I recently spent two weeks in South Africa. This trip has been in the works for over a year. I planned to go in Dec 2021 but had to postpone due to the Omicron variant which shut the country down about two weeks before our trip.
I will also note that South Africa as a country has never been particularly high on my list. I’ve heard marvelous things about Cape Town and it is often on people’s list of favorite cities. But the rest of the country has never held much interest. I’ve done safaris in Tanzania and Rwanda. I’ve wanted to go to Botswana for over a decade. Victoria Falls, Mt. Kilimanjaro, the deserts of Namibia, Ethiopia … these are all on my list. But South Africa never was.
In fact, this trip started out as a trip to Botswana… and of course I need to see Victoria Falls too because it is so close … and Namibia is just right there — and you can’t get to any of these places without transiting South Africa… soon I had a four country logistically challenging trip planned during a pandemic.
I eventually decided I needed to trim it down. I couldn’t afford the time or money to get stuck somewhere if I got COVID positive. I was losing too much time with testing requirements. Distances were too great and logistics weren’t reliable enough in countries that had seen few tourists for the last several years. And so, I revamped my trip for just two weeks in South Africa.
And then I was surprised at how much there was to do and learned two weeks was not enough time! Here is a snap shot of what I did and didn’t do. I’ll break down each section in later posts.
Johannesburg – 2 days.
Johannesburg is where you will have the most flexibility in your plans. We did two days. I could have filled 3 days and wouldn’t have felt like I missed out with only 1.
Day 1: Apartheid Museum and Rose Bank Sunday market. We planned to also go to the Ditsong National Museum of Military History but didn’t have time. We spent the entire morning at the Apartheid Museum and after our two week trip this museum remained one of our favorite stops. We had plans for drinks at the Alto234 in the famed Leonardo Hotel and to walk around more but the weather was cold and rainy and so we instead played cards in front of the fire at our fantastic lodgings Abbey Guesthouse.
Day 2: Full day Soweto tour and Constitution Hill. This was a fantastic day. And as great as the Soweto tour was and I highly recommend it, Constitution Hill is a must do in order to see the prison and the court house.
If I’d had a third day, we would have taken a day trip out to Cradle of Mankind.
Panorama Route – 2 days.
This doesn’t hit most itineraries for South Africa but after looking at the photos I couldn’t resist. This was some beautiful scenery with a lot of driving. The group was unanimous that this is the one thing on the trip we would change – to consolidate this into one day and if we had to cut anything, these two days would be where to trim.
Safari – 3 days / 4 nights.
Kruger is the most famous of the parks but I chose Sabi Sands the private park it borders. This was the right decision. More details in a future post on why this is the case. We stayed at Nkorho Bush lodge which was phenomenal! (These photos are just to wet your appetite – I have hundreds of amazing shots)
Cape Town – 5 days.
We spent three days seeing the sights of the city, one day exploring Cape Hope and the two Oceans, and one day seeing Cape Agulhas.
For Cape Town – we hit all the main sights: Botanical Gardens, “Free” Walking Tour, V&A Waterfront, Bo Kaap, Table Mountain, District 6 museum, and Robben Island. We also found some wonderful places to eat some other great spots that weren’t on my radar. Stay tuned for more.
I could have easily added one more day in Cape Town and an overnight to Cape Agulhas would have been nice.
I flew into Johannesburg and out of Cape Town. Always look at this as an option for big trips. For me this was actually the same price for the international ticket and saved me the cost and time of a domestic flight.
Johannesburg is known for its crime. If flying in there, consider ordering money ahead of time. Although there was a currency exchange and ATMs before you leave the secure section of the airport. Cape Town is much safer and most ATMs have guards.
For a big trip like this it can be useful to build in some swing space. For me that was Johannesburg. In 2022 airlines were experiencing massive delays and cancelations. We were a group of six arriving on 3 different flights and it would have been a logistical nightmare for someone to try to “catch up” with us later once we were on the move. It gave us a day or two to get over jet lag without affecting some of our big plans (I was willing to be tired while walking through a museum but not on safari!)
Because of COVID and some other unusual mitigating factors I used a small tour company to help plan this trip. It was not a planned tour. I still did all of the research and selected each stop based on my interest. I planned all of the city myself. She arranged for drivers, transportation, our three tours, all safaris and lodging. This is only the second time I have really relied on someone for this much help (the first time was also an African Safari trip). I am glad I did. Cape Insights was fantastic (see future blog post for more details). Probably the only change I’d make is I would book my own hotels for Johannesburg and Cape Town. The ones she picked were phenomenal and I did tell her high end … but we hardly spent any time there and I could have saved some money on that portion of the trip if I’d done that myself.
I didn’t get to drive (or walk) the Garden Route. I didn’t make it out to the wine country. I didn’t get to the north west portion of the country to see the wild flowers. I am already planning my next trip which will be based out of Cape Town.
Book and Movie Recommendations for your visit: There are a lot of fantastic recommendations out there and lucky for me, one of our drivers was a big reader!
Of course, Nelson Mandela’s book (or the shorter movie) Long Walk to Freedom is a great start.
Also, I rewatched the movie Invictus on the flight home and my trip gave it so much more context.
Before leaving, I chose Cry My Beloved Country to read on the trip. This is a South African classic written in the 1940s which has engaging characters, a moving story and a great perspective on the country pre-Apartheid.
Deon Meyer is a beloved local author. Trackers set in Cape Town was highly recommended and I have to tell you I loved it.
Both movies the Octopus Teacher and Penguin Town were shot in Simon’s Town South Africa.
Dinosaurs, Diamonds and Democracy; Disgrace; Kaffir Boy; The Crocodile Eats the Sun; and President’s Keeper were also all recommended to me and are on my reading list. And of course, the prolific James Mitchener has a novel set in South Africa, The Covenant.