20 Awe-Inspiring Things to Do in East & Southern Africa

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It feels like only yesterday that Craig and I set off on the backpacking adventure of a lifetime traveling across East and Southern Africa. We spent five months independently traveling from Uganda to South Africa, and found there were so many things to do in Southern Africa that we could have easily extended our trip for another five months.

Africa is a continent that digs very long roots into your heart. Some of our best travel memories come from that trip. It wasn’t just the close encounters with the wildlife, the stunning scenery, and crazy adventures we had, but the beautiful people we met, who welcomed us in like family.

Today, we share share our bucket list of things to do in Southern and Eastern Africa to help you plan your perfect trip to Africa.

Actually, these are way more than a travel bucket list, these are awe-inspiring experiences that will give you stories to share around the campfire for the rest of your life.

Things To Do In Southern Africa

From wildlife encounters to jaw-dropping scenes of nature, don’t miss these unmissable things to do in Southern Africa…

1. Sit with Gorillas at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda

Gorilla in the Bwindi Impenetrable forest uganda
Gorilla trekking in Uganda was worth it

If you want an adventurous African experience then go on a trek through the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to sit and play with the gorillas for an hour.

Bwindi means impenetrable and you can certainly understand why as your guide hacks his way through the undergrowth with his machete; a machete that certainly comes in handy as a scare tactic when the gigantic silverback decides to charge you in an effort to mark his territory.

Whoaaa heart-thumping stuff and an incredible story to tell!

There is a whole lot more to Uganda then just gorilla treks. The people of this nation are so warm and friendly, and the mountainous countryside scenery is just spectacular to explore. And while there make sure you do highlight number three below!

We tell this tale and 3 other incredible Ugandan adventures in our podcast episode: Tales from Uganda

2. Go On A Masai Mara Safari, Kenya

A lion lying in the grass eating a wildebeast
Lion Kill, Masai Mara Game Par, Kenya

This was the first safari game park we visited and so has the “first love” attachment for me.

The memory of riding through the savannah in an open-topped van is still strong in my mind.

Experiencing the plains dotted far and wide with zebra and wildebeest; giraffes loping by in the distance, stopping for lunch under the shade of an acacia; watching cheetahs on the hunt and seeing my first ever lion kill of a wildebeest in front of us will never leave me.

And then at night, we camped around the fire talking to a Masai warrior as he shared tales with us of life as a fierce nomadic warrior who fight lions and leopards with their bare hands.

Eye-bulging, jaw-dropping AWE!

3. Whitewater Rafting the Nile River, Uganda

white water raft nile river
Bujagali Falls, Nile River by Shutterstock

Wash away the dirt of the trek on the white water rapids of the Nile River at Jinja, the source of the world’s longest river.

These grade 5 rapids are a churning mass of white wash fear waiting to pick you up and flip you out. Serious adrenalin-pumping fun. There are eight sections of rapids on the 4 hour, 30 km section of the Nile River you raft. I was flipped 4 times. So.much.fun.

I’ll let you decide for yourself whether the charging silverback or the final grade 5 rapid “The Bad Place” gets your heart racing more.

If you’re wondering whether the Nile is better than the Zambezi for white water rafting, we asked our guides who had guided both, and they said both were very similar in fear and fun levels, although The Bad Place trumped it as the Ultimate Rapid.

I also think rafting the world’s longest river has an extra layer of cool to it.

4. Catch a Zanzibar Sunset, Tanzania

A sunset behind a boat on a body of water

Speak to anyone who has been to Zanzibar and they will reply, “Ahh, Yes Zanzibar!”

Their eyes will glaze over as their mind takes them to a place of paradise, where the sun fires up the night sky as it dips below the horizon and bids farewell to the traditional dhow that passes before it, and the passing travellers sipping their beers from the hammocks between two palm trees above the powdery white sand.

Once darkness becomes the dominant light source, they make their way to the beachside restaurants to sit on plastic chairs and gorge themselves on inexpensive and fresh seafood barbecued in the spices this island has always been famous for.

5. Chill out at Mayoka Village Nkhata Bay, Lake Malawi

hostel cabin behind craig on edge of water
ur hostel in Malawi

We arrived at Nkhata Bay, on Lake Malawi, with the intentions of staying just a couple of days. It took us two weeks to finally, heels kicking, drag ourselves out from under the Mayoka’s spell and continue on our way.

Mayoka sits on the rocky headland of the Nkhata Bay down the end of a small, dusty track winding its way in from Nkhata Bay town. The water can only be reached by a scramble over the rocks or from a quick jump from your chalet’s balcony, that sits near to the water’s edge.

You can relax at Mayoka or explore the lake during the day through canoeing, fishing, snorkelling or swimming.

