Published: October 2009
Surefire Safaris: The South (Part II of II)
The continent's best trips, done right.
Text by Costas Christ

Click here to read Part I of our African Safari coverage, "Sure Safaris: The East"

Botswana
Visit the world’s wildest water park: The Okavango Delta
[KEY: active adventure, big herds]

The Okavango is, literally, one giant oasis in the Kalahari Desert. Each summer, floods from heavy rains more than 600 miles away in Angola create a 6,500-square-mile wetland of palm islands and seasonal riverbeds packed with game, including one of the last remaining populations of African wild dogs. Exploring the Okavango involves a combination of light aircraft, 4x4s, paddling, and hiking. Botswana has opted for a quality-over-quantity approach to its safaris—meaning no mass tourism. You’ll pay more for the privilege, but next to the Serengeti, nowhere else can match it. &Beyond’s new Xaranna Camp puts you in the heart of the action (doubles from $550 per person; andbeyond.com).

South Africa
Swim with fresh bait: Kwazulu-natal
[KEY: active adventure, value]

It may well be the largest migration on the planet: The annual run of millions of sardines along the east coast of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal Province stretches nearly nine miles long and almost two miles wide—so large it can be seen from space. There was a time when only pro scuba divers could drop in on the massive school, but now anyone can slip on a mask and fins and swim with the fish. Watch for whales, sharks, dolphins, and clouds of seabirds, all after their next meal. SEAL Expeditions tracks the moving shoals and can provide the gear (ten days, from $3,895 per person; sardinerun.com).

South Africa
Go it alone (but watch for lions): Kruger National Park
[KEY: active adventure, value]

Nearly the size of Massachusetts and home to more wildlife species than practically any other park on the continent, Kruger offers the best DIY tour in Africa. Rent a car and plan for at least a week, starting from Skukuza in the southern section of the park and heading north to the Limpopo River. You’ll stay at simple (and affordable) rest camps operated by the national park service, where you can also stretch your legs on bush treks with armed guides—after all, this is still wild Africa (car rental from $35 a day, avis.co.za; two-person bungalows from $80, sanparks.org).

Namibia
Bike through rhino-land: Namib Desert
[KEY: active adventure, field conservation]

Unlike almost every other safari destination in Africa, this is one that can be seen on two wheels. Wilderness Safaris’ six-day mountain bike trip takes in the wildest, most rugged terrain in the country, including the Damaraland community conservation project and the Ugab riverbed. Imagine pedaling the world’s oldest desert, with elephants, rhinos, lions, and a 977-mile windswept Atlantic coastline tossed in. Plan ahead and book the trip for May and June—wintertime—to beat the heat (from $3,475 per person; wilderness-safaris.com).

Zimbabwe
Paddle the Zambezi: Mana Pools
[KEY: active adventure, value]

Once regarded by many safari veterans as the finest destination in Africa, Zimbabwe is returning to the fold after years of economic and political turmoil. Few experiences on the continent measure up to paddling the Mana Pools Canoe Trail, which traces the lower Zambezi River and harbors pods of hippos and plenty of crocs. In this case, you are in the water hole, and the wildlife—buffalo, elephants, impalas, baboons, and the predators that stalk them—comes to you. Classic Africa, a specialist in the region, provides river guides and gear (four days, from $1,330 per person; classicafrica.com).