Staying at the Hotel Bel-Air takes you back in time…
Oct 13 – Departed for Cape Town. Flew KLM via Amsterdam. Business class with lie flat seats was amazing. After nearly 24 hours of flying, we were exhausted but arrived with our transfer waiting. Booked thru Ker and Downey, Elios Travel took us to the Westin hotel. Elios is a great company with excellent guides and drivers. It’s a nice hotel, but next to conference center so it is a corporate hotel. They have shuttles every 15 min to Victoria harbor and it’s only about 5-10 min away.
Oct 15 – We took the ferry to Robben Island and learned the history of Apartheid and saw Nelson Mandela’s jail cell. Quite sad and moving. It should be noted the guides are former prisoners so, they’re not trained in guiding and can sometimes hard to understand. Only about a 3 hour tour, so we spent the evening at Victoria Harbor shopping and dining! So lively at night!
Oct 16 – Today was amazing! I had wanted to do something that gave back to the community. I was hooked up with UTHANDO, an organization that gives back to every part of the community. From the kids to seniors, to community centers, veterinarians, you name it. With 4 projects that day, we hustled. We started with the garden center put in at a school to get kids involved in learning to plant trees, vegetables and going organic. We also donated shirts, pj’s, school supplies and games. After we left there we headed to a community center with the most lively and incredible women. The head of the center explained the projects they are involved in while the women sat around the table making crafts that would be sold to raise money. This all goes back to the community in whatever way it’s needed. After this we headed to the retirement center. We walked in during one of their exercises which was running back and forth to the music of Elvis! They started a line dance of sorts and danced with each of us and thanking us for coming. James, the founder, happily announced they had raised about 5000 rand so far this year to go towards their Christmas party! That’s about $350-400. Our last stop was the new daycare center. Set in the middle of the shantys, the daycare was full of children excited to see us. And of course I couldn’t just stand there; I had to drop to the floor and play with them! They didn’t speak English, but it didn’t matter. All they wanted to do was hug me and pet my hair! It truly was an amazing day and experience I won’t forget. What we walked away with was that no matter their situation, everyone is so happy. They have little compared to us, but have so much love and joy in their hearts. It’s a beautiful thing to see.
In the afternoon, we had a site at Cape Grace hotel. This hotel is the place to stay. On the waterfront, gorgeous beyond words. I loved everything about it and would highly recommend it. We came back and had a fantastic massage in the spa. A 60 min treatment was only $48! What a treat! Went to the Taj for a site and dinner. It’s a beautiful hotel, and about 15 min from the waterfront. Dinner was fabulous! Cab rides are so cheap. Only $2-4 depending on where you’re going, but only $4 between our hotel and the Taj!!
Oct 17 – Today we drove around Cape Point. What a great day! Camps Bay is a great alternative to staying in the city. Not that far and it’s a gorgeous beach town without all the tourists. Went past the Twelve Apostles hotel. While lovely, it is really far from Cape Town. Perfect for the person who wants to be away from the city and tourists. Saw wild ostriches and baboons on the beach! Climbed up to the light house and then went to see the Penguins at Boulders. What an incredible sight! The beaches are amazing and if you’re on the next beach over you can swim and sit with the penguins. A full day tour and well worth it. Ended with lunch at the Harborside restaurant. Fabulous setting and great seafood!!
Oct 18 – Got up early to see Table Mountain, and afterwards we went back to the hotel and had breakfast. Then went on the site inspection of The One Above. Wow, wow and holy wow! This place blew my socks off. Absolutely the most incredible penthouse I’ve ever seen. Four bedrooms, multiple baths, 3 pools, kitchen, decks; it was mind blowing at about $10k per night, and absolutely worth it for the right client.
Our driver from Ilios Travel picked us up and we headed to Franschhoek to the La Residence hotel. Along the way we stopped at the prison Nelson Mandela spent the last 9 yrs of his life at. A statue outside of him stands in front. We arrived at La Residence about 90 min from Cape Town. OMG, this place was jaw dropping. The rooms were suites and huge in size with incredible baths, enormous patio yards and stocked bars with wine of your choosing. The public spaces were so incredible. I truly felt I was staying in someone’s amazing home. There is a shuttle to the town, which is simply charming. Fabulous shops, great restaurants, and all on one main street full of life and charm.
We returned, cleaned up and it was suggested we enjoy the sunset, which we did, along with Pete the Peacock (whom I named!) He was so gorgeous we sat and took pics of him all night and the sunset! Next thing we knew dinner was pretty much over, so we ordered soup and had a quiet evening reflecting the trip thus far.
Oct 19-Today we had the luxury of sleeping in! After breakfast, we went on a quick site inspection of the property. Every room is unique and different. The rooms are so huge and decorated with so much class and charm. I swear each room I went into I was wowed by. The villas are amazing and really is the only area they allow kids. They have 1-2-3 bedroom villas that are nothing short of divine elegance. The 2 and 3 bedroom ones have pools. They average about 2000sf and they also have their own restaurant and lounge. Of course they can eat at the main restaurant as can the kids; breakfast is included in all rooms as well as wine and champagne.
We took the shuttle to town and had dinner at French Connection which came highly recommend by many. It was fantastic. With the dollar so strong it was very reasonable. About $10-15 with tip. Great way to end our stay.
Oct 20 – Our driver from Ilios, Shamiel picked us up for our site inspections. First stop was La Quartier Francois, a Relais Chateau hotel. The best thing about it in my opinion is the location which is right in the city center of Franschhoek. You can walk to everything, and a great fit for anyone on a bit of a budget.
