Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Africa & the Middle East (
-   -   South Africa - Guidebook recommendation and other ?? (

janisj Sep 12th, 2017 05:07 PM

South Africa - Guidebook recommendation and other ??

I am just beginning to think about a trip to South Africa next year (or possibly the first half of 2019) -- need to do LOTS of research because this is definitely outside my experience/knowledge.

My first basic Questions to get me started:
1) Are there one or two specific guidebooks recommended for basic/background info?

2) Think I want mainly Capetown, wine region(s) and some sort of safari experience -- but I'd like to limit the trip to 2 weeks max total - so only 10-12 days in country. Is this possible?

3) Have a basically open calendar so which would be the best month(s) for this?

4) I'm pretty sure I want to stick to Malaria free areas - can I get a decent safari/animal viewing experience with that limitation?

5) Are there any safari companies that don't have HUGE single supplements?

Phew -- that was more than I thought I'd ask this first go round :) OK - any help/hints to point me in the right direction?


christabir Sep 12th, 2017 09:31 PM

With about 10 days on the ground, it's easy to do Cape Town and safari. Fly to Cape Town and spend 3-6 nights. Then fly direct to the airport nearest your chosen lodge. Spend 3-6 nights - minimum 3 nights per private lodge. Very easy, can be done in any budget.

Wildllife viewing is best in winter from June to September. That's also low malaria risk time (it's winter!). I wouldn't let the very low risk of malaria in winter prevent me from visiting the premier safari destination in S Africa. Go to Kruger. The newer anti malarials have very few side effects if you choose to take them (I don't in winter as it's not advised by the S Africa health department for tourists). If you can't do a very low risk area, try Madikwe. Nice reserve, nice lodges but harder to reach - you'll need a flight to JNB and a charter to Madikwe.

Guide Books are generally obsolete before they are printed. Just go to your local library and borrow whatever is there - they are good enough, especially for the limited and very popular places you'll be going. Cape Town is a very european feeling city and the winelands are nearby. It's not as exotic as you think with great tourism infrastructure. The HopOn HopOff bus routes are excellent and can get you to most destinations in the city - they even go to the winelands. You can use MyCity bus, Uber, small group tours, private drivers as well. It's a great city with tons to do and see. Lots of hotels and guests houses in all neighborhoods.

Safari companies don't charge a single supplement but almost all of the private lodges do. There are many in all price ranges. If you stay in a more affordable but excellent lodge, the single supplement won't hurt so much. You can always request the lodge waive the fee - they won't do it if you don't ask. Try nThambo, Senalala, Motswari, Arathusa, Elephant Plains, Nkhorho, Africa on Foot, Shindzela (rustic but good), Bateleur Main, Umlani, Inyati, Honeyguide, there are many others but let us know if any of these look like what you are looking for. I don't know of any lodges that don't have a ss any more (but there likely are a few).

You can use an agent or book it on your own. If you want to use a safari agent, be sure if they agree to a reasonable budget that they stay within that budget. Too often they steer clients to more expensive accommodations than their budget allows. Of course they look great but the lodges in your budget will exceed your expectations.


ekscrunchy Sep 13th, 2017 03:40 AM

Here is a trip of two weeks that I wrote about, to give you an idea; if you use a safari planner/travel agent, you can ask all the questions. I never did find a great guidebook but RoughGuides is pretty decent. My travel style is much different than the above poster, so you can have an idea of the "other" side of the safari experience!

We spent a week in Cape Town and a week on safari at two different camps. they may be higher than your budget level, I have no idea, but should give you an idea while you find your guidebook. I would re-think the malaria-free idea. the pills are easy to tolerate with few side effects (none that I am aware of) and if you go in certain seasons, chances of being bitten are few. In three trips to southern Africa so far, I believe I've seen one mosquito and that was in Botswana last May!!

thursdaysd Sep 13th, 2017 05:10 AM

I'm starting to think about South Africa as well, although I'm not healthy enough to travel right now. But I would want to add Victoria falls and probably a train ride to any trip, along with visits to the wineries.

I agree with eks about malaria pills. Of course, everyone is different, but I have taken Malarone multiple times, usually for two-three plus weeks, with no side effects. Avoid Lariam!

Gardyloo Sep 13th, 2017 05:39 AM

I'll echo several of <b>christabir's</b> points.

Timing - late winter. I'd recommend right about now - early to mid-September. It's the dry season in the safari zones, which means (a) the animals come to the water and (b) the absence of foliage makes for easier viewing in the bush. And because it's still winter, temperatures in the north (Kruger area, for example) are quite moderate - shirt sleeve warm in the day time, light jacket for the early morning and evening game drives. It's also a time when mosquitoes are not a factor. Also, wildflowers. See below.

Where to go: I would look at safari lodges in the Sabi Sand and Madikwe reserves. You can drive from JNB airport to Madikwe in four hours or so on good and safe roads, or you can drive most of the way from JNB to the Sabi Sand area in an easy day (spend the night on the magnificent Panoramic Route in the mountains) and then make it to the lodge early the next day.

