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Day by Day Itinerary

When you take a South Africa tour with Grand Circle Travel, you’ll discover cultural and natural wonders at a relaxed and leisurely pace. You’ll follow exotic wildlife on game-viewing drives through Kruger National Park and the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve ... enjoy visits to charming coastal towns along the famed Garden Route ... and explore cosmopolitan Cape Town, South Africa’s “Mother City.” You’ll marvel at the country's diverse landscape rife with verdant, grassy savannahs, balmy, white-sand beaches, and tranquil, flower-ringed lagoons. And everywhere you go, you’ll connect with the people of South Africa, encountering a veritable kaleidoscope of cultures and creeds—evidence that the nation has indeed become, as Nelson Mandela envisioned, “a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”

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    Board your overnight flight to Johannesburg, South Africa.

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    A Grand Circle representative will meet you at the airport and help you transfer to your hotel, where you’ll meet the Grand Circle Program Director who will accompany you throughout your trip, and fellow travelers, including those who have just finished our optional pre-trip extension, Big Five Bush Safari, South Africa. Settle in, and get to know your surroundings.

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    Johannesburg, South Africa

    This morning, you'll drive to Soweto, enjoying scenic views of Johannesburg en route. You'll see the city skyscrapers, including the Carlton Centre, which is the tallest office block in Africa, as well as the Nelson Mandela Bridge.

    Soweto, a former shantytown on the city's outskirts, is both a bustling center of black South African life and a poignant symbol of the struggle to end apartheid. Here, after an included lunch, you’ll set off on a walking tour, where you’ll enjoy the opportunity to immerse yourself in local culture as you connect closely with the township’s residents, visiting them in their homes and where they work.

    After your walking tour, depart for the Apartheid Museum, where you'll confront one of the 20th century's greatest injustices. The history of nearly 50 years of unequal rights affecting more than 20 million black South Africans is recounted here, in 22 exhibits spanning print, photo, and film. It's a fascinating and moving examination of an era that has since been replaced by a constitutional democracy that celebrates diversity.

    This evening, get to know your fellow travelers during a Welcome Briefing, and enjoy a Welcome Dinner with wine at your hotel.

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    After breakfast, set off for Kruger National Park. Along the way, marvel at breathtaking views of the Klein Drakensburg escarpment, with its densely wooded canyons, sheer sandstone cliffs, and sparkling waterfalls. You'll stop for lunch on your own en route to your hotel in the province of Mpumalanga.

    You'll travel the Panorama Route through Mpumalanga, where you'll look into God's Window—a spot with stunning views—and the Bourkes Luck Potholes at the mouth of the Blyde River Canyon.

    Tonight, check into your hotel, where dinner will be served.

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    Embark on a full-day Intimate African Safari game drive, during which you will explore Kruger National Park aboard a small, open-air vehicle. Perhaps you'll see one of the elusive "Big Five" safari animals during your journey. A packed lunch will be provided by the hotel.

    Kruger is one of the largest and most notable among African game parks. Transvaal President Paul Kruger saw the need to protect the wilderness and its animals and first proclaimed it the Sabie Game Reserve before it became a national park in 1926. It is known for the chances it offers for spotting the Big Five—always elusive, but certainly present here: lion, elephant, leopard, Cape buffalo, and rhino. In addition to game animals, Kruger boasts an avian population of almost 500 species, some of which are found nowhere else in South Africa.

    Tonight, enjoy dinner at your hotel.

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    After breakfast, you’ll board a coach for a full-day game-viewing drive.

    Or, choose to take advantage of a second Intimate African Safari on our optional full-day outing. Today, you’ll venture further afield to some of the park's most remote areas aboard 4x4 vehicles to discover South Africa's wildlife in a smaller group. Please note: A minimum of six participants is required to operate this tour.

    Dine tonight at your hotel.

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    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    This morning, spend time with the children of George Mhaule Primary School (when in session), supported by Grand Circle Foundation as part of the World Classroom initiative. After your visit, cross the border into the Kingdom of Swaziland, entering through its mountainous northwest. As you travel, admire a landscape of sloping hills and sugarcane plantations.

    A fully independent nation since 1968, this African kingdom originated in the early 19th century and maintained its cultural identity as a British protectorate—never absorbed into South Africa—through much of the 20th century. Today, Swaziland has a population of about 800,000 and is a peaceful, agricultural country where ancient and modern ways mingle. Arrive at your hotel, near the capital city of Mbabane, in the mid-afternoon with a bit of time to explore the area or relax before dinner.

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    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    Today you'll enjoy a full day of a Swazi Cultural Experience. First, peruse the produce, local crafts, and wares of the Swazi people at the Mbabane Craft Market. Continue on to a local workshop to observe the artistry and precise techniques of glassblowing.

    Then, behold the craftsmanship of local candle-makers as they work their magic in wax—using an age-old process—at a local workshop and market. Enjoy lunch here before making a short stop at the memorial built in honor of King Sobuza, who brought Swaziland to independence in 1968. Crowned king at less than a year old, King Sobuza holds the record for the longest monarchial rule—more than 80 years.

    This evening, dinner is on your own—your Program Director can offer suggestions about where you can savor the local flavors.

