I’ve heard people say that South Africa was the one of the best vacations they’d ever been on and, up until recently, had it on my wish list for almost a decade. Why? Well…if you are a fan of beautiful weather, breathtaking views, wine, outdoor adventures, culture, history, great food, animals and truly warm and wonderful people (and THE BEST COFFEE BREAKS EVER), then South Africa is calling you…
A short time ago (for my husband’s birthday), we traveled to Cape Town and Kruger National Park making for one VERY memorable birthday vacation. Below, I’m sharing with you the first part of our journey to Cape Town and stories from our travels (secretly hoping that it inspires you to visit this beautiful country sometime soon)!
It all started thanks to Emirates who had a 2 for 1 sale on tickets and listed Cape Town as one of the destinations…I knew it was now or never! 10 minutes later, I was purchasing the tickets and was too excited to contain myself. I ran to find Gary (jumping up and down) telling him the jaw dropping news that we had two tickets to Cape Town for his birthday!! And even though we had many, many more months until the trip – my planning mode kicked into high gear immediately. Below is the itinerary that we followed – please bug me with any questions you may have if you are setting your sights on this amazing destination….
Day 1: Fly from Los Angeles to Cape Town (via Dubai)
We were literally up in the air for 25 hours total. I know what you’rethinking. So how did we make this tolerable? 🙂 It’s all about the mindset. While trapped in a single place for so long, we got to: catch up on all the movies we’ve been dying to see, were fed multiple delicious meals and slept half of the flight…before we knew it the flights were over!
If you are flying economy, here are a couple tips and tricks:
#1: Pre-book your seats opting for a 2 seater on the side closer to the back of the plane. This helps when you don’t have to climb over so many people and can stretch your legs as often as you want and refill on snacks and drinks quicker.
#2: Check out the seating map or talk to an attendant before getting on the flight and ask if there are empty rows where you can spread out…
#3: It does also help to have a stop through destination with any really, really long flight – so you feel like your feet are on the ground so to speak, even for just a little bit. And if you have time – you can always spend a day or two in your stop-through city refreshed and ready for the next flight (and no extra fare to see the bonus city)! 🙂
Day 2: Arrive in Cape Town late afternoon (Ok technically day 3…yes, you lose a day but so worth it)
As we landed in the late afternoon, we could see the majestic green mountains and blue ocean below (reminding me so much of Kauai mixed with Southern CA). Ahhhhh we finally made it! We were supposed to be greeted by a car service…but being a little disoriented in a new place (and from the long flight) we had a little trouble finding our ride. Luckily, we had the phone number of the car service and found each other just moments later. Phew! Panicsville disengaged. My tip: Pre-booking is sooo not necessary, especially since the airport is literally only 20 minutes to the city, cabs are aplenty!!! However, if you are an over prepared person like me and don’t want to carry too much cash on hand – another option is also to pre-book a car service via your hotel or through a service like viator.com.
For our first few nights, I booked us at the Westin Cape Town, a beautiful hotel located in the Waterfront area. We pulled up to the hotel and were greeted with a very friendly welcoming staff. To our surprise, our room had a nice bottle of champagne and treat for Gary’s birthday! Even better, they also upgraded us to have Executive Club access on the top floor (with nightly receptions and spectacular views of Table Mountain, the city and the waterfront). We quickly dropped our bags and made our way up to the top floor. We didn’t even freshen up since we were too excited to get started…sorry other patrons!. The hostess warmly greeted us, and after giving our last name, she said “Happy Birthday! We hope you enjoy your stay!”
We sat down to enjoy a little bubbly to celebrate our arrival along with snacks. We were officially off to an amazing vacation start. At first, we planned to head out for dinner elsewhere, but our waiter Jonathan was so lovely (and so proud of the hotel) that he quickly convinced us to relax and stay. He even arranged for the Chef to cater a vegan meal for us that was delicious! Gary and I quickly became big fans of Jonathan and couldn’t wait to visit him on a nightly basis during our stay.
My tip: If you are celebrating a special occasion, tell the hotel! They will definitely want to make your stay extra special and help recognize/celebrate the occasion!
Day 3: Full Day Guided Hike Table Mountain
I couldn’t wait for our first full day in Cape Town. Since Gary and I are hiking and nature fanatics, I arranged for a full day hike with a local guide, The Fynbos Guy. I did a little research (ok a lot of research) and came across Dominic who transplanted himself to South Africa in his early adulthood (leaving England behind after falling in love with South Africa on a safari as a kid). He is a true nature enthusiast and aptly named himself The Fynbos Guy (Fynbos is a distinct type of plant life found only in the southern tip of Africa). As Cape Town can be very windy, the views around Table Mountain and the trail conditions all depend on which way the wind is blowing. Because of these conditions, Dominic watched the weather up until the day of our hike. As we got closer to our hike, he would email me with updates and even had a plan B to make sure we had an awesome experience!
Upon greeting us at the hotel (with a firm handshake and sense of adventure), Dominic said that we’d be hiking the Southwest side of Table Mountain known as the Twelve Apostles. (By the way, he later shared that it was one of his favorite hikes – and it quickly became one of ours too…but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.) Within minutes, we were at the base of our trail, which reminded me so much of Southern California – sweeping views of the ocean and beautiful homes dotting the coastline. And we were off on the trails!
Dominic is amazing; he became our guide, Sherpa and cook rolled into one for the day! While winding our way up the mountain at a nice pace, as well as “scrambling” up the rockier parts, Dominic began telling us of the history of the area, including the fynbos and birds. Who knew that 1/3 of the worlds succulents are in Cape Town?? And 2,200 different species are on this mountain alone??!! Talk about a botanist’s dream come true!
We stopped along the trail to have a quick break for snack and coffee at one of the most breathtaking places I’ve ever been — inside a little cave! Looking down below onto the myriad of fynbos and an endless seascape horizon, we couldn’t believe this was our reality for the day.
After a bit of fun story swapping, we continued to make our way up the mountain and reached our summit point to enjoy lunch. Surprisingly, we went from walking on rocks to stepping on white sand (yes, SAND at the top of the mountain)! There was plant life and sand all around us. We felt like we were transported to the beach. Dominic set up our picnic spread in an adorable cabin (where apparently you can also spend the night with a membership). We finished our meal with a cup of delicious bush tea that Dominic created with some of the floral fynbos picked along our hike (soooo good!!).
Then sadly, it was time to make our way down the mountain, but not without taking one of our famous jumping pictures (and a group selfie with Dominic of course). After an hour or so of glorious hiking, we were back where we began. He dropped us back at our hotel and we parted ways – knowing that one day soon, we will come back to experience another hike with our new found friend.
We finished off our unbelievable day with a yummy Thai dinner in town. And of course, not before making a brief stop through to the Executive Lounge to visit Jonathan and watch the sunset over Table Mountain (with bubbly in hand).
What a fabulous first full day in Cape Town! Hard to believe we still had 2 more days of adventure left. Stay tuned for my next blog on our final days in Cape Town…filled with pure amazingness!