Southern Africa has got it going on. From Mozambique to South Africa and Swaziland in between, there’s something for everyone. South Africa alone has been described as offering the whole world in one country, while Swaziland and Mozambique are rising stars in their own right, rewarding travelers with even more sheer beauty and wildlife encounters. Curious to find out more about travelling through these countries, I reached out to travel blogger Nick Wharton of Goats on the Road – who traveled through southern Africa – to get his best tips for visiting South Africa, Swaziland, and Mozambique.
What is your must-try food or beverage in South Africa? And why?
I’d definitely have to say that bunny chow was my favorite dish in SA. If you go there as a backpacker, you’re sure to hear about this cheap, delicious, and wildly popular dish. It was created by the Indian-Durban population back in the 1940s and basically consists of a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with a mouth-watering curry. If you see a little cafe with a bunny chow sign, pop in for a bite.
For travellers who want do a safari in South Africa, but are on a budget, what is your best tip for them?
One of the ways to do a safari-on-a-shoestring is in your own car. If you want a bit of an adrenaline rush, get the smallest rental car you can (this will also be the cheapest car anyway). There’s nothing quite like staring down a 250kg lion from a car that’s no larger than its normal prey!
Looking back on your experiences in South Africa, what stands out the most?
For me, it was definitely the animals. Driving into a national park is like entering an entirely new world. On one particular occasion we were driving alone – there were no other cars around, and suddenly a lion came slowly sauntering down the road. We turned the car engine off and watched as the massive cat ventured dangerously close to us. Just then, two more came out of the bushes. We sat there with our hearts racing as we watched the three of them walk past the car, so close that they could have brushed up against the bumper. The entire time they were all looking at us, mouths open, grunting, as if to tell us that they are the kings and we are just around for a visit. The experience was exhilarating and we’ll never forget it.
Did you have a favorite dish in Swaziland that you’d recommend to other travelers?
Well, this may sound counterintuitive to your safari-style adventure, but some of the best food in Swaziland is the wild game meat. Why not have the same dinner as the predators you’re spotting through your binoculars? Stay on a reserve and tuck into a delicious ostrich burger or maybe a wildebeest steak.
What’s an absolute must-do when traveling in Swaziland?
Swaziland is one of the best countries in the region to stay right in a national park. Check out Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and sleep in a private rondavel (a Swazi-style yurt). During our stay, we woke up to warthogs sniffing around our door and enjoyed a coffee from our private patio, which looked out over a valley where hundreds of antelopes grazed. This was one of our favorite African experiences and it can be had on a backpacker’s budget.
You guys spent three nights in Swaziland on a reserve in Mlilwane National Park. What’s your best memory from your time in the country?
Mlilwane was amazing, but our favourite part of it was being so close to all of the animals. Every morning, we were just meters away from wildebeest and zebra grazing at the doorstep of our rondavel. At night, the staff would cook up delicious meals on the barbecue outside. I remember on one particular night, we were all enjoying our meal on the picnic tables outside when an ostrich decided to raid the salad bar, sending lettuce flying in every direction. The travellers quickly dispersed and left the flightless beast to its meal. This reminded us just how “out there” we were. We’ll never forget being bullied by a giant bird in Swaziland.
What is the food in Mozambique like?
Mozambique has over 2,500km (1,550 mi) of coastline so I’d have to say that the best food is seafood. If you stick to your hotels or touristy places on the beach, the seafood can be pretty expensive, but find a friendly local to bargain with the fisherman for you and you’ll be amazed at the deals you can get. On one particular occasion, we got a bucket full of crabs for about two bucks and they were absolutely delicious.
In your opinion, what’s an important “do this” or “don’t do that” when it comes to traveling in Mozambique?
If you want to see stunning beaches and villages lost in time, then you simply can’t beat the north of Mozambique. It’s not easy to get to, but once you arrive you won’t want to leave. Blinding white sand and clear water sit just minutes away from authentic African villages. Make your way to the Quirimbas Archipelago and it’s sure to be one of the most adventurous and rewarding journeys of your life. Just remember that even though the people are extremely photogenic, you should always ask before taking a photo. African people are often very touchy about their photo being taken and you should always respect both their privacy and their beliefs.
Nick, from a diver’s standpoint, what makes Mozambique such a desirable location? And what kind of experiences did you have diving in the country?
When you come to Africa, you expect huge wild animals and an untamed landscape. Well, dive under the surface around the shores of Mozambique and you’ll see that the sea is no exception. Tofu is a world-class diving destination and while the entire coast has plenty of sea-life, the big animals seem to congregate around here. You’re pretty much guaranteed to see giant stingrays, manta rays, turtles, and whale sharks. On one dive I was extremely lucky and encountered three enormous humpback whales at 25m (82 ft) below the surface. The colossal creatures slowly glided past us and then with one powerful swoop of the tail, they disappeared into the shadows. It was by far the most exhilarating dive of my life.