Cape of Good Hope Road Trip

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If you’ve been following along on my honeymoon recaps, you know that we spent a week in Cape Town eating and drinking, we climbed a lot, we enjoyed both Stellenbosch & Franschhoek wine countries and took in all the sights that South Africa has to offer.

One “must do” that people kept recommending was the road trip to the Cape of Good Hope. Now, we considered hiring a driver but at $200+ for the day, we decided to be adventurous and drive ourselves. HA! Let me just remind y’all – in South Africa, the cars were small, old, stick shifts and they drive on the left side, like the British. And this place is hilly! We came thisclose to returning the car about 30 minutes in and calling it quits but we persevered on and have some funny stalling out driving videos to remember it by.

Though the drive says it’s only about 3 hours on paper, you should expect about 3x as much due to traffic, two lane highways, frequent stops, etc. In fact, the entire trip took us about 9 hours from start to finish and we tried to be efficient, therefore foregoing a few places we would have enjoyed staying longer. Here is the route we took:

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Stop 1: Muizenberg

It takes about an hour to get to Muizenberg, a popular beach town in the False Bay (most cities in Cape Town are identified by which bay it’s in). In fact, it’s considered the “birthplace of surfing” so naturally Terry wanted to try. I was trying to ignore the “caution – great white shark” signs everywhere. And I mean everywhere. I think I held my breath the entire hour he was in the water. But he had a blast and I enjoyed laying on the beach, photographing the ever-so-famous colored huts and enjoying the views. We had lunch at Tiger’s Milk, which has a stunning view of the water. We could have stayed here much longer if time allowed!

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colorful huts line the beach

Stop 2: Simon’s Town

While surfing was high on my husband’s list, the penguins were at the top of mine! There is absolutely nothing cuter than a penguin colony at the beach, y’all! They even have these little huts for them to sleep in, like a little apartment complex. We just ooh’d and awe’d our way through this adorable place. There are hundreds of penguins and some are sunbathing, others riding in waves, a few sleeping or mating, just living their best life. It’s an absolute “must do” if you are ever in S.A. to come here. Also, we picked up some great souvenirs by local villages here (maybe a tourist trap but who knows, I love my wooden zebra salad tongs!)

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the residents of Boulder Beach

Stop 3: Cape of Good Hope

Many people turn around at Simon’s Town, but we opted to drive the full Cape of Good Hope route and head down to the Southern Tip at the Cape Peninsula. There’s a beautiful nature reserve with incredible wildlife, rocky coast view & some seriously blue-green water. I wish we had taken a picture at the Cape Point (that sign you see everyone with) but we were running short on time and wanted to make sure to allocate enough time back. Side note: when driving this route you must keep your doors and windows locked. Why? Baboons! I kid you not, there are aggressive, mean gangs of baboons that break into cars and steal your stuff. Don’t believe me? Google image search “baboons cape of good hope“. Picture #1 is my favorite.

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so aggressive…looking for food

Stop 4: Kommetjie

There are a ton of routes to go back and many beach towns to stop at. Kommetjie is a super famous surfing spot so we just made a quick stop here at the local beach shop for some tshirts (for him) and some snacks (for me). The break was huge but we didn’t have time to surf, though I know Terry would have loved to. Another beautiful beach town.

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how beautiful is this drive along the Western Cape beach side?!

Stop 5: Llandundo Beach

The drive from Kommetjie to Llandundo Beach reminded us so much of the Big Sur drive in California – stunning cliffs, rocky coastal highway, little to no guardrails. It was scary but beautiful. I couldn’t stop taking pictures. Llandundo is one of the most expensive beach towns in Cape Town because it’s probably the most beautiful. We were told that a few years back it got voted “most beautiful beach in the world” by T+L or one of the big travel magazines. I couldn’t agree more!

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Llandundo’s water is breathtaking

Stop 6: Cape Town

Back home we went! The drive was very uphill but with only a few stalled situations, we made it out alive. All in all, we spent a full day driving up and down the Cape Town coasts and explored so much that this beautiful city has to offer. Whether you take a tour, hire a driver or drive yourself, I can’t recommend this day trip enough. There are so many hidden gems around Cape Town and this really allows you to explore a lot at once.

