Africa has consistently been one of those spots I had seen on TV and been mesmerized by. Just the way the landscape is incredibly harsh and empty, how free the untamed wildlife meanders about while fighting for survival each and every day and how basic the everyday lifestyle appeared to be. One place that highlights this to the fullest is the Okavango Delta but there are also other must stop at destinations you need to know about.
As of late, I got the opportunity to encounter the entirety of this when I completed a safari visit from Cape Town to Victoria Falls. It was a 22-day trip that secured visits to popular destinations such as South African wine region, Namibia coastline, Etosha National Park, Botswana and the popular Okavango Delta before unfortunately needing to end the journey at one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World, the forceful Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. I now want to share with you my 5 best experiences I enjoyed across the 22 days.
Find a great selection of African safari trips
The Okavango Delta
Travelling in the Okavango Delta
Camping in the Okavango Delta is an experience I will never forget. You had to have complete faith in the local guides that were transporting you across the narrow and deafly silent marshlands in a traditional dugout canoe. You rely solely on their complete knowledge of the area and understanding of how to read the surrounding landscape on the Okavango Delta. They spot hippos in the water before the animal even has a chance to spot us, they hear wildlife hunting in the distance and choose their route in accordance with that. Their understanding of the Okavango Delta is simply outstanding.
They operate these traditional canoes by standing at the back of them and pushing a simple pole into the muddy floor underneath the water. It’s a slow process and something that is sure to get the arms burning and making a visit to the gym a redundant idea. While snaking my way through this incredible landscape I had the chance to spot wildlife such as hippos, elephants, zebra and other local animals that made you feel on edge but also strangely relaxed throughout the 4-hour ride to camp.
Camping in the Okavango Delta
Arriving at the Okavango Delta camp was somewhat met with a disappointment that the sightseeing tour was over but I soon realised how wrong I was with that thought. When exiting the canoe, our safari group was welcomed by more residents of the local community, dressed in traditional clothing that consisted of bright colours and attractive patterns. Once assigned our camping quarter for the night and welcomed to this incredible location the guides suggested a swim was in order, to cool off from the powerful African sun that was now ensuring the temperature was 40ºC.
Find some great safari tours that visit the Okavango Delta
Swimming in the Okavango Delta
This was nothing short of an experience in itself as we had just navigated our way through the “swimming hole” on our canoes about 30 minutes prior. We had seen hippos, elephants etc in and around these waterways and now 20 odd silly tourists and 3 guides were splashing around in the same water. The guides took the job of protecting us and themselves very seriously, one enjoyed a cooling dip in the water, one looked out for hippos and the other positioned himself on the higher ground ensuring no elephants or worse snuck upon us.
After a few minutes, we all began to feel far more comfortable in the water and let ourselves relax and enjoy the occasion. After all, how many people can say they have been swimming in the Okavango Delta some 4 hours away from the closest town? The moment had to come to an end though, after around 15 minutes, the signal to leave the water occurred when one of the cheeky guides decided to sneak up on an unsuspecting tourist underwater and scary her to death.
Guided walking safari in the Okavango Delta
As part of the experience, we were given the chance of the evening and early the next morning to join a guide on a walking safari through the nearby pastures. This was an activity you completed at your own risk of course but had so much appeal that it was hard to turn down.
The walk consisted of small groups going separate ways from the camp into the surrounding grounds. It was an intimidating one hour walk that had you on high alert from start to finish, this was partly caused by some of the unimaginable stories our guide had told us before we started. I’m talking about walking in the Okavango Delta with a guide that had come face to face with a lion and lived to tell the tale.
Thankfully we saw no lions or other predator animals on either of our walks, however, we did have the chance to watch zebra, wildebeest, buffalo and elephants. This was amazing, we were standing on the very same ground as these animals and able to observe them going about their daily lives. I mean no safari jeep, no cages just us standing in complete silence and watching.
A traditional African meal and African dancing
After the walking safari, the fun continued into the evening. The locals treated us to a traditional dinner favourite of BBQ meat, vegetables and pap, a porridge type texture made from maize powder. The meals these people can cook with limited resources is nothing short of amazing, some restaurants don’t get the flavour in their meals that these people can get while cooking in the outback.
Once dinner had finished the party started up with the locals sharing some of the traditional dances of their village, they told stories of their lives and then had us join in with the celebrations. I was even dancing like a frog at some stage of the evening, why? Because that’s how they dance in the Okavango Delta.
Visiting one of the seven wonders of the world, Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls waterfall
With the proud title of being judged the largest waterfall in the world and being named as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, it’s no surprise a visit to Victoria Falls is a huge highlight. I was half bracing myself for a slight disappointment or underwhelming sensation when finishing my 22-day African safari here but it certainly wasn’t the case.
As I just mentioned, Victoria Falls is judged as the largest waterfall in the world despite not owning any records as either the tallest or the widest. It really is simply the combination of both that makes this a must-see attraction. The waterfall fluctuates inflow each time of year depending on the season, during the wet season while at it’s strongest a cloud of mist has been recorded as visible some 48km away from Victoria Falls and the only real chance to see them then is from the air. In the dry season, it’s better for other activities including white-water rafting and visiting devils pool.
