From the time of the earliest European “tourists” to Africa, the main draw to the continent was the thrill of safari. Even today, the sheer excitement of discovering and observing the world’s largest and most dangerous animals in their natural environment, pulls travelers back to the region again and again.
But there’s more to the continent than wild animals and Jeep safaris. A trip through South Africa alone showcases the country’s different, modern, and constantly evolving experiences and attractions, all with as much allure and exoticism as the traditional safari experience. The romantic accommodations, rugged ecotourism opportunities and cosmopolitan vibe of Cape Town, paired with its idyllic, cozy wine country, shows off a more civilized side of the country—and sets it apart as a unique destination within the continent and one that can be sold to both first-timers and repeat visitors.
“It’s the diversity of the product and the sophistication of the product as well,” says Moira Smith, general manager, Africa, Goway Travel. “Something people don’t realize is how wonderful the infrastructure is in South Africa. There really is fantastic diversity.” Even better, companies like Goway Travel offer itineraries that make hops between the wilderness, the cities and the wine country that much easier. In fact, Recommend got a first-hand look at the tour operator’s South Africa product during the company’s recent Ultimate Africa FAM.
cape town With its setting far south of the stereotypically “African” savannahs, South Africa’s climate feels more like New England’s than that of Kenya or Tanzania. For a first-time traveler with notions of sweltering African savannahs, that climate sets the tone for the rest of the trip—surprise after surprise, especially in the cosmopolitan, seaside city of Cape Town.
The city is a bustling, urban environment anchored, so to speak, by its high-end marina, the Victoria & Albert Waterfront. Though it’s surrounded by high-rise condo buildings and hotels, the marina has a quaint feel to it, owing partly to the colonial architectural touches on its larger buildings and partly to the cozy, friendly feel of the restaurants and bars that look out to the docks. Classy yet comfortable spots like Bascule Whisky and Wine Bar serve up an assortment of high-end drinks to customers seated outside, just steps from the marina, drinking in the sunshine and crisp breezes along with whatever’s in their glass. This is the perfect place for clients to explore on foot, mingling with locals, stopping for a glass of wine or indulging in a seafood dinner. It’s hard to beat the views from here, too. Just beyond the shopping center, sports fans will notice the newly constructed soccer stadium, built just in time for the 2010 World Cup. Turn, and you’ll be awed by the sight of Table Mountain in the distance, a striking mountain flattened by erosion at the top, creating an enormous plateau. It’s best viewed from the water and many of the marina’s boats offer cruise charters. Adventurers can also hike to the top, or simply take the cable car ride to its flat “peak.”
Clients who prefer to stay in the center of the action will find a truly unique upscale option at Cape Grace. Set right on the water, the hotel recently underwent renovations designed to evoke the culture of Cape Town at every turn. The result is a beautiful reflection of the city’s people and its history. Antiques—from china teacups to brass cornets—were fashioned into chandeliers that hang in the hotel’s public areas, becoming the focal point of the design of every room. Other artifacts from years past are presented in glass showcases lining the halls to the guestrooms. And every room features curtains, upholstery and bedspreads hand-painted by local artists, as well as at least one antique feature. The emphasis on Cape Town, paired with creative hotel features like a daily “sugar bar” in its library offering sweet treats like cupcakes and nougat, gives the property a modern colonial feel all its own. Rates start at $735 per room per night dbl. Cape Town’s downtown area is the center of activity, but there’s plenty to see and do just outside of town as well. Get back to nature with a drive to the Cape of Good Hope, once thought to be the southernmost point in Africa and the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian oceans. Though that’s no longer true (the real southernmost point is Cape Agulhas), the Cape of Good Hope still offers some of the most striking views of the sea from its rocky bluffs, including some popular spots for whale sightings. After a drive through its rough wilderness, spend some time staring out to sea at the Cape of Good Hope’s cliffside restaurant, specializing in seafood platters comprised of prawns, lobster, the fresh catches of the day and some of the best calamari we’ve ever tasted.