Five Country African Safari Tour – This is Africa

After years of waiting for a cancelled Covid trip to come to fruition, I could hardly believe myself when I checked my email one day and there were plane tickets to Johannesburg. Our safari tour in Africa with Mafigeni was really happening. 

Our previous safari with Mafigeni focused on the north-east side of South Africa, and this time we started in Johannesburg, flew to the Kalahari Desert to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park which spans South Africa and Botswana, Cape Town in South Africa, Impalila Island in Namibia, and Victoria Falls, bordering Zimbabwe and Zambia.

It was a packed itinerary for a 12 day tour, which also included 2 flights to get there (including a 15.5 hour flight from Atlanta!), and 5 internal flights – yes, 5 – and 2 flights to get home.

That’s 9 flights in 2 weeks.

This tour is not for those looking for rest and relaxation – although some of these spots allowed such pleasures – but rather it’s to experience as much as you can of the wildlife, culture, wineries, and all of the beauty these countries have to offer.

We travelled with a group of 12 – many of whom we were with during our safari in 2019, which made it all the more fun!

While I have shifted away from writing blogs that document day-to-day activities, I wanted to share this for those who may be considering this tour, or a similar itinerary, as well as what to expect.

Touring with Mafigeni is an all-in-one package, which means your flights, accommodations, entrances, meals, and transfers are all included.

The only thing you have to consider is purchasing travel insurance, money of a personal nature for gifts or souvenirs, additional meals or beverages, and gratuities for the guides – who are with you the entire time and make sure things run seamlessly.

Here I lay it all out – so get settled, save this post, and read away! This is Africa – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

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What to know before going on an African safari

If you’re heading off on your first safari in Africa, you’re in for a trip of a lifetime! Nothing can compare to seeing these incredible animals in their natural environments, and you really do get up close and personal. There are a few things you should know before going on your first safari.

  • Know what to pack for an African safari

There are a few safari essentials you’ll want to pack for your trip to Africa. Everything from sunscreen to a jacket (mornings can be freezing!), power banks, scarves and more.

Here’s my list of safari must-haves and carry-on essentials to make your packing easier!

  • Pack light

Consider travelling with a carry-on suitcase or a backpack. Chances are, you’ll be hopping around a lot and you’ll want something small and portable to travel around with.

Flights within Africa are generally on smaller flights that don’t have a lot of storage, so minimize your overall wardrobe and repurpose some items and create a few outfits out of a handful of key clothing items.

P.s. my favourite travel backpack is the Osprey Fairview (or Fairpoint). It’s 40L and fits within carry-on sizing parameters!

What I leave out on this very long post is the fact I was actually quite sick during the first few days and I’m still sick after returning home, 2 weeks later. Edit: A month later and I still can’t smell!

What did I pack in my medical kit?

An apocalyptic amount of Imodium and motion sickness pills, but alas, I did not pack anything for cold and flu. Whoops.

Thankfully my mom was to the rescue (again!) and had what I needed. This obviously isn’t as much of an issue if you’re in a city where you can go to a pharmacy, but when you’re out in the middle of nowhere it presents a problem. Here’s your reminder to pack all the medication in your travel medical kit.

  • Be ready for early morning starts. 

I mean early. 4:00 am wakeups aren’t unusual especially if you’re going on safari (but I promise it’s worth it!)

The Milky Way, seen from the Kalahari Desert
  • Stay hydrated! 

After a few dehydration episodes, I will always travel with hydration packs from now on.

  • Bring a credit card (or two) and enough cash. 

Your card may or may not work, depending where you are. USD isn’t always accepted as currency, either. So if you’re planning to spend a while in a country, it’s best to get some of their local currency either at your bank at home or a local bank once you arrive.

I have a ton more safari tips on a separate post, since this one is long enough!

Ps. Here’s a guide on how to prepare your home for travel, including a printable checklist to help you remember everything!

Arrival in South Africa (Travel Day)

We knew going into this that the travel was going to be a lot. We’re used to short flights and have been spoiled by them.

However, we knew from our flight to South Africa last time that we didn’t want to do two night flights if that was an option. We elected to travel from Buffalo, New York to Johannesburg via Atlanta, Georgia. This meant that while we had a nice short 2 hour flight from Buffalo to Atlanta, our overseas flight was 15.5 hours. 

I know 17.5 hours feels like a long time to be flying (believe me, IT IS!), but when you realize you can fly anywhere in the world in less than 24 hours it kind of takes the sting away. Haha!

Note: If you can swing an upgrade, it’s worth it. Even an upgrade to get extra legroom is worth it. We flew with Delta and upgraded to Comfort +, which gets you extra legroom, 50% more recline, meals and beverages (including alcoholic), priority boarding, priority overhead space, and snacks readily available throughout the flight. The pre boarding and overhead bin space is worth it enough for me, since Dana and I always travel with backpacks/carry-ons and overhead space seems to be at a premium these days.

