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Waterfall[i] Some things you might want to know in the way of backpacking, budget travel country advice, info and summaries for: Southern Africa - Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

You can also see West, East and North Africa in other sections.

» It is worth looking, if you have not already, at the example layout to see the guidelines each section of information is based on - or for other travel advice and site home head for www.travelindependent.info



[book]What follows are only basic snap shot summaries. If you have decided these are some of the countries you want to visit and need more planning information then you are strongly recommended to complement what you find here with a planning guide. Trust us it will make life much easier. If you are set on going and need a guidebook or reading material please see a list of recommended guides/books here (go on have a look!). All guides/books can be viewed in more detail and click-through purchased with Amazon in the UK, US or Canada. Plus shopping through the site is a big thank you (if you have been helped out), to see why click here.



*   Southern AfricaCan you help?

 * Get your bearings... show/hide map of the region

» Botswana

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» Lesotho

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» Mozambique

  • Intro: Mozambique has long been known as a "jewel of Southern Africa" and with its paradise beaches and great food it is easy to see why. However, as with much of Africa it can be a nightmare to get from A to B and you must be the kind of person who can easily live without western amenities to be able to enjoy it. There is a language barrier to consider for many and it is rather expensive compared to its neighbours (particularly South Africa and Tanzania). Nevertheless, find the right spots and you will be humbled by what is seriously at tropical paradise, and you will be telling anyone who will listen for years about how you... like to spend some time in Mozambique where the sunny sky is aqua blue...

  • Add Many thanks to Alex Schofield for taking the time to put this summary down and Peter John for some updates.

    ! Do note that information here is from this author and not the site author. The views and facts expressed here are well-researched and good quality, but just bear in mind they should perhaps not be compared directly to other country summaries by other authors.

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» Namibia

  • Intro: Tell a South African you'll going to drive up to Namibia and he'll probably say don't bother, I'll take you to the beach and show you some sand. After two days solid driving on dust roads you might begin to wish you had taken the advice. Like Botswana, Namibia is an arid and sparsely populated country. It is without a doubt more suited to travel either with a tour (normally going to or from Vic Falls) or if you have a license, with your own (hire) car. Even then it's difficult to see the full range of this country's bizarre sandscapes, weird vegetation, rock art and, most worth a visit, the outstanding Etosha national park (almost 1500km from Cape Town). The most interesting parts of this country take days to drive to and are almost always along far flung dirt trails.

  • Even after four days of driving and reaching some of the more special sights you might still be wondering why this country is so highly rated. Reaching Etosha national park will probably answer your question since it is something special. In reflection you'll probably be deeply impressed by a unique beauty and vastness most would not have come across before.

    However, Namibia (unless going to and from Vic Falls) is on the whole inaccessible without a long tour or your own car and a little overrated. Given limited time most would preferred to spend the equivalent time in Zimbabwe and/or South Africa.

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» South Africa

* Miss at your peril: - 'Highlight of Independent Travel'South African Flag

A trip can be as African (Zulu-land hut) or un-African (Jo'burg shopping centre) as you wish. Prices do depend on the exchange rate which spent several years strengthening against major international currencies (making travel more expensive) before crashing with problems in the mining sector. For a developed country with high standards - away from over visited tourist hot-spots - it is excellent value. Your money will go much further than in Australia, Europe, Japan or the USA, and just as well really since there are so many brilliant things to do (most quite reasonable) from the world's highest bungee jump to sand boarding to getting in the water with Great White Sharks!

So what's the down-side? Well there is always crime, which in actual fact (despite its undeniable presence) few travellers come across in any measure considering the natural precautions normally taken by them and almost any one else in the country with anything worth stealing (crime has been slowly declining  since the 2010 World Cup). Public transport can't be relied on completely and will normally mean you will have to venture into less-safe areas to catch. Thus really to get around and to the gems that most fleeting visitors miss, you do really need to join a hop-on-hop-off backpacker bus or much better still, hire a car. The country lacks the history of somewhere like Israel or India, the exoticism of the likes of Peru and Thailand, and certainly perhaps the beauty and compactness of, say, New Zealand. Nevertheless, it still has all that in small measure and a lot more besides.

Highly recommended and certainly not to be missed over most other African destinations and/or the typical 'round-the-world' imagination-lacking hang outs.

