South Africa in 7 Days
With only one week, you can still enjoy the best of South Africa, including Johannesburg and Cape Town highlights, as well as a safari.
Days 1-3: R and R at Kruger Fly-in Safari. To make the most of your time, arrange for a direct flight from O. R. Tambo Airport to a safari lodge at one of Kruger's fly-in reserves. International flights arrive in the morning, making it easy logistically to board the daily midmorning South African Airlink flight to the airfield at MalaMala, a reserve bordering Kruger and Sabi Sands. Recoup from your long-haul flight by lazing at a luxury lodge or being driven around to gaze at scenery. Meals are all arranged for you and bedtime is early.
Experience your first full safari day on Day 2. You'll awake before sunrise for a quick caffeine jolt before setting out on a game drive (usually with a stop for morning tea) and then return to the lodge for lunch and a rest during the midday heat. Depending on where you stay, you may be able to arrange for a massage or spa treatment during this time. After a hearty and proper afternoon tea of sweet and savory options, you're off in the vehicle again. Sundowners as the sun sets is an experience you'll never forget. After the evening drive, it's back to the lodge for cleanup, drinks, and dinner and maybe some stargazing.
You'll have time for a morning game drive before you depart the camp on Day 3. Head back to Johannesburg via car so you can stop at the sites along the Mpumalanga Panoramic Route through Blyde Canyon's breathtaking scenery, arriving in Johannesburg late in the day. Shoppers might select a small B&B or guesthouse in the thick of things (e.g., the Melville or Parktown neighborhoods); those looking for retail therapy should opt for tony Sandton. To experience life outside the cloistered environment and walk down a street or sit at a café, Melville is ideal.
Days 4-7: Johannesburg to Cape Town. Prearrange a township tour to Soweto to learn about the roots of apartheid and the way entrepreneurs are changing lives within the community. Include a stop at the Apartheid Museum for a full taste of the country's history. Catch a late-afternoon or early-evening flight to Cape Town and overnight along the V&A Waterfront at the Cape Grace. That will give you time to step outside your accommodations to grab dinner waterside, with Table Mountain looming behind you.
Get the first boat to Robben Island on your fifth day, to see where Nelson Mandela spent decades and inhale that bracing fresh sea air. When you return, grab a taxi to the base of Table Mountain and ride up the cable car for magnificent views. If you're a shopper, spend the afternoon browsing in Greenmarket Square and then grab a snack in one of Long Street's cafés. If you're more of an explorer, rent a car to visit Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens to see magnificent protea plants and views (in summer there are concerts on the lawns). You may even have time to dip into some nearby wine-tasting rooms before heading to Camps Bay for sunset cocktails and a light dinner, followed by a stroll along the beach.
Head to the university town of Stellenbosch, less than an hour from Cape Town, on Day 6. Check out the historic downtown's Cape Dutch architecture before settling into a typical South African B&B. Book some spa time at Lanzerac Manor and enjoy lunch there gazing out at spectacular scenery. Stop for some wine tastings at Fairview or Boechendal Wine Farm along the road leading back to town, then book dinner at Moyo at the Spier estate to taste a variety of wines and dig into an elaborate and entertaining meal of typical South African game in the whimsical outdoor café. Come early to visit the cheetahs.
Get an early start on your last morning to take the long way to Cape Town, turning left when you hit the water to visit Strand and Gordon's Bay. Reverse course to return to Cape Town, taking in more beach communities like Kalk. See the penguins at Boulders and visit the Cape Peninsula National Park and Cape Point before finishing up at Cape Town airport for a flight home that evening.
Preorder tickets to Robben Island and show up with plenty of time before your scheduled time slot to make sure everything is in order. Ticket orders can sometimes get lost. If Table Mountain is a must for you, allow some flexibility in your schedule. The weather can be unpredictable and you could find the mountain closed. If the morning weather is good, head to the mountain first. And take the cable car; hiking up affords stunning views but eats up way too much time.
South Africa in 10 Days
With 10 days you can spend the majority of your time on safari and finish up with highlights of the Cape.
