When I Went: June 2010
Was That the Best Time of Year to Go? We traveled there in June due to the World Cup, which is their winter. We were told by locals, however, that the best time to visit was September, their spring. The flowers are lovely and the weather is supposed to be perfect. It was a bit cool during the day and actually cold at night, but not unbearable.
Why I Went There: The purpose of our trip was the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but it was the sole reason we went. We went for three weeks to see both the soccer matches and the country itself.
Who Went With Me? My husband and I traveled by ourselves.
We Stayed Here: We stayed in three different cities over the course of three weeks: Johannesburg, Cape Town and Kruger National Park. Our situation was unique because we were traveling during the busiest consumer period the country had ever seen, so lodging was difficult to come by. In Johannesburg, we stayed at the Africa Tribes Guest Lodge. This would not have been our first pick, but again, it was not a time to be choosey. The staff was courteous and the rooms were always clean, but it was not a hotel in the sense that we here in America think of a hotel. It was in a residential neighborhood with a main lobby with rooms off to the side and then several back guesthouses. It was by no means luxurious and we had to rely on a driver (not even cabs) to take us everywhere. It was out of the way and the meals were just okay, but it provided the necessary lodging, which was the most important aspect at that time. For our safari, we traveled to the Sabi Sands reserve in Kruger National Park, staying at the Djuma Bush Lodge. This was by far our favorite lodgings. The space is intimate and dining with all the guests is in one dining room for a sit down meal, forcing you to engage with guests from all over the world. It was truly spectacular and they really took care of their guests. In Cape Town, we stayed at a small bed and breakfast type place called Guesthouse Escape. It was cozy and we only ate breakfast here, but our accommodations were nice and clean and the staff was very friendly.
You Won’t Want to Miss: When going to South Africa, you must see Cape Town and must go on a safari. I’ve heard some other places on the coast were lovely, but we did not make it to the coast, so I can’t speak to that. Cape Town has wine country, a nice city layout where you can walk, history, culture, the beach, the mountains and everything in between. The safari puts you up close and personal with wildlife you can only see in zoos and will make you never want to go to a zoo again. It’s such a unique experience seeing these animals in their natural habitat and not even National Geographic can compare to seeing it in person.
Eat Here: I can’t speak for any restaurants in Johannesburg since we were staying in a remote location and our drivers wouldn’t really take us anywhere but the casino for dinner. When we were in Cape Town, we’d walk to the V&A Waterfront, where there are several pubs and local places to dine that we truly enjoyed. While we were on our wine tour, we ate lunch at the Dieu Donné Winery and it was breathtaking. The restaurant is on the mountaintop, overlooking a valley of vineyards and even though it was cold and cloudy, the view was still amazing. I can’t imagine seeing it in the spring. The food was delicious and the wine superb. We brought a bottle back home and saved it for a year and it was just as good as the day we bought it.
Play Here: While in Johannesburg, we visited the casino called Emperor’s Palace almost every night for dinner (since it was one of the few places our hotel drivers would take us), and it ended up being fun for what it was. There is a spa, where we had a spa day, restaurants with any type of food you want–we ate at a place called Tribes simply because of the large array of game cuisine. You can play the casino games, which were also fun, and it was family-friendly in some parts, so kids and adults alike can enjoy. The one thing I enjoyed about Johannesburg was the museum culture. We visited the township of Soweto, home to the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum, an apartheid cultural center, as well as the Nelson Mandela Museum, a must-see while in South Africa. Soweto houses a majority black population, with class levels ranging from upper middle class to very poor and houses like those in the suburbs to shacks. It was astonishing to see the class differences in one very densely populated place. Johannesburg is also home to the Apartheid Museum, a must see as well. In Cape Town, the wine country of Stellenbosch is a must if you enjoy wine. Table Mountain was also a great day trip, where you can take a cable car up to the top and get a birds eye view of the entire city and bay. As I mentioned earlier, the V&A Waterfront has an array of shopping and dining and is a lovely place to walk around when the weather is nice. And of course, going on a safari is the ultimate African experience and must-do while in South Africa.
If I Went Again: If we were to go again, we’d spend less time in Johannesburg and more time on the coast, specifically Cape Town and perhaps, as suggested, rent a car and travel up to Durban to view the blooms and the coast. We’d go in September rather than (their winter) and I would have done the Safari for a few more days rather than the three days we were there. There’s so much to see and take in, three days is hardly enough in my opinion. I’d also like to spend more time in Stellenbosch, outside of Cape Town, for a night or two. We missed out on so many wineries because we had to fit it into one day and get back into the city. If you do go to Johannesburg, make sure to stay in the city, nearer to the hustle and bustle and make sure it’s a proper hotel, not a lodge-type place. It’s certainly worth it to go since the cultural history is so rich there.
How Did You Get There From Dallas? This was before Emirates had non-stop flights to Dubai from Dallas, so we flew the day before to JFK in NYC and spent the night in NYC at the airport and left the next day via Emirates to Dubai (14-hour flight), and from Dubai took another 8 hour flight to Johannesburg, totaling about 24 hours total after layovers. It was a very long day, which is why I’d suggest going longer, because at least 2-3 days of your trip are solely reserved for travel.
Other Tips For Fellow Travelers: I think it’s important to take the time to see the country. It’s not a trip you can make in a week, since the travel time to get there is long and the vastness of the country requires more than a few days. Cape Town and the safari reserves are on opposite ends of the country, so time is a necessity. The people of South Africa are extremely nice and were very accommodating. Even in our Johannesburg hotel, our least favorite, the people were still very courteous and did their best to make us feel welcome. It’s a once in a lifetime trip and I’d recommend it to anyone!