WARNING: The US State Department and most Western nations advise that you exercise extreme caution when visiting SA. South Africa has a very high level of crime and crime is the primary security threat to travelers and locals alike. Violent crimes, including rape and murder, routinely occur and have involved foreigners. Muggings, armed assaults and theft are also frequent, often occurring in areas that are popular among tourists.
A number of other countries are sometimes considered part of Southern Africa due to their accessibility from the countries listed above, such as Angola and some Islands of the Indian Ocean such as the Seychelles and Mauritius. In some instances all of the countries south of the equator are viewed as Southern Africa. For the purpose of this guide, these countries are described in other regions.
The Drakensberg (mountains of the dragon) range stretches some 1000km through Southern Africa, from the Eastern Cape through Lesotho (most of this country is on a plateau of the mountain range) , central KwaZulu-Natal (where one can find the Tugela Falls, the second highest waterfall in the world), divides Mpumalanga in half creating the Escarpment and the Blyde River Canyon (the third largest canyon in the world) from where it reaches up into the southern parts of Limpopo.
English is an official language in nearly all countries in the region, and most urban dwellers speak it fairly well. Afrikaans is widely spoken in South Africa and Namibia, and German is also spoken by some in Namibia. The official language in Mozambique is Portuguese.
South Africa's OR Tambo Internatonal Airport in Johannesburg and Cape Town International Airport are two of the easiest entry points into the region, with many direct international flight landing there from Amsterdam, Bangkok,Lisbon, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich, Athens, Dubai, Doha, New York, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Buenos Aires, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Sydney, Perth and others.
Connections to the rest of the Southern African region is easily made from here with flights to Blantyre, Cairo, Gaborone, Dar es Salaam, Harare, Lilongwe, Livingstone, Luanda, Lusaka, Kinshasa, Maputo, Manzini, Maun, Mauritius, Nairobi, Victoria Falls, Windhoek and more.
Southern Africa is a big place, and some areas are considerably more densely populated than others. Not to mention the large difference in levels of affluence between different areas makes this an easy section to write. An independent traveller who is going all around this region needs to be willing to hitch-hike. There is simply no way around this, unless you only plan on going to the (quite boring) big cities - but even then you will do considerably better if you are willing to hitch-hike.
There are mini-busses and big busses that go between big cities that (depending on where you are) either leave on a schedule (e.g Intercape and other South African bus companies) or leave when full. One good trick is to initially inquire about travel tomorrow, rather than show your hand early. That way, you are much more likely to get a reasonable time of departure - if you turn up looking to travel that same day then all the busses going to your destination are conveniently about to depart, until you have paid at which point they turn out to wait until they are (really really) full; don't leave for another eight hours (during which time you will repeatedly be told they are leaving in ten minutes to stop you walking off). Minibusses also leave when (ridiculously) full and you will probably be overcharged for using them but as they're smaller they can be faster (although usually more expensive). Expect transport to be the best and worst part of your trip round Southern/Eastern Africa!
Probably, you'll want to visit game parks and other nice sights. The main draw back is that they're usually in the middle of nowhere, and may require you to drive through the park in order to get to the campsite. There will not be any public transport, so you need to hitch-hike. There is a page on [Tips for hitchhiking], but here are some location specific tips. Hitch-hiking in this part of the world (besides South Africa) is very safe compared to most of the rest of the world. It is a widely recognised form of transport and in general you will be more comfortable and get to your destination faster if you can hitch a ride over some other kind of bus. Do not "thumb" a ride, instead put your palm out face-down on the road and flap your arm a bit (more like hailing a cab). It is common to be asked to pay something similar to the equivalent bus fare for a ride in this part of the world. if you are in a small town then you should ask around to see where the hitching spot is, as others will also need rides and many drivers will go to a hitching spot in order to pick up fare paying passengers going the same direction as them. If in the middle of nowhere (perhaps Namibia somewhere), its worth noting that even if only one vehicle goes past every 30 mins, you should get a lift sooner than you expect (it's pretty obvious if you're white, that you're a tourist and stuck without one!). Stating facts rather than stereotyping, if you see a white driver or a rich black driver (big car), smile at them as they approach and they are much more likely to give you a (probably free) ride if you are a white traveller. Their cars will also be comfortable and they are likely to have made an exception for you, so will probably not pick anyone else up. On the other hand, some locals will cram in as many people as possible (double figures in a small 5-seater!). Finally, ask where the driver is going before you tell them where you want to go, unless the road you are on only goes to one place. In some places, the sight of a white man will encourage almost every car to stop and assist - at a price. Finally, note that there are not many independent travellers in this area without their own car, so you will be getting an authentic experience if nothing else!
Trip starts in Zambia, near world-famous Victoria Falls and provides a glimpse into the best of Botswana with plenty of options for game drives before heading down through the wild Limpopo province of South Africa.
Livingstone, Botswana, Waterberg National Park, Johannesburg.
One of the most popular holiday activities in Southern Africa is wildlife safaris in search of spotting the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, rhino). There are game reserves within South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe. They all have lodges ranging from basic camping to five-star luxury.
South Africa has beautiful beaches stretching all the way from Cape Town around the coast up to Durban, which is a surfing mecca. Further north Mozambique - known for its excellent diving and warm, clear waters - takes over.
Southern Africa is an adventure haven. The region has some of the highest bungee jumping spots in the world; fantastic hiking and biking trails, great rivers for white-water river rafting and canoeing and excellent surf for surfing and kite-boarding.
The area at the tip of Southern Africa around Cape Town is known as the Wine Route and produces award-winning wines. Most wine farms are open for public tastings. Some of the towns to visit on the Wine Route include Stellenbosch, Franschoek, Paarl and Robertson.
Travellers on a budget have little choice other than to pack a cheap lightweight tent and camp much of the time. Be warned that in winter the nights can get very cold, despite the warm days and a frost as far north as Zimbabwe is not uncommon in some national parks. If you can't/won't camp then you are at the mercy of national park lodges which cost considerably more than any remotely budget traveller could afford. The only other option is to not spend the night in any national park, but that is generally impractical unless you have your own car, as getting to and from these places is not usually straight forward.
In towns and cities, there are usually cheap guest-houses that double up as a brothel of some sort (usually) and if you are lucky they may even have running water (don't count on it outside Namibia/South Africa). In large cities like Windhoek and Harare there are foreign NGO workers who have a tendancy to live in (and thus provide enough business for) hostels that also cater for budget travellers. Exactly how budget you think these are depends on your previous experiences, they do usually have hot water and electricity and a standard "hostel feel", and also tend to be only found in large cities.
Lastly, besides perhaps the big-city hostels mentioned above, you will not be able to book anything. But in general you will find locals to be friendly and happy to help you find some cheap back-alley guesthouse for you to spend the night (if that's what you ask for). In/Near bus stations they tend to be much more than 5 mins walk away, but of a higher standard
Southern Africa is a big place spanning multiple countries, urban and rural areas. Like anywhere, safety varies from place to place and time of day. Use common sense and defer to advice from trusted locals wherever you go, before you venture to new areas, engage with strangers or use public transport, and you're extremely likely to have a safe visit.
Depending on the country you are visiting, tap water might not always be safe to drink. Consult the page for the relevant country and check with locals when in doubt.
HIV and AIDS
Southern Africa has a very high HIV infection rate.