Days 1-3: A Private Fly-in Reserve. Begin your vacation in true luxury by opting to fly in to a private game reserve.Madikwe on the border with Botswana may not have the vast open savannah of your African dreams, but with the Big Five, watering holes, plenty of options for accommodations, and wild dogs, you won't feel shortchanged.
Spend the morning of Day 2 visiting a community program just outside the reserve's gates. Enjoy the still air and hot breeze of the middle of the day from a private balcony or a luxury lodge's plunge pool. Night drives may bring out the elusive leopard or lions feasting on a kill. The small size of the reserve will enable you to return to see your favorite animals more than once in the course of a stay.
Go on a morning safari on Day 3 before heading to Kruger with an overnight in Pretoria or drive straight through. The road will give you views of real-life African villages, massive mining operations, as well as the distant Waterberg and Pilanesberg ranges. If you drive straight through, be sure to get through Kruger's gates before sundown so you can get settled at your lodge.
Days 4-7: Kruger National Park. If you decided to stop in Pretoria, rise early on Day 4, so you can meander through the scenic Blyde River Canyon with views of the distant Drakensberg Range. Consider visiting the Three Rondavels and God's Window, a lookout where you can see clear to Mozambique some days. Stop for lunch in quaint Pilgrim's Rest, a former mining town. Remember to get through Kruger's gates before sundown (check times) so you can join in evening activities at your first accommodation, possibly one of the basic rest camps. Or if you want to splurge on more luxury, try Ivory Lodge at the Lion Sands Private Reserve or Singita Lebombo Lodge.
If you arrived at Kruger the night before, you can choose to sleep in, have a spa treatment, participate in a walking safari, or visit a local community, in addition to taking a game drive.
If Day 5 is your first full day in Kruger, consider joining an organized guided trip to get your bearings, before trying to spot game on your own. If you do drive yourself, take your time and go slowly to spot game. No matter when you arrived, join a ranger-led walk for a different perspective and expertise in the afternoon. Book a dinner at a boma under the stars or a stargazing safari for a memorable only-in-Africa experience.
Days 6 and 7 should be spent exploring the park in detail, viewing your favorite animals for as long as you wish.
Days 8-10: Cape Town. Return to Johannesburg in time for a midday flight to Cape Town. This will put you in town with enough time for a quick peek at the Greenmarket Square shopping area or the legendary tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel. If you choose sightseeing, book dinner at the V&A Waterfront or one of the swank new eateries at the One&Only hotel. Shop late in the arts-and-crafts collective, which benefits area artists. For a low-key option, stay at Camps Bay and dine along the water at the foot of the Twelve Apostles mountain range.
Rent a car for Day 9 and head out early to hit highlights outside town, including beaches and the National Park at Cape Point. Watch out for aggressive baboons! Stop for fish-and-chips in Simon's Town or a tranquil waterside rest at one of the beach communities, such as Kalk Bay, on the way. Finish your long day with a relaxing evening out at the charming Theatre on the Bay at Camps Bay—you can even dine there.
Day 10: City Highlights. Plan to visit Table Mountain and Robben Island. Lace up your hiking shoes and try walking downhill for spectacular views and some leg stretching before your lengthy flight home.
Three nights inside a park or reserve allows you much more flexibility, and you won't feel pressured to take part in every drive. The best plan is to base yourself in one place and visit the others during the day.
South Africa in Two Weeks
Start this itinerary from the bottom up. Fly into Cape Town and fly out of Johannesburg, with a quick overnight jaunt up to Victoria Falls.
Days 1-3: Cape Town and Environs. With two weeks in South Africa you can enjoy Cape Town's attractions at a leisurely pace. Take the time to explore the city's diverse collection of museums surrounding the Company's Gardens Park. Window-shop along Long Street, and later explore the African crafts galleries along the V&A Waterfront. To save money and feel a bit like you're in a home away from home, rent one of the many apartment units available in and around the city. The Cape Cadogan Apartments are ideally located off Kloof Street in refurbished homes.
Day 2 can include a small loop that takes in Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens, with plenty of time for a leisurely picnic, and a visit to Table Mountain. It also leaves time for hiking at both or just enjoying the view. You can drive into Constantia and visit a winery and enjoy vineyard scenery. Take a taxi to dinner in the Bo Kaap district or dine along the waterfront.
