A First-Timer’s Trip to South Africa

A foggy city at night from the top of a skyscraper. Headlights light busy avenues


If you’ve never been to South Africa, deciding where to go can be daunting. Which safari parks and which cities are musts, how do you travel between them, and where do you stop along the way? Ignacio Maza of the Signature Travel Network, and a member of the AFAR Travel Advisory Council, is here to help with an itinerary that covers varied highlights of the country in 12 days.

You’ll visit its two most famous cities: Cape Town and Johannesburg. You’ll see sites that are older than history itself, like the Cradle of Humankind, and the country’s most famous national park, Kruger, where you can spot the big five safari animals, as well as countless other wildlife. Ignacio’s trip also includes time sampling fine homegrown wines and learning about Huguenot heritage in the scenic Cape Winelands. In short, you’ll leave with a rounded sense of South Africa, past and present—and the likely desire to make a future visit.


A Toast to South Africa

By one count, there are more than 300 wineries in the Cape Winelands. Figuring out which ones to visit can be a challenge, but Ignacio will arrange for a guide to meet you on a daylong tour with stops at those that suit your particular palette.
Ignacio Maza


Ignacio Maza

Born in Cuba and raised in Latin America, Ignacio Maza, executive vice-president of the Signature Travel Network and a member of the AFAR Travel Advisory Council, held senior roles at Virtuoso and American Express’s Travel Related Services division before joining Signature in 2004. He oversees the Hotel & Resort program’s collection of 1,000-plus properties worldwide.
Cape town from the air. A large open air stadium is surrounded by extensive park grounds. Large mountains dwarf the city in the distance

DAY 1Cape Town

You’ll land early this morning in Johannesburg, where a local host will escort you to your connecting flight to Cape Town, the elegant and cosmopolitan city near the southern tip of the country.

Once you land in Cape Town, a driver will meet your for a private transfer to the Taj Cape Town, where you will spend the next four nights. Located in two historic buildings and a contemporary addition, the hotel is in the heart of the city’s historic center, adjacent to St. George’s Cathedral. You’ll stay in a luxury room with a view of Table Mountain. Included in your stay are daily breakfast, a shared transfer within six miles of the hotel, WiFi, and access to the hotel’s gym and Jiva Grande Spa.

You’ll have the remainder of the day to get settled and explore the hotel and neighborhood on your own.
Brilliantly painted houses on a street. A conical tower points to a cloudy sky in the middle distance.


DAY 2Cape Town Tour

After breakfast, a private guide from Travel Beyond will meet you for a half-day Table Mountain and Cape Town City Tour.

It starts with a trip up Table Mountain via cable car, followed by a short walk at the summit to admire the incredible views and the city’s remarkable setting. You will then be taken on a city tour, complete with visits to several museums depending on your interests, the Castle of Good Hope, and Bo-Kaap, the city’s colorful Cape Malay neighborhood. You will also pass by the Houses of Parliament and the Company’s Gardens.

After your tour, you’ll be transferred back to the hotel and have the remainder of the day at your leisure.
A seaside highway cuts into a green hillside. A distant island is dotted with beautifully flowing mountains.


DAY 3Cape Peninsula Tour

Fuel up at breakfast and get ready to set out on one of the world’s most scenic drives: a full-day Cape Peninsula tour with a private guide. You’ll weave along the rocky Atlantic seaboard past Sea Point, Bantry Bay and Clifton. Bakoven and Llandudno, with their ghostly shipwrecks, are also fantastic sights on the way to the quaint fishing village of Hout Bay, where you will board a boat to visit the Cape Fur Seal colony on Duiker Island (weather permitting).

You’ll then navigate the 114 curves along the dazzling, nearly 2,000-foot high Chapman’s Peak Drive on your way explore the Cape of Good Hope. This section of the Table Mountain National Park is the home turf for fabulous birds and distinctive fauna including the Cape mountain zebra, bontebok, and the charismatic Cape baboon. Climb (or ride the world’s first environmentally friendly funicular) to the Cape Point Lighthouse to capture the magical vistas of False Bay.

After an a la carte lunch at a coastal restaurant, you’ll stop at Boulders Beach to see the African penguin colony. Then head back through the naval village of Simonstown and over scenic Boyes Drive, taking in the views of the fishing harbor at Kalk Bay and the seaside havens of St. James and Muizenberg.

To round out the day, you might take a stroll through world-famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on the slopes of Table Mountain.

DAY 4Last Day in Cape Town

You will have this day at leisure to explore Cape Town on your own after breakfast at the hotel. You might visit Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela spent decades of his life, and the District Six Museum, which traces the history of a vibrant mixed neighborhood and how many residents were forcibly removed during apartheid. Ignacio’s team can assist with arrangements and additional recommendations (at an additional charge).

DAY 5Cape Winelands

After breakfast, you’ll check out of your hotel and be met by a guide for a full-day private tour of the nearby Cape Winelands.

The outing includes the major wine-producing areas of Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek, and there are many stops en route for tastings of world-renowned reds and whites, as well as Cap Classiques—South Africa’s answer to champagne. Specific wine estates visited will vary according to your preferences.