6. Catch Sunrise on Top of Sossusvlei, Namibia

people sitting on sand dunes

Often referred to as the highest sand dunes in the world, Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert is definitely a place worth exploring on your Africa adventure.

Start the day with an early morning climb 85m up Dune 45 for a panoramic view of a spectacular sunrise that changes the colour of the shifting sands through varying shades of red.

After the sunrise, explore the surreal Deadvlei, a favourite for photographers for its white baked clay pan, dead camel thorn trees, and surrounding red dunes. An eerie oppressive heat sets in here by mid morning, which has you racing for the nearest exit.

If you have enough energy you can attempt the climb up the ridge of the 390m Big Daddy, reported to be the highest dune in the world. Why not roll all the way down its face into Deadvlei as we witnessed some people doing?

7. Hike Up Table Mountain, South Africa

Table Mountain with cloud sitting on top
Table cloth laid bare

In Cape Town, everything comes back to the mountains.

No matter where you stand in the surrounding areas of the city, your eyes are always drawn back to the imposing grandeur of Table Mountain and her sister’s Lions Head and Signal Hill standing stately above guarding the wealth of the metropolis below

We climbed Table Mountain starting from Kirstenbosch Gardens along a strenuous rocky path to the summit. The clouds, however, were not our friend on this day, obstructing all views and making it feel like a pointless exercise.

We caught the cable car down through the fog, disappointed for not having the experience we craved, but not loving her any less because of it.

There are many trails leading up Table Mountain – choose the one that suits your fitness level.

8. Animal Viewing at Night at Etosha National Park, Namibia

Sunset, Etosha National Park, Namibia
Sunset, Etosha National Park, Namibia

Etosha, meaning “Great White Place” is dominated by a massive dry salt pan which fills only if the rains are heavy and even then only holds water for a short time.

This temporary water in the Etosha Pan attracts impressive flocks of flamingos and the perennial springs along the edges of the Etosha Pan draw large concentrations of wildlife and birds.

Etosha is one of those parks known for night-time animal viewing around the waterholes. We, unfortunately, went during the wrong season – the rainy season. The best time to visit Etosha is from May to September.

We didn’t see many animals at the floodlit waterholes near our camp, as the animals had ample watering holes elsewhere in the park. We did, however, see a lot of animals during the day.

9. Safari in Addo Elephant Park, South Africa

elephants at the waterhole
Communal mud bath

Addo Elephant National Park is one of the best places to see elephants in Africa, and it’s not just elephants you can see here since it’s increasing its borders and variety of animals.

Apart from running into hundreds of elephants as they go about their day eating, bathing, playing and chasing lion cubs around waterholes, you will see an abundance of antelope, warthog, zebra, lion, buffalo, and rhino (though the rhino’s are hard to spot).

A unique feature of this game reserve is the waterhole lookout point, which is floodlit at night, within the camp as well as the underground hide, allowing close encounters with wildlife at the waterhole.

We saw a Mumma elephant chase away a lion cub from the waterhole to protect her baby. It was incredible.

We also saw a herd of elephants enjoying a mud bath together and saw crocodiles chilling on the banks. One of the best things I’ve ever seen!

10. Game Drive in Kruger National Park Safari, South Africa

A rhinoceros on side of road

Kruger National Park is well known for having one of the best African wildlife viewing experiences in South Africa.

Located just a four hour drive from Johannesburg, Kruger is easily accessible and has all the African wild animals you could ever hope to see, including the Big 5.

After spending four months backpacking Africa and visiting many African game reserves, we finally saw two leopards and even the very rare wild dogs.

Kruger is massive so choose one area to stay at and base your drives near there. We found the Lower Sabie area to be the best for viewing. Bear in mind though that animals move with the wind.

Camping facilities and lodges at Kruger are superb. We found it the best place to take an organized night time safari drive.

If you are a thrill seeker, then I highly recommend a walking safari. Nothing beats walking freely around as a guest in the animal’s kingdom. We came frighteningly close to black rhino, and almost to lions except the big scaredy cats flew off into the distance. Yeah! Who’s the King now??

11. Experience Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

couple standing in front of victoria falls

The world’s biggest waterfall is probably on everybody’s bucket list. It’s a mesmerizing and beautiful place.

Victoria Falls is named a Place of Peace. I did not read the plaque that stated this until after I traipsed along her ridges with the feeling surrounding me that I was walking amongst a deeply spiritual and peaceful place.

When David Livingstone first walked out of the jungle and stumbled upon the falls he wrote, “On sights as beautiful as this, angels in their flights must have gazed.” 1.7km of gushing waterfall thundering into the deep gorge below is truly a sight worth gazing at.

