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Trip Report Southern Africa Safari Trip—Best Vacation Ever!!

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After lurking here and getting a sense of generally where we wanted to go and what we could and couldn’t afford, we decided we definitely did not want to do a tour. We contacted Wild Wings Safaris ( I absolutely can’t recommend them highly enough!! Gavin was our advisor and he “got us” immediately.) We gave him a pretty lean budget, from what I had gathered, of under $4,000 US pp , not including airfares. 17 nights total, and we wanted at least 3 different safari experiences and all food and all ground transport to be taken care of. He came in under budget, so we began slightly upgrading and adding in, which I thought was a great thing, rather than starting high and having to cut back.

We had to travel in May-June and understood that this is not the best season… but it ended up being perfect for us! The weather was absolutely great every place we went. We found ourselves thinking that we would have been really hot if we had gone any time other than their winter! As is, we often slept with the fan on.

We started in Cape Town and were neatly transferred to Rouge on Rose in the Bo Kaap district for 5 nights. Loved this place, their owner, and their amazing breakfasts! Our room was huge, with a big soaking tub and good blackout curtains for morning sleep-ins. Where to stay in Cape Town is a tough one… we didn’t love the town center area… it was a bit dense for us. The Waterfront area is lovely, but isn’t exactly our style. Bo Kaap is a really interesting neighborhood/area.. but it has its downside as well, as we were advised not to walk at night. Taxis are reasonable, however, and we were within an easy walk of the waterfront and downtown, so we were very happy there. (It is a Muslum area, and we loved hearing the calls to prayer in the background. We were in Turkey a couple of years ago, and the calls here seemed different, and more melodic to our untrained ears.)

First full day and still jet-lagged, we took the hop-on bus on 2 of the 3 tours. Wonderful way to get the lay of the land. Stopped off a few places, including the lovely Camps Bay for Lunch and a nice walk. This beach has a wild and mysterious feel to it—the waves seem to come in with unpredictable abandon. If we were to return to Cape Town I think we would try to stay in Camps Bay and just bus/taxi in and out of the city. We loved it. Up to Cable Mountain.. all through the town… a great way to spend the first day.

Second day, Wild Wings had arranged a driver to pick us up for a private tour of Cape Peninsula and Cape Point Nat’l Park. (Every transfer and activity was arranged by Wild Wings… so I don’t need to keep mentioning it…) Our driver, Irshaad, was relaxed and a great host. It was a wonderful luxury to be able to ask him every little question that popped into our heads… like about the whole parking guards thing… and the parking monitors, for that matter.

Saw the penguins at the Point, of course… didn't want to repeatedly purr...'oh my god, they're Sooooo cute!" but I did. Along the Cape of Good Hope, a morning of light rain made us appreciate afternoon sunshine.
And Chapman Coastal road can stand toe-to-toe up to the Amalfi... but it's those penguins and all their busy little tasks that made me swoon. It was a fantastic day, and we will venture out to the farmlands tomorrow in search of tasty cheese and birds in flight.

Same driver today—and he is a bit looser with us now, giving us a clue into his real thoughts and opinions. He is a Muslim, and has a beautiful perspective on life. We head to Stellenbasch, which is a nice whitewashed little town. Touristy, but worth a look . More perfect weather. We enjoyed visiting Lanzerac winery and had some very good wines paired with simple and delicious cheeses. We were dropped off at the beautiful Kirstenbosch Gardens… one of the best I’ve seen. Things are meticulously labeled and we most enjoyed the endangered plants section and the canopy walk. The walking bridge is just a brilliant design which reminds me a bit of Gaudi because of its natural lines.

Last day in C.T. we sort of pooped out and allowed ourselves a day to sleep in. Wandering a bit, we took the “free” (for tips) tour of our own neighborhood, Bo Kaap. The tour was interesting. Went to “Marco’s African Place, which was just a block up from us. Their specialty is regional game and dishes like boiled sheep head. We just went for drinks and had a wonderful time… seemed like a tourist spot, yet there seemed to be lots of locals there as well. No cover in the bar area and we enjoyed the local music and dance—it wasn’t the highest quality—but in that way, seemed very local and real. Sadly, they overcharged us for one of our drinks (“oh… I gave you a double”) with no apology… so check your bill if you go.

KRUGER – Skukuza Rest Camp
We were met at the airport by one of the owners of Wild Wings (Simon) and he is an absolute gem!! We would be lucky enough to have him all to ourselves for the next 3 days! He drove us to Skukuza Rest Camp in Kruger and we immediately spotted a leopard in a tree with a kill on the way to our room. We actually saw leopards all 3 days in Kruger… and the big 5 all within 24 hours.