Choosing when to visit Victoria Falls
Depending on what you want to do while staying in Victoria Falls as well as what other, if any, destinations you plan to visit in Africa will depend greatly on the time of year you should aim to visit. As mentioned above the white-water rafting, devils pool swim, abseiling the waterfall and many more activities are only possible at certain times of the year when the water flow is at an acceptable and safe level. Visibility is also much less when the falls have a strong water flow falling over them as the mist simply impeds most vision and the only clear view is from above via a helicopter ride.
I suggest staying at Shearwater Explorers Village when it Victoria Falls, it’s the best-valued accommodation option in town.
To find out the best time to visit Victoria Falls for you, I have written a detailed blog on this exact topic. You can see what activities are possible at what time of year and make the best judgement on when to go.
Options to view Victoria Falls
Visit them yourself
The chance to view Victoria Falls can vary from person to person depending on their budget, wants and desires from the experience. The simplest and most common method is to just pay the entrance fee at the front gates and view the falls at your own pace. There are 15 viewpoints on the Zimbabwean side of the Zambezi River and a further 4 more on the Zambezian side. For a detailed description of each viewpoint, I found this a great resource.
Guided tour of the falls
The other options to view the falls by land is to complete a tour with a local guide. These are great if you desire to learn more about the waterfall, how it comes about and some of the impressive records that this place owns. Tours run at designated times each day and you can easily ask for the next tour start time at the front gate. If you are early and need to wait you can check out the falls for a period yourself or grab a drink, snack or meal at the onsite cafe. Personally, I recommend aiming to visit one of these restaurants for meals while in Victoria Falls though.
Below are the opening times and entrance price to visit Victoria Falls
|Zimbabwean citizens||RTGS $30|
|Zimbabwean residents||RTGS $40|
|Lunar tour (all visitors)||$40USD|
- Children between 6-12 years old are half the price of an adult fee and under 6 years old are free of charge.
- If you leave the falls and want to return the same day a new ticket is required
- For evening viewing a different ticket is required
- Victoria Falls are open from 6am to 6pm every day
View the falls from the air
The only real way to see Victoria Falls in its entirety is to enjoy a flight over them. There are a couple of different options to choose from to complete this experience depending on your adventure levels. You can either complete a traditional helicopter flight over the falls that can also be extended to travel further upriver to give you the chance to also spot African wildlife from the air. The other option is to head up in a micro plane for a flight. There are some advantages and negatives to each experience that I have covered in more detail where I listed the 9 best adrenaline activities to do in Victoria Falls.
Staying at Elephant Sands Resort
Where is Elephant Sands Resort
Elephant Sands Resort is an out of this world destination located in Botswana, Africa. It is a stop off on the 22-day African Safari that I did and is truly somewhere that offers something many others can not. If you are travelling in a safari wanting to include a night here then make sure you choose to do this safari tour.
If you are travelling by car yourself then the resort is located 51km from Nata is you are driving in the direction of Kasane. The big sign out the front will ensure you see the turnoff, then just follow the sandy road for the 1.5km to reach the facilities.
Why you should stay at Elephant Sands Resort while in Africa
As the name suggests and their slogan rightfully points out, this is the place “where elephants rule”. The main reason to visit here and spend one, two or many more nights are centred around the chance of watching huge herds of elephants socialise at the local watering hole.
The elephants frequently visit this location as it is known to them as one of only a few reliable water supplies in the region. The staff even have names for elephants they see on a regular basis. I should point out that these elephants are completely wild, no human interaction occurs by tourists or staff members and watching them is the sole reason to visit.
I was lucky enough to witness over 30 elephants at the watering hole at once during the evening. The justling of position in the pecking order by males and the behaviours of female elephants and their babies was a sight that kept you glued, similar to watching a box office smash at the cinema, yet this was real life and happening right in front of me.
Accommodation options at Elephants Sands Resort
Even though the name may suggest something grand and expensive the accommodation on offer at Elephant Sands Resort ranges from as basic as you wish to ensuite styled chalets that surround the watering hole. If you have your own tent then you can simply pay to set it up close to the restaurant and amenity facilities and this is what I did when here. Elephants roamed freely past them during the day and nights.
The other way to stay is by sleeping in either their pre-erected tents or chalet styled accommodation. Both are fantastic and leave you with amazing views to sit and observe the elephants in their natural habit right from your own balcony area.
I have a complete review of this property and I encourage you to take a look if you are planning to spend any time in Botswana on your travels. This is a unique accommodation experience that can’t be high enough recommended in my opinion.
The second-largest canyon in the world – Fish River Canyon
Fish River Canyon
Fish River Canyon is recognised as the second-largest canyon in the world, falling just behind the Grand Canyon in the USA. It is located some 642km away from Windhoek in Namibia. The Fish River that snakes its way through the middle of the canyon is some 800km long and holds the title as the longest river in Namibia. The whole river only flows though in certain periods of the year when the wet season turns these grounds into a rampaging river.
The canyon itself measures some impressive statistics. It has an imposing depth of 550m along with being 161 km long and 27km in width. This compares to the crazy size of the Grand Canyon in the USA which is a staggering 1524m in-depth, 446km long with a width of 29km.
