Ten days in South Africa

South Africa has special memories for S and I. On one hand it was the first big trip (circa 2014) we took together as a couple, where we discovered traveling together was tolerable; on the other hand, it was also a fun way to discover I was allergic to sulfites in wine, creating a vivid reality of me hurling over the side of our safari vehicle.

There is so much to see, and with the record long flights, we had about 10 days to cram in as much as we could. We flew Delta direct from Atlanta to Johannesburg (a glorious 16 hours), connecting via South African Airways through to Cape Town where we began our trip -

  • Four days in Cape Town

  • Fly from Cape Town to Hoedspruit (near the animal reserve)

  • Three days on safari with Kapama Reserve

  • Two days in Johannesburg

Four days in Cape Town

South Africa operated under apartheid from 1948 until 1994. At the time we were there, it had been 20 years since the end of segregation. I don’t think you can (or should) ignore how divisive the country was for that many years, but you can also observe that while there is always work to be done, how the people have come together in many ways to overcome a difficult history.

Tabletop Mountain view from Three Boutique Hotel

Tabletop Mountain view from Three Boutique Hotel

Lodging: we stayed at the Three Boutique Hotel in Cape Town, which had a gorgeous patio view of Table Mountain. S favors smaller boutique hotels and B&Bs when we travel, and Three Boutique didn’t disappoint. The location was quite central to most attractions and was fairly easy to navigate to and from. Our room wasn’t overly spacious, but had ample enough storage to accommodate our gear while we explored Cape Town.

Day 1: we booked ahead of time a tour to Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela and many other Apartheid opposers/activists served their sentences. The tour was compelling and an informative way to start our exploration of South Africa. We took a morning boat and arrived back on Victoria & Alfred Waterfront where we spent the remainder of the day meandering shops and stores.

Victoria & Alfred Waterfront

Victoria & Alfred Waterfront

Day 2: the hotel helped us find a small tour group to join on a day down to the Cape of Good Hope. The van picked us up and took us on the journey to the reserve, stopping at Cape Town’s famous Boulder Beach, where penguins happily populate the beach. Along the way, there are several beach towns and camping grounds before arriving at the Cape of Good Hope and its spectacular views. If we had more days, renting a car and taking the coastal drive a bit more slowly would have been a definite add to our itinerary.

Boulder Beach en route to the Cape of Good Hope

Boulder Beach en route to the Cape of Good Hope

Day 3: we won out the day we chose to see Tabletop Mountain. There is a route you can hike up to the top, or if you’re lazy like we were, take a cablecar to the top. It happened to be the clearest day we had in Cape Town (the fog rivals San Francisco’s best). The views of Cape Town are breathtaking, with the bluest waters and Lion’s Head in the distance. You can spend a few hours walking around and discovering Instagrammable photos at every turn. For the remainder of the day, we headed over to Kirsetnbosch Gardens. These gardens are a botanist’s dream, with foliage and special sections devoted to rare plants. Flowers were not blooming at the time we went (November), but the grounds themselves were expansive and fun to explore.

View from Tabletop Mountain

View from Tabletop Mountain

Day 4: just 45 minute east of Cape Town, is South Africa’s wine country. We took a day trip with a small group to Stellenbosch, where we explored vineyards, and the region’s notable Chenin Blanc blends. It’s impressive how reminiscent the area is to NorCal’s wine country now that we have been in the Bay area. If you aren’t a big wine drinker (or jaded from frequent vineyard attendance) this would be the item on our itinerary I would cut in favor of more historical exploration in Cape Town or an extra day along the route to the Cape of Good Hope.

Wine tasting in Stellenbosch

Wine tasting in Stellenbosch

We were admittedly were poor at documenting our appetites on this trip and did not take advantage of the culinary prowess Cape Town boasts. However, I rememeber the cuisines to be diverse and well priced.

Three days in Kapama Game Reserve Southern Camp

Neither of us had much of an expectation about the safari I had booked due to a friend’s recommendation. Looking back, we lucked out on the currency exchange, because I’m not sure against today’s dollar if we would have been able to embark on this part of the trip in the same way. Kapama is a private game reserve that has a network of different resorts. Southern Camp is setup as a smaller hotel, with many open area common spaces, chicly designed to blend into the environment. The all-inclusive stay covered six well spaced safari drives, an assigned Ranger & Tracker, and all meals and plenty of snack filled breaks. Optional activities such as spa treatments and gym facilities were available as well. The open resort design allowed for animals to roam around freely; it wasn’t uncommon to be surprised to see a gazelle peering into your bathroom window or opening your door to host of curiously regal birds.

We were grouped with two other couples, whom we shared our safari drives and meals with. The drives were refreshing, and while we were able to see the desirable Big Five, the relaxing nature of the habitat exceeded any ideas we had about safaris. The food was delicious and abundance of wine (cue the allergic reaction) were seamlessly provided throughout. We both look fondly upon this portion of the trip as one of the best activities we have ever done on vacation.

Note: I know a few people who have rented vehicles and driven through Kruger themselves. We weren’t ambitious enough, but many people do and are also able to track the Big Five and see a lot of amazing animals.

Two days in Johannesburg

We sadly waved goodbye to Kapama and headed towards the final leg our trip in Johannesburg. Complete aside, but this is when we discovered wine made me sick, so we spent the better part of the afternoon after we arrived holed up in our gorgeous hotel, The Residence Boutique Hotel. Something to note, it was fairly common to see neighborhoods and homes with private guards (toting large rifles) and barbed wire encircling the grounds. While it has been a few years ago since we were there, Johannesburg was known to have serious crime issues, and we were advised to stick to a specific itinerary and not leave any cars unattended. I advise checking for travel advisories (for any trip) on the State Department’s site.

If you have the chance to do one thing in Johannesburg, I recommend going to the Apartheid Museum. It is a harrowing and at times difficult part of history to take in but was poignantly and beautifully designed in memoriam of how the country’s history has evolved. Our trip was a remarkable adventure, but understanding its past made us have a greater appreciation and fondness for how we approach travel going forward. The people are really what make any new journey eye-opening and reflective, and this experience was nothing short of that.

Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg

Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg