Recently, I planned my friends’ and newlyweds honeymoon to South Africa and Zanzibar. The following is written by the wonderful Marissa Cook who it would appear very much enjoyed her trip:)
In the midst of wedding planning, part of the process includes deciding on where to go for a honeymoon. My husband (still getting used to saying that) and I knew that we wanted to venture somewhere we may never get the chance to go again. One of our options was Thailand because I wanted to see the elephants and wildlife there. However, August is known to be monsoon season in that region. We questioned where else we could go to see animals and beautiful wildlife, and immediately thought of Africa!
I didn’t really know anything about the continent but knew that South Africa was probably where we should look. However, I also dreamed of picturesque beaches and the like as well and just had no idea how to put it all together.
Planning the Honeymoon
Unfortunately, once again my decision was altered after a travel agent quoted our trip at $24,000 for a roughly two week trip to South Africa and Mauritius. This seemed a bit ridiculous but not knowing what is a fair price or not, we were seriously thinking about going for it. Thankfully, I did not book anything impulsively because a few weeks later we were introduced to Johnny!
Planning with Johnny
Johnny had previously planned a honeymoon for our friends, Lauren and Brandon Stein. They also wrote about their trip in some detail so make sure to read their experience to South Africa and Mauritius. They absolutely loved their trip and had so many wonderful stories to tell.
Right away he knew exactly what type of trip we wanted and meticulously planned every detail. Truth be told, I was pretty much sold on Lauren and Brandon’s honeymoon which probably made things a bit easier. However, because of his extensive travel experience through Africa, he went over numerous other options for tropical beaches. In the end, he convinced us instead of Mauritius, we should consider Zanzibar as the beaches there are more beautiful. We did not even know Zanzibar was an option but after looking at many photos, we were sold. In the end, our itinerary looked something like this:
- 1 night in Dubai
- 4 nights in Cape Town
- 2 nights in Stellenbosch
- 3 nights for safari
- 4 nights in Zanzibar
The South Africa portion was crafted largely following the South Africa itinerary he has written about in the past. For 2 weeks of honeymoon bliss, we paid under $12,000. This was about half of what the travel agents quoted us and I know there’s no way that honeymoon would have beaten the one we went on.
If you’re interested in similar services, make sure to contact Johnny! He will more than happy to assist you with booking your honeymoon to the Rainbow Nation or really most other places in Africa as he has traveled all over the continent!
In addition, Johnny has planned many more honeymoons since ours. Be sure to read the other trip reports to get an idea of what South Africa and the surrounding countries have to offer!
- Niv and Avi | Three Weeks in Southern Africa: Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Garden Route, Safari, and Mauritius
- Lauren and Brandon | The Perfect South Africa and Mauritius Honeymoon
- Susana and Eric | The Perfect South Africa and Victoria Falls Honeymoon
Packing For our trip
I will admit, packing for this type of trip was difficult. Because we were traveling to a variety of climates, we needed different types of clothing, from boots and jackets to sandals and bathing suits. My husband and I tend to over pack but it is very important to have only 1 bag each to check weighing 23kg (50lbs) and 1 carry on each weighing 7kg (15lbs). There is no need for headphones or entertainment in your carry on because the Emirates airline provides it all including free beer and wine.
My next piece of advice is to pack with the thought of layering. In the mornings my husband and I were very cold and wore pants, sweatshirts and jackets. Throughout the day however, we changed into bathing suits to sit by the pool. I packed a few nicer outfits for nighttime dinners but it was not necessary as many people dress comfortably in jeans. Two of the hotels we stayed at also offered free laundry services so I was happy to be able to re-wear some items.
The Final Itinerary
For the final itinerary, Johnny planned it and organized it all in an amazing Google Sheets that we could access and collaborate before and during. To see our final itinerary, please visit his great travel itinerary spreadsheet. In addition, throughout this post, there will be links to other posts about Africa that Johnny has written but go into detail on the places we visited!
|Name of Accommodation||Where?|
|Day 1-4||South Beach Camps Bay||Cape Town, South Africa|
|Day 4-6||Clouds Estate||Stellenbosch, South Africa|
|Day 6-9||Mhondoro Safari Lodge||Limpopo Province, South Africa|
|Day 9-10||Sandton Sun Hotel||Johannesburg, South Africa|
|Day 10-14||Riu Palace Nungwi||Zanzibar, Tanzania|
Safety in South Africa
We had heard countless tales and media recounts of how dangerous South Africa is. Having never been there, like most people, we succumbed to some of these fears. Johnny assured us that while South Africa has its problems like any other developing nation, crime is not rampant and it is not the lawless place it’s made out to be. During our time in South Africa, we never felt unsafe at any point. I highly recommend reading his blog post on Is South Africa Safe for a better understanding of the country.
