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Trip Report A First Journey to Southern Africa: Cape, Falls, and Animal Safaris

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Africa! The word evokes images of vast, open lands teeming with rich wildlife and a melting pot of diverse cultures. A trip to Africa has been on our minds in an on-again, off-again sort of way. While we’ve had dreams of an African adventure, we’ve been put off by the large financial costs associated such a trip, especially when we are interested in maintaining some of the creature comforts we’ve grown used to on our other travels.

Serious consideration of a trip to Africa, in what would be our first, began in the spring of last year, upon our return from Sri Lanka. We’ve thought about making return visits to Japan and Australia, both countries we’ve enjoyed immensely, as well as new destinations ranging from Burma to Iran to Central Asia. At the time, I had an itch to take a look at how our home currency, the U.S. dollar, as performing against other currencies and noticed that the exchange rate against the South African rand was at historic highs and thought to ourselves, this may be our opportunity. (At the time, one dollar purchased about 11 rands; today is around 15!).

We’ve contacted about half a dozen or so travel agents, including recommendations from some of you (special thanks to ekscrunchy, christabir, diannelovestravel, and DarrenHumphreys who answered several of my questions) as well as those that come recommended on other websites and in guidebooks. Through the process, we settled upon Dave Patterson from The Africa Safari. I don’t know what it was, but we hit it off over email. He was very responsive and was willing to work with us on a whole ‘nuther level, and I developed a comfort level working with him that I hadn’t with the others.

Together we developed an itinerary that would check off our interests - Cape Town, Victoria Falls, and time on safari - as follows:

Cape Town (Mount Nelson) – 5 nights
Franschhoek (Akademie Street) – 3 nights
Sabi Sands (Kirkman’s Kamp) – 4 nights
Victoria Falls (Ilala Lodge) – 2 nights
Chobe (Chobe Under Canvas) – 3 nights
Johannesburg (54 on Bath) – 3 nights

We leave for our first trip to Africa tomorrow. I haven’t settled on whether or not this will become a live report or it be easier for me to share our experience upon our return, but I look forward to sharing our journey with you.

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    Have a ssssssuper safari, tripplanner001. Sunny, windy and some rain showers here in Cape Town at the moment...situation normal, in other words :-). We've also had some very welcome rain in the Greater Kruger as well as the Zambezi-Chobe-Okavango looking forward to your trip report/s.
    Darren Humphrys

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    Bon Voyage tripplanner001... will appreciate it if you can share the TA that you considered. We are planning a similar itinerary albeit a bit shortier than yours. Thanks.

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    I've just been reading your Mexico City TR so looking forward to reading this one too, have fun! I have to say we've picked or prioritized lots of trips based on the exchange rate ;).

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    I'll be following too as we were in the same boat for our 1st trip. Had always wanted to go, but cost and the complexity held us back.

    Sounds like your trip will have a lot in common with ours, can't wait as I suspect it will bring back wonderful memories of our trip.

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    Nina, we went with Dave Patterson of the Africa Safari. I have a list of the other agents we considered at home and would be glad to share them with you when I return. Unfortunately, I cannot remember them from the top of my head.

    Sartoric, I hope I can continue to live up to your expectations.

    Brit, hope my Mexico City report gives you some ideas. The exchange rate is the primary reason we went with South Africa this year and was one of the reasons we went to Brazil a couple of years ago.

    DebitNM, thank you for following along. Your report was one I used during my research.

    Ekscrunchy, thank you for the tips you've given to me as I was planning this trip. Glad you're following too.

    With that, here's an installment of my report:

    Arriving on African Soil

    We traveled from Washington, DC, to Cape Town, South Africa, via London and Johannesburg on British Airways economy class. Our intercontinental flights were uneventful and rather straightforward. The service was friendly and the food onboard better-than-expected. Our flight from DC to London was on a Boeing 777 aircraft while we flew on the A380 from London to Johannesburg. The A380 flight was more comfortable than the one on the 777, especially with our upper-deck seats.

    We departed Washington, DC, on time and arrived in London a bit earlier than scheduled. Given that our London to Johannesburg flight did not leave until 7pm that evening, we had nine hours of layover time in London and decided to hop on the Tube into the central part of the city for lunch and a quick stroll. From Heathrow Airport, we travelled to Leicester Square, a convenient area to explore as it is served by the Piccadilly Line (the same line that runs to the airport). We spent about 4 hours in the area where we enjoyed a nice dim sum lunch at Golden Phoenix in London’s Chinatown. We ordered a variety of dishes and each was absolutely delicious. The dim sum prepared by Golden Phoenix ranks among the best we’ve had from dim sum establishments in most parts of the world.

    We headed back to the airport for our flight to Johannesburg mid-afternoon and spent the remainder of our time in the British Airways Galleries Lounge. Unfortunately due to some issues at Heathrow, our flight from Africa experienced a 30-minute or so delay upon arrival in Johannesburg. Normally I’m not too bothered with flight delays but I began to worry in this particular instance. The reason for our concern was that the flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town was issued under a different airline reservation, apart from the flights between DC and London and London and Johannesburg. The delay meant that we would have about 75 minutes to connect at OR Tambo International Airport, with extremely long lines at passport control as well as security. We proceeded to the front of the lines in each case and were met with sympathy both times. We arrived at the gate for our Cape Town flight with about 20 minutes to spare before boarding started.

    We landed in Cape Town at approximately 11am, withdrew some South African rands from the ATM, and grabbed a taxi to take us to our hotel, the Belmond Mount Nelson (thanks ekscrunchy for your excellent recommendation). Situated in the Gardens neighborhood of Cape Town, the Mount Nelson is a historic hotel. The property is gorgeous with its pink façade, beautiful flowers, and views of Table Mountain. There is a charm to the place that makes me feel like I was transported back to the Victorian days when South Africa was still a British colony. We took advantage of a sale several months ago, along with the favorable exchange rate, and booked two junior suites in the Green Park building; the rooms are sizeable tastefully appointed.

    We dropped our luggage in our rooms, took quick showers, and dove into Cape Town. We made advance reservations for a trip to Robben Island for 3pm this afternoon, so we were on our way to the ferry departure point at V&A Waterfront via taxi.

    To bed now. More to come…

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    TP - you are braver than me. perhaps I'm a bit of a nervous ninny when it comes to such things, but worrying about getting back to LHR in time for my onward flight would have given me indigestion, no matter how good the dim sum, and then the strain of worrying about missing a trip I had booked on the day of arrival would just about have finished me off!

    looking forward to more...

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    Ann, I hear you and it really wasn't about the food or any sightseeing, but with nine hours at Heathrow, we knew we had the option of not staying in the airport for the entire time.

    Emmie, you should definitely try to include Cape Town on your itinerary if possible. I don't know your preferences but I feel like I've fallen in love with the city just like I have with a few others.

    Dianne, thank you again. Glad you are following along.

    Robben Island

    With a late morning arrival into Cape Town following two back-to-back redeye flights, we wanted to ease our way into our trip on our first afternoon on African soil. We decided on visiting Robben Island for our introduction to Cape Town given its significance to South Africa’s modern history, the ability to view the city from the water, and the relative ease of organizing a visit. Robben Island was where the country’s political leaders opposed to apartheid, including Nelson Mandela, were infamously incarcerated.

    From our hotel, we made our way via taxi to V&A Waterfront with some time to do a quick stroll around the waterfront before it was time for our ferry departure. Despite its existence largely as a tourist hub with restaurants and souvenir shops, we enjoyed our brief time here. The area offered a lively vibe, and the views towards Table Mountain and surrounding peaks and the water were gorgeous. We were especially lucky when it came to the views as it was warm, sunny, and clear during our visit.

    We made our way to the ticket desk and ferry dock for Robben Island about 45 minutes prior to our scheduled 3pm departure. We had made advanced reservations for Robben Island as we had known that there would be a possibility that it would be sold out when we wanted to visit. Located at the ferry dock is a small but interesting museum that houses exhibits about South Africa’s recent history with apartheid and the struggle for freedom. I enjoyed learning about some of the key individuals who made a difference in the country’s movement towards democracy although I was not aware of some of the key names such as Robert Sobukwe, the founder of the Pan-Africanist Congress. The exhibits gave me greater appreciation of what I was about to experience on Robben Island.

    The ferry departed the dock at 3pm sharp and it was smooth sailing to Robben Island; the journey took approximately 45 minutes. Once on the island, we were divided into groups and herded onto a bus for an orientation tour of the island. On our bus tour we passed by key sites on the island including the prison buildings, a cemetery, and rock quarries where the political prisoners were forced to work. We even saw a handful of African penguins along the way. The tour consisted of three stops – at the home in which Robert Sobukwe was in incarcerated, a restroom and refreshment break, and at the main prison complex. At the restroom and refreshment break we were treated to gorgeous views of Table Mountain across the water as well as a rather unexpected colony of African penguins along the shore. The final and most important stop of the tour is the main prison complex, where we were met by a former political prisoner for the remainder of our visit to the island.

    All the guides of the actual prison complex on Robben Island are led by former political prisoners who had served time here and ours was no exception. In addition to viewing some of the cells and common facilities, I appreciated hearing firsthand from our political prisoner guide about what life was really like as a prisoner on Robben Island, down to their segregated diets. Towards the end of the tour we were able to view former President Mandela’s jail cell.

    While I typically dislike group tours, especially those that involve large numbers, we believed that the former political prisoner turned guide offered value and color to our visit in a way that we would never have experienced otherwise. Besides we did not mind having to sketch out and follow a self-generated itinerary only hours into our vacation.

    The prison visit was followed by a ferry ride back to the waterfront, possibly the day’s last. What resulted was a long time of waiting for fellow guests but most importantly employees who worked on the island. Thankfully the return journey took just under 30 minutes.

    Back at the dock we made our way to Baia Restaurant, an upscale seafood place located inside the Victoria Wharf shopping complex, for dinner. The restaurant is Portuguese-themed and serves a good variety of local seafood. We were particularly pleased with our appetizers, tempura lobsters and abalone, but had mixed reviews when it came to the main entrees. The seafood platter I ordered was decent but not the best. One of my traveling companions ordered fish and came to the same uninspiring conclusion. Another ordered a beef steak and was satisfied with his choice.

    Following dinner, we walked over to the Victoria and Alfred Hotel, from where we hailed a taxi cab back to our hotel.

    Table Mountain

    We gave ourselves two options for our first full day in Cape Town – either a self-guided walking tour of the city’s central core or a hike up Table Mountain. The first order of business on Saturday morning was a check of the weather conditions on Table Mountain and it was a “go” given the warm and sunny outlook for the day. We initially hesitated on visiting Table Mountain so early into our stay in Cape Town, especially given the amount of physical activity required and our inability to recover from our long international flights yet. However we did not want to risk a downturn in the weather on our remaining days in the city and decided to go for it.

    Fortified with a significant breakfast at our hotel, we took a short taxi ride to the entrance to the Platteklip Gorge hike, not too far from the lower station of the aerial tramway. There are numerous trails up and down Table Mountain but we decided upon Platteklip Gorge as it was the easiest and most straightforward. The hike up Table Mountain took a little over three hours for us, although it could easily be done in about two to two and a half hours with shorter breaks; we took our time with our ascent given that we were still coming off our international flights and still felt a bit “lazy”. There was nothing technically challenging about the hike and could be done by anyone with a reasonable degree of fitness. The trail goes up the front face of Table Mountain, mostly up staircases and along gravel paths. Along the ways are views up the front face of the Mountain along with Devil’s Peak and Lions Head as well as the city below. We also spent time to admire the geology of the Mountain, which became more interesting in the final section of the ascent.

    From the top of Table Mountain, we turned left and made our way along the table towards Maclears Beacon. The trail towards Maclears is mostly along flat paths with a couple places that offered any type of elevation. We were surrounded by fynbos throughout much of this walk as we had experienced during our hike up the mountain. We also noticed the difference in geology among various sections of the table. For example, the area around Maclears was carpeted with rounded boulders while the previous section had rocks that were more square and rectangular in shape. All around were gorgeous views of the scenery below; we saw parts of Cape Peninsula clearly from up above as well as the city below and Robben Island just off the coast.