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    As you cross the border back into South Africa today, you'll enter Hluhluwe, a small town within the Kwazulu-Natal province. Here the great warrior-king Shaka unified many clans in the early 19th century under the name Zulu, which was the name of his own clan. Though mostly ceremonial today, the Zulu monarchy continues as a proud symbol of a living culture.

    While in Hluhluwe, you'll spend an Afternoon With the Zulu during an exclusive Discovery Series event. You'll visit an authentic re-creation of a Zulu uzumi (homestead), where you'll meet modern-day warriors and witness fighting formations. You'll also enjoy lunch, take part in traditional activities such as beer-brewing and bread-making, and discover some of the secrets of the mystical nyangas (herbal healers) and the Sangoma (a priest-diviner).

    Tonight, dinner will be served at the hotel.

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    After breakfast, set off for a game-viewing drive through the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve—the oldest park in all of Africa.

    Thanks to the efforts of conservationists, the once-threatened rhino population has soared—the park is now home to the largest concentration of white rhinos in the world. Be on the lookout for their signature horns, along with spottings of the “Big Five,” and the more obscure sightings of yellow-, pink- and orange-throated longclaws.

    Later, after lunch on your own, you can spend the rest of the day at leisure. Or, if you’re eager for another look at the exciting wildlife of the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, you can opt to join a second tour in the afternoon. You’ll enjoy another opportunity to seek out the residents of the reserve, seeing the animals in a new light at a different time of day.

    Tonight you'll return to your hotel for some leisure time before dinner.

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    Hobie Beach, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

    This morning, after an early wake-up, you'll drive to Durban. From here, you’ll fly to Port Elizabeth—a major seaport set along the beautiful shores of Algoa Bay.

    Enjoy a tour of the city's historical attractions, including St. George's Park and Settler's Park—both known for their cultivated and natural gardens. The afternoon is at leisure for you to explore the shimmering beaches and colonial history of "the Friendly City." This evening is at leisure.

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    Thomson Gazelles, Serengeti National Park, Northern Tanzania

    Spend the day and evening as you please in Port Elizabeth. The city has many historical attractions—including the Donkin Heritage Trail, which allows visitors to follow in the footsteps of the British settlers who arrived in 1820. The trail, which is several miles long, winds past more than 40 historical sites and architectural gems in the Old Hill area of central Port Elizabeth. You might also choose to stroll through St. George's Park, home to the world-famous Port Elizabeth Cricket Club. Lunch and dinner today are on your own.

    Or join an optional motorcoach tour of Addo Elephant National Park, where you'll enjoy another chance to see South Africa's most celebrated safari animals. The park houses more than 450 elephants, 400 Cape buffalo, nearly 50 endangered black rhino, and a variety of antelope. You may even see lion and spotted hyena, which have been re-introduced to the area in recent years.

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    After breakfast this morning, you'll embark on a scenic journey along South Africa's famous Garden Route, the magnificent stretch of coastline that has served as an inspiration for artists and writers for centuries. View lofty mountains edging toward some of the best golden-sand beaches in the country ... vast forests of giant yellowwood, pine, and eucalyptus trees ... colorful wildflowers ... pristine, amber-colored lakes, and tumbling waterfalls ... coves and lagoons peeking out from behind a ridge of sand dunes ... and charming tiny villages.

    This evening, you'll arrive in Knysna, known as the "Pearl of the Garden Route." Dinner is yours to enjoy at a local restaurant tonight.

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    Today, get closer to the world of exotic animals in Oudtshoorn during a visit to the Safari Ostrich Farm.

    Ostrich farming began in the late 1880s, when European demand for ostrich feathers prompted a boom in ostrich farming worldwide. By the early 1900s, only gold, diamonds, and wool ranked higher than ostrich feathers in terms of exports. In Oudtshoorn, the center of the industry, ostrich farmers built lavish sandstone mansions to showcase their wealth.

    On the farm you'll view large flocks of the flightless bird, still highly prized for its feathers, leather, and meat. Experienced guides will reveal the life cycle of the ostrich, and you'll also learn how products such as handbags and feather dusters are produced. Perhaps you'll even observe and participate in an ostrich derby! After lunch at the farm, you'll have more time at leisure to explore Oudtshoorn.

    You'll return to Knysna tonight in time for dinner on your own.

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    After breakfast, depart for Knysna's famed lagoon, which is protected from the open water by two giant sandstone cliffs known locally as “the Heads.” A ferry takes you across the lagoon for an included tour of Featherbed Nature Reserve. On your guided nature walk, keep an eye out for a glimpse of the blue duiker, Africa's smallest antelope (named for the blue sheen of its back) and other wildlife.

    After lunch outside under the reserve's milkwood trees, the remainder of the day is yours to explore Knysna. You can delve into the town's history at the Millwood House Museum, which displays items once owned by Knysna's founder, George Rex (reputedly an illegitimate son of British King George III). Or browse through the many quaint shops with their unique offerings.

    Dinner tonight is on your own.