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back in time to watch the SA sunset from the V&A waterfront

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2018 Travel Goals

Last January, when I shared my 2017 Travel Goals, I set some pretty high expectations. I actually only hit 2 of 6, but considering we got married, I’ll say it was a pretty exciting year! Here’s what I did:

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Visited the surreal land known as Iceland’s Golden Circle

Toured the volcanoes & glaciers of Southern Iceland

Watched sunset (or lack thereof!) from the Blue Lagoon

Explored Reykjavik for a weekend

Spent a warm summer day swimming in Lake Zurich

Had the most incredible week in Cape Town, South Africa

Hit the S.A. Cape Winelands via both Franschhoek and Stellenbosch

Hit our #1 bucket list item by going on a 4-day safari (post coming!)

Drank beer & ate sausages during Oktoberfest in Munich (post coming!)

Got married in the beautiful, charming town of Saratoga Springs, NY!

Per usual, we took countless trips to Atlanta & South Jersey, along with Key West, New York City, Asheville (twice), Vermont and Miami!

All in all, 2017 was my best year yet and we went hit some major bucket list items.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 2018 TRAVEL GOALS ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s safe to say we had a pretty big 2017, travel wise. After all, we hit 3 continents, over 5 countries, and countless cities. Normally, I would say that’s par for the course, but then I remind myself that we planned a wedding, had 2 showers, our bachelor(ette) parties & a huge wedding weekend! Whew, 2018 has some big shoes to fill! Now I’m not sure how realistic this is, but that’s why they call them goals

Tanzania + Kenya

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Yes, we want to go back. The best time (so I’ve heard) to hit the migration in Tanzania & Kenya is likely fall again, so I’m not sure if we can swing it by then. If we can’t, this is 100% happening in 2019! It’s back as #1 on my bucket list. If I’m being honest, I would forego any other vacation in 2018 just to return to Africa. It has my heart.

Italy

My husband has never been to Italy and I am dyinggggg to take him! Last time I went to Italy, I had some unlucky weather so I would love to go back to Cinque Terra, the Amalfi Coast & Northern Italy to enjoy some warm weather & delicious wine. If we can’t make Africa happen, we may do this for our 1 year anniversary (which we’ll likely celebrate around Labor Day, as we did our honeymoon).

Bali

This may look familiar as it was on my 2017 travel list. It was actually our honeymoon “backup” plan, but lucky for us Africa was where we went. I’m torn with Asia because part of my just wants to go to Bali, knock it off the list, and get a taste of the Far East (no pun intended). The other part of me wants to wait until we move from Boston, take a month to explore and hit all of SouthEast Asia at once. Any suggestions here?

Ireland

 

Similar to Iceland, Ireland is a close 5 hour plane ride from Boston. Fares are inexpensive and it’s an easy flight. I would love to go over 4th of July weekend or another holiday where we can take 2 days, enjoy 5. Given that I’m half Irish and my ancestors are from the Gallway area, I would love to head to the Motherland to visit! I hear it’s just stunning and would be a really fun group trip with friends.

Wine Country

 

Ahh, one of my favorite places on earth. I’m hoping that I’ll have a bachelorette party or girls reunion weekend that we can do out here as I just love wine country. I’ve been to Sonoma twice now (including last year) but would love to explore some other regions, including Oregon, Washington & Napa.

What tops your 2018 travel list?

The Cape Winelands

If you’ve been following along on my recap of our South African honeymoon, you’ve already seen my post about the Devon Valley Hotel and the stunning Le Petite Ferme Hotel that we stayed at while in wine country. The Cape Winelands is a huge portion of the Western Cape, but the only two towns we visited were Franschhoek & Stellenbosch. The region has a Mediterranean style climate and a lot of Dutch influence. Stellenbosch is home to one of South Africa’s leading universities and has more of a “city” like feel, which Franschhoek has a quaint, more European small town feel. They both are home to many, many wineries and let me tell you – they are fantastic!

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Wineries to Visit

Kanankop (Stellenbosch): This winery, known for their reds (mainly pinotage & cab) was on a huge plot of land. The staff was super knowledgeable and bonus, they sell this wine in a store in Boston. We loved their Pinotage so much that we brought home a special reserve bottle to be opened on our five year anniversary!

