My husband and I honeymooned in South Africa. Here’s why we loved it
We had it all planned in our minds. We would be married in August and we would delay our honeymoon until late December. My otherwise inflexible work calendar was undoubtedly going to afford everyone two full weeks off over the holiday break. I was absolutely sure of it. My husband was going to save his vacation days for the trip. We would fly out the first night we could, see the sights in Sydney, hang out in the hip city of Melbourne and maybe even try camping in the Outback before taking in all the wine and all of the natural beauty we could that New Zealand has to offer. All while escaping the seasonal affective blues of December in the warmth of the Southern Hemisphere’s summer. It was going to be a wonderful two weeks and we would have everything we could want in a honeymoon.
And with that, I didn’t get the time off I anticipated thus making this trip impossible. Womp womp. Poor us.
My husband and I enjoy travel. It’s what we save for and spend on. When our plans for down under went south, we gave this opportunity a lot of thought.
We knew that our backup plan involved a trip very soon after the wedding. Why delay it?
Did we still want to go to Australia and New Zealand? As great as that destination sounded, it was more enticing for travel during their summer season.
We pondered Hawaii, but truthfully, we’ve never really been ones for beach-oriented vacations. Italy came up. While we were dating, we actually had discussed a honeymoon in Italy. But to do all of that touring of all those cities in the probable heat of August sounded more like work than an enjoyable and romantic experience with my brand-new husband. Maybe that’s a trip we’ll take in the spring or fall at some point.
Then South Africa came into our periphery. It was on both of our bucket lists, and after some research, we decided it had everything we wanted—cities to explore, wine and food to enjoy, history to learn of and, of course, safari. What more could you ask for in a honeymoon experience?
Three months out, we tried to plan it ourselves, but quickly realized that we had no idea what we were doing. Completely unfamiliar with the area, how were we to know what was reputable and of a decent quality? How did airline transfers work in this part of the world? Are online reviews really trustworthy? Moreover, how do we spot a tourist trap from something that’s not?
On top of all of these questions, we were really busy getting ready for, you know, a wedding.
Enter Lisa O’Gara, our travel agent of #1 Travel in Merrick, New York. After communicating strictly online, Lisa quickly got a feel for what kind of trip we wanted. All she needed to know was how long we intended on going for, and of course, “How much do you want to spend?” (Uh, eight dollars and twenty-seven cents?)
The trip Lisa planned allowed us to experience South Africa’s best. We started in Cape Town, made our way to the nearby wine region of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch and then headed across the country for four unforgettable days of safari.
Upon getting ourselves to Cape Town (South African Airways from JFK with a layover in Johannesburg), my husband and I were immediately met with a clear sense that this was a cosmopolitan, happening city. While there, we learned of Cape Town’s evolution from port city established by the Dutch East India Company, to being ping-ponged between Dutch and British rule in the early 19th century, to the harrowing injustices of and subsequent breaking free of apartheid, to its current era of rejuvenation which is widely credited to its 2010 hosting of the FIFA World Cup Finals. It has a rich history.
The natural landscape that is the backdrop of Cape Town is as spectacular as the city itself, which boasts a strong coffee culture, opportunities for hiking, shopping at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront and restaurants with menus that were contemporary (and mostly delicious).
We quickly learned that the US dollar goes very far in South Africa. Toward the top of The Silo, Cape Town’s premier hotel, lies the Granary Café, a chic restaurant with modern menu choices and a wine list that did not disappoint. (We have to thank our Best Lady and her husband for this, as the whole thing was a gift from them.) My husband and I each had an appetizer, a main course, a dessert and we shared two bottles of wine. The taste and quality of it all made for a dining experience for the ages. In most major US cities, meals of this caliber in an aura of swank such as the one offered by The Granary would cost hundreds of dollars. In Cape Town, it was the equivalent of eighty bucks. We were awe-struck.
And that rang true throughout Franschhoek and Stellenbosch as well. Lisa booked us a private tour that included wine farms like Babylonstoren and Waterford Estates. After some wine flights, we inquired about purchasing bottles to ship home. The low prices were simply unbelievable for the quality.
One of the things we loved about this trip is that it balanced the active exploration of Cape Town and tourism of the wine region with a more relaxed vibe when we went on safari.
We spent four days at the Simbambili lodge in the Sabi Sands game reserve (which shares an unrestricted border with Kruger National Park). With two three-hour game drives per day, one bright and early at 6:00 in the morning, and the other at 3:30 in the afternoon, we spent the rest of our time lazing around the honeymoon suite. In addition to the king-size bed, full living room and open concept bathroom, we enjoyed the adjoining deck which had a small pool, an outdoor shower and another king-sized bed in the shade of an overhang. All of this was in complete privacy and in the stillness of the African savanna. Of course, we were fed breakfast, lunch, and dinner and we each splurged on a massage (you only honeymoon once, right?)
The game drives were magical, and on each one, we were treated to Mother Nature telling some kind of story. We bore witness to the migration of water buffalo on one. Another evening we got a front-row seat to a tiff between a lion and a small pack of hyenas over a meal of impala. The very next morning we came upon a leopard waiting for its baby to find her and enjoy the meal she captured which she craftily stored atop two branches high up in a tree. In general, I would consider myself a bit more of an indoor person, but all of that combined with watching some epic panoramic sunsets and seeing Africa’s “Big Five” (elephant, leopard, water buffalo, lion and rhinoceros), I get it. I understand the appeal of the great outdoors.
The whole thing really was a perfect way for us to conclude not just the honeymoon, but the entire chapter that was our engagement and wedding.
Since my husband and I returned home, we have been telling everyone who we talk to about our trip, “Get yourself to South Africa.” There seem to be many FAQs on the topic, and so here goes my best attempt to answer them all: No, you don’t need vaccines (though you’re welcome to bring malaria pills as a preventive measure). Yes, the flights were long, but so what? It was an excuse to turn our phones off and watch movies or sleep. No, we weren’t at any risk of any animals charging our vehicle, thanks to the clear guidance of our Jeep driver (two rules: Sit down and don’t stand up). Yes, we felt safe.
What we most loved about this trip to South Africa as a honeymoon choice is that it was equal parts exciting and relaxing. The sights were interesting, but never did we feel guilty for taking the one or two afternoons to lay low and relax. The food was good, the wine was plentiful, the people were friendly and the scenery was gorgeous. And while the safari was proportionately more expensive than the rest of the trip, we feel that our money was very well spent. To be honest, the only additional advice we can offer is to get there. Yes, you! Go there! Now!
William Travers (pen name) and his husband Matthew were married at The Piermont in Babylon, New York, in August 2019. At that point, they had been together for nearly five years. William is a public school teacher on Long Island, and Matthew works at a nearby university. Together they blissfully enjoy shared interests in television, travel and food.