  • Visa strategy: Visas are not required by nationals of USA, Israel, Japan and most EC, Scandinavian and Commonwealth countries. You can get up to 90 days stamped in, which is a good idea to insist on as renewal can be a pain.

  • Typical tourist trail: South Africa is a vast country and it seems many travellers fly to Cape Town and explore up to about Port Elizabeth or Durban. Those that land in Johannesburg seem to take in Kruger NP and then to Durban and along the coast to Cape Town, as is the Baz Bus route.

  • Hot/cold, wet and dry: On the whole South Africa is a hot country and the Indian coast line is often quite humid, that said somewhere like Cape Town, where you are further south than Sydney, is during winter months (June, July, etc.) really quite chilly and often wet with a biting wind. Other areas of the country can also be quite cold and the Drakensbergs see snow. If travelling at these times be prepared, although any warm clothes you may need can be bought in country no problems.

  • Costs: Between two, hiring a nice car, doing loads of miles, eating out, partying and doing a few organized activities (basically having a great time) your daily budget would be about US$40-50. This could, then again be halved if you wanted to watch your funds more carefully. South Africa is not an expensive country and probably the least expensive of all developed countries.

  • Money: ATMs are very plentiful and the best way to get money. Travellers cheques should be changed in private booths found in shopping centres for the best rates. You can also rely on your credit card in large measure

  • What to buy: You can find African curios in South Africa, but these are much better bought in Zimbabwe, Zambia or Malawi. Clothing and other items are at notable savings to western countries and if this is your last stop you may want to take some back. When doing so make sure you get VAT (tax) receipts, since (at the airport - turn up early and be prepared to show what you have) about 14% of the value of your purchases (which are leaving the country) can be claimed back.

Dangers:

The down-side is that South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world, and Johannesburg is one of the most dangerous cities covered on this website. An increasing number of backpackers do get robbed there and it is one of only a few places where there is a risk of being killed for your possessions. Nearby Pretoria is a great place and far less dangerous. It is really quite easy to head straight here when you arrive and if you do stay in Johannesburg, hostels will pick you up from the bus station or airport and transport you to one of the safer wealthy, satellites of town where they are based. From there you need not really stray. Still Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban still have high levels of crime and you would be a fool not to take care. Especially don't walk around town with your pack, money belt or day-pack on.

As dangerous as South Africa can be the areas of real danger will be very far from tourist route and actually fairly inaccessible. Any big city has the majority of the problems and guidebooks, commonsense and locals will constantly steer you away from hotspots. With the World Cup came big improvements in tourist infrastructure and security (such as the train link from JHB airport to Santon).  

As always, follow the basic advice in this guide and take advantage of all facilities in place to help you avoid crime and bad luck aside, you will be fine. South Africa's highly publicized crime rate should in no way put you off visiting. Many visitors are surprised after hearing all the scare stories prior to visiting, just how removed from crime they feel in South Africa.

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South AfricaAfter much time spent in both Australia and South Africa, we'd heard more tales of travellers being robbed (petty crime) in the former where a relaxed attitude is more prevalent.

If you can't or don't want to drive, in addition to the few intercity buses, there is an effective backpacker bus running. Similar to its Australian and Kiwi counter parts, the Baz Bus is a hop-on and hop-off unlimited time ticket bus that drops you and picks you up directly at your hostel following the most popular routes around the country (that of the coast line). The bus works well if you really can't or won't drive, but travel times are slow as drop offs and collections take a while and varying pick up times can see you lose time while you hang around waiting to be collected (the bus is notoriously late). You also need to consider the other people on the bus you are seemingly forced into a group with and the fact that once at your hostel you are more or less stranded and might need to fork out on taxis.

There is now a reasonable and affordable budget airline network, should you want to save time making jumps between big cities. Just remember, the best of South Africa is far away from the major urban hubs.

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» Swaziland

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» Zambia

  • Intro: Large, landlocked and right on the main Nairobi - Cape Town road. Boasting some of the finest and certainly untrammelled game reserves on the overland route. Zambia, is however is far from popular as a backpacking destination. Getting off the Malawi - Lusaka - Livingstone route and tackling the country's public transport not only gets tricky, but costs also rise surprisingly. For that reason, despite best intentions, few head out into the wilds of Zambia and really can't think of any reason why anyone should, over say Malawi or Tanzania.

