African Safari for First Timers

South African elephants grazing in Kruger National Park
A 11 day trip to South Africa 

Indulge yourself in the intimate sparkle of Southern Africa. Atmospheric Cape Town dazzles and charms, before offering a journey through penguin covered peninsulas and indulgent Winelands. Kruger National Park provides breathtaking safari experiences, before thundering Victoria Falls epitomizes the natural wonder of the continent. By offering an eclectic blend of favorite highlights, this is an ideal vacation for first timers to Africa.

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Most tours are customized for private travel.

General Information

A South African safari admiring a South African leopard in the foreground
Group of African penguins standing on damp sand on Boulders Beach, South Africa
South African elephant family leaving a waterhole after a drink and a bath
Herd of impala timidly looking at the photographer in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa
Tree silhouettes in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve during sunset | South Africa
Majestic image of a male lion with the sunset at his back
Vineyard with mountain range in the background in the wineland area | Franschhoek, South Africa
Skyline view of Johannesburg in South Africa
Loving couple embracing and enjoying white wine outside of their safari jeep | South Africa
Beautiful view of a vineyard in Stellenbosch, South Africa with rocky mountains in the background
Gorgeous view of Victoria Falls at sunset with a rainbow forming in the mist | Zambia, Africa
Little lion cub trotting on the dirt in South Africa
View of Boulders Beach, Cape Town, South Africa with group of penguins standing on the sand
The Sabie River with hippos visible on the water's surface
View of the Mandela Bridge at night in Johannesburg, South Africa
Herd of zebra in a perfect line crossing a dirt road in Kruger National Park, South Africa
Downward view of Victoria Falls at the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia
White rhinoceroses standing nose-to-nose
Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Cape Town, Cape Peninsula, Cape Winelands, Sabi Sands Game Reserve, Kruger National Park, Johannesburg, Victoria Falls

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: International Flight to South Africa

Day 2: Welcome to Cape Town

Table Mountain welcomes you to the Mother City, a startling expanse of rock towering over the city and casting shadows into the Atlantic Ocean. Colorful streets zigzag below its vertical slopes, each offering an adventure through vibrant markets and quaint cafes. On the mountain's western side is the beach, an open expanse of sand stretching along the side of Africa, punctuated by the delights of the Waterfront and Cape Town Harbor. Go here for fresh seafood restaurants, glorious sunset views, yachts flickering on the breeze, and some of the best steak on the planet. Completing the iconic Cape Town skyline are two sister mountains, Lion's Head and Devil's Peak, forming an indelible imprint during your three days in this unforgettable city.

You'll be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel, before having an afternoon to take in some of the sights. Admire it all from above by taking the revolving cable car up Table Mountain. Or relive history by visiting the poignant Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his incarceration. For many, simply soaking up the relaxed and friendly atmosphere is enough to endear Cape Town for many a year. This is a very safe city and discovering the hidden sights is a great way to spend the afternoon; wander between the vivid terraced houses of Bo Kaap, tucked away Ethiopian cafes, thought provoking museums, and tropical gardens in the heart of the city. Acting like the locals is pretty easy. Just grab a beer or glass of local wine, sit on a terrace overlooking the ocean, and watch the sun burn red onto the horizon.

Day 3: Cape Peninsula Tour

Table Mountain acts as your compass, directing travelers through Cape Town with its definitive shape. On one side it rises vertically. But look behind it and a whole mountain chain stretches down to the very south western tip of Africa. You'll follow this dramatic chain on a full day Cape Peninsula Tour. It starts in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, nestled half way up the mountain and a haven for tropical birds and never-ending views. Now the road weaves and winds, clinging to the cliffside and often making you feel like you're driving on top of the ocean.

Chapman's Peak Drive is one of the most spectacular in the world and every couple of miles there are look-out points. Some gaze down on deserted beaches, others take in sheltered bays and stunning rocky outcrops. Throughout it all the Atlantic shimmers blue on your right hand side. Savor it all and then stop in the charming village of Hout Bay, full of swaying wooden fishing boats and smells of barbecued crayfish. This is a great place to stop for lunch, in particular, for traditional fish and chips.