I was actually surprised the flight wasn’t that bad – I brought my Trtl Neck Pillow (which is one of my long-haul flight travel essentials!), and after a couple drinks, a meal, and a movie, I was out for hours. Just go in with the mindset it takes that long to get there, and go with the flow.

We arrived in Johannesburg at 7:00 pm, with a 6-hour time change. At that point we had been travelling since 11:00 am the day before.

Since we got in so late, and we had to take another connecting flight to our first stop, we stayed at City Lodge Hotel at OR Tambo Airport. This was at our expense, since it is technically considered a travel day, but for $125 CAD the room was lovely and the meals were fantastic. Plus, you have no idea how refreshing it felt to shower, have a change of clothes, and sleep in a bed.

Read: City Lodge Hotel OR Tambo Airport Review

Flying to the Kalahari Desert (Day 1)

After travelling for two days, our real start of this tour was today! We woke up to have breakfast at City Lodge Hotel, and took a short walk back to the airport for our 11:00 am domestic flight to Upington.

The domestic flights are different – they’re in tiny planes that seat around 40 people but since you fly so low, the views are amazing. Our Airlink flight also included a sandwich and choice of beverage (even alcoholic!) for our short 90 minute flight, and I’m sorry to say that this food is better than any international flight we’ve been on.

After arriving in Upington, we strapped into two vehicles to take a 2.5 hour car ride to Kgalagadi Lifestyle Lodge, which is only 5 short kilometres from the entrance to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

This park forms part of the Kalahari Desert, and the terrain up here is completely different from anything I’ve seen. When we originally planned this trip, I knew I wanted to see dunes, like the beautiful red sand dunes you find in Namibia.

As I sit here writing today’s piece from our patio at Kgalagadi, I can see red undulating dunes all around me, dotted by sparse shrubbery and not a sound, aside from the occasional vehicle. 

After settling in and dropping our bags, we met for dinner at the main lodge building where we enjoyed amazing steaks and South African wine – all included. It was an early night for our even earlier start the next day.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (Day 2)

There is no rest for the wicked on these tours. We were informed at dinner that our tour started at 6:00 am, where we’d spend 6 hours driving around Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park for wildlife viewing.

You think that would be early, but Dana and I had been up since 3:00 am (hello, jetlag!) so it was a cakewalk to be ready for our 5:45 am pickup.

We were given bagged breakfasts to bring along with us which was more than enough to sustain us for our safari.  Of course, at that time of day before sunrise, it is pitch black and freezing cold.

Since this is desert terrain, it means it gets scorching hot during the day and freezing at night. I’m talking 5C to 30C in a span of a couple hours. Even though we layered up, the cold whipping wind in an open-air safari vehicle isn’t really something you can prepare for.

Fortunately when the sun came up we started peeling off some layers, and even though a few of us got windburn, what we saw at Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park was worth it all.

We started our tour even before the gates were open to the public, right before sunrise. I couldn’t believe that the very first thing we saw were three young male lions feeding on an eland they had just taken down.

I actually had my camera filming for the sunrise that was happening at the same time and that’s when we saw the lions – which truly made for an unforgettable experience.

Over the course of 6 hours we saw everything from gemsbok, springbok, hartebeest, blue wildebeest, tons of birds including owls and raptors, ostrich, jackals, and even a cheetah perched on a sand dune.

That alone was one of the most amazing and unexpected things I saw that day. That cheetah on the dune totally caught me off guard and it was such a beautiful moment. We saw more lions feeding off a kill, with jackals hovering nearby. On our way back, there were about 9 jackals cleaning up after what the lions left behind.

The scenery is absolutely gorgeous. Hues of red, orange, and brown line the distance with green and brown shrubbery and trees. I’ve never experienced a desert-like landscape before and it really feels like you’re on another planet. It also makes you wonder how such a dry area can sustain so much life.

We learned how some animals aren’t water-dependent and can go three days without drinking water. There are water holes scattered throughout the park where you’ll find animals congregating near awaiting their turn to drink. It’s a beautiful sight.

Six hours in an open-air vehicle seems like a lot. And it is. But fortunately there was a picnic area halfway through with washrooms where we could get out and stretch our legs, and eat. 

If you end up doing this tour I definitely recommend bringing water with you – don’t dehydrate yourself. If you have TB syndrome like I do (tiny bladder, haha), take small sips so you don’t end up with a headache or dehydration in the desert heat.

The rest of our day was at leisure, which for me included a two hour nap and writing what you’re reading right now. I actually ended up not feeling too hot that night, I think because I was so dehydrated and ran on very little sleep. I barely made it through dinner, and went to bed at 8:00 pm.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (Day 3)

Another early start after a sleepless night to begin our second day of touring through Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. We became wiser today and brought blankets from our room and added another layer to block out the wind.

After hopping into our open-air vehicle and set off at 6:00 am. We headed back to the lion kill from the previous day first, where the three male lions were still eating the eland they took down.

