When you come back from a vacation and someone asks you to name your top ten adventures, this may be difficult because you often do not have ten adventures to choose from. I found it difficult to pair down to ten after going on a five week, seven country adventure through southern Africa. I felt like I experienced something mind blowing at least once a day. After careful consideration, these were my top ten best adventures in Africa.
Top ten best adventures in Africa
10. Eswatini sunsets and sunrises
My friend Todd has lived in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) for the past two years serving the United States in their embassy in the capital of Mbanane. For a week, I stayed at his home and from his deck and couch, enjoyed stellar sunrises and sunsets every morning and evening looking over the hills in the distant.
Todd mentioned that they don’t go out much as the view from their back balcony is as stunning as it gets. Every morning I enjoyed my coffee and in the evening with a glass of wine raided from their wine cabinet gaped out at this beautiful view. It was so amazing, I contemplated five weeks of couch surfing, but decided to finally move on before they kicked me out.
9. Chobe camping and leopard visit
Number ten is the only one on the list that I would not want to repeat. Up until this time on the trip, I had camped in both Kruger National Park and Etosha National Park. These campsites featured an electric fence surrounding the whole camp, so it is pretty unlikely that any animals could sneak in. I did come across a jackal that growled at me as I was walking back from the water hole late at nigh in Etosha, but it would be nearly impossible for anything dangerous to get through.
In Chobe, the campground had no fences. We saw elephants from our camp as we were leaving. After a couple of glasses of wine around the campfire, I found myself having to use the bathroom at night. I proceeded out of the tent and heard a whistling like coughing like sound. It was far away enough that I was not immediately concerned, but close enough that I knew I should get back in the tent ASAP.
Our tour guide commanded from the tent that a leopard was approaching the campsite and everyone should be in their tent. He also said we would all be safe in our tent. The sound got closer and then disappeared. I did not get the best sleep the rest of the night, and I was happy to see daylight the next morning.
8. Best adventures in Africa – Cape Town penguin colony
Cape Town was originally not on my agenda, but I returned from Botswana to Johannesburg a little earlier than expected. I had a week in Johannesburg before my flight out, so I had time for one more excursion. I decided on three nights in Cape Town with a tour to the Cape of Good Hope and the penguin colony in Simons Town. It was a good choice as they were adorable and fun to watch.
7. Malolotja National Park scenery, hiking, and swimming
I went on two hikes with Todd and his daughters while in Eswatini. The most beautiful was to Malolotja National Park. I was given the option of hiking to a waterfall or zip lining. I chose the former. This was an easy choice as I much prefer the more physical activity.
Malolotja was just beautiful. Even though it was really dry, the brown rolling hills were just spectacular. It reminded me a bit of Custer State Park in South Dakota. We hiked down into a gorge and went for a swim in a pool below a waterfall. It was nice to go on a hike without the fear of lions or leopards. The park probably has leopards, but too few to worry about.
6. Best adventures in Africa – Chobe National Park bird life
The birding in Etosha and Kruger was spectacular, but Etosha is desert like and while there are some rivers and ponds in Kruger, the wetland birdlife was superior in Chobe National Park. The highlight of touring Chobe was going out on the Chobe River in a boat. We saw so many species along the river that I did not see previously like squacco herons, African spoonbills, marabou stork (this fulfilled my ugly five), and so many more.
5. Kruger National Park cheetahs
In Etosha, I saw lions but no cheetahs or leopards. I really wanted to see a leopard to fulfill the big five, but a cheetah sighting was high on my list too. In Kruger National Park, one night we went on a night safari with the park rangers. Michelle from the park took us out at sunset to explore the roads around Lower Sabie camp. We came across another ranger who patrols the park, and he said he saw cheetah on the road we were traveling a couple of kilometers away.
After several kilometers, we did not see any cheetahs; however, we did spot a rhino and a baby. I figured our chances of seeing cheetahs were dwindling. Suddenly, Michele pointed and two cheetahs were walking through the savanna adjacent to the road. We parked practically right next to them. They were completely unbothered by our presence. One of the cheetahs even climbed a tree right next to us and posed right in the fork of the two limbs.