    The walk to Maclears Beacon and back took about an hour and from there it was another hour or so to the aerial cableway’s upper station. The walk to the station was again supposed to be quick and relatively straightforward, except that we lingered at various viewpoints to take in the magnificent scenery all around us. It was along the way to the station that we saw the best sceneries of the day.

    Near the cableway station is a nice café with a good variety of food options. We ate a long, late afternoon lunch at the café and spent some more time admiring everything that was around us.

    The views on top of Table Mountain rank among some of the best we’ve seen throughout our travels. Perhaps it’s because of the surrounding mountains with the city and the blue waters below, but Table Mountain very much reminded me of the views we experienced atop Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro. As a matter of fact, much about Cape Town reminded me of Rio.

    We made our way down Table Mountain via cableway around 4pm. The ride down was only a couple of minutes in duration on a rotating cable car, which I did not expect nor had I experienced in the past. From the bottom of the mountain, we waited about five minutes for a taxi cab, which we took back to our hotel for showers and short afternoon naps.

    For dinner we headed to Carne SA, situated in the Gardens neighborhood just off Long Street, an easy walk from our hotel. Known for its high-quality meats, we really enjoyed the food offered. The steaks were divine and went very well with some South African wines. My only complaint was that the service was very done on the night we visited, which we understood was the result of a sudden temporary shortage in the kitchen.

    Today was another glorious day in Cape Town and we spent it touring Cape Peninsula by car. Tomorrow we’re off for a self-guided tour of the downtown areas and Tuesday will be spent at Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens and hopefully another hike or two. More to come later…

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    I agree TP that Capetown should be part of anyone's first visit to SA [and probably their second and third too!] Like you we were lucky enough to have a clear day on our first day there so we grabbed the opportunity to go up the mountain, in our case using the revolving cable car to go up and down as we wanted to go to Kirstenbosch gardens in the afternoon.

    something to remember when you get there - the shop has one of the best selections of beautiful souvenirs that I remember seeing anywhere. Take your credit card!

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    Capetown is one of my favorite cities in the world, having visited four times with a fifth coming in July. Even so, reading your TR brings a smile to my face. Thank you and keep it coming!

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    Ann, thanks for the tip. There's already been a couple of wood piece that have caught my eye here in Cape Town.

    Lolazahra, I'm happy to bring back pleasant memories for you. Given your multiple visit, any hikes in and around the city you may suggest given what we've done so far? We probably have room for something tomorrow.

    Nina88, will do.

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    A Perfect Day, Cape Peninsula Style

    What a glorious day our Sunday was! It was sunny and warm the entire day, and perfect for an outing to Cape Peninsula. Of course, we had no idea what the weather would be when we made reservations for our day trip about two months ago. All we could do is hope for the best, and indeed the day unfold just as we would have wanted; we could not have asked for anything more.

    Along with Table Mountain and Robben Island, a day down the coast exploring Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope was an obligatory part of our trip to Cape Town. And we also had our hearts set on visiting the penguins at Boulders Beach. Unfortunately none of us are drivers and we wanted to experience Cape Peninsula on our own terms. The next best option for us was to go on a private tour in which we could instruct our driver to follow an itinerary that suited our interests. We proceeded with a search of available private guides and contacted three of them. The only response I received was from Clive de Bruyne, who I found online, but he was not available on Sunday. Instead he recommended that I contact PG Tops Travel & Tours, and helped connect us. Madelaine from PG Tops responded almost immediately. She understood what we wanted and worked with us to book a day out to the Cape Peninsula. She and her colleagues responded to my questions and gave us what we wanted.

    On Sunday we were met by our driver, Johan Wolmarans, at our hotel promptly at 8:30am and off we went. We drove along the Atlantic coast from Green Point near the stadium that was built to host the 2010 World Cup down to Camps Bay, where we had our first stop. It was here that we had our first (and possibly only on this trip) glimpse of the Twelve Apostles with the beautiful sandy beach and ocean down below. It was here that we began to fall in love with Cape Town and thought about it in comparison with two of our favorite cities in the world – Sydney, Australia; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We only stopped at Camps Bay for a quick photo stop before heading to Hout Bay for our 9:30 cruise to Seal Island.

    Hout Bay is very picturesque with a harbor filled with pleasure boats and other vessels. Although I’ve not been to Northern Europe, the misty hills, jagged mountains, and smooth waters remind me of what I imagine parts of Scandinavia, particularly Norway, to appear. Our boat, the Calypso, was filled with guests from two medium-sized tour groups and a handful of stragglers including us. Fortunately the tour groups were not overbearing or overwhelming as they frequently can be. The cruise lasted approximately 45 minutes and we sailed to an island off the coast that is home to what seemed to be hundreds of seals. It was fun to see them move around on the island and playing amongst themselves in the water.

    From Hout Bay we continued down the coast along Chapman’s Peak Drive. While I understand its popularity, I was not wowed by this stretch of the coast. We were all far more impressed with the scenery around Camps Bay and will truly fall in love with the region when visiting Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. For all the expectations, Chapman’s Peak Drive, for me, does not compare favorably with similar destinations such as the California Coast and Australia’s Great Ocean Road. Nevertheless, the drive was scenic and I enjoyed admiring the engineering accomplishes along the way.

    We continued down the coast passing the villages of Kommetjie and Misty Cliffs before entering Table Mountain National Park. Along the way we spotted a bontebok and a couple of ostriches at a nearby farm. We continued south and eventually reached the starting point of the trails that led down to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. We started with Cape Point, walking up the path that leads from the visitors’ center to the lighthouse atop the cape. The walk up was fairly easy (those who prefer can also take a funicular up most of the cliff). We particularly admired the gorgeous views of Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope from the lookout points carved into the side of the cliff.

    From Cape Point, we headed back to the visitors’ center and onward to Two Oceans Restaurant, where our drivers had made reservations for us for lunch. The restaurant is located on the coast with wonderful views of the sea. The food was to match. We each ordered seafood, along with Johan, who we asked to sit with us. The calamari was delicious, as were the crayfish, langoustines, and prawns.

    Fueled, we continued our exploration of this section of coastline. We followed the Cape of Good Hope Scenic Trail which runs between Cape Point and the cape with its namesake. Rambling down some stairs, we headed left towards the Cape Point lookout. From here we turned back and headed due east towards the Cape of Good Hope. The views kept on improving with our every move. This was where we truly fell in love with the region. How could the scenery, already perfect, get any better! And get better it did. From the interesting geologic formations that looked different from one section of the coast to the next to the wider and wider panoramas to secluded Diaz Beach, we were at a loss for words. I wish I had so much more time here, but it was getting late and time to move on.

    We made our way back up the coast, this time on the eastern side hugging False Bay (we were on the western side all day, along the Atlantic seaboard) until we reached our final destination of the trip, Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town. We spent approximately a good half hour, if not a little more, watching the penguins do their thing. We saw everything from penguins coming up the water following their fishing expeditions to penguins nursing their young to some of them moulting and others sunbathing. Oh, they are so cute. Oh, I so want to hug them. We haven’t seen as many penguins in our lives, in captivity or in the wild.

    We returned to Cape Town via a scenic route that allowed us to see more of the city and its surrounds, and were back at our hotel by about 5:30pm.

    While the itinerary with its stops, activities, and duration could not have been better for a day trip, Johan helped made our day. He is very knowledgeable about everything there is to know about Cape Town and its surrounding region. Throughout the day we chatted about everything from modern South African politics to economic conditions within the country to sports and other topics. Johan is very kind, professional, and did everything he could to make our day as comfortable and as enjoyable as possible, and he passed with flying colors. I highly recommend Johan and PG Tops, and hope to go out with him someday.

    Today, Monday, we spent our day doing a self-guided tour of the central portion of the city. Tomorrow, Tuesday, we’re off to Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens in the morning and possibly a seafront walk and / or Lions Head later in the day. More hopefully in the next day or two…

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    Great time, I can just hear it In your voice! Didn't you love the braying of the Penguins? It is so amazing. We went on a couple of free (donation only) walking tours downtown and found them to be informative and very enjoyable, we had a great guide.

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    I am loving this report. Brings back wonderful memories and lifts me up as I am very sad that I had to postpone my spring trip until next year.

    Agree that CapeTown is magical and certainly one of the world's most gorgeous cities. So good that you liked your guide. The bar seems very high for hotels (so happy that you are enjoying the Mt Nelson; there was some special/unusual item on their breakfast buffet tables that I remember asking about but for the life of me cannot remember what it was right now..) and guides, and all tourist-related things in general, in SA.

    Take a peek at the Mt Nelson tea even if you do not actually partake.

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    Ekscrunchy, I'm glad I am able to give you the opportunity to experience South Africa through me until you come here again. And, yes, I did have my peek at tea and very much wanted to partake after our hike of Table Mountain, but returned too late. Gives me a good reason to return.

    The Urban Side of Cape Town

    Monday was our fourth day in the city and we have yet to explore its downtown core, which is quite unusual for us. Even though we have a fondness for the outdoors, especially topography that involves elevation, we have a special attachment to cities and very much enjoy digging into major metropolises. We typically begin our visit to a new city with one or more self-guided walking tours to get to know a new place. We set a record in Cape Town by being here for three days and not having really explored its inner-city streets. At the same time, we did not want to miss the city's key highlights - Table Mountain, Robben Island, and Cape Peninsula - when the weather was perfect. Monday, though, was no exception in the weather; it was another sunny and warm day albeit about 10 degrees cooler (we prefer it in the 70s). We used a self-guided walk suggested by Cape Town Magazine ( to help us organize our day.

    Our self-guided walking tour commenced at the Castle of Good Hope, the place where the city's European colonial history started. The Castle of Good Hope is a large building that was the residence of the city's Dutch rulers and is now the home of several museums. Unfortunately, the Castle was largely under restoration during our visit. As a result, a large part of the complex was closed to the public. However, we did manage to get a good idea of the complex, witnessed a reproduction of the key ceremony, saw a demonstration of a cannon firing, and drunk in the views of the nearby downtown area from the top of the defensive walls.

    From the Castle of Good Hope we made our way to City Hall and the District Six Museum. District Six was a mixed race, working class community near the Castle of Good Hope that was destroyed during the apartheid era when the government designated the area for whites only and evicted the others from their homes. The museum does an excellent job telling the stories of community, separation, oppression, and survival in apartheid South Africa through the perspectives of ordinary people. It stands as a reminder to what policies rooted in hate could do to a society. In some ways, the legacy of apartheid, the struggles, the recent triumph against apartheid, and the lingering scars from it were felt throughout our journey across the city today. For a first-time visitor to South Africa, it gave me a greater appreciation of what took place here and was as much a part of the experience of my visit here as blockbuster attractions such as Table Mountain.

    Moving along we made our way down to Company's Gardens, passing by the South African Parliament building and the office of the President. Created by the Dutch East India Company during the 17th century to grow produce to supply its ships sailing between the Netherlands and the East Indies, Company's Gardens is today an expansive green respite in the heart of the city. We enjoyed a pleasant walk amongst the gardens and appreciated our short break from urban life. We also ate lunch at the restaurant located inside the garden; the food was perfect and the atmosphere very relaxed.

    From Company's Gardens we continued on to St. George's Cathedral, the Anglican church that claims Archbishop Desmond Tutu as its leader during the end of the apartheid era. From the cathedral we made our way to the Slave Lodge, a museum that told the story of the struggles of peoples across the African continent and as far away as South India and Indonesia being brought to Cape Town as part of the slave trade in the age of European colonialism. We were again very moved by our experience at the museum, not only parting with a better understanding of the struggles that people went through but of the triumph and endurance of the human spirit. This is a theme that seems to carry us through our visit to Cape Town and very much a part of the fabric of this city.

    Our walking tour continued along Long and Bree Streets, two of Cape Town's very important commercial arteries, and into the Bo Kaap neighborhood. Bo Kaap is the home of Cape Malays who came to South Africa from Southeast Asia and is famous for the pastel color homes that line its streets below Signal Hill. We toured the neighborhood museum for a better understanding of what life was like for this group and how they too suffered under the yoke of apartheid.

