The World Bank is predicting a 36 billion dollar loss in tourism to South Africa and other east African countries due to the current Ebola crisis. This is an unfortunate statistic considering east Africa is over 3,000 miles away from the closest Ebola infected countries. If you plan a South African honeymoon at the height of the media freak out over Ebola, as my wife and I did, you are more inclined to learn basic African geography for regurgitation in conversation. It’s easy to counter the fear mongering of the media when you can explain that South Africa is actually further from west African Ebola than London, Paris and most other major European cities. Another revelatory response we used was, ‘More men have been married to Kim Kardashian than have contracted Ebola in the United States or South Africa combined.’ Usually all it takes is a little geography and some cheap pop culture references to help some people better understand your choice in travel destinations.
Ebola is a terrible disease that is a real and serious threat to the people of west Africa and anyone who comes into contact with it. However, South Africa is in the south of Africa, far from the current Ebola outbreak. It was hard to read about people canceling trips and first-hand accounts of South African tourism suffering from something that is not a legitimate threat. Hopefully this article will prevent anyone from canceling a trip to east Africa, or better yet, to get inspired and book a trip today!
Fully informed of African geography, we reserved our plane tickets for a South African honeymoon. Our love for adventure, wild places and new cultures lured us to explore the tip of the Dark Continent. Like many budget conscious travelers, financing our trip to South Africa was the first thing we thought about before booking our trip. A South African holiday is not cheap, and just getting there can be a large expense. Traveling in the ‘shoulder’ seasons of spring and fall are a good bet for cheaper airfare options.
With our flights taken care of on mileage points, our Honeyfund wedding registry would cover most of our travel expenses. Honeyfund.com is a great website where couples can register for ‘gifts’ of money to help pay for their honeymoon. If you have a tight budget then a Honeyfund registry is a great option to help newlyweds afford their dream honeymoon. Gifts can be useful, but you probably don’t really need many of things on your registry. Instead of a $300 blender you could get a two-night hotel stay in Cape Town or a safari drive paid for with your Honeyfund. You can’t put a price on a Cape Town sunset or an encounter with incredible wild animals!
Airports in New York and Washington D.C. have direct flights to Johannesburg and Cape Town that take around 15 hours. Book a direct flight if you can! Miles ticket passengers like ourselves can’t be too choosy, so we sucked it up and powered through 38 hours of travel to South Africa.
We landed in Johannesburg around 2 PM and quickly made our way through customs. ‘Joburg’, as South Africans sometimes call the city, did not have a huge appeal to us for our trip. A quick Google search will reveal that, ‘locals do not stop at traffic lights at night due to the high rate of carjacking.’ Further research would show, as in most major cities, crime is often isolated to certain areas of town. At any rate, we decided to skip the possibility of starting our four-week honeymoon with a carjacking and head straight to Kruger National Park. Johannesburg does have some worthy tourist attractions for those who are interested. Always be travel-smart and avoid driving at night. Worthwhile stops include the educational Apartheid Museum and the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site where around 40% of the world’s human ancestor fossils are found.
After an uneventful exit from Joburg, and a little over five hours of driving, we arrived at our lodge just outside of Kruger National Park. Some readers may have heard of the park from the ‘Battle at Kruger’ viral video that has received 75 million YouTube views to date. A visit to Kruger does not guarantee that you will see a pride of lions attack a young buffalo, only to have the buffalo stolen from the lions by a crocodile, before the buffalo is miraculously rescued from the croc by its herd. However, you will still likely see some of the most amazing wildlife and landscapes you can imagine.
Kruger is a massive park covering 7,523 square miles that hosts more species of large mammals than any other African game reserve (at 147 species). Kruger is unrivaled in South Africa for its size, diversity of landscapes and abundance of wildlife. As my wife and I are both huge nature lovers, it was an easy decision to spend almost one week of our honeymoon here. Plan for a minimum of three days in the park and more time if you love wildlife.
