Trip Review and Tips
Another great Tauck trip. Much enjoyed, although getting there is a chore. This information was current as of May 2019.
Who should take this trip: We took this trip because we wanted the safari experience, but couldn't see spending an entire trip on safari. This trip has a good balance between general sightseeing and safari. We found that the number of game drives included was just right for us. I don't think we would have benefited from another day. So if you want a balance between safari and sightseeing, this is a great trip. If you want to immerse yourself in wildlife, other trips (Kenya and Tanzania?) are better for that.
Getting there: There are three main routes to South Africa. Delta flies direct from Atlanta, but for us this was about 50% more expensive than the alternatives. I suspect that this route is more reasonable priced from the east coast and Midwest. The other routes are through London (British and their partners) and Amsterdam (KLM and their partners). Those going through London or Amsterdam should strongly consider a day or more layover, at least on the way there.
Early Arrival Activities: There are many things to see in Cape Town. Cape Town has a hop on hop off bus that can get you to most of them, including some wineries. They also have walking tours that are included in the bus ticket (just tip the tour guide). For dining there is a large shopping center (V&A Waterfront) a short walk from the hotel.
Hotels: The hotels are all up to Tauck standard. The Cape Grace and Lion Sands are the best, with attentive, friendly service, great rooms and excellent food. Consider having afternoon tea in the library at the Cape Grace for one of your off tour meals (a late lunch or early dinner). It is comparable to the best afternoon teas in London, but a fraction of the cost. Dining in South Africa is generally a bargain. We also got an included afternoon tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel. However, it comes between a provided lunch and the farewell dinner, so many people skipped it. While good, it could not hold a candle to the one at the Cape Grace.
When to go: We went in early May and felt that it was a good choice. Pleasant weather (we had no rain!). A little cool mornings and evenings in South Africa, warm to hot in Zimbabwe. If you go in their winter (our summer), there is apparently much less foliage in the bush, so animal spotting is easier. Of course, the weather is cooler then. In their summer, it is hotter and the animals are much less active.
Game drives: The morning game drive starts at the crack of dawn. The evening one ends after dark. Blankets are provided, but extra layers and a warm hat are a good idea. The vehicles are Land Rover or Land Cruiser pickups that have three rows of comfortable seats over the cargo bed. Six Tauck guests (or less) to a vehicle. These are amazing vehicles that can comfortably crash through the brush (which they do only when chasing one of the "big five"). For pictures of the vehicles, check the lodge websites. They are open vehicles, but there is no need to worry about contact with the animals. The drivers are experienced and the animals largely ignore them. We saw an amazing amount of wildlife included all of the "big five." Results may vary. I've posted a few pictures in another post. I will also do a post with photography tips.
Trip preparation: For me, a lot of the interest in going to South Africa was gaining some understanding of South Africa in a post-colonial, post-apartheid society. Even though you will get plenty of commentary from the local guides, it would be good to have some historical and political background before you go. Nelson Mandela's autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom" would be a good choice. Also, Trevor Noah's "Born a Crime." At a minimum I would read the Wikipedia articles on South Africa and Zimbabwe (particularly the history sections). I also would suggest the articles on Apartheid, Nelson Mandela, Jacob Zuma (particularly regarding the corruption charges), and Robert Mugabe.
Luggage Limitations:While we never had our carry on luggage weighed, it apparently does happen. The flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg was on a small commuter jet with limited overhead space. If your carry on doesn't fit under the seat, there is a strong chance it will be gate checked.
Disappointments: (These are not Tauck's fault, I just want to prepare you) We didn't get to take the tram up to Table Mountain in Cape Town. One day it was either too cloudy at the top or too windy. The other day we got in line to go, but they had mechanical problems. So if you're in Cape Town early and the weather is good, you may want to go on your own. Otherwise, it's 50-50. I also found Victoria Falls to be a disappointment. When we were there, mist from the falls obscured much of the view from most viewpoints (I understand it gets even mistier than we saw). So low flow times may actually give the best view. However, the other activities in that area were great, so it was still worth the trip to Zimbabwe.