October 8, 2014 was the day I’d been waiting on for seven years – the day I would finally visit South Africa! After working at Travel Beyond as a seasonal employee throughout my high school and college years, I became a full-time Travel Associate in January 2014 and was honored with my first educational trip to South Africa and Botswana for two and a half weeks.
I arrived late at night in Cape Town and woke up to the most serene vineyard and mountain-view outside my room in Franschhoek at La Residence; I was feeling like a queen. The next three days were spent exploring the Winelands and Cape Town. From the delicious food and wine to the picturesque landscapes, I was falling in love with this buzzing city more and more each day. Everywhere you looked there were people from destinations all over the world and multiple generations; I knew this was a perfect city because it has something to offer for everyone!
Kruger National Park
I then flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg to meet up with Rose Loggi, one of Travel Beyond’s Africa consultants. Rose has been to Africa dozens of times, and this was her fourth time to South Africa. I was honored to travel with her and learn so much from a highly experienced traveler and safari consultant. After an overnight in Johannesburg, we boarded a light aircraft flight to get us to Kruger National Park where we would embark on safari. Roughly an hour and a half later, we arrived to a champagne welcome at the airstrip from our guide and tracker from our first safari lodge, Tintswalo Safari Lodge! After settling in, I could hardly wait another second to see the wildlife in their natural habitat for the first time. Our first afternoon game drive was a great success as we saw four of the Big Five, had a delightful sundowner location overlooking a watering hole at sunset, and our guide showed us how to smoke elephant dung and explained that witch doctors in South Africa recommend to do this for sinus relief. Quite the first safari experience!
Kapama Game Reserve
The next stops on the trip included eight overnight visits to a different camp each day in the Kapama Game Reserve, Timbavati Reserve, Kruger National Park and the Sabi Sands. I was a little hesitant to be staying at a tented camp on my first trip. I have done a decent amount of camping growing up, but the thought that leopards and hyena could be walking around my tent at night and bugs I had never seen before could be crawling around worried me a little. After my stay at Tanda Tula, my worries were completely erased because of the wonderful staff, beautiful camp layout and location, and my game drive experience (and hardly any bugs in October!). Plus, I was so tired from being on the move each day and learning so many new things, I had zero trouble falling asleep at night. Our first afternoon game drive at the lodge was a dream; we saw the Big Five in one game drive! This does not happen too often and it was a thrilling experience! This is also where I fell even more in love with elephants. I could just sit and watch them for hours; they are so mesmerizing to me.
Mashatu Game Reserve
After our safari in South Africa, we took a flight from Johannesburg to Polokwane and then transferred over the border to Botswana. The sun was beaming its rays on us for the 45-minute drive to Mashatu Main Camp from the border. I was so happy to feel the heat of Botswana after some chilly mornings and evenings in South Africa! On our way into camp, our guide told us that the President of Botswana had just arrived at the camp as well to hear the results of the election that were being decided that night (he won his second term, by the way). How cool! After a wonderful two-day stay at Mashatu with beautiful weather and great sightings, we were able to end our last evening safari with one of the most enchanting sunsets I had ever seen. And, of course, we had some gin & tonic to celebrate!
I cannot wait until I return to these beautiful countries and explore even more of Africa! The Okavango Delta, Victoria Falls, and various parts of Kenya are what I hope are my next African destinations. There’s so much more to share but so hard to say the right words – it’s a must-see for yourself! I would highly recommend an African safari is placed at the top of your travel bucket list!
A few things I learned on this trip being a first time safari-goer
– You really need to pack for all sorts of weather. Being that is was October I figured it would be 70’s all day every day. Morning and evenings drop to 50’s and when you’re riding in a moving, open vehicle it’s quite chilly (even for a Minnesotan).
– If you see a multi-purpose, unique gift at the curio shop that won’t break in your suitcase, snatch it right away! Each lodge offers different interesting items.
– Don’t be afraid to ask what you believe may be silly questions on safari! Because it was my first time, I had so many thoughts going through my head. The guides love questions and they often prompt more thoughts you didn’t think to ask!
– Keep a journal and try to write in it as often as possible. Being back for almost 3 months now, I still try to remember fun facts to share with family and friends but the information isn’t as fresh.