From the wine country, to the cliffs of Cape Town, the Indian ocean and wild lions spotted on safari, you name it and this lady saw it. We took only 7 vacation days and yet we were able to see the best of South Africa in an 11-day long adventure. Yes, my friends, just one week of time away from our demanding corporate offices. We did it and so can you with the right itinerary.
Believe it or not, my husband and I both have demanding full-time careers in New York City, so we often get the obvious question: How in the hell do you travel so much?
The answer is simple. We are strategic in the travel planning process through research and mapping out ideas to create the perfect vacation with limited time. In response to your enthusiastic requests to share my secrets to the travel planning process, Ladyhattan is bringing you key tips to maximizing your time “out of office” along with the ultimate travel itinerary for a trip to South Africa. Find all my tips for amplifying your vacation time at the bottom of this post after a detailed recap of how I saw the best of South Africa.
The Wine Country (2 Nights)
The first part of our trip to South Africa began with a direct flight from NYC to Johannesburg – 15 hours direct. We left on a Thursday morning from New York, arriving into South Africa on Friday morning. Upon landing, we had to make a run for it and grab our luggage, race through customs, and catch the connecting flight down to Cape Town. The connection flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town was 2 hours. While this part of the journey was a bit exhausting and stressful, it was smooth sailing from the moment we landed in Cape Town. Once at the Cape Town airport we had a pre-reserved rental car waiting for us. With no lines or paperwork, we did not waste any time. In the span of 20 minutes we were off our flight, placing luggage into the rental car and on our way to paradise.
Heading north from Cape Town we enjoyed a scenic 45 minute ride to South Africa’s famed wine region. Although we were a bit exhausted from the flights, our adrenaline and excitement for the travel adventures ahead made it seem as though we would never need any sleep. Smiling out the window of the car ride, our mind and bodies seemed to immediately acclimate to the time difference and prepare us for the meal ahead – lunch. By the time we began entering the wine region’s town of Franschhoek, it was about 2PM and we were ready for a big glass of local wine to celebrate to the conclusion of the trek.
The back to back flights and drive were well worth it. In the shortest amount of transit time possible, we journeyed from New York City to the sprawling vineyards of South Africa. By Friday afternoon we were officially on vacation at La Residence, a Royal Portfolio Property. Spending 2 nights and 3 full days in the wine region gave us ample time to sip, taste, and relax on the first part of our South African adventure.
The City of Capetown (3 Nights)
We purposely planned to start our vacation in the wine country before heading down to the city of Cape Town. After 15+ hours on a plane we figured that our bodies and minds would too tired to engage in hiking and sightseeing right away, so we opted to kick off the trip with more leisurely activities (i.e., wine tasting). Feeling like we finally had the energy to run around one of the coolest cities in the world, we hit the road for Cape Town.
On Sunday evening we drove down with luckily no traffic and made it to the city’s Waterfront in about 50 minutes. Just in time for sunset, we checked into another Royal Portfolio Property, the brand new Silo Hotel.
On this portion of the itinerary, we had scheduled for 3 nights and 4 full days to conquer the best of Cape Town. Our plan was to utilize the rental car in the first day of this phase of the trip by prioritizing car-required activities accordingly. For the first full day in Cape Town, we woke up at sunrise and used the rental car to drive out to some of the site further away (45+ minutes) – Cape of Good Hope, The Penguin Colony, and Smithtown.
By prioritizing the activities that required a car, we did not have to rely on an expensive private driver or Uber for lengthier trips. Once these activities were checked off the box, we dropped our rental car off right in downtown at the convenient Avis location. For the rest of our three days in Cape Town we relied on the convenience of Uber, taking us safely from one fun neighborhood to the next.