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    Drotsy museum swellendam, South Africa

    Ride to Cape Town after breakfast this morning. En route, you'll stop in historic Mossel Bay, where Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias became the first European to land in South Africa in 1488. For more than 400 years, this was a spot where passing mariners dropped off their letters as their voyages took them around the Cape of Good Hope. You'll learn more about the legacy of this explorer, as well as about the culture and ecosystem of Mossel Bay, at the eponymous Dias Museum on an included tour.

    You'll also stop at the town of Swellendam, where you'll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant, before continuing on to Cape Town, where you'll arrive this evening. Enjoy dinner on your own tonight.

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    Today’s included city tour features a cable car ride up Table Mountain (weather permitting), a 3,563-foot sandstone mountain that is remarkable for its flat top. Enjoy the ocean views from the summit.

    This afternoon, enjoy leisure time to explore Cape Town on your own.

    Or perhaps you'll join our optional tour to Cape Town's vibrant townships—Langa, Guguletu, and Bonteheuwel. Learn about the traditions and daily way of life here through a tour—guided by a township resident—and a home visit.

    Tonight, join a local family in their home for dinner. Enjoy a warm welcome, authentic local fare, and lively conversation during this exclusive Discovery Series event.

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    Departing after breakfast, head along the coast, with majestic Table Mountain rising in the distance. Your route follows the spectacular coast road, the Atlantic Ocean's crashing surf endlessly splashing the rocks below. Soon you reach the Cape Point Nature Reserve, with its wild fynbos landscapes, beautiful flowers, elusive bontebok, baboons, and ocean views.

    Contrary to popular belief, the Cape Peninsula is not consistently where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. Because of shifting currents, that distinction is shared with lesser-known Cape Agulhas, 100 to 200 miles east of the Cape Peninsula. Nevertheless, when you get to the tip of the Cape Point Nature Reserve, you'll see Cape Point, the technical "Cape of Good Hope." Rapidly changing climactic conditions and the Indian Ocean currents coming from Cape Agulhas make it a particularly dangerous spot for ships. Your Program Director will tell you that more "sightings" of the legendary ghost ship, the Flying Dutchman, are reported here than anywhere else in the world. Who knows what you'll spy on the distant horizons as you gaze from the Cape Point viewing platform? You'll also explore some of the fascinating vegetation and more remote corners of this nature reserve, as well as the lush Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, before stopping for an included lunch at a well-known local seafood restaurant.

    On the return trip to Cape Town, a stop along the False Bay coastline offers a chance to see the penguins at Boulders Beach. Arrive back in town in the early evening, after passing through Simon's Town and Fish Hoek.

    Dinner is on your own tonight.

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    Venture to South Africa's wine-producing region on an included excursion to Stellenbosch. You'll visit a wine estate and sample their delicious offerings. A scenic river valley of rolling hills, quaint farms, and mountain vistas, this area is also the heart of Cape Dutch culture. You'll see fine examples of traditional architecture while learning about the history of early settlement here. Lunch will be on your own in Stellenbosch.

    Tonight, share your impressions of South Africa with your fellow travelers during a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.

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    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, you'll have the morning at leisure to do a little more exploring in Cape Town, or to simply relax before you begin your journey back to the U.S. this afternoon. Or begin your optional extension in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Extensions

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

Currency Cheat Sheet: Submit

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 7 locations in 19 days

Physical Requirements

  • Walk 1-2 miles unassisted and participate in 2-3 hours of physical activities daily, including stairs
  • Balance and agility are required for boarding 4x4 vehicles
  • Not accessible for travelers using wheelchairs or scooters
  • Travelers using walkers, crutches, or other mobility aids must travel with a companion who can assist them
  • Program Directors reserve the right to modify participation or send travelers home if their limitations impact the group’s experience

Terrain & Transportation

  • Uneven walking surfaces, including unpaved paths, hills, stairs, and cobblestones
  • Travel by 45- to 48-seat motorcoach, 4x4 vehicle, ferry, and cable car

Climate

  • Daytime temperatures range from 62-80°F during touring season
  • December-March are the warmest months

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens will need a visa (or visas) for this trip. In addition, there may be other entry requirements that also need to be met. For your convenience, we’ve included a quick reference list, organized by country:

  • South Africa: Visa not required.
  • Swaziland: Visa not required.
  • Zimbabwe (optional extension): Visa required.

Travelers who are booked on this vacation will be sent a complete Visa Packet— with instructions, applications, and a list of visa fees—approximately 100 days prior to their departure. (Because many countries limit the validity of their visa from the date it is issued, or have a specific time window for when you can apply, we do not recommend applying too early.)

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • The Capital on Bath

    Johannesburg, South Africa

    Located in Johannesburg’s upscale Rosebank district, the Capital on Bath hotel offers an idyllic setting with easy access to the bustle of the city. Guests enjoy amenities including a coffee shop, pool, and fitness room. Each room features complimentary wireless Internet access, laundry service, and private baths with hair dryers.

  • Nkambeni Safari Camp

    Kruger National Park, South Africa

    The Nkambeni Safari Camp is located within the grounds of Kruger National Park, giving you unparalleled access to the discoveries that the reserve has to offer. The camp features a swimming pool, as well as an onsite bar and restaurant, and your timber-and-canvas tented suite is appointed with air conditioning, private bathroom with shower, and self-help coffee station.

    Please Note: Select departures feature similar accommodations.

