From the southern tip of Africa to the top of the Great Rift Valley, Southern Africa offers adventures beyond compare.  For the outdoor enthusiast, there are landscapes of unparalleled beauty, ranging from magnificent beaches and waterfalls to dramatic dunes and plains. For the animal lover, the region is home to wildlife found nowhere else on the planet. For the explorer of cities, Southern Africa boasts cities that delightfully mix vibrant nightlife with ancient culture.

Nicolau Cauanesgua plays saxophone -Mozambique

Nicolau Cauanesgua plays saxophone at the Mozambique Musicians Association. (CC Image: US Navy at Flickr)

Each country in Southern Africa has its own character that makes it unique. Track wild animals in one country and retrace the steps of the San people in another.  Study astronomy or search for rock art.  Walk with lions or swim with sharks.  Ride an elephant one day and dive to unbelievable depths in crystal waters the next.  Hike in cool mountains and visit thriving local villages.

In other words, if you have a sense of adventure in your soul, you’ll want to go to Southern Africa.  Since it’s such a long haul to get there and quite costly, we suggest you explore two countries on the same journey. This will not only save money, it will open up your heart and soul like never before.

We kick off our list of contrasting countries with South Africa and its next door neighbor, Namibia.

South Africa has been doing tourism longer than the other countries and has it down pat when it comes to having a great time.  In the Kruger National Park or one of the private game reserves, you’ll view a plethora of wild life.  Whether your accommodations are luxury or budget, they’ll always be up to Western standards.  Cape Town and Table Top Mountain are noted for their beauty.  But it’s also the site of Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent many years in incarceration.  Visit the wine lands and imbibe South African wines.  Take in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site and a tour of Soweto.  (www.southafrica.net)

Southern Africa's Table Top Mountain-Africa

The Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa Photo Credit: mattharvey1/Flickr

In dramatic contrast, a two-hour plane ride from Johannesburg to Windhoek, Namibia, puts you in the world’s tallest sand dunes in the Namib Desert.  You can go dune skiing or gliding here.  Further north, Etosha National Park, one of Africa’s largest parks, hosts large numbers of wildlife. The Skeleton Coast on the Atlantic Ocean is the site of windswept dunes and volcanic rock. With many shipwrecks over the years off this rugged shore, it retains an aura of mystique and desolation.  Because of distances, a Flying Safari is ideal in Namibia.  Stay in the small lodges where homey service is superb. (www.namibiatourism.co.na)

Another great combo is Tanzania for life-changing game viewing and Mozambique for beaches and history.  Some of the continent’s greatest safari areas are in Tanzania, especially the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti in the north.  It is here that from August to November each year, the great migration of wildebeest and zebras take place, along with their predators and other hangers on.  It is a spectacle like no other on earth.  The famed Mount Kilamanjaro is also in the north and if you’ve got the stamina, it is about a six day trek to the top for incomparable views.   In the south, Selous Game Reserve and Ruaha National Park offer spectacular scenery and great game.  The landscapes, wildlife and cultures of Tanzania offer an emblematic African experience. (www.tanzaniatouristboard.com)

Southern Africa and it's animals-Tanzania

Wildlife in Tanzania (CC Image: Martijn Flikr)

From Tanzania, it is an easy hop down to Mozambique and its long coastline, washed by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.  Two stunning archipelagos – the Bazaruto with four major islands and the remote Quimberos in the north—are blessed with healthy coral reefs that keep the water clean and clear.  There is great diving in Mozambique with steep underwater cliffs and an astonishing array of marine life as well as great fishing. For a history lesson, visit Ilha do Mocambique, previously the capital of Portuguese East Africa. (www.mozambiquetravel.com)

Southern Africa and it's beaches-Mozambique

The “mariner” of our dhow; he serves as a captain’s mate Mozambique. (CC Image: Steve Evans Flikr)

Other great combinations include Tanzania and Kenya. While both have great game viewing, the varied ecological systems make each day’s exploration different. Or, combine walking safaris in Zambia with dhow sailing on the Lake in Malawi. Or, mix superb value and excellent safari guides in Zimbabwe with great food and wine in South Africa’s Cape.