    From Bo Kaap we made our way to Greenmarket Square, the second largest public square in Cape Town after Grand Parade right by City Hall. The square is surrounded by several architecturally significant buildings dating back to the Dutch colonial area. On the square itself are a large collection of stalls selling cheap souvenirs.

    After making a few purchases we headed up to Strand Street and followed what is dubbed the Fan Mile to Green Point Stadium, one of the sites of the 2010 World Cup. From Green Point Stadium, it was a short walk to V&A Waterfront. I bought a wood piece that I had my eyes on from an earlier visit and the lady in our group made a jewelry purchase here.

    For dinner we went to Panama Jack's, a seafood restaurant located at the commercial shipping and warehousing section of the waterfront. The restaurant has a hole-in-the-wall, fisherman feel to it, and looks a bit rough around the edges, but boy oh boy the grilled lobsters and abalones are so delicious.

    A Lazy Last Day in Cape Town

    We began our last day in the Mother City with a visit to Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens. It was another perfect morning in terms of weather so the mountains behind the gardens were in full visibility. We spent about two hours at the gardens, mostly focused on the flora native to South Africa. The gardens are very extensive and manicured for easy strolling. To be honest, we initially did not have high expectations of Kirstenbosch (I don't know why), but Craig, a frequent poster here, piqued my curiosity, and he was absolutely right that this ranks among the best gardens in the world.

    From Kirstenbosch we decided to head down to the False Bay seafront for the better part of the day. We traveled by taxi to Muizenberg, a surfer community outside of Cape Town. We ate lunch at Empire Cafe, a block away from Surfers Corner. It's a casual backpacker / surfer cafe with good, simple food and great milkshakes. We took a long stroll along the beach after lunch, making our way from Muizenberg to St. James and onwards to Kalk Bay, an antique mecca. Along the way are the iconic changing rooms painted in primary colors lining the beach. It was a nice, lazy way to end our visit to Cape Town.

    From Kalk Bay, it was an approximate 30 minute journey back to Cape Town via train and back to Panama Jack's for dinner for a second night in a row.

    Next stop: Franschhoek

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    Thanks, tripplanner001! We are leaving for Cape Town, the Winelands and 7 days on safari near Kruger in just 2 1/2 weeks. Your wonderful, detailed report is getting me very excited. Can't wait to read the next installment.

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    Nina88 and Hax, you're both welcome. I'm glad I can share my experiences in a way that may be useful to you or at least get your thoughts flowing. I hope to get you another installment today.

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    Afternoon in Franschhoek

    Our journey across Southern Africa continued from Cape Town to Franschhoek. We traveled by private van transfer arranged by our travel agent.

    We reluctantly left Cape Town and the Mount Nelson hotel at 10am following another outstanding breakfast at the veranda overlooking the main pool. The trip from Cape Town to Franschhoek was easy, taking about one hour.

    Franschhoek is a small and very picturesque village located in the Cape Winelands. It was founded by French Huguenots who fled persecution in Europe hundreds of years ago, and contributed greatly to the development of the economy and culture of this area. There is a joie-de-vie feeling here. The village feels very much like a laid-back holiday village.

    We spend our first afternoon in Franschhoek with a stroll along the village's main street, Huguenot Road, browsing the Cape Dutch-style town hall and village church. We also browsed the beautiful shops located all along the street, picking up some delicious chocolates at Huguenot Chocolates, a nice polo shirt at Franschhoek Feeling, and a light brown ostrich leather handbag from Karoo Classics. We enjoyed a nice lunch at The French Connection, which was one of the most delightful meals we had during our entire stay in the village. The atmosphere and décor of The French Connection is that of a Paris bistro, and the food - everything from the crispy duck to the veal schnitzel to the vegetables and the desserts - was fantastic. If we had another afternoon to enjoy lunch, we would come back here.

    Following lunch, we connected to browse shops along the main road. We eventually reached the Huguenot Monument and Museum, just off the main road at the edge of the village. The museum is a good place for us to learn about the origins of the French Huguenots, their journey to the Cape, and their ways of life here.

    With still about 90 minutes of daylight, we made our way further north to Le Lude, a winery that specializes in sparkling wine. We enjoyed the wines at the beautiful restaurant located here.

    We chose Foliage for our first dinner in Franschhoek and boy did it not disappoint. The items on the menu were unique and inventive. I enjoyed a delicious crayfish starter followed by a pulled suckling pig pasta and an even more satisfying dark chocolate flowerpot dessert.

    A Day in the Vineyards

    We devoted the first of two full days in Franschhoek to a tour of the wineries. Given that we do not drive and taxis do not exist in the village, we decided on the Franschhoek Wine Tram, which takes visitors to up to six wineries via bus and tram. We began our day with a visit to the smallest winery of the day, La Petite Dauphine, and enjoyed the wines in the outdoor space. From La Petite Dauphine, we continued to La Bourgogne, another small winery where we enjoyed wines and very good olive oils. La Couronne is the next stop on our itinerary, and it was one of our favorites. We enjoyed a quick lunch of pizzas there, following by some very delicious chocolates. We continued on to Mont Rochelle before trading our bus for a tram that took us to Rickety Bridge and Grande Provence. There is a nice art gallery at Grande Provence that is worth a peek. La Bourgogne has a very cozy feel to it and at Grande Provence we felt like we were at a rural wine farm in France. My favorites were La Couronne and Rickety Bridge. I did not enjoy Mont Rochelle very much; it is large and feels very commercial and the staff was the least friendly of all.

    We capped a very full day with dinner at Reuben's. It was here that one of my travel companions and I had our first taste of game - springbok steaks. Springbok is definitely not my thing but everything was very well prepared and delicious nonetheless.

    Day Three in Franschhoek: Striking Out

    Our last day in Franschhoek was devoted to hiking. We planned on hiking the Du Toitskop Trail at the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve, which supposedly offered gorgeous views of the valley and the surrounding region. The only issue is that the entrance to the reserve is about 8 kilometers outside of town and there is a dearth of taxis and public transportation available. Starting out from our hotel, Akademie Street, we began making our way towards the entrance to the reserve. Starting out on foot, we were soon met with obstacle after obstacle. Signage to the reserve was nonexistent, the staff at the nearby wineries that we asked for directions along the way gave conflicting information, and there were no sidewalks or pedestrian paths. We attempted to make our way to the entrance for about 90 minutes before giving up as we understood that we were far from the entrance.

    It was time for a change of plans. A couple of hours horseback riding in the vineyards would be nice. Again, it was not meant to be. We spent another 90 minutes not being able to locate the horse stables just outside of the village.

    Frustrated and tired, we turned around and headed back to the village. By now, it was time for lunch and we decided on Dutch East, a place that serves primarily meat, but with an Asian twist. We enjoyed our meal here and had our first experience with deep-fried milk tart, which I understand to be very popular here in South Africa. It tasted somewhat like apple pie, although I enjoyed it.

    Following lunch, we burned a few extra holes in our wallet due to the retail therapy we put ourselves on. We spent a good part of the afternoon just relaxing in our hotel, which actually turned out to be good for us after nearly a week of nonstop sightseeing.

    We took our last meal in Franschhoek at La Petite Ferme, a winery not too far from the village. I enjoyed a delicious fillet of beef paired with an amazing dark chocolate tart. We were skeptical about La Petite Ferme, especially after Foliage and Reuben's, but it turned out to be a perfect choice.

    Akademie Street Boutique Hotel and Guesthouses

    Thanks to the recommendation of ekscrunchy, we decided to make Akademie Street, a small boutique property of six rooms, our home for our three nights in Franschhoek. The hotel is small but very cozy and full of character. The hospitality by the owner managers Declan and Stacy, night time staff member Flip, and the rest of the staff, especially Margie, stood out and will be something I would remember for a long time. The rooms are comfortable and spacious. The breakfasts served daily are healthy and delicious. Declan, Stacy, and their staff went out of their way to make our stay comfortable and there were nothing that was too major or too small for them. It's a place we hope to return to should we come back to Franschhoek.

    Our Thoughts on Franschhoek

    While we give Akademie Street extremely high marks, our impressions of Franschhoek is mixed. Perhaps we are colored by the frustrations experienced today, but unless you plan on visiting wineries day after day, you really need your own set of wheels to get around. Because none of us are drivers, we had a hard time getting around. Perhaps the nearly city of Stellenbosch, which I understand has a better infrastructure, would have been a better choice for us, we nonetheless enjoyed the atmosphere and charm of Franschhoek not to mention the Gallic joie-de-vie and holiday-like atmosphere that is found here. If I get to redo my visit, I may have scheduled only two nights here or at least prearrange transportation if we wanted to partake in activities such as hiking and horseback riding.

    Tomorrow we are off to Sabi Sands, where we are eagering anticipating our first African safari. Until then...

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    Interesting about Franschhoek; I agree that two nights would be best. So glad you liked Akademie Street; those names do not sound familiar so I think there are new owners since I stayed there. It is a beautiful place. In a beautiful town, in a beautiful country!!

    SO so excited for your upcomming stay in Sabi Sands! Do tell all, when you get time!!

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    DebitNM and Ekscrunchy, thank you so much for continuing to follow along and commenting. And now to the installment you've been waiting for:

    Our First Rendez-Vous with the African Bush

    We awoke early this morning for the start of the next leg of our trip, to Sabi Sand, located just outside of Kruger National Park in eastern South Africa. What excitement knowing that we will be on our very first African safari within hours!!

    We traveled by private transfer from Franschhoek to Cape Town International Airport, where we caught our flight from Cape Town to Skukuza. The South African Airways flight was on a small plane but comfortable and the service was decent. We landed at Skukuza airport on schedule and were met by our ranger, Barney, who took us to our home for the next four nights - Kirkman's Kamp.

    Kirkman's Kamp is an &Beyond property located in Sabi Sand Game Reserve. The lodge is situated in the southeastern part of the reserve just north of Kruger National Park. The Sand River flows right by the guest rooms on the property and the Sabi River is not very far away. The rooms are very tastefully decorated. We chose Kirkman's Kamp for its location as well as the excellent value it offers (we were able to receive a lower rate as we combined a visit to Kirkman's with a visit to one of &Beyond's properties in Botswana) and it is one of the few places that prices in South African rands.

    We received our first taste of a game drive on the way from the airport to the lodge. We spotted our first impala as we left the airport and soon came upon two more. At this point, we were bursting with eager anticipation.

    We were warmly greeted by the lodge staff upon arrival with fresh towels and a refreshing drink and were given a tour of the property. Following the tour we were served a nice, light lunch. After lunch, we were shown to our rooms to freshen up before meeting with our ranger to go on our first game drive.

    Barney is a ranger at Ngala Game Reserve, another &Beyond property nearby. With Ngala undergoing renovation, Barney was assigned to Kirkman's Kamp, a place he's familiar with. Accompanying Barney is our tracker, David.

    At 3:30, we met at the outdoor patio for some iced tea, coffee, and milk tart, a popular South African dessert. During this time we were provided with a brief orientation before joining with an American couple who would be joining us on the game drive.

    At about 4, the six of us, together with Barney and David, set out. The American couple just came from a few nights at another nearby lodge and knew what to expect. We, on the other hand, were new to all of this. It was not long before we spotted our first animal: a beautiful male giraffe. What a sight! We saw more animals as the afternoon wore on, everything from impalas to kudus to warthogs. We were on the search for wild dogs when our ranger received report of a lion sighting nearby and off we went. Along the way we encountered a small herd of elephants, including a couple of very young ones. And we were thisclose to them! As we left the elephants in pursuit of the reported lion, one of my travel companions and I muttered softly to each other at the same time: "This is the reason we came to Africa". Indeed it was, and at the moment, all we could think about was how lucky we were to be in the middle of the African bush in such close proximity to some of the most beautiful animals in the world. I could stay here forever.

    We eventually reached the lions. There were actually two of them, both resting on a rock far away and barely within eye sight. Unfortunately we could not get close to them as they were within the boundaries of Kruger National Park and we could not enter park property. By now it was nightfall, but we continued in our pursuit of animals. It was not too long before we heard reports about a leopard sighting and off we went. We found the leopard soon after and was tracking it for a good bit of time before we left to make room for others. Three of the Big Five (leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo, and rhino) in one afternoon! Pure magic!

    Before this trip, other than what we've seen at zoos, we've only been on one animal safari - at Yala National Park in Sri Lanka. What really bothered me at Yala was the number of jeeps surrounding one animal at any given time, to the point that the animal, I thought, felt threatened or trapped. We experienced none of this today. Throughout the afternoon, we only saw a handful of vehicles in passing and only had one other vehicle join us at any given time. We were to ourselves mostly. And we had a large area of land to traverse; in addition to the property that Kirkman's sits on, there's an agreement in place with Lion Sands that permitted us on their property too.

    Following what we thought was a very successful first experience with our African bush safari, we returned to our rooms for a quick freshening up before joining with our guide for drinks and an outdoor boma dinner. What a perfect way to end a most memorable day!

    And with that, I bid you all a very good night from the African bush. More soon...

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    Warm Sunday greetings from our home of Singapore to you, tripplanner - and thank you kindly for more brilliant writing. (Had ventured onto the Fodor's Africa / Middle East board in partial preparation for a work-related flight to Dubai later today.)

    As always, should your travels ever take you to our city-state of SIN, honoured to assist with recommendations.

    Thanks again, tripplanner; best wishes to you and all from Singapore and soon, Dubai,


    ... Singapore Airlines, You're a Great Way to Fly ...

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    tp - I'm so glad that your SA safari experience was so much better than the one at Yala - like you we were very worried there not only for the animals' safety but also for the humans too, particularly when the jeep drivers converged on any animal brave enough to stick its nose out of doors. We insisted that we did NOT want to do that which was greeted with incomprehension, but we got our way in the end. It was so different from what we too had experienced in SA, thank goodness.

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    Lolazahra, Sartoric, DebitNM, Robert, and Ann, thank you all so much for your responses and well wishes. I'm glad I am able to bring some smiles your way.

    DebitNM, your profile pic looks gorgeous. I haven't seen a leopard up a tree yet, but the sighting we had early on our game drive this morning was quite awesome in itself. Lunch is calling now; will try to share more tonight.

  • Report Abuse have been "bit" by the Africa bug. We are going back for the third time in a couple of weeks, and are just bursting with excitement. I will continue reading your report to sate my appetite until we leave :-)

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    Nina, you're welcome.

    Uhoh, congratulations on your upcoming third visit. Where are you going this time?

    And without further ado, here is my next installment, almost live:

    Hide and Go Seek

    Our second day at Sabi Sand began with a 5:30am knock on our door by our ranger, Barney. We woke up about an hour earlier so we were ready to go when Barney asked us to meet in 15 minutes. We walked to the main reception area at the homestead for tea and coffee before our departure for our first morning game drive. The weather was cool and very comfortable and the morning air was very fresh.

    We saw our first animal of the morning, a warthog, only a few minutes into our morning drive. Shortly thereafter, we made our way towards the Sand River, which is nearly dry due to the recent drought conditions in the area. Our tracker, David, soon spotted fresh leopard tracks and we followed up to a partially covered area by the riverbank. After a little bit of searching, we found a most gorgeous adult male leopard curled up sleeping. He is so beautiful. He stood up for a brief moment, long enough to allow us to catch a good glimpse of him in full majesty, before going back to sleep. We spent several minutes there before moving on to our next animal.

    Not too long thereafter, we received a call on the radio of the spotting of male lions over at Mala Mala and we proceeded there. Like Lion Sands, &Beyond has traversing rights with Mala Mala, although there was a limit of two vehicles on their property. Since we were the first &Beyond vehicle, we were fine. We drove around for about 20 minutes before catching up with the lions – three adolescent males. They too were sights to behold. At this point, we were so happy. We thought, if we saw nothing else, we would be satisfied – well, almost!

    Along the way we also spotted other animals – kudus, impalas, a couple of hippos…

    Before we knew it, it was time for breakfast. We stopped by an open clearing near our homestead for an elaborate outdoor breakfast. We were greeted with fruits, meats, cheeses, breads, yogurt, muesli, and beverages. While we were enjoying the spread, our ranger and tracker were preparing bacon and sausage before another vehicle joined us. Their ranger and tracker pitched in to make eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions. It was a very delicious way to end a most memorable morning of sightseeing.

    After breakfast we returned to the homestead. Between 10am and 1pm was our break, during which time I took a nice shower, caught up on some emails, and relaxed. We ate lunch at 1 before returning to our rooms before the afternoon game drive.

    A “National Geographic Experience”, or Two, Perhaps Three

    We were again the first jeep out for our afternoon game drive. Straight out of the gate we were treated to some kudus and a couple of waterbucks, which were very impressive to me. We were on our way back to the Sand River, this time to search for reported sightings of wild dogs in the area.

    Along the way, we came upon what we called our “National Geographic moment”. This is the type of experience we’ve only previous saw on TV documentaries such as the PBS program “Nature”. Down on the sandy riverbed we spotted two large bull elephants. Our Land Rover drove closer to the animals for a closer look when we spotted a third elephant, then a fourth, a fifth… Before we knew it, we experienced a family of 15 to 18 elephants enjoying their lunch. Only a few minutes into the interaction, one of the larger elephants began to make its way across the riverbed towards the opposite riverbank. Behind it came the rest of the herd, including several juvenile elephants. What a speechless sight to behold! I could not imagine just some hundred meters or so from me a line of elephants making its way across the riverbank in orderly fashion! We remained in the same position as the elephants went down to the water to drink and bathe. We were the only vehicle there the entire time. Our fortune just became better and better. I felt like I was in a movie, and could not believe what we were experiencing right before our very eyes!

    About a good 15 to 20 minutes (it could be more; I lost track of time), we continued our pursuit of wild dogs. In my mind, I’m thinking “Dogs? Why is this guy so excited? Haven’t we all seen dogs?” I know I see them with my neighbors, in parks, etc., at home. “I didn’t come all this way to see an animal I see almost every day.” Boy was I wrong.

    After about half an hour or so in search of these animals, we came upon a pack of wild dogs, not too far from where we saw the herd of elephants earlier in the afternoon. The dogs were laying on the ground, half asleep. Some of them were moving its ears. Others were wagging its tail. While we were viewing these animals, our ranger explained the significance of this find. Apparently only approximately 250 or so of them exist in the greater Kruger / Sabi Sand area today. And little did I know that the sight of a pack of wild dogs means that we had a good possibility of witnessing them pursue and hunt another animal. We stayed next to the dogs until they began to arouse, and sure enough, the dogs were in search of their prey. We followed along with two other vehicles. Part of the way into the pursuit, our ranger informed us that we were required to turn around as the dogs were entering Mala Mala land and &Beyond already had two vehicles on their property viewing the lions we had seen earlier today so we had no option but to turn back. While slightly disappointed, we were very pleased with what we saw.

    Soon after the sun began to set and we took a short break before continuing our safari into the night. This time we received a report of two fully-grown adult male lions not too far to the entrance of Kirkman’s Kamp and off we went. We quickly spotted the pair with its beautiful manes. They were extremely close, enough that at one point we could have reached out to them. Wow! Incredible! Words cannot express the emotions that were going through me nor could it do the experience justice. Again we felt so lucky.

    And with that, our second day on safari came to a conclusion. We returned to the homestead, where we quickly freshened up and enjoyed dinner at the outdoor verandah. Ah! This is the safari life! I could get used to it.

    We are fortunate enough to have more opportunities tomorrow. What will the day have in store for us? The remaining two of the Big Five that we haven’t seen yet (the rhino and the African buffalo)? Will we see the lions in daylight? What about another leopard? Who knows? Please stay tuned to find out along with me.


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    Excellent. We saw elephants [well over 60] eating on one shore of the Chobe,sort of in a line. One of them at the end of the line turned around and start to run to the front of the line. That one started a mass turnabout and they filed into the river and across to the other side. Even our guide was impressed! We tried to figure out what spooked them and the only things we could come up with was that there was a fire far off in the distance; we could see the smoke but not smell it. Perhaps it was the smell that they detected? Who knows.

    I got a few picture of the crossing but I also managed to get a bit of video of it! A very special souvenir.

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    Fun, fun, fun!

    I have had the opportunity of seeing three wild dog experiences, one at Madikwe Lodge in SA watching a pack sleep with full throbbing stomachs after a kill, once at Thanda Lodge in SA where we watched a pack devour an impala in about 15 seconds with the sound of crunching bones to boot, and once at Xudum Safari Lodge in Bots where we spent an hour and a half watching a pack of dogs pursue 2 mother Roan antelopes in an open field, who were hiding their babies in the bush and trying desperately to not only save their own lives but to ensure that the dogs did not find their babies. I have never seen maternal instinct like that in the bush in my life! And you know what, the mother Roans were successful. Even though it was only two of them they used their horns to run off the dogs time and time again and eventually the dogs got to tired and retreated! It was awesome. And I was like you before I ever saw wild dogs -- what's the big deal??

    Your elephant encounter sounded just fantastic. I am thrilled for you. And such luck with lions and leopards too. Have you seen many giraffe? I think they are so majestic, especially when you see them run across the plains?

    How have the lunch and dinners been at Kirkman camp?

    Waiting for more...

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    DebitNM, that sounds amazing. Thanks for whetting my appetite for my upcoming visit to Chobe.

    Lolazahra, awesome on the dogs. We've seen a handful of giraffe. The first time I saw one in the wild was on our first afternoon game drive here and it was incredible. With their height, they look so majestic. We haven't seen them on the move yet. As for the meals at Kirkman's, everything has been delicious - from beef fillet to duck to ostrich (I had my first taste yesterday, and it was much, much better than I anticipated) to the soups and salads. There is a decent variety from meal to meal, except for dessert, which tended to be ice cream or a cheese course in lieu. The service is also impeccable.

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    Really enjoying following along and so glad to hear how much you are enjoying it .As you've discovered game viewing in Yala and on these kinds of southern African safaris have very little in common ;).

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    Sartoric, you're welcome. Glad I can meet your expectations. ;)

    Brit, thank you. This trip has unfolded well beyond my wildest dreams.

    And here goes today's report:

    Rinse and "Repeat"

    As we're on day three at Kirkman's Kamp, we feel like we had the routine down. In some ways, with the infusion of new guests today (several of the guests we met over the past couple of days only stayed a couple of nights; others came before us and left today), we felt a bit like old hats.

    As usual, our day started with a 5:30am knock by Barney, our ranger, followed by a quick fix-me-up of coffee, tea, juice, and cookies before hopping into our safari vehicle for our morning drive. On today's agenda is a hunt for the remaining Big Five animals that we haven't seen yet: the buffalo and, more importantly, the rhino. From what I understood, the recent rhino sightings have taken place in the far western reaches of Sabi Sand so it there that we were headed. Along the way we found giraffes, hippos, some buffalos, and a herd of about 30-40 elephants. Another amazing experience! It took us quite a while before we managed to track down a rhino, and it was one of the white variety. We only managed to catch a quick glimpse of it before it moved away, although we did manage to get a good photograph of it.

    What was most interesting is the change in landscape even though the distances between where we were this morning and where we conducted our prior game drives were not that great. We noticed that the geology of the area looked different and that there were termite mounds that dotted the entire landscape, which we had not seen before on this trip. We learned from our guide that the presence of these mounds was due to the particular soil composition, which made it more malleable to the critters. In addition, we noticed more dung everywhere, which came from rhinos. More manure also meant flies; we've encountered more flies this morning when we previously hadn't even noticed them on previous drives.

    Following the drive was breakfast at the verandah of the homestead and a few hours for relaxation. Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. After lunch, we went back to our rooms and sat at our back porches as it was much cooler today compared to the past two days. We gazed down to the river to see if there were any animals. We spotted a couple of antelopes, which eventually made its way towards to homestead verandah. It was so much fun to sit on the chairs just to watch the animals do their thing - graze.

