One topic I love to write about is travel – not only to share my experiences, but also to hear what all of your fave destinations are and add them to my growing bucket list. Travel is what motivates and inspires me the most, and my perspective changes with each and every journey. Whether it’s a quick road trip to Austin or a flight halfway around the world, I need to have a trip (big or small) on my calendar at all times. What’s made me love travel even more is being able to explore the world with my partner-in-crime and now-husband, Nick. I’m so excited to share some of our favorite destinations, but before any more time goes by I have to tell you about our absolutely life-changing honeymoon to South Africa. If you ever have the chance to visit this incredible country, you must.
For those of you looking for general guidance on how to structure your South Africa trip, I’ve got you covered. This overview of why to go, when to go, & how we laid out our itinerary. If you’re interested in all the details (where to stay, eat, drink & how to spend your time) I’ll be making this a 4-part series with a post dedicated to each destination – Safari, Cape Town & The Winelands. Stay tuned for those!
Why South Africa?
Choosing a honeymoon destination can be tough, as many of you may know. We wanted to take a full two weeks, so we wanted to go somewhere truly epic & once-in-a-lifetime. We knew it might be awhile before we were able to take that much time away from work again (without being shamed – you can’t vacation-shame a honeymooner.) We wanted to incorporate some elements of relaxation, but we both really wanted adventure + a unique cultural experience. We toyed with the idea of Bali, Bora Bora or New Zealand – all places that are still on our bucket list – but once we started diving into research around South Africa, we couldn’t believe how perfectly it encapsulated every.single.thing we were looking for. While it was ideal for our honeymoon, South Africa is genuinely the perfect destination for any wanderluster looking for the following…
1.) ADVENTURE ADVENTURE ADVENTURE
Whether it’s safari in the bush, hiking Table Mountain, cage diving with sharks, or exploring the penguin colony at Boulders Beach, there are endless opportunities for extraordinary experiences that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
2.) OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD BEAUTY
To say the scenery in South Africa is stunning would be a massive understatement. From the dusty clay and elephant-trampled trees in the bush, to the beautiful coastline of Cape Town, to the lush greenery of wine country, you can experience a completely different landscape every.single.day.
3.) ALL THE FOOD + WINE + CULTURE
The food scene in this country is INSANE (Cape Town has some of the best restaurants in the world) and if you’re a wine lover like me, you cannot miss South African wine country. It’s up there with Napa, guys. Seriously.
4.) THE CONVERSION RATE
The U.S. dollar is incredibly strong in South Africa right now. (Currently: 1 USD = 12 ZAR) Although the flight can be expensive, you’ll be able to stay in the most fabulous hotels and eat & drink to your heart’s content without breaking the bank. Dream. Come. True.
Nick and I truly LOVE researching & planning travel on our own, but with the wedding planning happening simultaneously, we enlisted the help of a boutique luxury travel group called Scott Dunn to help us map out our itinerary. Nick and I are VERY particular about everything when we travel – we know exactly what we like and never want a cookie-cutter, tourist-y experience. That being said, we were wary of leaning on someone else’s recommendations and relinquishing a bit of control. BUT, we could not have been more pleased with every aspect of the Scott Dunn experience. If you’re looking for a stress-free planning experience, I wholeheartedly recommend their team.
We set up a call with one of Scott Dunn’s South Africa experts, Annie (the best!), who made an effort to genuinely get to know us (i.e. where we’ve traveled before, what we like to do, what type of experience / overall vibe we were looking for, and what our budget was.) We eventually landed on a three-part journey including Safari, Cape Town and the Winelands. Every single place we stayed was absolute MAGIC – I can’t wait to tell you all about it.
When to go
Winter: June to August // The whale migration starts around July, so if you’re into whale-watching this would be a great time to visit. This can be a rainy time of year, but keep in mind the average winter temp is 60ish degrees which is pretty comfortable for most people.
Spring: September to November // We went the second half of November, and this was ideal weather for us. It was never unbearably hot or cold (truthfully we got bits of all 4 seasons while we were there!) which made safari, exploring Cape Town and wine touring really comfortable. It wasn’t exactly “beach weather,” which was totally fine with us, since we didn’t come for that kind of experience, but if you’re looking for a sunbathing situation in Cape Town you may want to look into December or later. My wardrobe advice for this time of year – layer, layer, layer!
Summer: December to March // This is the high season, so expect pricier hotels and flights, but this is your best bet if you’re really looking for that consistently warm weather. That said, this also comes with crowds and potentially uncomfortable heat.
Fall: April to May // This would be a beautiful time to visit as well – likely still warm but not baking heat. Truth be told, I don’t think there’s a bad time to visit South Africa. Each season just brings out a different version of the country’s beauty.
