One of the best trips in my life was a tour from Cape Town, one of my all-time favorite cities, through Namibia and Botswana to Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. We did this as a group with g adventures. What? Group tour? If you know me, you know my aversion to group tours. A bus load of tourists is not my idea of traveling. But the small group, adventure trip turned out to be an amazing trip with a fun group of people led by two amazing people!
After seeing photos of the Namib desert, I was hooked. But putting an individual trip through Southern Africa together was harder than I thought, given the vast country of Namibia, the sparse population and thin infrastructure. With hardly any public transportation to speak of, renting a car would be one option to see the many sights far apart. Despite having driven all over South Africa by myself, driving through the desert, with the nearest gas station or doctor hundreds of kilometers away at times, didn’t seem like a smart idea. You could also see one or two of the sights on private tours, which are incredibly expensive! I’ve read reviews of people spending USD20,000 just to visit the Okavango Delta! So, a small group tour with g adventures “Cape to VicFalls” it was! You can read why you should consider g adventures here!
I will give an overview of the tour in this post and will provide more detailed reports and photos on the destinations I considered the high lights and dream-worthy destinations on their own in the coming weeks!
The trip started in Cape Town, where we met close friends from the US, prior to starting the tour. Cape Town is certainly a dream-worthy city and this was a return visit for me. It hasn’t lost any of its natural beauty nor the friendliness of its inhabitants and I really enjoyed coming back and revisiting some of the amazing sights. You can read more about it and enjoy photos here.
On the last night of our stay in Cape Town, we met our guide (or Chief Experience Officer) Janet and our group at the welcome event. Janet was not only calm, collected and competent (which is all-important, this is Africa after all), but she had the kind of fun, positive attitude you really want somebody to have, who’s taking you on an 18-day trip through the middle of nowhere! It also helped that we had a very diverse, fun group of experienced travelers from around the world! There were 14 of us for the first part of the trip and 18 for the final stretch, making it big enough to be fun and small enough to be personal. All of us had been to other countries than our home country, quite a few to many places, including of-the-beaten path ones. Over the next 2 ½ weeks we all learned just how competent and fun Janet and her partner in crime, our driver Elvin, were! Not only did they take us on an amazing trip, they made it real by introducing us to local villages and leaders, made it personal by throwing two birthday parties and made it fun through bonding at camp sites. What could have been the low point of the trip – camping in the cold desert – became one of the many highlights! Both, Janet and Alvin as our guides, as well as the diverse group, made this experience special and much better than an individual trip would have been. What I thought would be a disadvantage turned into a big plus!
From Cape Town, we headed North with stops at the Nederberg winery and an overnight in Lamberts Bay. After stocking up on supplies and anything we might need, we crossed the border from South Africa to Namibia, and stayed on the banks of the Orange River at the Noroshama River Resort. It’s a beautiful hotel, right on the river, with a nice bar and restaurant to enjoy the views. A visit to a nearby village for the thousands of seasonal farm workers and their families was an eyeopening introduction to Namibia! The welcome songs of the school kids were heartforming – but the “bar and driving school” rolled into one was a little scary! Even though it was just a stop over for us, it would make for a destination on its own right, if you have more time than us!
Our next stop was the Fish River Canyon. Having shared the beauty of the largest canyon in the world, Grand Canyon, USA, with a few thousand other visitors, it was amazing to experience the second largest canyon with just our small groups. The Fish River Canyon is carved into the landscape 160km long, up to 27km wide and up to 550m deep, providing a stunning sight to behold from just walking along the canyon rim. If you want to see more, you can embark on a 90km, 5 day hike to experience it fully! We stayed at the funky Seeheim (“lake home”) Hotel. It’s was a German colonial outpost at the railroad and it’s location on the river gave it the feeling of an island in the rainy season.
Our trip so far would have made for a great vacation already, but our next destination, Sossusvlei, would be one of the high lights and a true dream destination. The photos of this salt and clay pan in the middle of huge, red dunes, had inspired me to make this trip to Namibia – and the reality was even better than the pictures had promised!
After two days of camping in the desert, we were looking forward to some time in Swakopmund, the adventure capital of Namibia, with a real hotel, good restaurants and lots of adventure activities to explore. If you have been to Queenstown, New Zealand, you know what to expect: From sky diving to quad biking and sand boarding, you will have plenty of opportunity to get your adrenaline fix!
If I had to pick one destination out of this trip to recommend to friends and family, it would be Etosha National Park. I have been to a few game reserves and will never tire of watching wildlife in its natural habitat, but experiencing wild animals congregating at the many water holes in Etosha, some even visible from a lodge, are a truly amazing experience that is difficult to find elsewhere. Etosha is only five hours from Windhoek, making it a dream you can also realize as an individual traveler!
Our next stop (and last for a few of us) was Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. With just over 300,000 people, it’s a fairly quaint city, and a welcome break on this nature trip. It’s funny, how much you can enjoy a comfortable bed, a meal served on ceramic plates and a mall full of people! While it won’t feature as a dream destination on this blog, I enjoyed our short stay before heading into Botswana.
Trading our soft bed for something a little less comfortable, our next stop was in a bushman camp on the edge of the Kalahari desert. It would be the coldest night of our trip, so the huge fires lit for dinner were very welcome. Getting insight into the traditional life of the bushmen, with a walk through the bushland and observing dances at the fire, were highlights of the trip. While this was an organized event, it was a very different experience than some of the shows being put up for tourists in other places. By visiting in the their environment, we got a glimpse into the traditional life that is at risk of disappearing.
Our next stop was Maun, the jumping off point for our expedition into the Okavango Delta. The delta is one of these places that defies description. The beauty is hard to capture in pictures and the emotional experience, the sense that you just want to stay and sit and soak it in, is hard to put in words. It is one of these special places anybody should experience once in their life…
While I wished I could stay, I didn’t want to be left behind by our departing dug out canoes and off we went back to Maun and on to the Elephant Sands Lodge for the night. Seeing elephants at Etosha was beautiful, despite the fence (thankfully) separating us from the water hole. Here, there were no fences and the wildlife was roaming freely without fences in the reserve and around the lodge. Always sceptical, I was doubtful – until elephants trudged right between two of our chalets to the waterhole, right in front of the restaurant we had dinner at! I gladly accepted the offer (well, you don’t really get a choice) of the ranger to walk me back to the cabin later at night. Never say, nothing can surprise you anymore…
You’d think we’d seen enough animals by now – and granted, an excited scream of “zebra, 9 o’clock” didn’t quite get the enthusiastic response as at the beginning of the trip – Chobe National Park turned out to be a special experience. It’s located along the river and seeing the animals from a small boat, with elephants crossing the river (a first for me) and plenty of crocodiles and hippos, it made a big impression on me!
After Chobe, we had to say goodbye to Elvin, our fun and fearless driver, at the border to Zambia, for the last stretch and our final destination: Victoria Falls. It’s considered the largest water fall on Earth, due to the incredible amount of water falling over a width of 1,708m and a height of 108m! It’s sitting right on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe and can be seen from both sides. To find out, which is the better one, and see the stunning pictures, check here!
This certainly was one of the best trips of my life, hitting so many dream destinations on one journey! All the destinations I’m highlighting here with individual posts are worth a visit on their own and will leave you with impressions you will never forget. So, come back to read the detailed reports here soon! Doing this trip with g adventures made it possible for me to see them all on one trip within a budget I could afford. Traveling with Janet, Alvin and our group of happy travelers made it so much better than an individual trip could have been! So, do one dream destination or do them all in a tour, and you will not regret it – just do it! People regret most the things they never did…