    The American couple that was with us left today after lunch. We were joined by another American couple who just arrived today for the afternoon game drive. Luckily they were equally as friendly. Soon after we left the lodge we spotted a klipspringer, a crocodile, and a water monitor, all animals we've not seen previously. We made our way back towards the banks of the Sand River, where there were reported lion sightings this morning. As we made our way to the riverbank, we spotted about 12 elephants eating and playing in the area. Also there were a couple of buffaloes. After spending a good 20 minutes or so there, we continued our search for lions. We came upon a beautiful male lions and not too far away a pride of eight. What an amazing sight! We probably spent a good hour there simply watching their moves. The lions were sleeping when we arrived, and it was interesting to observe their movements and positions. Some of them looked like they were performing yoga. As the sun started to set, the lions began their search for prey. We followed for a bit before turning around when it was clear that they did not get what they wanted and began settling down again. It was at this time that we set down for drinks and some snacks before returning to home base for dinner, boma style.

    Tomorrow is our last day at Kirkman's. It will be another exciting day, but a bittersweet one as most memorable leg of our journey across Southern Africa draws to a close.

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    How delightful! You know, I think sharing a vehicle can be quite fun. When you think of it, everyone is pretty much there because they have similar interests to you re: traveling and exploring the world. We have enjoyed the company of couples and singles from Belgium, Canada, Holland, the UK, Italy, and Argentina. I also like the experience of dining around a huge table with other guests and guides and camp managers. Some really wonderful conversation results from those opportunities.

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    DebitNM, yes indeed.

    Uhoh, I agree with you. I am a people person and enjoy the interactions with other travel. I've made some wonderful friends from shared experiences through my travels.

    A Kill, Well, Not Quite

    Our final morning game drive began with the spotting of some leopard tracks. We followed it for a while before coming across a male lion that we had seen on one of the previous evenings. What we found with him was a fresh buffalo carcass - blood, guts, and all. Just from the looks of it and the noises coming from the lion, according to our ranger, the kill took place less than an hour ago. We stayed there for a bit, watching it enjoying the fruits of its labor. We soon came upon the lion's brother, who went for his meal as the one who was feasting on it earlier went down to lie down by some reeds in the riverbank. We also saw elephants, hyenas, kudus, and several birds that we had not seen before on our morning drive.

    Sabi Sand Farewell, Big Five Style

    For our final game drive at Kirkman's, our ranger and tracker were determined to provide us with the experience of seeing a rhino up close and personal along with perhaps another leopard encounter.

    We began our search as usual, with our ranger and tracker leading the way using their sights, hearing, and sense of smell. It was only minutes into our drive when our ranger spotted fresh rhino tracks and led the way to find one. Almost just down a path we came upon a large male white rhino, only several meters away. Wow! was my initial reaction. This was the first time I saw a rhino up close and personal and, boy, the animal is a monster. It was almost the size of an elephant or a buffalo, minus an elephant's height. For some reason I've always imagined rhinos to be smaller animals and would never have guessed what the true size of one could be (my impression of leopards are equally inaccurate; I assumed it would be much larger in size). We spent quite a bit of time watching the rhino grazing, moving about, and relieving himself.

    From there we continued until we reached a riverbank overlooking a very small riverbed. What did we spot down on the riverbed, but a leopard in the distance! What were the chances! We were two for two. We saw leopards three times during our stay at Kirkman's. If this was the finale of our visit, we would have been more than happy. But it gets better. Our ranger tried to get closer to the leopard, a young female, but the animal was moving at a fast clip. Due to the inpassability of where we were, our vehicle could not make it down to the riverbank. We kept on seeing the animal and then losing sight of it again. Just as I was thinking to myself that our leopard viewing was complete, out of nowhere a leopard leaped a road just centimeters before our approaching vehicle. "Could this be real?", I thought to myself. Moments later, a waterbuck lets out a loud distress call which sounded almost like a barking dog. Luckily or not, depending on your perspective, the leopard did not reach the waterbuck but continued her search for food. We found the leopard again and followed it around for a good 20 to 30 minutes, witnessing it moving about.

    As the sun began to set we stopped for a quick sundowner before doing some more searching and returning to home base.

    What an experience the past four days have been! How lucky were we? We dreamed of coming to Africa for years and doing an animal safari such as this was one of our long-held wishes, but I would never have anticipated what we actually experienced over the past four days. The game viewing was spectacular and none of it would have been possible with the excellent skills, grit, and determination of our ranger Barney and our tracker David. They are extremely smart and always joys to be around. The same can be said about all of the staff at Kirkman's, especially Sam, our butler, and Gift and Nicolene, a couple of the homestead's managers. Everything about Kirkman's was top notch, from the comfort of the rooms to the delicious meals daily to the superior service and dedication that each individual at this homestead shows. We truly and thoroughly enjoyed our time here and deeply hope that we can make it back here someday.

    Next stop: Victoria Falls...

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    An Evening on the Zambezi

    Wednesday morning began with an early departure from Kirkman's Kamp to Nelspruit airport, approximately two hours away, for our flight to Johannesburg and onward to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The transfer was very smooth and the ride was rather scenic. Along the way we saw some impalas and learned about some of South Africa's export products including bananas, avocados, and surprisingly, macadamia nuts. According to our driver, South Africa is the largest exporter of the nuts, which explains why we found them at the Mount Nelson hotel (we thought it was odd that the nuts were there given its association with Hawaii).

    The flights were smooth and uneventful. Immigration was rather quick. We purchased our double entry visas and were out of the airport in less than 20 minutes.

    After checking into our hotel and freshening up, we booked for a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River for this afternoon. We chose to cruise the river on the Ra-Ikane, a small and very intimate wooden boat. The cruise was two and a half hours long and included snacks and complimentary open bar. During the cruise we had the opportunity to view a group of hippos, a couple of crocodiles, some interesting birds, and a glimpse of the smoke coming from Victoria Falls. We also saw a beautiful sunset.

    Water, Water Everywhere

    Our only full day at Victoria Falls began with an early morning helicopter flight over the waterfalls and the surrounding region. The flight was thirty minutes long and well worth it, especially considering that we are here during peak flow and may not have been able to appreciate the full impact of the falls on the ground due to the immense mists. We flew over the falls themselves, the Batoka Gorge, and nearby Zambezi National Park, where we were able to see some elephants, giraffes, and antelopes from the air.

    Following the helicopter ride we toured the Zimbabwean side of the falls. The visit was very straightforward. We followed the paved walkway along the sixteen different viewpoints, starting where the Zambezi River plunges down the cliffs to where the river flows under the Victoria Falls Bridge. The views were incredible and clear up until the first third of the main cataract. Past this point the intensive most obscures the views, although we were able to catch glimpses of this portion of the falls in between changing wind directions and captures more of it in photos than we had expected. We did get modestly wet, even with raincoats. The visit took about 90 minutes.

    After a very enjoyable full circuit, we exited the park and proceed to Zambia so that we could view the falls from both sides. The walk between the park via the Victoria Falls Bridge took about 40 minutes. The border formalities were smooth on both sides and we were through in minutes.

    Unlike the Zimbabwean park, where there is one pathway connecting the viewpoints, the Zambian side of the falls has several trails, all leading more or less from the entrance. We started with the path leading to Knife Edge Bridge, viewing the eastern portion of the main cataract up close. From here we braved our way across the bridge, sans raincoat. Having taking it easier with the raincoat, we chose to go without on the Zambian side in order to experience the full scale and scope of the falls, and experience it we did. The power of the falls was enormous. We were thoroughly soaked through and through, but it was awesome!! From Knife's Edge we did a circular loop to view the main cataract as best as we could and continued to be further drenched.

    We made our way back across the bridge and onto the train that led to the Boiling Pot. The hike down Batoka Gorge was also a pleasant experience. We appreciated the opportunity to view the cliffs from a different perspective. And to be at the edge of the Boiling Pot, with fantastic views down the gorge, made the hike well worth it.

    We also followed the other trails. There is a photographic trail that follows the cliff with views across to Zimbabwe. And there is also a trail that follows the river upstream to where the falls originates. In all, we spent about three hours in the Zambian park.

    To fully appreciate the falls, you need to visit both sides. From Zimbabwe we enjoyed panoramic views of the falls. From Zambia we were able to get right "into" the falls. And from Zambia we better understood the falls - its geology, the extent of the flow, and the impact on the landscape.

    We capped off the afternoon with high tea at the verandah of the Victoria Falls Hotel with views of the bridge and the falls. The public spaces of the hotel are beautiful and reminded me of the Mount Nelson Hotel, which we very much enjoyed.

    Having visited on a full moon we also took the opportunity to take a lunar rainbow tour of the park on the Zimbabwean side. While the sky was clear the heavy mist made it difficult to see the lunar rainbow clearly although we did catch glimpses of it. Seeing the falls at night without the aide of any light other than the moon gave the waters an otherworldly quality.

    The only downside of the night visit was the poor organization on the part of the park staff. They waited until exactly 7pm before selling tickets and we had to wait around for everyone to enter before proceeding as we had to be on a tour guided by a ranger and there was one for the entire group. With two tour groups and independent visitors, there were close to 100 of us, which was too large for one person to manage. And there were no flashlights to aide the navigation of the pathways in the dark; even the ranger didn't have a flashlight. In spite of the problems, we were glad we were able to experience the falls in this way.

    Now we're off to Botswana, where we will spend three nights in Chobe National Park.

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    We went in September and the water levels were at low so we had little mist to contend with but I know we missed the intensity of the falls. What we did see was jaw dropping, I can only imagine it at high levels.

    Can't wait for Chobe and Botswana report. We enjoyed our time there, though it was quite different than Sabi Sands.

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    Sounds great TP, and thanks for the details.
    I once asked my niece where we should go in Africa, (her father was born in Zimbabwe, and she has been to Africa many times) the first place she named was Victoria Falls. Seems a good choice !

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    I have had a yen to cruise across Lake Victoria ever since I had a client whose family runs the boats across the lake and of course I'd love to see the falls, but haven't got there yet.

    thanks for painting such a great picture of what I've missed!

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    Thanks again, tripplanner001... looking forward to the next one. DebitNM, did you post a SA TR? I would love to read it, too as I am in the midst of planning our 2017 trip. I thought sometime in 2014 we were communicating regarding a Barcelona apartment?

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    What impressed me the most was how narrow the gorge is. Kind of mind-blowing! We visited in October 2012. The water wasn't at it's lowest levels, but still gave us a good impression, and we were able to see it without getting wet. :-O
    I did get some excellent shots of people in Devils' Pool across the gorge from the Zim side.

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    You're all very welcome. And now for the next leg of our trip, which we anticipate will be very different from the others:

    We left Victoria Falls this morning for Chobe National Park, our home for the next three nights. The journey from Victoria Falls to the western reaches of Chobe took about three hours over three vehicles: one that drove us to the Zimbabwean border with Botswana, another from the border to Kasane Airport, and finally from Kasane Airport via safari jeep to our tent accommodations.

    Tent? Yes, we will be sleeping in tents for the first time our lives, and in the heart of Africa no less!! When I worked with our travel agent, Dave Patterson of The Africa Safari, on our trip, we wanted to experience at least two different and geographically distinct areas of Southern Africa and we did not want the same routine in both locations. Originally we looked at visiting the Okavango Delta for the Botswana portion of our trip, but the costs proved to be too much compared to what we could afford. What attracted me about the Okavango Delta was the unique ecosystem of the floodplains that we knew we would not get at Sabi Sand and the ability to sleep in a camp rather than a lodge. Even though it cannot be compared with the Delta, I was thrilled when we determined that we could still experience aspects of what we were looking for at Chobe and went for it.

    As a result, for the next three nights, we will be staying in two tents (there are five in total) through Chobe Under Canvas, a camp run by &Beyond. I hope to share with you in real time my impressions, experiences, thrills, and fears of sleeping outdoors with the animals over the course of the next three days.

