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Nell Explores South Africa

June 19, 2023  By: Nell

AAC Safari Concierge Nell P. recently returned from visiting South Africa where she enjoyed both urban and wilderness adventures. From the cosmopolitan cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg to the luxurious Rovos Rail train to the wilderness of the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, Nell made many new discoveries and memories. She joins us on the blog today to share her experiences.

Nell on cliff

Embarking on an adventure to South Africa is an experience that captivates the senses, ignites the spirit of adventure and leaves an indelible mark on your soul. From its breathtaking landscapes and diverse wildlife to its rich cultural heritage and warm-hearted people, this enchanting country offers an unparalleled journey for those seeking a truly unforgettable travel experience.

street art in Johannesburg


Johannesburg, often referred to as Joburg, has a rich history that stretches from the discovery of gold to the dismantling of apartheid. This bustling metropolis has emerged as a vibrant hub of culture, art and entrepreneurship. While in Joburg, I stayed at the Voco Hotel located in the heart of Rosebank. This hotel is the perfect entry way into a South Africa as it is conveniently located next to a money exchange, bank and shopping in the heart of one of the city’s trendiest districts. The hospitality, food and the gym at Voco all stood out to me as well!

Cradle of Humankind

I only spent a couple of days in Joburg but was able to see a lot during that short time. Highlights included a walking tour of the artsy Maboneng Distrcit, a visit to Nelson Mandela’s former home on Vilakazi Street in Soweto, a beer tasting at Soweto Brewing Company and a visit just outside of Johannesburg to the Cradle of Humankind – home to the largest concentration of human ancestral remains found anywhere in the world. There is much more to this city than many travelers think.

Nell with lions

Sabi Sabi

Next stop, Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve. No trip to South Africa is complete without venturing into the wild and experiencing its renowned wildlife. Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve became my sanctuary of nature and discovery. The exhilaration of spotting Africa’s Big Five – lion, elephant, leopard, rhino and buffalo – in their natural habitat was an unparalleled thrill.

elephants by vehicle

While I was there, I saw all of the Big 5 within just two days! A few notable experiences were tracking a leopard during both the day and night while it was hunting for food (seeing a daytime hunt is rather unusual), seeing wild dogs dart past us while we were enjoying sundowners, spotting a baby rhino pop up and ‘smile’ at us and watching elephants and lions nearly graze our safari vehicle as they walked by. This park is dreamy for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers alike as there is so much to keep you entertained while out in the bush.

Nell with guide

I was also blown away by the hospitality and care of the staff at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge. It truly felt like I was leaving my family when I left Sabi Sabi. Other highlights included a walking safari– a fascinating 45-minute way of feeling the bush under your feet and exploring the smaller things you don’t always notice from a vehicle – for example, the enormity of elephant and rhino tracks. I also loved the chance to practice yoga in the bush!

dining car

Rovos Rail

Pretoria is just a short drive from Johannesburg and was where I boarded the infamous Rovos Rail, coined as one of the “most luxurious trains in the world.” If you’re seeking a truly extraordinary experience riding the rails, look no further than Rovos Rail – it’s a captivating way to explore the breathtaking landscapes and diverse cultures of Africa. The train transports you back to the golden age of train travel with its meticulously restored vintage carriages. Each coach is elegant, exuding a nostalgic charm that evokes a sense of romance and opulence. The top highlight of my journey on Rovos Rail was the culinary experience. The onboard chefs skillfully showcased the flavors and culinary traditions of Africa with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Every meal was delicious and complemented by world-class wines.

Bo Kaap houses

Cape Town

My journey ended in Cape Town, a vibrant coastal city nestled between the majestic Table Mountain and the sparkling waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The iconic Table Mountain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, welcomed me with its towering presence and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to run/hike up this mountain. The panoramic views from the top were simply breathtaking, revealing the city’s striking beauty from every angle. Exploring the colorful streets of Cape Town’s neighborhoods including the much-photographed Bo-Kaap, filled with brightly painted houses and a rich Malay heritage, was a delightful cultural immersion. A visit to the bustling V&A Waterfront, with its lively atmosphere, shops and delectable cuisine, provided a perfect blend of history and modernity.

Nell with Cape of Good Hope sign

Just when I thought I saw it all, the Cape Peninsula stole my heart and left me speechless! This journey takes you along the jaw-dropping coastline from the city down to the Cape Peninsula. First, I ventured along the mesmerizing, cliff-hugging Chapman’s Peak drive, a winding coastal road that offers stunning vistas at every turn. The dramatic cliffs, azure waters and pristine beaches left me spellbound. It’s no wonder this is considered one of the most scenic drives in the world! Next up, Boulders Beach. This enchanting spot is the home to a colony of adorable African penguins. Getting up close and personal with these little creatures was an absolute delight! And a trip to the Cape Peninsula would not be complete without standing at the very southwesternmost tip of Africa – Cape Point. The rugged cliffs, crashing waves and the iconic lighthouse created a postcard-perfect scene that truly took my breath away!

Nell running on Table Mountain

My trip to South Africa was a kaleidoscope of experiences that left an indelible mark on my soul. From the breathtaking landscapes and thrilling wildlife encounters to the vibrant cultural tapestry woven by its diverse people, South Africa truly captures the essence of adventure, beauty and profound history. It is a country that beckons explorers with its open arms, offering a journey that will forever remain etched in your heart. Whether you seek the majesty of nature, the thrill of wildlife or the cultural vibrancy of a nation reborn, South Africa is a destination that promises to fulfill your every longing and exceed your wildest dreams.

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