Trip Coach: Oct. 18, 2005

Writer Josh Dean answers your questions on traveling to South Africa

By , Wednesday, Oct 19, 2005, 10:14 AM

On Tuesday, Oct. 18 Josh Dean, who wrote 'Cape Town: The Top 25',  answered your questions on South Africa. The transcript is below.

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Atlanta, GA: Hello Josh,

I'm considering a trip to Capetown, S.A. but this time instead of being driven around, I would like to rent a car and drive the cape and wine lands. I will be a party of two. We've both have been drivng for at least 25 yrs. I've heard stories of car jackings along the highway, is this true.

Josh Dean: A lot has been made of carjackings in South Africa and I can't tell you there isn't something to it. There is a lot of unemployment in the country and law enforcement can be spotty but I've been there four times and have never felt in danger. It's like being in New York or Moscow or much of the Third World - you need to exercise caution and good sense. Avoid bad areas. But in general, the Cape is well policed and certainly you're safe on the highways. You'd just want to avoid, say, stopping alone at night.

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Winston-Salem, NC: We would like to go to Capetown in mid may 2006. 3 nights in Capetown. Rent a car and visit the cape and the wine country for 2/3 nights. Take the blue train to Pretoria. Then fly to Victoria Falls and visit some game parks includiong the Okavango Delta. Is this feasible? Suggestions, please, especially as to who to deal with on the game parks portion of the trip

Josh Dean: Wow - that's biting off a lot. It's certainly possible to do all of this, especially if you've got a few weeks to do it. Three nights in CT is adequate and a couple nights in wine country should also do the trick. Botswana alone is worth at least a week. Chobe and the Okavango are vast and beautiful and far more wild feeling, in my experience, than South Africa's Kruger (which is still an amazing park). I haven't dealt with specific outfitters in that area, unfortunately but there are no shortage of them, many run by South Africans. You'll find no shortage of lodges too - from rustic to luxury.

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pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: is it safe for a 63 year old woman to drive around south africa alone, and if so, can you recommend a super-low-cost rental agency for a month long rental, since i won't have anyone with whom to share the costs? also, if i can ask a second question, are there any budget hotels that have single rooms?

Josh Dean: That's a tough one. I tend to think that SA is safe if you are smart and careful and travel in touristed areas during the day. But I would definitely rent a cell phone and make sure friends/relatives know where you are. Obviously, though, it would be safer -- and more fun! -- with a friend along. There are plenty of budget hotels and nearly all offer single rates. The exchange rate now is still very friendly to the dollar, so you'll find good value for money.

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san diego ,califoria : 1. when is the best time of the year to go for three weeks ?
2. What is the most economical way to fly from san diego to capetown , roundtrip?

Josh Dean: All flights now go through Johannesburg, though South African Air has in the past offered direct flights from Atlanta to CT. SAA is the only carrier that flies direct from the US and if you buy in advance, and in the offseason, you'll find flights as cheap as $900. You can also score in that range if you go through Europe. British Air and Virgin both service South Africa from England. Air France and KLM from Paris and A'dam. As for when to go, it depends what you're doing. Our winter is their summer, and around the Cape it's lovely in summer. Winter, though, is the best time for game viewing b/c the foliage is dead and the animals can't hide so easily. If you're doing a combo of activities, you might consider late winter/early spring. Flowers will be blooming and the hotter areas won't yet have reached summer highs.

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Seattle, WA: Where are the best places to hike near Cape Town? We're interested in day-hikes (not overnight). Thanks!

Josh Dean: There are so many! The city is literally surrounded by mountains. Table Mountain alone has dozens of day hikes. South of the city, there are hundreds that climb, say, the Twelve Apostles or the hills around Hout Bay -- and then there's the huge Cape Point park. Any local bookstore will have a section of books full of hikes. You could stay there a month and still not run out of options.

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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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Liverpool, NY: I would like to take a safari and have heard that it is cheaper to make arrangements after getting to South Africa. True?

Josh Dean: Generally true, yes - not only in terms of South Africa but most countries. You'll find no shortage of travel agent shops in the cities hawking safaris and tours.

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Syracuse, NY: Planning my first (and probably last) trip to Africa in 2006. Thinking a couple days driving in Cape Town and 2-3 weeks safari (Botswana, Zimbabwe???). I am travelling solo and would like to join a very small group of folks age 50+ Prefer off the beaten path (somewhat) versus with the throngs. Like native villages/crafts. Like adventure travel (like Jack Hanna)and great food/wine. How do I maximize with a modest budget? What month(s) are best for game viewing? Should I book air in US and then safari(s) once there? What else should I know that I don't know to ask! Thanks for your HELP!

Josh Dean: The best game viewing is in their winter, when the foliage is dead and the animals cannot so easily hide - that means our summer, since SA is obviously in the opposite hemisphere. If you have that much time i'd highly recommend you do the safari in Botswana, where the parks are huge and wild. It is indeed cheaper to book the safari once you get there when you can pay in rand and save yourself a bundle. All of the major cities are riddled with tour shops that will sell you safaris. Do a combination of Victoria Falls/Chobe/Okavango Delta and you'll see not only heaps of wildlife but also some of the most beautiful scenery on earth. There will be some chances to visit villages along the way. A couple days should be fine in Cape Town. Maybe fly there, spend a few days, book a safari, then travel back and spend another day or two and fly home from there. 2-3 weeks should be enough time to do this well.

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Josh Dean: Thanks everybody for the great questions. And happy traveling. South Africa is an amazing place - comfortable for US travelers and yet spectacular beyond belief. Have fun!

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