South Africa: First-timer, Alone

Old May 24th, 2010, 08:31 AM
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South Africa: First-timer, Alone

I have an opportunity to travel to South Africa in Feb/March with a group. I don't have my research books yet, and my detailed itinerary is in the mail, but I wanted to get some basics just to "get my head around it."

I'll be travelling solo within the larger group. How safe is South Africa? I'm told we won't be staying in Johannesburg -- outside the city, somewhere safer -- and only travelling to the Soweto and some historical sites in the city with the group and guide.

How are the locals? Are they warm and friendly? Or shifty, cold and not-to-be-trusted?

We'll be going on some safaris in Kruger National Park. Is this actually worthwhile or more of a "tourist trap?" A lifelong dream of mine has been to see African wildlife on a safari, and since this may be the one and only time I'm in Africa, I want to be sure it lives up to my expectations. While I've heard that safaris are better in Kenya and Tanzania, I also think a trip to South Africa may be a way to experience Africa without "roughing it" too much.

Any questions or information I should obtain from the tour organizer before booking?

Any advice or info to set my mind at ease would be appreciated.

Thanks!
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Old May 24th, 2010, 12:31 PM
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South Africans are very warm and friendly. You'll love the people and the country.

Kruger is an experience not to be missed. No way is it a "tourist trap".

Please let us know details of your itinerary when you get them, and people can give you more detailed information.

You'll have a wonderful time!
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Old May 24th, 2010, 12:57 PM
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South Africa is a warm, friendly and generally safe country, but there are some areas which would not be recommended. However, you'll be well cared for, and you'll be amazed by the hospitality, kindness and warm-heartedness of the folk.

Kruger is, to my mind, one of the major wildlife paradises of Africa. I spend my life in game reserves and some of the really remote wildlife areas of Southern Africa, and Kruger never ceases to amaze and surprise me. Sure, everyone believes that the places they've been to are the best, and that's the way it should be. Kenya and Tanzania have their charms, but so do South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia, each offering different and fantastic experiences.

Soweto can be an incredible excursion, and so can Joburg. Your guide will show you all the great places, safely!

Set your mind at rest and enjoy the journey!
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Old May 24th, 2010, 01:52 PM
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Kruger - I have been on safari six times in six years in three countries. We love Kruger, it is not a "tourist trap". Are you sure the tour is actually going to Kruger? Sometimes they say Kruger but what it really is is a lodge/camp -next to- Kruger. There are many wonderful private camps next to Kruger and also "game farms". Get the exact details as to where you will stay in Kruger (or not), including how many nights there.

FWIW, here is my Fodors trip report from last Sep 2009 that included Kruger -
http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...p-sep-2009.cfm

And come back with more questions. Planning your first trip to Africa is a lot different than your first trip to Europe.

regards - tom
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Old May 24th, 2010, 03:32 PM
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Your life long dream will be fulfilled and then some--the wildlife on safari, the people, the landscapes, the sounds, the smells, etc.

To make sure the trip is a good one, why don't you post the itinerary for more comments and insights? Tom's comment about near Kruger, but not in Kruger can be clarified for you, among other things.
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Old May 24th, 2010, 04:58 PM
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Thanks, all. I'm feeling more at ease already and the excitement is building...

As soon as I get the itinerary I'll post it for feedback and tips. Check back in a few days, please!!
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Old May 26th, 2010, 03:16 AM
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Narnya, you will l-o-o-ve SA!! As a rule our people are very warm and friendly and known for their hospitality. (However, be aware of the following: if some of the ethnic groupings don't look into your eye when they talk to you, it is out of respect, NOT because they are shifty or because they are unfriendly. It is part of some of the local cultures not to make eye contact with people they respect.) Some areas should be avoided, but on the whole JHB will be a great experience, as will Soweto.
About the Kruger...it is a wonderful place that gets under your skin, climbs into your heart and becomes part of your soul. You can't go wrong. That said, if you are looking for a more luxurious safari experience, you can always consider going to the SabiSands next to the Kruger, but that is also more expensive (though worth each and every cent - believe me!!) Let us know what your itinerary is like and we can give you more informed comments.
Kind regards
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Old May 27th, 2010, 05:09 PM
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FINALLY, the itinerary arrived! It's a little light on the safari game drives, but for a first-timer, perhaps this is okay as the tour appears (in my mind) to be well-rounded.

Please provide your thoughts on all aspects of what I have below. I've summarized for space and time.

Day 1: Overnight Flight from U.S.

