Untouched Southern Africa: Safari, Swaziland & Lesotho Tour

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Total Trip:

12 Days
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Countries Visited:

South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho
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Places Visited:

Sabi Sands, Kruger National Park, Swaziland, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, Ezulwini Valley, St Lucia, iSimangaliso Wetlands, Zululand, Hluhluwe – iMfolozi Game Reserve,

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Departure Dates:

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.
Seductive traditions light up Southern Africa's kingdoms in the sky. Tribal villages practice ancient customs, mountain ponies canter past semi-nomadic shepherds, rock artwork depicts legends, and big mammals are a constant on the journey. Contrasts are remarkable as you travel through Swaziland, Zululand, and Lesotho, each tribal landscape telling a remarkable tale. Three safari destinations provide further narratives, intertwining giant mammals into a seamless South Africa tour.

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Day 1

Sabi Sands – Luxury Safari Welcomes

Africa's fables start with wild mammals, the true giants of the savannah. They're quick to leave an impression as elephant and buffalo herds are regularly seen around the Sabi Sands airstrip. After landing at O. R. Tambo International in Johannesburg, it's a short domestic flight into this Sabi Sands wilderness, where you're picked up in an open-sided safari vehicle for the first in a series of game drives. Paw prints in the sand lead you to a leopard's hideout, high in a sausage tree. A pair of rhino wander past, elegantly, stoically, every footstep a display of defiance against poaching. Giraffes dapple the horizon, and you quickly come to recognize the different antelopes, from nimble springbok to large bashful hartebeest.

An intimate lodge provides the base for the next two nights in this private reserve. It's a gentle introduction to Africa, wild sounds accompanying the evening yet opulent fittings providing a Western-style luxury. Your private terrace overlooks a floodlit waterhole, helping bring safari sights long into the evening. Today's afternoon's game drive is flexible dependent on your mood and energy levels; perhaps a short loop around the surrounding savannah or a longer journey attempting to spot all the revered mammals on your first day in Africa. As with most days on the itinerary, meals are included, and local guides offer a fascinating insight.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Transfer

included

Activity

included

Lunch, Dinner

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Day 2

Sabi Sands – Relaxed Safari in a Private Reserve

Echoed grunts accompany breakfast, the guttural sounds of male lions in the nearby bush. Head out in the morning light and the whole pride is revealed, including small cubs who wrestle besides their father's flowing mane. Zebras skip across the short grasses while the sight of buffalo and elephant are starting to become commonplace. Head down to the Sabi River and a procession of wildlife waits to drink, the queue dictated by the size and aggression. Spotted hyena nip in front of a kudu herd, using a snarl that also causes three giraffes to lope away. It's this permanent water fixture that attracts so much life to the Sabi Sands, a private reserve that shares unfenced borders with Kruger National Park. Compact and captivating, the reserve is home to both diverse species and abundant big game. For this reason, it's an idyllic place to start an African adventure, enjoying a landscape that preserves the ancient rhythm of nature. Today's game drives are flexible, usually with a few hours of downtime at the lodge during the middle of the afternoon.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Activity

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 3

Kruger National Park to Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary – Through the Savannah to Swaziland

Kruger's scale is legendary, endless square miles of savannah sweeping across the northeast corner of South Africa. To cross it is a journey of a lifetime, the road twisting past popular waterholes and wide grazing lands. For a few hours, it feels like the Kruger will never end, and rhinos and elephants will keep appearing at every corner. But gradually the roads ascends into the mountains, before sharply rising towards the clouds and the Kingdom of Swaziland.

Descend from the pass and you immediately sense a new realm. Colored circular huts dapple the green hills, each a small homestead surrounded by maize crops and wandering goat herds. Tribal dress, particularly headwear, remains popular here, and you pass many women clad in traditional outfits. Many wave hello as you wind up and down the hills. A local Swazi guide joins you for this portion of the trip, and you're free to stop in different villages as you travel to the Ezulwini Valley in the heart of the country. Here you stay at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, where wild zebra and warthog roam past your verandah. A traditional dinner, cooked over the fire, continues your introduction to the country.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Transfer

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 4

Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary – Mountain Bike Safari and Afternoon Cultural Swaziland Tour