  • Mountain Inn

    Mbabane, Swaziland | Rating: First Class

    Just a few miles from Mbabane Center, the First-Class Mountain Inn offers scenic views of the Ezulwini Valley. Its unspoiled natural setting includes hiking trails and birding routes for guests, while the hotel’s hot tub and outdoor pool encourage relaxation. Each room includes satellite TV, refrigerator, and coffee- and tea-making facilities. The hotel also offers a fine dining restaurant, wireless Internet in common areas, and laundry service.

  • Bushlands Game Lodge

    Hluhluwe, Zululand, South Africa

    During your exploration of the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, you’ll be staying at the Bushlands Game Lodge, located near the park in an area surrounded by 300 acres of bush and game area. The lodge features a swimming pool, bar, dining area, and a viewing deck from which you can relax and watch animals gather at a nearby watering hole. Each air-conditioned room includes coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private baths, with hairdryers available upon request.

  • Protea Hotel Marine

    Port Elizabeth, South Africa | Rating: Moderate First Class

    Overlooking Algoa Bay on South Africa’s eastern coast, the Moderate First-Class Protea Hotel Marine is within walking distance of historic attractions and sandy beaches.

    Travelers may unwind in the cocktail bar, dine in the hotel restaurant, take a dip in the outdoor pool, or enjoy a workout in the health center. All rooms are air-conditioned and include telephone, cable/satellite TV, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and Internet access.

  • The Rex Hotel

    Knysna, South Africa

    Situated in Knysna—one of South Africa’s most scenic destinations—The Rex Hotel offers stylish, uncluttered accommodations within convenient walking distance to the waterfront. Each air-conditioned room comes equipped with a private bath, hair dryer, heated towel rack, and television. Spend your leisure time shopping at exclusive stores in the square, or gather with your fellow travelers at the hotel’s restaurant, DISH.

    Please Note: Select departures feature similar accommodations.

  • Protea Hotel President

    Cape Town, South Africa | Rating: First Class

    From its location in Cape Town’s Bantry Bay, the First-Class Protea Hotel President offers scenic views of the Atlantic Ocean and Lion’s Head, the famous hill near Table Mountain, from nearly all of its rooms. During your stay, perhaps you’ll dine at The Islands restaurant, sip sundowner cocktails in the hotel’s Senate Bar, or relax by the outdoor pool. Your air-conditioned room features direct-dial telephone, cable/satellite TV, in-room safe, minibar, and private bath with shower and hair dryer.

  • Wildside Safari Camp

    Entabeni Game Reserve, South Africa

    Designed to offer comfort in the midst of the African bush, the Wildside Safari Camp complements the natural beauty of Entabeni Game Reserve. Each of the 20 thatched-roof, tented chalets features a direct-dial telephone, ceiling fans, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer. Amenities include an outdoor swimming pool and open-air lounge/bar with a fire pit.

Extensions

  • Protea Hotel O.R. Tambo

    Johannesburg, South Africa

    Due to its proximity to O.R. Tambo Airport, the design of the hotel is inspired by an aircraft hangar, with a stylized industrial look that playfully incorporates elements of airplanes into the decor. Located in the Johannesburg suburb of Kempton Park, the hotel offers a shuttle to the nearby metro station and has a pool, bar, restaurant, and health club for your enjoyment. Each of the 213 air-conditioned rooms features satellite TV, wireless high-speed Internet, a safe, coffee- and tea-making facilities and private bath.

  • Wildside Safari Camp

    Entabeni Game Reserve, South Africa

    Designed to offer comfort in the midst of the African bush, the Wildside Safari Camp complements the natural beauty of Entabeni Game Reserve. Each of the 20 thatched-roof, tented chalets features a direct-dial telephone, ceiling fans, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer. Amenities include an outdoor swimming pool and open-air lounge/bar with a fire pit.

  • A'Zambezi River Lodge

    Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

    The A’Zambezi River Lodge enjoys a peaceful location in Victoria Falls on the bank of the Zambezi River, offering a place to enjoy the African countryside in quiet contemplation. The hotel features wireless Internet, on-site restaurant, and swimming pool, and each air-conditioned room includes satellite TV, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hairdryer.

Flight Information

Customize Your Trip

Whether you choose to take just a base trip or add an optional pre- and post-trip extension, you have many options when it comes to customizing your trip—and creating your own unique travel experience:

Purchase Flights with Grand Circle

  • Choose the departure city and airline that works best for you
  • Depart from one city and return to another
  • Upgrade your air itinerary based on your travel preferences
  • “Break away” before or after your trip to explore independently or re-energize
  • Combine two or more trips to make the most of your value—and avoid another long flight
  • Extend your discoveries with pre- or post-trip extensions

Make Your Own Arrangements

  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline
  • Purchase optional airport transfers to and from your hotel
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent flyer miles

OR, leave your air routing up to us and your airfare (as well as airport transfers) will be included in your final trip cost.

Estimated Flight Times

We understand that international travel has unique challenges including fewer airline choices and limited flight schedules. The chart below provides estimated travel times and the typical number of connections from popular departure cities to help you plan for your trip.

Please note that traveling to Johannesburg, and from Capetown, will require multiple connections, and these flight rigors should be taken into consideration.

