This review reflects our 10-day vacation to Cape Town, SA, and the Sabi Sands private game reserve in early November 2018. Our arrangements were made through this travel agency, and our travel consultant. Overall, our trip was outstanding and we were very pleased with the services offered by our travel consultant and this company. I can recommend them, without reservation.
I’m typically a hands-on travel planner, so when we first started thinking about our SA trip I figured I’d do it myself and I attempted to do the research via the internet. I quickly came to the conclusion that there was just too much information out there and too many options to consider, and attempting to make sense of it all would just take too long so we should engage a local expert. I somewhat reluctantly reached out to Zicasso (and a few other safari planners); Zicasso put us in touch with this travel agency, and I was contacted by our travel consultant within a couple of days. I was candid with her and explained that we had not yet settled on her company and were simultaneously considering itineraries provided by some other agents, but our she was extremely accommodating and worked with us to refine our requirements and settle on an itinerary that fit our budget and schedule. Ultimately it was this travel consultant's responsiveness that won the day. She kept in touch (e-mail and phone) with us as the date of our travel approached, talked with me briefly on the phone during our first day in Cape Town just to check in, and has been in touch several times since we returned.
Our travel consultant selected 5-star properties for our consideration, and we were very happy with the choices. In Cape Town we stayed at a boutique hotel (in the penthouse suite!), an amazing place in trendy Camps Bay. Service and accommodations there were excellent. Based upon our travel consultant's recommendation we chose Dulini Lodge for our safari experience, and could not have been happier; see below for more comments about Dulini. The travel company also took care of all transfers to/from airports, three days of guided touring in and around Cape Town, and internal flights to/from Sabi Sands. All went off without a hitch.
A word about international airline flights: our travel consultant offered the services of a US-based partner travel agency to help us with our international flights. I engaged with that agency a few times, but frankly was underwhelmed with the responsiveness of the service and the prices they found for flights. In the end we booked directly with Virgin Atlantic, found flights that fit our schedule, and (I believe) got at least as good a deal as the other agent would have been able to find for us. As I noted, however, I’m a hands-on traveler so don’t mind doing this kind of research; if you would rather not do the legwork yourself, then this company does have at least one option for assistance.
By far the most enjoyable part of our trip was the safari at Dulini Lodge. This place is amazing and the very definition of luxury! Six cottages, each a stand-alone building with bedroom, sitting room, huge bathroom with “wet room” walk-in shower and separate tub, along with an outside deck with plunge pool and outdoor shower. The air conditioning worked great, and the wifi was reliable although a little slow at times. Don’t count on getting a reliable cellphone signal. The staff members were outstanding! We had two butlers assigned to our us and our cottage was serviced each time we left for a meal or for a game drive (great job!). Meals were served either family style (all breakfasts after the morning game drive, and some dinners) or at individual tables on the deck overlooking the river (some dinners and all lunches). The food was delicious and very well-prepared. Our only complaint with respect to the meals was that the menus tended to be a bit more focused toward carnivores than we’re used to, although to be fair each meal included at least two salads, so if we ate more meat than usual it was our own fault. Drinks, including beer and wine, are included in the cost, so you can imbibe as much as you want. Due to the low humidity and the early wake-up calls for the morning game drive we found ourselves drinking a lot more sparkling water than alcohol. One unexpected treat was that laundry services were available at no charge; pack light and take advantage, but be aware that monkeys may steal laundry items off the clothes lines.
Each day we had two game drives, the first between 5:45am and 6am and the second at 4pm, to align with dawn and late afternoon when game is expected to be most active. Our wakeup call came each day precisely at 5am, and coffee and a light snack were waiting in the common area en route to the Land Rover; rather than partake, I fortified myself with a double espresso and a couple of cookies before departing our cabin, and my wife grabbed a Coke Light from the minibar. The Land Rovers were set up for six guests (usually there were just four of us), and each pair of guests was supplied with a pair of good quality binoculars and two fleece wraps. Although it can be hot in the daytime, it’s the desert so when the sun goes down the temperature drops significantly; wear layers. Our tracker and our ranger/driver, were in front, and those guys were amazing! Our tracker was able to spot and follow the dimmest of animal tracks along the roads, and our driver's knowledge of the wildlife and flora, as well as his infectious enthusiasm, kept us engaged and entertained for the 3+ hours of each drive. We could not have asked for a better team to lead our drives.
I should mention that during part of our visit we had a chance to talk with another guest, a professional travel agent, who was visiting Dulini Lodge as part of her survey of Sabi Sands properties. She noted that Dulini Lodge ranked at the top of her list in terms of amenities, service and overall experience. We only visited Dulini Lodge during our trip, but we can understand why she came to that conclusion.
If we knew then what we know now, several things come to mind about traveling to Cape Town and Sabi Sands:
Our hotel was in Camps Bay, which the hotel’s website describes as “South Africa’s most glamorous beach.” While that might be true, and although we had absolutely no complaints about the hotel, we did find the neighborhood to be a bit sparse in terms of restaurants within walking distance. Doing it over again, we’d probably try to find a hotel a bit closer to a wider variety of restaurants.
Uber is the way to get around Cape Town. Ubers are everywhere, drivers are friendly and responsive, and fares are low. Make sure your cellphone is set up for international data or you might have to search a little bit for public wifi to order a car.
As part of our Cape Town stay we arranged for a day in and around Stellenbosch. This was billed as a tour of wine country, but in reality was a visit to three wineries with a stop in Stellenbosch for lunch. There’s no doubt that the wine country is visually stunning, and that SA wines are some of the best in the world, but visiting three wineries in the span of a few hours wasn’t something we wanted to do. Had we known in advance that the “tour of wine country” was just visiting wineries, we would have booked something else, or at least tried to get our driver to modify the tour as the day went on. I believe this was probably the least interesting part of our trip to SA.
Cape Town weather is mercurial; several locals told us that they can experience four seasons in a single day. Be prepared for rain, extreme wind, and rapidly changing conditions. Layering clothing is essential. Be flexible in terms of scheduling, and know that some attractions (e.g., the Table Mountain gondola or the Robben Island ferry) will shut down if the winds are too high.
We stayed four nights at Dulini Lodge, which meant that we went on game drives on five days. In retrospect this was probably a little bit of overkill; by the fourth day we found ourselves ready to move on and do something else. In all fairness it was not until the very last drive that we finally got to see a cheetah, so had we departed on the fourth day we wouldn’t have been able to claim our Magnificent Seven.
Flights to SA are brutal! We chose to fly Virgin Atlantic from the US, with scheduled layovers in London each direction. Virgin Atlantic allowed us to break up the flights at no charge so on the way over we spent three nights in the UK, which made for a more pleasant journey. We flew straight through on the way home, so our routing (Sabi Sands - Johannesburg - London - Washington) resulted in a 35-plus-hour trip. Fortunately we found good fares in Virgin’s Upper Class, and flying business class helped immensely. Psychologically, we find that flying business class makes the air travel feel part of the adventure, rather than an ordeal to be endured in order to get to the adventure. Even if you can’t fly in business class, when you get to LHR buy yourself a day pass to the lounge and take advantage of a shower and a meal.
Each review is written by a verified traveler who was matched by Zicasso to the reviewed agency. Traveler must have purchased and traveled.
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