South Africa - Guidebook recommendation and other ??

Jan 26th, 2018, 12:34 PM
  #21  
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Bringing this back up for just one quick question. I received sooooo much good info last Fall but 'life' got in the way and I didn't make any plans for this year. So - now I'm going to get serious for 2019 (probably Aug/Sept time). Realistically how soon would I need to (or be able to) book a camp?
janisj is online now  
Jan 27th, 2018, 05:13 AM
  #22  
 
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I'd be surprised if you needed to book anything until around a year from now, or maybe November-December. The lodges will need to publish their tariffs for 2019, and who knows what the exchange rates will be like. I'd focus on choosing a lodge (or lodges) and building a scratch itinerary. They'll all welcome emails in the meantime.
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Jan 27th, 2018, 09:21 AM
  #23  
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Great - thanks . . .
janisj is online now  
Jan 29th, 2018, 02:33 AM
  #24  
 
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I know it's already been mentioned on this thread, but winter in Cape Town can be wet and cold. I've been a couple of times in June, September and even late October and it was cold & wet as in UK cold and wet and sometimes covered in fog. like Brighton on a dull, wet and windy November day. Great for seeing animals, but not for seeing the winelands, Table Mountain and the great outdoors. Although winter is the best time to see animals, it does not mean you won't see them if you travel at a different time of the year, esp if you go out early or late in the day. Joburg is better weatherwise in winter, but even then, morning and evenings are chilly and a coat is needed, by lunchtime it was sunny but still cold, even if you see the temp charts as 70F, somehow it is still cold.

I've used these links to plan and book accommodation and itineraries, you might find them useful if only for research and gen info. There is some fabulous bed and breakfast accommodation in South Africa. A night or two in Joburg is also worthwhile, even if it is just at the start and/or end of the trip and you can stay somewhere like Sandton City or Rosebank, Meville, with easy connection on the Gautrain back/forth to the airport. I usually fly on Virgin and they might have good connections from various points in the US via LHR. Their Upper Class lounge in Joburg airport is nice.

https://www.sa-venues.com/

https://www.wheretostay.co.za/
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Feb 3rd, 2018, 09:37 AM
  #25  
 
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Janisj
These are not guide books, but two books to read before going to SA are James Michener's "The Covenant" and Nelson Mandela's "Long Walk to Freedom." These will give you some history and some feel for the country.
Will the water shortage in Cape Town change your plans?
Samcat
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Feb 3rd, 2018, 10:03 AM
  #26  
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Thanks Odin (didin't see your post because I've changed my settings to stop the e-mails - maybe I'll reconsider that) Just how bad would the weather be? Rain and cool don't scare me off (heck, I live in California and prefer the climate in the UK to here at home where it is too bloody hot all summer.) But fog and miserable wouldn't be great.

samcat -- thanks for the recommendations. I read the Covenant years ago but might again.
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Aug 28th, 2018, 04:30 PM
  #27  
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Resurrecting this to ask a follow up.

I've decided to try to squeeze in a short trip to SA in Aug or Sept next year. I fully intend to take a longer trip possibly including an actual safari and other countries sometime in the future. But I learned big time to not put off major trips/bucket list places waiting for the 'perfect time'. (tearing my ACL between Lima and Cusco before visiting Machu Pichu was a real lesson!)

Because of complications and 'stuff' I really only have two small windows in the months I want to visit - mid Aug and early-mid sept 2019 and I want to take advantage. Since this is just a first 'taste' I think a 10-ish day small group might fill the bill.

I've been looking at this NG tour. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/e...africa-safari/

More pros than cons - main pros as I see them: not a huge single supplement, small group, several game drives, all planning done for me. I'm not typically a group tour person but for my 'Intro to SA' this seems pretty good. BUT I've never been to any of these places so I need 'expert opinions'. How does it look? I do understand it is short and not perfect -- but any major red flags??

Thanks.
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Aug 29th, 2018, 03:16 AM
  #28  
 
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South Africa is such an easy country to tour around on your own but I understand you might want to do the first time in a tour group. First couple of times I went, I booked my own flights, car rental and hotels but booked individual tours as and when I wanted them.

