I recently returned from a trip around southern Africa, and it is a bucket list destination for good reason! My sponsor, Trans Africa Safaris, is a family-owned company that crafted a magnificent trip for me. I am incredibly grateful for their personal touch and the opportunity to travel alongside their president, Jennifer Paterson, and her brother-in-law, which was such a treat. After my memorable time exploring there, I am so excited to work with clients to craft exceptional experiences there for them as well.
Reflecting on my time, a few themes seem to run through my experiences. The first is that southern Africa is an excellent destination for a spectrum of travelers. Whether you’re looking for an extreme outdoor adventure, a relaxing getaway, or a new city to explore, you will find it there. Honeymooners to large family groups all have an abundance of great options. Another thing I found was that the people are friendly and welcoming. I eat a plant-based diet and found that everywhere we went accommodated my and others’ dietary restrictions. Everyone also speaks English, which makes maneuvering much simpler. The final common thread was the natural beauty of all the places we visited, which consistently left me in wonder.
Tuesday – Arriving in Cape Town
I got to South Africa feeling rested after a 16-hour flight. After years of travel, I’ve found that longer flights allow you to watch movies and sleep as opposed to, for example, an 8-hour flight to Europe. My first stop was Cape Town, South Africa. Once I got there, I checked into More Quarters, a great hotel in a more residential part of Cape Town. I appreciated the less touristy feel that was great for walking around and at the base of the iconic Table Mountain.
View from the airplane in Africa
Wednesday – Waterfront exploring in the city
The next day was touring and eating at the One&Only hotel only 2 blocks away from the city’s Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, commonly known as the V&A district. The waterfront provides plenty of things to do, from shopping to whale watching and boating. The breakfast there was excellent, complete with views of the ocean.
My view One&Only hotel
Thursday – Nature and Scenic Tour
Thursday was filled with a Cape Peninsula nature and scenic tour, which provided an opportunity to get a feel for Cape Town’s layout and natural beauty. Our drive featured some baboons on the road, which was a fun surprise. A highlight of the tour was the Cape of Good Hope, the most southern point on the African continent. This spot is a must-see, with beautiful rock formations and lookouts over the ocean. For the adventurous, there is a lighthouse lookout and places to hike, and for those looking for a less demanding outing, watching the waves crash and smelling the ocean breeze is both exhilarating and calming.
We continued getting to see the natural beauty of Cape Town at the Tintsalow Boulders Hotel. It’s a small, 5-star boutique hotel with 8 rooms on Boulders Beach, about two hours outside the city. Aside from the intimate feel of a small hotel, the location is the primary draw, with an ocean boardwalk surrounded by penguins. This hotel is a wonderful option for those who want proximity to the city but love nature. Watching the penguins waddle, and wave surf on the small beach was unlike any hotel experience I’d ever had.
The next site inspection was at the iconic and historic Cape Grace Hotel on the V&A. Again, this location is a main attraction, but this time for its proximity to city life. If you want to get a taste of old Cape Town, this is undoubtedly a great option.
Cape of Good Hope
Day 4 – Table Mountain
Speaking of classic Cape Town, we took a bus tour around the city on Friday. I enjoyed the neighborhoods, especially where Nelson Mandela had influence, but my favorite site was Table Mountain, one of the modern 7 wonders of the world. More than 2,200 species of plants are there, and 70% of the flowers are native and exclusively found on the mountain. Table Mountain is a prime example of South Africa’s versatility, offering attractions to all travelers. Visitors can hike up the mountain or ride a cable car that rotates as it ascends to give even better city views. Our group chose to take the cable car. Our attendant was not especially keen on heights and sat in the center area that doesn’t rotate, proof that even those scared of heights can make it up! We took an easy 45-minute hike around the top, but there are longer hikes and opportunities to repel down the mountain if you’re particularly adventurous. I was shocked by how far out I could see and took in the city neighborhoods to the oceans.
Our tour ended at the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, where the lovely staff greeted us with champagne and smiles. It’s a sprawling property with breathtaking gardens in the middle of the city, especially well-suited for families and larger groups. We had a long lunch there with 3 courses which were all delicious.
After resting, we had dinner at Cape Cadogan, a small boutique hotel conveniently located off Kloof Street, the epicenter of town. Their restaurant, Upper Union, had a cozy yet opulent feel, complete with fireplaces and stained glass. I highly recommend this dining experience both for its exquisite food and ambiance.
View from Table Mountain
Dinner at Upper Union
Saturday – Wine and Spices
One thing you can’t miss in South Africa if you’re a wine lover is, of course, the Winelands about an hour outside Cape Town. We first visited Stellenbosch, a university town full of shops and restaurants. There were authentic African crafts like wood carvings and some fun soaps that I bought as souvenirs.
Following that we went to La Residence Hotel, a large, upscale place with a prominent French influence. In the heart of the wine country with opulent architecture and décor, this versatile hotel makes for a perfect romantic getaway for honeymooners to a great home base for families alike.
Then, driving further east, we came to the smaller town of Franschhoek. The town was established by French protestants (Huguenots) escaping religious persecutions, who brought their wine-making expertise to this region. We did a wine tasting, filled with wonderful red wines and small snacks.
In the evening, one of our group members, who is originally from South Africa, suggested Gold’s Spice Experience for our dinner. It ended up being one of the most memorable experiences of the trip. There is a large communal area for dining and a stage with interactive musical performances where diners get to join in with drums. We moved from here to a private dining area, and after finishing our dinner, we moved to the spice experience. We met with the restaurant owner, who brought out different spices and explained their origins and tasting profiles. We got to choose ones to pour into our unique spice concoction, which she mixed and toasted before bagging it for us to take home. Recently, I brought mine out to cook with and was instantly transported by the smell to my time in South Africa. This is a must-do experience, and I highly recommend making reservations before going.
