An Artistic Tour of South Africa

A four-part painting hangs over a reception desk


If you’re an art lover in the know, you’ve probably heard about the cutting-edge Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, which opened in September 2017 to great acclaim. It’s one of several fascinating stops on this itinerary highlighting South Africa’s dynamic art scene, created by Kate Doty of Geographic Expeditions, and a member of the AFAR Travel Advisory Council, with her colleague, art buff and regional expert, Starla Estrada.

In addition to curator-led gallery visits and insightful walking tours—the one in Johannesburg includes inspiring street murals, installations, and graffiti—each of the featured luxurious hotels has its own phenomenal private collection. From the Saxon, Hotel, Villas and Spa’s West and Central African pieces to the collection of Mateya Safari Lodge, which features both traditional and contemporary works inspired by the savannah, you’ll have rare inside access to artwork, artists, and art connoisseurs. Starla and Kate can also time your trip to coincide with one of Cape Town’s or Johannesburg’s art festivals.

A blue lioness mural


Surveying the Street Scene

A tour of Johannesburg’s street art with guide Jo Buitendach includes studio visits, opportunities to meet local artists, and a stop at a printing shop. You’ll have a true insider’s look at this exciting aspect of Jo’burg life.
Kate Doty


Kate Doty

Kate Doty of Geographic Expeditions, and a member of the AFAR Travel Advisory Council, has been crafting extraordinary journeys for more than two decades, tailoring each to meet a traveler’s dreams. Her efforts have included arranging a private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and private New Year’s Eve celebrations at the Giza Pyramid. She spearheaded the launch of GeoEx’s offerings in Africa and Southeast Asia and coordinates research expeditions in remote and challenging areas for Disney and Pixar.
Chairs line a pristine pool


DAY 1Arrive in Johannesburg

Upon landing in Johannesburg, you will be met by a car and driver and taken to your base for the next three nights, the Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa. The boutique hotel, with 53 rooms and suites on 10 acres of landscaped grounds, has been a longtime patron of the arts. Its eclectic collection includes emerging talents from Africa, Asia, and Europe, including more than 200 original pieces from South African artists.

Make sure to see the sketches by Dean Simon of one of the Saxon’s most famous guests, Nelson Mandela, who stayed here while writing his autobiography. Other highlights of the collection include Moroccan masks, Ghanaian fertility dolls, and works by Hilton Edwards, Hannes Harss, Fiona Rowett, and Sandile Zulu.

You’ll have the rest of the afternoon to explore the hotel and relax, perhaps poolside or with a visit to the award-winning spa.
A man in a bucket hat paints a mural of a blue lioness


DAY 2Street Art

After breakfast, you’ll head out on a tour of Johannesburg’s street art with Jo Buitendach. The city has become famous as a center for public art, with contributions by both local artists and international visitors alike. Jo will take you to some of the most prominent public art installations, providing an introduction to the history of the street art movement and placing it in the context of the country’s broader art scene. Along the way, she will introduce you to local artists and you’ll stop at a printing studio for a look at the creation of some limited-edition works.

At the end of your tour, you’ll return to your hotel for the evening, though Kate’s team can provide suggestions if you prefer to stay out and experience another Johannesburg art form: its lively jazz scene.

DAY 3Johannesburg’s Galleries

You’ll visit two of Johannesburg’s top galleries, both in the Rosebank neighborhood. Everard Read is the oldest commercial gallery in Africa (established in 1913) and exhibits many of South Africa’s most important artists. You’ll be met by the gallery curator who will share some of Guy Du Toit’s irreverent sculptures in metal, stone, and wood; Lionel Smit’s monumental canvasses of contemporary portraiture; and large-scale charcoal drawings of rural life by Phillemon Hlungwani.

Adjacent to Everard Read, CIRCA is a small contemporary gallery with an exterior that’s as striking as the artwork it houses. Designed by architect Pierre Swanepoel of StudioMAS, the elliptical structure with an aluminum fin façade has already become a landmark in Rosebank. Despite its intimate size, CIRCA exhibits an impressive collection of sculptures, installation pieces, and paintings from celebrated and up-and-coming artists such as Viktor Shroeder, Benjamin Cobb, and Audrey Phillips.

Next, you’ll continue on to Gallery MOMO, a 10-minute walk from CIRCA. Founded by black gallerist Monna Mokoena in 2002, it has been a leader in bringing attention to many of Africa’s most interesting new artists, including sculptor Dillon Marsh, photographer George Hallett, and painter Kimathi Donkor.

