89 days and 9,722 kilometres across South Africa, including a good amount on dirt roads, through 4×4-only mountain passes, along wild coast trails, across the last bit of sand forest left on the planet, side by side with elephants and lions to bring you the best adventures of South Africa!
Beyond the Big 5, South Africa is a fantastic playground for the outdoor enthusiasts, and here are the Top Keep exploring!
With its cool Oceanic Climate, the idyllic village of Hogsback, set in the mountains of the Eastern Cape, draws many South Africans to its fairy-tale like forests that might have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien. Popular among backpackers for its affordable stays immersed in nature, clean air, and wonderful patches of indigenous forest, Hogsback has developed into an artistic community and attracted settlers from all over. The best way of exploring Hogsback is hiking its many trails through the majestic Yellowwood trees, home to the endangered Cape Parrots. Or to take a bit of height and take the real measure of its most emblematic waterfalls by abseiling them!
Article updated on June 8, 2021 Text: Claire Lessiau Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
Franschhoek, or the “French corner” has a fascinating history. Because of the wars of religions in 17th century France, a small number of French Protestant refugees settled in South Africa establishing a successful farming and wine making industry still recognised today as one of world’s best. Get off the beaten path and discover not only the famous wines of Franschhoek but also its stunning outdoors, and favourite restaurants!
Halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth lies George, the capital of the most famous South African coastal stretch: the Garden Route. While the neighbouring Knysna and Plettenberg Bay are highly advertised for, George deserves way more attention as an outdoor paradise. This laidback town in the Western Cape is about to become the hotspot for adventure seekers with its dramatic mountains overlooking the ocean, its precious and rare fynbos ecosystem, its stunning gorges covered in pristine forests where leopards still roam freely. What a better way to discover this secret nature by kloofing (South African for “canyoning”) than with the man who has explored almost every single canyon of South Africa?
We are sitting on a flat rock by the roaring Indian Ocean observing the powerful waves crashing violently into the rugged rocky shore and spraying 15-metre high into the air. Inland the green hills, warmly bathed by the sunset light, seem to never end. Far on the horizon, only a few white rondavels with their thatched roofs remind us that we are not alone in this world. We are discovering the remote land of the Pondo people stretching along the last unspoilt shore of South Africa during a five-day trek. But the Wild Coast is jeopardised by an international titanium mining project that would disfigure it and rob the Pondo people of their most precious asset: their land. Keep travelling!
Article updated on March 10, 2022 Text & photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
The north eastern corner of KwaZulu-Natal is one of South Africa’s most remote destinations. Bordering Eswatini and Mozambique lies a hardly populated land with scenic yet less famous game parks and a unique ecosystem of four lakes flowing into the Indian Ocean where the Tsonga people have passed down their sustainable fishing traditions for over a thousand years. A land where world’s largest leaves can be found, with rare bird species and different types of mangrove trees. An ocean with bull and whale sharks, rock salmons, hippos and manta rays, wetting South Africa’s most stunning and desolated beaches, on which endangered sea turtles lay their eggs in season and turtle hatchlings run for their lives into the ocean. Join us to explore the best of Kosi Bay in five different adventures!
In South Africa Aliwal Shoal is famous for its shark dives amongst tiger, bull, ragged-tooth or oceanic blacktip sharks, often described as the experience of a lifetime. Sadly, cage diving is a bad practice that is heavily advertised for in all but a very few dive centres…
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is home to a vast array of unspoiled coral reefs. The best way to explore them is to hop on a boat and SCUBA dive to discover this iSimangaliso (amazing in Zulu) underwater world.
“Hold on tight! It is going to be a little bit bumpy”, our guide Christeen Grant, experienced mountain guide passionate by the Drakensberg, calmly announces. She confidently steers the wheel of the extended Land Rover Defender which roaring engine is operating at its maximum capacity. The 4×4 steadily crawls forward on the steep rocky road winding up towards the Kingdom in the Sky. We are about to enter Lesotho for a multiple day horseback riding adventure although the real adventure has already started at the foot of the legendary Sani Pass in the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa. Keep travelling!
The sun has been up for no more than an hour and its strong rays are already warming me up as I contemplate the village of Malubelube. From the rock on which I am seating on the top of the mountain dominating the settlement at 2,675 metres, I have a 360° panoramic view on the endless surrounding mountains. The morning light bathes the traditional rondavels with Keep travelling!
