Archive for the ‘South Africa’ Category

In and Out of Africa for Half The Price

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

In and Out of Africa for Half The Price

As with all of our trips, it started with a substantial amount of planning. We used Fodor’s South Africa to get an overview, and then contacted the interesting places. We found out that pre-arranged tour packages go for $1000 per person per day without airfare. If you plan it yourself like us, you can do it for less than a quarter of that.

The flights on South African Airways where very crowded, it was very difficult to get on the flights. South African has a lot of issues when it comes to non-revs. Do as much as you can in the states before you go to Africa. If you want to travel within Africa, instead of non-rev’ing, you may want to pay for the tickets to guarantee you get where you want to go. Once Delta gets it flights to Johannesburg operating, it should be much easier. For flights within South Africa, there are discount airlines which charge $100 for a one way ticket.

To make our trip run smoother, I purchased an international phone card to use with my cell phone. We could not make our first flight so I informed our ride in Africa from the airport in the United States. This will reduce a great deal of frustration and confusion. Once I got to Africa, I purchased a chip for my phone and several minutes all for $10. This was a great investment and I would advise others to do the same.

Once we landed in Johannesburg, we caught our ride to the Kruger National Park area which takes about 5 hours. We used Wilderness Encounter and were met by Brendan Schmikl who drove us to the lodge where we were going to take our first safari. The ride also included a lunch which made the ride after the flight more tolerable. Some Lodges have transportation, but most do not. We had to arrange ours separately.

We arrived at Kuname River Lodge in the late afternoon, which gave us time to do an afternoon and night ride. It was a great way to unwind from all the travel. We chose Kuname from a reference of a flight attendant (remember to ask for the Airline Employee Discount). The park as well as the accommodations were incredible. It turns out besides being a great place to see animals, it gives an airline discount. This is one of the hidden treasures of our journey.

While at Kuname, we were lucky enough to see some of the big 5 animals, Lions, Buffalo, Elephants, Leopards, and Hippopotamus. This was a once in a life time experience and I recommend you do this before you die. This encounter with animals in their natural environment will make you appreciate the unspoiled environment. There is also the impeccable service which not only is apparent in the gourmet meals and 5 star accommodations, but also the sunset wine tasting out in the african bush.

The next morning started at sunrise ,before the heat becomes so hot that the parks stars, its wildlife, take a nap. We tracked animals all morning until we stopped for breakfast at the watering hole. While they served us coffee and biscuits, the resident crocodile joined our party. The hippopotamus were too busy with their mud baths to partake in our meal. After three wonderful days and nights, we had to get up at 5 AM to catch our ride back to town.

After the 5 hour trip back to Johannesburg Airport, we tried to non-rev on South African Airways to Cape Town. Unfortunately, the personnel were not helpful, to say the least. I checked the flights before we left and they were open. When we got to the airport, ALL the flights were full. I suggest getting back ups on other airlines and be ready to use them. Better yet, there are discount airlines like which charge $100 from Johannesburg to Cape Town.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Cape Town Waterfront for the next three days. Cape Town is a wonderful place and was named one of the top ten cities in the world. The city is very compact and easily accessible by foot. Even so, be careful at night and exercise good judgment.

The waterfront is a great place to visit for souvenirs or to eat. By the Clock Tower, you can purchase tickets and catch a ferry to go to Robbin Island. If you want to go to the island, it may be worth your while to go and get your tickets the day before. Table Mountain is a great place to go but its hours of operation are very dependent on the weather. You have to check with Table Mountain to see if the winds are cooperating, allowing you to take the cable car ride up. Strong winds along with cloud cover can close them for the day.

We decided to go to the Cape of Good Hope through a tour company to save time and effort. It did allow us to look around and enjoy the scenery, but did not allow us to stop and enjoy some of the most beautiful scenic drives in the world. We met some other non-revers who decided to rent a car. It seemed like they made a better choice.

The next day we took a tour which eventually ended with Whale Watching. We started out going up Sir Lowry’s mountain pass to stop at False Bay. Again, the views were spectacular and are worth the cost of the tour. Next we drove to the Harold Porter botanical garden which had some of the most extensive collection of South African flora. Then we drove to the highlight of this tour, Hermanus Bay, to take a Boat Tour to spot whales. After that we went to a wine tasting at Whalehaven winery to relax and soak up the moment. Finally we went to a traditional Country Store which is like our general stores with amenities like dried Kudu which is like elk jerky.

Our final day was spent walking around the city square bargaining in the local market. We purchased some great art and fabrics, but held off obtaining soap stone or wooden crafts for when we went to Zambia and Botswana where they are actually made.

After Cape Town, we traveled to Livingstone in Zambia to tour Victoria Falls. We stayed in a more rustic but not at all uncomfortable resort called Stanley Safaris. This resort includes food so it is fairly reasonable compared to others. The service is very attentive and warm. It overlooks a large open area and the Zambezi River which feeds Victoria Falls.

The first thing we did was visit the falls. It was breathtaking. We happened to go during the dry season which means there was a great view of the rock formations. This tour, like all the others, are separate from accommodation costs but can be arranged and paid through the resort and placed on you credit card. This allows you to save your cash for when you need it, like bartering for crafts.

The next day we took a day tour of Botswana. It was an amazing trip to a park which touts 74,000 elephants as well as rhino, hippo, zebra, and other exotic animals. A description could be the world’s best zoo without any fences. The one caution is to bring your passport and be prepared to use a full page.

The following morning, we took a tour to visit a traditional zambian village, the mukuni village. the employees that worked at our lodge were all from this village. we were able to spend time observing the typical daily life of this very poor village, and we walked around all morning touring the homes, schools, chief’s palace, and craft market. all of the buildings in this village were huts made mostly of mud and straw, and woodworking is the main source of income. this was an amazing and humbling experience.

One the final day we experienced the pinnacle of our trip, tea on the edge of Victoria Falls. The little patch of green right at the abyss offers tea, sandwiches, and cocktails to make a memorable trip to one of the Seven Wonders of the World unforgettable. If you are lucky enough to go during the end of the dry season, you can swim at the edge of the tide pools. Let me describe that for you, you’re in the water, there is a 12 inch wall of rock which is the end of the tide pool, then there is a 400 foot drop to the water below.

To say that the trip to Africa as a Safari to remember would be an understatement. It gave us the chance to explore a part of the world not many have experienced and it made all those movies filmed here seem tame. The problems we had on South African Airways paled in comparison to the experience. And now with Delta’s new flights to Johannesburg, those bad experiences will be illuminated. Packages here can be expensive, but if you follow my guide you can have the experience of a lifetime for half the price.

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