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  • lifeunbound21

Africa

Updated: Jul 2

To date, my favorite continent and destination. I keep getting asked what I loved most about Africa? It's so hard to pin that down.

  • The people - My experience of the people in Africa was that they were hard working, kind, helpful and that our safety and positive experience was a top priority.

  • The animals - WOW! There is nothing that compares to seeing these animals free and in their natural habitat. It's humbling to be a part of nature in that way and witness the circle of life.

  • The landscape - From dirt roads, to red rock mountains, to wineries, to beaches with penguins, South Africa has it all!


Our first six days were hosted by Marathon Tours for the Big 5 Race in Entabeni Game Reserve, which is a 54,363 acre private reserve situated in the Limpopo Province between Johannesburg and the Kruger National Park. Visit the Marathon Tours website for the Big Five Marathon event and their six night itinerary at https://marathontours.com/en-us/events/big-five-marathon/


This is my third continent with Marathon Tours and I have never been disappointed. I will also add that you don't have to participate in the race to join the tour. They offer both the marathon and half marathon distances on this trip and the half marathon can be completed by walking the entire distance with plenty of time to spare. The course for this race is quite challenging, between the terrain of sand, rocks, dirt roads and a 2000 ft elevation change down and then back up the Cloove. That being said, we had an 81 year old man from Michigan in our group who completed the half marathon distance. Several of the people (including a family with four kids) opted out of the race and had the opportunity to be spectators cheering us along the course. There was definitely something for everyone during the few hours spent on the race.


The lodging options in Entabeni ranged from


  • Legend Golf & Safari Resort - which is located outside of the game reserve (I don't recommend this option for that reason)

  • Lakeside Lodge - A hotel up on top of the mountain that overlooks a lake. Again, I don't really recommend. This was nice but it was far away from the animals and didn't offer the full experience of the game reserve. It is the start and finish of the race, so that was convenient. It's also a great option for guests not participating in the race to relax here during race time. There is a restaurant & large outdoor patio that overlooks a beautiful lake.

  • Hanglip Mountain Lodge - This is a little more upscale option down in the reserve. It would be my second pick of all the lodging options. It doesn't have the trees & cozy community feel that Wildside does, but it is down in the game reserve with spectacular views.

  • Wildside Tented Camp - This is the place to be! It's rustic, but if you can handle that, it's 100% worth it to stay here. The canvas walled tents had wood floors, full

bathrooms, electricity and very comfortable beds. It's winter in Africa in June so the nights dropped to the low 30's and the days peaked at around 70-75 degrees. The tents don't have heat so they stay pretty cool, but the staff makes up for that by turning the electric blankets on mid day. It's so cozy to snuggle down in the soft warm beds while the room is cold. Tip - the rooms do get COLD at night so lay your next day clothes out next to the bed before you go to sleep. In the morning, pull your clothes into the bed under the warm covers to heat them up before you put them on. On the really cold mornings, we got dressed under the covers! Yep, its like that! I don't like to be cold and I wouldn't have changed a thing about staying here. The humidity is very low so it's not your typical midwest cold, but coats, hats & gloves are a must here.


Clothes - If you're going to South Africa in June, bring layers. The sun rose at about 6:30am and set around 5:30pm. When the sun goes away, it's very cold. When the sun is out, it gets pretty warm. Therefore, my daily dress was tank top, T shirt, long sleeve, thin hoodie, winter coat, hat & gloves. I carried a small waterproof backpack to strip the layers off as the sun came out. By 10:00am I was usually down to my tank top and on some days shorts. Pack all the things! The jeeps also had thick warm blankets which were needed on the early morning and evening safaris. It made it very cozy.


If group trips and races aren't your thing, you can still book a trip to Entabeni by visiting their website here: https://entabeni.co.za/


Our package included two safaris a day on most days and all of our meals. We had up close encounters with elephants, hippos, rhinos, giraffes, lions, zebra, wildebeest, crocodile, cheetah, impala warthogs and so much more. Our guides were very knowledgable about the animals & always left me feeling very safe. After race day we had two optional bush walks. Our guides took us out and taught us about tracking the animals through prints and poo. We learned about the vast uses of the trees and plants along with the traditions of the African people. TIP - familiarize yourself with the southern hemisphere constellations before you go. It's wild to look up and see an unfamiliar sky.


For my coffee lovers, I'm sad to report that it was all instant coffee..... This was my first experience with instant coffee and it was not great. I can tend to be a coffee snob though. I also drank it anyway.... They had hot water available so maybe bring your own option instead. They had plenty of bottled water available and restocked the rooms daily.


The people at this reserve make very little money. I'm talking, $130/month. This is a pretty common theme in Africa. There is little to no middle class so the people there seem to have all they need, or nothing at all. According to the locals I met, many of the properties are owned by upper class Europeans and the Africans who work in them make very little money. For that reason, cash tips for the staff are highly recommended. The staff here love to play soccer and appreciate when visitors bring & leave behind athletic clothes with American logos (like Nike & Adidas) and used/new sneakers. I underestimated the need for this when I went and wish I would have brought more to give them.