Day 2: Transfer from JNB to Sandton. Dinner included.(Southern Sun Katherine Street Hotel)

Day 3: Guide will help discover the origin and history of the languages we'll experience, as well as key phrases. Guided tour of Soweto. Lunch at Shebeen or house tavern. Visit the Apartheid Museum. Breakfast and luch included. (Southern Sun Katherine Street Hotel)

Day 4: Travel through Drakensburg Mountain Range en route to Kruger National Park, passing thru the Blyde River Canyon. Also see Bourke's Luck Potholes. Breakfast and dinner included. (Sabi River Sun Resort)

Day 5: Morning and late afternoon open air vehicle safari game drive. Breakfast and dinner included. (Sabi River Sun Resort)

Day 6: Travel back to Johannesburg to catch flight to Port Elizabeth. Breakfast included. (Southern Sun Garden Court King's Beach)

Day 7: Journey thru the Tsitsikamma Forest along the Garden Route. Continue along the southern coast "where a jagged shoreline meets quaint villages." Arrive in Knysna. "This afternoon, your township tour will highlight the diversity of this community followed by a touching experience as you visit a school." Breakfast and dinner included. (Graywood Hotel)

Day 8: Visit Featherbed Nature Reserve. Lagoon cruise to Knysna Heads. Board a 4x4 and travel deep into the forest to see flora and fauna during a nature walk. Lunchy under the ancient milkwood trees before return cruise. Remainder of day at leisure for independent exploration of Knysna. Breakfast and lunch included. (Graywood Hotel)

Day 9: Travel to Oudtshoorn for a guided tour of one of the oldest working ostrich farms in the area and -- if you wish -- go for a ride on one of these birds. An outdoor BBQ for lunch. Journey to Cape Town. Breakfast and lunch included. (The Cullinan Hotel)

Day 10: Panoramic tour of Cape Town. Cable car to top of Table Mountain. Return to city via Table Bay, passing thru Malay Quarter and stopping at Milnerton Lighthouse. Rest of day at leisure. Breakfat included. (The Cullinan Hotel)

Day 11: Explore coastal scenery of the Cape Peninsula. Go to Cape Point, visiting pengins at Boulder Beach. On return, stop at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Breakfast included. (The Cullinan Hotel)

Day 12: Discover the Cape Winelands region, visiting lcoal wine farms. Return to Cape Town this afternoon. In the evening, enjoy an after-hours guided tour of the African Gold Museum, followed by traditional African dining experience. Breakfast and dinner included. (The Cullinan Hotel)

Day 13: Breakfast. Tour ends. Transfer to airport for flight to JNB and JFK.

There are a couple of add-ons, for instance a 3-night Victoria Falls post-tour excursion (that I will pass on, due to money and time constraints). These two are low-cost 3.5-hour optional "evening exursions":

Knysna: Tour and tasting at Mitchell's Brewery. Complimentary pint. Go to Thesen Horbour Town and Sirocco for a relaxing dinner overlooking the sea.

Cape Town: Introduction to Cape Town and the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Dinner at Green Dolphin.
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Old May 27th, 2010, 11:50 PM
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You said first post-
"A lifelong dream of mine has been to see African wildlife on a safari, and since this may be the one and only time I'm in Africa, I want to be sure it lives up to my expectations."
With the above trip you will have two game drives at the Sabi River Sun Resort. Kruger? Doesn't say Kruger. Even-if-it-is-in Kruger, two, (2), dos, due, game drives. You can not be serious!!!!

Back to square one, what are you "expectations"?

regards - tom
ps - so, you say - indeed sir, then how many game drives are enough??? I'd say 10. Just for starters. You may go back for another 150, that's what happens to a lot of us
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Old May 28th, 2010, 03:04 AM
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Hi there!

OOOhhhh...I'm afraid I have to agree with Tom. The Sabi River Sun Resort is a great place to stay and I love it, BUT it is 50 odd kilometres from the closest gate into the Kruger National Park and only two drives.. !!! As I said, Sabi River Sun is great, but we usually use it as an overnight stop en route somewhere else - definitely not as a basis to do our safari's from. Any other type of game driver (such as on a small enclosed property) would obviously give you a very limited and watered down experience; in fact, I wouldn't even call that a game drive.
However, I agree with you that it is a "well rounded" tour. If one takes personal taste into consideration, there are obviously things I would add or take away, but on the whole, it seems good. If you Do you ultimately want the all round experience, or would you prefer to spend a bit less time on other things and a bit more on safari?
Just some other points:
- The Soweto tour will be a great experience.
- The Garden Route is beautiful, but personally (and for a first timer) I would cut some of the Garden Route part and add to the safari. However, that said, I must add that walking a nature trail in the Tsitsikamma Forest is a wonderful experience.
- One can spend 3 weeks in Cape Town alone, but once again, I would take one day of the Cape Town part of the tour and add it to the safari. The reason I keep saying that is because there are scenic routes and beautiful cities in Europe, Canada, USA...name them...but a true safari experience is unique to certain parts of Africa and very much part of the South African scene.
Kind regards
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Old May 28th, 2010, 05:48 AM
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I agree -- days 6 and 7 would be better spent on safari (since you're already in the east in the best safari country), rather than on driving and flying. Again, the Garden Route is nice, but nothing compared to safari. It does look like a nice tour, but the emphasis is on covering the whole country, and to me, two weeks isn't enough time to see the whole country. I'd look around for a tour with more safari time.
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Old May 28th, 2010, 05:53 AM
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And after re-reading your original note, Narnya, I don't think this tour will live up to your expectations at all. Kruger Park is a world treasure, teeming with wildlife, and a one-day safari starting from outside the park is not going to give you the experience at all.