Use Day 3 to make a full loop of the Cape Peninsula, heading out of town through Hout Bay with stops in Kalk Bay, and time to walk through the boardwalk with the penguins at Boulders Beach. You can even hike Cape Peninsula National Park. On the way back visit an ostrich farm to learn about this unique South African industry.
Days 4-5: The Winelands. Heading out from Cape Town you'll have plenty of time to linger over wine-and-cheese tastings in Stellenbosch, dine on gourmet French food in Franschhoek, and stroll alongside Paarl's mix of Cape Dutch, Edwardian, Victorian, and art deco architecture lining the main street. Take an afternoon to bike the back roads or indulge in a spa treatment. With so many excellent guesthouses to chose from, part of the fun is deciding which fantasy accommodation suits you best—from tranquil lakeside cottages set in the midst of the vines to a historic B&B right off Stellenbosch's main street.
Begin Day 5 with a hot-air balloon ride over the valley or a refreshing round of golf. Loll in a nature reserve and spend the afternoon at leisure meandering among the wineries. Tonight, go to a dinner under the stars at Moyo's outpost at Spier Winery.
Days 6-8: The Garden Route. Continue with a drive to the Garden Route with an overnight in the tranquil valley town of George. Along the way, make stops in Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, and Tsitsikamma National Park, exploring whatever captures your fancy. You may want to bungee jump off Africa's highest bridge or just amble along a trail in the national park. Make time for a visit to Cape Agulhas, South Africa's southernmost point, or stop in Hermanus for some whale-watching.
Take your time on Day 7 as you make your way to the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, driving the coast and stopping in at old fishing villages on the way. If you're brave, this is the place to arrange for a shark cage dive off the coast in Shark Alley. Overnight in town or on Day 8 finish up your tour with some R and R and light game-viewing at Samara Game Reserve outside Port Elizabeth. Or if you're a fan of pachyderms, pack in a night at Addo National Elephant Sanctuary. For something different, the beautiful and unique Samara Game Reserve is off the beaten track—about a two-hour drive from Port Elizabeth. You can relax by the pool or go on a walk, without pressure to do every game drive.
Days 9-12: Private Reserve Safari. By now you'll have had your fill of driving, so board a flight from Port Elizabeth and let someone else take over the wheel. Head to Phinda Private Game reserve in the Eastern Cape, where you can participate in a range of activities, from walking safaris to rhino tracking to canoeing and specialized leopard research safaris.
On Day 10 you'll have your first full day on safari and a chance to relax and get accustomed to the rhythms of the camp. You can ask your guide to show you particular animals or to suggest a recent sighting of interest. Unless you elect to participate in a special activity, the safari camp will structure your days. All you will need to do is eat, take pictures, listen to the knowledgeable guides, and relax.
For a different perspective, take today's safari by water. Choose to explore in a sturdy guided canoe ride during the day or riverboat in the evening when the crocs laze on the banks eyeing you. An alternative is a visit to nearby Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, a World Heritage area, to look at a different type of ecosystem.
On your final safari day, take the opportunity to check out your favorites or participate in an intensive research safari on leopards. Make your last night special and arrange for a private dinner under the stars.
Days 13-14: Victoria Falls. Plan on Day 13 being a travel day, as you'll have just enough time to fly into Johannesburg and right back out to Victoria Falls on the Zambia side. You may have time and energy once you've checked into the Royal Livingstone to take a taxi into Livingstone to explore the town's colonial remnants and stop in at Kubu Crafts for curios and tea. Unlike many of Africa's big cities, the pace of life in Livingstone is relaxed. Go slow, stroll, soak up the atmosphere, then taxi back to the hotel when you are through. Walk "over" the border on the bridge in front of the falls and "into" Zimbabwe, and then enjoy sunset cocktails under the big tree with mischievous monkeys, a small herd of zebra, and maybe a black mambo snake as company.
On your last morning, visit the falls early for more souvenirs at the large crafts market near the bridge. Your flight from Livingstone will land in O. R. Tambo Airport with time to shop at the outstanding duty-free facilities before your evening flight back home.
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