The Whistletrip:  Itinerary 

Why Go

When I was a kid growing up in London, watching David Attenborough’s weekly nature documentaries on the BBC was practically a national tradition.  Now famous worldwide for his jawdropping Planet Earth series, his pre-Millennium footage of elephants roaming and insects scuttling sparked a dream to go into the wild that lasted into adulthood.

  • Convenience:  South Africa offers an extremely accessible destination in which to experience a unique safari.  Options range from self-drive journeys through the more than 7,500 square miles of Kruger National Park, to ultra high end lodges providing bespoke guided sightings in vast private game reserves.  Direct overnight flights to Johannesburg and Cape Town from the US and Europe mean transit is manageable.
  • Great Outdoors:  For an avid hiker with a long-held desire to see penguins preening (thank you again, David Attenborough), kicking off from Cape Town is incredible.  Long trails offer satisfying walks to the top of Table Mountain,  while the Cape of Good Hope reserve provides spectacular cliff-top paths looking out across not just one ocean, but two.  Boulder Beach has penguins nestled as close as right underfoot, beneath a visitors’ boardwalk.
  • Vino:  The Stellenbosch region is just over an hour from the city and appeals not only to wine lovers, but to any fan of stunning views of vineyards nestled into sweeping mountainsides.  Not to mention farm fresh meals, unique Cape Dutch architecture and bohemian galleries.
  • Solo Travel:  This whistletrip itinerary would be one of my top picks for a solo traveler.  Cape Town is bustling, more safely navigable than ever thanks to Uber, and day trips are easy either through self-drive or with tour groups.  Safari is an inescapably social experience: guests are grouped into vehicles holding up to 6 passengers who spend whole days together.  Happy hours are the norm and, at the luxury lodges, rangers dine with solos (who are paying large single supplements).
  • Family Trip:  For older kids, this whistletrip is a life-changing experience.  Cape Town and its surrounds offer something for everyone to enjoy, plus all the big city amenities a family may need.  Safari is never boring – and for parents, its fixed full-day schedule, all inclusive meals, laundry services and patient rangers happy to field endless questions mean that the work required for a smooth family vacation rests in other people’s hands.

To Travel Agent or Not To Travel Agent

Not that simple.  It is absolutely possible to plan the Cape Town leg independently, and to book safari lodges directly with their operators.  I started down this path until a very experienced safari traveler wisely suggested that I talk to an agent-combined-with-lodge-operator – the logic being that channeling spend through a team on the ground would likely surface seamless transit between lodges and complimentary private guides.

I took a hybrid approach – booking 3 nights in Cape Town directly with a hotel, then booking drivers for two days around the city plus two safari lodges through &Beyond.   My safari guru was right … from &Beyond’s brilliant recommendations on which city hotel to book and why (knowing they would get no commission) to flawless service throughout the 7 days.

Practical Planning

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Leopard close to Ngala Tented Camp © The Whistletrip
  • Mobilize:  I flew direct to Cape Town from London on British Airways while my fellow whistletripper flew direct flight from New York to Johannesburg on South African Airways followed by a short connection to Cape Town.  South Africa is a perfect whistletrip destination from both international cities since the 11 to 14 hour flights are overnight, facilitating long sleep.  Starting in London is particularly easy since it is in roughly the same time zone as South Africa.
  • Schedule:  Safari involves up to 12 hours of sitting each day.  Since exercising is not practical at the lodges, an active 3 days in and around Cape Town at the start of the week makes for a balanced schedule.  For the 4-night safari itinerary, &Beyond’s advice to stay at two different camps was absolutely right.  Both were fabulous, but after hours of sitting, a change of scene was refreshing for someone used to exploring independently.
  • Pack:   There are strict limits on the size and type of luggage you can use for chartered flights – there was one at the end of my itinerary, many safaris have more.  The good news is that laundry is included and so you can pack very light – see the Travel Tips section of The Whistletrip for a suggested list.  Be sure to take good walking shoes for exploring Table Mountain and the Good Hope reserve.

Days 1, 2 & 3:  Cape Town, Table Mountain, Cape of Good Hope and Winelands

Days 4, 5, 6, & 7:  South African Safari – Kirkman’s Camp and Ngala Tented Lodge