It looks like a nice tour, but not the one you want. It strikes me as a bit like taking a tour of Spain when what you wanted was to see France.

If I were you I'd keep looking. Don't spend your money on something that isn't going to be what you want.
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Old May 28th, 2010, 07:53 AM
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Guess if you want to visit South Africa, this itinerary covers enough of the country. But if you want safari... it just doesn't cut it. Certainly not when they're only offering 1/full day of game viewing.

As Celia, I'd keep looking. Whether for another South Africa itinerary or consider heading to East Africa, especially Tanzania would be ideal in February when the migrating wildebeest are "calving" their young.
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Old May 28th, 2010, 03:47 PM
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Well, after reviewing and posting the itinerary last night, I had serious doubts that it included enough safari, but I still had hope. Now, after reading your comments, I'm more certain that this tour isn't for me. (Sigh!)

I like the well-roundedness of the tour, but ultimately, the big draw to Africa for me is the wildlife -- less so on flora and fauna and what I believe to be a beautiful city, Cape Town.

In a bit of defense for the itinerary, Sabi River Sun Resort is the lodging, it does indicate the game drive is in Kruger. My fault that detail wasn't included.

Well, I'll keep setting aside money and look for a more appropriate tour in the meantime -- and continue with reading my Fodor's book.

I appreciate all of your input -- pre and post-itinerary posting! I would hate to make the wrong tour choice and have a less-than-desired South African experience.

Tnank you,
Narnya
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Old May 29th, 2010, 11:23 AM
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Hi Narnya,

I've just returned from a "safari" - my 20th odd this year - LOL!

I'm afraid that I have to agree with the above posters. If it's wildlife you're after, this routing won't even touch sides.

It's a brilliant all-round trip, that passes through South Africa so quickly you won't even appreciate a single aspect, because it's that "shallow" - what I'd call a spectator trip. It's a little light on activity - no meat there at all. It's a huge country, and with 12-days I'd only look at a small portion of SA (probably eastern side, Kruger and Northern KZN), and get the most of that. If you want Cape Town on top of that, I suggest you fly directly there and spend at least 3 days.

If you looking for wildlife, try find a tour that contains at least six drives or walks (or three full days), and then you'll only start scratching the surface, IMO. There are many suitable tours to suit every budget.
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Old May 29th, 2010, 12:29 PM
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I am going to Africa for the first time in just a couple days but thought I'd let you know that we're doing safari in Botswana. They do at least two drives each day and offer tons of camps. Check into Eyes on Africa and see what you think.
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Old May 29th, 2010, 03:29 PM
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Narnya,

There are many more options out there! Keep looking and you'll have a great trip. Solo travel works well for South Africa, even if you do not join a group and do not want to drive yourself. I've done that. You fly to/from the reserves and are met and transfered to the lodge. Then you do your wildlife activities in a shared vehicle with others at the lodge.

It was Eyes on Africa in Chicago that arranged those South Africa safari activities for me.

In Cape Town, I had a private guide take me around (Take2Tours) and then joined groups for Great White Shark viewing and baboon walks.

After some more research, list what you want to do and then posters can help put together a trip. You can look for an organized tour that includes what you want or design your own trip.
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Old May 30th, 2010, 09:00 AM
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Hi there

Also check out www.africadirect.co.za - they've arranged all the safari's I've ever been on and I've never had the slightest hiccup. Contact Tanya - her address is [email protected] - she is extremely professional and has also made various recommendations to me in the past regarding certain trips, yet left me to choose what I wanted.

Kind regards
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Old Jun 1st, 2010, 01:37 PM
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Agreed. This itinerary tries to do too much in too little time, and is way way short on the safari. South AFrica is huge, and you're all over the country here. You'll spend most of your time in vehicles. You'll be exhausted. There are too many options out there to choose this one.
Since this is your first trip and time is short, I'd skip all destinations in the eastern part of the country and concentrate on safaris. Cape Town is worth at least 3 days. Gorgeous and lots to see. I'dt skip the Blyde River stuff too. It's lovely but a long drive and if you want to see animals, you won't there.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2010, 03:32 AM
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Nanrny
The itinerary is excellent for a first timer who wants to DISCOVER a whole destination - but certainly it's by far not a safari itinerary.

It's still plenty time to re-vised any tour and research to come up with something which serves your appetite for wildlife thoroughly!

What about a self-drive in Kruger staying in some of the camps - changing location every 4 nights? Would that be an option? Let's say you will be at least 2 of you you can even make it a self-drive!

What ever you come up with one general advise:

NOT VISIT ANY LION CUB PATTING/WALKING venue!

Those lion cubs fall victims to the trophy hunting industry! As they are hand raised they are habituated to humans and cars and therefore easy targets for those sickos.
PLEASE DON'T VISIT! Those venues are all over the country but the Eastern Cape, Free State and also North West province are the most rogue provinces in that regard.
Any venue which offers CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is abusive and cruel! No picture justifies to support that exploitation an cat's misery!

Happy planning!

SV
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