Glenelly (Stellenbosch): The property was really beautiful as it feels like you’re walking into a secret garden! They’ve got a huge patio with hanging mason jar lights and a tasting room upstairs with a large deck overlooking the vineyards. This winery is owned by a badass 93 year old French woman (she is even on the label). They were also known for their reds (we came home with 2 bottles)

Waterford (Stellenbosch): Perhaps the best known winery, it has a more estate/corporate feel. The property is huge but the tasting room is surprisingly warm & cozy. The tastings are done at tables or sofas in front of their huge wood burning fireplace. It was pretty crowded, but in a good way. We did a private cellar tour which was fascinating. We also did the wine & chocolate pairing, which I highly recommend!

Delaire Graff (Stellenbosch): This estate is truly that…an estate. The property has lodging, a spa, multiple restaurants & of course, many acres of vineyards. If you stay here you really don’t need to leave the property. The service is outstanding and one of the most grand places we visited.

Mont Rochelle (Franschhoek): Owned by Sir Richard Branson, I must admit that this was one of my least favorite spots. While the place itself is very modern & cute inside, we didn’t love the wine. It was okay.

La Bourgogne (Franschhoek): What a cute, charming winery this was. You’re greeted by four adorable little dogs who live on the property, creating an immediately welcome vibe. We sat outside on the picnic tables to sample our chardonnays (we bought 2 bottles) & dine on some avocado toast. It’s a great place to catch a mid-morning snack.

Holden Manz (Franschhoek): By far the most beautiful property we visited on day two, this winery has their tastings downstairs in the wine cellar and a stunning dining room upstairs. I imagine that many people get married here or hold private parties – the upstairs is that incredible! HM is known for their red wines.

Rickety Bridge (Franschhoek): The last stop on our tour, we enjoyed a cheese plate and a variety of wines. While it was nothing to write home about, the place was warm (it was rainy & cold this day) and the staff was friendly. A nice place to end!

Babylonstoren: We did not make it here but I’ve heard great things about this working Dutch farm. It’s recommended that you stay on the property to fully enjoy the wine, restaurants & all that the farm has to offer. On our list for next time, for sure!

Where to Dine

Indichine (Stellenbosch): One of the restaurants within the Delaire Graff Estate, this has been voted one of the best restaurants in South Africa by many. The vibe is modern meets funky with oversized copper tables and navy leather chairs. There are fresh orchids on every table and a huge wood burning fireplace. The art and flowers alone are worth seeing. The food was, as expected, spectacular. It is a very fancy restaurant and while they have a 7-course tasting menu, we opted for our own. The menu is small (4 each of starters, mains & desserts) but delicious. For example, we ate scotch egg, chicken larg, tiki grilled prawns and matchi pineapple. All unique and well worth it.

Tokara (Stellenbosch): The restaurant has a breathtaking view over the valley below
and Table Mountain. The menu is South-African with a hint of Europe. A stone’s throw
from the Delaire Graff Estate. Closed Mondays.

The Bird Cage: (Stellenbosch):  Quirky café thatdoes lovely breakfast dishes. Their main business is wedding cakes. This is one restaurant that will look great on Instagram, FYI.

Makaron (Stellenbosch): Located at the Majeka House winery. Arrive 30 minutes early to have drinks by the pool.

Tiger’s Milk (Stellenbosch): Delicious casual chain with great pizzas, salads & burgers.

Sacred Ground (Franschhoek): On the way in/out of town – a cute coffee shop with take away breakfast.

The French Connection (Franschhoek): French style cuisine; cute outside area.

Foliage (Franschhoek): Highly ranked on trip advisor. Beautiful, creative dishes using foraged ingredients.

Tuk Tuk Microbrewery (Franschhoek): Downtown by where the wine tram dropoff is. Great for a beer and a light snack or casual dinner.

A Few Tips

  • In Stellenbosch, opt for a private driver, as it’s much more personalized and they tend to know the best places. We paid 1440ZAR + tip and was well worth it.
  • In Franschhoek, opt for either a private driver or the wine tram. We chose the wine tram as it was less expensive and something new. You pick from 4 pre-selected routes and they organize the entire trip- so easy!
  • An average wine tasting is only about 40ZAR (~$3) and there are plenty of amazing bottles under $15USD. I highly recommend shipping back or taking home what you can. We only found 1 winery that exported their wine.
  • These aren’t tiny Napa pours…these wineries give you like a quarter of a glass per tasting so take your time & be sure to eat something.
  • Most wineries will have the option for a lunch or picnic to be organized ahead of time. Had the weather been warmer, we certainly would have opted for a picnic.