My husband is a birder, and Simon is really an expert birder, even though he doesn’t lead birding-specific tours. He told my husband that it was his goal to spot at least 100 different species during our 2-night stay… which we didn’t quite meet, but came close. (and it’s not even birding season .) He seems to know everyone in the part and you definitely feel you are in great hands.

Simon dropped us off at our room (much better than we had expected, with a wonderful porch area equipped with dishes and cooking gear.) We went out for an afternoon safari, then took a short break, then Simon made us dinner on a cook wok-like gas stove. Delicious. Coffee. Dessert. (a South African fav of “milk pie.” ) A little table with table cloth. It was great fun being outside in the park, and enjoying a delicious meal cooked by our guide!

Simon has endless energy, as he was there at 5:30am with rusks and delicious french-press coffee. Off we went… back to the leopard, where there is almost nothing left of the kill… a pride of lions … Simon can spot game effortlessly and in mid-conversation – and identify birds by the slightest song. He treats our lack of knowledge with respect.. and he just never tires! We return for a delicious brunch, which he whips up easily and deliciously. (we are somehow exhausted!) A rest, then more safari time… too many animals to list and overwhelmed by the beauty of Kruger. It changes completely around each hill and valley.

The next day is much the same… a rhythm we will come to know and love. More new animals, more great food under the stars. We sleep well and know that we will move on tomorrow, and will miss Simon a lot.

We are seamlessly transferred by “GAP’ transport to Kambaku Lodge in Timbavati Reserve. The driver takes a “short cut” which is wonderful, as it is down many dirt roads and we see lots of locals walking. This will be a 3 night safari stay, so we are feeling like we can settle in a bit.

**I would urge anyone thinking of a Safari trip to do things in this order… Kruger Park proper first, then a Private reserve!! (not the other way around.) We LOVED Skukuza, but of course one must stay on the road and only do daytime drives. When we got to Timbavati, we actually gasped the first evening, as the driver headed off the dirt road, over branches and logs, and into the woods in search of (yet another) leopard! We didn’t really grasp the difference until we heard the crunching of branches and rocks under us, and had to duck as we went through bushes and such. Had we gone to Kruger second, we might have been disappointed at all the ‘rules.’

We loved everything about Kambaku Lodge. The owner, David, is very kind and really tries hard to make it a special experience. We were always met with huge smiles and a treat or glass of sherry after our drives. The room was lovely, the beds were heavenly, the dinners very good… and a lovely view of a water hole. We felt relaxed and a peace here.

On our second night out, we tracked the leopard again… then drove a bit, still not back on the road, when the vehicle stalled out! At first, I thought it was a little joke… but no. Eventually, the driver and tracker had to get out (and the leopard is WHERE, exactly??) and push it backwards as a passenger started it up.

The driver (Giddeon) and tracker (Eric) were absolutely wonderful… working together beautifully.
First afternoon out, we found a gorgeous leopard… maybe 3 yards from it, we watched it for quite a while. Then it gave a warning growl… then a fake (??!) lunge when someone (stupidly) half stood to get a photo… a moment that is etched in my brain forever. 3 days and nights of wonderful day and night drives, and a beautiful game walk. (warning… going on safari will leave those of you who like to walk every day feeling a bit stiff… few real walking opportunities out there!)

Our last drive here, we saw a real show. Several lions with their kill (buffalo) and 15 or more hyenas trying to get at it! A scream-fest… watching the hyenas was like watching pre-school children who had too much sugar. The hyenas would choose one of their own to go in first… and try to force them to go in. With each failed effort, they would howl more loudly, retreat slightly, then reorganize and go in again. The hyenas were literally circling us as well as the lions. The lions fought back, but didn’t have to fight very hard on this morning. We had to leave before the hyenas had truly given up.

Sundowner sunsets, watering holes, wildlife from hundreds of turtle heads bobbing in the water to rhinos, the kind staff and comfy beds. We felt sad to leave Kambaku Safari Lodge.

A beautiful drive to Johannesburg, we had no idea that we would be driving through gorgeous cliffside scenery complete with a waterfall or two. The one ‘miss’ of a hotel was the Peermont Metcourt Emperor’s Palace Hotel. It gets pretty average reviews… but we knew it was just an overnight transit stay. We found it to be below average and just a bit creepy. We fly to Victoria Falls in the morning.
----must go to bed-- will continue tomorrow.

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