In Joburg for instance, you can book flights, then stay couple of nights/days in Sandton City, get to Sandton City by the Gautrain, which is fantastic (& pricey), some hotels will pick you up at the closest Gautrain station. In Joburg, you can do many tours, including a trip to Pilanesberg, it is no Kruger Park but it is a good intro to safaris and we did see many animals including rhinos, giraffes, elephants, buffaloes etc. You can self drive around Pilanesberg, there are game reserves where you can take lunch or take a tour which is quite nice. If you don't have much time in ZA, this could be an option. You can do an organised tour to Soweto etc.

Then fly to CPT, stay either centrally or south of the city ie Greenpoint, Waterfront, north of the city is not nice. You can take tours or rent a car and get around yourself, driving is easy, roads good, staying in a place where you don't have to drive at night is good, places where restaurants are plentiful & safe to walk around (V&A, Seapoint).

As far as weather is concerned, in Joburg I knew I was in trouble when we landed in fog and everyone put on winter coats except for me, I made the mistake of looking at weather forecasts which stated 70F temps but didn't realise it was so cold in the mornings and evenings and those temps were for a very short time at midday. So I spent the next 6 weeks shopping for clothes and generally being cold. Daytimes generally sunny & cold. Cape Town was rainy and cold, sometimes foggy, this was during June and September. However visiting Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl etc was still a delight, the wineries had roaring fires and great menus, vines were obviously bare.

The tour seems expensive to me, you can do an orientation tour of CPT yourself or book one locally. I see that a Table Mountain tour would be extra , then so would be Robben Island, Bo Kaap, V&A etc. Getting to Boulders Beach to see the penguins and driving to Cape Point is dead easy, stopping in Simons Town for lunch is a nice thing to do. I guess the main benefit of the tour as I see it is the trip to Kruger. Kirstenbosch gardens are beautiful but I have never seen them in the winter. Again it is easy to drive to Kirstenbosch in a rental car. Inn on the Park is a great area, close to Long Street and several restaurants but I have not walked around that area at night or in the dark, I would only do that around the V&A. A great trip whilst in Cape Town is to Camps Bay, Clifton and the lovely surrounding areas, the Cheetah Outreach in Somerset West where you can book to walk cheetahs (if they still offer that), see other animals such as meerkats, foxes, anatolian sheepdogs. In Joburg, I have no idea where the guesthouse is they suggest, it is way out of my comfort zone as I usually stay somewhere in Sandton City or Rosebank, these areas are close to the airport and there are much better accommodation options IMO. As an independent traveller, I think you might be disappointed with the tour.
If you go, remember to book any restaurants in advance, eg the Test Kitchen, La Colombe etc
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Aug 29th, 2018, 03:31 AM
  #29  
 
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Looks as if you are putting off the "major bucket list" trip in favor of this very short group tour.

I don't know your budget but I would advise going through a local agent who can set you up with a better plan that includes more time on safari, which to many of us, is the highlight of a trip to SA. But if you plan to go next summer you need to get busy asap on that.

For me, I'd not take the tour; agree with much of what Odin wrote, above. Easy to go it alone, but an agent could help, too. Talk to a good local agent, let he or she know what you need and do not need, and let them arrange a trip to CapeTown (or do that part yourself) and at least 3 nights in the bush outside Kruger, with the camps in the Sabi Sands reserve giving you the best opportunity for game watching. Those will be pricey but the experience is certainly once in a lifetime.

I'm already planning my 4th safari trip for next September, 2019.
And already running into problems booking, even more than a year out, one of my preferred camps is sold out for my dates.
for premier camps, you need to book very far ahead, or get lucky.

Last edited by ekscrunchy; Aug 29th, 2018 at 03:33 AM.
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Aug 29th, 2018, 06:29 AM
  #30  
 
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I agree with the others as well. I think that you can craft a better trip that this tour offers. Even for a moderate budget, you can stay in one of the private game reserves with exceptional game viewing. I think that game viewing in Kruger can be great but is more dependent upon the amount of time spent driving around on their roads and the luck of the draw with the ranger/guide you are assigned. In Kruger, you are restricted to staying on the roads, so no off-road driving is allowed to track or stay with an animal longer. No night drives as well and you must abide by the times of entry and exit via the gate. All of that is fine if you have a lot of time available to invest in the experience to see the different animals.

