia. It is a semi-arid landscape where you will find iconic red sands, and so much more: black-maned Kalahari lions and other big game like oryx, habituated meerkats, hot-air ballooning at Tswalu, dazzling night skies experienced on desert sleepouts, an annual zebra migration through the Savute in Botswana, horse-riding safaris, San rock art and fantastic off-the-grid accommodation. 

Where to stay Jack's Camp and San Camp are beautiful Bedouin-style lodges in Botswana. Leroo La Tau, also located in Botswana, is where you can go to see the Zebra Migration. In South Africa, The Motse at Tswalu is a good place to see rare pangolin as well as black-maned lion. 

Read more about ‘red sand safaris’ at Tswalu.

Top 10 Secret Places

At Jack’s Camp and San Camp in Botswana you can meet a meerkat, ride through the desert on horseback or quad bike (ATV), see San rock art, and camp out under the stars

Top 10 Secret Places

From December to March the Kalahari’s grasslands spring to life, attracting hordes of zebra, plains game and pursuant predators – you can experience this at Leroo La Tau. Black-maned lion are endemic to the Kalahari, and can be seen at The Motse at Tswalu in South Africa. 

5. South Luangwa - Zambia

Home of the original walking safari, South Luangwa is an untapped premier wildlife destination, and another of the few national parks in Africa where you are permitted to explore on foot. It is known for having the continent’s best safari guides, many of whom grew up in the area, so you are guaranteed to learn a lot and have a highly personalised experience. When it comes to walking expeditions, this is big game viewing at its most adventurous and you may have to forgo some modern luxuries like Wi-Fi or air conditioning. That said, tented camps are fully furnished and equipped, and you will be rewarded with possibly the most authentic safari experience in Africa. 

Where to stay Tafika Camp is only open during the mid-year peak season, Chinzombo promises some of the most luxurious accommodation in Zambia, and Kuyenda Bushcamp lies on the Manzi River. 

Read more on our insider’s guide to walking safaris in South Luangwa, or find out what to expect on a walking safari.

Top 10 Secret Places

On a walking safari at Tafika Camp you will always be accompanied by an armed and highly-skilled game ranger. 

Top 10 Secret Places

Leopard mother and cub at Chinzombo. The Luangwa River is the lifeblood of the park and offers water-based activities to lodges like Kuyenda Bushcamp. 

6. Damaraland - Namibia

Damaraland in Namibia is best-known for its incredible rock art, some of which dates back 10 000 years. You will be equally mesmerised, if not astonished, at the region’s soaring mountains, bottomless gorges and ancient calderas as far as the eye can see. As featured in the BBC series Earth II, desert lion can be found in the northern Palmwag region of Damaraland. Elephants here are physiologically and behaviourally adapted to life in the desert – they have longer legs to travel greater distances, a lighter mass, and are extremely sensitive when feeding on the scarce vegetation (as opposed to their savannah cousins that are very destructive when feeding, thinking nothing of knocking over a tree or gouging baobab bark). 

Where to stay Damaraland Camp looks south towards the Brandberg Mountains (‘Fire Mountain’) while Desert Rhino Camp is run in conjunction with the Save the Rhino Trust.

Secret Places in Africa

Due to its remoteness, Damaraland is most easily reached by air. Desert-adapted elephants pictured close to Damaraland Camp.

Secret Places in Africa

Black rhino roam freely in Damaraland and need only drink once every three or four days. You can track these members of the Big 5 at Desert Rhino Camp and check out exquisite rock art at the Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site

Secret Places in Africa

The northern part of Damaraland is a place of flat-topped mountains, acacia woodland and grasslands that bursts to life in spring (about September) giving oryx and other game plenty to graze on.

7. Mana Pools - Zimbabwe

Mana Pools National Park is an area of the lower Zambezi River, and forms part of a World Heritage Site due to its crucial role in protecting immense populations of Africa’s large mammals like elephant and buffalo. This exquisite and untouched wilderness is framed by the Zambezi River to the north and beyond that the mountains of the Rift Valley Escarpment – a perfect backdrop for walking safaris, fly camping and river adventures including boating, birding and kayaking. 

Where to stay Little Ruckomechi offers among the most exclusive accommodation in Mana Pools, if not Zimbabwe, while larger sister camp Ruckomechi has a prime location in the heart of the park. Kanga Camp is a down-to-earth tented camp in a remote location where you can expect nothing but adventure! Mana Pools can also be experienced on an authentic mobile camping expedition

Top 10 Secret Places

At Little Ruckomechi lodge you can enjoy sundowner cruises and canoe safaris. Mobile Camping allows you to explore remote, crowd-free regions. 

Top 10 Secret Places

Ruckomechi Camp is located on the Zambezi River and elephants often visit it for a casual drink. 

8. Lake Malawi - Malawi

Easily mistaken for a seaside paradise, Lake Malawi is one of the world’s top freshwater diving sites and has the highest number of fish species – especially cichlids - of any lake in the world. Above the dazzling waters of the lake, you'll find silky soft golden beaches interspersed with granite boulders and towering palm trees - all framed by the distant mountains of the Great Rift Valley. Liwondo National Park is located at the southern tip of the lake, and offers Malawi’s best game viewing.

Where to stay At eco-friendly Kaya Mawa Lodge, no two rooms are the same while Mumbo Island has suites among the treetops.

Top 10 Secret Places

Kaya Mawa Lodge is set on Likoma Island. 

9. Quirimbas Archipelago - Mozambique

 

This little-explored archipelago off the coast of Mozambique consists of 27 coral islands, many of which are uninhabited. Accommodation in the Quirimbas is limited to a handful of lodges so you won’t be hard-pressed to find your own private slice of Indian Ocean beach bliss.

Where to stay For total seclusion, Anantara Medjumbe and Azura Quilalea are ultra-luxe lodges located on their own private islands. Vamizi Private Island has a collection of luxury villas for exclusive family and group getaways. At Ibo Island Lodge, you can enjoy the rich culture of Mozambique, as well as exquisite natural wonder including one Africa’s largest mangrove forests. 

Top 10 Secret Places

In the Quirimbas you can all the requisites of a perfect beach break - silky soft sand, footpring-free beaches, crystal waters and fantastic diving. 

Top 10 Secret Places

Ibo Island is where you will find charming old Portuguese colonial-era villas, historic forts, and handmade, intricate silverware. 

10. Ruaha National Park - Tanzania

Visited by just one percent of visitors to Tanzania, this unspoilt destination is the country’s largest national park and its best-kept secret. It is a landscape where the savannahs of East Africa meet with the bushy woodlands of Southern Africa. Lodges are small and intimate, allowing you the opportunity of a personalised experience that can include walks, boating, birding, and fly-camping in season. 

Where to stay Jongomero is a luxury lodge on the banks of the Sand River while Kigelia is a semi-permanent mobile camp with just half-a-dozen tents. Kwihala Camp is another mobile camp that ensures you the best possible location in Ruaha. The latest luxury offering in this remote destination is Jabali Ridge

Top 10 Secret Places

Be dwarfed by elephants and baobab trees on guided nature walks at Ruaha National Park. 

Top 10 Secret Places

Kwihala Camp is a mobile camp rotating its location for green season (summer) and peak season (winter). Ruaha is home to plenty of apex predators including lion, cheetah, leopard and wild dog.  

Want to know more about Africa’s secret places and incredible wildlife? Sign up to our newsletter for insider info on African travel. If you’re ready to start planning your dream safari, get in touch with a friendly African Safari Expert today. 

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