Great Places – Southern Africa

     Southern Africa represents somewhat of a combination of the rest of the country. There is desert – in Namibia; there are rain forests – especially in Madagascar; there is savanna – primarily in the Republic of South Africa; and one additional type of landscape, beaches and rugged coastline – famous in the Capetown area. Check out some of the best places in the descriptions below, then look for a photo album in the near future.
     1. Capetown, Republic of South Africa
            Cape Town, South Africa, is considered by many to be the most beautiful city in the world because of its setting, sprawled around and including Table Mountain with its two peaks, Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head, and then drifting into the ocean. The views of the city from various locations are truly stunning. However, although the locals are friendly and the pace is relaxed, be aware that crime can be a problem here, especially in certain neighborhoods.
            The City Bowl is the center of this thriving metropolis and the location of most of the sights of interest to the tourist. Perhaps most important here is the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront which is the major gathering place for tourists and locals alike (although visitors are cautioned not to walk here from the city center because of crime concerns). A few of the other attractions in the city proper include Parliament House, not only a beautiful building, but visitors may sit in if the legislators are in session, and the Castle of Good Hope, built as a fortification but which is now a museum (there is also a Changing of the Guard ceremony here, daily). The most popular attraction in the city center is the Table Mountain Cable Car which offers great views along the way and several excellent walks at the top.
            The Kirstenbosch Gardens, which specialize in the indigenous plants of the area, are among the best in the world. They actually have an fragrance garden, elevated, so it is easier for visitors to smell the flowers.
            The wine region of Constantia is south of the gardens and is worth spending some time, either to sample wines at various vineyards, or to see some of the classic Cape Dutch architecture on some of the estates (Groot Constantia is one of the best examples).
            Probably the most important tourist attraction within the city, these days, is Robben Island, famous as the prison where freedom-fighters such as Nelson Mandela were imprisoned. Access is limited and consists of guided tours only (advance reservations are essential). Make an effort to extend the time on the island to see the Cell Stories, vignettes or personal remnants of some of the incarcerated (it is not part of the regular tour).
            There are numerous beaches in and around Cape Town but several deserve particular mention. Bloubergstrand, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of the city offers perhaps the best, postcard view of Table Mountain. Camps Bay, less than 15 minutes from the city center, is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with its backdrop of the Twelve Apostles (pinnacles of rock).
             One of the more popular excursions from the city is south to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve which is located within the newly designated Table Rock National Park. The reserve is famous for its flora, notably wildflowers (springtime is best), but also allows visitors to see animals such as baboons, ostrich, and antelope.
             Also within the national park is Boulders Beach which is especially popular because a colony of penguins shares the beach with visitors.
             At the very tip of the peninsula is Cape Point, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. Take the funicular or walk up to the Old Lighthouse and thence along the causeway to Dias Point where the New Lighthouse is located.
     2. Madagascar Island
             Madagascar Island has long been a region of great mystery. Because of its isolation, several hundred kilometers (about 125 miles) off the African coast, evolution produced a diverse and unique set of wildlife. Many of the creatures on the island are found nowhere else in world. Examples of these animals include about 50 species of lemurs, chameleons, and an incredible variety of birds.
             The capital of the country is Antananarivo, located in the central highlands section of the island. Its narrow, cobblestone streets and interesting architecture make it an attractive place to spend a day or two. Sights in the city include Rova (Queen’s Palace) which is now in ruins because of a fire in 1995, but which dominates the city at the top of its highest hill, the daily Zoma Market, and Lac Anosy, a lake within the city which has an interesting island in the middle containing the Monument to the Dead.
             But a trip to Madagascar is all about the wildlife, so visitors tend to travel to at least one of the country’s national parks.
             Parc National de Ranomafana boasts 12 species of lemurs. The most popular section of the park is known as Talatakely. Walk the Ala Mando Trail (about 2 hours) for some great wildlife viewing.
             Another park, the Parc National de L’Isalo is located in the southern part of the island. This park has some of Madagascar’s best scenery, with erosion-sculpted rocks and canyons.
      3. Etosha National Park, Namibia
             Etosha National Park, in northwestern Namibia, is one of the world’s best places for viewing exciting wildlife. The word etosha means “great white place of dry water”. Because of the arid environment, wildlife is concentrated around the few water holes. For visitors, this is ideal because it means that the traveler can just drive to the vicinity of a water hole and wait for animals to come, rather than traveling around and looking for them.
             The eastern part of the park is open to visitors who are on their own while the western section is reserved for organized tours. There are rest camps available within the park, for tourists who plan to spend several days, or there are accommodations in the towns of Outjo and Tsumeb, near the two park entrances.
      4. Kruger National Park, Republic of South Africa
             Kruger National Park, in the Republic of South Africa, is one of the largest, oldest (1898), and most famous national parks in the world. It offers its “big five”: Black Rhino, Cape Buffalo, Elephants, Lions, and Leopards, as well as other exciting large mammals such as, Cheetah, Giraffe, Hippopotamus, etc. It is much more developed than the East African parks, which may be a detriment, in that the experience here seems not as natural, or a benefit, in that staying here is much more comfortable, with many more amenities.
              Wildlife Drives are one of the best ways to experience the park. They last about 3 hours and leave at either 5:00 AM or 5:00 PM. Since much of the wildlife is only active for a few hours in the early morning and then again around dusk, there is a fantastic chance of seeing many of the major wildlife attractions.
              Another option is known as Bushwalking, which, as the name implies, means a guided walk through the wilderness. Danger is slim since there are always armed Rangers who accompany each group. The morning walk is probably the most likely to produce significant sightings.


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