Southern African Safari Vacations into Cape Town, Botswana, and More

Apr 20, 2014 Avatar Jonathan Alder Jonathan Alder

I have recently returned from an amazing trip to southern Africa. I began my journey flying the new American Airlines transcontinental route from LAX to JFK. They have outdone themselves on this new premium service – flat beds in both business and first class, which have private suites. We are truly entering a new era of luxury air travel, where it’s not about just getting there but about how you do so.

From NY I boarded the long flight on South African Airways to Johannesburg. Africa has always been a dream or “bucket list” destination for many, but it’s more accessible than ever. Johannesburg is a gateway to amazing destinations.

Upon arrival, I connected easily to Cape Town. Near the bottom of the world, this city of just under 4 million is in one of the most beautiful natural settings. It has a vibrant waterfront, a trendy city center with a great public garden for a daytime stroll, while looming in the background is the iconic Table Mountain.

My first day of sightseeing included a cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain, where you can spot a variety of wildlife, hike for hours, or simply enjoy the panoramic views. I toured the city, walking through its gardens, visiting the castle and exploring the locals shops.

My next destination was the quaint wine country towns of Stellenbosch and Franschoeck. I loved both. Picture the beauty of Napa Valley with the charm of a small French village. For wine connoisseurs, this should be on your must-do list. From small family run to major wineries, your options for tastings are endless. I loved browsing the streets for a little shopping trip or stopping by the cafés for a bite to eat as well.

After Cape Town I was ready to head out on safari! For the next few nights I flew up to Singita Lebombo, where a safari is taken to the highest points of service, food and quality, and no detail has been overlooked.

If you who have thought about going on safari but worried about roughing it or giving up any comforts, this is the place for you. Pure 5 star at all levels, truly perfection attained. Meals are when, what and where you want. Rooms are beautiful and modern, though not very African looking, and very large and air-conditioned.

Morning game drives departed at the crack of dawn. Within a few hours I saw lions, wildebeest, herds of Cape buffalo, zebra, giraffe and elephants. At about 9:45am, we were back at the lodge for breakfast, followed by free time for resting, spa, pool or shopping.

At about 4:30pm, we headed back out on a second game drive again, followed by the traditional sundowner cocktails in the bush. Life cannot get any better.

The next stop was Johannesburg. I stayed at the Saxon, a 5-star hotel, where service and luxury prevail. My butler attended to my every whim, often before I could ever think to ask. This is a great stop to just relax and enjoy the good life before heading back into the bush.

Once you have experienced life on safari, you can’t wait to get back out, so I set off to Botswana for my next adventure. I flew to Maun then on charter air to the Okavango River delta. While a river normally exits into the sea, the Okavango hits a fault line and empties into the Kalahari Desert, creating a natural wonder, bringing life to what would otherwise be a harsh land.

Of the places in Africa I have visited, this is my favorite. Botswana serves up beauty, wildlife and amazing lodges, plus activities that aren’t offered elsewhere, such as safari by boat and dugout canoes called mokoros.

I first stayed at a water camp called Xigera. This camp has all the comfort, while still providing a true feel of Africa.

Activities include boat trips on mokoros at sunset, through the narrow channels of the delta, just like the locals use to get around.

I love the feeling of just sitting back and observing the stunning beauty of the natural habitat. By boat I was within feet of elephants, something one will never forget after experiencing it.

Typical of safari lodges, meals are communal at dinner, some with local music and dancing. Food was excellent and hearty.

My next camp was Chitabe, a land-based camp. There was abundant wildlife nearby, and my sightings were numerous within a few hours. The rooms here were quite similar to Xigera: rustic luxury with a true African feeling.

Both of these are classic level camps, luxurious and comfortable, without being over the top.

My next two were premier, 5-star camps fitting for those that want the best. The first was Umbra Plains, a water and land based camp. Driving between the air strip and the camp, I saw lions, giraffe, zebra, baboons, hyena, warthogs, impala, kudu and a hippo! The rooms at Umbra Plains are stunning. Over 1,000 sq. ft., modern in style, designed as a gated compound, with a private plunge pool in the courtyard.

For those traveling as a family (Africa is one of my top family destinations) Umbra Plains offers family units with a separate guest house for the kids. Here you can do it all, game drives, mokoro floats, boating and more. Meals are a la carte and served at your liking. You dine with whom you want, when you want.

My last lodge on this trip was Mombo camp, currently rated by Travel+Leisure as the #1 property on the planet. Game viewing here might be the best in Africa. Sitting at breakfast, there was an elephant within 4 feet of me, eating as well.

The rooms are in a tented style with outdoor salas from which to view the beautiful plains that was teeming with wildlife.

Service is excellent, and the camp has a top wine collection and serves very fine cuisine. Game drives are in a new fleet of Land Rovers with heated seats and plugs for charging your electronic devices. Nothing has been overlooked.

I headed home with exquisite life long memories from one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.

I look forward to planning your luxury safari trip so you can experience Africa in style.

Jonathan Alder