The road gradually becomes more rural, opening out onto a rocky expanse that's home to magnificent yellow flowers and the odd mountain zebra. Keep going and a lonely lighthouse marks the edge of the continent. Gaze out from here and the next stop is Antarctica. As the road winds west there are some remarkable residents to discover. Jaskass penguins cover Boulders Beach, delighting everyone with their antics. Some dive and swim, others huddle together, and most do their comical waddle across the sand. If you're lucky you can even swim or sunbathe beside them. The penguins are everywhere, so expect a few bizarre sounds and the occasionally pungent whiff. Your Cape Peninsula tour makes a last stop in Simon's Town, one of the country's oldest settlements and one that is yet to relinquish its old colonial charm.

Day 4: Cape Winelands Tour

Today is dedicated to indulging in the splendor of South African wine. The undulating Cape Winelands have a gentle tranquility, lush landscapes dotted with enchanting stone farmhouses and empty country roads. Most exported South African wine comes from the vineyards around Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, the elevated hills perfect for cultivating both red and white. And what a selection there is to choose from! Decaying thatched cottages are filled with long wooden tables and some of the continent's most exclusive bottles. Lazy terraces are covered in people sampling the region's most popular exports, and open doorways take you into warehouses of stained oak barrels and familiar smells.

You'll tour some of the region's finest estates, basking in the beauty of the Winelands and pampering yourself with many fine samples. Wine history also plays a part today, with stops at the Hugeunot Monument and the Museum in Franschhoek. After a few glasses the enchanting white streets of Stellanbosch are even more endearing, and the fine dining experiences found here are some of the best in the country. Return to Cape Town for a third night soaking up the city.

Day 5: The Safari Starts in Sabi Sands Game Reserve

Kruger National Park is one of the largest in the world and the numbers are staggering. Over half the world's remaining rhinos live here, alongside millions of antelope, and the full smorgasbord of predators. There are no fences or boundaries, the wildlife roaming freely and unobstructed. Situated in the southwest corner of Kruger, the Sabi Sand Game Reserve is one of finest safari destinations on the planet. It has all the wildlife and wonder of Kruger, but it's blissfully free of crowds and always provides the feeling of being alone with nature. You'll be transferred to Cape Town airport for a domestic flight to Mpumalanga. From here you'll be met and taken to your lodge in the Sabi Sands.

The wildlife starts from your verandah. A white rhino wanders past, glancing up briefly before plodding its way through the trees. Impala and kudu are always skipping by, the omnipresent antelopes never far from your sight. In the Sabi Sands you're completely surrounded and it's common to spot wandering herds from the comfort of your own room. This is South African safari at its most luxurious and prestigious, and you'll have three days to revel in it all.

Days 6 – 7: Spectacular Safari in Sabi Sands

The open savannah is most active in the early mornings. Predators are out hunting before the searing afternoon sun sets in, ungulates are grazing in the dawn light, and the rhinos are drinking from the river. On a typical safari day you'll wake early and enjoy a light snack before exploring the park in a 4 x 4 open-topped safari truck. Many people have heard of the famed Big Five, and the Sabi Sands doesn't disappoint. Elephants plough a dramatic trail, uprooting trees and smashing through branches as they leave more than footprints on the iconic land. Spot a white rhino. Then drive a little further and discover that a dozen of them are hanging out together. Buffalos protect their young, standing guard and giving a ferocious stare to everyone who takes an interest – including you. They might not look that pretty, especially given their bizarre ears and curled horns, but their one ton frames aren't to be messed with.

Now the safari truck goes deeper into the wilderness, enigmatic sights emerging from trees.  Perhaps you will spot a playful baboon troop or a graceful herd of hartebeest. Turn another corner and there's a pair of giraffe wandering along just meters away. Zebra are everywhere, their black and white stripes as unique as your own fingerprints. Sights like this become second nature while on safari, the sheer abundance of wildlife meaning that you soon lose count of what's been spotted. It sometimes feels bizarre. A herd of zebra wander past and you've barely even raised an eyelid? In the Kruger there's so much to see that certain things just begin to blend into the landscape.

But certain sights are always savored. Even when you've spotted 100 rhinos, the sight of these majestic mammals causes everyone to stop and admire. And this bountiful land is covered in big cats. Leopards drop into the grass, slowly stalking a small herd of impala, waiting patiently for a moment to pounce. Their elegant fur gives them an almost cuddly appearance, but lucid eyes and solemn footsteps symbolize their astonishing power – they can drag a carcass that's three times their weight up a tree. They're the most elusive of the Big Five, but Sabi Sands is arguably the easiest place to spot them in the whole of Southern Africa.