The morning light shining off these lions can’t really be put into words or captured on film, but it is one of the best game-viewing experiences we’ve had. Dana and I have talked about Kgalagadi vs Kruger, and how vastly different they are. I think everyone on our tour agreed that you get up closer to the animals at Kgalagadi.

We took another route today, on the dry river banks, and the landscape was dramatically different. The river bed route we took yesterday was a dry, arid landscape – one that made you wonder how life could be sustained.

Today’s scenery included gorgeous undulating dunes covered with green vegetation, flowering trees, and a lot more ground cover and shrubbery.

We happened upon a male lion with two females picking away at something unrecognizable – with an incredibly bloated belly that looked like it was about to burst. You could smell it from the vehicle 30 feet away. The male lion sat upon the ridge like a sphinx – his regal appearance overlooking the valley.

Today’s wildlife was also very different. We saw way more birds today, including smaller, colourful species, owls, eagles, and falcons. We also saw numerous meerkat, ground squirrels, kudu, steenbok, and even a honey badger.

Our rest stop was at an old farmhouse with a little museum which was quite interesting. There were some trails leading to old developments like a blacksmith pit, hide tanning area, cooking area, and a hand-dug well.

Down the path was an animal carcass that still had some meat and fur left on the bone. It’s kind of ironic that you’re told not to get out of your vehicle, but the picnic stops don’t have fences and both of the ones we stopped at had carcasses nearby. 😂

What I really loved is that out of the 350 lions that live at Kgalagadi, we saw 9 of them. Those odds are pretty good when you consider the park itself is 38,000 square kilometres.

I fared much better today and made sure I kept drinking small sips of water so I wouldn’t have a repeat of yesterday. We got back to Kgalagadi Lodge around 1:00 pm, opted to not have lunch, and now I’m sitting here writing today’s piece as Dana is napping.

We’re heading down for an early dinner at 5:00 pm – as tomorrow we have to take off around 5:30 am to head 2.5 hours back to Upington to catch our flight to Cape Town via Johannesburg!

Arrival in Cape Town (Day 4)

When you’re on a safari tour in Africa, there really is no such thing as sleeping in. We woke up at 4:00 am today to get organized and were on the road at 5:30 am for our 2.5 hour journey back to Upington Airport.

From here, we were flying to Cape Town via Johannesburg.

Both Airlink flights were incredibly pleasant, with what I think is the best airline food we’ve ever had. With a quick one hour flight from Upington to Cape Town, and an hour layover, we arrived in Cape Town after a 1.50 hour flight. 

Still, it makes for a long travel day (in this case, about a 12 hour day!). You can get direct flights from Upington to Cape Town basically on every day but Saturday, and of course we had to fly on a Saturday. 😂

We just arrived at our hotel room at 5:00 pm (hi, from this beautiful writing desk at Southern Sun Hotel!).  We arrived in Cape Town without luggage.


Of all the times we actually check our bags and they get left behind in Johannesburg.

Five of us out of our group are without anything except our passports, phones, and small cross-body bags for 24 hours. So later tonight I’ll be washing my underwear in the sink and blow drying it. 😂

Aside from that, arrival in Cape Town was beautiful. The scenery is gorgeous as you fly around Table Mountain and Lion’s Head – it’s stunning scenery. We have the Niagara Escarpment and all, but Table Mountain sits at 3563 feet above sea level compared to Niagara’s 250 feet.

Our hotel was a quick 30 minute drive – if that – from our hotel in downtown Cape Town, about a 15 minute walk to the wharf.

Original plans included walking to the harbour for dinner, but since 5 of us didn’t get our luggage, that means we don’t have coats or anything particularly warm. So – we’re taking it easy after a long travel day and enjoying the hotel restaurant.

Southern Sun Hotel is gorgeous! Exposed brick walls complement dark wood trim with a bathroom complete with a large rain head walk-in shower. Reception was also kind enough to loan us a power adapter so we could charge our devices, and a toothbrush kit. I’m guarding that with my life. 

I’m sitting here having tea, finally getting a chance to decompress, and Dana’s phone pinged saying his bag arrived in Cape Town. Kind of funny I’m just writing about this and this happens. Haha! Mine updated shortly after and our amazing guide is Ubering back to the airport tonight to retrieve them.

Ps. Apple AirTags work! They helped us identify where our bags were, as well as when they arrived. This took all the guesswork out of lost luggage!

Cape of Good Hope and Boulders Beach, Cape Town (Day 5)

What a luxury it was this morning to be able to sleep in!

After a night in the most comfortable bed and incredible shower, we felt human again after days in the desert. Our day started with a buffet breakfast and we were on our way at 8:30 to do some touring around while the weather was still decent. The forecast for our two full days in Cape Town didn’t look great, but we headed out this morning with sunshine and clear blue skies.

We started our drive through Cape Town to get to a coastal route on our way to the Cape of Good Hope. There’s an extreme swing in affluence and poverty here, however, you see that in every major city.

