7 Serene Natural Sanctuaries in Southern Africa

By Riaan Viljoen 01-11-2023

Africa has many conservation areas, national parks, and reserves whose purpose is to protect the unique naturally occurring fauna and flora in their habitats. We highlight a few of these sanctuaries that may be less well-known.


Blyde River Canyon

The Blyde River Canyon, just to the west of the Kruger National Park, is a panoramic canyon carved out by the flowing waters of the river below over millennia. The canyon is lush green and covered with subtropical vegetation, with hundreds of bird species whose birdsongs echo from the canyon walls as the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening. The canyon begins at "Bourke's Luck Potholes," where water gushes and plunge pools have eroded the rock away. The canyon then meanders past the "Three Rondavels," a rock formation that resembles three traditional huts perched on three hills, before ending in the south with a view locals call "God's Window" for its beauty. On a clear day, it is said one can see as far as the border with Mozambique, though the canyon itself remains a sanctuary to world-weary travelers, rain or sunshine.


Okavango Delta

The Okavango Delta is one of the world's most well-known natural wonders and a favorite place of peace for the world's affluent. Streams in the Angolan highlands feed the Okavango River that runs south to flood the dry earth of the Kalahari basin every year, transforming a desert into a tropical savanna oasis for the dry season. Thousands of animals flock to the green desert paradise, the largest inland Delta in the world, most notably to Chief's island, an island 170 square kilometers in size surrounded by wetlands on all sides. From above, the Delta looks like an intricate tapestry of grasslands, savanna, woodland, and wetland, bustling with life, with the grey outlines of elephants never too far away and Mekoro, or traditional canoes, moving slowly from lagoon to lagoon.


Oribi Gorge

Oribi Gorge, cut by the Mzimkulu River, the "Great" River in the southern frontier of KwaZulu-Natal, is a natural treasure. Lush forests cover the bottom of the gorge, and the slopes are filled with aloes and proteas that bloom in shades of red, yellow, and orange many times throughout the year. The gorge is home to the Oribi, a slender antelope for which the gorge is named, alongside many other animal species, and features a hanging bridge over the gorge floor underneath. The Hoopoe Falls plunge down the side of the rocky slopes and is a favorite hiking destination for those looking to explore this maze. Oribi Gorge is off the beaten track and prized by those who have discovered it.


Mana Pools

Every year, northern Zimbabwe's Zambezi River recedes in the dry season, and what once was a floodplain becomes a series of lakes and pools known as Mana Pools. "Mana" is the Shona word for four, and these four pools attract a miraculous variety of wildlife in their seasonal search for water. Among the many seasonal visitors are big game, such as elephants, lions, buffalo, various antelope, the endangered cheetah, and wild dogs. There are over 400 species of birds, including many Lilian's Lovebirds and colonies of Carmine Bee-eaters nesting in dried-up river banks. The area's biodiversity is unrivaled in this peaceful corner of Southern Africa, and only some travelers would have heard of this place, making it all the better for those who want to explore the path less trodden.



The Baviaanskloof was identified as one of the three major Cape Floral Kingdom conservation areas, so the Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve was born. This gorge is over 200km long and is a fortress of plant life and biodiversity in the greater Cape Floral region. Beautiful views of the Cape Fold Mountains can be found all around, with many unique accommodation experiences on the mountain slopes. Streams coming down the mountains are framed by endemic lilies, and the pink, orange, yellow, purple, and white fynbos blossoms take turns painting the landscape throughout the year. The ancient peoples of Southern Africa, the San, once called this idyllic place home, and signs of their long history here are recorded in the many rock paintings that still survive today.


Bazaruto Archipelago

The Bazaruto Archipelago comprises six islands off the coast of Mozambique, bathed in warm ocean waters by the Agulhas current almost year-round. The islands have a profound variety of vegetation types, from savanna grasslands and dune forests to swamp forests dominated by Swamp Fig Trees, mangroves, and freshwater lakes. White sandy beaches cement the islands' tropical paradise status, though with a distinctly African touch; bush babies, a few small antelope species, and a small band of Samango Monkeys also call the islands home. If ever anyone wanted the beauty and biodiversity of Africa and a tropical island rolled into one, then the Bazaruto Archipelago is that place.



Namaqualand, which stretches from the Richtersveld in the north to the Knersvlakte in the south, lies on the west coast of South Africa. The landscape here is as poetic as the words of the many poets and storytellers who grew up here over many centuries - perhaps even the reason for the local literary talent. Annually, millions of African daisies and endemic succulents - orange, white, purple, and yellow - bloom to make a multicolored carpet over the entire landscape, covering every inch of soil from early August to the end of September every year. Namaqualand is in the west of the Cape Floral Region and offers some of its highest biodiversity densities. Nearly 3500 species participate in this epic wildflower display, around 1000 of which are endemic that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.