    So few ever travel extensively around Zambia on public transport, with the exception of crossing between Mpulungu on Lake Tanganyika and Karonga (Malawi). Still Zambia is currently booming and Lusaka has turned from a dusty back-water to something more akin to a South African town. The north cities (Chingola, Ndola, Kitwe) dominated by the copper mining industry (Africa's biggest producer) are also booming, but uneventful and much of the country is unpopulated with limited road links.

The great expanse in the Northeast is home to several national parks the best and most visited of which is South Luangwa. The park is famous for walking safaris, leopards, but lacks cheetahs or lions in the numbers found in Kenya/Tanzania. And yes the walking safaris are well guarded and safe!

Victoria Falls
  • Highlights: Victoria falls (which is on the border with only part of the fall in Zambia, however this side is less commercialised than the Zimbabwean side)*. South Luangwa national park is becoming popular as a tour arranged out of Lilongwe (Malawi).

  • Lowlights: Lack of cheap/decent accommodation options outside of Livingstone and comparatively high costs for the region.

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» Zimbabwe

* Miss at your peril: - 'Highlight of Independent Travel'

- Zimbabweans are some of the best people you'll meet on the continent and desperate for visitors/business after a difficult chapter of history.

  • Intro: When most think of Zimbabwe, they think of violence and hyper-inflation. The hyper-inflation and violence linked to the last election and land-seizers is now gone. During 2009 inflation hit 7000% and the country ground to a halt. After an election came power-sharing and a lifting of a ban on USD transactions. The economy dollarized and things started on the path back to normality. Normality as in one of the friendliest and safest Africa countries.

  • At time of writing Zimbabwe is far off its heyday, but is improving fast and safe (by African standards with common-sense). If sticking to the worn paths, using local tours and avoiding trouble spots there is no reason why Zimbabwe should be crossed off any Southern Africa travel list. In fact it should be added! The sights are great, the people are ultra-friendly, educated, stoic and great fun. Transport is easy and this country needs all the help from tourists to get back on its feet.

Cost & Money

Update The situation in Zimbabwe has changed completely and for the fourth time we are totally re-writing this section!

First a little history. After the land evictions, the Zim dollar dived in value, yet the government kept imposing artificial exchange controls and hyper inflation followed. Once-upon-a-time hard currency bought into the country could be changed (illegally) at a great rate making travel super cheap. Then as land grabs got worse and violence surrounding an election got worse so did the inflation reaching crazy levels.

At that time there were pretty much no tourists in the country and anyone who didn't' need to be there wasn't. As the country headed for collapse with empty shops and gas stations, a power sharing agreement was struck. How much power was shared and what really changed is not a subject for this site. However artificial exchange rates were dropped and dollar transactions legalised.

Image from BBCWhereas chaos and confusion ruled for quite some time, with Zimbabwean banknotes becoming worthless, the central bank lopping off zeros and cracking down the black market, stability has returned.

Today, like Ecuador, Panama, East Timor and many other countries Zimbabwe function and runs on USDs. There are ATMs which provide USD and credit cards work fine, (but bring some USD and/or ZAR cash with you for outside of major towns). USD notes are for the most part in a terrible condition and change of small notes and below 1USD is a problem with 5 and 2 South African Rand coins used for small fares as cent coins. Alternatively your may be given a credit note on your receipt for the change up to the nearest dollar to spend next time.

Can you help?C Comment: In September 2013 we travelled through Zimbabwe from Victoria Falls to Harare. It was a wonderful place and after spending just under three weeks there did at any point feel in any danger. In fact most hostels we found great as they had not seen many backpackers in months. The train journey from Vic falls to Bulawayo was great. The whole experience was a pleasure. Best shared however as backpackers are very few and far between. - Amanda Rivett





Remember, this is only a take (an overview if you will); very few get the chance to see every inch of every country or have the time to get everyone's opinion (you are welcome and encouraged to mail in yours). Please, please if you have been anywhere recently send your comments to contribute and help keep all information fresh for future travellers. Or if you are about to head off remember this site when you return and put a few lines in an e-mail to let us know if things have changed.

 

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