The coastal drive is so beautiful. The ruggedness of the mountains flanked by the rough ocean waves creates such a dramatic scenery. I was in awe the entire time.

We wound our way through winelands and past numerous communities, all while listening to our fantastic local guide give us a backstory on Cape Town’s sad and tragic history.

Between slavery and hunting animals to extinction, unfortunately there isn’t anything positive about Cape Town’s past.

Due to the extremely high winds (like, I’m talking extreme winds – all the locals are telling us this is really unusual for it to be so windy), the scenic drive along Chapman’s Peak was closed. It travels right along the mountain ridge, so you know what? I’m ok with that. We didn’t feel like getting blown over the edge today.

Our first stop was at Maiden’s Cove in Camps Bay, where I have never laughed so hard in my life at the sheer force of the wind; sustained 75 km/hr winds whipped right through you. We got some epic photos of our hair flying in our faces, took in the scenery, and held onto our phones for dear life. 

Our next stop was at the Cape of Good Hope, the most south western point on the African continent. I’ve wanted to come here for such a long time to have my photo taken here.

I can’t believe the gale-force winds today though. As we drove through the park, our bus struggled against the wind to make it down the road. We pulled up to the parking area and saw a woman doubled over having a difficult time walking.

That’s it – we’re all holding hands – no one is flying away today!

I gripped my phone for dear life as I looked over at the spray coming off the violent waves. What a moment. 

After getting a quick group photo in front of the Cape of Good Hope sign, we had some extra time to spend in the park and we made our way over to a bontebok breeding area.

These antelopes are only found here in the Cape of Good Hope. They’re a beautiful shade of brown with a white chest, white face, and white bum. We saw quite a few of them, along with baboons, along the way.

Fun Fact: Cape Town has baboon crossing guards! We saw a lady with a yellow flag slowing down traffic to allow a lone male baboon to cross one of the streets, only to help himself to someone’s garbage can. We learned that people have to keep their windows and doors locked in their houses and their cars, because baboons will find a way in. Imagine waking up one morning to a baboon family in your home?!

We made our way to Cape Point Lighthouse – a stop normally enjoyed for an hour or so on a sunny, calm day, but with a quick visit to the gift shop and bathroom, we made our way back to the bus for shelter.

You can opt to take a funicular up to the lighthouse, or a winding trail, but it’s exposed at the top and wasn’t recommended by our guide since the wind can quite literally careen you off the edge.

One of the highlights of visiting Cape Town for me was going to Boulders Beach.

This stunning beach is made up of huge granite boulders, but it’s famous for its African Penguin colony! Back in 1910, there were around 1.5 million African Penguins living here. Between hunting and taking the eggs for food, their population was decimated to just two breeding pairs in 1982.

Since then, Boulders Beach has become a protected area and it’s now estimated that 3000 African Penguins reside here.

By this point, the weather had really taken a turn for the worse. We had to walk 850 m from the bus to the beach. Just as we reached the penguins, the rain started.

The wind was already rough, and we were advised to wear sunglasses to prevent the sand from whipping in our eyes. If it was a nicer day, I definitely would’ve spent much longer here.

After enjoying lunch with plenty of seafood on offer just a few minutes from the penguins, we were on our way back to our hotel for a good hot shower and a rest. Our bags were moved for us to our second hotel and they were waiting for us upon arrival at City Lodge Hotel Victoria & Albert Waterfront

Cape Town Winery Touring (Day 6)

Today was a day we were looking forward to; a relaxed day touring some beautiful wineries in Cape Town!

South Africa is well known for its wine producing regions and abundance of wineries. Coming from the Niagara Region, I was excited to see how they compared. We had three lined up, with a total of 17 tastings (!!!) so we knew we were in for a fun day.

Due to the heavy rains and wind, the original wineries we planned to go to were flooded out. A lot of the roads were closed along the way too, and we couldn’t believe how much flooding there was. Along the route to Stellenbosch, we passed Soweto, a ghetto community set up to accommodate 200,000 that ended up having over 2.4 million people living across 48 square km.

It’s unfathomable what these living conditions must be like, and you can’t take your eyes off these sheet-metal huts along the road.

Our first stop was at Vergenoegd Low Winery, established in 1696 for the famous Duck Parade. However, due to the rain, they weren’t bringing the ducks out.

We hung around the most beautiful 350 year old family home converted into a stunning wine tasting facility for 45 minutes, took an obscene amount of photos, learned some history about the place, and then moved on to our first winery for a cellar tour and wine tastings. 

We arrived at Neethlingshof Winery which has the most beautiful estate. Sprawling land with views (on a clear day) would be astounding.

It’s a popular spot for wineries and it’s not hard to see why – the facilities are beautiful! We learned how the wine is harvested and produced, and got to sample 5 of their white and red wines.

We then headed to Muratie Winery, my favourite of the day. This very rustic winery almost resembled a castle on the inside, with antique furnishings, historic walls, and a cozy atmosphere.

