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Help Me Plan My Trip To South Africa

by on December 31, 2012 · 52 comments

in Trip Reports

I plan on exploring a lot of new destinations this year and want to focus on traveling to amazing places in the Southern Hemisphere, starting with…South Africa, where I’m headed later this week!

I'll be visiting Cape Town among other places.

I’ll be visiting Cape Town among other places.

We ran a Destination of the Week on Cape Town in 2012, and while I know I’ll be going to familiar places like Table Mountain and Robben Island, as well as Boulders Beach to see the African penguins and maybe even cage diving with great white sharks, I am definitely hoping for reader suggestions on what to do both during my time in the city (restaurant and cultural recommendations welcome!) and during the other parts of my trip.

In addition to spending a few days in Cape Town, I’ll be headed out to the Cape Wine Lands for a couple nights where I’ll stay in Franschoek and visit some wineries there and in Stellenbosch – so if you have any favorites, let me know, as well as what your favorite beach towns along the Cape coast and other outdoor activities you’ve enjoyed on your own trips.

I'm looking forward to tasting South African wines in Franschoek.

I’m looking forward to tasting South African wines in Franschoek.

I’ll be spending a single evening in Johannesburg and then catching a flight to Kruger National Park to visit the Sabi Sands reserve for a few days of safari before catching my flight back home. So if you have any recommendations for my night in Johannesburg or useful tips to help me prepare for my first safari, please share in the comments below!

Following reader recommendations on past trips has been a great way to see sides of destinations and enjoy experiences that I might otherwise have missed, so please comment and share your thoughts for my first trip of 2013!

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=565328528 Robert Grunnah

    Brian – I just got back from Johannesburg and Sabi Sands. I did an amazing 5 day group tour in Jo’Burg called Afar Experiences, which I highly recommend you check out – http://www.afarexperiences.com/. It’s an immersive program where participants meet local people, learn about the history of a place, and really dive into the area, rather than just scratch the surface, as I know you’ve mentioned in the past you want to do more than when you travel. They went to Cairo last year and it was great, and next year they’re doing Sydney, an admittedly less exotic destination, but I have no doubt it will be quite an adventure.

    I also stayed at the Singita Preserve in Sabi Sands, and it was without question the most luxurious “hotel” (which it is not really – more like a luxury compound with giraffes, zebras, lions, and 5 star service) I’ve ever stayed at in my life. If you can do a Singita product, DO IT.

    The places you’ve already identified are good in Cape Town. We stayed at the Melrose Arch Hotel in Sandton, which was decent enough. But I recommend, if you have time, going to the Apartheid Museum in Jo’Burg – fascinating and touching. Here’s the itinerary of what we did in Jo’Burg – if you have more time, let me know and I’ll tell you what were the best items: http://www.afarexperiences.com/johannesburg

    South Africa is an amazing place! You’ll have a great time.

    (Incidentally, I earned something like 45,000 United miles on my trip. Flew AUS-EWR-FRA-Johannesburg and back on a similar routing and was able to buy a “B” fare (150% EQM)).

  • internetwiz

    Don’t forget to take a day trip to the Cape Peninsula, with a stop at Kalkie’s for lunch.

  • http://www.foodwineandmiles.com/ Food Wine and Miles

    Just left Franschoek earlier today – some great wine out there!

    Recos for wine: La Petite Ferme and Grand Provence (both very close to the town itself).

    If you’re looking for a good bite to eat – we had brunch this morning at a place that I’m pretty sure was called Pancake Cafe (it’s on the main street, right across from the church) – really, really good crepes, both sweet and savory. For lunch / dinner, check out the Salmon Bar at the Yard.

    I’ll be in Cape Town until Sunday – let me know if our schedules overlap!

  • http://about.me/needcaffeine P Clarke Thomas

    Camps Bay, south west of CT, is beautiful. It’s on the beach, with the apostles behind it. There’s plenty of places to eat there.

    Constantia has the best wine in CT, IMO. I vsited several in Stellenbosch (which has a great town) & 3 in Constantia. The 3 I visted were: Constantia Ulstig, Klein Constantia, Groot Constantia. It’s on the back side of Table Mountain & a suburb of the city (very easy to access from CT).