    My first impression of the tents came as our safari vehicle pulled into the camp site. From the outside I thought the tents looked just as they are pictured in marketing materials and rather cool. It was only when the manager of the camp, Blue, gave us a tour that reality set in. What? I will be sleeping in a space where the only thing between me and the animals were a piece of cloth. And...there is no running water? No shower with bathtub? What about electricity? No wifi? This cannot be right. And get this, we would be the only ones staying at camp tonight (other guests will be arriving tomorrow night). What did I get myself into.

    My travel companions and I were immensely nervous about what was in store for us over the next three nights. Will we get attacked by a large elephant or lion? To our relief - only somewhat - Blue confirmed that no guest has been injured by an animal at this camp.

    In spite of the lingering worries we got back with the program. Lunch, cooked outdoors, was served, followed by some time to get our belongings sorted. At 4, we set out for our first afternoon game drive at Chobe (more on the drive in the next installment of my report). The drive lasted two and a half hours, as the park closes at 6:30 and vehicles were not allowed past that time. After returning from our drive, we freshened up. We enjoyed a nice campfire with some snacks and drinks underneath the brilliant African sky before a delicious dinner under the main tent.

    Once dinner was over we headed back to our tent for our first bucket showers (indoor). Even though I was unsure, the shower worked just fine and did the job. The indoor toilet worked just fine. And the camp staff provided us with plenty of water for us to wash, brush our teeth, etc. Maybe this will work out after all...assuming we will be able to receive a good night's rest tonight! I guess we'll find out together in the morning.

    Stayed tuned as our first experience at tent lodging unfolds...

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    Ann, thank you.

    We Did It!! We Made It Through the Night!!

    Laying in bed with my eyes partially opened, I looked above, blinked, and thought to myself: "I'm not dreaming. I'm really in a tent. I slept in a tent. I made it through my first night." And guess what? It was a very pleasant first night for us sleeping outdoors. We were worried about the lack of fans let alone air conditioning, but the night cooled off quickly. We were able to sleep through the night I disturbed.

    The staff brought hot water to our tent at 5:30 to freshen up before a light breakfast of fruit, cereals, yogurt, and toast. By 6:30 we were off for a 4.5-hour morning game drive.

    Instead of giving a traditional report of our drives this morning and yesterday afternoon as I have with our experiences at Sabi Sand, I am going to take the liberty to compare the two destinations in the event that it is useful to those who are planning for a trip to this part of the world. I know as I was planning this trip that this was the type of information I was very interested in.

    Let's start with the landscape. Sabi Sand is located in bush territory, with two rivers flowing through it: the Sabi River and the Sand River. Kirkman's Kamp is situated in the southeastern part of the private reserve, near the confluence of the two rivers. The terrain is flat to hilly, with trees large and small dotting the landscape. The rivers were near dry as a result of the recent drought, which meant that safari vehicles could easily navigate back and forth. Located on the northern edge of Chobe National Park, the Chobe River forms its heart. As we are here right after the end of the wet season the river has overflown its banks, creating a large floodplain. The park is also largely flat, with denser vegetation in some areas and not others, creating the opportunity for more open views across the landscape.

    While Sabi Sand was about closeup views of animals, especially big game, Chobe seems to be about panorama views of animals in abundance. Between the two drives in which we've participated so far, we've seen elephants and impalas in numbers we couldn't have imagined. And we've seen dozens of giraffes, guinea fowls, mongeese, and birds of all sizes and shapes. Speaking of birds, we've seen more species here than at Sabi Sand including hornbills, kingfishers, and different types of eagles. What Chobe does not have that Sabi Sand does is rhino, as they've been poached by human traffickers to extinction in this part of Botswana as well as neighboring Zambia and Zimbabwe. Leopards are supposedly found in Chobe as well, although we've not come across them yet.

    What impressed us about Chobe were the seas of elephants and impalas that were visible throughout our drives. I don't know what it is but I can stare at impalas for a long time running. We were fortunate enough to see several pairs of young males playfighting on the plains during our drive yesterday afternoon. As for the elephants, we mostly saw them on land at Sabi Sand but now experience them in the water on Chobe. The sea of animals extended to insects as well; there are more bugs around at Chobe than we've seen in our four nights at Sabi Sand combined.

    Unlike at Sabi Sand, we are not able to go off-road at Chobe given that we are on national park land. What this means is that we require animals to come to us rather than we going to them. At times this could feel frustrating, especially coming from Sabi Sand, as the ranger would spot tracks going off the road and we knew that we couldn't follow. And it means lesser quality photos in general.

    Being on national park land also means that there are no limits to the number of vehicles that could be at any animal viewing at any given time. While we were mostly to ourselves at sightings and sometimes with one other vehicle, we experienced six vehicles at a sighting of three lions this morning. And from what I understand there could be larger number of vehicles when big cats are spotted. The park opens at 6:30 and closes at 6:30 each day, which means that all vehicles, including ours, have to be off the roads by then.

    One distinct advantage of staying inside the park is the lower number of vehicles in the early morning and during the late afternoon as the majority of visitors only come to Chobe on day trips from Victoria Falls, which is at least two hours away. And day trippers stay closer to the eastern side of the park while we've mostly concentrated our time in the west so far.

    More soon...

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    Wow, really very helpful to us, thanks again, tripplanner001. We are on the same boat... don't know if we are going back to this part of the world (too many places on our bucket list) so we wanted to see/experience two different safari. As far as comfort, price, accommodation,food and service are concerned, are they similar or opposite? If one has just one choice, which one will you pick? Why? We originally thought we will do a private reserve in Sabi Sand and KNP self drive; now we are thinking of Sabi Sand private reserve + Chobe. Waiting for the next posting!

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    We Did It!! We Made It Through the Night!!>>

    I was sure that you would. The closest we came to camping in the bush was sleeping in a hut without any electricity for a night at a safari park near Addo - the kids thought it was great!

    thanks for the detailed comparison of Chhobe and Sabi Sands - very useful for people trying to decide what type of safari to book.

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    I've slept in lots of tents in Southern Africa - I love it as you can hear the wildlife all night without the walls and air conditioning. I never felt like I was sleeping outside - they are fully enclosed and most were raised off the ground. Some had doors, others had zippers (inconvenient), all had real beds. Some had indoor plumbing, others were outdoors. My favorite mornings are the ones while still dark outside getting ready for the morning game drive listening to lions roaring in the distance! Then exit the tent with a torch (flashlight) and see the footprints of the creatures that visited during the night. It's great.

    There are private reserves near Chobe. They don't have to follow the national park rules like Sabi Sand. Those rules are important to prevent destruction of the ecosystem. Unfortunately Botswana (high quality, low density tourism) is very expensive and unless you win Lotto or can afford it, it really is out of reach for most of us. I went a few years back (10 years ago, it's more now), staying in three high end lodges and was over $2000 per person per night. There are ways to do it much less expensively and still have a great experience.

    To me, just visiting Victoria Falls is too far and expensive. Adding a few days in Chobe is a good way to make the expense make sense. Plus the elephants are incredible. Only go during the dry season, though. Otherwise wildlife is spread through the region as water is everywhere. (I know, then the Falls aren't at full flow and aren't as impressive....).

    Rhinos were poached to extinction in Botswana in the '80's, not in the current poaching cycle. They are now importing a few rhinos from S Africa to try to save the species as Botswana has basically eliminated hunting and poaching is prevented by the military. It still exists - poverty is still a major problem - but much less than S Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia. It's wildlife poachers, not human trafficking. Rhinos are incredible - my current passion. If you visit Botswana, add the Kruger area so you get to see them! There are only a few in Botswana but they will do well there and in the future will be common if we don't mess up again.

    Reading your tr is making me so anxious for our trip next month! I'm so glad you are having such a great time. It's my happy place. Dave Patterson is a good agent. He did a nice job for this trip for you.

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    Nina88, you're welcome. If you are looking for two opposite ecosystems, I would go for Sabi Sand and Chobe rather than Kruger. Kruger is right next to Sabi Sand and animals roam freely from one to the other, so I would expect both to be quite some similar. I suppose you may see different terrain in the northern parts of Kruger as it is a distance from Sabi Sand. At Chobe you can go on water-based safaris, which, from what I hear, is quite a different experience. We will go on one tomorrow so I will share my experiences then. In terms of service, it is more attentive at the lodge than at camp but it is far more intimate at the tented camp with a limit of just ten guests. You also have more food options at a land-based lodge than at tent facilities as there is no access to electricity nor equipment, but the food has been very good (we had sweet potato soup followed by steak with potatoes and vegetables and chocolate brownie for dessert tonight). Camp is simplistic - no wifi, television, phone, etc. - but very comfortable nonetheless. The costs are similar but we booked our stay at Sabi Sand and at Chobe using the same operator - &Beyond - so we were able to receive a discount based upon the number of nights. If I had to choose one, I would choose to go with Sabi Sand as you are able to go off-road and thus get closer to the animals. Although, I must say, our seeing probably 500 impalas in one area on our drive this afternoon would not be common at Sabi Sand. Hope this is helpful. Please feel free to keep asking questions.

    Ann, you're welcome. The comparison was something I found lacking in my research so I hope to pass along our first-hand experience to others planning.

    Elephants, Giraffes, Lions, Antelopes, and Impalas, Oh My!

    The highlight of our morning game drive was a group of a dozen or so giraffes. It was fun to watch them interact with one another and do what giraffes do. We have not seen such a large concentration of giraffes during our time at Sabi Sand.

    Along with giraffes we continue to see many, many elephants, most on the afternoon drive. According to Max, our ranger, elephants typically remain in the southern part of the park during the mornings and only come up to the river when it gets hot in the afternoon for drinking and bathing, so we did not see any elephants in the morning.

    During our afternoon game drive, we also saw a pride of seven lions. We initially spotted a young male lion feasting on a warthog and followed it to the rest of his group, and came upon the seven sleeping on the grass right beside the river. Even though we saw lions sleeping at Sabi Sand, this is one thing that does not get old.

    We also saw our first Sable antelopes during our afternoon drive, and there were quite a few of them. The antelopes look very much like impalas. In fact we did not know that there was a difference until the ranger pointed it out to us.

    Speaking of impalas, as we were coming back from our afternoon drive, we came across a herd of about 500, standing by, playfighting, and feasting on grass. What an awesome sight!! I really wanted to go out to join them on the grass.

    On the agenda tomorrow is a shorter morning game driver followed by a river safari as well as any afternoon game drive. Until then...

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    Thank you christabir and tripplanner001 for the very detailed and informative description of your safari experiences; they are truly very helpful though I am still undecisive. This must be the toughest trip I've ever planned. It could be the most expensive and longest research/planning I've ever done, too. We also considering Mashatu and Sabi Sand as well as Sabi Sand and self-drive KNP (we've been travelling independently for the last 20+ years and this will only be the 2nd time that we will have a TA handling most or partial part of our trip; 1st one was the sand dunes of Morocco). Still trying to imagine sleeping while being very near lions, elephants, etc. with just a fabric separating us. I think my heart will be pounding the whole night and ultimately not get a night sleep, hahaha... I am too much of a city girl!

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    DebitNM, the elephants are quite a sight, aren't they? I'm glad you're finding enjoyment in my report.

    Nina88, I hear you completely. Having only lived in big cities my entire life, this is the first time I lived outdoors. Not only did I made it, it was thrilling!! And like you, this trip was one of the hardest ever to plan as we wanted to get what may be our only trip of this type planned perfectly. The idea of a once-in-a-lifetime trip quickly went out the window by my second day on safari; now we're thinking about doing it all over again late next year.

