SA first-timers' lessons learned first-hand

Old Oct 9th, 2007, 02:04 PM
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SA first-timers' lessons learned first-hand

We just got back from our first trip to South Africa, and we found it amazing-on many, many levels. We planned our own trip, from car rentals to guesthouses. In the process of our 17-day journey, my husband and I learned many things that we had never read about in all the guide books and message boards, so I thought I would pass it along…
• The people in SA are fantastically helpful and friendly, bending over backwards to help in any situation-from a baggage handler helping us get seats on a sold-out SAA flight (long but great story), to a hotel staff member running to her house to let a guest borrow her rain jacket
•“The infrastructure is the best in all Africa”-that doesn’t mean it is the same standard as the USA
o “N” roads tend to be two-lane, with many construction stops throughout the country. This means waits of up to 20minutes a stop. We were on one N road that was a dirt road for about 10k.
o Anytime you see something say it is a 4-5 hour drive, add two hours to that!
o A 2-3 hour drive, add an hour
•SA is a HUGE country-distances are deceiving on a map – see above
o We drove Cape Town to the Garden Route, Little Karoo, from Nelspruit to Northern Drakensberg, through much of Free State and up to Johannesburg
•People in the countryside walk everywhere. You will round a corner, not having seen a hut in many kilometers, and pass a group of school children walking. You might never see where their potential destination is.
o Be very careful of pedestrians-as signs said in J’burg, “Pedestrians-No Fence”
•If you want to goon safari and have a manicure/pedicure, internet access and other luxury services, feel free to pay GOBS of money. However, if you only want outstanding guides, to see every animal under the sun, beautiful bush setting, very good food and great people, Djuma Bush Lodge is spectacular in every way for a fraction of the cost (tip-see below)
o The animals have no idea how much you paid!
•There are spectacular mountains everywhere, the beaches are magnificent, and the “WOW!” factor for the scenery is amazing
•The poverty in the townships and current political situation led us to the frightening realization that SA could go the way of Zimbabwe in a few short years
•Food and drink prices are outstanding value for Americans – be aware that imports like camera batteries and cameras are not(long story)!!
•Rain ponchos were provided on safari-and we saw our best sightings in the rain!
o Seats and therefore backsides still become extremely wet-make sure you sit on a towel (between you and the rain poncho)!
•Merchandise at the J’burg airport is outrageously expensive!
•All merchandise purchases throughout the country include VAT (tax of 14%) which you can get back at the airport when you leave. HOWEVER, as soon as you arrive, get a brochure on what type of receipt you need, as it is very specific and many vendors either don’t know how to do it or don’t want to take the time to do it-you need to show them what you need to get VAT back
o Leave an extra 30minutes time at the airport to go through VAT process

We were able to do the entire trip for $10,000 (only paid for one air ticket, used miles for the other), stayed in truly excellent quality guesthouses (high value!) and fantastic private game lodge (also spent a day with Selwyn!). I’ll post info on where we stayed in a separate posting.
ejbentx is offline  
Old Oct 9th, 2007, 06:38 PM
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"The animals have no idea how much you paid!"
Good point!
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Old Oct 9th, 2007, 07:41 PM
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Great start, keep it coming please.
regards - tomn
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Old Oct 9th, 2007, 08:36 PM
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keep it coming! We leave Seattle on the 30th for 3 weeks and will be with Selwyn one of those days. Can't wait to hear about your experiences.
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Old Oct 9th, 2007, 10:03 PM
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Make Selwyn take you to Zarina's. If you don't have time, make him stop and at least pick up some samosas to snack on back at the hotel. Yummy!!!
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Old Oct 10th, 2007, 03:35 AM
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We'll be at Djuma Bush Lodge in June - looking forward to your report! Though I must say, only on S. Africa safari trips could the prices we're paying for DBL be considered a budget choice! Yes I know it covers room, board & all activities, and it's less than many, many other lodge/camp options, but I sure don't figure our family of five will be on a "budget" vacation next year! More like a "break the budget" vacation! (But worth it, all you fodorites have convinced us!)
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Old Oct 10th, 2007, 01:10 PM
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hi, elbentx,

love your tips. You've expressed in a few words what I thought on coming back from our first trip to SA in July, particuarly about the people, and the worry that they'll end up like Zimbabwe.

looking forward to the rest of your report,

regards, ann
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Old Oct 11th, 2007, 05:02 AM
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Great post Ejbentx - wonderful tips and lessons learned for us future SA travellers!

You mention you planned your own trip (car rental & guesthouses) - did you book everything before you left for SA or did you handle most things when you got there?
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Old Feb 11th, 2008, 12:25 PM
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Where did you stay in the Drakensberg and what did you think of it?
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Old Feb 22nd, 2008, 09:10 AM
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We stayed at Montusi Mountain Lodge and LOVED it! Very few tourists, gorgeous views, incredibly helpful and friendly staff. Total relaxation, which was key after so much traveling! Interesting note, it is the same family that runs The Cavern-they decided to open up something a bit more quiet and upscale.
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