SOUTHERN AFRICA IN 3 MONTHS: THE ULTIMATE ITINERARY
Maybe you are like us, maybe you have difficulty choosing a single country to visit.
Especially when every country is so close to another.
Don't worry, we have an itinerary for that.
An itinerary for your every wildlife encounter, your safari dreams, and unimaginable landscapes. An itinerary for the southern part of the beautiful AFRICA (and eastern, but it doesn't make for a good title, does it?)
A few notes on our itinerary: We will be using USD, not because we want to, but because it is the more common exchange for the many currencies in Africa.
We did not purchase or apply for any visas in advance, and did not find it an issue. Check for your respective countries, but we have listed the prices from the date of our trip for Canadians in our guide.
It may seem like a lot. It may seem like it will take a lot of time and money, but each section is completely doable as its own trip. Doing this itinerary will ensure you use every kind of transportation available. We aint fancy.
No, nobody is paying us to say any of this, and no, we aren't getting anything out of our recommendations. We just enjoyed them and think others might too! The prices were accurate as of 2018, and are to give you an idea of what the costs are!
1. KENYA (14 Days)
Arriving in Nairobi, expect to pay $50 each for your visa on arrival.
Grab a cab to your hotel or hostel for around $25 (split it with another if you can) or prearrange a pick up with your hotel. Don't expect to get to your destination quickly. You won't.
We would recommend leaving the city as soon as possible, because the real highlight (and your first Kenyan activity) will be going on safari.
Be honest, visiting the birthplace of safaris is one of your main reasons for going to Kenya.
We managed to book in advance, but it was quite difficult. Scout out the cheaper options on Safari Booking, because generally the tour operators will sell separate tours, but they will combine you into one vehicle. The only variation will be where you are sleeping: budget can expect to sleep in permanent tents, luxury can expect lodges.
We did it budget and had an amazing time on the exact same tour as the luxury group, with less cush accommodation and meals.
Our recommendation would be a 6 day safari that visits the Masai Mara (2 nights minimum), Nakuru (1 night), and Amboseli National Park (2 nights). Show your enthusiasm and your guides will do their best to make your experience memorable!
In the Masai Mara, you will have the opportunity to visit a Masai village ($10 per person). Though it wasn't our favourite experience, it is worth your time to visit and see the Masai ways.
Dedicate your budget to a longer safari rather than a cushier one, you won't regret it!
For your second week in Kenya, climb Mt. Kenya. We missed out on this and still wish we could have climbed with Mt. Kenya Guide John. We heard amazing things and when we talked with him he seemed genuinely awesome! He quoted us $110 per day (including everything but tips and drinks), but discuss a quote with him prior to your visit to Kenya.
Your last few days will be spent on the coast of Mombasa. If you're into history, visit Fort Jesus ($12 per person), otherwise hit up Diani Beach to soak up the sun by the Indian Ocean.
With excellent seafood and a beautiful sunset on the harbour, it is well worth dedicating your night to a four course dinner on an Arab Dhow ($68 per person).
For your stay in Mombasa visit Tuliahouse Backpackers and if you're travelling as a couple, splurge for the rooftop room ($40 per night). Trust us.
If you're continuing on to Tanzania, we recommend a flight to Zanzibar Island. It isn't super expensive, but if your budget is stretched you can take a cheap bus to Dar Es Salaam then a ferry across to the island. When we worked it out, it didn't save us enough to lose the convenience of flying.
2. TANZANIA (14 Days)
Arriving in Stone Town, expect to pay $50 each for your visa.
Plan to stay at Lost & Found hostel. The air conditioning (you'll be happy to have it) and the option to pay for one dorm double bed as opposed to two dorm singles make it stand out ($32 per night for double dorm bed).
If you've made it to Zanzibar, you have made it to the spot for eating, and if you were coming from Kenya I am sure you will appreciate it. Sorry Kenyans!
Our favourite go-to spot for breakfast was Stone Town Cafe, which is seconds away from Lost & Found hostel. A simple, but delicious, breakfast, and a unique spiced coffee will keep you coming back day after day.