View from the Winelands
Gold’s Spice Experience
Sunday – Zimbabwe
After a full time in Cape Town, we went to Zimbabwe. We took a small propeller bush plane for 10 people to get there, which was a new experience for me. I was initially apprehensive because I’d never done anything like that before and opted to sit in the middle, but by the end, I was sitting by the window, taking videos, and soaking it all in.
By afternoon, we arrived at Somalisa Camp in Hwange in time for an afternoon game viewing. The camp was smaller, and outside was a watering hole, about 50 feet away, where you could hear and see elephants splashing. We had a communal dinner outside, adding to the intimate feel of the camp.
Plane to Zimbabwe
Elephant outside Somalisa Camp
Monday – First Safari
Morning came, and it was time to get up and at ‘em. We woke up to coffee in our room at 6 am, had breakfast at 6:30 am, and left for a 7 am game drive. This schedule was the general setup of all our safaris, with an early morning game viewing lasting until 10:30 am before a break and lunch, followed by an evening viewing from 4:30 to 6:30 pm before dinner. This experience is focused on nature with more rustic rooms without TVs and early mornings, which can be a refreshing reset for those looking for that relaxing feel. Seeing wildlife and the African plains was an exciting experience, from the zebras to the elephants to the lions. We even got so close to a lion we could almost touch it! Though that might sound intimidating, the guides prepare you for the experience and are experts at what they do. They are phenomenal and provide “sundowners,” or snacks and cocktails while watching the sun go down.
Sundowner on safari
Tuesday – Safari and water experience
Tuesday was filled with more fun, starting with site inspections. We saw two luxury game reserves— Wallow Lodge, a peaceful camp so close to Victoria Falls you can see the mist, and Elephant Camp, situated on a Zambezi Gorges overlook. We ate lunch at an open-air restaurant on the falls with delicious food called the Lookout Café. Afterward, we arrived at our hotel for the night, the Stanley & Livingstone Hotel, a little outside of Victoria Falls. Staying at this boutique hotel was a highlight for me because of its intimate feel, and it is also notable for being very kid-friendly. I had expected just to see the waterfall during my time in Victoria Falls but was delighted to see bustling wildlife as well. I saw plenty of animals from my hotel room, including the elusive black rhino!
That evening we went on a sundowner cruise on the Zambezi River. I recommend this experience as it gave a different perspective of the animals we had seen throughout the trip. It was wild—pun intended—to be on the water with hippos and alligators.
Boat for our river tour
Hippos in the water on the river tour
Wednesday – Victoria Falls
Wednesday, we finally made it to the waterfall after 3 days in the area, and it was splendid. The falls has 18 different viewing stations, and as we got closer and closer, the guides gave us full-bodied ponchos because it got wetter and wetter. The colossal spray makes for rainbows all around, giving the experience a magical feeling. But the best part of seeing the falls was by far the helicopter tour, which was the highlight of my trip. It was my first helicopter ride, so I felt a bit nervous, but it was a gentle ride with breathtaking views.
Still riding the high of the ethereal Victoria Falls viewing, we went for lunch at the Victoria Falls Hotel. The hotel is old and grand, with a large lawn with a beautiful view of the falls and the 650ft steel bridge that runs across the falls.
Tired from the day, we returned to where we stayed at the Stanley & Livingstone Hotel to eat at their connected restaurant. The food was delicious, and they were so accommodating of my and others’ dietary restrictions.
Me and my wetsuit at the falls
In the helicopter ready to go
Rainbow views from the helicopter
Thursday – Safari, glamping style
We traveled to a new game reserve at the Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge for the next few days. This game reserve had a different feel than Somalisa Camp—less old Africa and more modern and upscale. This type of place would be for those travelers looking for more of a “glamping” experience. We were greeted with singing and dancing by the friendly staff and enjoyed our time seeing more of the African savanna here.
Friday – Safari and Leopards
We continued our stay at Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge. That area has so much wildlife and we saw elephants, giraffes, water buffalo, and impala. But the real highlight was our tenacious guide who was determined to find a leopard for us. He spent an hour tracking it, collaborating with other guides in the Hwange Park, and finding the perfect view. We spotted it after our guide maneuvered the jeep to get great photos of the leopard on a rock foundation. To our delight, it climbed down from the rocks into the grass to stroll right by our jeep!
Me with our safari jeep
Leopard prowling in the distance
Saturday – Safari and Lions
Saturday, we transferred to Duke’s Camp, an authentic tenting experience that reminded me of Out of Africa. Like everywhere else, the guides were terrific. The most memorable moment of that safari was watching the scene right after the killing of a zebra. While our group didn’t watch the kill, we saw lions and vultures surrounding it. It felt like we were really getting a glimpse into the savanna as it is when humans aren’t around.
Sunday – Botswanan Delta
We got to go to the water for a boat tour around the Botswanan Okavango Delta on Sunday. Again, it was wonderful to see a new perspective. Because Botswana is in the wetland, it was more lush and green compared to my safari time in Zimbabwe which was a more traditional savannah experience. We also went on mokoros, a type of canoe, with guides pulling us down the river with poles.
On the Mokoro
After our last tour, it was time to return home, having seen the cities and savannas of South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. There are some bucket list destinations you visit once to experience and then move on to the next city, but this was a trip that you’re itching to go back to after you experience it. The city of Cape Town is unique and unusual compared to European cities but so chic at the same time. Apart from the city, the African savanna has a near-magical feel that captivated our attention with every safari. I am grateful for my time exploring, and hope to help you create your own African experience!