The distance between southern Africa's highs and lows is both literal and figurative. Its landscapes range from coastal flats to cloud-covered peaks; the region includes stunning, world-class cities and a wealth of natural resources, yet it suffers from widespread poverty, corruption and disease. There is a certain uncanny quality to the flora and fauna, which have a textbook recognizability, even for the first-time visitor — southern Africa feels both deeply familiar and intensely exotic. A safari should be the focal point of a trip to South Africa (Kruger National Park is the country's gem, and the adjoining private reserve, Sabi Sands, offers extraordinary game-viewing and a host of luxury lodging options). But if time allows, set aside several days to explore cosmopolitan Cape Town, the region's oldest city, whose history is reflected in its mélange of architecture and its diverse residents. The Garden Route highway traverses hundreds of miles of the southeast coast, from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. Winding past spectacular forest and marine preserves, it makes for stunning coastal driving. Botswana, Namibia and Zambia also are full of spectacular safari destinations and offer equally memorable accommodations. Botswana's 1,200-square-mile Moremi Game Reserve represents one of the finest wildlife destinations in Africa (and a favorite filming locale for National Geographic). Namibia is an otherworldly landscape dominated by forbidding mountains, monumental rock formations and towering red sand dunes. It is also the last great bastion of the endangered cheetah. Zambia, despite its patchy infrastructure and widespread poverty, possesses superb national parks and some of the finest game-viewing in Africa.

Join Andrew Harper today to continue reading our exclusive content.