    Paarl also has some good wines. Laborie is worth checking out

  • Megan

    I’ve gone on several safaris and here are my suggestions. First, trust your guide. S/he is a professional and knows best where the animals are hiding. I’ve been on safaris where a passenger spots a lion and practically screams at the driver to stop, when the driver knew that just around the bend was the rest of the pride – chomping on a zebra carcass. Second, carry bottled water and a wide-brimmed hat, even if you’ll look like a tourist. It can get very dusty out there, so be prepared to protect your eyes and skin from the elements. Take your time, don’t rush, and enjoy! Have a great trip!

  • AZ

    My friend and I visited South Africa almost two years ago. It’s trip that’s stuck with me more than most have… If you have time before or on the flight, try to do a bit of reading about the history of the country – I found that really enriched my time there.

    We did a bike tour on the Cape Peninsula – I think there are a few outfitters and they take you to all the stops along the way and it was lovely to be cycling in that environment.

    In Johannesburg we stayed in Melville – cute area with nice restaurants and cafes. The Apartheid Museum is not to be missed. I went on a tour of Soweto, and also to the Origins Centre, which was an interesting museum on a university campus.

    The wine is great and the landscape is stunning.

    Enjoy!

  • Megan

    I completely agree – you cannot miss the Apartheid Museum!

  • Ted

    What kind of Flights did you book therE?

  • ajs

    Stay a few nights in Joburg… you must see the Aparthied Museum, Sandton, take a day tour of Soweto. It will change your life. The Regina Mundi church is a must see.

    Don’t fly to Kruger, either ride in a van or drive. You see some amazing country like nothing else.

    While in Kruger try to spot the Big 5!

    Have a blast.

  • Stephen_Girard

    I love this blog but, TPSGuy, sometimes you are so shallow. You seem more interested in gaming travel points and checking off sites on the map insetad of actually experiencing anything authentic. As was posted by others below you need to spend time in Johannesburg and Soweto if you really want to experience .za.

  • thepointsguy

    I’m going to Jo-burg, Kruger, Capetown and wine country for two weeks- how do you figure that’s shallow or inauthentic?

  • thepointsguy

    South African business class with 110k us airways miles.. Stay tuned for detailed post on them

  • Stephen_Girard

    You’re blasting in and out of .za on some airline-points scammed ticket, seeing only the nicest parts of the country. That’s being shallow. Go see some real people, history, strife and challenge to experience the authentic South Africa.

  • Matt

    I’ve gained a lot of knowledge (and points!) from reading your blog, so I’m happy to be able to return the favor. If you’re going to be in the Sabie Sands, you should really take a day to go check out the Blyde River Canyon and the accompanying waterfalls in that area, such as Lisbon Falls. We enjoyed that even more than the safaris.

  • Peteroh77

    Hey PG. Always wanted to so to S. Africa, so if I was going I would check out Robben Island, also the Chimp Eden sanctuary. Make sure to hit up all the things mentioned by others, such as the wine country, Kruger National Park and you have to try diving with Great White Sharks. Also, try to catch a rugby game if u can, but it might be a little early in the season for that.

  • Guestio

    Mr. Girard you come across too strong. During my four trips to sa and soweto, I enjoyed meeting people, but be honest, there is poverty and historical ills everywhere in the world, and frankly I’m a bit bothered by tours just to “see shacks”. The apartheid museum in soweto is very good. Mandela’s house is a complete waste of time.

  • Mark Friedman

    When in Cape Town go to La Colombe for dinner (in Constantia which is 20 minutes away from the city). In wine country go to Tokara for lunch just for the view, its stunning, Rust en Vrede for dinner (pretty and romantic), check out Kanonkop vineyard for the best pinotage in the world (I know it is mostly only made in south africa, but its good) and hire a driver to take you around for the day, the vineyards are very spread out. Get comfy…its a long flight!

  • Paul Reda

    TPG, I visit Cape Town every year and I am actually heading to South Africa in April for a wedding for two weeks. It is my favorite place to visit. You should have a late lunch at La Colombe, it is on a vineyard in Constantia. Order everything on the menu, with the exchange rate you can afford it! Also check out Aubergine for dinner in Downtown Cape Town. Beluga is also a great meal. Go to Camps Bay and hang out at Capris on Sunday. I am a rugby fan, see if the Vodacom Stormers are in town and go to Newlands to catch a match. It is very exciting! Also, if you can abseil down table mountain, it is an incredible view. I highly recommend it.

    See you in NY at the NY Times Travel Show, already got my tickets.