    Christabir, we must have missed each other as we were writing as I didn't see your post until now. Regarding our tent accommodations, it is of canvas material with a zipper, no door. The tent has a real bed, a wash basin, a bucket shower, and a flushing toilet. Given that this is the first time we're sleeping outdoors in any way, we felt that way. By last night, our second, we began to feel more comfortable in it...until around 4am last night. I was awoken to a noise from a distance. The noise grew louder
    and louder until, before we knew it, it reached our tent. What is it? The roar of a lion? It sounded like a lion. Or it is an elephant? We peeked out and, yes, it was indeed a lion. The call sounded unfamiliar to us as it was different to what we heard on television nature documentaries. The lion was there for quite a long time as we reluctantly teared our eyes away from the lion and began to get ready for our morning. I was in the middle of brushing my teeth when all of a sudden the lantern by the wash basin turned off. I tried to turn it back on but couldn't. I reached for the other lanterns in my tent but none was functioning. What's going on? Without much time to fuss around my travel companion and I took turns as one would hold the flashlight while the other got ready. By about a quarter to five, one of the staff members came by with warm water and put the plug back in the right place. Apparently the lion knocked it out of its place during the night as it was shuffling around behind our tent. What an incredible way to start off the morning!

    The facilities we are staying at, Chobe Under Canvas, is within the park. As a result we are required to follow park rules. And we don't have traversing rights with the nearby private reserves. We chose to stay within the park because, as you mentioned, Botswana is an incredibly expensive destination. By staying inside the park and under tents, albeit luxury ones, we were able to pay a fraction of what it would cost if we stayed at a lodge or one of the nearby private reserves. And given that we were already in Sabi Sand, we were willing to make the trade off.

    You're right that the correct term is wildlife poaching, not human trafficking. The sentence is inartfully worded. I wanted to say that the rhinos were poached by human beings to be trafficked out of Africa for hefty sums.

    Glad your anticipation of your trip is growing. Those are some of the best feelings.

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    By Land and By Water

    The program today is a bit different from the other safari days. Included as part of a visit to Chobe Under Canvas is a safari boat cruise and our cruise is scheduled for today.

    After an early wake-up call from the lion, we went to the main tent for breakfast at 6 and were on the road by 6:30 for an abbreviated morning game drive. Not long into our drive we spotted a lion, then two, then three... In all we saw about twelve to fourteen lions including four cubs. They were so small and just so adorable. After fawning over the lion cubs we drove around the park and saw some impalas, elephants, buffalos, and other creatures before heading to the nearby town of Kasane from where we would board our boat.

    Operated by Pangolin Photo Safaris, the cruise was three hours long and was photography themed. There were six of us and each was fitted with a Nikon 7000 series camera with a high quality telephoto lens. We received basic tips on how to use the equipment before sailing out on the Chobe River. The first half hour or so of the cruise was rather boring as we focused heavily on birds, but it was good practice on how to operate the cameras. Soon after we saw kudus followed by elephants then hippos. We saw kudus drinking along the edge of the river. The elephants and hippos were just keeping cool and enjoying themselves. The cruise was a great complement to the game drives on land as we were able to view animals from a different vantage point. And we were able to get much closer to the animals in the water than we do on land. The time simply passes too quickly.

    Back at our camp at 2, it was lunch followed by a little bit of down time before tea, coffee, and cake and our afternoon game drive. We also used the opportunity of available daylight to pack as we would be leaving camp tomorrow.

    We began our afternoon game drive witnessing a herd of about one hundred elephants cross a river from an island to the mainland. We saw elephants large and small, some playing along the way and mothers leading their young along the way. What a spectacle that was!

    Not long after we saw another pride of lions, possibly stalking a nearby giraffe. I don't know what it is but I simply don't get tired of watching lions. We also saw some jackals, warthogs, pukus, and antelopes.

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    An Animal Farewell...

    This is a morning that we had hoped to delay as long as possible, but all good things must come to an end. And this morning marked our final game drive on our trip across Southern Africa.

    Having packed our belongings yesterday we awoke a bit later to a fully cooked English breakfast before our departure. We also said goodbye to the very good company we had at camp over the past two days.

    At 7:30 we were off for a short morning game drive on the way to Kasane Airport. This game drive was the best we've had throughout our time at Chobe. About five minutes out of camp we came upon several beautiful lions that we had seen on a previous drive. We saw the some of the adults but their cubs were not visible this time.

    From this point we continued west, where we saw a leopard tortoise and not very far ahead, an actual leopard. Given the difficulty of seeing the elusive animal we had no expectation of coming across one during our time here. We were wrong. A beautiful leopard was waiting for us just off the side of the road in full view. It looked like it recently hunted and was finishing off its meal.

    Continuing west we saw several dozen buffaloes. We've seen more Buffaloes this morning than we had on this entire trip. We also saw more impalas than ever in one place. Wow! I don't know about others on safari but my eyes light up every time I see them. They just look so happy and playful each time. I so want to reach out of the vehicle to pet them. Giraffes were not too far from where the impalas were; they numbered about 20. And last but not least, zebras; we saw a herd of them as we were exiting the park.

    I don't want to convey any air of self-importance but I truly felt like all the animals came out this morning to send us on our way. The visit has been splendid, spectacular, absolutely stunning. I'm beyond words.

    Another Word on Chobe Under Canvas

    Operated by andBeyond, a company with safari lodges and camps all over southern and eastern Africa, Chobe Under Canvas is a collection of five tents that move campsites every five days. Along with the sleeping tents are a dining tent, and a full operation including cooking facilities and sleeping quarters for about ten staff. As part of conservation efforts instituted by Botswana, no operator is allowed to set up camp for more than five days. They are required to rotate from site to site in designated areas of the park, which takes about a day and a half. As a result there are days that the camp does not welcome visitors. Chobe Under Canvas is what you would call glamping, as you are given all the basic luxuries such as bed, toilet, and supply of water, but do not expect what you would find in a 4- or 5-star hotel. This is an opportunity for those who prefer not to "rough it" to still experience living with the animals. For us, it was an experience we will always remember. It also made an expensive destination possible for us.

    Now we're sitting at the airport on our way to Johannesburg. See you there.

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    Thank you for that! I have been to the Okavango Delta, also staying in an And Beyond lodge, but never to Chobe. You have made me add it to my list. Your descriptions have been magnificent your entire trip but really jumped off the screen as you described your time at Chobe Under Canvas. I had an opportunity to stay in a tented mobile camp to see the migration in the Serengti, Tanzania, so I know the feeling of sleeping in a tent surrounded by wildlife. It is an out of this world feeling. Now you are on your way to Joberg. I adore Capetown and it remains one of my favorite cities in the world, but I also deeply love Joberg. Enjoy!

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    An Animal Farewell...

    This is a morning that we had hoped to delay as long as possible, but all good things must come to an end. And this morning marked our final game drive on our trip across Southern Africa.

    Having packed our belongings yesterday we awoke a bit later to a fully cooked English breakfast before our departure. We also said goodbye to the very good company we had at camp over the past two days.

    At 7:30 we were off for a short morning game drive on the way to Kasane Airport. This game drive was the best we've had throughout our time at Chobe. About five minutes out of camp we came upon several beautiful lions that we had seen on a previous drive. We saw the some of the adults but their cubs were not visible this time.

    From this point we continued west, where we saw a leopard tortoise and not very far ahead, an actual leopard. Given the difficulty of seeing the elusive animal we had no expectation of coming across one during our time here. We were wrong. A beautiful leopard was waiting for us just off the side of the road in full view. It looked like it recently hunted and was finishing off its meal.

    Continuing west we saw several dozen buffaloes. We've seen more Buffaloes this morning than we had on this entire trip. We also saw more impalas than ever in one place. Wow! I don't know about others on safari but my eyes light up every time I see them. They just look so happy and playful each time. I so want to reach out of the vehicle to pet them. Giraffes were not too far from where the impalas were; they numbered about 20. And last but not least, zebras; we saw a herd of them as we were exiting the park.

    I don't want to convey any air of self-importance but I truly felt like all the animals came out this morning to send us on our way. The visit has been splendid, spectacular, absolutely stunning. I'm beyond words.

    Another Word on Chobe Under Canvas

    Operated by andBeyond, a company with safari lodges and camps all over southern and eastern Africa, Chobe Under Canvas is a collection of five tents that move campsites every five days. Along with the sleeping tents are a dining tent, and a full operation including cooking facilities and sleeping quarters for about ten staff. As part of conservation efforts instituted by Botswana, no operator is allowed to set up camp for more than five days. They are required to rotate from site to site in designated areas of the park, which takes about a day and a half. As a result there are days that the camp does not welcome visitors. Chobe Under Canvas is what you would call glamping, as you are given all the basic luxuries such as bed, toilet, and supply of water, but do not expect what you would find in a 4- or 5-star hotel. This is an opportunity for those who prefer not to "rough it" to still experience living with the animals. For us, it was an experience we will always remember. It also made an expensive destination possible for us.

    Now we're sitting at the airport on our way to Johannesburg. See you there.

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    Lolazahra, you're welcome and thank you. Glad you enjoyed my reporting. Cape Town goes on my list as one of my top three favorite cities. Looking forward to my time in Johannesburg too.

    Everyone, apologies for the duplicate post. I just realized that I accidentally hit submit twice even though it didn't come across at the same time.

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    Yes, thank you for the really awesome report. Looking forward to the last installment. You are a great writer and your descriptions will be so valuable to future travelers!

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    Nina88, thank you. Johannesburg is no Cape Town but is worth a few days.

    Lolazahra, you're welcome and thank you for the compliments.


    We arrived in Johannesburg, the commercial capital of South Africa, on Monday afternoon. From the airport we rode a train to Sandton and another to Rosebank; the train rides were efficient and took less than half an hour. Our hotel, 54 on Bath, a boutique, is adjacent to Rosebank Mall, which is next to the train station. We took our first evening in Johannesburg easy with dinner, shower, and bed.

    We spent our first full day in Johannesburg taking a daylong tour of the Apartheid Museum and Soweto with Joe Motsogi of JMT Tours, as recommended by Darren Humphreys here. The Apartheid Miseum was absolutely amazing. The exhibits tell the story of apartheid and its legacy in extraordinary detail and through multiple lens, giving me the opportunity to much better understand and appreciate the recent turmoil that gripped the country and how the people here overcame it. I spent two hours at the museum and could have easily enjoyed a couple more hours here. However it was time to move, to Soweto, the satellite city southwest of Johannesburg that is home to about 3.5 million people, mostly blacks, of all stripes. Through Joe, I was able to gain fascinating insight into the neighborhood. He showed us Nelson Mandela's home and the Hector Pieterson Memorial. My only disappointment was that we were driven around the entire time; I'm more interested in walking around and getting a better feel for the area.

    Our second full day, Wednesday, was Freedom Day, South Africa's equivalent of the American Fourth of July. Because of the holiday, some areas we visited were more quiet while others very busy. We spent the morning on a self-designed walking tour of downtown Johannesburg. We began our day in Newtown, with a visit to the Africa Museum, or so we thought. Because of a private event (unsure of its relation to Freedom Day), the museum was closed for the day. We walked around the area surrounding the museum before continuing south the Chancellor House, where Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo practiced law for a few years before their harassment by apartheid authorities intensified. From here made our way down the Main Street Mining District, passing by numerous corporate headquarters of mining companies and numerous monuments dedicated to miners and mining. We moved further into the central business district, to the main library and City Hall, admiring the architecture along the way, including several beautiful sandstone buildings. From City Hall, we headed south to Gandhi Square (India's Mahatma Gandhi spent over two decades in Johannesburg practicing law) and east to the Carlton Center. We went up top for a panoramic view of the large and sprawling city. From downtown we moved on to Rosebank, where we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening. We picked up a few cheap souvenirs at the arts and crafts market and walked around the mall for a short while before dinner.

    Our third and final day, really only a few hours in Johannesburg, was spent in Sandton, like Rosebank a wealthy neighborhood. We visited the mall in Sandton and did some last minute shopping before heading to the airport to embark on our journey home.


    During our time in Johannesburg we enjoyed two fantastic dinners and a wonderful lunch. The restaurants we visited are:

    - The Grillhouse - A historic steakhouse in Rosebank, the restaurant serves very, very good steaks. Accompanied with its signature sauce, it was divine.

    - Doppio Zero - Also in Rosebank, the Italian restaurant was well worth our visit. The pizzas and pastas were delicious and their desserts are to match.

    - Remo's Cafe Liberta - An Italian restaurant at Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton, we enjoyed a most relaxing and delicious lunch here. The pizzas and pastas, as well as their meat dishes, are well worth the visit.

