Off-Season and Offbeat: Southern Africa

The ultimate guide to exploring Southern Africa on a budget

When safari tourism started to really gain popularity in Southern Africa in the 1970s, the government of Botswana swiftly realized that they had a gem in the Okavango Delta. The world’s largest inland delta has a unique ecology, teeming with wildlife. It is fragile and level-heads in the top echelons of the tourism infrastructure deemed a low-impact, low-footprint tourism model to be the best way to sustain this natural beauty. It has been successful, but this has come at a cost — high-price tourism. Not so in the off season, when some of the best lodges discount prices steeply and, if you pick your time of year, not only do you not compromise on your wildlife viewing experience, you can enhance it. Specifically the mid- to late-November period.

The Kalahari Desert to the south of the Delta is termed "the green desert" at this time of year. Summer rains give rise to a blanket of succulent plains grasses across the desert, in turn attracting large concentrations of plains game in search of sustenance, and who subsequently give birth to their young. Predators are not far behind, and this is the best time of year to view interaction between cheetahs, leopards, lions, and their prey in the region. Moving north into the Delta is just as rewarding, as the birdlife is magnificent and both indigenous and migratory.

Tasting tip: Have an alfresco cocktail at Sanctuary Stanley’s Camp in the Okavango Delta, take a sundowner along the “hippo highways,” and stroll through the market in the Delta to find some of the best local dishes.

The sense of one-ness you feel and the level of introspection are further ameliorated in Namibia in the off season — the sense of isolation can be complete. Warmer temperatures allow for roof-deck sleeping under the stars and viewing the spectacular desert night skies, or get the opposite perspective from a hot air balloon. There will be fewer travelers and less expensive accommodations and activities as you explore the highest sand dunes in the world.

Tasting tip: Enjoy friendly, communal dining at the Ongava Tented Camp with four-course dinners, afternoon tea, or an evening cocktail by the pool.

If you are not confined by school calendars or other obligations, wild Africa at a reasonable cost awaits. Simply pick your spots and refine your timing accordingly.

(All photos courtesy of Darren Humphries.)

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