22 interesting facts about South Africa

Anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 yearsRnkadsgn/Shutterstock

We share the most interesting facts about South Africa gathered on our two-week trip to this fascinating country

South Africa, if nothing else, is a land of contradiction. This ‘rainbow nation’ ostensibly celebrates multiculturalism, but has a long and dark history of racial segregation. It forms part of the largest conservation area in the world yet remains a hotbed of poaching. It has a high rate of homicide, but is the only country in the world to voluntarily dismantle its nuclear weapons.

Visiting Boulders Penguin Colony, Cape Town

It's clear why tourists flock to Boulders Penguin ColonyAtlas & Boots

Boulders Penguin Colony near Cape Town is home to 3,000 African penguins – but does it live up to the hype?

The ‘African Penguin’ is a contradiction in terms. Somehow, the hottest continent on Earth is home to a bird most often associated with the coldest: Antarctica. And yet, the three species of penguin I’ve seen have all resided in warm climes: the Galápagos Penguin off Isabela Island which lies right on the equator, the Little Penguin in super-dry, super-hot Australia and now the African Penguin in Boulders Penguin Colony in South Africa.

Cape Point: where two oceans meet?

Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope are iconic geographic features, but are they really where two of the world’s oceans converge?

It makes for a fantastic publicity slogan, doesn’t it? The point at which two great oceans, the Atlantic and Indian, collide in powerful, eye-catching drama. It’s also highly convenient that this colossal spectacle takes place just an hour’s drive from one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Unfortunately, this bold claim made by countless tour operators in South Africa is not quite accurate.

UNESCO’s newest World Heritage Sites

Fanjingshan in Chinasanyanwuji/Shutterstock

From Inuit hunting grounds to sacred mountain monasteries, UNESCO’s newest World Heritage Sites have been formally recognised for their outstanding value

The aim of UNESCO’s list is to identify, protect and preserve sites of cultural and natural heritage considered to be of exceptional value to humanity. These sites include a range of locations such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, east Africa’s Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt and Machu Picchu in Peru.

To be included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, nominated sites must be of “outstanding universal value” and meet at least one of 10 selection criteria.

Hiking Table Mountain: 10 tips to get you to the top

Hiking Table Mountain isn’t a walk in the park like one might hope. We share our tips for getting to the top

Hiking Table Mountain is a rite of passage for visitors to Cape Town. The iconic behemoth defines the ‘Mother City’ in the same way Rio has a harbour, New York has a statue and San Francisco has a bridge.

This mountain is said to be one of the oldest in the world. Its formation began circa 280 million years ago and some of its rocks date back 600 million years (long before the Himalayas).

Kruger National Park vs private game reserves in South Africa

Manyeleti Game Reserve lions 1Atlas & Boots

An at-a-glance guide to choosing between Kruger National Park and the private game reserves in South Africa

When it came to planning our trip to South Africa, Kia left me to my own devices, knowing how much I enjoy poring over maps and researching potential routes. Mostly, this is fun but also occasionally stressful as I know I’ll be responsible if things go wrong.

With this in mind, I took pains to answer a central question: what are the pros and cons of Kruger National Park vs private game reserves in South Africa?

Manyeleti Game Reserve: our first safari in South Africa

Manyeleti Game Reserve lions 6

A safari in South Africa is said to be the ultimate wildlife watching experience. We went to Manyeleti Game Reserve to see for ourselves

Our safari in South Africa was always going to be strange. Our expectations were buoyed by the myth and drama of this renowned destination but equally subdued by our safari in Namibia which was simply unsurpassable. With this in mind, we knew that South Africa would both delight and disappoint us.

14 things to do in Eswatini (Swaziland)

We’ve selected our favourite things to do in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), from tracking big game to climbing the world’s second largest monolith

The tiny African nation of Eswatini took us completely by surprise. As Kia said, visiting Eswatini was never high on our bucket list, but it should have been. We spent just three days and two nights in this fascinating destination, which was never going to be enough.

Visiting Eswatini: why this tiny country blew my mind

Interesting facts about Eswatini Swaziland white rhinosAtlas & Boots

Visiting Eswatini was never high on my bucket list. How utterly foolish of me

I’m not going to lie: visiting Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) was a box-ticking exercise. Landlocked between South Africa and Mozambique, this dot on the map offered an opportunity for Peter to tick off another country in his quest to qualify for the Century Club.

I was less enthused. We had only 11 days to see South Africa and trying to squeeze in Lesotho and Eswatini seemed like a bit of a stretch. Peter insisted it could be done and so I begrudgingly said yes.

12 largest rainforests in the world and where to find them

largest rainforests in the world amazonFilipe Frazao/Shutterstock

The largest rainforests in the world are some of the most vital ecosystems on our planet. We look at where they’re located and why they need protecting

Home to over half the world’s plant and animal species, the largest rainforests in the world absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping maintain the balance of the air we breathe while simultaneously playing a critical role in curbing global warming.