For lunch check out popular Lukmaan's for it's unique menuless style and tasty food!
A fancy dinner here is a must. Check out the five course meal offered on the rooftop of Emerson Spice Hotel, but make sure you swing by to make the reservation in advance. You'll be rewarded with views overlooking the entire city, and a great seafood meal ($89 for two people).
To contrast the high class dining of Emerson Spice, visit the Forodhani Gardens for the Zanzibar Night Market. Everything is delicious and cheap, so try some of everything! We loved Mr. Mango's Zanzibar style pizza. Plan to be there before dusk to watch jubilant kids of every age doing flips and tricks off the pier into the warm water. The energy and fun is infectious.
Stone Town also has plenty to keep you occupied aside from eating.
Expect to spend time wandering the narrow and tall streets, popping in at some of the many market stalls selling souvenirs. Take some photos of the beautiful doors, and stop by the Mercury House to see where Freddie Mercury lived at one point. Pass through Jaws Corner, and stop to have a coffee and join in the conversation with the locals if you have time.
Book a snorkelling tour with Safari Blue for a great day exploring the Menai Bay Conservation area ($60 per person). You'll also enjoy a seafood barbecue that is to die for. Okay, last mention of food here, I promise.
Take a day trip to the South part of Zanzibar Island to walk through Jozani Forest with endangered red colobus monkeys!
Being on the Silk Road, Zanzibar is known for spices. For an interesting and cheap activity ($15 plus tip) go on a spice tour, where you will see every form a spice can take, and enjoy the entertainment of those working there.
End a day of activity with a sundowner drink upstairs at the Africa House Hotel where you will receive a perfect view of the sun going down over the boats on the ocean, and of people practicing their moves and exercises down below.
To get to Arusha, and the beginning of your second safari adventure, take a local flight and you may find yourself nearly alone, sitting directly behind the lone pilot, all controls in sight.
You'll overnight in Arusha, but early in the morning your safari will begin. Again, check out Safari Bookings. The Serengeti is more expensive than the Masai Mara (and depending on the time of year, one usually trumps the other. We went early February and saw next to nothing in the Serengeti, though we raved about the Masai Mara only two weeks earlier), so only dedicate 3 nights here. In the Serengeti you will sleep in the national park in a tent if you're brave and decide to camp, and it is an amazing experience.
Expect to spend one night in the Serengeti, one in Ngorongoro Crater, and one in Lake Manyara. Ngorongoro is not to be missed, and Manyara is known for the tree-climbing lions.
Head back to Dar Es Salaam to catch the Tazara train. The ordinary train runs every Tuesday, and the express runs every Friday. The train is a very beautiful way to travel and to see the countryside. We chose to fly back to Dar Es Salaam because we had a time constraint to catch the express train, but you could easily bus.
Expect to spend approximately 50 hours on the train, we booked the whole four person cabin to ourselves and it was perfect ($187 for the whole cabin). We would have shared if we had two other people, but our only other option was the six person sleepers which we would not recommend. It is very tight quarters for six, and everybody has to sit during the day.
BRING FOOD. And possibly some Zambian Kwacha, unless you are willing to eat irregularly or not at all. Ordering meals was limited to one car and it was served randomly, dinner one day was at 5:00pm, and the next day at 10:00pm.
You still stop at the border, generally late at night, and a border patrol officer will come on to check passports and arrange visas. Once you cross the border you will not be able to use your Tanzanian Shilling, and only hawkers are selling Kwacha for ridiculous prices.
3. ZAMBIA AND ZIMBABWE (7 Days)
Expect to pay $50 each for your (single entry) visas. Alternatively, pay $80 for a multi entry visa if you plan on visiting Zimbabwe but prefer to travel back through Zambia to Botswana afterward.
If you arriving on the Tazara train, you will arrive in Kapiri Mposhi.
