A Southern Africa safari is all about diversity. Some of Africa's most iconic and wildly different travel destinations such as Victoria Falls, the Kruger Park, Lake Malawi and the Namib Desert dunes are found in the region, and there are plenty of places that still lie far off the beaten path.
Using Johannesburg or Cape Town as your international entry points, the top destinations in Southern Africa are easy to reach, easy to combine, and thanks to modern logistics and infrastructure, easy to enjoy. Most destinations are suitable for families with children (South Africa offers excellent malaria-free Big 5 safaris) and there are enough honeymoon hideaways, 5-star hotels and rural retreats to satisfy all tastes and budgets.
South Africa: Big 5 safaris, whales & wine
There's not much that Africa's powerhouse doesn't have to offer its visitors. Kruger's private reserves deliver Africa's most intensive Big 5 game viewing while Cape Town and the surrounding Cape Winelands provide an elegant, Mediterranean twist to a South Africa safari, especially in whale-watching season. The Garden Route is the place for foolproof family holidays and self-drive adventures, especially when combined with the malaria-free reserves of the Eastern Cape, and you can always add KwaZulu-Natal's big game and beaches to the mix and finish off with golf and gaming at super-resort Sun City - this country has the lot.
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Botswana: super-heavyweight game viewing
Ever wondered what Africa's wildlife was like before the modern era? No need to dream: head for Botswana. Home to Africa's greatest numbers of elephant and stronghold of its largest predators, Botswana is serious big game country and no places more so than the Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta. It's also a country that combines easily with next-door Victoria Falls and if you fancy a bit of crowd-free game viewing, try one of Botswana's three Kalahari parks, most spectacular in the early summer months.
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Namibia: dramatic scenery & desert dunes
The soaring sand dunes of the Namib Desert take centre stage on a Namibian safari but this is a country where spell-binding scenery comes standard at all its destinations. It's also a country with better game viewing than you might think for such an arid land: Etosha National Park is one of Africa's best and the tucked-away reserves of the Caprivi Strip deliver an Okavango Delta-style experience. But the real wildlife surprises lie in rugged Damaraland where desert elephants and black rhinos trek along ancient game trails to find water.
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Zimbabwe: Victoria Falls & off-radar safaris
Boasting the best views of thundering Victoria Falls and a wide range of associated activities such as whitewater rafting and bungee jumping, Zimbabwe has also long had a reputation for some of the best game viewing in Southern Africa. Botswana's legendary Chobe National Park lies less than 2-hour drive away from Victoria Falls but Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park is elephant country while Mana Pools gives you the chance to explore the Zambezi River by canoe and its hinterland by 4X4 and on foot.
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Zambia: Victoria Falls & Africa's best walking safaris
Offering a wide range of riverside accommodation at Victoria Falls, Zambia is also home to some of Southern Africa's best reserves - South Luangwa and the Lower Zambezi in particular. The game viewing at each is excellent but it's the manner in which you'll see animals that makes it so exciting. South Luangwa is where Africa's best guided walking safaris take place while canoe, motor boat, 4X4 and on-foot safaris make up the suite of activities at the Lower Zambezi.
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Malawi: Africa's most unique safari & beach destination
Everyone loves a safari and beach combination holiday and it doesn't get more idyllic than in Malawi, Africa's friendliest country. Malawi's wildlife reserves such as Liwonde are rapidly improving and the game viewing is good enough but it's the sparkling clear waters and dreamy beaches of Lake Malawithat seal the deal. It's a laid-back destination and perfect for a don't-rush-me holiday, especially as a post-safari wind down.
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Mozambique: idyllic Indian Ocean escapes
It will be a while before Mozambique's once legendary game reserves return to their former glory but there are some success stories, especially in Gorongosa National Park where conservation efforts are now reaping rewards. What Mozambique is most famous for however are its dazzling Bazaruto and Quirimbas Archipelagos, classic Indian Ocean destinations of gin-clear water and powder-soft beaches. The diving is superb, the ambience romantic and exclusive, and the islands make unbeatable honeymoon or post-safari retreats.
- Read more about a Mozambique holiday.