What Makes This Trip Unique

Exclusive Discovery Series Events

  • Exclusive Discovery Series events
  • Swazi Cultural Experience. Learn about the Swazi people, during visits to crafts markets and workshops.
  • An Afternoon With the Zulu. Spend time with the Zulu people, and enjoy a special lunch and cultural performance.
  • Home-Hosted Dinner. Experience everyday life in Cape Town as you share a meal with a local family.

Behind-the-scenes game-viewing drives

  • With 2 optional and 3 included game-viewing drives through historic parks, you'll enjoy plenty of opportunities to get a closer look at South African wildlife.

Partner since: 2011
Total donated: $41,085

Supporting a World Classroom: South Africa

By seeing how children are cared for all over the world, we gain a rare understanding of different cultural values—as well as the common values that unite us all. When you visit South Africa, we bring you into a local children's center supported by Grand Circle Foundation and introduce you to South Africa's future.

"We went to the Mbabane craft market and bought fresh fruit and vegetables for the Fontein Social Care Center children we were going to visit. That was a moving highlight for us, personally. The children were so beautiful, and they sang for us in very sweet voices."

Gary Kirschner
Larkspur, California

George Mhaule Primary School

Partner since: 2011 • Total donated: $28,655

touch the lives of south africa youth

When you travel to South Africa with Grand Circle, you'll get the chance to interact and inspire the next generation at the George Mhaule Primary School. Grand Circle Foundation recently partnered with this school, and with the help of donations, hope to fund the addition of an administrative building. When the school's in session, you'll have the opportunity to see the school, meet the students, and get a sense of the targeted improvements for yourself.

School in session:

Year-round

Gifts to bring if you're visiting:

  • Clothing
  • Basic toileties (toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, etc.)
  • Educational books
Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

Read More

10 reasons to experience Highlights of South Africa—in the words of our travelers

We often find that the best endorsements of our discovery-rich vacations come directly from our travelers. From exotic animal encounters to cascading waterfalls and majestic canyons, here are some of the memorable experiences that they have shared with us from our South Africa tour.

Scenic landscapes
"The ride up to the Table Mountain gave us a panoramic view of Capetown, and the ride up to the top of Cape Point gave us another wonderful panoramic view of the East and West coasts of South Africa ... the landscapes and coastal scenes in South Africa were out of this world."
A 3-time traveler from Port Orange, FL

Program Director
"On a scale of 1-10, John Finch is a 20. He is extremely knowledgeable and imparts this. Very enthusiastic, always looked for ways to add experiences. All our discoveries have been wonderful—John has been the best!"
A 6-time traveler from Lorton, VA

Big Five Bush Safari, South Africa pre-trip extension
"It was one of the greatest experiences of our lives ... To be with those magnificent animals running free, and vicariously feeling their freedom and their joy was very special to us—we couldn’t believe how close up and personal our interfacing with lions, rhinos, elephants, Cape buffalo, and finally the leopard, putting us in the big five club after four days ... We will never forget Entabeni. The images are indelibly etched in our minds."
A first-time traveler from Weaverville, NC

Kruger National Park
"The game drives in Kruger were my favorite part of the trip. It filled my soul to be outside seeing all the animals and the wonders of nature."
A first-time traveler from Bossier City, LA

Cape Town
"Cape Town was the very best and a great cosmopolitan city. Went to Table Mountain on arrival and stayed for sunset. Beautiful ... the city is so wonderful with great shopping, restaurants, and entertainment."
A 17-time traveler from Seven Hills, OH

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe post-trip extension
"Couldn't go to Africa without seeing Victoria Falls; so, the post trip was a plus ... the walk around the Falls was perfect. Great pictures with rainbows! The sunset cruise on the Zambezi River was well worth it. Lots of hippos on this ride. Bartering at the market in Zimbabwe was fun.'"
A 3-time traveler from Greenwood, IN

Home-Hosted Dinner
"In a modest community on the outskirts of Cape Town, a sit-down meal was awaiting eight of us, as a young mixed-marriage couple (with a 5-year-old son) began our long-awaited Home-Hosted Dinner—the crowning jewel of each Grand Circle tour. We learned about their daily lives, their jobs and their dreams of ‘moving up.’ ... Warm, delightful people and the meal—what they might eat on a Sunday—delicious, and a night to remember."
A 4-time traveler from Colorado Springs, CO

Featherbed Nature Reserve
"A highlight was the Featherbed Lodge nature preserve at the headlands of the Knysna River and the Indian Ocean, which featured high atop the cliff views/picture opportunities and a long hike down to the sea, followed by a great lunch; the caves were extraordinary."
A 4-time traveler from Toms River, NJ

Cape Town Townships optional tour
"The Township tour is a must-see to give you a more complete perspective of the social/economic disparity between the haves and have-nots. It was also very interesting to hear our local guides discuss their views on the political situation in South Africa."
A 2-time traveler from Northbrook, IL

Wildlife
"We had 5 safaris, saw a herd of elephants and a herd of Cape buffalo pass in front of our vehicle, as well as having a huge lioness pass silently on my side of the vehicle. Seeing both the black and white rhinos and learning about their habits was as interesting as seeing giraffes, zebra, hippos, hundreds of different birds, impala, kudu, and more."
A 5-time traveler from Surprise, AZ

For reservations and information about our South Africa tour, call us toll-free at 1-800-221-2610

Photos From Our Travelers

On location in South Africa

Here’s how Grand Circle travelers have captured moments of discovery, beauty, friendship, and fun on previous departures of our Highlights of South Africa vacation. We hope these will evoke special travel memories and inspire you to submit your own favorite Grand Circle Travel trip photos.

