I have never posted on the forums before but have received such excellent advice as a lurker that I decided it is time. I have just returned from a 2 week tour of Cape Town (4 nights), the Winelands (2 nights), Botswana (Baines Camp - 3 nights) and Zambia (Sussi and Chuma - 3 nights). It was, in a word, awesome. We used go2africa.com to book the tour and they did a truly excellent job - every detail was taken care of.
Cape Town -
Cape Cadogan Hotel: a lovely boutique hotel just off Kloof street. This place was great because it was within walking distance of dozens of restaurants, which was so handy after a long day out touring around. Our room was quite large with a private patio, right off the courtyard. The staff at this hotel were excellent - so accomodating and so helpful in getting reservations and deciding what to do on our days out. The breakfast was also excellent and the home-made treats next to our bed every night were wonderful as well. Top notch and in a great location.
Private Guide (Jon Farthing, email@example.com): Jon is great. He has a very nice comfortable car and is an excellent driver. We spent our first full day in Cape Town with him. He took us along the coastline to see penguins and huge groups of dolphins, then stopped off at a few wineries for tastings. After that, we headed to Signal Hill in the driving rain, which cleared up just in time to produce a lovely rainbow over Cape Town! Jon was an excellent guide - on time, informative and interesting to talk with. Highly recommend.
Bikes and Wines tour: This was fun, though I did feel it could have been a bit better. Our guide was quite new, and rather flustered, having had some difficulty with his car which caused him to be somewhat late to collect the group. As a result, things felt a bit rushed at each location as we were subject to the schedules of the train back to Cape Town. (A quick word here: we met some people who were appalled that we had taken a train out to wine country because it was so "unsafe and unclean". It is the tour company's policy as they are committed to eco tourism and public transportation is an important part of that. I found the train in both directions to be perfectly fine - clean enough and right on schedule. I didn't feel unsafe or uncomfortable at all.) We had lovely weather and rode a short distance, just 9 km. Initially I was disappointed at the short route but once I started riding I realized the terrain was rougher than I'd imagined and I was glad we weren't going terribly far. We stopped at 2 or 3 wineries, a Cheetah sanctuary and a brandy mill (which was, luckily, at the end of the trip as that stuff can get you a little tipsy). It was, overall, a really nice day and cool experience, especially riding the back roads between the wineries.
Red/double decker hop-on, hop-off bus: Yes, we did this. I have done a similar bus tour in a number of cities (including my own) and I think they are a great way to see a lot in a short time. We caught this bus after a morning trip up Table Mountain (beautiful) and were able to see Camps Bay (a stunning beach with the coolest indigo shells all over it), V&A Waterfront (cheesy... not my scene), District 6, and the Company Gardens in half a day. And we did get off and actually explore these areas. It was a great option for us, since we didn't have a car, and we were able to walk back to our hotel from the Company Gardens.
Le Quartier Francais: Wow. This place was lovely. We stayed in the Four Quarters, which are 4 large suites with a separete pool, wood burning fireplaces, heated floors, kitchenette, etc. As the concierge was showing us around, we played it cool... but once she was gone we were running all around the place checking out all the amenities in the room like children. It was really REALLY nice. Excellent service as well. While we were at LQF, we did a cooking class where we baked bread and churned butter with two lovely women who work as chefs in the Tasting Room, the restaurant attached to the hotel. It was a great way to spend an afternoon, and the food we made was divine. We also booked a full day wine tour through the hotel and they sent us a lovely tour guide named Cyril, who proved to be yet another gem of a person. He took us to several wineries, around Stellenbosch and then took a special route home through the mountains so we could see the fog lifting off the peaks, which was just stunning. We had such a great time tasting wines and visiting the beautiful properties - it seemed each one was more lovely than the last. Really a nice region and a great way to wind down before we headed to Botswana the next day.
Baines Camp: Unfortunately, I have not been to a tented camp to compare this to, but I have to say that this place was a true highlight of our trip. This camp holds just ten people in 5 stand-alone cabins, rather than the luxury tents that a number of other camps use. I liked having walls around me, though I don't know that is necessary - you are not really roughing it at a place like this. The managers, Chris, Debs and Florence, are lovely people who are easy to talk to and always around - I really don't know how they remain so charming and friendly in the face of a constant stream of strangers. The food was impeccable - so delicious and varied. Each night we gathered around the community firepit for cocktails (and one night were treated to the staff singing and dancing - awesome!) and then headed to a communal table for a 3 course dinner. The service was incredible and you nearly forgot you were dining in the middle of the delta (until a hippo started grunting). Our guide, Martin, was fantastic. He clearly has a photographer's eye and knew just where to stop the vehicle to get a great picture. People told us that this was not the place to see big cats, but we did see a pride of 4 lions two days in a row, in addition to giraffes, lots of elephants, zebra, buffalo, impala, warthog and a ton of other critters. One thing that was alarming at first was the fact that the game drive vehicles will drive straight into huge pools of water (which are essentially lakes) in the middle of the road, sometimes so deep that the water floods the floor of the car. The first few times we did this I was freaking out, but eventually you realize that it is totally normal and nothing to worry about. We did get stuck once, but that was in the mud, not in a lake. Martin made the best of it and served coffee, tea and cookies while we waited to get pulled out.
I should also note that we did the Elephant Walk with Doug Groves while we were here. This was such a wonderful day, words cannot convey it. Doug's 3 elephants are truly gentle giants - interacting with them and hugging their giant legs was really an amazing experience, and we learned so much about elephants during our visit with them as well. I will remember this always.
Sussi and Chuma: Overall, I had a very nice time here. The one negative was that the pool was broken - the waters of the Zambezi had come up so high that they flooded the filter. This was sort of a let down as the pool looks like it would have been a lovely place to hang out. I also found it odd that the pool was full of scuzzy green water - I think draining it would have been the better solution. I also thought our treehouse had seen better days - they are in the midst of renovating the treehouses and I believe ours was probably next on the list. Nothing major was wrong, just some large gaps in the floor boards and also a rogue nail sticking up from the floor that could have caused serious injury (I moved a little table over it so we wouldn't step on it). And the door wouldn't close unless it was locked. As a result of the renovations, our side of the property was less pretty than the higher numbered cabins, as there were construction materials lying around on the ground below the decks. However, I do think the service here was quite impressive and they did all they could to make this a memorable stay. Again, the food here is impressive and the menu was varied every night. We really enjoyed the surprise boat ride and lunch buffet on an island in the middle of the river, and also the fireside lectures on the stars (and philosophical discussions that followed). Our trip to Victoria Falls was excellent - though I recommend taking in the falls and the surrounding park and entirely skipping on the "market" set up outside the entrance gate. The salesmen hound you and are incredibly aggressive and appear to be selling the same junk you can get at the "Out of Africa" stores in the airport. The game drives were actually pretty nice - we saw elephants, giraffes, a VERY large rhino, zebra, baboons and other little monkeys, lots of monitor lizards, crocodiles, hippo. The park is much smaller but it does have some interesting aspects to it - most notably an abandoned ranger camp in the middle that is now falling down and, in my opinion, is in a state of truly beautiful decay. Our guide Junior was full of information (and funny stories) and seemed to really enjoy his work.
Whew. I hope this was a little bit helpful to someone, as I have always gotten such great advice from the various posters here. I am happy to take questions if anyone has any. I have to say that this was the nicest and most expensive (by FAR) vacation I have ever taken, but I found it to be worth every penny. Memories of a lifetime!
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