With that said, I would recommend anyone visiting to be aware of their surroundings and to not flaunt the cash. Essentially, take precautions like you would in any big city and avoid the areas that are known to have crime. We felt totally safe during our South Africa honeymoon and would highly recommend it!
Dubai: Day 1-2
The first stop on our trip was Dubai. Going from JFK airport in New York to South Africa, there is a mandatory layover in Dubai so my husband and I thought, “why not make it worth our while to stop there?” We stayed at the Renaissance Hotel in Downtown Dubai, just minutes away from the Burj Khalifa and one of the largest malls in the world. Johnny hired a private car who was waiting for us in his lovely Mercedes to pick us up. Turns out this is a very average car in the Emirates!
From the moment we were dropped off, the service was impeccable. The hotel itself was beautiful and in pristine condition. After a quick power nap and a shower, we hopped on the shuttle provided by the hotel to the Dubai Mall. There was so much to do and see there. Not only were there hundreds of stores, there is also an aquarium and a very popular gold souk to visit.
Our top priority of our Dubai bucket list was the Burj Khalifa, which is located in the Dubai Mall. We were taken to the top of the Khalifa where we were able to take in views from multiple observation decks and sat in the lounge for high tea, fresh juice, and dessert. On the way out, we read about the history and making of the world’s tallest building.
We also were able to view the blueprints and learn about the next tallest building in the world that is currently being constructed. After we were done being educated, we ventured outside to watch the Dubai Fountain show. Because the hotel shuttle had scheduled times, we headed back to the hotel for dinner in the restaurant Basta where we enjoyed a delicious meal. For dessert, we sat outside with a view of the water and city walk, a beer, a glass of wine, and a hookah. It was the perfect ending to a first day.
The following morning, there was a car waiting for us to bring us back to Dubai International Airport.
Cape Town: Days 2-6
After a nine-hour flight on Emirates, we finally arrived in Cape Town, South Africa. The views and mountains were absolutely stunning. Within Cape Town we stayed in Camps Bay, which we were told, was voted top five of the best shore front views in South Africa. South Beach Camps Bay is the boutique hotel we stayed at and received top quality service.
While there, Johnny gave us the entire scoop on Cape Town and we had many excursions planned to keep us on our toes. The first stop on the list was taking the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain. Unfortunately, during our stay the cable car was closed for maintenance. Even still, we did get a good look at the mountain. We were informed that people are able to hike up the mountain, but hiring a guide 24 hours in advance would be necessary.
Hiking Lion’s Head
Fortunately, right across the way from Table Mountain is Lion’s Head, another mountain that offers breathtaking views. Johnny was adamant that we hike Lion’s Head and he said he preferred the views to Table Mountain. With our backpacks, bottles of water, and comfortable shoes, we headed up the trail. The first half is a nice, easy walk with a variety of stopping points to take a memorable photo. As we neared closer to the top, the walk turns into a bit more of a climb.
Be ready to discover your own trail of jumping from rock to rock, although thankfully there are some small arrows painted on the rocks to assist you along the way. If you are ever in Cape Town, Lion’s Head is a must. If the satisfaction of reaching the top isn’t enough, then the views are more than enough to leave you speechless.
Cape Point Day Trip
On our second full day in Cape Town, we took a tour to Cape Point, the most southern tip of Africa. It was a great way of learning more about the country while still being entertained with views and animals. On this tour alone we saw seals, ostrich, baboons, and of course, a tourist favorite…penguins at Boulder Beach!
We even went to the very tip of the continent to where the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean meet. The landscape here is incredible and you really feel like you’re at the end of the world. The tour ended at South Africa’s Botanical Gardens where you can take a stroll through the popular tree canopy.