It had so much character oozing from every square inch. We enjoyed a charcuterie board here then decided to stay for lunch since we were already there and it was still pouring rain out. 

Our last winery stop of the day was at Fairview Winery. This is where we had a setup of 8 tastings paired with cheeses. Wine pairings are one of my favourite ways to experience new wines since food will always alter how wine tastes. It was a lot of fun and the grounds were stunning.

All of the wineries we saw have huge properties with well manicured gardens. Fairview was flanked by Birds of Paradise and calla lilies – flowers that are horrendously expensive at home but grow freely in South Africa!

After 17 wine tastings today, it should come to no surprise we all slept on the way back and had an early night. 

Travel to Botswana (Day 7)

At this point I was ready to leave Cape Town. I know the weather impacted my outlook and experience here, and I was glad to see some amazing sights I had wanted to see for a long time, but I was ready to go back to the wild.

Since we had some free time this morning and the weather was clear and sunny, we took advantage of that window of opportunity to head up Table Mountain.

We left our hotel at 8:45, luggage in tow, to head to the top of Table Mountain. It was absolutely packed, which I should’ve expected, since it’s the most visited park in Cape Town. Tickets are roughly $25 USD/adult, and we stood in line for an hour before hopping on the cable car to get to the top.

The cable car ride itself is quite dizzying, and I wouldn’t advise doing it if you’re feeling unwell.

Naturally, given our luck, it got cloudy as soon as we got to the top but the views along the way were spectacular. The wind is quite fierce, too, but there is a shop and a restaurant you can take shelter at.

You’re free to spend as much time up there as you like, and I’m sure on a clear day it’s rather enjoyable. We stayed up for about 30 minutes before descending down again.

From there we headed to the airport to catch our flight to Livingstone. At the time, the original plan was to head to Kasane in Botswana, connecting through Johannesburg. Those connecting flights would’ve taken all day so we grabbed the only direct flight with Air Kenya.

It was the first time we hopped on a plane that was heading to Nairobi, with a stop in Livingstone. It was almost like a bus stop.

We landed at a remote airport with only one other tiny plane on the tarmac, and we looked at eachother and asked, “what country are we in?

Welcome to Zambia! It was the smoothest and least stressful airport I’ve ever been to. And our bags bag it this time, bonus!

We hopped into a bus to take an hour journey to the Botswana border, where we’d be spending the night. We were supposed to have 3 nights at Ichingo River Lodge in Namibia, but customs closes at 4:30 pm and since our flight landed later in the day, we would have to stay overnight in Botswana.

Little did I know it would become our favourite place yet.

The drive through Zambia was so peaceful – kids in school uniforms and adults making their way home from work and school with the most beautiful evening light, people laughing and chatting to each other along a dirt path next to the road. It was so heartwarming to see.

Soon it became pitch black. Violent lightning strikes appeared around us off in the distance, and we passed a fire along the way. We made it to the four-country border, where Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe meet.

We had to hop out to disinfect our shoes for hoof and mouth disease before hopping back in to drive to the customs building. A large room with Zambia customs on one side and Botswana on the other was unlike anything we’ve seen before.

Once our passports were stamped in and out (we’re getting a lot of stamps on this trip!) we had to head back to our suitcases, unpack our shoes, and disinfect them for hoof and mouth disease. In the pitch black. We then hopped into yet another new van, since our other one was registered to Zambia, and headed 20 minutes down the road to the gorgeous Cresta Mowana Hotel.

There have been a few memorable hotels we’ve been to in our travels, but Cresta Mowana has left me speechless. A beautiful centuries-old Baobab tree stood front and centre, with the hotel built around it.

Every design element was well thought out, with the use of natural materials that really made you feel connected with nature. This property sits right along the Chobe River, where I am currently writing this while overlooking the river on our balcony. I don’t want to leave. Chirping birds and a gentle breeze bring reprieve to the heat and it’s so peaceful here. We’ve seen bushbuck and warthog and all kinds of birds.

The room has high vaulted ceilings with a fan and air conditioning. The linens on the massive bed are delightfully crisp, and there’s stunning netting draped around the four poster bed. A large bathroom has a separate tub and half-moon shower.

It’s peaceful to sleep here, but I woke up and thought Dana left the bathroom light on all night because there’s a long strip of glass that lets the morning light in, and it was the sunlight that lit up the room like a light would.

Travel to Namibia (Day 8)

I didn’t want to leave Cresta Mowana. After a morning of leisure and being able to sleep in (for a change!) we had a relaxing breakfast and wandered around the resort taking photos and soaking in the atmosphere before soaking it all in on the balcony.

This property would be amazing for honeymoons or weddings, and I could’ve easily spent the entire 2 weeks in Africa at this very place.

We were picked up around 1:00 pm to transfer to the river border crossing in Botswana. We went into an old building, had our passports stamped by a very friendly agent, and hopped into a boat, with two smaller boats for our luggage, before heading off down the river.

We cruised by the resort we just stayed at, which was neat for a different perspective. It’s sprawling landscape is beautiful and it’s quite a large property where we saw plenty of warthog.