4. Victoria Falls swimming, hiking, and viewing
I flew from Johannesburg to the Victoria Falls airport just to see Victoria Falls. It was so worth it. I stayed at Victoria Falls Backpackers, who picked me up at the airport. The next morning I took a tour of Angels Pool. Devils Pool does not open until August. The water was too high at this time, but Angels Pool was incredible. I also hiked the national park trails on the Zimbabwe side as the pools are on the Namibia side. I will write much more about this in a separate post.
3. Best adventures in Africa – Mozambique dolphins and whales
I visited Ponto Do Oura in Mozambique, and I was not prepared for the beauty of this ocean shore. My perception was this was just a beach town, and it would be a good place to chill. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the ocean here was as wild as an interior African national park.
They have this dolphin tour here, which is just incredible. The leader of the tour, Angie Gullan, has been studying dolphins here since 1995, so she knows them intimately and even by name. They take you out and look for pods of dolphins. When one is found, you go over board and snorkel with them. Angie first observes them to see if they are open to human interaction. If they show signs that they are unhappy with our presence, then it is back to the boat.
The first two times we spotted dolphins, they did not approach, but the third pod swam right directly below us. It was such an amazing experience. As I got back into the boat and was digesting the experience, the captain then yelled “whales.” We maneuvered within sight of a mother humpback whale with her baby. One of the experiences was cool enough, but back-to-back was truly magical.
2. Etosha Floodlit water holes and camping
The whole Etosha National Park experience was so amazing, and so incredibly easy. It is probably the most accessible park in Africa to tour on your own. I rented a car in Windhoek, drove to a luxury lodge just south of the gate. I stayed at Etosha Safari Lodge one night and did a game drive with them the next morning.
After the game drive, I drove into the park myself and stayed three nights inside the park. The first night I lodged in a bush chalet, but nights two and three I camped on my own with my own tent. The best part of staying in the camp resorts inside the park is you get the benefit of visiting the flood lit water holes all day and all night if you want to. My first blog post is about my experience in Etosha. Read it below.
1. Kruger National Park leopard sightings
After Etosha, I was hungry for a leopard sighting. Once I saw Cape buffalo in Kruger, the leopard was the last animal on my list for the big five. I combed through every tree that I passed in Etosha and did the very same thing on the first day in Kruger, with no leopard luck.
On the second day at Kruger National Park this all changed. I was on a tour with 11 other people with All Out Africa, and we were split between two safari cars. After lunch the second day, we were in the second car, when the first car stopped in front of us. They radioed to us that a leopard was by the side of the road. Sure enough, a leopard was lying underneath a shrub right beside the road. Our guide Sipho somehow spotted this beautiful animal.
Leopard in a tree – My African dream come true
The next morning we saw a second leopard walking through a clearing, but the best sighting took place on the last day. We came across a traffic jam, and we soon knew why. About 50 yards away from the road, a leopard had climbed a tree. Our driver, Percy, expertly maneuvered to the perfect unobscured viewing spot for 20 minutes. In fact, we were stuck in leopard traffic just across from the big cat. We would have liked to have gotten away sooner and given more people an opportunity to view, but we were stuck. It was not a bad place to enjoy a traffic jam.
We came across another leopard in a tree a couple of miles from the first one. Then, on our way out of the park, we saw a third leopard of the day, also in a tree. This made five leopards on the trip, which was just incredible. I feel that you have a very high chance of seeing a leopard in Kruger.
Here are a few other awesome experiences that were great, but did not make the top 10
- Chobe pride of lions starting their hunt at sunset (probably the most difficult to exclude from the top ten, but since Chobe already was represented twice, I left this out)
- Etosha self safaris driving between camps and driving from Windhoek to the park
- Bush walk in Kruger National Park
- Hiking and birdwatching in Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden in Cape Town
- 4X4 Quad bike adventure in Ponto Do Ouro
- Surfing Ponto Do Ouro
- Flying into Victoria Falls Airport
- Hiking Sheeba’s Breast and Mantenga Falls hike in Eswatini
- Pilanesberg National Park day tour
- Apartheid Museum Johannesburg