South Africa

Traveler: Kat Calvitti

When:  October 2015

Places Visited:  Cape Town, Gainsbaai, Oudtshoorn, Iverdoorn, Stellenbosch

Overall Experience:  South Africa is absolutely amazing!! It’s a beautiful country where you can explore the great outdoors during the day and hit the town for great food and drinks at night!  I also learned a lot about the history of South Africa while there.  The dollar was very strong while I was there—most meals/drinks/hotels seemed extremely cheap to me!  The people are wonderful and you may hear a few different languages depending on where you are, but most people speak English.  We booked hotel rooms as we went and made new friends along the way, which created quite a memorable experience!

Logistics: $2000-4000 depending on flight, length of stay, and activities.  I flew South African Airways from Washington, DC (IAD) to Cape Town (CPT) and they exceeded my expectations—roomy seats, delicious meals and a lot of wine! We booked hotel rooms as we went, but made reservations for the safari at Iverdoorn Game Reserve a few days in advance.

TIP:  Make reservations in advance if you want to visit Kruger National Park.  We tried to make a reservation while in South Africa, but couldn’t get a reservation on such short notice.  The airline also told us that if we didn’t get on our first flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg that our flight back to the USA would be cancelled (we were trying to get creative with how we could make Kruger happen).

baboons

Watch out for baboons when driving!

Getting around:  We rented a car (one week rental was around $125- the rate was so low we thought it was a daily rate at first) for the majority of the trip since we knew we wouldn’t be staying in one place for too long (warning: the driver’s side is located on the right side of the car and you drive on the right side of the road).  Uber is an option, which we used while experiencing the nightlife in Cape Town.  Taxis and car services are also available.  I hitched a ride from strangers twice while there—some may frown upon that, but it worked out well for me!

Cape Town

dogs-2

The dogs at The Little Scotia

Hotel:  While touring around Cape Town and the vicinity, I stayed at the Little Scotia Guest House (about $70/night for a single room; $85/night for a double) in Rodenbosch.  Guest rooms had a private entrance (think motel, but much nicer)—the room was adorable, reasonably priced and the location was very convenient! An added perk for me was the adorable dogs who sunbathed by the pool daily! The Little Scotia is situated at the bottom of Table Mountain and walking distance to bars/restaurants.  If you’re interested in eating game meats, try The Hussar Grill for dinner.  It’s only a block away and quite delicious—I had a sampler of Kudu, Gemsbok and Wildebeast!

bottom-of-table-mountain

Bottom of Table Mountain

Activities: Table Mountain is a must!  It’s one of the oldest mountains in the world and was voted one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature in 2011.  I hiked up the mountain, which took about 3.5 hours, and enjoyed some amazing views!  I would only recommend hiking for the physically fit—parts of the trail were definitely grueling and you had to practically boulder your way up, which made the switchbacks seem like a walk in the park! We took the cable car ride down instead of hiking back down. If you’re not in good physical condition, you can take a 5 minute cable car ride to the top to see the 360-degree views of Cape Town!

lions-head-view

View of Lion’s Head from the top of Table Mountain

I definitely recommend a tour (about $15) to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated.  The tour is about 4 hours long, which departs from the Victoria and Alfred (V&A) Waterfront.  The ferry ride to the island was a bit cold and choppy, so be prepared!  Once on the island, you will be assigned to a bus with a tour guide.  The tour guides are former political prisoners who provide in-depth knowledge of the island’s history and are open to answering questions you may have about their personal experiences.  It was truly a remarkable and educational experience!  After the tour, spend some time shopping around the waterfront and grab a bite to eat or a drink at one of the lovely restaurants!  I even paid a visit to the rugby museum, The Springbok Experience!

vanda-waterfront

V&A Waterfront

Take a drive south to the Cape of Good Hope, where the Indian and Atlantic oceans (supposedly) meet, but be sure to stop in Simons Town to see the penguins at Boulders Beach (minimal admission fee) on the way!  I could have spent hours watching those cute, little guys waddle around and swim (more like body surf) in the water—they are SO CUTE!