We pulled up to a tiny port; Namibia customs. There isn’t any signage, so if you were cruising down the river you’d have no idea this was the customs area!

We had to hop out of the boat, walk a few minutes to the immigration building (which I was told would actually be closed if the river was higher!), had our passports stamped, walked back to the boat, hopped back in, and continued on down the river to our next stay: Ichingo River Lodge.

The warmest arrival awaited us at Ichingo.

This tented camp appeals to fishers since you can have some of the best fishing along the Chobe River. We arrived to monkeys playing in the trees and sand, and were handed a welcome drink before being given the WiFi passport and having to fill out an indemnity form.

We were swiftly escorted away to our rooms by one of the guides, our bags in his hands, to tent number 2. It’s not the typical tent you may imagine when you think of a tented camp. These canvas tents are a permanent fixture, with a huge bathroom with proper walls and plumbing.

There is even air conditioning within these tents, or you can open up the panel for a nice cross-breeze. You’re also left bug repellent in your room which was a nice touch. I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie, with a table with two antique glasses and a sherry decanter.

Lunch was served family style at a big long table; fresh caught fish cakes, salad, and pasta salad awaited us. There is also this beautiful fresh baked bread available at every meal. All drinks are included at Ichingo River Lodge – with the exception of liquor. But with wine, beer, water, and soft drinks available, who needs it?

Before long we were hopping in a boat to head out for a sunset river cruise.

Our guide Nico brought us to the most amazing spot to land the boat on a sandbank to watch the sky turn from yellow to pink and orange. Along the way we stopped to watch hippo, spot crocs, and identify different types of birds.

When we arrived back, Kennedy, the lodge manager, was waiting for us along the water with “medicine” aka sherry. What a warm welcome back!

Dinner was a beautiful beef fillet with creamed spinach and sweet potato chips. One thing’s for certain, you will not go hungry at Ichingo. Since the bugs are awful here, we actually had to dim the lights to prevent all the moths from flying into us.

Before long we noticed all the bats swooping down for a dinner of their own.

We waddled back to our rooms around 8:30 to settle in for the night and had one of the best sleeps of this entire trip.

Chobe National Park (Day 9)

The day started with waking up to the light streaming into the bathroom through the side of the tent. What an amazing night’s sleep. We were cocooned under our blankets listening to the gentle rush of the river.

This morning was a leisurely start. Some of the guys went out fishing at 6:30 but the rest of us met at 8:00 am for breakfast before discussing plans for the day.

We ended up walking to the closest village on Impalila Island, Kafubu, just a 10 minute walk away.

The women of the town welcomed us with a song and dance. Meanwhile, we were distracted by the adorable kids who wanted to try on our sunglasses. Of course, they flocked to Shirley who came with candy.

The women had their crafts on display; gorgeous intricate wood carvings of animals, bowls, spoons, and platters, as well as woven bowls and trivets made from a towering Baobab tree in the centre of town.

Our guide from Ichingo gave us a tour of the village and explained that this land is owned by Ichingo. Those that live in the village built their homes of mud and thatch; some of them have electricity and water and live independently of each other.

After an hour we had returned. It’s just the start of summer here, but the heat was almost unbearable. I couldn’t imagine what it’s like mid-summer.

We had a great lunch and then set off for Chobe National Park. We saw tons of crocodiles, hippo, birds, and then we saw them – the elephants.

We came across two along the river and were enamoured by them. I didn’t want to leave! Little did I know we’d come across a herd of 150+ strong just down the river.

Our boat pointed to the river bank and sat there enjoying a glass of wine as we saw young males, mothers, and babies grazing on the fields of Botswana. The sight can’t quite be put into words. 

On the way back we spotted more hippo (the size of which you can’t even comprehend as they make their way out of the water), and crocodiles that lurked beneath the surface. We spotted a few dead cape buffalo that had become their meal. Nature is wild.

Upon returning to Ichingo, we sat around enjoying snacks and drinks and listened to who caught the biggest fish during their stay. The tiger fish are massive here, and with piranha-like teeth, you wouldn’t want to mess with them. It really made you apprehensive to even travel by water.

Everything in there wants to kill you. 

Wondering whether to visit Kruger or Chobe? See which safari best suits you!

Travel to Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls (Day 10)

I woke up this morning to head to the balcony of our tent to get caught up on some writing. The view is lush, and as I look up, I see a vervet monkey above me howling to the rest of its family, along with hornbills and other birds that come to the shoreline to sleep at night. 

We enjoyed a quiet last breakfast before heading back up the Chobe River by boat to Namibia immigration to have our passports stamped for exit.

A tiny immigration facility with just one friendly agent addressed me by name and before long we were setting back up the river to Botswana immigrations.

It must’ve been a busy travel day (Friday) because there were actually lineups today! A lot of people from houseboats were there, since Ichingo is the only river lodge on Impalila Island.