 

 

Hotel Review: Devon Valley Hotel

When we were in South Africa on our honeymoon, we had the pleasure of spending a few days in the Cape Winelands (full review on that to come!). We enjoyed night one at a stunning property in Franschhoek and on day two, we made our way to the  larger, college (and wine country) town of Stellenbosch.

Unfortunately for us, it was raining the whole day so when we arrived at the Devon Valley Hotel, we didn’t have a chance to fully explore the property as I much as I would have liked. From what we did see, the large property is made up of multiple buildings with the restaurants, bar and lounge being part of the main building area, making for easy access.

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We did have a welcome drink in the bar/lounge area, which was a very cozy, warm environment. Had it been nicer out, we definitely would have taken advantage of the huge outdoor patio (and outdoor bar) that they have, which looks like a great way to start or finish the day. The staff was very helpful – they helped us book our airport transfer right away and they even had a bottle of champagne and some strawberries waiting for us in our room. So thoughtful!

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Our room itself had hardwood floors and an open concept. There were builtin wardrobes on the left, the bathroom on the right and oversized shutters that left the soaker tub either open or closed from the bedroom area. The opposite end of the room was lined with French doors which overlooked the stunning landscape of the Devon Valley vineyards. A flat screen television was mounted over a gas fireplace, which we were sure to take advantage of. I must say that after a long day of wine tasting in Stellenbosch, taking a bubble bath while facing a fireplace and catching a view of rolling vineyards in the background was quite spectacular.

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All in all the Devon Valley Hotel is a nice property with comfortable accommodations, a lovely staff and nice amenities. The only concern is that the hotel is about 5 miles outside of the city center down a country road and, quite frankly, one night felt too rushed. While it’s located in a beautiful setting, it takes a while to get everywhere so I would only recommend staying here if you’re able to stay at least two nights. With adequate time I would have dined in the on-site restaurants, toured a few local wineries and spent more time on the property.

Thank you to The Devon Valley Hotel for sponsoring this post. Even though our stay was complimentary, thoughts & opinions are my own.

Cape Town: 10 Things to Know Before You Go

I first introduced this “10 Things to Know Before You Go” series when I recapped our trip to Iceland and I got great feedback from it. Many of you emailed, texted, etc that this was helpful in properly planning your trip, especially if you don’t have a lot of free time to do research yourself! So, here we are again. Since Cape Town is really far away for a lot of us and it’s likely we’ll only have the chance to visit it once or twice in our life time, I want to pass along everything I learned so that you can fully enjoy your trip!

  1. Everyone speaks English. Even the signs & road directions are in English. We naively think that because we are in Africa we won’t be able to communicate with the locals, but that just simply isn’t true. It’s quite easy to understand everything Cape Town.

2. Take uber everywhere. We opted for uber black car and I think the average we spent was $5 per ride. It’s fine to walk during the day, but you will want to be very careful at night. Every hotel concierge, restaurants manager and local we spoke with suggested taking an uber at night, even if you’re just going a few blocks. Better safe than sorry.

3. Get ready to explore the outdoors! There is so much to do outside – whether you prefer walking around, biking tour, surfing, hiking mountains, whale watching or shark diving, there is something for you.  Pick your poison and get moving! (see my full review on what to do in Cape Town here).

4. There is no shortage of beautiful beaches. In fact, a few of the South African beaches have been named “most beautiful in the world” and “the home of surfing”. A few in particular that we visited are Llundando, Clifton Beach, Camps Bay beach, Hermanus, Schusters Bay, Kommetjie and Muizenberg. Believe it or not, we still missed a lot. It was really fun to say that within 24 hours, we swam in both the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean.

5. The Cape Winelands rival that of Northern California and area must visit if you’re ever in South Africa. Located less than an hour from Cape Town, both Franschhoek and Stellenbosch are charming, small towns surrounded by lush, sprawling wine country. So many of the wines so expect to drink some wines you may not be familiar with. A local (and tourist) favorite that you will undoubtedly see all over is Pinotage. Drink it, buy it, enjoy it.

6. If you are going within the next year or so, you’re in luck (for many reasons). The dollar is so strong right now that it’s an excellent time to go. Currently, it’s approximately 13ZAR to 1USD. This means that not only are things generally less expensive there, but with this exchange rate your money will go a long way. (Example: a nice beer at a restaurant/bar was 30ZAR, which was less than $3) Take advantage of this and buy bottles from wine country, enjoy some nicer dinners, splurge on gorgeous hotels and make this once in a lifetime trip that much better.