As there are no ATMs when you arrive, it is best to have Kwacha or USD to catch the cab or matatu (mini buses) into the city. The train travel time is approximate, but we arrived in the evening and hitched a ride to Lusaka with a wonderful family. For most, it would make sense to spend the night in Kapiri Mposhi and spend the next full day travelling to make your way to one of the largest waterfalls in the world.
To make your way the approx. three hours to Lusaka, a private cab costs around $100. You can share rides to make it cheaper, or take a bus which is a cheaper option and what we would recommend. Once you arrive in Lusaka, buy your bus ticket to Livingstone at the terminal there and then go to a cafe for a coffee and snack while you wait. You may want to get some snacks and drinks for the bus ride as it takes 8+ hours (ours took 10).
Consider spending your stay in Livingstone at Fawlty Towers ($40 per night). They offer a free morning shuttle to the Zambian portion of Victoria Falls, and a small and cheap breakfast.
Take their free shuttle to Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. Consider bringing a packed lunch if you feel you will want to spend the whole day here. It costs $20 per person to enter, and if you exit the park you will have to pay again for re-entry. You'll want a camera, but in the rainy season, you should have some way to protect your equipment as there are moments where you will get soaked.
For another view of the falls, you should take a helicopter ride, also known as the Flight of Angels ($180 per person). Although short in duration (sub 15 minute flights), it is more than worth seeing the Falls from this view and experiencing a helicopter if you haven't before.
In the evening, go on the Fawlty Towers Zambezi Sunset Booze Cruise for drinks, food, and a sunset on the Zambezi ($30 per person). When we combined it with the helicopter over the Falls, the price was discounted, and it was great value for what you experience.
The next morning, make sure not to miss swimming on the edge of Victoria Falls on the Livingstone Island tour of either Devil's Pool or Angel's Pool (due to seasonal restrictions). Devil's Pool has a shorter season as the water flow becomes too high and dangerous to remain open. Angel's Pool stays open longer due to lower water flow, though both close annually when water flow gets too high.
We would recommend the breakfast option as it is the cheapest option, and is still extraordinary ($105 per person). You get the same experience on the waterfall, and an amazing breakfast for less money. It is an experience that should not be missed.
After your tour ends, make sure not to leave the grounds of the Royal Livingstone Hotel immediately, and utilize their grounds shuttle to take a look around. The driver stopped to walk into the trees and show us giraffes! Getting dropped off at the gate, it is worth considering visiting the Falls again to spend more time in this amazing setting.
You might be wondering why we chose to combine Zambia and Zimbabwe. Although both house the majestic Victoria Falls, they both have their pros and cons. For those of you who are unaware like we were, Zambia houses only 25% of the Falls, while Zimbabwe houses around 75%. That isn't to say that the Zambia side is not worthwhile; on the contrary, we preferred our time in Zambia.
Although Zambia holds less of the Falls, it is the only way to see Victoria Falls from Livingstone Island, and it is the primary way to view it by helicopter. All in all, we felt like if we had to choose, we would choose Zambia.
We couldn't stop ourselves from wanting to see the Zimbabwe side. If you find yourself feeling the same way, consider making your way to the border, where you can easily walk across. You will have to purchase the visa, for most countries it is $50, but for Canadians was $75.
And although we recommended bringing protection for your camera in Zambia, we recommend you really protect anything and everything here if you visit during the rainy season. R.I.P. laptop.
We don't recommend spending much time in Zimbabwe. The accommodation and prices were significantly better on the Zambian side. We would not recommend Shoestrings Hostel. We aren't super picky, but furniture in the commons was arranged to avoid the many leaks in the roof (to no avail) and some beds were literally soaking wet due to it. This contributes to a moldy and wet dog smell across the entire hostel.
Visiting the Falls should be your main reason for staying in Zimbabwe, and once you have done that ($30 per person), move on.
In order to get to Kasane we had to book a private transfer for $48 per person.
4. BOTSWANA (8 Days)
Your transfer will drop you off at your choice of stay in Kasane. To say that there are limited low-range options wouldn't be too much of a stretch. Our first night was spent at Bananyana Backpackers ($27 per night), but the required taxi to get back and forth to the small town (there are no options for food), the non-working shower, and the impressive amount of ants were enough for us to choose an alternative for the next few nights.
Kasane Self Catering was on the other end of the spectrum, with a kitchenette and beautiful space. They even had some sherry sitting out as a welcome. Expect to pay $100, but also to save on food costs if you are willing to cook.
The main reason you'll want to spend time in Kasane is to visit Chobe National Park for a one day excursion. The first half you will spend in a safari vehicle on the winding paths through Chobe, which is known for elephants ($32 per person). The second half you will spend on a safari boat on the Chobe River, where you are more than likely to see hippos as well ($25 per person)!
Make your way to Maun using the bus service through Nata. You'll be in for an early morning (stop by the day before to see what time the bus will leave at. We were told 6am, but missed it and spent an extra night), three hours to Nata, and then another three to Maun ($13.60 per person).
Take a taxi to Okavango River Lodge, the price for a double room (with a bathroom) was only a few dollars more than a Motsebe Backpackers double tent without a bathroom ($55 per night).
Additionally, you will be booking your three day private mokoro (dugout canoe) trip in the Okavango Delta through them. Ask for Nike if he is available, he was an excellent guide!
The trip costs about $120 per person, one of the cheaper ways to get out in nature in Africa. You will need to bring your own food, but you can rent tents and cooking gear from the Lodge if necessary. You are also able to leave gear at the Lodge, as everything you bring will need to fit on the two person (plus guide) dugout canoe.
On your three day mokoro, you can expect to do a short water journey as your guide poles you through the Delta, stopping and setting up camp in a secluded treed-in area.
During the days, your guide will take you on an amazing walking safari through the Delta where you can see zebras, elephants, giraffes, and all kinds of wildlife. Bring walking shoes.
You'll hate saying goodbye to your guide and the Delta, but you'll enjoy seeing the bed at Okavango River Lodge for one more night.
In the morning, is the real adventure as there is no direct bus to Windhoek, Namibia. Instead, you'll be taking a 5:30am bus to Ghanzi, arriving at approximately 9:00am, where you will transfer over to a bus going to Charles Hill leaving at 10:00am. You will be dropped off in a small community outside the border at 12:30pm and can take a very cheap taxi to the Kalahari border. Total this portion costs only approximately $11 per person.
5. NAMIBIA (14 Days)
For Canadians, there is no visa fee for Namibia! Woo!
After the border crossing, you'll be waiting on a quiet highway for a friendly stranger to pick you up. People are extremely friendly and helpful, and there is usually someone willing to drive you to Gobabis, if not all the way to Windhoek.
Depending when you arrive in Gobabis, you can determine if you would rather cab to Windhoek to get there sooner ($13 per person), or spend a night relaxing and then bus or taxi the next morning.
Windhoek will feel like a breath of fresh air in terms of modern cities. Due to German colonialism and foreign trades, they have the most upscale city you will have seen so far on your journey.
Stay at Chameleon Backpackers, and if you're up for it, the Honeymoon Suite for a beautiful stay at double room rates ($65 per night). They offer a free walking tour of Windhoek that you can partake in the next morning.
In the evening, head to Joe's Beerhouse and try the unique wild game and at least one of the many drink options!
The next morning you will want to arrange your rental car transport to get around the scarcely populated country. It can get expensive, but is the best option to get around Namibia, so consider ride sharing with others from Windhoek if you want to lessen the cost. We took a Toyota Corolla, which in hindsight was a mistake as we popped a tire two consecutive days and ended up stranded. Most companies won't let you take a small vehicle and require you to rent a 4x4 if you will be leaving the one major highway (you will be).
From Windhoek, you will take your new car rental all the way to Swakopmund, with an optional drive down horrible gravel roads to Spitzkoppe enroute. Spitzkoppe is a group of peaks that jut out amidst the flat surface of desert.
Swakopmund is known for being a city for adventure. Take your pick of the adventures they offer, but we recommend going quadbiking in the desert dunes ($75 per person).
We didn't get the chance, but some travellers recommended Sandwich Harbour tours for a beautiful view of the ocean and desert meeting.
Allocate a day to visit Cape Cross Seal Colony to see thousands of seals and pups ($8.50 per person) and the portion of the Skeleton Coast where you can see shipwrecks caused by the extreme ocean conditions of the area.
In what will potentially be your least favourite drive of your trip (double checking that you have a 4x4 at this point), make your way to Sesriem and Sossuvlei. Make sure to bring camping gear, because the only options are high end resorts or tenting. We made the mistake of leaving ours at home and ended up spending the night in our car. And popping a tire for our troubles.
Also consider bringing food for your time here.
Being at Sossuvlei is worth it ($17 per vehicle); Sossuvlei has the famously photographed Sand Dune 45 and Deadvlei which you will head to see in the morning after a secluded sleep underneath brilliant stars.
On your way to Luderitz, make it to the highway ASAP. You won't regret it and your spare tire will thank you. Plus you will enjoy a drive through extremely lonely highway roads in the middle of the desert with dunes occasionally sweeping across.
Luderitz is an adorable oceanside town with a harbour that boasts city, desert, and ocean. The real highlight is nearby, at Kolmanskop, the diamond mining ghost town ($9 per person).
For an eerie depiction of life in the desert, you can wander through the abandoned homes, school, and hospital in the ghost town. It is amazing, especially those with a passion for photography.
Your last adventure in Namibia will be going to Fish River Canyon, which is (depending on criteria) the second largest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon. Again you will be spending the night camping, so make sure to bring your tent and a pack some food or be prepared to eat at their restaurant ($38 per night)!
In the morning, check out the Canyon again and then make your way back onto the highway and to the border (Vioolsdrif border crossing) of South Africa!
6. SOUTH AFRICA (21 Days)
South Africa is another country that doesn't charge Canadians for an entry visa!
From the border to Stellenbosch you are looking at six and a half hours driving, but through some of the most beautiful and unique countryside. The roads are much better here, so don't be alarmed. Or feel free to stop off somewhere if you want to break up the drive.
Stellenbosch is a wine and university city, and surrounded by beautiful mountains and open vineyards. You'll want to take a few days here and take part in a couple of winery tasting tours. We took the two day Wine Hopper tour and ended up at 11 wineries trying over 50 different wines and even three brandies ($29 per person for the bus). Optional costs for the wine and extras, such as an amazing picnic at Warwick Estates ($65 per basket).
For a convenient stay that is walkable and cheap with a free breakfast, try out Banghoek Hostel ($20 per dorm bed). It also has gated parking for your vehicle. We don't recommend taking your vehicle out when it isn't necessary. We got a suspicious flat when we were parked downtown.
With so many options for food, you will want to try out the best of Stellenbosch. Make reservations at Fat Butcher or Basic Bistro for a popular dinner out or scout out a vineyard that offers dinner. Our last night we went with friends to Oppie Dorp and ordered a huge platter of game meat (which included duck, kudu, gemsbok, warthog, zebra, and crocodile) and snacks, which was incredible.
For the next week you will set out to conquer the Garden Route along the southern coast of South Africa, stretching from Cape Town all the way to Port Elizabeth. If able, on your first day try to get to Cape Agulhas (the most southern part of the African continent) and stay the night in Mossel Bay, with an optional extra day here.
The next day you will visit Oudtshoorn, one of our favourite stops along the Garden Route. Stay at Lodge 96, where Mark will entertain you with his hilarious stories and great advice ($18 per dorm bed). He will also help you make a plan to see and do anything you could want in Oudtshoorn during your two day stay.
Our recommendation is to visit Buffelsdrift Game Lodge early to give treats to the resident African elephants that live there ($28 per person). Bring your swimsuit, and make the scenic drive along Swartberg Pass, stopping to take the plunge into Meiringspoort waterfall. The 9 metre deep waterhole enclosed in the towering red rock is refreshing and beautiful.
Make a reservation for dinner back at Buffelsdrift Game Lodge, to enjoy a sunset meal overlooking the watering hole where wildlife often gather. Try the ostrich filet, it is incredible.
The next morning, visit Chandelier Ostrich Farm to enjoy an ostrich egg breakfast with giraffes to keep you company. Don't forget to feed them too, you can purchase a bottle or food to feed the young giraffes! If you weigh less than 180lbs you can even ride a male ostrich in a small corral! Everything included it ended up costing $30 (only including one ostrich ride).
In the afternoon, head to the Cango Wildlife Ranch for an interactive zoo experience ($32 per person). You'll see all kinds of African wildlife, and get the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of them. Our recommendation? The bird cage. We also loved going in a cage with crocodiles.
Although popular, looking back we would have skipped Knysna to instead head straight to Plettenberg Bay. There, you can visit Monkeyland and Birds of Eden sanctuaries, to visit monkeys, lemurs, and all kinds of birds ($36 per person including both entrances)! At Birds of Eden, make sure to grab a coffee at the cafe on the water overlooking a gazebo and just enjoy the view and the birds.
With lots of cute shops, statues, an abundance of beach and ocean, and lots of nightlife for food and drinks, Plettenberg is a great stop along the Garden Route. Our recommended breakfast of choice is Le Fournil de Plett to start your day in a quaint French market square.
The hikers among you will want to visit Robberg Nature Reserve for various nature treks!
If you love adventure, you would be remiss to skip Bloukranz Bungy as the third highest bungy in the world and the highest bridge bungy at 216 metres high ($100 per person)!
If you have extra days with your car, Lesotho and the Drakensberg Mountains are a must.
Turn around to make the (relatively short) drive back to Cape Town. On the way, stop at Wilderness to see the Map of Africa, a gorgeous landscape of mountains, tress, and river that look like a map of Africa.
Your final pitstop will be to spend a night in Simon's Town and the Cape of Good Hope. Make sure to stop at Boulders Beach to see the many African penguins lounging around. Early morning or sunset (before closing) are the best times to visit the penguins ($7.50 per person).
The Cape of Good Hope is the most southwesterly point of Africa. It has amazing views, and some climbs up rocky paths for a beautiful way to spend your afternoon ($30 per vehicle).
On the drive back to Cape Town, make sure to stop at the top of Chapman's Peak, the most popular scenic drive in the area.
Make reservations at Once in Cape Town to ensure you get a space, as it is a very enjoyable and central hostel ($31.50 per dorm bed).
Additionally, make reservations for Robben Island far in advance, we made the mistake of not booking ahead and didn't get a chance to visit!
We started our stay in the city with the classic tourist City Sightseeing tour ($20 per person) to get comfortable with the city, and ended our day at the V&A Waterfront where there was endless shopping and food on the water, including super fun markets.
Check in with a shark diving company the day before you would like to go to ensure the conditions are still good for your dive the next day, and to book your dive! We booked through White Shark Ventures ($170 per person). This will take the full day and will take you to Gansbaai, the great white shark capital of the world. If you get seasick, bring medication.
To calm your nerves the next day, visit the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel for high tea ($32.50 per person). Worth every penny, you will get endless tea (pick your flavours), and tons of snacks that really count as their own meal.
Pack a picnic lunch and visit Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens for a relaxing day with views of the Eastern side of Table Mountain ($6.50 per person).
At this point you should be ready to climb Table Mountain! We first hiked up to Woodstock Cave, then up the Platteklip Gorge to the top. We recommend hiking up, spending as much time as possible at the top, then taking the Cable Car down to get the best of both worlds ($15 per person). Enjoy one of the most spectacular city views in the world, as your trip comes to an end.
A trip to Africa truly is one of the most amazing adventures a person can experience. Our recommendations are entirely based on our trip and journey across the southern part of the continent, but the people and places will be unique to you and wow you in their own way. Take the good with the bad and remember that what, at the time, may seem like the worst, may end up being your best story!
Is there something we missed that you are dying to recommend? Comment below!