South Africa Safari, It Stirs The Soul
My first takeaway about my trip to South Africa is why did I wait so long to go?! Out of the 40+ countries I have travelled to, this trip moved me and left me a changed man. It is kind of hard to describe but there is something that forever changes you after visiting and it makes you yearn for more. I had the pleasure of spending two weeks in January in South Africa. I quickly realized that escaping the winter in the East Coast and traveling to the Southern Hemisphere is the ticket. Avoid the snow, ice and cold and experience incredible weather with warmth and sunshine. I definitely will be planning more Southern Hemisphere trips for future winters.
For this epic journey, I was part of a fam trip organized by the South Africa tourist board. Tourist board trips are the best as they are very comprehensive and showcase the best of the country and we experience everything a vacationer visiting would wish to see. They took us to Durban, Capetown, Stelenbosch, Johannesburg, the Sabi Sands, and we finished in the most famous safari destination Krueger National Park.
My first takeaway about my trip to South Africa is why did I wait so long to go?!
It’s hard to pinpoint a highlight as this was a trip of many. A few would have to be the culture and the South African people themselves, the wine and beer, the food, learning the history of apartheid, and of course the wildlife. Seeing animals I had only seen in Nat Geo and now up close and personal, sometimes I had to pinch myself to make sure it wasn’t a dream. What was amazing is how close the animals would come to us, it was as if they were just as curious as we were of them. Another memorable highlight was the sunsets and just the sensation of being out in the bush where you truly felt at one with nature. It was a surreal experience from all angles. Most trips stop there but the luxury safari lodge experience is the icing on the cake. All you have to do is show up and you are pampered from head to toe, out in the middle of nowhere and having this 5 star experience to boot.
A typical day on safari starts at 5:30am with a cup of coffee, tea, scones, and freshly baked pastries. They then set you up with your guide/driver and tracker. These guides have gone through extensive training and trackers are typically from the local villages and grew up in the bush. Our tracker, Exson, has been tracking ever since he was a little boy. I didn’t realize how much of an art it was and how integral his role is in finding the wildlife. We set off in the specially designed Land Rovers for typically 4 to 5 hours in search of wildlife. The bush at this time of morning is eerily silent but all that changes as the sun starts to rise and the animals start to awaken. After the morning game drive you come back to your lodge and have a freshly cooked breakfast with amazing local fruits and pastries to die for. After breakfast you head to your private cottage, lounge by the pool, or hit to the spa for a much needed treatment (I indulged in all three everyday) over the course of my 5 days in the bush. Next stop is lunch (not just any lunch) but a picnic lunch under the shade of a buri buri tree with top notch South African wines and gourmet picnic fare. After lunch we would relax, contemplate our surroundings and let it soak it.
4:30pm is your departure time for your last safari. The predators have usually finished with their hunt and are now fat, happy, and lazily resting in the shade. This is when we found 2 male lions, a pride of lionesses with their baby cubs and a pack of wild painted dogs. As time progresses and the sun is close to setting, you pull over for a sundowner. The guide sets up champagne, finger foods, and for 45 minutes you drink bubbly and slowly watch the sun drift into the horizon. Afterwards, we head back to the base camp for dinner which is always a special event. One of my favorite experiences was the outdoor bouma which is an outdoor barbeque. Three things that made this a treat were the fact a storm was coming and the sky gave us this incredible light show during the whole meal. Next, I got to sample zebra, impala and kuto sa delicacies. Lastly, there was the surprise dance troop and singers that came from the local village and performed for us in front of a roaring fire as the sky was lighting up behind them. We inevitably joined in and danced around the fire and sang until the wee hours of the morning.
It’s those types of authentic experiences I love experiencing myself so in turn I am able to come back and include them in my client’s itineraries. In short, this was a bucket list trip and I will be returning in the near future. I enjoyed it so much so that I will be including a safari in my upcoming around the world honeymoon in 2016. The dollar is uber strong now and value wise it’s a great time to travel to South Africa. Ideally you will want at least two weeks and you can also travel year round to South Africa which makes it even more inviting.
Hotels I stayed at and can personally recommend: The Oyster Box, 12 Apostles, One & Only Capetown, Singita Boulders, Singita Caselton, Singita Ebony and Singita Lebombo.