    While Johannesburg does not have the drop-dead-gorgeous geographic appeal of Cape Town, the city is interesting in its own way and worth a few days, especially when you likely have to pass through it. Even with three nights, I feel that I could have enjoyed more as I had other items on my list that will have to await a future visit.

    A Few Closing Words

    Africa! A land of conflicts. A mixing bowl of cultures. A place where the animals roam free. The "dark" continent, mysterious. The final frontier.

    What can I say? I began my trip filled with interest and fascination for a continent that I unfortunately knew so little about. We don't learn much out Africa in history books except for ancient Egypt. We have glimpsed Africa on television through the lens of wildlife documentaries. Our knowledge about African culture is nonexistent. It is a destination that called us repeatedly but has been out of reach to us, financially speaking, until recently.

    I must admit that I end my very first trip to Africa not very far from where I started. Sure, I have a better understanding of Africa's landscape, its incredibly warm peoples, the diversity of cultures, the amazing animals, etc., after this trip. But I leave a land three times the size of the United States with more questions than I had when we first arrived. With Africa is calling us (back) more than ever before. To be fair, how could one not get excited after having spent time with the animals - up close and personal. Christabir was right. We're hooked.

    All in all, this trip to Africa has been an incredible experience for me and my travel companions. The trip has had few setbacks and maximum rewards. The experiences we've gained have made our lives richer, more rewarding. The trip exceeded far beyond our wildest imaginations. We could not have asked for anything more.

    As I conclude my report I wish to thank you Fodorites for your help as I was planning this trip (you know who you are ;) and answering my plethora of questions. I want to thank those of you who've followed along; I hope my report brings joy to some and inspiration and useful information to others. Most of all, I would like to take liberty to thank Dave Patterson for his kindness, support, and professionalism in making the trip what it became for me and my family; the quality of our trip may not have been the same without his help. We've been fortunate on this trip to acquire memories that will remain with us our entire lives, in a way that no other trip has.

    Many thanks to you for your time and attention. If you have questions that you think may be helpful to you at some point, please do not hesitate to ask. Thank you again. Until next time...

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    Sad to see this end!

    We took the Hop On, Hop Off bus tour [with the add on of Soweto]. We were deeply moved by the Apartheid Museum. We were able to walk a bit in Soweto and see both Nelson Madela's house and Desmond Tutu's house. Imagine having 2 Nobel Peace Prize winner living on the same street! We have never used a HOHO bus before and likely won't again but it served it purpose as we had only 2 full days in Jo'burg.

    We were glad we started our time in Africa in Jo'burg; it really helped set the stage for the rest of our travels.

    The only thing we would have done differently was to start in Botswana and end in Sabi Sands. But as it was only 6 months out from when I booked to arrival, it just didn't work that way.

    Your summary is eloquent and heartfelt. Thank you for sharing your trip with us.

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    Excellent! I too wish you would have been able to go inside Mandela House and the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum. The museum is small but moving. Lunch at one of the restaurants across from Mandela house would have added to the appeal and allowed you to taste a typical Black South African meal. It kind of reminds me of American soul food or the food that many eat in the Southern states of the U.S. Anyway, my first visit to Joberg on my way to Sabi Sand and Capetown had me on a similar tour. But once I realized I was not getting out, I insisted and thus began my love affair with Soweto. I agree Joberg is soooo different from Capetown and I LOVE Capetown. I was last there for New Year's Eve and I just died and went to heaven, but Joberg just seems to allow me to understand and appreciate the country better than any other place. When you next go back, I will send you a list because I seem to add to it every year. Your report has made me so excited for my next trip in July. I must say I think you really put together the perfect first time trip to the continent. It's addicting and you just scratched the surface. My favorite saying is "I need Africa more than Africa needs me." Safe travels home and wonderful dreams of the next trip!

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    DebitNM, you're welcome.

    Lolazahra, agree with your sentiments on Africa 100%. We did go inside the Nelson Mandela home and enjoyed it. We did not go into the Pieterson Museum as our guide said it would not be worth it on the heels of our visit to the Apartheid Museum.

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    You are a real raconteur... the images were so vivid in my imagination that I can easily pretend that I was travelling and/or experiencing your trip. Thank you so much for tagging us along with you, trip. Your TR will surely be amongst the most referred to. Unfortunately, when I contacted Dave couple of weeks ago, he was not available as he was busy with his move back to the US. Don't know if he'll be available as an TA again.

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    How many seater was the vehicle that they used at Sabi Sands (Kirkman’s Kamp) and Chobe (Chobe Under Canvas)? Prefer a 2/row but if'ts 3/row, did it make that much difference as far as taking pics, comfort and viewing are concerned? Thanks again tripplanner001.

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    Nina88, thank you. Regarding Dave Patterson, he spends about have a year in the U.S. and the other half in South Africa. Apart from the week or so that he is moving in one direction or another, he's very responsive. Perhaps try him again in a few days. I still owe you the list of TAs I've contacted; I don't have ready access to it at the moment but will get it to you on Monday at the latest.

    For both Kirkman's Camp and Chobe Under Canvas, we used three row vehicles, with two at each seat, so everyone gets a window seat. I usually find that photography is the best from the front row, but the back row is not bad either. With our safari companions, we usually just rotated so everyone has a chance to sit in the front and so forth. For me, the middle row was the worst, not for the viewing (viewing is just as good anywhere in the vehicle), but for photography as I carry a cheap digital camera. Some of our safari buddies carried serious cameras and for them it made no difference.

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    Dave P. mentioned that they are moving to the US year-round. Re Chobe UC, since you are staying inside the park, were you restricted to just the western side? I read in a quite a few forums of such rstriction... and for those day trippers and staying outside of the park, they are restricted to the east side which is actually better because it has more superior viewing. Back to the same concern I have sleeping in a tent and am sure it will sound ignorant, hahaha... how safe is it? Read about some instances where a lion dragged a boy out and was killed, someone encountering a snake when getting out of the tent, finding spiders, millepedess on the bed, etc. There must be some kind of a theory or principle that makes it relatively safe to sleep inside the tent with animals roaming around... what's the possibility of them barging into your tent? Take your time with the list of TA, trip... you must be exhausted, welcome back!

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    Thanks TP, I've just caught up on your report. Africa has been on my list for some time. Your evocative and informative report has moved it up a few notches.

    Brilliant !

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    Great trip report. Yeah, that "once-in-a-lifetime" trip thing just never seems to apply. We are getting ready to go back for a third trip in two weeks. I'm not sure there will be a fourth, but we do still need to see Namibia....and we also haven't spent anytime in East Africa. See...there are just too many opportunities that are hard to leave on the table!

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    Nina88, I don't know about restrictions at Chobe for Under Canvas guests but, yes, we were mostly driving In the western side of the park. We did go to the eastern side when we went on the boat cruise, and did part of the game drive there. As for wildlife, we saw plenty where we were. I don't know if there is a difference between the two parts; at least we did not notice it. We saw few day trip vehicles in the western portion though. As for the tents, the manager said that they've never experienced any issues with the animals and that they do not bother the tents even though they do pass by. We did not notice any bugs in our tent other than some moths where we dined at the main tent.

    Sartoric, you're welcome. Happy to provide some food for thought. If South Africa is on your list, may I suggest you go sooner rather than later as the currency exchange rates are historically favorable to us as Western visitors?

    Uhoh, you're welcome. Where in Africa are you visiting this time?

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    uhoh -- you must go to Namibia. Stark and astonishing. And safari in Kenya and Tanzania is a must do as well. Seems you have many more trips to Africa upcoming!

    I've done South Africa (over 20 times), Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Botswana, Liberia, and Senegal. I now have my eyes set on Ethiopia and gorilla trekking in Rwanda.

    My girls and I have also spent a lot of time in Asia and Europe. I recently told them, we can not plan another trip to Africa, Asia or Europe, until we visit some where in Latin America, where we have never been. But Africa just calls....

    Where are you going this trip?

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    Lolazahra, like you, there are so many places that we want to visit as well. For a next trip to Africa, I'm thinking Kenya / Tanzania, Namibia, or Madagascar. As for Latin America, aim for Peru and / or Brazil. We visited both in 2014 and loved it.

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    Nina88, here is the TA list:

    Craig Beal, Travel Beyond
    Tanya Kotze, Africa Direct
    Liesl Matthews, Southern Destinations
    Dave Patterson, The Africa Safari
    Lyon Tours and Safaris

    I know there are two more we contacted but I cannot seem to find their names in my notes.

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    Hi tripplanner001

    We're about to depart for SA and Zim next week. I was curious, when you toured the Zambia side of Victoria Falls did you do the entire thing on foot? From Zim to Zam and back again?

    I think we want to do something similar but, I can't find detailed information about the park on the Zambia side. Is it a far walk after the bridge to the Zambia park? Do we need Zambia currency for the entry fee or will US Dollars be accepted? (I've read they don't officially accept foreign $ in Zam but I've heard varying reports on the enforcement of this).

    And is it easy from the park on the Zambia side to find the trail down to Boiling Pot? You mention a train but I can only information on a train in regards to rafting tours which we won't be doing but would be interested in seeing the fall from below.

    Any information would be helpful.


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    Likakana82, yes, we walked from Zimbabwe to Zambia and back, all on foot. From Zimbabwe, if you continue past the entrance to its side of the park on the same road, you will reach the border. From the border, you get your passport and visa stamped out, leave Zimbabwe, cross the Victoria Falls Bridge, obtain your entry stamp on the Zambian side, and walk to the entrance of the park. The total journey on foot took us about 30-40 minutes, with not much of a line at immigration on either side. The Zambian park does take U.S. dollars, and I recall a few other currencies including South African rand. Once inside the park, there is plenty of signage of where to go for the various trails including the Boiling Pot. Keep in mind that if you intend to cross into Zambia and back into Zimbabwe that you would need a double-entry visa for Zimbabwe if you would require a visa at all. On the Zambia side, you could get a day visa, which costs US$20.

    I am not sure of your reference to a train. We did not take any there.

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    I should also clarify that you cannot view the falls from the Boiling Pot viewpoint except for some spray from the falls. However, we appreciated the geological perspective; in other words, if you could go behind the falls and underneath it, the cliffs and boulders you see would be what you find. Not to mention it's an easy hike but we still got some exercise.

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    Thanks triplanner. I must've misread the word trail as train...I thought it was strange and thus my question. A trail makes more sense.

    We planned on the double entry visa for Zim and all the other info helps a lot.


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    Hi tripplanner001,

    Thank you for the TA list. It is very helpful. May I ask how did you come accross Lyon Tours and Safaris? Thinking about contact them for our upcoming trip in SA but can't find a review for them on tripadvisor. The only reference that I can find is in your post. Thank you!

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    You bet I will.... Off to Europe in 4 weeks. So as soon as we get back I'll start on this. :-?
    Nice to see annhigs name here least I now have to people to stalk .... Sorry.... Follow. :-)

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    Thank you so much for such a detailed trip report! Your words made me want to go book the trip today. I would honestly like to consider a two week vacation in SA next Spring and this just inspires me more. Sadly my husband absolutely hates flying, and he will struggle with flights every few days. I have done zero research on this, tonight was the first night I even googled to 'think' about trying to plan this. Is train travel an option? Sorry if that is a silly question. Obviously I just need to purchase some travel guides to even begin to think about this. Any one in particular that stand out to help with basic, initial, planning thoughts? Thanks!

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    South Africa is a large country. There are train services between Cape Town and Johannesburg and it is also possible to drive between these two cities as well as Sabi Sand / Kruger.

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    3 weeks in France with a bit of Germany. Hopefully a UK xmas next year with our two new grandchildren.>>

    that doesn't sound tooooo bad. where in France and Germany are you going?

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    Arriving into Dusseldorf, thanks to ff points. We will spend a couple of days in Bacharach, then move onto Eguisheim, Dijon, Azay le Rideau, then probably Hautvillers (currently looking for accommodation) then back to Dusseldorf. We will stop into Luxembourg City and/or Cologne on the way back.

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