Article updated on August 22, 2022 Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
I pick up some speed going downhill towards a small stream of crystal-clear waters. The all-terrain tires of my mountain bike on the wooden bridge break the silence followed up by the swift change of gears as I pedal hard to get up the steep single track ahead of me. I slalom my way up amongst blooming protea trees that add some bright orange and red colours to the green slopes of the Northern Drakensberg that we are exploring by mountain bike.
Article updated on February 18, 2022 Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
“Hug the rock! Just hug the rock!” I keep telling myself as the white waters in which I float like a cork violently smash into a big boulder downstream coming at me fast. The first rock that my gecko (a small one-person raft) went for had me capsize, as I naturally leaned away from it to try and minimise the damages. Approaching the boulder I hold on tight to my gecko as I am exploring one of South Africa’s most scenic rivers: the Sabie River.
Thousand-year old kites have taken a new turn with extreme sports such as kite surfing or speed riding that have become increasingly popular. Their big brothers have helped us getting airborne like in paragliding or paramotoring using a propeller-powered glider. Come on board with us to experience this thrilling adventure of flying a paramotor over Dubai and over the desert!
“Ready for take-off?” I hold onto my seatbelt that straps both of my shoulders this early morning at dawn. In the seat in front of me, my pilot starts the engine that makes the blades of the one-metre diameter propeller behind me rotate. As the blades pick up speed, the wheels of the buggy we are seated in start rolling, pulling on a kite the size of a paraglider that rises up in the sky. In only a few seconds, we are airborne! Keep flying!
With its karst formations rising off the rice fields, Vang Vieng is set in a beautiful natural setting and has become the number one outdoor destination of Laos with hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, rock climbing and caving opportunities.
“Hmm, Claire did you read the incoming email from Eric, regarding our kayak trip to the Statue of Liberty next week?” I fearfully ask her. We both sit down and read Eric Stiller’s questions concerning our seaworthiness and fitness level, and a slight panic starts to take control over both of us. The proud owner of the Manhattan Kayak Company wants to know in what specific types of kayaks we have practised, for how many hours a day, and what our average speed is. We are about to board the A380, the super jumbo jet Air France flies from Paris to New York City for a new adventure on the Hudson River, Keep traveling!
Birthplace of Pierre-Paul Riquet, the man who linked the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea in the 17th century by carrying out the largest civil engineering project of the time, the Canal du Midi, Béziers is also where the masterpiece of Riquet can be visited: the 9 locks of Fonseranes.
Having left Sète some 50 kilometres prior, we leave the shade of the centennial plane trees along the Canal du Midi behind to bike over the surreal Pont-Canal de l’Orb. This 1857 aqueduct, both bridge and canal, was built so that boats with their precious wheat cargo would avoid being tumbled over in a violent Keep travelling
Eight more minutes, the sign indicates. “If I am fast it might be only 5”, I tell myself when I eagerly hike up the last few steep metres before reaching the viewpoint overlooking the rural town of Nong Khiaw in Northern Laos. Reaching the top after a one-hour hike, the 360-degree view on Nong Khiaw does not fail to impress: the terraces of light green rice paddies contrast with Keep hiking!
South East Asia with its emblematic and exotic landscapes has long seduced Hollywood: Angkor Wat, Cambodia in Tomb Raider; Koh Phi Phi, Thailand in The Beach; or the karst formations of Phang Nga bay, Thailand in the 1974-James Bond movie The man with the golden gun. If the sites are stunning, visiting them can often be disappointing Keep reading
The engine of our wooden canoe with long tail echoes in the large room while a cool wind makes me shiver. In total darkness, I vaguely distinguish rocks shaped as faces or animals briefly lit up by the beam of the headlamp of our captain. He is constantly scanning the limestone walls, as the slightest miscalculation on these shallow waters would be fatal to our boat. With great skills, our boatman manoeuvres up the winding subterranean Hinboun River which flows through the geological wonder of South-East Asia, the Kong Lor cave in Laos. Keep traveling!