   

Bucking broncos have nothing on the speed and strength of an ostrich, as Lillian Stoff, 17-time traveler from Mamaroneck, New York, discovered during a visit to Oudthshoorn, once the world’s leading supplier of ostrich feathers. Nancy Becker, first-time traveler from Princeton, New Jersey, was on-hand to capture the ride of a lifetime.

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How to submit your photos:

Please submit individual photos in jpeg format to: GCTtravelerphotos@gct.com.

Please be sure to include the name of your Grand Circle vacation, along with the travel dates. Tell us where you took the photo and, if you’d like, tell us why. And don’t forget to include your name and contact information.

Please note: By submitting a photo, you (i) represent and warrant that the photo is your original work created solely by yourself and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any party; (ii) grant to Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, in any and all related media whether now known or hereafter devised, in perpetuity, anywhere in the world, with the right to make any and all commercial or other uses thereof, including without limitation, reproducing, editing, modifying, adapting, publishing, displaying publicly, creating derivative works from, incorporating into other works or modifying the photo and (iii) hereby release and discharge Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates, officers and employees from and against any and all claims, liabilities, costs, damages and expenses of any kind arising out of or relating to the use by Grand Circle LLC of any photo submitted.

History, Culture & More

Learn more about the history, art, culture, and more you’ll discover on this trip by reading the features below. These articles were collected from past newsletters, Harriet’s Corner, and special features created for Grand Circle by our team of writers.

A Traveler’s Impressions of South Africa

When 6-time traveler Ron Wetherington journeyed to South Africa, he came back with these memories.

Read More »

Highlights of South Africa’s National Parks

Find out what makes a few of the parks you’ll visit on this Land Tour so very special.

Read More »

Zulu Folk Tales: Once upon a time …

Learn about the proud history of the art of traditional Zulu storytelling.

Read More »

History, Culture & More

A Traveler’s Impressions of South Africa

Safari & spectacle from Johannesburg to Cape Town

by Ron Wetherington, 6-time traveler, Ocala, Florida

I could barely believe I was standing there, feeling transported somehow to another time on another planet.

Ron Wetherington experienced our Highlights of South Africa Land Tour. Below are some of his thoughts and impressions of this region—excerpted from an article originally published in Ocala magazine.

Johannesburg

On Day One we toured Johannesburg, visiting the Apartheid Museum, devoted to the struggle for independence and including many print, photo, and film exhibits illustrating the life and achievements of Nelson Mandela. I admit that I was surprised by the racism that is prevalent between the Afrikaaners, English, and the blacks who are sandwiched in the middle, and by how the terrible slums around Johannesburg looked as bad as anything I have seen in the world. The contrast of tradition and modernity served as a poignant symbol of this country’s continuing struggle with apartheid.

Swaziland

We continued from Kruger National Park to the border of Swaziland. An independent nation since 1968, Swaziland originated as a British protectorate in the 19th century. Today, this peaceful, agricultural country has a population of roughly 800,000. As we followed the Drakensberg Mountains, we passed manicured sugar plantations on our way to Mbabane, the capital of the Kingdom of Swaziland.

Port Elizabeth

Continuing our drive to Port Stanley, we checked into a modern, marble-faced hotel overlooking the beachfront. A visiting soccer team created a disturbance, but we were eventually left in peace and luxury upon their departure the next morning. The city offers many historical attractions—including the Historic Donkin Heritage Trail, which allows the visitor to follow in the footsteps of the 1820 settlers. The trail winds for several miles past more than 40 historical sites and architectural gems in the Old Hill area of central Port Elizabeth. We chose to stroll St. George’s Park, home to the world-famous Port Elizabeth Cricket Club.

Continuing our wildlife trek, we traveled to Oudtshoorn, where we visited Cango Wildlife Ranch, the world’s oldest and largest cheetah reserve. The ranch offers a rare opportunity to observe this endangered species and learn about conservation efforts. After a briefing by the staff, I was allowed to enter the cheetah enclosure to interact with the animals. I was understandably leery, but when I patted the male cheetah on the head, he rolled over to let me stroke his chest and stomach, just like a big house cat!

Cape Town

The Garden Route to Cape Town and on to historic Mossel Bay was the most scenic part of the trip. The bay is where Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias was the first European to land in South Africa in 1488. We welcomed a stop in Swellendam for lunch. Swellendam is the third-oldest town in South Africa after Cape Town and Stellenbosch, and the museum, a former outpost of the Dutch East India Company, is an example of a historic Cape Dutch building, housing historic furniture, art and an old jail. We later took the tram up Table Mountain for a beautiful sunset.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

We were up early at 4am to catch the flight to Victoria Falls via Johannesburg. After a very long day, we discovered that it was well worth the time and the effort.

