In 2014 we went to Africa on a five week trip. Here is an introduction to that journey. You will find the posts from that trip under the category Africa.
The original desire for this trip was to go to Eastern or Southern Africa and see the animals in the wild. I wanted to go on a wildlife safari, not to hunt, but to see and experience and photograph. I am still surprised by how many people ask if I’ll be hunting when I say I’m going on safari. It actually horrifies me a bit as that is the furthest thing from my intent! I want to see it before it disappears. Now there are many different options for going on safari and the choices can seem daunting and not a little overwhelming, but I was able to pretty easily narrow it down to Tanzania or Kenya or South Africa. In the end I decided to focus on South Africa. This was for several reasons. I had wanted to visit South Africa for a while. My sister had been there a couple of times for work and I knew others who’d been and it sounded good to me. South Africa has a lot to offer the traveler, much more than just safari, and it appeared I might be able to swing a more extended trip. The fact that English is widely spoken only made independent exploration that much easier. Of course Kenya and Tanzania remain high on my list and I would love to go there! But that will have to be a completely different trip.
So, having settled on South Africa, the research began. I love planning trips. The dreaming and imagining and anticipating are part of the fun. This is the armchair travel portion of a big trip, made all the more tantalizing by the prospect of actually getting to do and see the things you read about! Still, the breadth of options and places and activities made the choosing rather difficult. As you can imagine the itinerary morphed many times. In fact, rather quickly I realized that if it were possible, I wanted to include a safari in Botswana, specifically the Okavango Delta, and it seemed most efficient to do this at the beginning or the end of our trip since we would fly into and out of Johannesburg. I decided that although I am quite good at the research and the planning, I wanted some help with the safari portions. You can read promotional literature, descriptions, and reviews ’till the cows come home, but you still may be missing some really important facts that only those with experience would have, and the safari represented a significant investment. But this in itself presented a problem. I did not want to just hand my trip over to someone else to plan. I am very detail oriented. I like to know the options. And I really didn’t want to wonder if I was being “sold” something for an ulterior motive. So I contemplated who I should enlist to help me. There are lots of tour operators who offer to help plan your trip. I needed one with first hand experience that would work with me, answer my questions, and have no financial interest in any particular lodge or camp. The first company I called was located in the U.S. and run by a South African. They looked promising and were highly recommended, but they didn’t really listen to me and failed to answer questions. It seemed they just wanted to jump in and start quoting an itinerary. I didn’t feel comfortable with them. Then one day I was looking at the Trip Advisor forum for the Kwa Zulu Natal region of South Africa and noticed a woman who answered a lot of people’s questions in a friendly and professional manner. She signed her posts with “Tanya, Owner, Africa Direct”. So I looked up her company www.africadirect.co.za and found a beautiful website, a good philosophy, plenty of experience, and independence. They are located in South Africa which I decided was also a plus. When I contacted Tanya about getting some help planning our trip she responded right away and proceeded to answer my questions in detail and with advice before we even agreed that she would handle some of our bookings. What ensued was several weeks of intense communication between us. I felt so fortunate to have found Tanya. She has a lot of first hand experience at safari camps in South Africa and Botswana as well as elsewhere. She was patient and thorough and she never failed to answer all of my many questions. We emailed back and forth and managed to hammer out a terrific itinerary for our 31 day trip. In the end I let her handle most of the bookings as it was just easier that way. It was a pleasure working with Tanya and I highly recommend her and Africa Direct if you need help planning a trip. As an added bonus, Tanya upgraded one of our lodge reservations at her expense so that now we are going to be staying at a private reserve that I had dreamed of going to but thought was totally out of our reach. Icing on the cake! And no, I am not being paid for this endorsement.
I don’t always want a complete itinerary on a trip. There is definitely something appealing about allowing things to unfold and not being tied to reservations. That being said, I do appreciate having some sort of plan. It gives me a sense of security and I am fond of the idea that having a plan gives you something to deviate from. I like doing research ahead of time so that I already know some of the options and don’t have to take up my travel time with figuring that out. Knowing the options doesn’t mean you can’t spontaneously do something totally different! For this trip it made sense to make our reservations in advance. The safari portions absolutely required it and for the other areas I could tell that places booked up well in advance during that season. It would not have been impossible to leave the coastal portion unscripted, but I didn’t want to be spending a lot of our time figuring out where to stay given how much ground we wanted to cover. So in the end, all our nights have been reserved. It was hard to choose how many nights to spend where on our self-drive coastal exploration, and I hope we’ve chosen well and won’t regret being locked in to that. In any case it will be a grand adventure.
Here is an outline of our trip:
Day 1 – We leave home and drive 3 1/2 hours to Albuquerque, NM, then fly to Atlanta, GA.
Day 2 – After resting in Atlanta, in the evening we board our nonstop 15+ hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa.
Day 3 – We arrive in Jo’burg around 5 pm and spend the night near the airport.
Day 4 – 10 We spend seven nights visiting two different private game reserves abutting Kruger National Park.
Day 11 – We return to Jo’burg and fly to Port Elizabeth on the coast, pick up a rental car and spend the night.
Day 12 – 14 Three nights in Jeffrey’s Bay – surfing.
Day 15 – 16 Two nights in Plettenberg Bay.
Day 17 – One night in Mossel Bay.
Day 18 – 19 Two nights in De Kelders – whale watching, shark cage diving.
Day 20 – 21 Two nights in Franschhoek – wine tasting.
Day 22 – 25 Four nights in Cape Town.
Day 26 – 32 We fly to Botswana and spend seven nights at two camps in the Okavango Delta.
Day 33 – 34 We travel from the Okavango Delta all the way home via Johannesburg, Atlanta, and Albuquerque, with the caveat that we may have to spend the night in Albuquerque if we are too tired to drive home.
All told we’ll be gone almost five weeks but I know we’ll just be scratching the surface of what South Africa and Botswana have to offer.