Big cats don't occupy Mlilwane, making it a safe place for mountain bike safari. Spend two of the morning's hours peddling around, getting close to a wide range of different antelope. For the rest of the day, you journey into Swaziland's villages, starting with the ancestral home of the royal family. Princes and princesses continue to live here – the last king had 70 wives and over 200 children – and you could meet them while exploring local traditions. Try maize beer, meet village elders, stop at an art gallery in a mud hut, and discover some of the traditions that live on in this remarkable country. Swaziland still has a number of fascinating local festivals, including the Reed Dance, where unmarried women from across the country come to dance for the king, who traditionally picks a new wife at the ceremony. Timing your arrival for a local festival is the finest immersion in what Swaziland is all about. Rather than following the line towards Westernization, this country proudly continues the customs that have served it for centuries.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Activity

included

Tour

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 5

St Lucia – From Swaziland to the Land of the Zulu

Swaziland is small; its size dwarfed by that of nearby Kruger National Park. It takes less than two hours to leave the Ezulwini Valley and descend into Zululand to the south. Along the way, the guide can continue the local immersion with stops in a variety of villages, markets, waterfalls, and canyons. Descend into the land of the Zulu and you don't need road signs to indicate a change of country. Faces are different, landscapes have switched from bucolic to exotic, and a soft haze rises from the Indian Ocean. For two nights, you're staying in St Lucia, where white sand and palm trees provide a new postcard image on Africa's beauty. The afternoon and evening are at your leisure.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Transfer

included

Breakfast, Lunch

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Day 6

St Lucia – The Wild Rhinos of Hluhluwe – iMfolozi Game Reserve

Africa's oldest game reserve has played a pioneering conservation role, protecting dozens of species in a land that's been scarred by various wars. White rhinos have been a major benefactor, and there are close to a thousand in this small reserve. You'll have the opportunity to meet conservationists before taking a game drive across the park's rolling savannah. While the game isn't quite as plentiful as in the Sabi Sands, there's an iconic mystique to the reserve and the conservationist guide can lead you directly to the hangouts of various lion prides and rhino families. You'll arrive back in St Lucia around mid afternoon, where a sunset boat cruise across the iSimangaliso wetlands continues the safari theme, this time bringing continual encounters with hippos and elephants.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Activity

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 7

uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park – Exploring Zululand

Today you cross Zululand, a local guide using the journey to reveal the tales of the land's past. Pass a series of battlefields, both those from the time of King Shaka Zulu and those from the Anglo-Boer wars. Howick Falls provides a scenic interlude, just along from the site where Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1962. Rolling across The Valley of 1,000 Hills you stop to visit a sangoma, a traditional doctor or healer, in his incense-filled circular hut. There's a chance to wear local clothes in one of the valley's small villages along the route, and an opportunity for the tribal drums to be beaten for your arrival. Continue towards the mountains, winding towards the peaks that the Zulu know as uKhahlamba, the Barrier of Spears, referring to when the Basotho people defended their new Lesotho territory from the summit. It's a full day of driving, with countless places to stop en route. After arriving, views towards the Amphitheatre mountains provide pure serenity.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Transfer

included

Breakfast, Lunch

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Day 8

uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park – World Heritage Rock Art and Hiking Trails

Historic tales are painted onto the walls of the mountains. They're drawn by bushmen, narrating of successful hunts, prowling leopards, and the arrival of the white man. Over 40,000 paintings can be found in this World Heritage site, and an expert guide helps you connect the storylines. By hiking and driving, you explore the art, for either half or a full day. The other great Drakensberg attractions are the hiking trails, winding beneath the vertical faces and along the 3,000-meter summits, including a five-hour hike to the world's second highest waterfall. As always, having a private local guide enables today's tour to be completely flexible and adapted to your interests, whether that's exclusively rock art or also the hiking trails.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Tour

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 9

Sani Pass to Malealea – Entering the Kingdom of Lesotho

One of Africa's most adventurous roads zigzags into Lesotho. Eight miles of steep switchbacks are only drivable by four-wheel drive, the road cutting a stark path into the dramatic country. Enter Lesotho and you might expect the mountains to continue. But they don't. A plateau extends, fiercely protected by jagged peaks on all sides. You've entered a new world, one without paved roads, where messages are passed on by riders on their ponies. Bumping across the country, you pass semi-nomadic shepherds in their thick woolen blankets and gumboots, the local guide interpreting when you'd like to stop and stay hello.

Villages are little more than a small cluster of huts, where men as young as 30 sit in their retired bliss; most shepherds start work aged 11, getting paid in animals. By the age of 30, they've gathered a large enough herd to sit back and let the next generation of shepherds do the work. You stop at Malealea, where the accommodation provides a charming base for the next three nights. It's not luxurious – Lesotho doesn't have any truly luxurious accommodation. But it's very comfortable, comes with all the necessary amenities, and there's a wonderful opportunity to feel a part of village life. Traditional meals, cooked in large pots over the fire, continue the local immersion.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Activity