17 interesting facts about Lesotho

We share the most interesting facts about Lesotho collected on our brief but breathtaking visit to the ‘Kingdom of the Sky’

We had only 36 hours in the tiny Kingdom of Lesotho, but it turned out to be a gem of a trip, throwing up plenty of surprises along the way. We reached Lesotho via the twisty Sani Pass with a local expert from Roof of Africa.

Lesotho is tiny and one of the least known countries in the world, yet it is a land full of fascinating facts. A mere 36 hours was nowhere near enough and we’ve pledged to return one day.

Driving the hairpinned Sani Pass to Lesotho

interesting facts about Lesotho Sani PassVAIZ HA; CC BY 2.0

Sani Pass is said to be one of the most dangerous mountain passes in the world. We decided to drive it on our overnight tour to Lesotho

Sometimes, I feel jealous of past explorers − not grandees like Cook or Magellan but everyday travellers that went somewhere and saw something not yet covered by Lonely Planet or indeed Atlas & Boots.

I imagine sultry Indian summers with endless corridors of uncharted possibility or China’s Hallelujah mountains, misty and deserted, and think how magical those times must have been.

Our epic self-drive safari through Namibia

Safari in Etosha National Park Namibia 25

Our self-drive safari through Namibia showed us the finest wildlife and landscapes this arresting country has to offer

I landed in Namibia three days ahead of Kia. She had some book-related business to wrap up in London so I arrived alone to begin a 17-day self-drive safari through Namibia with Wild Dog Safaris.

We’ve always had mixed feelings when it comes to organised tours. We’ve often preferred to piece together our trips independently to make sure we see exactly what we want. That said, there are some parts of the world – be it for logistical or security reasons – where an organised tour just makes more sense.

Tracking leopards and cheetahs at Okonjima Nature Reserve, Namibia

We visit one of the world’s best places to see cheetahs and leopards: Okonjima Nature Reserve in Namibia

I’ll be honest: in theory, I like the idea of staying at an eco lodge; in practice, however, I’m unenthused by the prospect of drop toilets, limp water pressure, poor ventilation that leaves everything a little damp, or open walls that grant entry to bugs. This might explain why I was sceptical about staying at Okonjima Nature Reserve in Namibia.

As stewards of conservation charity AfriCat, Okonjima is exactly the sort of place that might offer imperfect facilities under the banner of Doing Good.

20 interesting facts about Namibia

self-drive safari through Namibia 2Atlas & Boots

We share the most interesting facts about Namibia collected on our self-drive safari through this arresting country

Namibia is a vast country filled with captivating landscapes, beguiling wildlife and a bewildering array of natural wonders. From desert plains and towering sand dunes to lush wetland and deep winding canyons, Namibia is home to almost every iconic African landscape one can imagine.

Back in the saddle: horse riding in Swakopmund, Namibia

After an injury in 2017, Kia decides that horse riding in Swakopmund is the perfect way to get back in the saddle

Swakopmund is a strange little city. Known as Namibia’s adventure capital, it has a fittingly dramatic setting. On one side, a particularly ferocious Atlantic Ocean thrashes onto shore; on the other, the vast, sparse Namib Desert stretches in deadly threat. In between these startling scenes lies the city itself.

Safari in Etosha National Park: where the wildlife comes to you

self-drive safari through Namibia etoshaAtlas & Boots

A safari in Etosha National Park is like nothing else. There is little need to search for animals. In Etosha, they come to you

Even if you’ve had a taste of African wildlife-watching before, a safari in Etosha National Park is enthralling. Namibia’s premier national park is one of Africa’s great safari destinations and teems with wildlife, from big game mammals to tiny colourful birds. Animals here don’t come two by two, but by the dozen.

23 tips for visiting Sossusvlei in Namibia

elf-drive safari through Namibia SossusvleiAtlas & Boots

Our tips for visiting Sossusvlei will ensure your visit to Namibia’s most popular attraction is as exhilarating as it should be

Last year, Kia and I shared a list of the countries we most want to see. First on my list was Namibia, largely because of Sossusvlei. I’ve been desperate to photograph this incredible landscape ever since I saw the stark silhouettes of its seemingly petrified trees pitched against a brazen blue sky and vibrant desert dune in a National Geographic photo essay years ago.

Visiting Kolmanskop, the ghost town in the Namib Desert

Swallowed by sand in Kolmanskop ghost townAtlas & Boots

Once a booming diamond town, Kolmanskop has long been abandoned to desert sands. We took a trip to its eerie scenes

Our trip to Namibia was a long time coming. Almost two years ago, we published a list of the countries we most want to see. At the top of Peter’s list was Namibia, but due to family circumstances, we delayed the trip until we could commit a decent length of time. Finally, at the tail end of this year, we made it to Windhoek to start a 17-day self-drive safari.