South Africa is huge — roughly eight times the size of Florida — and you’d reasonably need nearly three weeks to leisurely cover it all. To help you construct a feasible travel itinerary, we’ve broken a country with nine provinces down into the “Big 5” visit-worthy zones — Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, The Garden Route and Kruger National Park — and provided advice on where to stay and play in each.
JOHANNESBURG / Stay: 3-4 nights
Most American travelers fly into Johannesburg on South African Airways from either New York (JFK) or Washington, D.C. (Dulles). The half-day flight is best spent on a coveted business-class bed, which sets you off on the right (well rested) foot when you touch down in Africa. You’re seven hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time now, so give yourself that first day to adjust — perhaps visit the Cullinan Diamond Mine in Pretoria or play the brand new Jack Nicklaus-designed Club at Steyn City (steyncity.co.za.html) — and crash early.
Stay and Play
The Saxon Hotel (saxon.co.za) is one of the highest rated establishments in the world — a plush pad ideal for your arrival and perhaps even (eventual) departure nights. It was where Nobel Prize winner (and former South African president) Nelson Mandela penned his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.
Golfers and safari seekers should strongly consider a short ride to (and a couple of nights at) the luxurious 220-suite Legend Golf and Safari Resort (legendhospitality.co.za), where a private safari paradise surrounds a wildlife-loaded championship golf course designed by 18 different golf legends. (We literally had to wait for a herd of zebra to clear the 9th green.) The property also features a superb spa, a 10-hole, par 3 tribute course and the world famous Extreme 19th— a par 3 that requires a helicopter ride to reach the tee box. Golf Director Pete Richardson is an employable golf caddy and qualified safari guide. A couple cold bottles of Castle beer buy you a humorous few hours on a unique course with a knowledgeable and perfectionist host. Well worth making the invitation.
DURBAN / Stay: 3 nights
Stay and Play
The Oyster Box Hotel (oysterboxhotel.com) is a world-class, five-star luxury lodge majestically perched on the glorious Umhlanga beachfront, panoramically overlooking the Indian Ocean. With an award-winning spa, fantastic service, Africa’s best breakfast buffet and several unforgettable dining rooms — including the “can’t miss” Lighthouse Bar — you’ll never want to leave this place. Try the famous Durban Bunny Chow.
Shoppers are a short drive from the Gateway Theatre of Shopping (gatewayworld.co.za), the southern hemisphere’s largest mall; golfers need to venture over to Durban Country Club (dcclub.co.za) and foodies/wine lovers should pull up to a table at PGA legend Ernie Els’ brand new (opened January 2016) Big Easy restaurant (bigeasydurban.co.za) and pop the cork on a bottle or two of his personal line.
CAPE TOWN / Stay: 4 nights
Split your stay between downtown and the historic waterfront in the tourism heart of South Africa, where you’ll find at least 15 five-star hotels.
Stay and Play
Spend your first two nights at the Taj Hotel (tajcapetown.co.za), with its incredible service and breakfasts, by the shopper-friendly Long Street and Green Market Square. Then take the complimentary Taj shuttle down to Table Bay Hotel (suninternational.com/table-bay) adjacent to the Victoria Wharf, with more than 80 restaurants, and spend your last two nights in Cape Town on the Atlantic.
Enjoy a morning cable car ride up the eighth Wonder of the World, Table Mountain (tablemountain.net), South Africa’s most photographed attraction, and/or spend an afternoon diving in Shark Alley with the great whites at Gansbaai (sharkcagediving.co.za). Steenberg Farm (steenbergfarm.com) offers a great wine tasting experience (try the Catharina), and no trip to Cape Town would be complete without a “best in the world, I swear” milkshake at Royale Eatery on Long Street (royaleeatery.com) and a visit to Robben Island (robben-island.org.za), where Nelson Mandela was held for 17 of his 27 years in captivity. Golf? Consider a round at Arabella (africanpridehotels.com) and/or the Jack Nicklaus-designed Pearl Valley (pearlvalley.co.za).
THE GARDEN ROUTE / Stay: 2 nights
Stay and Play
Surfers flock to Supertubes in Jeffreys Bay, one of the world’s premier surf breaks, and they fearlessly fling themselves off the planet’s highest bungee bridge at Bloukrans (faceadrenalin.com). But golfers reap the greatest rewards at the spectacular Fancourt resort (fancourt.com), where Gary Player’s Links Course might actually be Africa’s greatest design and is “A Top 50 in the World play,” according to Golf Digest. Spend your nights in absolute comfort at Fancourt, and don’t overlook Pinnacle Point (pinnaclepointestate.co.za), for some cliffside Atlantic golf thrills.
KRUGER NATIONAL PARK / Stay: 2 nights
One of Africa’s largest game preserves at 7,500 square miles, Kruger (krugerpark.co.za) not only hosts all of the popular “Big 5” animals (elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards and buffalo), but also more than a dozen safari lodges that will gladly give you an up-close and comfortable tour of their authentic African animal arena.
Stay and Play
You’ll find fantastic hospitality and comfortable rooms at Jock Safari Lodge (jocksafarilodge.com). Insist on taking a morning and evening Safari. While you may or may not see a leopard, golfers can at least tangle with the big cat through a Stay and Play package with Leopard Creek (leopardcreek.co.za), a first-class and otherwise private luxury golf experience.
Each of the five zones listed has its own airport — the most convenient way to travel between them. Pick and choose from the zones based on what attracts you most (and how much time you have) and get ready for a once-in-a-lifetime experience in a land with so much you won’t expect, and even more you won’t forget.