The private safari lodges all work on a similar routine - early morning coffee and biscuits, then a dawn game drive that lasts for three hours or so, then back to the lodge for breakfast, relaxation, and lunch, possibly with some bush walks or other activities included. Then the second drive starts in the late afternoon and continues through the sunset hours (with a stop for "sundowner" cocktails out in the bush someplace) followed by a return to the lodge for dinner. Repeat. So the key is to arrive at the lodge around noon, when the departing guests have checked out but long enough before the afternoon drive that you have time to get settled in. Otherwise you're not getting your money's worth, and it's a lot of money.

Most lodges charge a single supplement of around 30% over their per-person-sharing rates. I just had a look at a couple of lodges we've used over the years and I'd be budgeting something between US$350 and $600 per night for 4- or 5-star properties. I know that sounds a lot, but believe me, the value for money is quite incredible. And you'll make it up easily when you're NOT on safari, as accommodation is incredibly good value all over the country.

As a side note, SA's hotel and B&B grading system - 1 to 5 stars - is phenomenal. The standards are very high, and very rigorously enforced.

If it was me, I'd set up a schematic something like this:

Fly to Joburg and spend a night de-jetlagging yourself in an airport hotel. (There are US-style hotel shuttles.)

Then either get a car and drive to Madikwe, or drive to Graskop, a pretty village along the Panoramic Route (google Blyde River Canyon, Three Rondavels, God's Window.) Stay at the Graskop Hotel and have dinner next door at Harrie's Pancakes (Dutch pancakes with a twist.)

Or if you don't want to drive long distances, fly to Nelspruit (Kruger-Mpumalanga International Airport, MQP) and get a car there and drive to one of the Sabi Sand lodges, around 2 hours.

Spend three nights in the lodge. Fewer means you might miss things, more means you'll be seeing too many repeats.

Then drive back to MQP or JNB, drop the car and fly to Cape Town (nonstops from both.)

Back to timing. The weather can be quite different between the north and the south; Cape Town's weather is quite Californian but a little more wet in mid-summer. By arriving in mid-September you're definitely getting into spring conditions, i.e. changeable but generally good.

If you manage that time, I would definitely include a drive up the west (Atlantic) coast as the wildflowers in that area are like nothing you've ever experienced. Visit West Coast National Park and Paternoster, which can easily be combined in a loop driving trip that includes the winelands and Cape Peninsula, thus:

An alternative would be to fly (from JNB or MQP via JNB) to Port Elizabeth (PLZ) and drive to Cape Town along the Garden Route, stopping first at Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth. Addo is a self-drive park and quite spectacular, and the drive along the Indian Ocean coast to Cape Town is rightly famous (although, in fairness, it's not hugely more beautiful than comparable coastal drives in other parts of the world, e.g. California, New Zealand, the Great Ocean Road in Australia, etc.)

So in timing terms, I'd be looking at four or five days in the north, including safari, and the rest of the time in the south, including the Garden Route or West Coast as well as a few days in Cape Town itself.

In term of guides, I just had a glance at Fodor's own SA coverage and I think it's pretty decent, certainly worth going through as a first step.

As a final thought for a fellow intrepid traveler, if there was ever a time to consider jumping into the round-the-world flying game, a trip to SA might be it. Just sayin'.

Gardyloo Sep 13th, 2017 05:48 AM

Meant to say Cape Town is a little more wet in mid-<i>winter</i>, i.e. July/August.

janisj Sep 13th, 2017 10:03 AM

Wow -- thanks everyone. Terrific info and a LOT to digest. Right now I'm concentrating on recovering from a knee injury so I'll have some free time to study up.

Will come back with more questions when I have a basic plan.

Oh -- one more thing >>I'd be budgeting something between US$350 and $600 per night for 4- or 5-star properties<<

Could I actually get something in the $350-$400 per night range? I assumed nice places would be much higher. (I know one can definitely pay a fortune)

ekscrunchy Sep 13th, 2017 11:50 AM

You can but nowhere near that in Sabi Sands.
Agree that hotel standards are incredibly high and with the dollar soaring it is a great time to go although most safari lodges bill in dollars in Sabi Sands, I think.

Gardyloo Sep 13th, 2017 12:06 PM

Look at Elephant Plains in the Sabi Sand GR. They're showing single rates in their rondavels at 5500 ZAR for next year, which at today's exchange rate is around $420. I've stayed there and found it to be excellent value; very comfortable, professionally run.

Sample photos from that stay -

christabir Sep 13th, 2017 03:53 PM

Elephant Plains, Umkumbe are both affordable in Sabi Sand (so you can get close to your budget, contrary to popular opinion). Arathusa and Nkhorho might come close if you can get the SS waived. Almost all lodges quote in Rand, not USD. The Rand is actually stronger against the dollar this year - it was as high as 17R/USD last year, but still an excellent deal.

But don't limit yourself to Sabi Sand. You truly pay a premium for the reputation, not actual experience. And most people who head out on safari using an agent don't know that when they stayed at Kings or Ngala that it wasn't Sabi Sand and they had a wonderful time in "Sabi Sand". My husband has no idea which reserves we visit :). There are excellent lodges all over greater Kruger and they will exceed your expectations.