7. Expect your socks to be blown off by the outstanding culinary scene in Cape Town. We had many people tell us to make dinner reservations way before we left. Why? Because some of the top restaurants in the world are in Cape Town and they book out months in advance (I’m looking at you, Test Kitchen). There is a huge foodies scene and it spans every culture – Asian, Italian, South American, Indian, and more. Every single meal we had was better than the next and choosing where to dine out was one of the toughest decisions of the day! Do your homework, book ahead and enjoy the hell out of every single meal.

Tip: Go sooner rather than later! With the dollar being so strong (see #6), we had 5 star meals with full wine service for well under $100.

8. Picnics are a “thing” in South Africa. Whether you’re spending a lunch at a winery, in the Kirstenbosch Gardens, or simply at your local hotel…ask about a picnic! You’ll notice that almost every place will offer a picnic as an option – they set up a blanket, pack your basket (you get options of meat/cheese/wine) and you just show up. If the weather is nice out you should definitely do this. We enjoyed a picnic in the gardens one a day and it was my favorite day. We Americans rarely take the time to enjoy a nice meal with a  loved one outside, while enjoying our natural surroundings. Give it a try!

9. Do a little bit of local research and educate yourself before you go. While Cape Town is a progressive, cosmopolitan city we can’t forget that the country of South Africa still has many racial, socioeconomic and political issues. We found that every staff member and driver brought up the topic and once we engaged, they were eager to discuss in great detail. We found that their point of view is quite interesting and we learned a lot about the country’s history and their citizens’ hopes, dreams and fears. I always like to immerse myself in a culture in a new country, but this was unlike anything I have ever experienced. Really fascinating!

10. Be aware. As always, you can’t forget the you are in fact a tourist in a very poor country. You are a target for scams and for robbery. While we never felt unsafe, we did encounter a sketchy situation or two.  Three is barbwire fencing around most nice homes for a reason. There are also armed security guards in many stores, restaurants and hotels for a reason. As long as you are smart and alert you will be fine.

So there you have it – 10 things to know before you go to Cape Town. I could give you 100 reason why you should go (and go NOW!) but I’ll spare you for now. All I can say is that I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world (4 continents, 25+ countries, countless cities) and Cape Town is hands down one of my favorite places that I have ever been. There is SO much to do and see and enjoy in this city. The people are outstanding and it was truly a dream come true. We maximized every moment of our five days here but cannot wait to go back to experience more!

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Cape Town, I love you!

Have you been to Cape Town? What’s your favorite thing about the Mother City?

Cape Town Travel Guide: What To Do

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I’ve said it once (or twice) and I’ll say it again…South Africa needs to be high on your travel list! A few main reasons why I suggest going now is that the dollar is strong, they all speak English, there is a huge culinary scene and an endless amount of fun things to do!

If you love experiencing nature, being outdoors or breathtaking scenery then you are in luck. There is absolutely no shortage of killer views here in Cape Town. There are many hiking trails around Cape Town so whether you want a casual stroll or an advanced trek, there’s something for everyone.

TABLE MOUNTAIN

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hiking up Kastelspoort Trail

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walking across the top of Table Mountain (see the huge reservoir behind us?)

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 many ladders (and rocks) to scale down via the Skeleton Gorge train

Most people know about Table Mountain, the iconic flat-topped mountain that overlooks the city of Cape Town. There are many trail options and we chose to go up Kastelspoort Trail to Twelve Apostles, across the mountain (to the other side) and down Skeleton Gorge. The hike was about 7 miles and took us around 3.5 hours, stopping for pictures of course! The way up was ocean facing which was beautiful and the way down was more in the woods, which was a welcome change. The trail was pretty challenging for me – steep on the way up and a lot of large, wet rocks to scale on the way down. Of course, you can always take the cable car up if you’re limited on time!

KIRSTENBOSCH BOTANICAL GARDEN

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this picnic was one of my favorite parts of our honeymoon!

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 feeding the cute ducks at Kirstenbosch

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 stunning views from the canopy walk

A great part about the Skeleton Gorge train is that you end up at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, one of my favorite places in Cape Town. The property, founded in 1913, is huge and full of native Cape region plants, a canopy walk and a restaurant. They even host concerts here in the summer months. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the garden and then relaxing under the warm African sun for a couple of hours post-hike. I suggest that you prearrange a picnic via the Tea Room, which we did. The food was great, the people are nice and the views are spectacular. This was the perfect way to spend the afternoon after hiking all morning.

