Trip Dates: November 7- November 20, 2017
This was my second time back to Africa and I just can’t get enough, my favorite continent to explore by far. The food, the people, the culture, the music, the fashion!!!
Everyone knows that the 25th birthday is a milestone. You’re midway through your roaring twenties, a lengthy time of self-transformation and reflection. So to celebrate the wild yet meaningful path that brought me to the place I am in life today I went full-steam ahead with the birthday planning. As I was brainstorming, I got a call from a friend about this fantastic opportunity to visit both South Africa and Swaziland on a 14-day excursion planned through Smartours. I could NOT let this amazing moment pass me by.
After planning and finalizing the itinerary, the tour cost $2,799, which included airfare roundtrip from JFK to Johannesburg, domestic flights once in the Africa/South Africa region, all breakfast meals, some lunch/dinner and most excursions…..basically, a great deal! We booked in February of 2017 and had until the beginning of August to complete final payments for the trip. I think booking with Smart Tours was a wise financial option as you can pay in installments, allowing you to plan out your finances.
Our tour group had a total of 23 people, 24 including our tour guide, Rener (who was amazing, more to come on him later).
(Rate: 3 1/2 stars; comfy seats would have scored them 4 stars)
I know when everyone thinks about Africa the first thought that comes to mind is the long a** flight. Yes, the flight was 15 hours, but we were given breakfast, lunch, and dinner while on board which was extremely tasty. We even had snacks and free liquor. We flew to Johannesburg, South Africa via South African Airlines.
Few things that bugged me: No wifi and the seats were not comfortable.
Fortunately, I was able to find Queen Sugar and binged watched Season 1. It’s now a new fav.
After landing in Jo-Burgh, as the locals call it, we hopped right on to another flight to head over to Cape Town. Yes, another flight! Our trip started in Cape Town, as there are no direct flights from NY to Cape Town. This flight took less than 2 hours.
Fun time! We’ve arrived in Cape Town, and this city reminded me of home. South Africa is still a third world country, but the landscape is beautiful, the architecture amazing, food delicious and people extremely welcoming. I don’t know what I was expecting once in SA, but this was not it, though I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Day1: The first day was mainly a travel day, so once we checked into our hotel, Southern Sun Cape Hotel (Rate: 4 stars) we quickly changed clothes to get ready for our welcome dinner at the hotel. The meal was buffet style, and the food was delicious!!! The beds were comfy at the Southern Sun Cape, they had wifi, though not unlimited and it was a central location to where we needed to be.
Day 2: We went to the beautiful and historical Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, established in 1913 as a National Botanical Garden. The gardens were beautiful, and there was so much history to learn. Make your way to the garden if you’re in Cape Town, it’s a must see!
We also visited Bo Kaap (Upper Cape) where you can see and take pictures with the infamous “colorful houses” and learn about the history. This area used to host Muslim slaves who were forced to dress in subdued clothing, so once they were freed, they colored their homes in the brightest and most beautiful colors as a sign of freedom.
You may be wondering, “what currency should I be using while down there” well, the answer to that is RAND. US dollar is accepted at some places and you can certainly charge your card (like my TJX Mastercard which has no foreign transaction fees) at places that look trustworthy, but to go to the local markets it’s best to carry some RAND, as to avoid the hassle of constantly trying to find a reasonable place to exchange your cash. We ended up trading cash at V&A Waterfront Mall, which is massive btw, as we got the best rate for changing our money over.. During our trip the RAND fluctuated from 13.1-14 Rands=1 US dollar.
Day 3: was one of my ABSOLUTE FAVORITES. We went to the beautiful and iconic Table Mountain. We caught a cable car to the top which was both exhilarating and frightening, but the views were terrific.
After spending some time viewing and flicking it up at Table Mountain, we went to visit Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, which is the most southwestern point of the African Continent.
This same day we had lunch along the coastline, False Bay at Bolder’s Beach where you can walk alongside the super adorable penguins. Super fun, but not a must do.
REASON WHY: Wasn’t much participation, you literally just watched the penguins.
We had plans to go to the historic Robben’s Island to see where Nelson Mandela was held captive for 18 years, but because of unrelenting fog, we were unable to go. We instead went exploring around Cape Town where we had lunch at Life Grand Cafe, delicious calamari, and fantastic wine! I have not mentioned the wine yet, but we drank a glass with just about every meal because it was that good.
My new wine of choice is a white, Chenin Blanc, and absolute favorite brand/kind: Simonsig Gewürztraminer which is a South African fav!
This cafe, located, right next to the Green Markets, which had the cutest shopping for anything you could ask for, from fabric to paintings to Dashikis, jewelry, and beautiful masks. I racked up some goodies to bring back for loved ones…and of course myself.
TIPS: Explore as much of Cape Town as possible, but be wary as we were warned of how dangerous it can be if you are not cautious.
November 12 was a travel day for us, going from Capetown to the King Shaka Airport in Durban, South Africa. Total Travel Time: 6 Hours
We made a stop at the Westbrook Beach where I was able to touch the Indian Ocean for the first time in life, #goals, on our way to my absolute favorite hotel of the trip, the Emdoneni Lounge in Hluhluwe.
Emdoneni (Rate: 5 stars) was my favorite for more than one reason, but most importantly, this is where I brought in my 25th Birthday! Aside from that.. the rooms were fabulous, beds EXTREMELY comfortable, food immaculate views impeccable and staff great! I could literally walk outside my room and see anything from zebras to baboons. Emdoneni is where I had my first ever spa experience, and it was as amazing as I’m sure you are imagining. I recommend visiting the spa and getting the deep tissue massage, worth every penny (approx. 40 USD)!
This lodge was the host of a cat rehabilitation center which allowed us, for a small fee (approx. 7 USD), the opportunity to walk alongside and pet most of the cats that inhabit the center including cheetahs, serval cats, and African Wild Cats.
The exciting stuff I know you’ve all been waiting for, the GAME DRIVE! November 13 was an action-packed day, starting with a visit to the Zulu tribe and peoples to learn more about their culture and history, and ending with a Game Drive through the Hluhluwe Game Reserve. The Game Drives were by far some of my favorite activities during the trip, driving, in open cars through rough terrain literally feet away from Elephants, Zebras, Lions…you name it, literally amazing! An experience that simply cannot be replicated, you just HAVE to do it.
What do I wear on a game drive? How much spending money should I take? Did you get shots? Where else did you visit? I can already hear the many unanswered questions you all will most certainly have so I will not leave you hanging! Part II will detail more about Swaziland, Johannesburg, game drives and suggestions to make your trip as flawless and as fabulous as mine was!
Check back next week for all the deets!!……