    Cheers

  • Victor Ko

    I’d try to bring a nice telephoto lens with SLR to get some good pics of the wildlife on your safari. Kruger is an amazing place. I’ve been there twice. The first was with a private guide and the second time was with our own rental car. Staying in Kruger park at the RestKamps is a true South African experience where you can meet the locals. Where are you staying when you are on safari?

  • Clayd333

    Wow…

  • Matt

    Stephen, what stupidity you’re spouting on here. There’s nothing wrong or shallow about seeing the nice parts of countries. It’s not as if traveling is just about seeing strife and poverty. I’ve seen some nasty places (Afghanistan, Cameroon, and Haiti come to mind) and some very nice places too. I don’t feel as though my time in nice places was any less rewarding or somehow shallow.

  • Marcuslhall

    Book a tour to Robben Island at http://www.robben-island.org.za. Also, if you are not driving to Stellenbosch, consider using the Vinehopper hop on hop off van at http://vinehopper.co.za/wordpress.

  • J210277

    Hi Points Guy, I am a South African now living in the states. Check out the winery Spier, you can pet Cheetahs there while having a glass of wine. On the way to Boulders beach, See if you can get out to the Muizenberg flea market for some local cuisine and flavor, think it was on Sundays, bring your swimming costume for a dip at Boulders Beach and continue to Cape Point, look for the Baboons on the side of the road.

  • Ben
  • John

    A nice small place not far from the Joburg aiport is the African Rock Hotel http://www.africanrockhotels.com/….Most people, or at least most shallow travelers, do pop up to Victoria Falls while they are so close. I’d recommend it–it’s fun even though river flows will be modest that time of year.

  • Stephen_Girard

    What do you want me to do Matt, give you an award? Fine, you win the nasty places penis size contest.

    Coming to .za and NOT taking time to see Joberg, Soweto and related cultural areas is cherry picking at it’s worst. Particularly when such traumatic history in our country is so recent – only a few decades – and with Madiba in and out of care. It proves TPG is just about vanity and scamming credit cards and airlines and NOT about travel and learning.

    Ask his readers to help plan his trip? Why bother!! He’s already decided that the real South Africa is beneath him.

  • Jessica

    In Stellenbosch, the restaurant at Rust en Vrede is spectacular, excellent wines as well. Lynx in Franschoek was our favorite winery we visited, a very small and personal tasting with delicious wines. In Cape Town, we had a great day tour with Cape Convoy Tours (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g312659-d1237254-Reviews-Cape_Convoy_Tours-Cape_Town_Central_Western_Cape.html) and saw parts of Cape Point that we wouldn’t have found on our own, as well as penguins and baboons and ostriches etc. We also enjoyed the experience of the high tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town. There are also a few good seafood restaurants at Camps Bay, worth a taxi ride out there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ray.bryant Ray Bryant

    If you have/want Virgin points try out Ulusaba in the Sabi Sands reserve. http://www.ulusaba.virgin.com/en/ulusaba

  • john

    Knysna is a great town to visit a little further up the coast from Cape Town. Great food options, visit Cango Caves, and go see the Crocodile Farm.

  • Stefan

    While I do feel like Stephen is coming on a bit too strong here, I agree with the gist of his sentiment. Going to the rich parts of the country isn’t seeing the country. Its seeing the rich parts of the county. Flying around and staying in hotels insulates you from most real South Africans. You won’t really get a feel for the real country or the real people this way, but you’ll certainly have a good time–and there is nothing wrong with that. Just keep in mind that your experience is not entirely authentic if you’re looking for a true African experience. If so, this trip is a bit of a contradiction…you’re going to Africa while trying your best to avoid Africa.

  • Matt

    You’ve put together what I’d consider a perfect “first time” South African itinerary there TPG – Cape Town and surrounds, and Kruger.

    Sounds like you’ve got the key todos for Cape Town on your list already, but here are a couple of extra suggestions:

    – definitely (definitely!) do a township tour out to Langa or Khayelitsha – very interesting, and also a great way to learn more of the history of South Africa under Apartheid.

    – if you enjoy walking and can find a group to go with (I’d only do this in an organised group with locals or guide) then the walking trail up and around Lions Head is great, especially if you time it so that you can watch the sun set over the sea and twelve apostles.

    – a trip out to Cape Point is well worthwhile, both for the destination and also for the spectacular views on the drive.