LIONS HEAD

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 the most beautiful beaches

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overlooking the Twelve Apostles

It may not be as well known as Table Mountain, but this mountain is a local favorite and mine as well. The mountain is located between Signal Hill and Table Mountain and gives breathtaking ocean views almost the entire hike up. On a clear day you can see Table Mountain, the Twelve Apostles, the entire Cape Peninsula and Robben Island. In fact we loved this hike so much that we went up for sunset one day and again for sunrise the next day. If you are ever in Cape Town you must climb Lions Head at one of these specific times of day. It’s a relatively easy hike and was by far my favorite of our trip.

EXPLORE THE CITY

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 there’s truly nothing like an African sunset

There are so many cool neighborhoods within Cape Town – the V & A Waterfront, Bo-Kaap, Gardens, De Waterkant – to name a few. We didn’t have enough time, but I would love to have done a bike or walking tour of these neighborhoods. We mainly explored them in and around dinner time. One other place that we did not make it to but really wanted to was Robben Island, This is the island that Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on for 18 of his 27 total years. I’ve heard the tours are fascinating as many are given by old prison guards!

Then, of course, there are the beaches – Camps Bay, The False Bay, Llunandundo, and many more. We spent a few hours at Camps Bay (followed by dinner at The Codfather, of course!) but the water was way too cold to go in (like, freezing!). I would love to return in the summer months and spend a few days at the beach.

DAY TRIPS

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the famously colorful huts of Muizenberg

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bucket list: meet the penguins of Simons Town!

I’ll be doing a full post on our Cape of Good Hope Road Trip, which included some major highlights of the area: Boulder’s Beach, Simons Town (penguin town!), Muizenberg Beach, Chapman’s Peak…all of these are must do’s when in Cape Town!

SHARK DIVING

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Yes, it’s scary. Yes, I was nervous. Yes, it is a *must do* when you are in South Africa. Shark diving has always been on my “bucket list” but I wanted to do it in one of two places only – Australia or South Africa. When we booked this trip, we know this had to be on the agenda.

Long story short, shark diving (in a cage, attached to the boat like we were) is not nearly as scary as you imagine and the anticipation is about a million times worse than the actual event. In fact, dare I say we were a little bit disappointed?! I was really expecting a 14′ Jaws great white with monster teeth to attach our cage and that just wasn’t the case. We saw a few smaller sharks and they came close but it wasn’t as intense as I expected. I’m sure every experience is different, so I’ll probably try it again when we go to Australia. We did enjoy the trip and I highly recommend our company, Marine Dynamics, as they were very education-based and we felt totally safe the entire time.

Who else has been to Cape Town?

What’s on your “must do ” list in the city?

Spotting “The Big Five”

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Thornybush, Sabi Sands, Kruger National Park, September 2017

When I first started dreaming of an African safari (many, many years ago) all I knew was that I wanted to see “the big five”. You know, lions, tigers & bears (oh my!). HA…well, I quickly came to realize that I didn’t even know what the big five were! Or why they were called that. A little nature lesson: the “big five” game animals were coined that by hunters, referring to the five most difficult animals to hunt on food. Yes, some of these animals are huge, but they’re also camouflage, quick, and always one step ahead. They’re also five of the most dangerous. By the time you would spot them on foot, it would be too late. They are now the gold standard by which all safari tours operate – it was most definitely our goal to spot the big five during our safari and I am so thrilled to say we did!

African Elephant

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We always saw them in herds of 5+

This was very first animals we saw as they were at our lodge’s watering hole when we arrived. And holy crap they are HUGE! Being the largest land mammal, the average African elephant is over 10′ at shoulder height and weighs around 5 tons, with the largest being over 7. It’s so crazy how much they blend into the trees, given how large they are. Over the 4 days, we came across 5-6 different packs. I must admit, to me, they were the most frightening in person. Their behavior is typically calm but they’re a little unpredictable and we heard a lot of stories about them charging at people. They were the only animals that I felt a little uneasy around – though the babies are beyond adorable!

Fun fact: Mama elephants are pregnant for 22 months and at birth, babies are already 3 feet tall and 200 lbs.

Black Rhinoceros

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I mean, look at all that muscle!