Take time to let the spray from ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ soak into your skin. Walk up and down the cliff face, stand further back into the forest so you can see and feel her ‘smoke that thunders.’

We spent Christmas Day here in 2003 and it was so memorable. On Christmas Eve, we went on a boat cruise on the Zambezi River with some local Zimbabweans and then during the day sat beside her thundering smoke to a delicious lunch.

Make Victoria Falls an experience, not just a badge of honor.

12. St Lucia Wetlands, South Africa

hippos in africa

St Lucia is a small estuary town in the St Lucia wetlands in Zululand, South Africa. St Lucia wetlands is a world heritage site and is uniquely comprised of five ecosystems, at your doorstep to explore.

St Lucia is a very small town, full of relaxed charm, and completely in tune with its natural surroundings. We camped in the gardens by the river where hippos are known to frequently graze at night.

Not only that, hippos are often sighted roaming around town in the evening, eating from the gardens of the neighbourhood homes, or even walking down the street outside the local pub.

We spent our days crawling through the underbrush and lantana of the dune forests, getting dunked in the surf of the wild coastline, on the hunt for leopards in the wetlands, (having to settle for crocs instead), drive by hippo hunting at night, and invading isolated hippo pools known only to the locals. These free tours were hosted by our hostel Bibs.

The evenings were spent with other travellers enjoying cultural Zulu dancing shows put on by Bibs, games of volleyball at dusk by the banks of the rivers watched by the crowd of hippos and crocs, games of Frisbee golf, night time braais, drinks, and bonfire parties on the beach. Epic memories.

(*note – I don’t mean hunting literally. It just sounds better than stalking or searching for!)

13. Boulder’s Beach at Simon’s Town, South Africa

woman sitting besside Simons towns penguins

Get up close and personal with a colony of African penguins at Boulders Beach, Simon’s Town.

You wouldn’t think South Africa would have penguins until you swim in the ocean and realize that it’s certainly cold enough for them.

2,500 penguins live and play on the beach at Simon’s Town and you are allowed to hang out with them. If you are brave enough to swim in the freezing water, you can also play Marco Polo with them.

penguin at Boulders Beach

The penguins are unfazed by the tourists sitting amongst them on the rocks and are happy for you to get up close for a photo.

Boulder’s is a picturesque beach, with boardwalks for you to walk along to view the mating, nesting, and sunbathing penguins. Simon’s Town is on the Cape Peninsula not far from Cape Town.

13. Drive the Garden Route, South Africa

Bloukrans Bridge
Bloukrans Bridge

The Garden Route is the most scenic drive in South Africa, and extends from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town (and vice versa).

There are so many incredible attractions along the way (some we’ve already mentioned such as Addo Elephant Park and Boulder’s Beach), as well as quaint little towns with welcoming communities.

As you drive along the route, you can stop off at Plettenberg Bay where adrenaline junkies can bungee jump from the highest bridge bungee jump in the world; Bloukrans Bridge.

Relax in Wilderness or enjoy scenic hiking trails from Nature’s Valley. Or see incredible Indian Ocean landscapes from Tsitsikamma National Park or go surfing in Jeffrey’s Bay.

Some other stops on the Garden Route are Knysna (which we personally didn’t find too exciting, but was a nice pit stop), Mossel Bay and Storms River (a great place to stay if you want to explore Tsitsikamma National Park).

Nature's Valley Garden Route South Africa
Nature’s Valley Garden Route South Africa

If you time your visit right, you can also spot whales migrating from Hermanus, which is the number one spot for whale watching in South Africa (particularly Southern Right Whales).

You can also take boat trips out to see Great White Sharks from Hermanus, as well as the popular cage dives.

It takes about 2 weeks to complete the Garden Route if you stop at all the stops. It’s also worth taking a slight detour to visit South Africa’s wine region; Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Be sure to get the wine tram which takes you around all the wineries.

14. Visit Robben Island, Cape Town

Robben Island

Robben Island is a small island in Table Bay, accessible from Cape Town. The island is known for Robben Island Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site housed in a former prison that became famous for being the place in which Nelson Mandela was kept.

Today you can explore the Robben Island Museum and learn about Mandela’s time in prison, as well as his life – from the early years growing up in Soweto to his journey into politics and activism.

Nelson Mandela is quite possibly the most famous South African and Nobel Peace Prize winner in the world, so be sure to visit this iconic place and learn about his life and legacy.

15. Get Educated At The Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg

The Apartheid Museum Entrance

Jo-Burg isn’t a place you want to spend very long in because it doesn’t have a lot of attractions, and it’s also quite an unsafe city.

But there is one reason to visit this city and that’s the Apartheid Museum.