Depending on your particular interests, Kate can arrange for visits to other galleries as well as meetings with private collectors for more insights.
A group of zebras walk down a road


DAY 4Travel to Madikwe Game Reserve

A driver will meet you this morning for a transfer to the Johannesburg airport to catch an hour flight to Gaborone, and then a transfer to the Mateya Safari Lodge at the Madikwe Game Reserve. The lodge has five individually designed thatched suites along with one of the world’s largest private collections of African art. Guests can explore the collection with the lodge’s guide in hand. It includes oil paintings by Paul Augustinus, sculptures by Robert Glen, and traditional pieces created by artisans from Benin, Cameroon, Mali, and other places throughout the continent.

Beyond the lodge, the Madikwe Game Reserve extends for some 290 square miles. Near the Botswana border, it is a masterpiece in its own way. The area where the reserve is located had once been farmland, before the South African government decided it was better suited to supporting wildlife. Since it was declared a reserve, elephants, Cape buffalo, black and white rhinos, and a number of predators—including lions, cheetahs, and hyenas—have all been successfully reintroduced. The reserve is also malaria free, a big plus for many travelers.
A woman drives a jeep down a tree-lined road


DAYS 5 AND 6Madikwe Game Reserve

You’ll have the next two days to enjoy life at the Mateya Safari Lodge and explore the reserve, choosing among day and night game drives as well as bush walks. It’s an ideal place to spot the big five species—lions, leopards, elephants, black rhinoceros, and Cape buffalo—plus around 350 bird species.

Between game drives, each of the lodge’s suites has its own infinity-edge plunge pool, as well as deep soaking tubs positioned so they have views of the savannah surrounding the lodge which sits atop a rocky outcrop. The library is another relaxing retreat, filled with books both about African art and the flora and fauna of this part of South Africa, on the edges of the Kalahari Desert. All meals are included and served in a dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a watering hole where animals frequently gather. The lodge also has an 8,000-bottle cellar of wines, both South African and international selections.
A beachside pool


DAY 7Travel to Cape Town

Depart early this morning for a flight to Cape Town where you’ll be met upon your arrival for a transfer to Ellerman House, an elegant Cape Edwardian mansion offering up spectacular ocean views from its perch on the slopes of Lion’s Head. You’ll want to explore the Ellerman House’s fine art collection with works that span more than two centuries, from Thomas Bowler’s depiction of Cape Town in the early 19th century to contemporary masterpieces from such artists as William Kentridge.

In the afternoon, your guide will take you to the new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA), a partnership between the V&A Waterfront and Jochen Zeitz, an avid contemporary African art collector and former Puma CEO. Set in a refurbished silo complex, the museum is ambitious inside and out, generating excitement among art enthusiasts worldwide well in advance of its September 2017 grand opening. The 100,000-square-foot space houses 80 galleries with permanent and temporary exhibitions, as well as a Centre for Photography that showcases works by Roger Ballen. On an immersive curator-led tour, you’ll discover why MOCAA is emerging as one of the most influential contemporary art museums in the world and creating a new center of gravity within South Africa’s art scene.

In the evening you’ll return to the Ellerman House for dinner in the wine cellar with the hotel’s art curator, Margaret Slabbert.
Paintings in an art gallery


DAY 8Cape Town’s Gallery Scene

Today’s tour of Cape Town’s galleries and street art begins at SMITH Studio within a reimagined 250-year-old warehouse; it specializes in fine art from established and emerging artists. Southern Guild, which has a presence in Cape Town and Johannesburg, provides a platform for showcasing the very best of high-end South African design and has been instrumental in elevating local artists and designers to the international stage. Other notable galleries and studios include WHATIFTHEWORLD, Bronze Age, Goodman Gallery, SMAC, Warren Editions, South African National Gallery, and the Irma Stern Museum.

On a guided tour of the Woodstock neighborhood with Juma Mkwela, you’ll learn how street art has played a major role in the area’s transformation from a neglected warehouse district to a buzzing nexus of art and cuisine. As you walk through its alleys and streets, Juma shares his in-depth knowledge, including insight into the social commentary and transformative messages behind the art.

You may also want to schedule your visit to experience one of the city’s annual art events. Ellerman House’s Art Angels is an annual charity auction and party that benefits The Click Foundation’s education initiatives and includes a limited auction of fine art pieces donated by some of South Africa’s leading artists. In February (February 16 to 18, 2018), the Cape Town Art Fair brings in some of the best contemporary art, artists, curators, and galleries from Africa and beyond, with VIP art events throughout the month.
Buildings by a vineyard


DAY 9Depart

After breakfast this morning, a driver will meet you for a transfer to the Cape Town airport and the beginning of your journey home. Unless, that is, you’re inspired to continue exploring South Africa’s artistic side. If so, Kate and her team can arrange a few nights in the nearby Cape Winelands with a stay at Delaire Graff, a wine estate in the Stellenbosch Valley whose many appealing qualities include a collection of contemporary paintings and sculpture-filled botanical gardens.