Days: 1 night (Sunday)
I won’t lie, getting to South Africa ain’t a breeze and can be pricey, but it is worth every hour and every penny (especially because once you get there, your dollar goes SO SO FAR). If you can make it work, I suggest knocking out the journey with a nonstop flight. We took a Delta flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, and there’s also a direct flight on South African Airways from JFK. These long-haul flights can be taxing, but I enjoyed having 16 hours to myself to sleep off my post-wedding exhaustion & eat all the food. Also loved watching unlimited episodes of Law & Order SVU + The Lion King (if you don’t watch The Lion King en route to Africa then what is even the point).
Compression socks + tons of water + an inflight skincare routinemake all the difference on these flights. Nick pretended not to know me when I pulled out the peel pads, face oils & hydrating mists (he loves me) but I felt refreshed & glowy post-flight so YOU’RE WELCOME NICK.
Days: 1 night (Monday)
We departed Atlanta around 7pm on a Sunday night and landed in Johannesburg around 5pm local time the following Monday (this is about a 15h flight.) We weren’t able to explore Johannesburg since it was a quick one-night stopover, but if you have the time I encourage you to give this city a second look. In the last year, it’s undergone an incredible transformation and is becoming a trendy hotspot for art, food and culture.
STAY // Intercontinental Johannesburg, O.R. Tambo Airport – This hotel is right next to the airport (you don’t need a taxi, it’s adjacent to the terminal). I have an aversion to airport hotels (obvi) but this venue was clearly designed for the business traveler with discerning taste. It was elegant, pristine, and sophisticated with an incredibly friendly staff. It was a perfect mini-retreat for a much-needed bubble bath & good night’s sleep before heading off to safari-land. Highly recommend for a quick stopover.
Days: 3 nights (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday)
Vibe: Remote, tranquil, awe-inspiring
STAY // Garonga Safari Camp
We woke up well-rested on Tuesday morning and boarded our 10am flight to Hoedspruit. We touched down around 11:30am (quick & easy flight) and Scott Dunn’s team had a driver waiting to transport us to Garonga Safari Camp.
The drive from the airport to the camp was about 1.5 hours, most of it on a rugged dirt road as we drove deeper into Garonga’s private game reserve. We couldn’t believe how much wildlife we encountered on the drive alone. The camp was spectacular, with just 6 luxury tents surrounding a central “common” area, featuring a gorgeous little pool + deck with open-air lounge seating. All of this overlooked a watering hole, where we’d watch animals (elephants, giraffe, zebra) come for a drink while we enjoyed our morning coffee or a glass of rosé by the pool (so, so dreamy).
For a more detailed look at a day in the life on safari, stay tuned for my full post on our Garonga Safari Camp experience coming soon.
Days: 5 nights (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday)
Vibe: Cosmopolitan, rich in culture, modern, stylish + cool af
After spending the earlier part of the week embracing mother nature on safari & feeling completely removed from the world, the energy of Cape Town hit us like a double-shot of espresso (in the most incredible possible way.) This vibrant city feels like a San Francisco with European sensibilities. The city is one of the most culturally diverse melting pots in the world, and different neighborhoods often have completely different architectural, epicurean and cultural vibes. We took a morning flight from Hoedspruit to Cape Town (2h 50m) and were whisked away to our hotel by another friendly-faced driver pre-arranged by our friends at Scott Dunn.
For a full overview of where to stay, eat, drink & explore in Cape Town, read my no-detail-spared post – coming soon!
The Winelands (Franschhoek & Stellenbosch)
Days: 2 nights (Wednesday, Thursday)
Vibe: Laidback, European countryside-chic
This place was pure bliss. The Winelands are just 45 minutes outside of Cape Town, so you can absolutely make this a day trip if you’re short on time, but I’m so glad we were able to dedicate two nights to this magical place. We stayed in the small town of Franschhoek, which we loved, and there are also beautiful wineries and hotels in the neighboring town of Stellenbosch. The two towns are super close to each other – a Napa & Sonoma type of vibe -and there are endless wineries to explore. Be on the lookout for a more detailed post on this destination!
Days: 1 night (Friday)
Route: Franschhoek » Cape Town » Johannesburg » Atlanta
We easily could have spent several more days in the wine country, but it was nice to have a half day on Friday to enjoy a leisurely breakfast at our hotel, a late-morning wine tasting and one last stroll through the gardens. After a late lunch, we had a driver take us to the Cape Town airport where we flew to Johannesburg to catch our evening flight to Atlanta.
There are so many ways you can structure your trip to South Africa – some travelers we met stayed a few days in Hermanus for whale watching and some finished their trip with a week lounging on the beautiful beaches of Mauritius – all of which would be AMAZING. I hope this is a helpful overview if you’re planning a trip, and if you have additional questions at all, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me via email or Instagram! I’d love nothing more than to help make your trip as memorable as ours was.
Have you been to South Africa? Would love to hear your tips in the comments below (because I’m already mentally planning our next trip, obvi.)