    Enjoy Kruger too, it’s an amazing place – I can’t wait to go back there sometime in the next few years. If you enjoy photography, make sure to bring a LONG lens.

  • No2rain

    We have been visiting South Africa as our favourite vacation since the early 90′s. We could never travel that far without staying at least a month or more.

    We fly to Durban on Jan 15 and will travel to Victoria Falls with ROVOS RAIL – a very interesting way to travel through the country as it is at a leisurely 30 mph (50 kmph) throught the worst parts of town (as every railroad does). Next time you visit take the time for the best vaccation of your life. Sorry – no points. Travelling through the parts of the country that are never seen by road or air is very enlightening.

    We also train from Pretoria to Cape Town on Rovos. (Rovos addicts).

    We love spending time in Paarl, Sttellenbosch and Frandshoek. Always drop into the Goedemoed in Paarl for a week or so. Say hi to Kim and Heather who are wonderful hosts.

    The garden route should be driven (carefully) from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town or vice versa.

    We are adding the Robertson Valley to this years trip.

    We are also flying on South African Airways from London to Jburg and then returning via Hong Kong on SAA. Asiana to LAX and on to YLW after that. The SAA experience was very good the last time we travelled (Sao Paulo – JNB return) but the Sao Paulo lounge is best avoided.

    If you can switch your itinerary you would do better to visit Vic Falls than Kruger which is a bit commercialized,

    Have fun – there is nothing better than SA as a destination.

    Alan

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  • whiskerxx

    During your time in Kruger I would recommend spending a good part of your time doing self drive rather than with a guide. You get absolute flexibility and will almost certainly stay out dawn till dusk, so ask your hotel for a packed lunch and make sure you have enough drinks in the car. There are some “facilities” scattered around the park. You can get maps, which are useful, but Google maps also works on a smart phone with GPS.
    Plan your routes, drive slowly, take your time – I wish I was coming along!!
    A night drive, with a guide might be interesting.
    Outside the park, as already mentioned Blyde River Canyon incorporating the Three Rondavel’s, God’s Window and the Panorma Route is a pleasant drive with great scenery.
    We stayed one very pleasant night at http://africanoceans.co.za/, which is directly on the beach at Mossel Bay (along the garden Route)
    I think Stephen Girard makes a reasonable point. Whilst you are on a working vacation, and you aren’t going on a political crusade, getting an understanding of apartheid and the legacy it still has will most likely make you a better, rounded person. It would likely be dangerous to seek out anything other than escorted trips to a township, so I would suggest that if the opportunity presents itself in your itinerary….do it. If there is no chance, then you should get clued up on some of the past history, and try to get to understand what has happened. If all else fails just look out of the window on the final approach to Cape Town airport, and see if you would fancy living down there!
    Common sense should prevail when driving. You may well see signs at T junctions
    “Hi-jacking hotspot”, which can be disconcerting! :-)

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  • hansmast

    Definitely do the cage diving with sharks. It was probably one of the top highlights on a trip FILLED with highlights.

  • http://thebluehourfashion.blogspot.com/ Jamie K

    Yay!! What a fun trip! I loved Cape Town when I was there on Semester at Sea. I’d say definitely have at least one meal away from the V&A Waterfront – although you’ll find some amazing restaurants in there (think great wines for $14/bottle and ostrich steak). I spent a night in Cape Agulhas, which is where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet – anywhere on the coast in the western Cape is gorgeous. I also did a great hike, but I’d have to get out my journal to remember what it was called. Can’t wait to hear all about your trip! :)

  • Guest

    But If TPG wanted to see the “real” Africa why should he visit one of Africa’s most prosperous nations (SA)? Take your point to the logical extreme–he should be bumming around in shared taxis or on bike in some other place a-la Dervla Murphy.

    The man has, what, one week to see SA. I dare say that 2 hours touring shacks in Soweto is going to not making him anymore culturally aware than spending 2 hours talking with local, native winemakers in Stellenbosch.

  • Todd

    I have been to the Cape Town area three times now and love it! Going back at the end of 2013.

    For a great lunch or dinner in Franschhoek I recommend Reuben’s Restaurant and Bar. The chef grew up in a poor family under apartheid and never even ate in a restaurant until he was 15 years old. His mother taught him how to cook and now he has 3 restaurants I believe. The food is contemporary South African with an international flair. Enjoy your trip!