If you need ideas for Cape Town activities, a visit to Cape Point is an absolute must!
Great White Shark Cage Diving
Our last excursion, and probably our favorite of Cape Town, was great white shark cage diving. We took the early morning tour to Gansbaai. I have to admit it was brutally cold when you mix the early morning temperature along with the coolness of the oceans (Be sure to dress in layers with your swimsuit underneath). It included an easy breakfast and a boat ride into shark alley.
On the boat we put on a wetsuit and waited for the sharks to arrive. After some time, 2 great white sharks and a tiger shark arrived. My husband and I jumped into the cage as the first group to go. Being able to witness a shark in its natural habitat, only 3-5 feet away is an adrenaline rush I had never felt before. We enjoyed it so much; we even went back into the cage for a second go around. It was definitely an experience like none other.
Delicious food in Cape Town
Most of our adventures took up a large portion of the daytime and really helped us work up an appetite. We visited a few restaurants nearby but our favorites were Codfather and Hussar Grill. Codfather is a seafood restaurant within walking distance from South Beach Hotel. At this restaurant you handpick the type of fish you would like to eat. After a delicious sushi appetizer, we feasted on a platter of white clip, tuna, lobster, and even barracuda! All were grilled to perfection.
For a delightful steak dinner, we took a short ride in an Uber to Hussar Grill. We ordered a bottle of wine, a flaming chorizo appetizer, steaks cooked to perfection, two side dishes, and two desserts. All of this food came to a grand total of $76. Overall, I would highly recommend making a reservation to both restaurants.
Stellenbosch: Days 6-8
The next city on our visit was Stellenbosch, also known as Africa’s wine country. Johnny organized a private driver who retrieved us from Cape Town to escort us to three highly recommended winery stops along the way.
Johnny has visited the South African wine country extensively and took care of planning out the entire day of wine tasting. The first was Morgenster, an olive oil and winemaking location. I strongly suggest doing the tasting for both. We were truly blown away with the oils they created, especially the lemon olive oil when they poured it on top of fresh vanilla ice cream. To top it off, the mountains are directly in front of you affording you spectacular views.
Vergelegen was our next winery where we indulged in a variety of wines after taking in the historical scenery they had to offer. They are famous for their large trees first planted in the 1600’s and you can enjoy a nice stroll inside the memorial of a previous governor’s home.
Staying at Clouds Estate
The last stop before reaching Cloud’s Estate was lunch at Waterkloof, a winery and restaurant that our driver informed us was rated number one in all of South Africa. Prior to even walking in, we quickly learned why. The restaurant and winery sat at the top of a hill overlooking Stellenbosch and The Strand of South Africa. We luckily arrived just as they were finishing lunch but they were able to seat us! Each dish for lunch included a wine pairing to enhance the taste of each bite. All in all, I can see why this is one of South Africa’s most highly rated restaurants and would highly recommend a visit.
Once arriving at the Cloud’s Estate, we were greeted with friendly staff, a drink, a room decorated for a honeymoon, and a bottle of champagne. The sights from our room and reception area were filled with mountains that seemed to go on forever. A short walk from our room, Cloud’s Estate had a connecting doorway to another winery and restaurant, Delaire Graff. My husband and I were left speechless at the design, architecture, and award winning wines it had to offer.
After making a few friends, we accompanied them to Oldenburg Winery, another location where we witnessed captivating mountains unlike anything I had seen before. Once our friends and we were “wined out”, we took an enjoyable ride to the Stellenbosch city center for some burgers, beer, and nightlife. Our one regret was not visiting Tokara winery, but all the same, we had an extremely memorable experience.
Big 5 Safari at Mhondoro: Days 8-11
Our next stop was indescribable, and the main reason people go to Africa… the safari. After a short flight on Mango Airlines and a three hour drive we arrived at Welgevonden Game Reserve for a three night stay at the luxurious Mhondoro Safari Lodge and Villa. From the moment we arrived at the reserve we were greeted with drinks and snacks. To get to the lodge, we boarded a Safari RV and drove through the reserve where we saw giraffes, elephants, warthogs, and more. After every game drive, upon arrival back to the lodge, warm towels are given to clean off our hands.