Our driver was late, but it worked out fine since the parking lot was completely jammed. We hopped into a tiny bus before heading to Botswana immigration, hopped out, stood in line, and had our passports stamped.

Back in the bus we go.

We tried to get ahead of a huge tour bus, but in the end it really didn’t matter.

Zimbabwe border control is appalling.

I can write this now, but there is so much corruption happening there. People were waiting in the blazing heat upwards of 2.5 hours for their visas to travel into Zimbabwe, and you really only got ahead if you bribed the immigration officers.

Canadian visas already cost $75 USD, and they wanted another $25 USD in cash to hop the line. We were already waiting for an hour in the sun, so we sucked it up, waited another 30 minutes, only to be escorted ahead. I couldn’t believe that whole experience.

We then learned that guards can make $2000 USD a day doing this. Of course, if you arrive first thing in the morning there’s no motive for them to slow the line down to the point you’re waiting in the heat and sun you have no choice but to pay the extra money.

Another thing – why are US visas only $30 but Canadians $75 USD? What did we ever do to Zimbabwe?😂

We finally got past that nightmare and hopped into a spacious bus with plenty of seating for our hour journey towards Victoria Falls.

We pulled up to a gorgeous resort before being whisked away to Victoria Falls Safari Club. This luxury hotel overlooks a watering hole where various animals, including elephants, come to drink. We waited 15 minutes for our room after being handed some freshly squeezed juice, played around with the binoculars, and looked around the property.

Our rooms were finally ready, and when I say this place is luxury, I mean it. Wow, the rooms are unbelievably gorgeous!

Large king sized beds with draped netting, spacious open bathroom with large rain head shower, separate deep soaker tub, a toilet in its own room, and a large counter and sink with plenty of storage, robes and slippers.

There are even pots of mosquito repellent and sunscreen, all complimentary. It’s my understanding that summer is bad for mosquitoes up here, so they also bomb the rooms with mosquito repellant periodically.

We met our group for lunch over at the main lodge, before some of our group took off for the Victoria Falls helicopter tour. We opted to sit that one out and chose to do Devil’s Pool instead, until we were told later on that day that a new policy meant we’d have to purchase yet another $75 USD visa to get back into Zimbabwe, since ours was only a single entry the day before.

Devil’s Pool is on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls, so in addition to spending $165 USD per person, we’re now looking at $230 USD a person.

We lost interest since we didn’t want to go through that border situation again. I imagine Devil’s Pool tourism will drop dramatically with that new policy.

We enjoyed a leisurely afternoon at Victoria Falls Safari Club, starting with complimentary High Tea from 3:30 – 4:30, where they had little decadent treats laid out and you could get tea or coffee brought to you in the lounge.

After soaking that all in, we went back to our rooms to change into our swimsuits so we could enjoy the beautiful and refreshing two-level pool. I never would’ve thought I’d be swimming in Zimbabwe!

We went back to the rooms after an hour, washed my hair (what a treat!), enjoyed a glass of wine on the balcony (from our complimentary mini fridge!), then headed back to the lobby to partake in the sunset cocktail hour.

All drinks were included – and it was nice to have a gin and tonic after a couple of weeks. We tried the local Victoria Falls gin (make that a double) and had some pre-dinner snacks before catching the last of the amazing sunset. A burning ball of pink and orange sank below the horizon. 

At dinner, we were serenaded by a group of young men, enjoyed a light dinner (for Dana and I), and became excited over the fact we could sleep in the following morning (even though I was up at 5:30 haha). The fast-paced tour we’ve been on hasn’t been relaxing, so we’ve been taking every little moment to just decompress and breathe.

We came back to the rooms with the bed turned down and the mosquito netting draped over our bed. It was a beautiful and comforting sight!

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (Day 11)

I woke up early today to get some writing done. When I opened the blinds, a glowing ball of orange stared back at me; the moon! I’m overlooking the water hole with Cape Buffalo in the distance, eagles, birds, and a young bushbuck female right below me.

We started with a quiet breakfast overlooking one of the waterholes to see a family of warthog playing with a bunch of banded mongoose.

The Safari Club dining area is gorgeous – with a beautiful cold buffet and hot a la carte menu. There’s even a drinks station with vodka to make your own Bloody Mary for breakfast!

We (sadly) left Victoria Falls Safari Club and transferred to our next (and last) hotel. One of the criticisms we had about this trip is how often we moved hotels. We counted, it was 8 in 12 days. That’s a bit much and you never really felt settled.

Upon arriving at A’Zambezi River Lodge, we waited around to check in our bags so we could go for a walk around Victoria Falls. Which, by the way, isn’t free! Victoria Falls costs a whopping $50 USD per person to enter the park. But if you’re a local it’s $7 USD. Haha.

You can easily spend half a day wandering the trail system here and enjoying the 16 viewpoints. However, there is very little shade, so if you visit, it’s preferable to visit when they open.