Gansbaai

Hotel:  I spent the night at Aire Del Mar (about $75) which was quaint and in walking distance of the White Shark Projects.  The owner was very pleasant and accommodating to our late night arrival.

greatwhiteshark

Great White Shark being baited into the viewing area of the cage

Activities:  We drove from Cape Town to Gansbaai (about 2 hours) to cage dive with the great white sharks at White Shark Projects.  The cost was about $135 and it was totally worth it!!!  Prior to arriving at the White Shark Project lodge I had no interest in cage diving—I was happy to just go on the boat and see the great whites!  While in the lodge, one of the employees recommended I put a swimsuit on just in case I decided to go in the cage.  I’m so thankful she took the time to chat because I decided to go in the cage and it was awesome!!  I saw 6 great whites up close and personal, some as long as the cage!  Once we got back to shore, we were served delicious, hot soup while watching the video that was created of our adventure!  Warnings: 1. If you get seasick you should definitely take medicine so you can enjoy the adventure.  The water was very choppy and there were folks getting sick (hey, it made for great chum!).  2. If you suffer from claustrophobia, the wetsuit/goggles may be an issue.  I suffered a minor panic attack when my goggles were put on.  Thankfully the nice captain talked me through it!

Oudtshoorn

Hotel:  While in Oudtshoorn we stayed in the family cottage at the Karoo Soul (about $60) based on a recommendation from the owner of Aire Del Mar.

ostrich

It’s a probably best the ostrich wasn’t moving – I was quite freaked out!

Activities:  From Gansbaai we drove to Oudtshoorn (about 4 hours) to go ostrich racing at Cango Ostrich Farm… who doesn’t want to ride an ostrich who can run up to 40mph?!!?  Unfortunately, the track was too wet and we weren’t able to race; however, we learned quite a bit about ostriches for the $8 entrance fee and got to sit on one for a photo opp!

ostricheggs

Fun fact – ostrich eggs are super strong! They can hold up to 120kg (264lbs)!

We also took a tour of the Cango Wildlife Ranch (about $12) which was the best day of my life!

cheetah

I pet baby cheetahs and had lemurs jumping all over me (for extra fees of course)!

Inverdoorn

hotel

Inverdoorn Game Reserve – Meals are served under the tent

Due to lack of planning, we weren’t able to visit Kruger National Park for a safari; however, we were able to make a reservation at Inverdoorn Game Reserve on short notice.  We drove from Oudtshoorn to Inverdoorn (about 4 hours) and arrived in the late afternoon.  The safari, dinner and breakfast were included in the reservation (I believe this was around $250) so we settled into our room and went to dinner.  The next morning, we were served breakfast and set out bright and early for the sunrise safari.  It was freezing cold, but worth it!  I recommend planning ahead for Kruger, but Inverdoorn was a great alternative!  It’s only 2.5 hours from Cape Town and we saw a lot of animals (giraffes, rhinos, zebra, lions, cheetahs, elephants, etc)… some of which got too close for comfort!!

giraffee-and-elephants

Giraffe strolling by the elephants

zebra

Zebra blending in with his surroundings

Stellenbosch

goat-tower

The goat tower at Fairview

I love wine, so a stop in Stellenbosch was a must!  We drove to Fairview (about 2 hours from Iverdoorn; only about 45 minutes from Cape Town) and bounced around to a couple other wineries which were all lovely!!  Next we headed to downtown Stellenbosch, where we shopped in the open market and had dinner/drinks.  It was a Friday night and we drove around the adorable, bustling town trying to find a hotel with a vacancy (don’t worry, someone was the DD and it was not me!).  Sadly our efforts were unsuccessful and we booked a room near the airport since our flight was the following day.  I definitely recommend booking a hotel room in advance so you can fully experience the night life!

tasting-atfairview

Wine tasting at Fairview

We ended our trip with one last visit to the V&A Waterfront for breakfast and some last minute shopping before our flights!

view-of-table-mountain-from-breakfast

One last view of Table Mountain at breakfast

Good to knows:

1. Gas stations -fuel up frequently as you never know when you’ll pass through another town!
2. Pay extra for GPS and it’s easy to navigate around– the drives were beautiful– gorgeous mountains, uninhabited land and we rarely saw other cars on the road until we got into a town/city
towns-on-highway

Driving in between towns

3. packed a backpack and weekend bag… nothing I wish I would have brought
4. I took cash out at ATMs and most places accept credit cards
5. US citizens don’t need a VISA  if traveling for less than 90 days
6. Go to a travel doctor for vaccinations and/or medication to prevent malaraia if you plan to visit Kruger
7. You will need an adapter for power outlets– I recommend bringing a power strip to plug into the adapter so you can charge multiple electronic devices simultaneously.  Check amazon for adapters that convert for many countries!
8. Tipping etiquette: 10-15% at restaurants/bars; also if you go on any tours, be sure to tip your tour guide a few rand!

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