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Back home now - some reflections on South Africa for others

San Jose, California
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Back home now – some reflections on South Africa for others

My family of four (parents, and kids 12 & 10) just visited South Africa for 3 weeks this past July/August. This was our first trip into Africa.

We visited Cape Town, Garden Route, and Kruger. We also included a 3 day side trip to Victoria Falls, and 2 night layover in Dubai to ease our long flights.

--SAFETY--

We felt safe during our 3 weeks in South Africa. I don't feel that South Africa is a dangerous country for its typical travelers. I can only speak for Cape Town, Garden Route, and Kruger areas.

Safety was a key area of concern during my trip planning stage. I carefully researched all our traveling routes, and worked with a local travel agent to book the hotels. I always made sure that we booked hotels in very safe areas. In Cape Town, we stayed at Camps Bay. In Knysna, we stayed on the Thesen Island. The winelands and Kruger areas in general all felt safe.

--DRIVING--

The four of us picked up a car on day one and drove ourselves all over. This was our first time driving on the “wrong” side of the road, but it was pretty easy and not stressful.

The road conditions were excellent, with excellent road signs. Traffic was generally light on the road. Even Cape Town was easy to navigate. There were ample parking everywhere. The drivers on the road were very polite. They always yield for faster cars to pass them on the highways.

Warning: We had to get used to lots of people walking along side the highways, and they often ran across the highway too. Watch out for these people!

Warning 2: Lots of speed cameras on the road. Pay attention to the speed limit when driving. These menacing cameras were everywhere. We were just notified of one ticket a few days ago since we got back.

--CLEANLINESS--

I was dreadfully worried about getting sick in Africa. I brought along all kinds of medications, especially anti-diarrhea pills. I got over-the-counter pills for adults and for children, and I even got prescription anti-diarrhea pills in case of severe diarrhea.

Apparently South Africa was very clean. None of us got sick during our 3 week long trip. We ate everything too... salads, raw sashimi, raw oysters.

All the restrooms at rest stops and gas stations were clean too. And had toilet paper.

--KRUGER-SELF DRIVE vs PRIVATE GAME LODGE--

Many regulars on this forum have recommended doing both. So, we did both, and are very glad. The self drive and a stay at a private game lodge provided two different safari experiences, and they were both great fun. If you have the time and funds, definitely plan to do both while you are in Kruger. If we should return to Kruger someday, I will definitely do a combination of self drive and private lodge again.

We did not see a single mosquito in the Kruger area during our visit. I thought there would be all kinds of bugs and critters in the Kruger area, but there weren't.

TIPPING

Unlike in the US, tipping did seem optional in South Africa (Except restaurants. You are to tip at least 10%). We were mostly on our own, but on a few day tours we went on, we noticed that most of the people did not tip. They simply thanked the guides.

Tipping is the norm in American, so when tipping is optional, we take the option to tip. Make sure you always have small change in rands with you for tipping everybody.

We always tipped 5 to 10 rand to the people that volunteered to watch our car in the parking lots. 5 to 10 rands to the people at gas stations that pumped our gas and washed our car windows.

At the hotels, we always left 20 rands per room every morning for the cleaning people. 40 to 50 rands per day if we stayed in a 2 bedroom apartment.

On our Township tour, we tipping our guide 120 rand for the four of us. On our half day Featherbed Nature Reserve tour, we tipped our guide 100 rand . We also tipped 50 rand each to our two guides on our canopy tree zipline tour.

TIPPING-PRIVATE GAME LODGE

I felt this area of tipping required its own section. I read through many threads about how to tip in game lodges on this forum. They were not helpful, mostly due to huge discrepancies between the recommended tipping amounts.

I am afraid that I will add to this confusion. But I will at least give you my exact amount, and how and when we give our tip.

We stayed at the Londolozi for 3 nights. The four of us had two inter-connected rooms.

The night before our departure, I asked and made sure that we will see our same ranger and tracker again. I got 3 envelops from the camp. I wrote them each a thank you note, and put the tip inside the envelops addressed to our ranger, tracker, and the camp manager, for the rest of the camp staff.

The next morning, after our final game drive. I personally hand delivered each envelop to our ranger, tracker, and the camp manager.

We gave our ranger 1400 rands. Our tracker 1000 rands. The rest of the camp staff 1000 rands.

Note: I knew there were no ATMs at the camp, so I prepared the cash in rands before we entered the private lodge. Originally, I prepared 1200 rand for the ranger, 600 to the tracker, and 600 to the rest of the staff. I think these numbers were more easy to understand for 4 people, 3 nights. But when we were leaving, we added extra rands to each envelop. That how we arrived at the final numbers above.

Okay, this is turning into an essay. I will stop here.

We find South Africa very easy to travel on our own. Go to South Africa. You will have a great time.

Hong Kong, China
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1. Re: Back home now – some reflections on South Africa for others

HappyTraveler852

Thank you very much for the detailed, helpful and assuring write up. I was most pleased with your inclusion of the section on Safety and Driving, two questions regularly asked on this forum by uninformed and curious posters. This post will be very helpful to them in the future.

Also glad to see that you benefited from mixing the self-drive and private reserve experience at Kruger. We also feel this is a good approach to safari-making.

Well done again!

New York City, New...
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2. Re: Back home now – some reflections on South Africa for others

Happy Traveller. Please continue. I enjoyed your trip report. Just a question on cash. How/where did you get your rand? Did you have to visit an atm while in the kruger area?

San Jose, California
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3. Re: Back home now – some reflections on South Africa for others

We used ATMs to get rands. There were ATM machines every where just like home. There was an ATM/bank at the Skukuza camp. Credit cards were accepted just about everywhere, including inside Kruger. We mostly used our Capitol One VISA card to pay for things.

We liked the ABSA bank's ATM machine the best. The FNB bank's ATM only allowed us to take out a maximum of 2000 rands, and there was a $5 USD withdrawal fee per transaction. ABSA let us enter our own amounts, and we were able to take out 5000 rand per transaction. There were also no withdrawal fees from using the ABSA atm. So, we always looked for ABSA ATMs. We have Bank of America.

Are you going to Victoria Falls? If so, you need to prepare some cash in USD for Vic Falls. And bring small bills. They never have change.

New York City, New...
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4. Re: Back home now – some reflections on South Africa for others

Hi HappyT, thanks for the quick follow up. Unfortunately I'm not going to Vic falls. That will be for a much later visit. I too have Capital One Credit Visa card. if I remember right, no foreign transaction fee. Once again thanks from the east coast. I will try to find ABSA atms.

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5. Re: Back home now – some reflections on South Africa for others

Great TR - thanks for your thoughts. How did you find the Cape weather in winter?

New York
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6. Re: Back home now – some reflections on South Africa for others

Nice report which supports our experiences. For tipping, I use a "beer" conversion method. Would I buy the service provider a beer or a 5 pack or a case? I check the beer prices (in groceries) when I arrive. You didn't mention the great SA snack foods - chips and Appeltizer. Also dried fruit. Yum.

Gold Coast...
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7. Re: Back home now – some reflections on South Africa for others

Hi again Happy Traveller.

Thank you so much, I am very glad you took the time to write your comprehensive report and especially happy to see everything turned out so well.

After all the chats we have here with future travellers it is really nice to get some feedback and the fact that you had such a great time helps to make it all worthwhile. And reading between the lines I have the feeling that you have a touch of the fever and may return one day, which of course is the best recommendation of all, especially for those who are unsure.

Have to add I love that you enjoyed the combo safari so much, as you know it's something I really encourage people to do so positive feedback definitely make me very happy!

Now what about that shark dive .....

San Jose, California
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8. Re: Back home now – some reflections on South Africa for others

ThanD, I loved Cape Weather in winter (July/August)!

We always travel in our summer months because of kids. In Europe and Asia, we had to battle huge crowds, and often terrible heat. Cape winter was mild. We had mostly 70's and even 80's in Cape Town and Garden Route. Very comfortable temperature for travel. Also, Cape winter is low season, so no crowds, no need to make reservations for restaurants, hotels rates were lower.

We had perhaps 2 days worth of rain during our travel. But it was fine, we still went out and did stuff.

If we were to return to South Africa, we will definitely do it again in South Africa's winter, because it also happens to be the most ideal time to see willdlife in Kruger!

San Jose, California
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9. Re: Back home now – some reflections on South Africa for others

Sandman,

We were supposed to go to South Africa the summer before in 2012, but were delayed for a year. So, I have lurked on this forum for a LONG time.

I found the regulars and DE on this forum gave sound and honest advice. This isn't the case on a lot of the other travel forums.

It was very easy for us to like the Shark Cage Dive. We have always loved ocean activities in general.

We loved the safari experience the best. I actually wasn't THAT excited about it, because I thought I have already seen the animals in the zoos. But it was night and day.

On our last game drive, we spent time with a pride of 3 lioness and 6 cubs, and I was amazed to observed such love and affection that they openly displayed for one and another as they played together.

In zoos, you see caged animals. In kruger, I saw these lions as a family, capable of loving and caring for one and another. We have gained much respect for the many living creatures that share our earth.

When we were at the Jo'burg airport boarding our plane for home, my 10-year-old asked me to bring her back to South Africa again, especially Kruger.

I think we will be back in Africa for more safaris.

Gold Coast...
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10. Re: Back home now – some reflections on South Africa for others

Hi HT

I am so happy that your children feel that way. It seems the experience has given them a true appreciation of the wildlife in it natural state and that will hopefully last a lifetime.

There is really nothing in the world I don’t think like spending time with and observing a pride of lions in the African bush. Makes it impossible for many to look at them the same way when they are kept behind iron bars.

Thanks again