We continued immediately in the afternoon to Victoria Falls, donning ponchos to protect us from the spray at the Falls’ edge. Some thrill-seekers are brave enough (or crazy enough) to bungee jump into the canyon from the heights of the waterfalls. What a sight, one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World, and I could barely believe I was standing there, feeling transported somehow to another time on another planet.

Botswana

The final safari of the trip was also the best, in Chobe National Park, Botswana. We came upon a place at the Chobe River, and I felt as though I had stumbled into the Garden of Eden. It was truly the most beautiful spot on earth that I have ever had the pleasure to witness. According to our Program Director, she came upon a bend in the Chobe River years ago, and found it the most romantic place she has ever seen. She discovered that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had been married for the second time on this very spot. No wonder it is considered the most beautiful place in Botswana!

TThat night, we closed out our trip’s itinerary with an authentic boma dinner, which included a show featuring the culture of the Matabele tribe. We were mesmerized by their elaborate painted masks, ornate costumes, musical instruments, and dancing. After beginning with a sampling of traditional beer and snacks, we enjoyed dining on a variety of game meats and Zimbabwean dishes. The Sangoma (storyteller) entertained us, and the local witch doctor was available for fortune telling, although I will keep his prophecies secret to myself.

History, Culture & More

Highlights of South Africa’s National Parks

by Bob Hammerling

South Africa is home to some of the world’s most exciting wilderness and wildlife, and the nation is extremely dedicated to keeping it safe, with more than 20 national parks covering approximately 4% of the country’s landmass. We’ve chosen a handful of essential national parks and game reserves for you to experience: Read on to learn more about what makes some of them so unique.

Kruger National Park

South Africa’s first and finest

First set aside as protected land in 1898, Kruger is South Africa’s oldest national park, and still its most notable.

Covering an area of more than 7,500 square miles, Kruger National Park is the size of a small country, and provides an unparalleled introduction to South Africa’s wildlife. Within its borders, you’ll find six unique ecosystems, which are home to a staggering amount of life, including 336 species of tree, 147 mammals (more than any other park in Africa), and 507 species of bird. One day’s not enough to take it in—that’s why we give you two.

A birdwatcher’s paradise

Kruger National Park is home to more than half of the recorded species in all of South Africa, including the “Big Six” (an appellation invented for famous birds found in Kruger National Park alone): the kori bustard, martial eagle, lappet-faced vulture, pel’s fishing owl, saddle-billed stork, and southern ground hornbill.

There’s no such thing as a bad time of year for birdwatching in Kruger, but, the ideal time for a birder to visit is between November and April, when approximately 200 species of migratory birds from Europe, Asia, and North Africa make the game reserve their winter home.

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve

Located in the heart of Zulu territory, these wildlife-rich lands were originally protected by King Shaka as the royal hunting grounds for himself and his warriors. Today, the land is set aside for an opposite purpose: The conservation of some of Africa’s most precious species.

The last refuge of the Wild Dog

The African Wild Dog was hunted nearly to extinction by farmers who considered them a nuisance—only a little more than 400 of them survive today in South Africa. Spotting a pack of Wild Dogs is one the rarest safari experiences you can enjoy—and Hluhluhwe-Umfolozi is one of the best places to find them, owing to the efforts of dedicated park researchers who observe and do their best to propagate the species. Keep your eye out for packs of these highly social predators as you travel, and don’t miss the chance to observe their surprisingly intelligent behavior.

Saving the white rhino from extinction

If you spot a white rhinoceros during your travels in South Africa, be sure to take a moment and thank the conservations of Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve.

In the late 19th century, only 20 white rhinos remained in the world—all of them located in the boundaries of what would soon be protected as Hluhluwe-Umfolozi. After a few decades of dedicated conservation efforts, the species had replenished and it was time to commence “Operation Rhino:” an ambitious effort to translocate the mighty animal—with the use of helicopters, strong trucks and even stronger tranquilizers—to other parks throughout South Africa and neighboring countries. To date, more than 20,000 white rhinos live in the world today.

Entabeni Game Reserve

The Big Five in a small package

Entabeni is a private game reserve, covering a comparatively small 85 square mile area. On our Big Five Bush Safari pre-trip extension, you’ll embark on six separate game viewing drives over a period of three days, showing off the park’s five distinct ecosystems at different times of day to give you the complete safari experience.

This gives you plenty of chances to spot the Big Five—cape buffalo, elephant, lion, rhino, and leopard—as well as hundreds of other species.

Fall asleep to the sounds of the bush

You’ll be staying in a comfortable thatched-roof tented chalet located directly on the grounds of the game reserve, allowing you to make rare finds on early-morning expeditions—perhaps you’ll glimpse nocturnal predators at work—and to stare up into the unpolluted starry sky at night. You might even have the chance to spot animals from the comfort of your lodge.

History, Culture & More

Zulu Folk Tales

Once upon a time ...

by Jerry O’Brien from Insider

South African storytellers of old would say that the tales they shared with their listeners were not of their own creation. Instead, the stories came to them on the wind, they said, from a place somewhere behind a mountain, overtaking them as they rested by the side of the road during a long journey. More than mere modesty, this myth of the origin of storytelling itself ascribes to a force beyond humankind: the human impulse to tell stories, to share wisdom, to continue a legacy—ultimately, to prove that we are here. Stories arrive from elsewhere, as a gift—but a gift that arrives to one who is willing and prepared to receive.