Given that there's only one flight from Cape Town to JNB, pls bear in mind that you will spend a decent amount of time in a bus. Driving to the reserves from JNB via the Panorama Route is okay but the beauty of that route is really only the end of that long trip. More importantly, the drive from Karongwe back to JNB at the end of the trip is over 7+ hours, which is another very long haul. You may ultimately spend a little more money to fly the loop from JNB to CPT, CPT to the reserve airport closest to your lodge, then back to JNB but in return, you will gain time on the ground with more game drives. I have found that even when clients want to self-drive portions of the trip, it is important to share when are the best moments to do that and when it's better to fly. Additionally, there are 2 nights spent in JNB to transition for the start and the end of the trip. This is typical for tours because the itinerary has to manage travelers' different int'l arrival times. When you put your own trip together you can quite strategically select a flight that carries you onward without an overnight wasted or money spent on that overnight. For example, you can arrive in JNB and fly onward that day to CPT. And at the end of the trip, you can have your last morning game drive and be back in JNB for the typical int'l flights out of that day. Lastly, another thing to keep in mind about this trip is that round trip tickets in/out of 1 airport are typically cheaper than a ticket to Cape Town and a return out of JNB. That may be seen as 2 independent flights by different airlines. When my clients start their itinerary in Cape Town, we look at whether it is cheaper for me to book their flight to Cape Town rather than including that on their intl flight ticket. Just another thought to consider when you look at tour packages...

It is true that as a Single in a room, many lodges charge a Single Supplement but there are those lodges that don't AND there are lodges that fit a modest budget and even with a single surcharge come in at a great value and are worth the charge overall. Targeting those lodges would be your most effective cost comparison, as well as putting together a wonderful Cape Town experience. It doesn't say anything negative about a lodge if they charge a Single Supplement. It is the business model of most safari lodges in that they depend upon 2 people in a room and those 2 people being in the jeep for numbers.

Hope the above helps. Happy to answer further questions.

Best
Dianne
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Aug 29th, 2018, 07:00 AM
  #31  
 
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I had a look at the tour itinerary, and to be blunt, I'd pass. Not that it's okay; it certainly is, and I'm sure you'd have a great time. But I confess I'd never heard of the Karongwe reserve, and upon some research, I'd have to say I think it would be a sub-optimal experience considering other opportunities you could exercise on a self-planned itinerary. Karongwe is a fenced reserve that doesn't allow the animals to move back and forth to larger reserves, unlike the many reserves that border Kruger NP and allow free interchange with the park. By bragging that "over 40 species of mammal" inhabit the reserve, compare that to almost 150 in the Kruger complex.

One big difference in the safari experiences in the national parks v. the private reserves is that vehicles aren't allowed to go off-road in the national parks, while in the private reserves they are. I can't emphasize enough how important this can be when you're on safari; the guides and rangers can take off in pursuit (a very calm and eco-conscious one) of some lion or leopard that's on the move; in the national park they vanish into the thicket and that's that.

Just as an exercise, I did a 10-day self-directed tour budget to see how it would compare to the package deal (with single supplement) that you linked. Here's a list with prices as I could find them for a variety of safari lodges with which I'm familiar, and also with prices for things like rental cars, hotels in Joburg and Cape Town, internal flights etc. Some of these prices might change between now and next year, but on the other hand the lodge prices are the online rack rates (single occupancy) that a local travel agent could probably get much cheaper. I've used today's exchange rate of 14.47 ZAR to the USD, and of course that might also change by next year.

Single occupancy, safari lodges, Aug./Sept. 2019:

Elephant Plains, Sabi Sand reserve - $460
Nkhoro, Sabi Sand - $480
Arathusa, Sabi Sand - $657
Pondoro, Balule reserve (Kruger) - $578
Buffalo Ridge, Madikwe reserve (Botswana border) - $472

Notes on these places: Elephant Plains, Nkhoro and Arathusa are all fairly close to one another in the SSGR. They're all on the lower end of pricing for the reserve; the higher-end lodges will approach $1000 per night, but the main difference will be in the level of accommodations and food/beverage service, not particularly in the wildlife viewing. The lodges all have traversing rights over neighboring properties' lands, so if a vehicle from Lodge X sees a group of lions, they radio it to everyone else, and those vehicles from neighboring lodges with traversing rights can take turns visiting the lions. It works very smoothly and is usually imperceptible from the tourist's point of view. And in terms of the quality and comfort of the lodges, we're talking - in my mind - pretty minor differences. Even the cheapest lodge will still offer a level of service and quality of the experience that will knock your socks off. Seriously.

