The best ocean and land safari experience is in South Africa


A single trip to South Africa is a trip you can take a thousand times more; it stays in your soul, and it’s one every family should try to do. Our family of five was at a pivotal time this year with two graduates and one moving, it was clear time was running out to make the big trip. We wanted both a land and sea safari and South Africa was the obvious choice with its whale coast and world class game reserves.

I tried to plan the trip myself, spending hours researching options, when it became apparent that I needed an Africa-based travel agency for on-the-ground information. Go2Africa is a multi-award winning tour operator based in Cape Town that comes up with some stats I like – the whole team were born and raised in Africa, and between them they spend over 365 days a year on safari. They planned our trip down to the smallest detail, from identifying which game lodge offered a malaria-free opportunity to spotting a rhino to vaccinate and what travel insurance to buy. It was like my mom was handling it all, in a good way. More importantly, they helped shape the luxury adventure trip we wanted.

Where to go for The Land Big Five

Located in a private game reserve inside Marakele National Park, Marataba Mountain Lodge offers pristine, remote luxury (they average about 1,000 acres of wilderness for every guest bed). It’s also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, but it’s only a 3.5 hour drive from Johannesburg. Operated by the MORE Family Collection, the Mountain Lodge is an intimate affair with just five glass-walled eco-suites nestled at the edge of the mountain. The resort is all inclusive and the food is both wonderful and locally inspired (grilled impala anyone?) Days start and end with game drives, and they start early, at 6am in the most cases. Guests have a dedicated private guide for the entire tour and our guide William greeted us each morning with caffeine, snacks, blankets and hot water bottles to fend off the winter dawn chill. The guides are amazing at Marataba – smart, knowledgeable and personable. William was as passionate about finding the game as we are, giving his best in every practice. He embroidered each encounter with fascinating facts, thanks to his encyclopedic understanding of life in the bush, from animals to botany. He was also good at mixing sunset drinks.

There’s a special rhythm to the bush – morning game drives, a hearty breakfast on the way back, quiet time to swim, read or get a spa treatment, followed by afternoon walks and sunset cocktails. sun in the bush. At the end of the day, you dine on a beautiful three-course meal under the celestial glow of the Milky Way or in the glass-walled dining room beside a glowing fire. We planned four days for Marataba – and we could have easily added more, but we saw the value of a comprehensive guide to creatures: mongoose, black rhino, lion, cheetah, giraffe, elephant, zebra, hyena, wildebeest, baby bush, baboons, pythons, hippos and warthogs.

Where to go for the Ocean Big Five

After our four days in the bush, we were driven back to Johannesburg to catch a flight to Cape Town, where we spent a night and an afternoon in this charming coastal town. At this point, the trip took on a whole new dimension. It was endless ocean, cliffs and mountains, more like the coast of Maine than the African bush. MORE Quarters neighborhood hotel was our home base, conveniently located in the heart of ‘cool and trendy’ Cape Town. Here, eating and drinking is an art form so come with an appetite. The accommodations were large and perfect for families, and they served one of the best hotel breakfasts we had on the entire trip.

A short two-hour drive from Cape Town brought us to the heart of the Whale Coast, and to Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, home to one of the most diverse biomes on the planet. Grootbos has two luxury lodges (garden and mountain) and a selection of opulent private villas. The newly rebuilt Garden Lodge is a sparkling, glass-walled temple of nature with floor-to-ceiling windows that immerse guests in the breathtaking ocean and nature views. Dinner, which is included with the stay, lives up to the scenery and offers multi-course meals featuring artfully prepared dishes that highlight farm foraged and local ingredients.

While we loved the sleek, stylish interiors and sumptuous cuisine, the action was outside. Grootbos’ offerings run the gamut from wildflower and fat bike safaris through 50ft sand dunes to ocean safaris and shark cage dives. Rather than lions and rhinos, here you’ll see right and humpback whales, endangered species of dolphin, penguins, seals and potentially great white sharks (although they were rare last year ). It is not uncommon for whales to approach the shore, given the depth of the waters, and put on a show for guests. A local told me she witnessed three whale births from her back porch over the seasons.

Africa is a vast and daunting continent to explore, but it’s surely the best place in the world to create lifelong family memories. Where else in the world does your cell phone become useless and your young adult children happily get lost in the raw splendor of nature? Throughout the journey, I was reminded of Wordsworth’s timeless sentiments: “The world is too much with us, late and soon; Getting and spending, we waste our strength; Few things we see in the nature that is ours then and now…” Unless you go to Africa.

What we needed:

Malaria pills, typhoid shots, travel insurance (we only bought medical evacuation insurance) and money for tips to drivers and guides. No visa is required to enter South Africa from the United States and Delta Airlines offers a direct flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg which is extremely convenient. Air travel within the country was smooth and punctual. Go2Africa handled every transfer, booked every flight, hotel and lodge. They even made dinner reservations for us for our night out in Cape Town and texted us which carousel our luggage was arriving on…that’s the level of detail you welcome so you can spend your time enjoying the trip .


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