To be completely honest, when my (then-boyfriend, now-) husband first brought up the idea of traveling to South Africa last winter, my interest was not entirely piqued. My apathy was partly due to the ever-growing list of predictable bucket-list items, and the tropical vacation destinations I’ve been dreaming of dipping into. But the way my lover’s eyes lit up as he spoke about this elusive, distant destination, (two ten hour flights from Los Angeles, to be exact) without actually giving a concrete reason as to why we should travel there, made it hard for me to say no. “Besides,” he said to me casually, “it’s summer in South Africa during February and most the places you want to go will be cold.” He had a point. “We can plan all our travels for the next year around where it will be warm in the world,” he continued, “and chase summer for an entire year!” He may have been exploiting my weakness a bit, but being the true California native that I am, he knows I have a severe aversion to cold– so just like that, I was sold.
To be wrong about everything I thought South Africa was going to be is an understatement. It is no surprise to me now why Cape Town was voted the best city in the world. Much like our home base of LA, the auspicious mountains, breath-taking beaches, and the bustling, cosmopolitan city life offers a little something for everyone. To top it off, South Africa is extremely affordable for Western travelers making it an ideal destination to have a luxury experience for a standard cost. To give you an idea, Uber Black rides from one area of Cape Town to another costed anywhere between $2-$10 USD.
Upon landing in Cape Town, we checked in to our hotel and recovered from our long journey by relaxing at the spa and baking in the most astonishing sauna I’ve ever seen. Both the sauna and indoor infinity pool overlooked Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront, which we later explored by foot. We went to bed early that night in order to wake up at 4:00am to hike the famous Lion’s Head at sunrise.
The hike itself was a little challenging for the amateur hiker that I am, and came complete with chains and ladders in areas where physically climbing the mountain was necessary. The heat of the rising sun which graced our sweating bodies as we climbed and climbed was also met with the warmth of each and every person we passed and greeted us with a hello or good morning. This was my first experience with local Captownians, and their friendly demeanor was both a stark and refreshing change from what I was used to back in the busy city of LA.
As we neared the top, a sense of accomplishment and awe struck me as the sun lifted over the city where vast oceans met steep mountains. It was quite literally, but also very figuratively, breath-taking.
After resting at the top of the mountain and taking in the beauty of our surroundings with all the other on-lookers, we regained our energy and were ready to discover more of what this magnificent city had to offer. Each and every one of Cape Town’s points of interest were just as impressive as the last, so for the sake of preventing this post from becoming too lengthy, here are some of the highlights:
- Taking a cable car to the top of Table Mountain to witness even more inconceivable views.
- Visiting Cape Point: where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet.
- Paragliding over the ocean off of Signal Hill.
- Exploring the local culture via craft & food markets, museums, and the amazing local food scene.
- Relaxing by the numerous stunning beaches.
The next part of our trip included renting a car to drive along the coastal road known as Chapman’s Peak, where we stopped at various look out points to take in the astonishing sea-side views that give California’s Pacific Coast Highway a run for its money.
From there, we headed for the Garden Route: a stretch of geography that encompasses multiple sleepy beach towns, (such as Fish Hoek, Muizenberg, and Plattenberg Bay to name a few) which alternates with the fantastic grape-lined wineries of Stellenbosch. Along this route we stopped at Bloukrans Bridge for the highest bungee bridge jump in the world! The views from the jump alone are a gorgeous sight to see. Among the thrill of bungee jumping, we kayaked through the picturesque Storms River in Knysna, which journeyed us through wondrous bat caves and into the ocean. We also took time to relax as we ate plenty of fresh seafood, drank lots of local wine, and explored the various beaches along the Route. The most memorable beach we visited belonged to Simon’s Town, famous for Boulders Beach or what is unofficially known “Penguin Beach.” At this beach you can literally swim and sunbathe with warm-weather penguins!
A common and recommended accommodation for the Garden Route is staying in one of the many beautiful and hospitable guesthouses, with options for every budget. Some of these homes were so incredible, such as this one in Kynsna, with its expansive infinity pool and impeccable service, that wished we could never leave as this part of our trip slowly came to an end.
The second half of our trip involved swapping the beautiful beaches for savannah bushes, as we took a short flight over to Kruger National Park for the the safaris. We stayed on a private game reserve, where being so far away from artificial city lights brought upon the most epic view of the entire Milky Way galaxy. To add to the magic of this wilderness, from our rooms it was not uncommon for us to spot a giraffe, impala, or other wild animal as close as ten feet away. During our stay, our guides took us on two, three-hour safaris a day—one at sunrise and another at sunset. You would think that doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and safari-ing would get old, but each time we went out in our open-top jeep we witnessed new animals in their natural habitat, and were lucky enough to spot all of “the big 5” (rhino, hippo, lion, cheetah, and elephant).
By the end of our trip I was entirely unready leave. The beauty of South Africa, the people, the animals, the beaches, the mountains, and the savannas all had me wondering why and how I could ever question coming here in the first place. What once was no object of my travel-related desires now made for my fondest memories, and definitely one of my all-time favorite trips. For me South Africa was paradise in every sense of the word; so take a leap of faith and explore somewhere you wouldn’t imagine yourself going, and you may end up finding your own personal paradise, too.
My suggested 10 day – 2 week itinerary:
4-6 days in CapeTown
3-4 days with a car rental on the Garden Route
3-4 days in Kruger National Park for safari.
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