I included the Pondoro lodge in the Balule reserve, a little farther north along the Kruger boundary than Sabi Sand. I did so because this is a marvelous lodge with a really superior product. The owner, if he still does the game drives, is a fanatic on giving his guests the best possible safari experience; his enthusiasm is just remarkable. Balule doesn't have the same reputation as Sabi Sand for wildlife viewing, but we've always spotted the Big 5 at Balule, and in other respects, particularly the lower density of lodges, it's a comparable if not superior experience.

Buffalo Ridge in the Madikwe reserve was our favorite, even though it's across the country from Kruger and the Mozambique frontier area. Madikwe was created out of some marginal farms in the early 1990s as part of "Operation Phoenix" - a massive game relocation plan. The reserve is in a malaria-free zone close to the Botswana border; from the cottages at Buffalo Ridge you can see the lights of Gaborone in the distance. One of the main draws of Buffalo Ridge is that it's owned and operated by the local community, and the rooms are full of photographic reminders of how these lovely people have risen from poverty and oppression to a point where they're running the show. It's really quite moving, especially considering what a terrific place the lodge is, and how the safari experience in the reserve is so rewarding. (Okay, so enough gushing.)

Other costs and practicalities. Hotels near JNB and in Cape Town will be $100 - $150 per night at most. However, South Africa has an incredible network of government-rated bed and breakfast places, which are simply unbelievable in terms of comfort and value. Look at the Portfolio Collection for some examples - https://www.portfoliocollection.com/

A rental car picked up at the Kruger/Mpumalanga airport (MQP) in Nelspruit (roughly two hours from the Sabi Sand gates) will cost around $70 - $80 for five days' rental. (Yes, that's right.) Cars picked up at JNB or CPT will be around the same. A one-way flight from JNB to MQP costs $101; a one-way flight from MQP to CPT is $192. If you chose Madikwe but didn't want to drive (around 3 hours on good roads) you could fly on Federal Air's charters from JNB to the Madikwe strip for $550 round trip. (I'd drive.) A one-way flight from JNB to CPT is around $75 or less. Food in SA is inexpensive; a budget of $30 per day (two meals, assuming breakfast is included) will be okay for most days; obviously splurge dinners will be more.

So try this on just as a thought experiment. Use the prices mentioned above to knock together a budget.

Arrive at JNB and take a day (two nights) to recover from the flights. Do a tour of Soweto or some other outing - numerous available.

Then fly to MQP and pick up a car and drive to, say, Elephant Plains. Try to get there in the early afternoon so you don't miss the evening game drive, which you'll have already paid for. Spend three nights there; you'll have had an experience that will leave you gobsmacked. Then drive back to MQP, drop the car and fly to CPT.

Spend four or five days in the Cape Town area. Use the car for day trips: visit the winelands including the picturesque university town of Stellenbosch or go visit the penguins at Boulders Beach in Simon's Town. Or drive through heart-stopping scenery (watch for baboons) to Hermanus on the coast, where you may see whales breaching out to sea. Or for an amazing experience, drive an hour or two up the Atlantic coast from Cape Town to West Coast National Park, where the spring wildflowers will boggle the mind, and/or to the lovely seafront village of Paternoster, with its thatched cottages and brightly painted fishing boats scattered around the beach. Then back to Cape Town, lose the car, and head back to summer in Sacramento.

I've done the numbers on this alternative, and from what I can see it would end up costing around $1000 less than the package tour you mentioned. And that's using rack rates in the game lodges - a good TA can probably knock those prices down significantly.

Of course it doesn't include the companionship that you'd have on the group tour, and who knows, you might have a fabulous learning experience that a self guided tour might not offer. But I thought I'd just throw this out to confuse the issue.

Last edited by Gardyloo; Aug 29th, 2018 at 07:07 AM.
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Aug 29th, 2018, 09:57 AM
  #32  
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Thank you everyone!