Staying in the Honeymoon Suites
We stayed in the honeymoon suite slightly secluded from the main lodge, which included a viewing balcony, indoor and outdoor shower, and a private pool. The lodge definitely exceeded our expectations but even more so once we tasted the food. Each meal was a presentation and was exceptionally flavorful. The first night we were able to dine under the stars with the other guests alongside a fire.
The game drives consisted of one morning drive at 6 am, and one afternoon drive around 3-4pm. The drive lasted around 3 hours each, with a short break in the middle for refreshments. Throughout our drives we were able to see what is called “The Big Five” (elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos, and cape buffaloes). We also saw a cheetah and her cubs early in the morning for a hunt. Although the cheetah was unsuccessful in her catch, it was an exhilarating experience to witness the speed, patience, and determination of this beautiful creature.
Close up with the elephants
Because the lodge is situated in the middle of the reserve and has their own watering hole, animals can come right up the buildings. A personal favorite of mine were the elephants that calmly walked up to the lodge, put their trunks in the pool, and drank the water, only a few feet away from where we were sitting. One night we were lucky enough to see an elephant, two lions, and a rhino all from the main lodge balcony. I mean you can’t ask for better views than this and you certainly will never take better photos ever again!
The elephants stayed for quite some time allowing for us to take great pictures and enjoy their company. The dry season (South Africa’s winter months) are your best chances to see this as water sources are more scarce and hence the Mhondoro pool becomes the local watering hole!
Our last night, the staff decorated our room with flower petals and filled the bath with bubbles and candles. It was stunning, romantic, and a perfect way to end our stay there. We did not want to leave!
Here are some more pics of all the game viewing we did:
A visit to the Lion Park
Immediately after our safari, our driver met us to take us back to Johannesburg but stopped off at the Lion Park in Johannesburg for an up close experience with lions! Having seen them in the wild for the past few days, now we were able to get up close and personal with adolescent lion’s and lion cubs! The lion cubs are absolutely the cutest in the world.
Beach Paradise in Zanzibar: Days 12-16
The last stop on our dream honeymoon was our four-day stay at the Hotel Riu in Zanzibar. We booked a flight on Mango Airlines that flies direct from Johannesburg to Zanzibar. Upon arrival, US citizens have to pay $100 for the visa in cash. Leaving the airport, the contrast was very clear between East Africa and South Africa. We got a taxi that drove us through the island to our resort and it was clear we were not in South Africa anymore.
As we drove from the airport to Nungwi at the northern tip of the island, we couldn’t help but admire the lush landscape but also at the abject poverty. Johnny had told us about the stark contrast between the resorts on the water and the residents that live inland.
Once we got to the hotel, we were absolutely amazed by how beautiful it was. The hotel slopes down towards the ocean affording most of its villas with ocean views. The hotel was all-inclusive and located alongside the beach. It is also referred to as Riu Nungwi Hideaway because it is tucked away off of the main road. Each morning we indulged at the breakfast buffet and spent the days taking in the sun at the beach and at the pool. The beach is public however the hotel has sectioned off a part where lounge chairs are provided as well as hotel security. A beach bar is located at the top of the steps from the hotel to the beach. There was nothing more tranquil than being able to get a drink and watch the calm ocean.
At night, we enjoyed the dinners at the restaurants and the shows hosted by the hotel during the later hours. The two restaurants were an Asian theme as well as a carnivore theme. It is crucial however to book these restaurants as soon as you reach the hotel. Our favorite dinner at the Riu however was African Night which is every Tuesday night. It was a dinner set up on the beach (we were extremely friendly to the staff so they saved a seat in front for us). African night was full of authentic African meals as well as African dancers and people on stilts. My husband and I were even pulled into the show to dance.
The other nights included shows as well such as acrobats, jazz musicians, and dancers. Each night after dinner we would be sure to head straight over to get a seat in the front for the best view. Once the show was done, we would stroll back to the room for a good night’s rest in our luxurious junior suite. The Riu was a perfect way to end our trip by relaxing, especially after we had done so much throughout the rest of the honeymoon.
Once arriving back home I was able to reflect on the trip we had gone on, and knew I would not have done it any other way. Johnny Africa had planned every detail of this trip and was thorough in every step. We cannot thank him enough for his help. If you plan on going anywhere in Africa, there cannot be a better person to assist you with your trip than Johnny Africa!
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