Epic tour of South Africa
Oct 22 - Nov 11, 2023
Our three week self-driving tour of South Africa far exceeded our hopes and expectations. On past vacations we've always done our own research and booking, and typically that's worked out great. But for our first African vacation, and our first safaris, we reached out to the experts and they really delivered for us.
Our trip was a mix of animals, landscapes and culture. We started in Joburg with a bicycle tour of Soweto. From there we drove to Graskop and the Panorama Route along the Blyde River Canyon. The highlight was a half day hike into the canyon, where we saw our first monkeys and baboons and swam in a lovely water hole. Then it was on to Kruger, where we spent three nights at the Umkumbe Lodge in Sabi Sands and two nights at the Mjejane Lodge on the Crocodile River. The animal sightings were nearly constant, including a morning drive at Umkumbe where we saw the big 5 plus a cheetah. Watching a herd of elephants come to drink, play and cool off in the Crocodile River from the patio at Mjejane was another highlight.
From Kruger we headed south for two nights at Stone Camp in the Mkhaya game park in Eswatini. There the focus was on rhinos, including a pair that walked right through the camp! We continued south from Eswatini with two nights in Mkuze. The highlight there was a private birding safari in the Manyoni game park, which oh by the way included time with a pair of lions. We finished this segment of the tour with three nights at St Lucia, exploring the iSimangaliso World Heritage Park (hippos! crocodiles!) before flying to Cape Town. The weather on the cape was perfect for a drive to the Cape of Good Hope (penguins!), an exploration of the Kirstenbosch gardens and a hike on Table Mountain.
Throughout the trip the accommodations were excellent. We very much appreciated Esther and Lucy's suggestions for things to see and do and places to eat and shop. Three weeks went zipping by and we feel like we just scratched the surface. We hope we can come visit again soon.
We stayed in some beautiful places on our 3 week tour, but Stone Camp was our favorite. We loved the fact that there is no electricity, no phone and no internet. The huts are gorgeous, the food excellent, the people friendly, and the feeling of being out in the bush is unparalleled.
The 4 hour cycling tour through Soweto was an excellent introduction to South African culture and history from the perspective of those who suffered most under the apartheid system. We very much appreciated the local guides sharing their lived experience.
Our birding safari was a welcome change from the safaris we had done previously in Kruger and Eswatini. While it was thrilling to chase the big game on the typical safari, it was quite satisfying to slow things down and have the birds come to us. Our guide Lucky was quite knowledgeable, teaching us not only about the birds we were seeing but also about the whole Manyoni park and ecosystem.
It was fun to learn about the history and culture of the Cape Malay population, but the highlight was making and eating amazing food with Faldela. We are so grateful to her for opening her home and sharing her expertise and personal stories.