Oh, the rhino. Looking at pictures of these pre-historic beauties makes me equally happy and heartbroken. They are the most unbelievable animals to see in person – I truly felt like I was in Jurassic Park. At the same time, it’s devastating to know that they are being closer to extinction by the day. Our guide estimated that at the rate they’re being killed (for their horns by horrible, ignorant poachers), they will likely be extinct by 2020. That’s only 2 years away y’all! I won’t get too much into my “save the rhinos” rant but you can read more about the animals here, the poaching crisis here, and how you can help here.

We were lucky enough to see one on our first drive & saw four more throughout the stay. They were typically alone and usually just chillin’ – eating some leaves or bathing in the ponds. They are unbelievably strong, travel alone and are very territorial. I feel so blessed to have seen these beautiful creatures in person. 

Fun Fact: Though they’re large, they are speedy! A rhino can run up to 40 miles per hour – over twice as fast as the world’s fastest human. So finding a tree to climb is your best strategy to stay safe!

Cape Buffalo

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These guys were so creepy – always watching us watch them

Considered to be the most dangerous for hunters, the cape buffalo are notorious for being aggressive & ambushing. So, naturally when we learned that a group of 20 were lounging around a mere 50 yards from our front door, we were a wee bit nervous. At first glance, they just look like a cow or normal buffalo but then you hear stories of how quickly they charge and you’re on high alert. When we saw them, they just sat around eating grass for about 20 minutes and then we drove off. Uneventful – the way I like it on safari ha!

Fun Fact: Actually, crazy story – our guide told us how he accidentally stumbled upon a cape buffalo while walking back to his lodge one day and it started to charge him. He had to sprint the other direction & climb a tree to hang out there for a few hours until the buffalo left. He said it was the scariest experience he’s had in the bush!

African Leopard

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The male leopard waiting for the female to give the “ok” to begin mating

The smallest of the big cats, and solitary by nature, these look like sweet little cats that you just want to cuddle up with and pet…until you realize that they will quickly eat your face off. (as evidenced by the feeding leopard we saw). The Sabi Sands area is known for their leopards so we knew we had a great chance of seeing them. What we witness though, blew us away. Days 1 & 2 we saw a pair of leopards mating – a very rare occurrence to see – and it was fascinating! We were total creeps and watched them for a while and took videos. Our guide told us that in his 10 years in South Africa, he’s only come across this three times. How lucky are we? On day 3 we also saw a female leopard feeding on a recently killed kudu. We watched her try to carry this 80# dead animal…in her mouth… up a tree. Nature is fascinating, y’all!

Fun Fact: Female leopards birth 2-3 cubs at a time and they stay with their mama until about age 2 when they’re old enough to hunt on their own.

African Lion

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King of the Jungle

I think my husband said it best: “when you see a lion for the first time and you know exactly where you stand on the food chain”…this was the one and only lion we saw (we did see a lioness but the females don’t have the manes) and it was spectacular. This was the only animal that took my breath away, which was such a surprise! For some reason, the sheer presence of a male lion is surreal – they are so regal and grand. Lucky for us, we saw him on our last drive of the trip. My hope is to see more on our next safari. They travel in prides so there’s usually a good chance that you’ll spot multiple.

Fun Fact: A lions roar can be heard for up to 5 miles away. One night at dinner, we all heard a lion roaring in the distance. The next morning, our tracker noted that a male lion had walked through our camp while we were all sleeping. So scary!

And just because these other animals aren’t part of “the big five” doesn’t mean they’re not incredible to see. A few of my personal favorites…

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The zebra, so cute with that little mohawk! While their skin appears to be white with black stripes, rumor has it that if you shave them, the skin is actually black. The mystery continues!

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A personal favorite, the warthog. So ugly that they’re cute, these silly fellas are always frolicking around the bush and chasing each other around. They totally reminded me of our French Bulldog, but with horns!

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The hyenas are mangy, mean & big bullies. But they are a little cute at times. We had one visit our BBQ site on our first night and I swear, he looked like a little teddy bear.

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Given their height, the giraffes are always watching from afar and curious what you’re up to. They are long, lanky, clumsy & adorable. Especially the babies.

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Fun Fact: African cash is also known as “The Big Five”, with each having a picture of one of the big five animals on the front.

All I can say is – if you’ve ever considered going on a safari, do it now. Time is of the essence with these animals and nothing is guaranteed. This was the most humbling experience and I am just itching every moment to go back.

Africa, I love you!