Trip Coach: Oct. 18, 2005

Writer Josh Dean answers your questions on traveling to South Africa

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New York, NY: Does South Africa still have quite a favorable exchange rate for Americans? Last year, a friend visited Cape Town and raved about the exchange rate (USD to Rand). Is this still the case?

Josh Dean: Definitely. It's slightly less favorable than a year ago but you will find it to be highly affordable for Americans -- things in my experience were half to 2/3s the price.

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San Francisco, CA: I've read quite a few articles about the increasingly popular wine tastings and tours in Cape Town and South Africa. Do you have any recommendations/favorites? Would I need to rent a car, or would you recommend a different mode of transportation?

Josh Dean: The wine region is relatively small in terms of area, and centered on three cities: Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschoek. The routes are well marked and highly promoted by South Africa's tourism board. I'd recommend staying two nights in one of the towns -- Stellenbosch is biggest, with the most hotel and restaurant options -- and exploring a bit on your own. The settings are fantastic. Two of my favorite wineries are Vergelegen and Waterford, but really you can't go wrong.

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Houston, TX: We were told it was cheaper & faster to fly to Cape Town via Buenos Aires. Is it?

Josh Dean: It might be cheaper but it's not faster. It's 11 hours from New York to BA and then that far again from BA to CT. From NYC to Joburg is about 16, and it's only another 2 from there. Either way, it's a LONG day.

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San Francisco, California: We will be in Cape Town at the end of July. We travel independently and would like advice on many things. There are four of us, my husband and our 2 kids, ages 9 and 13.

Are there any places that have quads? We normally stay at 3 star places, but would could stay at 2 star places, if you recommend them.

Where would you rent a car? Suggestions on itineraries? We plan to be there about a week.

In addition, we plan to head up to Johannesburg.

Thanks so much

Josh Dean: I'd recommend you check out the B&Bs and Inns that are all over CT and the Cape region. South Africa has an excellent network of such places. Portfolio Collection, which has a website, has many in a variety of price points, all vetted and well selected. You'll find some quads, I think, but that might take some more digging. I would recommend renting a car - the region itself is spread out and many of the most beautiful parts -- wine country, Cape Point, Chapman's Peak Drive -- all require a car. Europcar is the company I used. They're reasonable. Itinerary-wise, I'd save three days for the city, a day for Cape Point, a day or two for wine country (you can easily drive out for the day from the city) and a few flex days. I highly recommend township tours and Robben Island.

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New York, NY: What is the weather like in December/early January? When is the best time to visit, in your opinion?

Josh Dean: December/January is the peak of summer. In many parts of SA, that means heat. CT, though, is mild like San Francisco. Days are occasionally hot but mostly it's breezy and comfortable. It's also the driest time of the year. Really lovely.

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Houston, TX: Would you recommend any historical sites or tours such as the Nelson Mandela museum, apartheid, or slavery sites?

Josh Dean: Absolutely! You would be remiss to visit CT w/o visiting Robben Island, where Mandela served his prison sentence. Now the tours are run by actual prisoners and the experience is moving beyond words. Township tours are also essential, in my opinion. Poverty is a huge part of life there and this is a safe way to see how most of the people live. These tours will typically start at the District Six museum, which gives you another powerful look at apartheid's horrible story.

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Austin, TX: Any suggestions for a family vacation in Cape Town? We'd be interested in Kruger National Park for wildlife, of course, but any other ideas--museums, parks, etc.???

Josh Dean: Well, Kruger is on the compete other side of South Africa - a good 4-hour flight away! You can certainly do both during a visit but you'd need a minimum of 10 days. That said, I think it's nuts to go all the way to Africa and not see the wildlife. You could do say, 3 days and nights at the park (which has some lovely rest camps with cabins and also high end luxury lodges) and then 4 nights in the Cape. Flights w/in the country are not expensive and can be booked in advance or once you get there. South African Airlines is the national carrier. If you had three weeks, I'd recommend driving b/w the two places - either straight across the Karoo desert or along the spectacular Garden Route that runs the coast.

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