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.


  • Ken...We did this trip last year and it was one of the most memorable. We arrived in Cape Town two days early so we could experience places that Tauck did not cover. We spent a day in the winelands with a driver/tour guide which was really enjoyable. Another very meaningful experience was to spend half a day with a local non-profit (Uthando) and visited places they help fund in several townships. It included a preschool, a women's empowerment and training center, and a community vegetable garden.

  • These reviews were really helpful for someone planning on taking this trip in February 2020. Thank you so much for taking the time to post the detailed information on. I am buying the books you suggested today! Thanks again.

  • Ken, thanks for your review. We had a different experience in Victoria Falls last May on the B,SA &Z trip. Not only were the falls incredibly powerful from the recent rains but we had no sight problems from the mist. We also did the microlights above the falls which was a great experience. We toured the falls from the Zambia side and so not sure how much difference that would make. Although you had gone on a different trip, we loved ours and will be going back next year!

  • edited July 2019

    Things can change from year to year, trip to trip, and day to day. We took B,SA,Z this past May/June. Water level over the falls should have been at max but we were told it was slightly down due to lower rainfall at the source of the Zambezi in the mountains of NW Zambia. You couldn't prove it by us; the flow seemed pretty substantial. We had good views from near the David Livingstone monument at the beginning of the park on the Zambia side where the mist doesn't reach. But, there was heavy mist (heavier than it looks in my photo) on the Knife-edge bridge- we really needed to use the supplied rain ponchos and crocks and I used a waterproof camera. An even more pronounced illustration of the variability of weather and water levels was in the Okavango Delta, where due to lower rainfall at the source in the highlands of Angola, many areas normally flooded were high and dry. The weather in Cape Town was fantastic . . . until it wasn't. On our first full day it was severe clear with deep blue skies- the views of and from the top of Table Mountain were fantastic. The weather the next day when we traveled by motorcoach to Cape Point and to Simon's Town for the boat trip to Seal Island and on fly-home day wasn't so nice! (we had a late flight, so took a helo flight that roughly followed the motorcoach route to Cape Point and Simon's Town.),

    At Eagle Island Camp, the area between the short, black-tipped wood light post in the foreground and the tall grass in the distance would normally all be flooded this time of year.

  • Ken,

    Thanks for the comprehensive review. I would like to pick up on one thing you mentioned - specifically, the open vehicles. I have been eyeing this trip for a while now, and that is the main issue that gives me pause. I am concerned that we will be very close to dangerous animals without much of a protective barrier, particularly since I have seen cheetahs (or leopards?) climb into the back of open jeeps on African safaris. Also, I have seen that safaris that take place in East Africa use closed vehicles. So first, do you know why some safaris use closed and others use open vehicles? And second, am I missing something that would put me more at ease with the open vehicles? Everyone whom I have spoken with that has taken this tour has loved it, so I would really like to take it as well but just need to get over this psychological hurdle.

    Thanks for any insight.


  • The animals see the vehicles not the people, they see what looks like a huge animal. They learn in the parks that these ‘animals’ are not a threat. In general, they are also afraid of anything on two legs, us humans. But if you exit a vehicle or even inadvertent have a foot slightly out of the vehicle, like I did, they will see the shape change and it could be dangerous. They may feel threatened and attack you for that reason rather than want to eat you. In the open vehicles in SA, you are also not allowed to stand up for this reason.
    I have seen the cheetah video you mention, it is a very unusual situation. Please remember Tauck will not take you anywhere on the planet that their customers frequently get killed off, it doesn’t make good business sense.
    The animal that kills most people in Africa is the hippo and its most commonly because they are out of the water, want to get back in, and maybe there is a woman washing her clothes at the rivers edge, then the hippo will attack. Also. Any animal that thinks it’s young are threatened, or you get between them and their baby. The buffaloes can a
    So be dangerous, but they can’t jump into the vehicle.
    I hope you are lucky enough to see a cheetah by the way, because on many safaris now, we have not seen one. I hope that will change when we go back to the K and T in December.

  • edited July 2019

    We've only been on two safaris- K&T and B,SA,Z but during both, lions came extremely close to our vehicle, but as British said, totally ignored us as did many other potentially dangerous animals- leopards, elephants, rhinos, etc. We didn't see many cheetahs, none up close and only a few leopards- two exceptions- one during a night game drive when a fairly young adult female leopard came within 5' to 6' of my vehicle while searching for her kill that some hyenas had just stolen. The second, during a "special" activity we got really close to cheetahs and lions, but that was a "special case." But seeing all the animals up close as possible is the whole reason we went on safaris!

    And then there were the "special activities" we did on our own: :)

  • Thanks for the feedback. I realize, of course, that Tauck would never take their guests anywhere where there was a legitimate chance of harm. This is just something that I need to come to grips with, and I think I am getting close. I will probably look into this trip for 2021. Those pictures of the "special activities" are incredible!

  • We took this trip very late August into September. We chose that time of year to hopefully minimize mosquitos and for good visibility on safari, as the foliage was not dense. We were very happy with the trip. Weather was great. We did get up to Table Mountain with the Tauck tour - beautiful views. The safari part of the trip was outstanding. Loved Victoria falls. The flow of water was not too strong, so we did not have the low visibility and spray. We also opted to take a helicopter ride over the falls and were very happy that we did so.

  • Maximgr, pleas be aware that the pics of the lion with Alan are not part of the Tauck tour, they stopped this activity when it was revealed that the lions were being sold to be shot on hunting safaris once they became too big and not released into the wild. The cheetah, I’m not sure about that. Alan, perhaps you can give the background on that. When we took the Elegant South Africa tour, we met a cheetah called Sylvester who had been hand reared and lived at a facility that Tauck visited that you could interact with elephants (not ride them) But he has since died.

  • edited July 2019

    As British said these special activities were booked through a local provider and not part of the Tauck tour. We read all about the canned hunting. We understood all lion encounters had ceased or been banned a few years ago, but discovered there are at least two still operating, one in Livingstone and one in Victoria Falls. As far as the fate of this set of sibblings (a male, 3 females under 2 yrs.) who the facility claimed were rescued after their mother was killed by a male lion , I can't say. But, I won't debate it nor will I debate Botswana's decision to repeal the ban on hunting (all animals), or the planned mass culling of elephant herds, zoos, cattle, chicken, and pig farms, etc. etc. All I will say is that they are incredible animals and this activity fostered appreciation of efforts to help the species.

    The outfit we used was just up the road, about 3 mi., from the Royal Livingstone, and very well organized and maintained. They treated all the animals very well when we were there. The cheetahs were "rescued" pets. They were very friendly and seemed to enjoy interacting with us- like house cats they purred loudly when petted (lions do not purr). The elephants were gentle and also appeared to be extremely well treated. We did not see the slightest sign of mistreatment. The handlers and mahoots all appeared to truly care about their charges. All three sets of animals had very large bush enclosures, the size of which was impossible to determine because we could not see back fences, but they likely extended several acres into the bush- we actually rode in a safari vehicle for about 1/2 mi. to reach the elephant enclosure.

  • British, yes, I figured that the individual encounters were not part of the Tauck tour as Alan mentioned that they did that on their own in his previous post. It is a shame that many of these organizations have ceased operations, as it sounds like the animals were treated well and I am sure it was a very special experience for all people who had the opportunity to interact with them.

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