This sense of connectedness, of rootedness, is at the heart of Zulu folk tales. And this quality ties to their anonymity. The concept of individual ownership of a story is alien among the Zulu, who believe that attribution belongs to a collective genius. For centuries, the Zulu storyteller—usually a grandmother or an older aunt—would meet her audience personally, gathering with all the members of the homestead. One of the great advantages of the oral tradition, in any society, is its flexibility. The teller adds her own sense of drama, of atmosphere, of style with each retelling, making every event unique.

It takes a village to raise a tall tale

In some South African tribes, cultural anthropologists have found that the teller is assisted by as many as six tribe members, who might add sound effects (birdcalls, the sound of the rushing wind) or actually perform dialogue, making the telling quite similar to our radio dramas of old and to the contemporary radio program A Prairie Home Companion. The men, women, and children in the audience are permitted to participate, too, and even allowed to interrupt the story narrative with questions, giving the teller the opportunity to insert digressions. Some of these insertions to the main story would be very familiar to the audience and would prompt great feelings of anticipation and satisfaction. Remember when Johnny Carson, in his Tonight Show monologues, would say it was really cold? The studio audience and those of us watching at home were ready to shout, “How cold was it?” We’d expect a funny line to follow (“It was so cold that ...”), and it would. The narrative principle is exactly the same.

Zulus speak one of the southern Bantu languages, and common among this language group is the understanding that iintsomi—fictitious tales like those about mythological figures—cannot be told during the daytime. The day is the time for food-gathering and other essential work activities. To tell these stories during the day would jeopardize the welfare of the group. In fact, Zulus believed that anyone who violated this prohibition would grow horns.

An ambitious mission to preserve oral traditions

The gradual European conquest and eventual colonization of southern Africa had dramatic effects on all aspects of native life. The Zulu felt these changes with particular harshness in the wake of the British battle victories of 1879, which destroyed the Zulu state, led to the confiscation of their land, and in time shackled them with apartheid. With the loss of land, family members migrated to cities to find work, which in turn deprived storytellers of their audiences. Centuries of oral tradition were jeopardized with extinction.

It was in this setting that a new generation of storytellers emerged—academically trained writers who collected the old tales, scouring the former Zulu lands for storytellers and recording their stories before they disappeared. Notable among these is A.C. Jordan, who was born in Mbokothwana Mission in 1908. Jordan was inspired to rediscover his own South African storytelling heritage after lecturing on classical Greek mythology. His 1973 book, Tales from South Africa, is an invaluable collection.

Common themes of Zulu folktales

Zulu folk tales display nature as an active force, regenerative, vindictive, or ennobling, depending on the behavior of the protagonist. In many of the tales—as in the European folk tales of the Brothers Grimm and the Scandinavian fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen—a youth of humble origin seeks the hand of a beautiful princess and must pass through a series of difficult tests before winning the approval of the king and the love of the princess. In other tales, devious servants put on the clothes of the royal family and temporarily become great, before ultimately being punished and sent back to their proper social status.

In “The House in the Middle of the Road”—retold by Verna Aardema in Behind the Back of the Mountain: Black Folktales from Southern Africa—a widow named Unanana leaves her two small children with a young girl named Nontando while she goes out to hunt for wild potatoes. Unanana shares with the girl a magic saying—“These are the children of Unanana. They are protected by her magic power.”—that will protect them from attacking animals. In turn, a baboon, a leopard, and a lion come by and are sent back by the magic saying. As one part goes:

Unanana was no sooner out of sight than a baboon came along. He said, “Whose fat children are those?”

“They belong to Unanana,” said Nontando. “They are protected by her magic power.”

“They are beautiful,” said the baboon. “If they were not Unanana’s I would carry them off.”

An elephant with one tusk arrives and, immune to the magic saying, gobbles up the children as Nontando climbs up a tree for safety. When Unanana returns with her potatoes, she hears what has happened, so she sets out with a knife and a bowl of amasi (similar to cottage cheese) to recover her children. As she hunts the one-tusked elephant, the baboon, leopard, and lion help her. She finally finds the elephant, who gobbles her up whole:

When Unanana reached the stomach of the beast, she found trees, plants, people, dogs, and goats that had been swallowed. And sitting under a bush, all huddled together, were her own children. She fed them the amasi, for they were very hungry.

Then Unanana took her knife and cut a great slit between the rib bones of the elephant. The beast fell dead, and people and dogs and goats rushed out of the opening.

In honor of her bravery, the people whom Unanana saved “kept bringing gifts to the house in the middle of the road. So Unanana and her children became very rich.”

We can only imagine the different voices the storyteller would use for the characters, her sense of drama, her playfulness, her rich descriptions and expressive body language. How wonderful it must have been for Zulu children to experience collective storytelling—how tragic that their living heritage was torn from them. Fortunately, thanks to the lifelong work of A.C. Jordan and many others, we have a link with an ever-receding past.

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