It can be a little daunting to plan a trip to Kruger with such a large area to explore. The park can be entered only through designated gates along its outer boundary. Most visitors stick to the southern end of the park with entry through the Crocodile Bridge Gate. This is more a matter of convenience than of southern wildlife superiority. The southern end does have great concentrations of the big five and plenty of game viewing as we experienced first hand. However, with the convenience come the crowds of binocular toting tourists bursting through the windows of their minivans.
Head north to the rest camps at Satara and Oliphants to get away from the crowds and experience a wilder side of the park. The park is dotted with rest camps where visitors can sleep, eat and stretch their legs after long days of spotting animals from their cars. The rest camps are all run by the South African National Parks and offer comfortable accommodation options. From campgrounds, to multi-room homes with sweeping views, you will be sure to find something that meets your needs. With most two-bed accommodations coming in around $100 per night, you won’t be breaking the bank either. Kruger is extremely popular and accommodation during the high season can fill up a year in advance. Reserve your rooms as soon as possible. Reservations can easily be made on the National Parks website, sansparks.org.
One of the great features of Kruger, and most South African parks, is that visitors can explore the park by self-driving. Each day in Kruger we scanned the grassy plains for the big five as we drove through the parks many roads. I could almost hear the narrator from a Discovery Channel wildlife documentary whispering, ‘the male lion can leap 40 feet in a single bound’, as we approached a pride of lions on our first day in the park. Visitors must stay on the designated roads and inside their car at all times. With these easy to follow rules in mind, there are limitless possibilities for wildlife viewing and adventure. A herd of elephants protecting their month-old babies, lions eating a morning kill or a close encounter with a cheetah and her two cubs where just a few of the memories we came home with. No zoo, wildlife sanctuary or documentary can ever prepare you for an encounter with completely wild animals.
Our visit to Kruger gave us a new found appreciation for the natural world and it’s many wonders. It is sad to think that this amazing ecosystem has been relegated to a relatively small portion of a massive country. Most of the animals found in Kruger roamed free across South Africa and much of the African continent only a few hundred years ago. This sentiment comes from an all too familiar scenario of habitat loss being played out around the world. An even bigger problem facing many species is the illegal trade of their parts. Currently rhino’s are being poached for their horns at an alarming rate. The horns are sold in Asia for over $60K per kilogram, making them the most valuable black market commodity in the world. Curbing the demand for this absurd ‘health remedy’ will give poachers much less incentive to kill. You can find out more and help support the cause at uniteagainstpoaching.co.za.
We could have explored Kruger National Park for the rest of our honeymoon but we were eager to see more of South Africa. Over the subsequent three weeks we made our way south driving along the coast until we reached Cape Town. South Africa is almost twice the size of Texas with plenty to see and do. We can tell you that while Kruger is amazing, South Africa has much more to offer.
Plan for stops on the appropriately named, Garden Route, which stretches from the Storms River in the Eastern Cape to Mossel Bay in the Western Cape. It’s worth spending a few days to take in the lush scenery along this 185-mile route. From the end of the Garden Route head to the Cape Wine lands just outside of Cape Town. This area hosts over 300 wineries in beautiful mountain settings. Stop in one of the many small towns for wine tasting and great food in mountain valley settings. From the wine lands head to Cape Town to visit South Africa’s most iconic city. Take the cable way to the top of Table Mountain for great views of Cape Town and the surrounding areas. A visit to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope should be high on your list while in Cape Town. Over 9,000 species of plants are found here in the Cape Floral Kingdom, and 69% occur nowhere else in the world. Enjoy the fields of blooming wildflowers as you take in sweeping views of both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans at Cape Point. Finally, learn about South Africa’s history with a visit to the Robben Island Museum. Tours depart for the island hourly and provide unique insights into the troubled past of South African apartied.
The wild beauty and cultural wonders of South Africa make it a great honeymoon destination or vacation well worth visiting in one’s lifetime. Sign up for your Honeyfund or save some money for a life changing experience in South Africa.