Is visiting Victoria Falls worth it? It’s quite a sight to see. It’s the 10th largest waterfall in the world by width – at a whopping 5600 feet long! It shocked me to learn how expensive it is, but that’s also the reason people come to Victoria Falls itself, so yes, it is worth it.

You can purchase water (2 for $1) right before the entrance gate, but we also saw a drink stand along the trail. Drinks were much more ($3/can of soda) but what are you going to do? With temperatures reaching 40 degrees, you’re going to want something to drink – so come prepared!

Victoria Falls is truly amazing. You can’t quite grasp the scale of it with photos or videos. We were at Victoria Falls National Park for a little under 2 hours and walked to all the viewpoints. When we came back towards the exit, there is a cafe and a beautiful art gallery you can purchase prints from. 

Devil’s Pool on the Zambian side

We wandered back over to where our transfer was, and ended up hopping in a three-tiered safari vehicle for the ride back to our hotel. We made a detour to the largest baobab I’ve ever seen. Apparently Bob Marley etched his name into it, and it’s over 1000 years old!

Upon returning to A’Zambezi River Lodge, we checked into our rooms, had a drink on our balcony, and flaked out on our bed before getting ready for our last night in Africa at the Boma.

We ended up arriving at the Boma Dinner and Drum Show for our last night in Africa.

This massive tented facility includes a full buffet dinner and a spit roast with all sorts of meat, including buffalo and kudu, as well as vegetarian options, fish, and local cuisine. There is also the mopane worm – which is eaten by the locals since it’s so high in protein – and if you ate one of these worms, you got a certificate.

Guess who got one?

We arrived and were dressed in a local cloth for the evening and our faces were also painted; four beauty dots for the ladies on the left cheek and 2 warrior stripes for the men.

They also had an amazing face painter that would come around, and for a donation, paint an incredible African scene wherever you wanted on your body.

There was also a witch doctor, where for just $1 he would throw nut shells and tell your future. He told me that apparently I worry too much, Dana is the reason for my great success, and that I will have a girl. Hmm. 

We were entertained by drummers and dancers before we all grabbed a drum to drum along. It was a memorable evening to top off our adventures in Africa.

Helicopter Flight over Victoria Falls and our Journey Home (Day 12)

Since our Devil’s Pool plans got changed, we still wanted to experience Victoria Falls in a different way other than just visiting Victoria Falls National Park.

Our pickup for our transfer back to Victoria Falls Airport to fly back to Johannesburg wasn’t until 11:30 am, so we had a free morning. Our guide booked us a helicopter flight for 8:30 that morning.

After driving through town and down a rough dirt road (while wondering where the heck we were going?!) we arrived at Chikopokopo Helicopters, a barren field in the middle of nowhere.

The helicopter flights are quite an attraction in Victoria Falls. For our two nights there we would see and hear them constantly. After we were given a safety briefing and weighed, we hopped in with a man from Montreal and a lovely couple from Australia for our “short” route, 15 minute flight over the falls.

I’ve never been in a helicopter before and the sensation is much different than a plane. Our pilot flew around the falls twice to give passengers on both sides a great view of the falls.

The views are spectacular, and if you ever find yourself in Victoria Falls it’s worthwhile doing. It is expensive – at $175 US/pp (this varies based on tour companies and includes transfers), but it’s a memorable experience that topped off our trip!

We arrived back at our hotel just in time for checkout – after a quick shower and a wait in the lobby, we found ourselves back on the bus back to the airport.

After a miscommunication with our flight bookings, and a chaotic boarding procedure, our quick 1.30 hour flight led us back to Johannesburg.

We had 5 hours to spend at the airport which I thought would’ve been tough to fill, but between a late flight leaving Zimbabwe to an incredibly long line at security, we had an hour to spend sitting and relaxing before it was time to hop on to our 16 hour flight back to Atlanta.

I was grateful we were able to upgrade our Delta seats to Premium Comfort, which gave us so much more legroom and a foot rest, nice seats, and lots of drinks and snacks.

Do we look tired?😂

Those hours flew by, I watched a bunch of chick flicks and surprisingly got some sleep. Dana and I both agreed that was one of the nicest flights we’ve been on. Unfortunately, that means we’re now ruined and have to save our pennies so we can always upgrade our seats!

In transit home (Day 13)

As I sit here writing this piece from a booth in the food court in Atlanta, sipping a strong coffee I haven’t had in two weeks and waiting 6 hours for our 9th and final flight back to Buffalo, then driving to Canada, I am reflecting back on our two weeks away.

We have seen so many incredible things, exhausted beyond belief, sick (still!), but so grateful to have made the journey to Africa not once, but twice in our lives. I know I’m not done yet; there is still so much more to see. 

We travelled with an amazing group of people, and it was great to get to know them even more after first being together in 2019.

As always, thanks to our fearless leader Bill for keeping us all in check and organized, and our incredible guide Paddy from Mafigeni for bailing us out of sticky situations and getting us safely from place to place. Thanks for the memories and all the experiences we will never forget!

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