After a three hour morning game drive you'll return for a hearty brunch and some free time. As the sun burns strongly the wildlife takes a rest. Rhinos are sleeping, lion prides are hidden beneath shady branches, and the heat ripples off the ground. You can also enjoy a midday siesta. Or take a dip in the pool and relax in the luxurious surroundings of your accommodation. Mid-afternoon tea, cakes, and savories are served, before you set off on another game drive. With the sun relinquishing its power the savannah comes alive again, and you'll have another action packed few hours exploring nature's wonder.

Lion prides are more active now, the lionesses out on the prowl and searching for a filling dinner. They cross the path, just meters away, everyone holding their breath as the lions takes a momentary interest in the safari vehicle. Fur shimmers, eyes stare coldly, and the lionesses pick up a scent. In comparison, the males usually just sit back and wait, regal manes indicating their power and position as head of the pride. They have to fight each other, and the thrilling coming together of two males is one of the greatest safari scenes.

As your safari adventure continues the lesser known sights begin to work their charms. Inquisitive hyenas, swamps covered with wading hippos, eland sprinting across the savannah; this will be a very intimate and personal experience, and the lingering memories are often those that only you witnessed. That could be a leopard casting you a furtive glance, but it's equally likely to be a pair of loved up zebras frolicking in the grass.

Day 8: Exploring Johannesburg

You'll fly from Mpumalanga to Johannesburg, where you'll be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel. South Africa's largest city doesn't really get the credit it deserves. Sure, it doesn’t have the mountain backdrop of Cape Town, but the sprawling suburbs and neighborhoods are some of the most dazzling and evocative on the whole continent. The center buzzes with energy and flashing lights, while outer suburbs reveal the city's remarkable emergence when gold was discovered in 1886. Officially, Soweto is the world's second largest slum, yet it's surprisingly developed and very safe if visited on a tour. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu both lived on the same street here and excellent museums recount their fight against apartheid. Having said that, a trip to Soweto is worth it just for the wonderfully colorful and welcoming locals.

Days 9 – 10: The Majestic Victoria Falls

Waterfalls around the world might be higher, or wider, but none are as powerful as Victoria Falls. You hear them before you see them, a mighty thunder continuing day and night and echoing across the surrounding bush. As you approach it becomes cacophonous, a mile wide sheet of water plunging 328 feet into a gaping chasm. Through the trees you glimpse the falls, rumbling, plummeting, and disappearing into the abyss. Now it's time to get wet, a series of towering rocky columns and narrow bridges takes you alongside the falls. Spray rises and falls, sailing above the lip and covering people in a nonstop shower. Don't try and avoid it. You will get wet. But that's all part of the Victoria Falls experience. After all, how else could you really feel the power of Mosi-oa-Tunya, the indigenous name for the falls which means “the smoke that thunders?”

You'll fly from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls and be transferred to your accommodation. Voted one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the falls take up at least a whole afternoon. After drying off from the unforgiving spray, take the steep path down and admire the valley from the riverside. Mist still howls from the abyss, but down here you can stay dry and watch it head skyward. If you're daring enough, cross into no-man’s land between Zimbabwe and Zambia (remember your passport), and look down on the Zambezi River below. Got a hint of vertigo? Probably. It's fun to watch the faces of bungee jumpers on Victoria Falls Bridge. Or you can plunge into a waiting rainbow and feel the adrenalin levels soar.

There's more to Victoria Falls than falling water. Over these two days you'll have ample time to check out what else is on offer. Take a leisurely sunset cruise on the Zambezi River, passing crocodiles and hippos while sipping on cocktails. Or slip on a lifejacket and challenge the Zambezi, the lower section of the river offering some of the best commercial white water rafting in the world. Sound a little too hectic? It's easy to spend an afternoon wandering around the relaxed streets and checking out the local craft markets. And seen as you're here, it might be worth going for a second experience with Mosi-oa-Tunya.

Day 11: Farewell to Southern Africa

You'll be transferred to the airport for a connecting flight to Johannesburg. From here your international departure will take you home, filled with memories and bursting with desire to return to Southern Africa. 

If you want to add more to this South Africa adventure, be sure to read the South Africa traveler reviews.  You may find some ideas and want to extend your dream trip to South Africa!


Starting Price 

This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.