Millions of years of geological evolution has left the African continent with some of the most spectacular natural wonders on the planet. Tectonic and glacial movements have shaped the African surface to some breathtaking natural shapes and dramatic landscapes.
Southern Africa has received its share from Mother Nature resulting in a wide diversity of scenery; rugged coastlines, lush and tropical vegetation, vast deserts, dramatic mountain ranges, natural oases, pristine nature and dazzling white sandy islands.
To select some of the most beautiful wonders of nature is not easy and it is tempting to include too many natural wonders in the list. I’ve been travelling in Southern Africa for the last 8 years and have been able to visit beautiful places very frequently. I’ve selected a list of 7 natural wonders that were always very appealing to me during my repeated visits to the various countries.
7 Natural Wonders of Southern Africa
Bazaruto Archipelago in Mozambique
The Bazaruto Archipelago is a group of 5 tropical islands; Bazaruto, Benguerra, Magaruque, Santa Carolina and Bangue, located off the coast of Mozambique. It is well renowned for its white sandy beaches and warm crystal clear water of the Indian Ocean.
Today the Bazaruto Archipelago is a national marine park, protecting and conserving the many bird and fish species, like the dugong and sea turtles. The beautiful coral reefs and the abundance of colourful fish species makes it a perfect diving destination.
Not many tourists have discovered the archipelago yet and when visiting you’ll be amazed by its serene quietness. The islands themselves consist of miles of deserted white sandy beaches with the interior a patchwork of trees, bushes and wetlands. The only overnight possibilities on the islands are some luxury accommodations which are dotted across the various islands.
I’ve had the possibility to visit the Bazaruto Archipelago a few times and enjoyed the splendid beauty of the beaches, warm water of the Indian ocean and snorkelling around the coral reefs. It is so peaceful, beautiful and just gorgeous.
Okavango Delta in Botswana
With a great diversity of wildlife, a maze of narrow canals intercepting thousands of small islands and rich vegetation, the Okavango Delta is definitely a natural wonder of Southern Africa. Located in Botswana it is one of the worlds largest inland delta systems, having its own ecosystem within the arid Kalahari desert.
The abundance of wildlife as well as its pristine beauty, makes the Okavango Delta an attractive destination for visitors in Botswana. While sleeping over in the campsites or the various luxury accommodations, one can hear lions roar in the distance, hippos grazing next to your tent at night, see elephants drinking from the water in the canals and just be one with the serenity of nature.
Read more about the Okavango Delta – Oasis in the middle of the Kalahari desert
Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe
The Victoria Falls originate from the Zambezi river, which is the fourth largest river in Africa and marks the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. With a width of 1708 metres (5604 ft) and a height of up to 108 metres (354 ft) the Victoria Falls is classified as the worlds largest waterfall.
In 1855, the famous Scottish explorer David Livingstone who was the first European to lay eyes on the falls, was so fascinated by the beauty of it that he named the waterfall after Queen Victoria. The local people know the falls as Mosi Oa Tunya, meaning the smoke that thunders.
The falls can be admired from both countries. The largest part is in Zimbabwe (1,2 km), were you can see the falls from the front. Just beware during high water, you’ll get wet from the spray. From the Zambian side the view into the gorge is better and at certain months of the year, you can take a dip into the Devil’s pool.
The falls and the gorge provide some great adrenaline activities in both Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Sossusvlei and Deadvlei in Namibia
Sossusvlei in Namibia is another one of the jaw-dropping natural wonders, being fascinating and surrealistic at the same time. It is part of a larger area in the Namib desert characterised by some of the highest sand dunes in the world. The bright red-orange colour originates from the amount of iron in the sand. It is particularly spectacular to see during sunset and sunrise when the glow of the sun changes the deep red hue of the dunes.
From the entrance of the national park to the location of Sossusvlei and Deadvlei the dunes are stretching out over a distance of about 70 kilometres. Springbok, gemsbok, ostriches and other smaller wildlife can be seen during the day roaming between the dunes.
Sossusvlei refers to a marsh where water flows into from the nearby mountains when it rains. In this marsh, acacia trees and various bushes can grow in the dry desert area. The acacia trees have roots that grow down to 80 meters deep in order to gain more water and survive the harsh desert conditions. Sossusvlei is marked by the surrounding red dunes.
Deadvlei on the other hand is a marsh that used to receive water during the rains. Due to the growth of the surrounding dunes however the flow of water was closed off to the pan, resulting in Deadvlei drying out. Currently Deadvlei is marked by a white clay pan, surrounded by some of the highest red dunes and dried out Acacia trees. The trees could not survive without the water and started drying out, but due to the extreme dryness of the region they do no decompose and are now decorating the pan with their wicked shapes and forms.
Fish River Canyon in Namibia
The Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in Africa and the second largest in the world. It is much lesser known than it’s bigger brother, the Grand Canyon, but nevertheless a beautiful world wonder. Various geological and glacial movements have shaped the canyon to what it is today.
Various viewpoints provide the visitor a good way to observe the true grandeur of the canyon. For the adventurous ones, during the cooler winter months, a multi day hike can be taken stretching over 80 km following the fish river to the end of the canyon.
The Fish River Canyon is definitely a natural wonder in Southern Africa and a hidden gem in the south of Namibia.
Table Mountain in South Africa
One of the most notable icons of South Africa is without doubt Table Mountain. The flat topped mountain is towering over the city of Cape Town which is almost fully built on the foot of the mountain.
Table Mountain is one of the most visited tourist attractions of South Africa. A nice walking trail takes you to the top of the mountain (when not using the cable car) 1086 meters at its highest point, providing you the most awe-inspiring view of Cape Town and surrounds.
Table Mountain is officially recognised as one of the new 7 wonders of nature in the world.
Blyde River Canyon in South Africa
Located on the eastern part of South Africa, the Blyde river canyon is apart from being one of the largest canyons in the world, also known as the “green canyon”. Lush vegetation covers the dramatic sandstone cliffs and it forms part of the Northern Drakensberg escarpment.
Since the canyon is located on the way to the Kruger National Park, it attracts many tourists and local visitors. The canyon can be admired from various viewpoints, such as the three roundavels and bourcke’s luck potholes. It is also a popular hiking destination and during the wet seasons various waterfalls can be visited, such as the Berlin and the MacMac falls.
It was not easy to select only 7 natural wonders in Southern Africa. There are so many natural landmarks in this part of the planet. On the whole, Southern Africa is a beautiful region with some gorgeous places to visit.