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 10 - 11

Malealea – Traditional Pony Trekking and Lesotho Cultural Immersion

The Basotho mostly travel on the back of local ponies, sturdy little rides that can cover huge daily distances. These ponies are also how you will travel for the next two days, cantering across fertile plains backdropped by spiky peaks. Custom dictates that you're welcomed into villages, where locals share food and drink with their guests. Journeys can go in many directions dependent on your energy levels, every angle an expression of open space and opportunity. It's not a point-and-shoot-the-camera cultural experience. It's a raw and rustic journey through a country mostly unseen by foreigners. Spending two full days gives you a chance to move slowly and appreciate the little things that make Lesotho so special. If riding ponies doesn't sound appealing, then these two days can be spent exploring in the four-wheel drive.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Activity

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 12

Moshoeshoe to Johannesburg – Departure

Lesotho has a small international airport with daily connections to Johannesburg. After breakfast, you'll be transferred to Moshoeshoe Airport and connect in O. R. Tambo onto your homebound flight.

What's Included:

included

Transfer

included

Breakfast

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Trip Highlights

  • Explore the mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho, and experience fascinating insight into a culture unchanged for centuries
  • Discover the traditions of the Kingdom of Swaziland, where endearing locals reveal how an alluring tribal life continues
  • Journey through Zululand, connecting with an ancient heritage that dates back even further than famous King Shaka Zulu
  • Surround yourself with the Big Five on two days of luxury safari in the Sabi Sands, a private game reserve filled with enchanting encounters
  • Cross the epic Kruger National Park and continue the safari as you ascend into the mountains of Swaziland
  • Go on mountain bike safari in Swaziland then visit traditional villages that are eager to tell their tale
  • Relax on the white beaches of St Lucia and spend a day with wild white rhinos in the Hluhluwe – iMfolozi Game Reserve
  • Discover the World Heritage rock art and hiking trails of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg mountains, the dramatic jagged peaks known to the Zulu as the Barrier of Spears
  • Ride traditional ponies across the fertile plains of Lesotho, connecting with remote villages that have rarely seen foreign visitors
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Detailed Description

Africa holds on to its fabulous history, small enclaves revealing ongoing legends and a land untouched by Western influence. The clues are everywhere, from wild rhinos grazing on the lush savannah to semi-nomadic herders taking their goats across towering mountain passes. Rock art narrates stories in hidden caves while royal princes greet strangers in tribal villages. Sometimes a lion pride provides the tale, clashing with a buffalo herd at a waterhole. At other times, the stories come from around the fire, elders narrating the legends passed down by the ancestors.

This Southern Africa tour explores three distinctive kingdoms: Swaziland, Zululand, and Lesotho. They're under-explored destinations, eager to welcome visitors yet away from most African itineraries. Accommodation is always comfortable but not always luxurious, especially when traveling in Lesotho. Instead, the huge reward comes from the authenticity of the experience; you visit truly traditional villages, not villages that appear traditional yet are made for tourists. You meet locals who happily share experiences, even though they may never have met foreigners before. With local guides expertly leading the journey, this is an opportunity to connect with a very real and untouched vision of Africa.

It starts in the Sabi Sands, a luxurious private game reserve that helps ease you into the continent. South Africa's flagship private safari destination, the Sabi Sands is packed with the most revered of the continent's mammals. Lions and leopards dominate the savannah, elephant herds pass by the lodge, and the surrounding area holds Africa's largest collection of wild rhinos. Next, you travel to the adjacent Kruger National Park, ascending as you move east towards a mountain pass and the Kingdom of Swaziland. Cross the border and you immediately sense a new country, where circular huts are scattered across endless green slopes. For two days, you stay in a wildlife sanctuary, with mountain bike safari filling the morning and cultural encounters occupying the afternoons.

Swaziland is a small country, easily crossed in half a day. Exit from the south, descending into Zululand and two nights on the white beaches of St Lucia. Nearby Hluhluwe – iMfolozi Game Reserve is the oldest in Africa and provides a thrilling day of rhino encounters. The uKhahlamba Drakensberg mountains hide a history from before King Shaka Zulu, notably in the sublime rock art that dapples caves and overhangs. Spend two nights at this World Heritage site, enjoying a selection of stunning hiking trails and the insight of a local rock art guide.

To the Zulu, these mountains are known as the Barrier of Spears, in reference to how the Basotho people escaped Shaka Zulu and defended a new Kingdom on the alpine plateau now known as Lesotho. Its inaccessibility is aptly illustrated when you enter via the Sani Pass, one of Africa's steepest and most spectacular roads. Village life continues unchanged here, and ponies are the usual means of getting around. You'll spend three days exploring, a local guide leading you across a country that delights in its authenticity. Nothing is manufactured here; until very recently, messages were passed between villages by pony riders, not mobile phones. On the final day, the country's small capital provides direct flights back to Johannesburg and your international departure. 

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Starting Price

$4795 per person (excluding international flights)

This trip is customizable for your private travel.
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What's Included

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.

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