This is a well-curated, well-documented look into South Africa’s troubled history where a system of institutionalized racial segregation and oppression took over for over 40 years.

From 1948 to 1994, the apartheid enforced the separation and unequal treatment of different racial groups, with non-white individuals subjected to discriminatory laws and policies.

The Apartheid Museum

This regime led to profound social, economic, and political disparities, as well as widespread human rights violations.

Eventually, through much struggle, protesting, and support from outside countries, this oppressive system collapsed.

This was a pivotal moment in South African history and anyone visiting South Africa should take the time to learn about it.

16. Hike Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa

Drakensberg Mountains

The Drakensberg Mountains sits on the border between South Africa and Lesotho, and is made up of the most beautiful, unspoiled natural surroundings in the world.

It’s most famous for Giant’s Castle, which is a peak on the South African side of the range. In terms of landscape, it’s a lot like the Table Mountains in Cape Town since its made up of grassy plateaus and limestone cliffs, but it’s much larger.

If you’re looking for somewhere more off the beaten path to do some hiking and explore Africa’s beautiful nature, then hit up one of the trails in this majestic range.

17. Witness Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, South Africa

Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve

The Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve is located in Mpumalanga, not far from Kruger National Park.

If you’re looking for somewhere with jaw-dropping nature to visit after a safari, then be sure to add this reserve to your itinerary.

Spanning 26 kilometers and plunging to depths of around 800 meters, this canyon stands as one of the world’s most breathtaking spectacles.

Its verdant surroundings and the Blyde River flowing through the center makes it one of the most stunning scenes of nature in the country.

18. See The Second Largest Canyon in The World, Fish River Canyon, Namibia

Fish River Canyon

Tucked away in the southern heart of Namibia, the Fish River Canyon is another destination not to miss if you want to see nature’s awe-inspiring grandeur.

This colossal chasm, known as Africa’s largest canyon and the world’s second-largest, offers more than just a feast to the eyes.

It beckons adventurers to tread its rugged trails, embarking on the famed five-day hike from Hobas to Ai-Ais, which is a challenging hike that will test your endurance, and allow you to marvel at the raw, unspoiled beauty of the landscape.

19. Safari in Chobe National Park, Botswana

elephants in waterhole
Seeing elephants in Chobe National Park was one of our favorite experiences in Botswana.

If you plan to visit Botswana, then a game drive in Chobe National Park and Okavango Delta is a must.

On a game drive, you can witness massive elephant herds, majestic lions, and an array of other fascinating creatures roaming freely.

The park’s unique landscape is made up of lush riverfronts, sprawling savannahs, and the mesmerizing Chobe River, which you can cruise down in a mokoro (a traditional dug out wooden canoe), which gives you a whole new perspective of this enchanting place.

20. Game Drive in South Luangwa National Park, East Zambia

deer in field

Finally, we have one more safari park in Africa for you to consider. Nestled in the lush wilderness of eastern Zambia, is South Luangwa National Park.

This is a great alternative to the popular and crowded safari parks like Kruger or Masai Mara, offering a more authentic safari experience.

This park is renowned as the birthplace of the walking safari, offering a uniquely immersive way to explore the African bush and encounter its diverse inhabitants up close.

Don’t worry, you will be escorted by a ranger with a fire arm, so no need to worry about being eaten by a lion.

We thoroughly enjoyed a walking safari in Kruger when we visited, and think everyone should experience this at least once in their life.

Being on the ground where the animals are awakens your senses. You can smell where lions have been, hear animals crawling in the long grass, and get a rush of adrenaline knowing you might be watched by a leopard.

Not to mention the park’s picturesque setting in the valley of the Luangwa River, which sets it apart as a truly remarkable destination.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, from safaris to surfing and mountains to museums, there are so many things to do in Southern Africa we could easily write a book on it.

We hope this guide gave you some inspiration and a few spots to add to your itinerary.

Tours of Southern Africa

If you don’t want to travel to East or South Africa as an independent traveler, G Adventures offer guided group tours. We partner with G Adventures for their commitment to the supporting the environment and conserving local cultures.

Here are some great tours to check out!

Also consider our long-term partner Globus family of brands. We have a discount in the blue box below.


We’ve secured an exclusive yTravel discount: Save $100 per person on select 2024 Globus and Avalon Waterway Vacations. Use the code: YTRAVEL when booking online at the Globus, Cosmos, and Avalon Waterways websites, by calling Globus and Avalon Waterways directly, or booking with a preferred Travel Advisor. Terms & Conditions.

More Africa Travel Tips

Need more inspiration for your trip to Africa? Check out these other guides…

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There are so many great things to do in Southern & Eastern Africa. Have you been? Let us know if you have any more great ideas in the comments!

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