Lime stone karst formations are gradually revealing themselves as the morning mist on the Cheow Lan Lake slowly rises. The sun bathes the rocks in warm colours and highlights the jungle growing on their steep flanks. I slowly crawl out of my bed to take a morning swim in the surprisingly warm lake. While climbing back up to the pontoon of my floating bungalow, I notice a familiar rising and falling of shrills that gives me goose bumps: a family of gibbons starts to sing, Keep reading
Cambodia is not as famous as Thailand when it comes to islands, paradisiac beaches, coral reefs and scuba diving. And this is all for the best, I am telling myself as I am writing this article from the fishing village M’Pai on the small island of Koh Rong Samloem in Southern Cambodia. Feet in the sand, Keep traveling!
I am running down a gentle slope before I am flying through a tunnel of green leafs and vines opening on the canopy. I am now gliding over treetops with a bird’s eye view on the rainforest that covers the surrounding mountains. Right in front of me appears my everlasting childhood dream: Keep traveling!
My eyes catch something massive crossing the river in a slow but steady pace. It is an Asian elephant carrying a man on its neck, seated in a lotus position. Fresh water from the river splashes my face and startles me. “Paddle forward! Keep reading
The sun has warmed up my skin more than I can bear while the warm wind spreads a scent of pine through the air. My backpack is filled with delicious fresh fruits from the market of the Cour Lafayette in Toulon, ready to be munched away during a picnic at a secret cove, by one of the most beautiful beaches of the French Riviera. Keep reading
I am loosening my helmet to wipe the sweat from my face while putting my sunglasses back in place. I take a few sips from my water bottle while enjoying the view on world’s third largest bay, after Hong Kong and San Francisco: the bay of Toulon along the French Riviera. From the top of the 584-meter high Mont Faron, the view on France’s hidden gem and massive military harbour is Keep traveling!
The High Coast trail (or Höga Kusten leden) is a beautiful 128-kilometre multi-day hiking trail from stuga to stuga, along the eastern coast of Sweden, about 6 hours north of Stockholm by car. The High Coast trail leads Keep traveling!
The honking horn of a ferry boat announces its departure. Three more honks by other boats overpower the white noise of the city. Soon, four ferries start getting out of their terminals in rear gear in a well-orchestrated routine. A sightseeing boat loaded with tourists rushes by while a helicopter is flying over it. I manoeuvre my small kayak to avoid being flipped over by the waves. It is rush hour on the Hudson River in New York City which we are kayaking to take in the Manhattan skyline. Keep paddling!
Exploring the Canal du Midi and leaving Sète and the locks of Fonsérannes behind, we bike about eight kilometres further into the direction of the Atlantic, along the narrow and bumpy towpath where horses used to drag the heavy loaded vessels before engines made it obsolete. Keep travelling
It has been a long trip, walking for hundreds of kilometres. Setting off about a month ago, we have just arrived at the foot of the last obstacle. It is so close and yet, it seems impossible to reach. The high tide covers up the whole shore and I fear greatly for this life-threatening crossing on foot to the sacred island Keep reading
Article updated on September 27, 2021 Text & photos: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
“It’s a red!” I scream while I hit the brakes and see my Parisian girlfriend manoeuvring her bicycle while crossing a three-lane road in the city centre of Paris. I swear as cars start accelerating while I’m waiting for them to pass. Being born and raised in a small village in the heart of the Netherlands with safe bicycle lanes along every road, biking through the heart of Paris with a Parisian is a truly adrenaline-packed experience!
The young ayudante holds his balance gracefully when the colectivo (the mini-van turned local bus), sets off to the next bus stop on the winding road. The engine makes more noise as the gradient of the road gets steeper and the view on the rolling hills surrounding us more beautiful. Behind the next curve lays the remote mountain village of Santa Fé, about five hours South-West of Panama City.
Often, I thoroughly enjoy reading a book preferably by a local author to put me in the mood before traveling to a country. André Brink and Coetzee gave me my first impressions before traveling through South Africa, teaching me about the contemporary struggles of the rainbow nation. Paul Auster was my dark guide to New York City, Maupin took me through San Francisco and the entertaining mystery novels of Donna Leon had me discover the hidden canals of Venice. I didn’t really have that luxury traveling through Central America, with a hectic schedule prior to our 3-month trip. It is only arriving in Boquete, Panama, that I find myself reading a mystery novel taking me to the landmarks of this country. Keep traveling!
“Are you sure you are ok?” I can hear through my oversized helmet. Sort of, I think. We have just left from the Finca Magdalena on a dirt motorbike to explore the still mostly undeveloped east side of the Ometepe island, and Keep traveling!