I have a lot to digest and it certainly looks like I could have a better experience arranging things myself. While I research the new suggestions and the ones I got from my original questions, just one question for now (and don't jump on me ). I am certainly not a timid driver (take a look at my profile photo) and have driven all over the UK, Alaska, the desert SW USA, high Sierra, etc etc solo. But something about tackling long distance drives in SA on my own makes me just a bit uneasy. Would it be possible to arrange drivers/transfers to say one or more of the preserves, and/or local tours out of Capetown? Hopefully I could manage the trip without renting cars??
janisj is online now  
Aug 29th, 2018, 11:01 AM
  #33  
 
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Originally Posted by janisj View Post
Thank you everyone!

I have a lot to digest and it certainly looks like I could have a better experience arranging things myself. While I research the new suggestions and the ones I got from my original questions, just one question for now (and don't jump on me ). I am certainly not a timid driver (take a look at my profile photo) and have driven all over the UK, Alaska, the desert SW USA, high Sierra, etc etc solo. But something about tackling long distance drives in SA on my own makes me just a bit uneasy. Would it be possible to arrange drivers/transfers to say one or more of the preserves, and/or local tours out of Capetown? Hopefully I could manage the trip without renting cars??
It's understandable; there's been a lot of negative publicity about driving in SA over the years. While most of it is hyperbole, it's completely okay to plan a car-free trip.

Yes, there are all those services available. For example, the lodges in the main reserves all will arrange land or air transfers from the airports to the lodges. In the case of the Sabi Sand and Madikwe lodges, the same carrier, Federal Air, will fly you right to the airstrips in those reserves, where they may even need to buzz the runway to shoo off the zebra or antelope that hang out on them (because the visibility is good - nowhere for the lions to lurk.) This will come at a cost, of course - probably $500+ for round trip transfers to each reserve from JNB, or in the case of the Sabi Sand, half that for air transfers from the Nelspruit airport, to which you could fly cheaply.

Regarding tours, if you want to see things around the Western Cape (Cape Town itself, winelands, Garden Route, west coast) then OMG there are so many that it would be hard to choose. We used to have a regular poster on Fodor's, Selwyn Davidowitz, who ran a marvelous such service out of Cape Town, but it seems he's retired. I met him in Simon's Town once and we had a good chat about these boards. But regardless, you'll have no problem arranging tours using any hotel's concierge or any B&B host - the area is very well equipped for that.

For example, here's one I just pulled up arbitrarily for a tour of the wildflowers near Cape Town - https://www.africanmoonadventures.co...est-coast-tour

Umpteen options.
Gardyloo is offline  
Sep 2nd, 2018, 02:48 PM
  #34  
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OK -- Thanks for all the tremendous help. I've definitely decided to visit SA in the first half of Sept next year. I will likely pay for open jaw business tix (I do need to pay some $$ to maintain my Platinum status but maybe I could pay for coach and upgrade with miles???).

Anywho - Should I book the reserve first (whenever their 2019 rates are set) get that out of the way, and worry about transatlantic flights, Capetown, internal flights, transfers, etc later on/next Spring? Several of the preserves/camps mentioned up thread look great so if one isn't available I can work down the list . . . Or should I contact a local agent instead and let them handle things? If an agent is the way to go -- any recommendations?
janisj is online now  
Sep 2nd, 2018, 04:00 PM
  #35  
 
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I think you have plenty of time to consult with a South African TA. I'm not fluent in who's who in that regard but I think there are some regular posters on this board that are very well connected in that regard.

As I recall you're (like me) an American Airlines FFer, in which case upgrading with miles on BA or Iberia is only possible if your underlying ticket is in a full-fare class, Y or B etc., the cost of which will be competitive with, or maybe even more than a straight business class ticket if you can find a cheap fare bucket. There are some okay deals from the US to SA from time to time - lurk on the "Premium Fare Deals" board on Flyertalk - https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/premium-fare-deals-740/ - where they're spotted quite regularly. Don't know if you have any interest in South America, but Latam (formerly Lan) will sell you a round trip from Miami to Joburg via Santiago and Sao Paulo in business class for $2500; you could probably use miles to get to MIA. Or if you can find a decent fare to Sao Paulo, the round trip fare from there to JNB is $1500. (They're trying to build up traffic on the south Atlantic route.) 30,000 EQM and 6000 EQD if you're counting.

