It’s taken me a few months (OK, seven) to get this post written. I still haven’t really gone through my thousands of photos. The problem I keep facing as I sit down to finalize this – there is no way to do the trip justice. I’ve been fortunate to go many interesting places, but there is nothing comparable to seeing a parade of elephants, including infants, so close they could turn on you in seconds – or seeing a lioness devour her kill as her babies perch nearby waiting to get their turn. We saw the Big 5, the largest waterfall in the world, went rafting on some terrifying Class 5 rapids, and came face to face with great whites.
So I’ll keep this post factual and full of links to help you plan your African safari. (I’ve also posted my top photos here.)
We broke the trip into three components (which is a good way to plan):
Arrival in Cape Town
After a few days in Dubai, I was more than ready to head onward. I arrived in Cape Town a few hours ahead of my family, and made my way to the V&A Waterfront to explore. Cape Town’s dramatic natural landscape is beautiful, and its waterfront a bustling mixture of lovely outdoor eateries, but contrasted to the townships dotting the freeways on the way in from the airport, it seemed like a false facade covering up the history.
We didn’t spend much time in Cape Town proper, and headed out on day trips including to wine country (my day of planning), a shark diving tour (Steven’s day) and a trip to the end of the Cape with a stop for Penguins (my parents).
Highlights & Recommendations for Cape Town:
- Eating and drinking, inexpensively: Cape Town is a fantastic food city, and very affordable. We had wonderful meals at Willoughby & Co, Charles Cafe, and Manna Epicure (close to Table Mountain for a post sunset dinner). All meals, including great wine and multiple courses, were around $25 USD per head. To find the avocado-toast brunching crowd, wait in line for the pastries at Jason’s (I went twice, the takeout window moves quickly). You wont go wanting for gourmet coffee sprinkled throughout the city. The one restaurant I missed because I didn’t reserve early enough (so don’t make my mistake) – The Pot Luck Club,
- Wine Tour: Of the places we visited, the must visits were Tokara with its beautiful modern tasting room with views across to Table Mountain and quality wine to stand up to the views (if you don’t want to haul during your travels, Tokara is available at the airport to bring home) and lunch at Delheim. We hired a driver to take us from Cape Town, but next time I’d stay overnight and do two days (and dinner) in the region.
- Shark Diving: This is a long day, starting at 5 a.m. wakeup to drive to the site. The day we were there it was rough and we were the first group in the water waiting what felt like an hour to get a shark. The next group got a better viewing and was in for 3 minutes. Consider making the call on whether to go based on weather. It is terrifying, but felt safe. Stop at some of the lovely farm stands on the afternoon drive back to Cape Town. Learn more: Website.
- Table Mountain: Obvious tourist activity. Check wait times, and buy tickets online and skip the line, here. Get a bottle of South African wine up top (good value) and some glasses and find a great spot to watch the sunset before queuing up to get back down.
**I went again, I’d likely stay at the V&A Waterfront area. If you want to go all out, check out the ultra-hip, just opened Silo.
Cape Town Pics:
Victoria Falls (including Safari)
After getting acclimated in Cape Town we moved onward to Zimbabwe. After dealing with immigration (the visa situation described online didn’t match the reality on the ground – be prepared to go with the flow), we headed out to a dusky parking lot that felt like a true outpost.
Victoria Falls spans the border between the “Zim” side and Zambia. There are plenty of activities, and the Falls, but you don’t need more than two or three days , and while it was great to start our safari there, it would have been a let down after our South African safari that came next. We stayed at the lovely Victoria Falls River Lodge located about 20 minutes from town and directly in Zambezi National Park.
The lodge takes “glamping” to a new level as we stayed in a “tented” room overlooking the river. There are only 13 rooms (plus a few more on a nearby island outpost), so you’ll get to know your neighbors and the staff. You quickly ease into the Safari routine – up before dawn for the morning drive or boat ride, back for breakfast and some down time (your room magically transforms from a closed off room to a netted blend of luxury and nature while you are out). Then another activity before the evening game drive or river cruise. The lodge arranges for everything, and the room rates includes all meals and safari activities (rafting and offsite activities are extra). There is a lovely onsite spa, and the food was quite good for an inclusive package.
Our very first drive included sightings of elephants, gazelles, warthogs, vultures, antelope, baobab trees, guinea foul, giraffes, Egyptian geese, spotted doves, impalas – all before breakfast. On another day, the elephants were feet from the lodge as I sat on the ledge watch them scour for some treats. Every evening we watched the blood red hazy sunset feeling like we’d been transported to another world (we had no idea what awaited us next).
My brother then booked us on a river raft day – including Class 5 rapids (my first time). While I managed to stay in the boat (a handful of people were tossed out), it was wet, fun, and included a very difficult hike up from the river at the end. Buy the photo package, well worth it. Don’t bring anything with you – even waterproof – they won’t let you take it on the boat.
Victoria Falls Pics:
Safari near Kruger (South Africa)
We headed out from Vic Falls on my dad’s birthday to Nelspruit, and drove to Hazyview the gateway to Kruger National Park.
I’ll skip the gory details of the food poisoning that nearly hospitalized me (word to the wise – don’t get sick in remote South Africa), but I was so grateful to avoid the hospital and know that the remote safari camp we were setting off for had both a doctor and medical evacuation plane in case the IV antibiotics didn’t kick in.
Upon arrival to the nicest resort I’ve ever seen, I promptly got in bed for two days (after getting sick in front of the camp hosts as I stepped out of the vehicle – not my finest hour). On the bright side, it was the best room I’ve ever stayed in. And the hosts brought me anything I wanted and could eat (which amounted to plain oatmeal and some mild soup). I hear the safaris, food, and beverages were great, but I was just happy to have made it.
If you ever have the chance to go to Londolozi, do it without hesitation. In the meantime, live vicariously through their beautiful blog and Instagram. We stayed at the Granite Suites and Tree Camp. Unless you are a small group and renting out the entire suites, we had more fun at the Tree Camp with other guests.
Londolozi’s guides and trackers have spent decades in the park and are amazing at their craft. We continually saw new scenes that took our breath away, including the big five, lots of babies, and while we didn’t see a kill, we saw the gruesome aftermath of a few.
Londolozi rents quality photo equipment, which allowed me to get a few photos I couldn’t capture on my smaller camera. They also provide help with editing.
I really can’t say enough about the incredible experience there even while sick and not being able to fully experience it. Here are a few pics:
I had never understood the hype of going on hours long drives to watch animals. Now I get it. It was a once in a lifetime trip and I’m pretty darn thankful to have done it early enough that I can do it again someday. I also encourage you to do it, sooner rather than later.