Mixing things up, we explored the downtown waterfront region of the city by spending 2 nights at The Silo Hotel. The Silo opened only a few months ago and is absolutely insane — glamorous suites, an exclusive rooftop pool with sweeping views of Lion’s Head and Table Top Mountain, along with stellar service to assist you with booking all of your activities. Alternatively, we arranged for 1 night at the Relais & Chateaux property, Cellars-Hohenort Hotel for a more residential experience. The Cellars-Hohenort is located in the historical Constantia Valley and made us feel as though we were staying inside a private residence surrounded by magical gardens. The contrast in accomodations allowed us to see different perspectives of such a dynamic city like Cape Town.
Safari in Phinda (5 Nights)
Of course I saved the best for last, y’all. No trip to the continent of Africa is complete without a safari experience. Since my husband and I both love animals, we wanted to make sure that the safari portion of the trip was long enough for us to see as many species as possible. Additionally, we wanted enough time to get a feel for the different style lodges and ensure cushion time was built-in for unexpected delays or problems. While some fellow travel experts argued that 3 nights on safari would be plenty, I feel that you need at least 5 nights on safari to really get comfortable and allow for unexpected animal sightings with little pressure.
We left from the Cape Town Airport and took an easy 45 minute flight to Richard’s Bay. Alternatively, you can fly to Durbin, but the car ride up to the safari camp is about an hour longer. We opted for Richard’s Bay because we did not want waste any time in the car. The drive from Richard’s Bay to the andBeyond lodges at Phinda was about a 1.5 hour drive.
For the safari, we worked with andBeyond to plan to the ideal tour through the Private Game Reserve of Phinda. andBeyond has several luxury camp lodges on Phinda and we were able to stay at the Forest Lodge, Mountain Lodge and Rock Lodge. Spending 5 nights and 6 days on safari gave us ample time to have successful game drives, exposure to the different lodges and suites, and simply put, time to just let go and enjoy being in the middle of nowhere for once in our lives.
Giving ourselves the full 6 days on safari allowed for countless moments with the world’s most mesmerizing animals. We spotted the “Big 5” within our first two days at the andBeyond game reserve. With the help of andBeyond’s incredible rangers and trackers, we saw a mother cheetah kill live prey and feed it to her two 1-month old baby cubs. We also witnessed a pride of lions attack and eat a warthog down to the bone – yikes. Right at sunrise we glimpsed out toward a waterhole that was occupied by a family of over 40+ elephants. At sunset we gazed out over packs of zebra and buffalo grazing under endless pink skies. And of course, on our final night in South Africa, the staff surprised us with a bucket of bubbly and champagne glasses hanging from a tree out in the middle of the forest where we made a toast to one of the best trip’s of our lives.
Although it was an active trip, we left South Africa feeling fully satisfied with everything we wanted to experience – bucket-list moments and glimpses of the country’s most prized regions. If you have limited vacation time from the office, check-out my strategic tips at the bottom of this post to help plan your next big trip of a lifetime!
Tips to Maximize Your Vacation Time
- Holiday Weekend Travel – Plan your longer trips (i.e., international travel) around a 3-day holiday weekend to take advantage of the additional vacation day.
- Choose the Red-Eyes – To get longer vacation experiences, deal with the uncomfortable red-eyes to put yourself in a position of landing to immediately explore and enjoy the destination.
- Move Around – Pack light and be willing to transition to new places nearby and worth seeing. Consider changing-up hotels during your trip to experience new surroundings.
- Multi-City Flights – Search for flights using the “multi-city” feature to understand best flight options that take you to more than one city and often cost the same price.
- Research the Fastest Routes – Wherever you are traveling, be sure to research the transit options that will get you around the country fastest (i.e., rental car, train, bus, plane) and book in advance. Each country has unique transit options and it is important to know what will be the fastest and most economical.
- Leave Directly From the Office – Bring your luggage to the office and leave straight from a long day of work to the airport for your red-eye flight to kickstart the vacation. A bit extreme but definitely exciting if you leave for vacation straight from the office.
- Register with Global Entry – Save time and avoid the lines by registering with Global Entry to ensure TSA Pre-Check perks as well as speedy re-entry back into the country.