Many destinations around the world have their most popular tourist routes. India has the Golden Triangle, which features Delhi, Agra (home of the Taj Mahal), and Jaipur. Italy has Florence, Rome, and Venice. Southern Africa has the Big Three of Cape Town, Kruger National Park, and Victoria Falls. Now, these iconic routes and destinations are popular for a reason. They often carry the biggest impact, the strongest WOW factor, and promise the most memorable moments. It’s difficult to not be drawn to the famous landmarks of the Taj Mahal, Colosseum, and Victoria Falls, but there’s another factor that needs to be considered: personal tastes.
Like with art and wine, everyone has different tastes and sometimes the place you as a traveller will enjoy most is not the one that everyone flocks to. Sometimes you need to step back and ask yourself: what is the experience that I really want? Maybe it’s wandering through a small Italian town, going to the market, and drinking coffee at the same café every day. Or maybe it’s heading into the Thar Desert on a camel safari to sleep under a blanket of stars in the desert. Or maybe it’s about finding the type of raw wilderness experience in Africa that you’ve longed for since you were a child?
The reason the following places make our list of hidden gems is that they also hold a sense of genuine wonder and magic on their own, it’s just less celebrated and not as well known. But if you ever come across an African wilderness guide around a campfire (or a Scintilla travel expert) and ask them about their favourite places they’ve ever been, there’s a good chance that these would get a mention. And sometimes part of the charm is that they’re less visited and more wild and, because of that, have a different sort of enchantment.
Yes, Victoria Falls is located on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia but there’s so so much more to “Zim” than the largest waterfall in the world. If you venture a little deeper into this land-locked country of incredible hospitality, you’ll find some of the most spectacular experiences in Africa. Firstly, Mana Pools National Park is the stuff of legends. The primal wildlife sightings that are on offer there are hard to compete with. The mighty Zambezi swoons past it, where elephants are known to stand on their back legs and feast on the riverside fruits. Packs of wild dogs cause havoc on the river beds and the predators are famously known to wander through camps without a second thought. Mana Pools is as raw as it gets and that’s why it’s so revered. If you’re looking for sensational wildlife encounters and unique landscapes then ‘Mana’ should be at the top of your list.
Another standout destination in Zim is Lake Kariba. The world’s largest artificial lake, by volume, is 226km long and, in places, up to 40 km wide. Forming a border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, it can often feel more like a sea than a lake. On the shore, small herds of elephant, buffalo, and hippo graze on the jewel-bright grass. They are best viewed from the cruising comfort of a houseboat, which Kariba is famous for.
Hwange is another Zimbabwean icon and its largest national park. Some 400 species of bird and 107 types of animal can be found in the park, including lion, giraffe, leopard, cheetah, hyena, and wild dog. But the elephant is what really defines Hwange, home to one of the world’s largest populations of around 40,000 tuskers.
A land of unspooling vistas and sprawling wonder, Namibia is a largely undiscovered country, home to the oldest desert and tallest dunes. It’s made for road trips and self-discovery, with the sheer space of the country as one of the background characters that slowly seduces all visitors.
Of course, there are the stand-out sights too. The stunning sands and dead-tree valleys of Sossusvlei, the otherworldliness of sand-meets-ocean on the Skeleton Coast, and the glorious spine of stark mountains that runs through the country are mesmerising. A journey here will hopefully also take you to the pans of Etosha National Park, the seaside town of Swakopmund, and plenty more unusual delights along the way.
Renowned for its low tourist density, Zambia is an enticing destination that captivates adventurers with its untouched wilderness and pioneering walking safaris, which allow visitors to explore the pristine wilderness on foot. South Luangwa National Park is particularly famous for its walking safari experiences, offering a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with the wildlife and appreciate the smaller details of the ecosystem.
Lower Zambezi National Park, nestled along the Zambezi River, is another haven for wildlife enthusiasts. Visitors can embark on boat safaris, offering a different perspective to traditional game drives. Then there’s Kafue National Park, one of the largest national parks in Africa but with a low tourist density. It offers a chance to see a wide range of wildlife, including big cats, antelopes, and over 500 bird species. The Busanga Plains, in particular, is known for its stunning landscapes and abundant wildlife.
To cap it all off, Zambia is known for its political stability and welcoming atmosphere. The country has earned a reputation for being a safe destination for travellers, contributing to a relaxed and enjoyable visit.
When it comes to African travel and someone says Botswana, the immediate thought is the Okavango Delta. And for good reason! The Delta is worth every last drop of love that it receives, but an equally spellbinding destination is the Kalahari. The sheer scale of the Kalahari is breathtaking; its vast plains blend into a sea of gently undulating sand ridges, broken only by the occasional flat-topped acacia. The Kalahari is home to incredible night skies, desolate pans, and (after the wet season) a hive of activity for large herds of plains game such as springbok and gemsbok. The breathtaking vistas of Makgadikgadi Pans are a clear highlight, and so are the horseback safaris through this unique piece of wilderness.
Tucked within the undulating folds of the Waterberg Mountains in South Africa, Marataba is a sanctuary for those seeking solitude in nature’s understated grandeur. This private concession, veiled in a tapestry of muted greens and browns, offers an unassuming allure, a departure from the grandiosity often associated with safari destinations. The landscape, sculpted by ancient rivers, unveils a mosaic of ecosystems, each subtly transitioning into the next. Amidst the rugged terrain, exclusive lodges blend seamlessly, providing a discreet retreat. Marataba is not a big theatrical performance; instead, it’s a whisper, an invitation to uncover the nuances of South Africa’s wild beauty with a discerning, mindful gaze. And when the heat of the day passes, and those mountains catch fire from a setting sun, you’ll tell yourself honestly that there’s nowhere else you’d rather be.
If you’d like to visit these hidden gems yourself, then please get in touch with us and one of our travel specialists will put you on a path to Africa.