After our time in Entabeni, we flew down to Cape Town for another three days. We rented a

car and drove about an hour north to Franschhoek. If you are at all adventurous, rent a car! Yes, you drive on the other side of the road and sit on the other side of the car but it was so much easier than I though it would be. A friend of mine at the race taught me the phrase "hug tight on the left turns, go wide on the right turns" and it really helped. My biggest challenge was that the windshield wipers and the turn signal were switched on the steering column. Every time I had to change lanes or turn, my wipers came on...lol. It gave my sister and I a lot of laughs though.


Franschhoek is a small mountain town surrounded by wine estates and fine dining. We stayed at a boutique hotel Les Chambres Guesthouse https://www.leschambres.co.za/ which was perfectly located two blocks off the main road in Franschhoek. It made it so easy for us to walk to all the boutique shops and restaurants during our stay. The night we arrived we walked into town for our first tasting menu at Le Coin Francais. Check out their website here: https://lecoinfrancais.co.za/ This eight course tasting was delicious and beautiful, every dish was a work of art. One of the perks of winter in Africa, no one was there! That meant we could just walk into these restaurants and easily get a table. For a tasting menu I do recommend you make a reservation so they know how many meals to prepare and keep your reservation if you make it because they prepared for your meal.


Day 1 - The Garden Route! This is why you need a car here. Franschhoek and Stellenbosch are two of the most well known towns in this world famous wine region of South Africa. The mountain views and vineyards are breathtaking and unlike anything I have ever seen before. The mountains have so many different layers that it looks like a painting. We left Franschhoek and made our way toward Boulders Beach to see the penguins. Once we hit the town of Muizenberg we started to see the combination of the beautiful coast and the level of poverty in South Africa. To the left our views were rolling sand hills and stunning ocean views. To the right, it was a city of tin shacks all built along side each other. The informal settlements are located throughout the area of Cape Town. Although the apartheid (meaning apartness - which was the legal system for racial separation) ended in 1994, Africa's people still suffer significantly. I think it was important to see, just to keep it real.


That being said, Muizenberg and its neighboring towns are impressive and great vacation destinations. Each town has something unique to offer. One town had sail boats in the bay, the next town was a huge surf community, one town had a Navy base, others were full of cafes and boutique shops. There is a stop for everyone along this route.


Our destination today though was Boulders Beach! The spot to encounter warm water penguins. We lucked out with a sunny, warm day. There was plenty of free parking, souvenir shops and a nature preserve where (for a small fee) you can walk out onto a board walk to view the penguins, then take a stroll down to the beach. The beach is a bouldering playground so be sure to wear clothes and shoes that allow you to climb under, over and around large boulders if you want to explore. Otherwise bring a book and a blanket and enjoy the white sand and crystal clear waters at this spot.


We headed back to Franschhoek for diner at our favorite restaurant during our stay - Epice (pronounced eh-peace) - https://epice.restaurant/food . It's worth the drive from Cape town to experience the tasting menu and wine if you're ever in the area. The restaurant has a cozy atmosphere and every dish had the perfect blend of spices.


Day 2 - The wine estates! Franschhoek & Stellenbosch are surrounded by wine estates and

the best way to check them out is on the wine tram. Visit the website here: https://winetram.co.za/ and click the hop-on hop-off experience. There are five different lines you can choose from. You can buy tickets in advance through the website or in person at the train station. Originally, we wanted to take the Blue line to experience Vrede en Lust & Boschendal estates. The Blue & Orange lines were closed during our time there due to the winter season, so we ended up on the Red line. We hopped off at three estates: Grande Provence, Franschhoek Cellar & Haute Cabrière. Grande Provence & Haute Cabrière being my favorites.


If you love art, Grand Provence is the estate for you. The grounds are filled with sculptures and there is an art gallery to enjoy while tasting the wine. They offer food and lodging here too if that's something you're looking for.


Haute Cabrière was exquisite in its views and facility. Most of the estate experiences will be one hour at each estate which felt like the right amount of time. However, we wanted to have lunch at Haute Cabrière as the restaurant here came highly recommended by our tour leader in Entabeni, so we allowed a two our block which gave us time for lunch and a quick tasting. It was the perfect addition to the day, the food was delicious and the restaurant views were unmatched!





Day 3 - This was our last day here, but our flight from Cape Town was another overnight flight which gave us a full day to explore. After grabbing some coffee from a cafe and gifts in the very walkable Franschhoek village, we headed to Stellenbosch for one more wine estate.


Waterford Estate was on my list of "must see's" and is known for is Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a beautiful estate that should make your list if you're ever in the area. https://www.waterfordestate.co.za/


It was a cloudy rainy day as we finished our tour so we headed back to Cape Town to explore the city. We took a drive through the colorful residential area of Bo-Kaap and took a walk along the coastal base of Table Mountain. Due to the weather, we did not summit Table Mountain or experience some of the scenic drives, so Cape Town is definitely a city I would go back to.


All in all, Africa is worth the long flight to get there. It is easy to navigate, super friendly and unique views at every turn. Our trip was a total of 13 days and at the end, I could have easily stayed more. It's a continent I look forward to visiting as much as I can. Some things on my Cape Town to do list when I go back:

  • Cable car to Table Mountain

  • Drive Chapman's Peak (one of the most scenic drives in the world)

  • Surf at Muizenberg Beach

  • Two oceans scenic helicopter flight

  • Order Kingklip (a fish similar to grouper)

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