The small town of Santa Elena has expanded massively since the Monteverde Cloud Forest gained popularity, and Costa Rica became the destination for biodiversity. Hesitating between exploring the very touristy Monteverde Cloud Forest, or the off the beaten path Keep traveling!
One of Central America’s most picturesque hikes runs between the mountain town of Boquete and the lesser known Cerro Punta in Pamana. Both lay in different valleys putting them a good three-hour bus ride away from each other. They are also linked by the famous 9-kilometre Quetzal trail, squeezed between two dead end roads, for a total of about 23 kilometres. Given the elevation gain, Keep traveling!
Since the archipelago of Bocas del Toro was discovered in 1502 by Christopher Columbus, the island of Bastimentos has served as a base for vessels; hence its name that literally translates as “supplies”. Its fertile soil and tropical climate are ideal for a wide variety of plants to grow plentifully as we are about to discover, setting off for a jungle and beach hike with our specialized guides. Keep traveling!
The Sarapiqui River is powerful and brownish, as it has been raining non-stop for the past 24 hours. Seated in a kayak, resting on the river bank, I observe how David flips himself over with his kayak in the current. The short red embarkation is now floating downstream, upside down. Within a few seconds though, David appears from underneath the water, with a huge smile. “So this is how we do the underwater exit”, he says. “Your turn now!” Keep traveling!
I finish pumping up the raft before boarding it with a small team of daredevils. I check the safety gear one more time. We are about to start the first white water rafting descent of the Chiriquí Viejo River in Panama. No one has ever done so. Keep traveling!
“Where are they?” I think concerned while guarding the bags containing our camera gear. A few guys with machetes keep an eye on me from a distance, so I cannot leave the spot. The half of best regards from far has disappeared in a low, narrow and dark tunnel filled with water, dug into the rocks. Its entrance is barely visible as it is hidden behind a curtain of water. It has been almost 30 minutes and Keep traveling!
The whistle from the ayudante (the helper of the bus driver) signals that the overcrowded bus must stop. We get off quickly, and not even coming to a complete halt, the bus drives off. A few bright red tuk-tuks, which surround us instantly, indicate in which direction to go. “Up to the park entrance, very far, cheap price, want a ride?” We are at the foot of the Mombacho volcano in Nicaragua, and we don’t want a ride. Instead, we have decided to conquer the 1344 metres of this dormant volcano, from bottom to top with our own little legs! Keep traveling!
Nicaragua is crossed by a long volcanic chain running from north to south, with volcanoes such as Telica, Masaya, Mombacho, Concepcion, Maderas… many of which still active. Close to Granada, a 6-kilometer-diameter and 100-meter deep crater is filled by fresh water: this is the stunning Laguna de Apoyo, and most likely one of the most enjoyable swims in the country! keep traveling!
The sun burns my exposed skin while I am making my way among fumeroles. A slight smell of sulphur fills the hot air as we walk on a dusty trail. The backpack, stuffed with a tent, a few litres of water and some more gear to spend the night in the wild, presses on my shoulder. We are on our way to the top of the active Telica volcano in Nicaragua, in a quest to observe its massive crater. Keep traveling!
The delicate brown little bird with its bright yellow beak dances elegantly on its high grey legs on a large waterlily leaf. It is a challenge to capture it from my unstable 1-person kayak that rolls violently on the waves caused by a lancha (a small passenger motor boat) passing by. I am kayaking around Las Isletas de Granada, (the islets of Granada), in Nicaragua. According to the legend, there would be 365 islands scattered around the peninsula, one for each day of the year… Quite a lot to explore!
Passing a few women washing their clothes in the river and drying them on the warm volcanic boulders on this sunny Sunday morning, we are entering the Somoto Canyon, Nicaragua, a beautiful playground of soft boulders, steep cliffs, clear pools and wild rapids for a 6-hour self-guided canyoning adventure. Keep traveling!
A light is switched on, waking me up. With earplugs in my ears, my jacket and bonnet on, I am slowly extracting myself from my sleeping bag. It is early! 3:15a.m. Around me, other sleepy trekkers start to pack their sleeping bags and mattresses that cover the floor of Don Pedro’s dining room in a remote village in Guatemala. Only a few hours ago, the 15 of us from all over the world were singing songs Keep traveling!