Watching the sunset here
The main reason to visit this area is to witness the spectacular sunset that occurs nightly. Watching the sun dip into the distance while witnessing the shadows appearing and the landscape of the canyon when changing from light to dark captures tourists from all destinations each and every day. In fact, 6 million tourists visit Fish River Canyon annually. If you can spend an evening here as well then the sky lights up with an impressive display of star constellations due to the lack of noise pollution from any surrounding areas.
Hiking in Fish River Canyon
If simply watching the sunset isn’t enough for you then hiking treks consist in and throughout the canyon as well. Varying lengths can be organised to suit your desires but the mega of all hikes in the area belongs to the 85km trail that takes visitors across a landscape that has 1.5 billion years of geological history. This trek is only possible in the dry season though when the river is not flowing at any speed.
More information on this trek can be found here.
Etosha National Park
Where is Etosha National Park
Etosha National Park is located in the northwestern part of Namibia and was named a game reserve in 1907 before finally being elevated to National Park status in 1958. It is famous for its wide variety of both game animals as well as birdlife. Most people spend multiple days visiting the National Park as its a huge area that covers 22,270 km2. Of this, 23% of it is home to a large salt pan known as the Etosha pan.
As a minimum, I would look to include two days inside Etosha National Park but you could easily enjoy 4-6 days without any problem at all. Each day a safari drive will give you something completely new to look at, night game drives are an option as well.
What animals are in Etosha National Park
While inside the park the chances of spotting some of the most famous African animals are a very real possibility. Animals in Etosha National Park include lion, cheetah, leopard, rhino, giraffe, elephant, wildebeest, hyena, two types of Zebra (mountain and plains), gemsbok, kudu, springbok and eland.
As you can see four of the big five animals that live inside Etosha National Park and the chances of seeing all in one single trip is a possibility, yet nothing is ensured on any safari excursion. I had one day of seeing 4 of the big five animals as well as giraffe, elephants, zebra and then the next day hardly saw an animal of any description.
You need some luck on your side but it’s also what makes each day so exciting, you just never know what you might witness.
How did it get its name?
Etosha actually got its name from the previously mentioned Etosha pan. This salt flat is the largest in Africa and takes up around 23% of the total area of Etosha National Park. It is an incredible space of absolutely nothing and appears somewhat out of the blue. It’s possible to drive next to this salt plain and look into the distance, while on the other side the National Park is green and full of life.
When the wet season hits the area the salt pan gets a huge water pool across it that attracts thousands upon thousands of migrating flamingos.
Across my varied and entertaining 22-day safari trip, Africa held up its end of the deal when it comes to magical locations, incredible wildlife spotting and downright pure fun destinations. The days spent driving across the landscape was like watching a movie set, it was forever changing its countryside and offering something new to the eager eye.
Find a great selection of African safari trips
Throughout the whole adventure, I was far too scared to sleep while in the safari vehicle just in case I missed something amazing. That to me is a sign of why it is one of the best travels I’ve completed so far, the landscape, people and activities are going to take a lot of beating in my opinion.
I’ve got many stories and some built up knowledge I’m aiming to share with you all over the course of running this travel blog. I’ve already covered Victoria Falls in a huge amount of detail everything from when to travel there, some amazing activities to do, why white-water rafting is the best in the world, where to eat while staying in Victoria Falls and much more. I encourage you to have a read if Africa and Zimbabwe are on your travel lists any time soon.
I also have a great list of the top safari options to consider that include Victoria Falls and many of the other incredible destinations at your fingertips while in Africa.
Organise Your Trip: Travel Advice and Tricks I Personally Use
Book Your Flight
Heading to either Skyscanner or Momondo are my methods of choice for this. They are my favourite as they search for flights from different companies all over the world. You can filter the results to suit your needs and ensure you land the best price every-time.
Book Your Accommodation
This is an important part of any holiday you’re going on. Read all the reviews and get the right accommodation via TripAdvisor. They even show you the best prices available at the time for that room from suppliers like Booking.com.For booking a hostel your best bet is to start with HostelWorld or possible even use CouchSurfing if you’re on a real budget.
Find the Best African Safari Trip
A selection of great safari trips with various itineraries. Each offers a unique and varied view of Africa, choose the best one for you.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel Insurance is a must these days so you have a piece of mind you’re covered for anything that could go wrong while on your trip. I now never go on a trip away without travel insurance. I’ve been using World Nomads for the past few years.
My favourite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- World Nomads (little more expensive but covers everything)
- SafetyWing (cheaper option to just cover you for health issues)
Looking for the best companies to save money with?
As I have been travelling frequently over the last few years I’ve learnt some great tools to use for saving money when travelling. I have a travel resource page that lists all the trusted companies I personally use and rely on. I think you will find them good as well.
The Best Place To Book Your Tours
If you are someone you likes to have the best tours in one place and read reviews from other travellers about their personal experiences of each different tour then the best platform to use is GetYourGuide.
They offer the best tours, have money-back offers in case your trip is cancelled and ensure the price of each tour is the lowest possible.
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