An Insider's View
Africa's southern subcontinentcomprising South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibiacontains so vast a collection of wilderness and wildlife that adventurous travelers will be nearly spoiled for choice. Big game is the main attraction, of course, and you should begin an Africa pilgrimage through big-game country with a hike, canoe trip, or other non-mechanized journey. You'll see animals on their terms, not walled off by the metal-and-glass cocoon of a safari vehicle. More dangerous? Well, yeah, but traveling this way also heightens your African experience. And besides, nothing gives you quite the adrenaline rush as walking through the bush with rifle-clad rangers.
Once you've had the big-game encounter of your dreamswatched lions stalk their prey or canoed round an angry male hippoyou'll be more ready to appreciate the subtler magic of the African landscapes. Bushveld, desert, forest, swamp, mountain, coasteach has distinctive wildlife and vegetation, and adventuring into each will open you to very different experiences. Nothing drives home the emptiness of Namaqualand, for example, like journeying through it on a camel. And nothing intensifies one's experience of a landscape like trying to stay alive while crossing it: creeping along Lesotho's mountain ledges on a sure-footed pony, mere inches from a thousand-foot drop; steeling yourself for a leap into a waterfall and its churning pool far below; crawling along behind a Bushman hunter stalking a spiral-horned kudu, a poisoned arrow poised on his bowstring.
However long you stay, you'll have an experience that goes beyond mere adrenaline seeking: You might witness a Bushman trance dancer heal a sick child, singing to the spirits as he raises the child to the stars. Or you may see the sun rise over the Namib Desert and realize that you are, for the first and perhaps only time in your life, surrounded by a pure and absolute silence. All are experiences that encourage the traveler to vow to never, ever again waste another precious moment of life.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication