Off-Season and Offbeat: Southern Africa
The ultimate guide to exploring Southern Africa on a budget
Many destinations are seasonal, and for good reason. Tropical beach paradise in the Caribbean during hurricane season, anyone? The challenge is to discover a destination where off-season rates contribute to a more affordable trip without compromising experiences that show the best that the destination has to offer. This brings into sharp focus one of the most diverse and dramatic regions in the world, Southern Africa. The period from November to April is considered low season, when discounted rates for safari lodges, airfares, and activities abound.
From the very tip of the African continent we consider South Africa, a country no longer looked at through an historical prism; then onto Zimbabwe, newly resurgent and home to one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Victoria Falls. Botswana’s low-impact tourism model is markedly more affordable at this time of year, and in Namibia there is an explosion of new life across its rich landscapes as summer rains arrive.
South Africa in the off season yields three very special advantages. First, the so-called shoulder season months of November and April can be the best months of the year to view wildlife in the Bushveld. In November, the rains have not yet thickened the bush to a verdant green and so it’s easy to spot animals; lodge occupancies are lower than June-August and temperatures have warmed considerably. Second, whale watching is in its prime in the seaside hamlet of Hermanus, 90 minutes east of Cape Town. Generally, it is not even necessary to leave land to experience the Southern right whales, who have come to the warm bay to give birth, as they frolic and breach a short distance offshore. Finally, there is Rocktail Bay, a remote and pristine marine conservation area close to the Mozambican border. This time of year, the endangered leatherback and loggerhead turtles nest along the beaches, and time spent with resident guides conducting research work is truly humbling.
Tasting tip: Of course, when the safaris and wildlife viewing are done, South Africa is home to Franschhoek and Stellenbosch which boast stunning views and award-winning wineries well worth a few days visit. Stop into La Motte Winery, Ken Forrester, and the Waterford Estate to start.
Zimbabwe is in the early phase of a tourism renaissance; the discerning traveler will be rewarded for visiting before it becomes rediscovered and the value proposition is no more. This is even more pronounced in the off season. While the country might be preferred by some travelers during the winter months of June to August, wildlife is as abundant in later summer/spring, in April. The real kicker here is that this is also the best time of year to experience Victoria Falls, as the mighty Zambezi is in full flood. The spectacle of millions of gallons of water cascading 300 feet into the depths of the gorge along the fall’s full length of a mile simply dwarfs Niagara Falls by comparison.
Tasting tip: Enjoy a sundowner with a chilled glass of Mosi, a Zambian beer, or have dinner at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge’s Makuwa-Kuwa restaurant.