  • Stefan

    My point is not that you need to exclusively see the poor side of Africa to see Africa, but that the vast majority of Africa (including South Africa) is relatively poor and if you only visit the ritzy locations you aren’t really getting an entirely authentic experience. So, no, I don’t think that is the logical extreme of what I’m saying…

  • Jasen1

    Chocolate Block is my dav South African wine, but at the winery tour they give tastings of a very immature batch. It needs a few years of aging. We found this to be a common problem at the wineries there.

  • Jasen1

    I wouldn’t miss a trip out to Cape Of Good Hope and Cape Point. I really enjoyed that.

    We had a similar trip last may, but we avoided spending time in JoBurg by popular recommendation. In Sabi Sands we stayed at Chitwa Chitwa lodge and it was a tremendous experience.

    We also did an Elephant encounter near Hazy View which is relatively close to Nelspruitt Airport. We got to ride the elephants. The only let down was seeing the sites around Blyde River Canyon. It was nice but just not worth the side trip.

  • Jasen1

    Our lodge in Sabi Sands “sponsors” a local village with about 300 residents. We visited a local elementary pre-K school and had local children greet us like we were J-LO on an American Idol Givea Back Tour. It was amazing. But that was real enough for me. Want to see poverty? You don’t have to go to Africa to see people struggling.

  • bill

    absolutely agree… this trip sounds like a typical limousine liberal’s africa check-off.

    the point being of course to drive attention to this blog, and money in pointsguy’s wallet. so vain.

    and i love the comment about scamming tickets. so true! there’s a difference between earning/redeeming points and abusing the system. this blog is all about the latter.

  • Noah

    When in Franschoek, I highly recommend that you stay here:

    http://www.bolamotte.com/

    Very reasonably priced and run by excellent people. Also, a day spent sportfishing from a charter boat is a really nice way to spend a day. If you need a charter boat recommendation, then send a message.

  • Keith W.

    For the more active wine experience, I found bikesnwines was a lot of fun–3-4 wineries with mountain biking through vineyards between!

  • RWalker

    Most of this line of discussion is silly. It’s like saying that a first-time visitor to New York, Chicago or Los Angles from overseas has an inauthentic experience unless they visit the most blighted parts of those cities. I have traveled to South Africa and surrounding countries a number of times. I do not see how visiting Soweto on a two hour tour made my South African experience more authentic. There is, in fact, something a bit dehumanizing about slum tourism, observing/photographing people. Moreover, these “tours” are very sanitized and do not increase the opportunity to interact with the typical residents. Unfortunately, the reality of South Africa is that violent crime is sufficiently common in Johannesburg that the average overseas visitor would be unwise to simply set off on foot in hope of having an authentic experience. Frankly, I don’t understand why most of the commenters here even read this blog if they think getting free airline tickets is “scamming.”

  • Snyder

    Completely disagree with you here. South Africa is a special case — it’s been through such traumatic history in just the past 20-30 years. To completely disregard it is rather revealing about a person’s intentions.

    While some of the tone in the above comments is harsh I think the underlying critique is valid – that is, traveling in a ‘bubble’ isn’t really traveling, it’s just showing off.

  • thepointsguy

    Sounds dangerous! And fun..

  • Simonfkj

    i would most certainly check out groot constantia…oldest winery on the cape. their constantia rood and shiraz are unrivaled.
    additionally portofino in the queen victoria harbor mall had an amazing spread. owner used to be an embassy worker at the UN. that said beware of the hawkers offering up discount helicopter tours down there. if it sounds shady….it probably is.

  • RWalker

    I don’t believe TGP ever said he was disregarding South Africa’s recent history. That was an assumption by the original poster because he was not spending a longer time in Johannesburg. History happened all over South Africa, not just Johannesburg. Certainly a view of the Cape Flats on the way from the airport, a tour of District Six in Cape Town and the District Six Museum all bear testament to this fact. Indeed, a significant aspect of South Africa’s recent history was played out on Robben Island which TPG said he was visiting — but maybe that’s not enough for some people posting here. I am not suggesting that a visit to Soweto is not worthwhile, but is it really necessary to understand and appreciate South Africa’s recent history? And is it just showing off because one does not? There are a lot of criticisms being leveled here in these comments, in a web site devoted to maximizing points earning and redemption, that appear to be based on assumptions and personal views on travel. Can’t we just accept some of the tips we learn here and use them in a way that makes travel more meaningful for each of us?

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