Lunch will be served at one of the many classic, award-winning restaurants in the area. Natural and historic heritage abounds, and you may take in sights like the Afrikaans Language Monument with its panoramic views. Franschhoek, nestled in a valley settled by French Huguenots in 1688, is a delight for both antique lovers and gourmets. Stellenbosch, South Africa’s second-oldest town, provides another glimpse of classic 17th-century Cape style, with a chance to browse quaint Dorp Street and the many museums, galleries, and shops of this university town.

Following your tour, you will be transferred to the Last Word Franschhoek, where you will spend two nights. Located on a historic farm, the hotel is an intimate home in wine country with just six rooms opening onto lush landscaped grounds. Enjoy the remainder of your day at leisure.
Clouds roll over a mountain ridge like a waterfall, flowing into a valley. In the foreground, grapes begin to grow in a vineyard.


DAY 6Franschhoek

After breakfast at the Last Word, you’ll have today at leisure to explore Franschhoek. The hotel can point you towards hiking and cycling trails, as well as arrange horseback riding and fly-fishing excursions (at an extra charge).

The town of Franschhoek is full of eye-catcing examples of Cape Dutch architecture along with boutiques, restaurants, and small museums. The Huguenot Memorial Museum brings to life the men and women who settled this part of South Africa. The fascinating Franschhoek Motor Museum (by appointment only, which Ignacio’s team can arrange) covers over 100 years of automotive history and includes 220 different cars.

DAY 7Travel to Timbavati Private Nature Reserve

This morning after breakfast and checkout, a driver will meet you at the Last Word for a private transfer to the Cape Town Airport to catch a flight to Hoedspruit. (Flight not included in land costs.) Upon arrival, you’ll travel by shared road transfer to Kambaku Safari Lodge, where you’ll spend the next three nights. All meals, local drinks (excluding premium import brands), shared wildlife-viewing activities (game drives, bush walks, and day-time use of the hide), and wireless Internet access are included in your stay. Following afternoon tea, you will meet your guide and the other guests for an afternoon/evening shared wildlife-viewing activity. Dinner will be served at the lodge.

DAYS 8 AND 9Timbavati Private Nature Reserve

Take the next two days to bask in life on safari. The Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, on the western edge of Kruger National Park, totals more than 7,700 square miles—larger than the entire state of New Jersey. The list of animals that can be spotted here is long: elephants, buffalo, kudu, zebras, wildebeests, giraffes, impalas, waterbucks and warthogs, together with their predators: lions, leopards, cheetahs, and hyenas.

With a prime location in the Timbavati reserve, the Kambaku Safari Lodge is ideally situated for sightings of the “big five” animals—elephants, rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, lions, and leopards. Choose each day whether to go on a game drive or a bush walk. The lodge’s guides always know what is happening of interest nearby on any given day, whether it’s a pride of lions in the area or some newborn hyenas.

DAY 10Travel to Johannesburg

Today you’ll be met by your driver for a shared road transfer to the Hoedspruit Airport to catch a flight to Johannesburg (not included in land costs). Upon arrival in Johannesburg, a local representative will assist you to your awaiting vehicle for your private transfer to the Hilton Sandton, where you will spend two nights. Enjoy the remainder of your day at leisure.

DAY 11Johannesburg

After breakfast at your hotel (included with your stay), a private guide will meet you for a tour of some of Johannesburg’s highlights. Start at the Apartheid Museum, which examines apartheid right up to the first democratic elections held in 1994. The self-guided tour of the museum lasts approximately two hours.

You’ll then continue on to the Constitution Hill precinct, bordered by the inner-city neighborhoods of Braamfontein and Hillbrow. It is here that South Africa’s Constitutional Court opened in March 2004. The new court is on the site of the Johannesburg Fort, built in 1898 and later converted to one of the country’s most notorious prisons. The fort closed its doors in 1983. Your visit includes the museum that has been established in the old prison and will bring home the significance of this development and what it means for the future of Johannesburg.

In the afternoon, you’ll continue to the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage site some 30 miles northwest of Johannesburg. A new exhibition space includes fossils and models of hominids—the ancestors of homo sapiens—as well as other animals that lived in the area. The site includes the location where the so-called Mrs. Ples skeleton was found; the bones include the most intact skull of any Australopithecus africanus ever found in South Africa. You’ll also visit the nearby Maropeng museum that also recounts the history of the Cradle of Humankind.

After the tour, your guide will drop you at the Hilton Sandton and you will have the rest of your day at leisure.

Alternatively, Ignacio can arrange for an inner-city tour. You’ll visit the Kwa Mai Mai traditional healers market, the Collectors Treasury (the largest second-hand bookstore in the Southern Hemisphere), and the Carlton Centre, the tallest skyscraper in Africa with breathtaking views of Johannesburg. At the end of the tour, you’ll stop at Chancellor House, which was the home of Mandela & Tambo Attorneys in the 1950s. The building has been restored and refurbished and brings to life the early days of the careers of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, who would become leaders of the African National Congress and the anti-apartheid movement.
A warm-toned mural showing people and creatures on a wall


DAY 12Depart

This morning after breakfast and checkout, a driver will pick you up at the hotel for a private transfer to the Johannesburg airport to start your journey home.
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