Did you look at the lodges I suggested above? Anything you might like?

janisj Sep 13th, 2017 07:19 PM

Thanks -- >>Did you look at the lodges I suggested above? Anything you might like?<<

Not yet - will spend the weekend checking out all the places suggested. You've all given me so much good info it will take some time to get through it all.

I have short trips to Baja, Tahoe and London in the next 2.5 months so may not be able to actually get serious about SA plans until mid-late December - If I decide to go in say Sept '18 - do these lodges book up 8/9 months in advance?

christabir Sep 14th, 2017 08:28 AM

Places like Elephant Plains and Arathusa and some of the very high end lodges might already be mostly booked. Be a bit flexible with dates and you'll find the perfect lodge for you.

janisj Sep 14th, 2017 08:49 AM

I took a look at Elephant Plains -- looks wonderful - and seems really reasonably priced. Some of the others look good too. I have total flexibility so if I'm already too late I can even look into 2019 (GAWD that sounds so far off! ).

I want to fly AA (which unfortunately means BA/high fees) so I'll probably be paying, not using miles. Guess I'll have to pick Gardyloo's brain re RTW.

christabir Sep 14th, 2017 05:53 PM

Ugh. I've recently switched to delta and united cards because BA/AA miles are useless to S Africa (and that's where we go most often). It's almost as much for a miles coach flight as cash. But biz is ok. My flights last year in coach from JFK to JNB were $820 (ironically on BA). And we got upgraded to coach plus on two legs. I'm using AA miles to get to Buenos Aires - that's a great deal.

EP sells out just about first of all the lodges but you might get lucky. Don't discount the others though! There are some great ones in all budgets in greater Kruger.

Gardyloo Sep 15th, 2017 04:16 AM

<i>I want to fly AA (which unfortunately means BA/high fees) so I'll probably be paying, not using miles.</i>

Of course if you buy a ticket the BA fees are included in the purchase price; it's only on mileage flights where BA extorts its fees.

It's worth noting however that Iberia flies to Joburg, and while Iberia (same company as BA) also adds surcharges to mileage flights, they're not nearly as high as BA's. You can also fly to JNB or CPT on Qatar, also an AA partner, and AA has changed its redemption rules so that you can route to Africa via Doha without paying for separate North America - Middle East and Middle East - Africa awards.

From the west coast, however, the best deal using miles to SA is to use Alaska miles on Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong. Don't know if you have any AS miles but using them on CX is great value in business class to Joburg.

If riding up front is a priority (as it should be to Africa) then monitoring this board on Flyertalk - - is highly recommended. You'd be surprised what comes up.

christabir Sep 15th, 2017 09:45 AM

Isn't Cathay Pacific still a Oneworld partner? You can use Etihad too.

I forgot Iberia restarted those flights to JNB!! That's how I got there the first time. Unfortunately that layover is very long. But so is through LHR. It's not an every day flight.

I fly coach. My husband is 6'4" and he's ok. If you want to go often you can't go biz every time if on a budget. :)

janisj Sep 15th, 2017 02:10 PM

>>Of course if you buy a ticket the BA fees are included in the purchase price; it's only on mileage flights where BA extorts its fees.<<

That's what I meant by -- >> . . . so I'll probably be paying, not using miles.<< . . . that I'll probably purchase the tix outright and not use miles to avoid the extra fees.

Some of those lodges look absolutely fabulous. You recommend winter, with Sept being probably very best -- but in general is any time between June/Sept OK?

KathBC Sep 15th, 2017 02:23 PM

"If riding up front is a priority (as it should be to Africa) then monitoring this board on Flyertalk - - is highly recommended. You'd be surprised what comes up."

All their abbreviations make my eyes cross! :) It's like it's very own language.

Gardyloo Sep 15th, 2017 02:57 PM

<i>You recommend winter, with Sept being probably very best -- but in general is any time between June/Sept OK?</i>

Yes, but June and July in Cape Town and the Winelands can be wet and chilly.

<i>All their abbreviations make my eyes cross! :) It's like it's very own language.</i>

Yep, silly insider [email protected], But ultimately worth the effort IMO.

Example - <b>BA in J AMS-LHR-JNB €1.630,- & CPT €1.760,-</b>

Translation, British Airways in business class, Amsterdam - London Heathrow - Johannesburg for €1630 round trip (around US$1940) or to Cape Town, €1760 ($2094.)

I was going to add one of my own:

<b>ET - LAX-xDUB-xADD-JNB 787s/A350s in J, $2490, good thru 7/18.</b>

Translation, Ethiopian Airlines, Los Angeles to Johannesburg via Dublin and Addis Ababa, on 787s and Airbus A350s (both new and great planes), $2490 round trip in business class, the fare good through July 2018. By the way, that's an excellent deal.

KathBC Sep 15th, 2017 09:35 PM

Hurray, now I know what J means! It's a start at least.

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 04:55 AM.