Travel Guide: southern Africa
There is more to tourism in southern Africa than South Africa – just!
Emerging fresh-faced and optimistic from its turbulent past, there is much to admire about the way South Africa is establishing itself as a holiday destination.
There’s a lot to see and do in a country blessed with friendly people and outstanding natural beauty. The tourism industry has responded quickly to the growth in the number of visitors after years of being shunned by the international community.
Johannesburg – known as Jo’burg, or Egoli, ‘the place of gold’ - is the powerhouse of southern Africa, and it has the culture, nightlife and variety available in all the world’s major cities. Nearby Soweto, once a byword for the grim realities of apartheid, is a sprawling city in its own right with many tourist sights and tours.
Cape Town and Durban offer pristine beaches alongside the best of urban living and entertainment. There are those who rate life down on the Cape the best in the world.
East of Johannesburg and nestling along the border with Mozambique, the Kruger National Park is the archetypal safari destination. Those keen to see African wildlife in what approximates to its natural habitat are as likely to be satisfied here as in any such park on the continent.
Note, however, that there do remain serious problems in the country. The AIDS/ HIV pandemic is devastating the population, there is tremendous poverty, not necessarily visible to the tourist but always nearby, and in certain areas crime and violence are a real threat. Take care and pay attention to the guidelines of locals and travel operators.
Winters are relatively mild but summertime can be extremely hot – remember, that’s the European winter, when you might be tempted to search for some December sunshine.
Flights from the UK take between 11 and 12 hours. South Africa is only one time zone away from the UK so you won’t suffer any jet-lag at the end of the flight.
South African Tourism
Few tourists from the UK even consider this country as a destination, but it has lots to offer those in search of something a little out of the ordinary.
There’s plenty of space in Namibia – fewer than two million people in a country the size of France and the UK put together. Desert and salt marsh accounts for much of the country; Etosha National Park, in the north of the country, attracts most tourists; the occasionally spooky coast features other-worldly charms such as the town of Lüderitz, recalling Namibia’s past as a German colony; further north, the Skeleton Coast.
It’s cheaper and sometimes easier to fly to South Africa and take a connecting flight rather than aim for a direct flight to the capital, Windhoek.
Namibia Tourism Board
Landlocked Botswana is the place to go for an environmentally conscious safari, the government paying close attention to its natural resources and anxious to establish a name for eco-tourism.
Chobe National Park, in the far north of the country and as far from the capital, Gabarone, as it’s possible to be, has a huge animal population and rewards the determined tourist. The Okavango Delta is the other major attraction.
Again, it can be easier to reach Botswana via a neighbouring country such as South Africa to the south or Zimbabwe to the northeast.
Botswana Department of Tourism
The ongoing political situation means that travel to Zimbabwe can be uncertain and potentially dangerous, though most tourists have no trouble at all during their stay. Check the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website (http://www.fco.gov.uk) for the latest advice before booking your holiday.
As well as National Parks such as Hwange and Matobo, Zimbabwe boasts the uniquely magnificent Victoria Falls (the water is most powerful during the rainy season between March and May).
East of Matobo lies the Great Zimbabwe National Monument, capital of a mighty medieval civilisation and today the largest ancient structure in Africa after the Pyramids.
Mozambique at war was a terrible, haunted land. Mozambique at peace is beautiful and fascinating in equal measure, but still a country the Foreign Office issues stern warnings about to travellers.
The infrastructure is poor in places and landmines from the civil war remain, hidden, unmarked and potentially lethal, across parts of the country.
No wonder it remains off the beaten track for most Britons.
If you are tempted by the thought of seeing somewhere the neighbours have barely heard of – and some of the beaches compare with the best in the world – it is advisable to fly to Johannesburg and travel on overland.
Twice the size of Britain, French-speaking Madagascar split from the African mainland more than 150 million years ago, inching its way east into the Indian Ocean. It’s home to an incredible array of wildlife, much of it unique to this sultry land of rainforest and mountains.
Ironically, the best time to see Madagascar is in winter – summer is too hot for relaxing, and the rainy season can be fierce. Beach resorts include the delightfully named Nosy Be, Nosy Tanikely and Nosy Komba, but the best reason to visit the island is to get off the beach and immerse yourself in nature.
Flights from Europe start from Paris, so plan your time and money around that.
Madagascar Official Portal
Further out in the Indian Ocean than Madagascar, the beaches are even more ridiculously perfect, the sea even more crystal clear – and the official language is English.
Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority
There are 115 Seychelles – many of them tiny, all of them beach-clad jewels in an emerald sea. Get under the water as well as luxuriating beside it – the diving is some of the best in the world.
Seychelles Tourism Marketing Authority
The Foreign Office website offers advice for travellers to each country in the world.