It also might be worth your while to build up your Alaska Airlines mileage account if you have one, or even buy extra AS miles. Alaska charges 62,500 miles each way for the US to Joburg via Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, or 70,000 miles in first class - a fantastic value IMO. If you can buy Alaska miles for 2c apiece (on sale from time to time) that's $2800 for a round trip in first class on CX - not bad. Or do it RTW-style - CX to JNB, BA, Iberia or Qatar back.

I'd line up the lodge first because it's unlikely you're going to find any screaming deals on airfare until the new year, while knowing where you're going will also help you plan your internal flights.

Last edited by Gardyloo; Sep 2nd, 2018 at 04:02 PM.
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Sep 3rd, 2018, 02:53 AM
  #36  
 
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Call Liesl Matthews at www.SouthernDestinations.com. She's in CapeTown. She is coming to the US in October so depending on where you live you might be able to meet up. Or just e-mail or call her 800 number. Again, if you plan to go a year from now, I would get busy booking soon. I am already wait listed for one camp that I very much wanted to visit.

Tell her that "ekscrunchy from fodors" sent you.
ekscrunchy is offline  
Sep 3rd, 2018, 12:44 PM
  #37  
 
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Hi Janis

We visited Capetown two years ago in mid October. The evenings were cool but daytime temps averaged the high 70s each day, perfect weather.

After landing, we drove straight to Franschhoek, stayed one night then spent two night at Gondwana Game reserve near Mossel Bay. Then we spent two night at De Hoop nature reserve on the coast and drove back to Hout Bay in Capetown, where we rented a house for a week.

We found both Franschhoek and Stellenbosch to be really attractive places with artisan shops, good food and welcoming vineyards. Loved them both.

The game reserve was an amazing experience at the time, driving home at night back from the main lodge to our very luxurious lodge, we had to avoid male lions sleeping on the dust track. However, although huge, on reflection fenced reserves can feel a little contrived. This was our one and only safari trip, would love to repeat it but I know people who have done 10 plus in multiple African countries. Tanzania and the Okavango seem to be people’s highlights but many feel the “large zoo” syndrome applies to many reserves.

De Hoop was an incredible experience.

Mountainous sand dunes, all the wildlife/ fauna was indigenous to the Western Cape and we saw a Southern Right Whale being born 100 yards off the coast.

Constantia in Capetown stood out for us, good vineyards which offered incredible views and very reasonably priced, excellent food.

Hout Bay was stunning but a little edgy.

Camps Bay contains some of the most cutting edge, contemporary residential architecture that I’ve seen in 60 countries. It’s a good place to stay but very, very expensive and a little lac!king in soul.

South Africa self touring generally :

Just be very aware of where you are and where you are going. In the Western Cape we had no security issues but we did get lost and ended up in a pan area of the Cape Flats which made Mogadishu on a bad day look attractive. Ie a group of 5 police cars parked in a ring with the officers in the middle with shotguns out and signs at the traffic lights which read “drive through a red if you feel threatened”.

A large part of our family immigrated to Joburg 40 years ago, most of them have now re-migrated to Sydney due to security issues. I have no idea what day to day security issues impact on a single independent tourist in the city but the two of my relatives who are left are absolutely desperate to get out. Again, just do diligent research to avoid difficult areas.
BritishCaicos is offline  
Sep 3rd, 2018, 12:47 PM
  #38  
 
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Sorry about the post above.

It’s becoming impossible to type lengthy prose on Fodor’s using an iPad with all the floating adverts which is one reason why I don’t post here much now.

hate the new format.
BritishCaicos is offline  
Sep 3rd, 2018, 05:26 PM
  #39  
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Hi BC,

>>Sorry about the post above.<<

Not sure what you are apologizing for -- I thought it was a useful post. I only post short things from my iPad -- for long entries, it has to be my laptop so I know what you mean. But I actually have come to prefer the new format. Little things still bug me but mostly I like the new features.



Thanks everyone -- so much good info.
janisj is online now  
Sep 9th, 2018, 05:53 AM
  #40  
 
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I'm topping this thread because I ran across an interesting thread on Flyertalk regarding airfare - https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/prem...package-4.html

Decent price for US - CPT round trips in business class. Of course if might not last until your dates, but it's a data point at least.
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