Next was Richard Branson’s Mont Rochelle (pictured). WOW! The grounds are breathtaking. Rooms are gorgeous, the pool has a million dollar view of the vineyard hills, and they have a shuttle twice a day into Franschhoek. I would totally recommend this place.
Last stop was Delaire Graff which is owned by the family of Graff jewelers. It has only 10 rooms but is both huge and incredible. Each room has a private plunge pool and the rooms are great size, and there is main pool as well. They have two beautiful restaurants and make their own wine. The gardens are incredibly beautiful. This is half way between Franschhoek and Stellenbosch and they have shuttles to both towns, about 10-15 min from each.
We got to our hotel, River Manor Boutique, in Stellenbosch – a university town. The main streets have loads of restaurants and shops, and the hotel is less than a 10 min walk away. The hotel is nice, but could use some updating since it’s older. Seeing all these hotels has given me great perspective on where to put someone. La Residence wins hands down!! The Graff and Mont Rochelle are great options as well.
Oct 21 – Our driver picked us up at 7:30 to head back to Cape Town for our flight to Hoedspruit. I loved seeing everything Cape Town has to offer and the areas nearby. The Winelands are a must, even for those who are not big wine drinkers. Our flight to Hoedspruit was just short of 3 hours. The Makanyi Lodge is about an hour from the airport into the bush. After arrival, we had a quick tour of the property, a bite to eat and went out on our first game drive. We saw loads of giraffes, lions, rhinos, buffalo, kudu’s and so much more. The guides are amazing and there was only 4 in our jeep. We returned at 7:30PM and had dinner. They have guides to walk you at night since anything could be wandering around! I must say the lodge is gorgeous. The 8 rooms are enormous and beautifully done. Formerly a summer home of a wealthy man, they’ve turned it into a gorgeous lodge.
Oct 22 – After a morning drive, we headed off to the village school 45 min away. We had brought a few bags of school supplies they needed, and backpacks from Plaza to donate. The principal was without words and couldn’t thank us enough. We went to each class to meet the kids and then a handful of them came to take pics with us. It really was amazing to see what they’ve done. It all started with one man Dave, here at the lodge who wanted to give back to the community. One of the lodge workers suggested they help build a school in his village, and with lots of help and donations they made it happen. It went from one tiny little building to now two buildings, which have 5 classrooms, bathrooms and an outdoor kitchen. It really means a lot to go to these places and pay it forward, if only slightly, to know you make a difference. These are the things that make me happy!
Came back and headed out on the afternoon drive. We were on a mission to find a leopard and we did! Michelle saw it first and then we followed that girl for 2 hours! She stopped and rested atop a termite hill and we were able to get great shots of her! It was a great day and as my time starts to wind down I’m feeling rather sad. I love meeting the locals and doing donations, meeting the kids, but I love the outdoors and animals! It’s such an experience hard to describe.
Oct 23 – Morning drive was great. Saw 3 rhino, herd of buffalo, and a lion pride of 7 that had just killed 2 buffalo. After they were done, some hyenas started circling, which woke a few lions up and they charged at them. It was quite exciting! On the way back a huge, lone rhino was just walking along and made for a perfect photo session! You can see the same animals over and over and each time is just as exciting.
After breakfast we enjoyed massages. With the dollar so strong, a 75 min massage only cost about $50!! A relaxing afternoon sitting outside watching a few animals stroll by.
Went for another evening game drive. The evening was gorgeous with an incredible sunset. We went back to the lion kill to see if anything had changed, and the hyenas and jackals were starting to circle. Watching the lions pull the carcass is amazing just to see their strength. The lions charged them at one point when they tried to sneak in for the leftovers! We were able to get incredible shots of the moon actually seeing the craters and color differences. Quite a way to end the night.
Oct 24 – Last drive! We searched for the leopard again after finding his tracks but no luck. Went back to the lion kill again where 2 HUGE male lions had run off the other pride. These guys were 500lb lions, beautiful to see. And they’re so used to the trucks that you can really get close – about 10 feet away at one point!
The safari came to an end. The staff was so great, loads of fun and laughs, service outstanding. I would highly recommend Makanyi Lodge.
An hour to Hoedspruit airport and we’re off to Jo’berg for the night at the Saxon hotel, After about a 40 min drive to the hotel we checked in and were put in the villa section. We were in villa 3 which has 11 rooms. They have their own little restaurant and bar with a little lounge and small pool. The rooms are nice size with beautiful bathrooms. The main hotel has a beautiful infinity pool, great restaurants and wonderful spa. It’s amazing that even in these high end hotels how affordable everything is. Dinner was about $15 and we did spa treatments which were about $70.
Oct 25 – Our driver picked us up and took us back to the airport we went for the long flight home. One of the perks with Ker and Downeys service is a guy meets you when you drive up, takes your bags and walks you to check in, then escorts you through security and immigration to your gate or the lounge. Flew back Air France. Beautiful plane, but business class is not a total lie flat seat. It has a small pitch to it, so not as comfortable as lie flat! The Paris lounge is huge. Clarins Beauty has a little salon inside, and they give free 20 min facials which is great before and after a long flight! So another great trip comes to an end!
What do I know for sure? That kids and people around the world need help and it’s very rewarding to do something as small as donating supplies. The things we take for granted like pencils and paper are so welcomed and appreciated. Africa opens your eyes to so many things: we need to take care of our planet! It’s expected in 10-15 years the rhino and elephants will be gone. The poachers kill 3 rhinos a day on average just to get the horn which brings in about $750k. It’s terribly sad. They too are in a drought. River beds and ponds are dried up. They need water as bad as we do! Africa is a life changing experience and something everyone should do at least once in their lifetime. I know I’ll be going back.