With the hostel’s dog snoring next to me and a Savannah beer on the table, I finally found time to write this overview article of my Southern Africa backpacking adventure, here in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
Africa is often low of the (independent) traveler’s wishlist. However, this is undeservedly so…! After a previous unforgettable trip to Eastern Africa in 2011, now the South completely swept me off my feet! Backpacking Southern Africa has been the ultimate adventure. It’s wild, it’s truly African and the landscapes are simply breathtaking. It’s also friendly, relatively accessible and affordable. So, fellow travel enthusiasts, go visit Southern Africa. I promise it will be the adventure of a lifetime!
Overview Backpacking Southern Africa
Countries visited: South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe
Full itinerary: Full itinerary (based on sleeping spots): Johannesburg – Drakensbergen – Lesotho (day trip) – Umkomaas /Aliwal Shoal – Umzumbe – Coffee Bay – Bulungula – Port Elizabeth – Jeffreys Bay – Capetown – NAM – Cederberg – Orange River – Fish River Canyon – Sesriem/Sossusvlei – Swakopmund – Spitskoppe – Etosha National Park – Windhoek – Divundu/Caprivi – BOTS – Maun/Okavango Delta – Gweta – Elephant Sands – Kasane/Chobe National Park – ZIM – Victoria Falls – ZAM – Livingstone – Lusaka – Siavonga/Lake Kariba – ZIM – Harare – Bulawayo/Matopos – Masvingo/Greater Zimbabwe – Harare
Number of days on the road: 67
Number of photos taken: 1767
Used modes of transportation: Minibuses (combi’s), big buses, shared taxi’s, massive overland truck, different cars, truck, 4×4’s, 1969 airplane, mokoro, canoe, boat and a quad.
Best wildlife moments: 1. Discovery of an elephant next to my tent at night 2. Seeing a large elephant herd across the river from my tent 3. Being <10 m from a giraffe during a walking safari.
Most beautiful landscapes: 1. Sossusvlei, Namibia 2. Northern Drakensbergen, South Africa 3. The Wild Coast, South Africa
Scariest moments: 1. Water in my mask during diving and not being able to get it out (I did it the wrong way) 2. A hippo charging our boat at the Okavango River in Namibia
Number of different camping spots: 20
Favorite camping spot: Ngepi camp where I camped on the river bank between the hippos and crocs!
Favorite hostels/lodges: 1. Bulungula Lodge, South Africa 2. Jollyboys Backpackers, Livingstone, Zambia 3.Ngepi Camp, Divundu, Namibia
Moments of loss: My DSLR was completely ruined and broken due to water damage at Victoria Falls! Find my tips for your Victoria Falls visit here!
Number of times sick: 0
Number of mosquito bites: Countless
Amount of money spent: 3655 euro (55 euro per day)
Number of times I felt unsafe: 0
Best game drive/safari moments: 1. A lion family hunting buffaloes, Chobe, Botswana 2. An elephant herd (inc young ones) bathing and playing in the water in Chobe river, Botswana 3. Elephant preventing a small warthog to drink from the waterhole (in the end the warthog did get his water fortunately!)
Best adrenaline rushes: 1. Jumping of a 9m high cliff in South Africa 2. Diving with black tip reef sharks and tiger sharks in South Africa (no cage!) 3. Sandboarding down massive dunes in Namibia
Favorite meal: Traditional meal in Lesotho
Least favorite meal: Steers hamburgers at the Baz Bus stops
Most difficult country for independent travelers: Namibia. Although I opted for a last-minute overland tour, I met some backpackers who traveled Namibia with public transportation/hitchhiking. All said it was incredibly difficult involving hours of waiting and wild camping (but also an adventure).
Favorite new hobbies: 1. Camping. Who would have thought I enjoyed it so much? It’s my own cosy portable house and I sleep better in a tent than in a dorm. 2. Bird watching (seriously… I even already have my own bird list) 3. Surfing!
Craziest-looking landscapes: 1. Moon landscape in Namibia 2. Deadvlei in Namibia 3. The Salt Pan in Namibia. So, for some otherwordly landscapes: go to Nam.
Number of books read: 2.5
Best lazy travel moments: 1. Going to the cinema in Lusaka, Zambia to watch Batman versus Superman and London has fallen 2. Baking pancakes in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe 3. Eating ice cream almost every day.
Best hikes: 1. Cathedral Hike, Drakensbergen, South Africa 2. Table Mountain, Capetown, South Africa 3. Hole in the Wall, Coffee Bay, South Africa
Favorite moments on the water: 1. Navigating the Hippo Highways by mokoro in the Okavango Delta, Botswana 2. Chobe river boat cruise, Botswana 3. Canoeing the Orange River, Namibia
Favorite museums: 1. The Apartheidsmuseum in Johannesburg, South Africa 2. The Natural History Museum in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe 3. The National Museum in Windhoek, Namibia
Most interesting cultural experiences: 1. Learning about the Xhosa community on the Wild Coast 2. Soweto township 3. Meeting the himba tribes in Namibia
Favorite recurring travel moments: 1. The brief, but beautiful encounters with locals in minibuses, on the streets, lodges etc. 2. Taking the bus. I enjoyed the hustle and bustle around bus stations and stops and was always amazed by the capacity. There always seemed to be space for one more person. Five persons on three seats is not uncommon ;) 3. Enjoying the starry sky every night and spotting the Southern Cross, Orion’s Belt and the Milky Way. I also saw a falling star and made a wish!
Chance I will be coming back: 100%
Please keep in mind that I’m currently on the road and this update was almost entirely done on my phone. So, the lay-out may look funny with the chance on the occasional typo. The beauty of imperfection I’d say ;)
Recommended further reading for backpacking Southern Africa