5 South African Destinations that Took my Breath Away

South Africa? It’s fabulous. That’s what I tell everyone now that I’ve explored it from north to south. Somewhere between my visits to its unique urban centers, verdant winelands and vast deserts, it became one of those places that holds a special place in my heart. Here are 5 of the destinations that took my breath away:


julie riding a tuk tuk through johannesburg

My journey started in Johannesburg. Known as the “City of Gold,” this lively city is rich in history. Not only did I tour parts of the city by tuk-tuk with a local guide, but he dropped me off at the historic Nelson Mandela House.

nelson mandela house in johannesburg

South Africa has a complex legacy, and at the center of it are Nelson Mandela’s triumphs and tribulations as an outspoken anti-apartheid activist, first democratically elected president and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Seeing the home where he did his work was unexpectedly powerful and taught me so much more about his story.

Private Wildlife Sanctuaries

Kruger National Park and its surrounding game reserves are renowned for being home to the illustrious Big Five – lions, elephants, buffaloes, leopards and rhinos. With the densest population of wildlife in the country, this area is also known for bringing in large groups of wildlife enthusiasts year-round.

julie on game drive in south africa

But Thomson chooses small, private wildlife reserves on the outskirts of the national park, so you won’t have to compete with crowds for the best wildlife viewing. Night drives and walking safaris are possible in many of these areas. I’m very active, and don’t like long days in the car, so I jumped at the opportunity to stretch my legs and take a walking safari between drives.

dulini river lodge

private plunge pool

After a few hours of wildlife drives, we got out of the vehicle and walked along the savanna. My guide, Ani, pointed out some tracks, and I insisted that we follow them. We had them in our sights, and then we lost them, and then we had them again and we lost them again.

walking safari in south africa

.We were just about to give up on our search when off in the distance, an animal emerged from the brush. It was a leopard! We stood quietly with our binoculars for 45 minutes, just watching the way she moved and the way her spots glistened in the sun. It was a moment that I will never forget.

leopard in tree

Ani taught me all about the conservation efforts of South Africa. These sanctuaries stand as a beacon of conservation and education. The rangers and guides, with their wealth of knowledge, shared insights into the park’s efforts to protect its wildlife and ecosystems. Learning about the ongoing conservation projects and the country’s commitment to sustainable tourism left me inspired and hopeful for the future of Africa’s natural treasures.


Kalahari Desert

sunset in kalahari

The Kalahari offers a one-of-a-kind wildlife experience that allows you to immerse yourself in the vast and unspoiled beauty of the desert. It’s a chance to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and connect with nature in a remote and tranquil setting, and despite its arid reputation, the Kalahari is teeming with life.

I traveled there on a private charter plane, and was treated like a queen. This was my first time on a private jet, and I got the full posh experience: cocktails, snacks and excellent personal service. This luxury translated to the beautiful properties where I stayed. With a guide and driver to myself, I got to set my own pace for the day.

julie on safari in south africa

Having a local guide made all the difference: not only did I get to see my favorite animals (leopards, cheetahs and giraffes galore!), he taught me all about the flora and fauna of the desert. He had a talent for spotting wildlife that would usually go unseen by the untrained eye.

meerkats in kalahari

The luxury continued when we returned from our wildlife drives to a fabulous dinner prepared by a Michelin Star chef.

Sunsets in the Kalahari are nothing short of magical, but what truly captivated me were the stars in the night sky. Stargazing on my balcony with a glass of wine, a book and the sounds of wildlife was nothing short of heaven on earth.




At last, we reached the famous South African vineyards.

Renowned for its picturesque landscapes, historic architecture and, most notably, its wine, Stellenbosch has something for everyone. If you’re into art, Stellenbosch has several galleries showcasing both local and international talent.

Nature lovers will appreciate a visit to the university’s botanical garden. It’s a peaceful oasis with diverse plant life, walking trails, and a teahouse to relax in. For outdoor enthusiasts, a hike in the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve is a must. The reserve offers various trails with stunning landscapes, waterfalls and hundreds of birds to admire.

Of course, no visit to Stellenbosch is complete without indulging in some wine tasting. I spent two days exploring the numerous vineyards in the surrounding winelands and sampling some of South Africa’s finest wines. There was one Cabernet that I loved so much I brought a bottle home in my suitcase to open on a special occasion–such as when I’m booking my next adventure.


Cape Town

sunset in cape town

Touring Cape Town was the perfect way to enjoy great views, food, history and exercise. I spent my days meandering Cape Town’s stunning coastline, stopping to sample fresh juices and coffee concoctions from local shops. I also enjoyed a guided hike along the trails at Cape Point, where we saw stunning landscapes, oceans and lighthouses. After long days of safari game viewing and traveling on charter planes, stretching my legs was just what I needed.

south africa coastline

julie at cape point

lunch in cape town

What truly made Cape Town stand out was how vibrant and enthusiastic the people are. They love to share their stories, their food and their culture. One night, the manager of the hotel where I was staying came down to the restaurant and ate dinner with me and my guide. We exchanged stories of our families, jokes and our favorite travel memories over delicious food. Before I knew it, hours and hours had passed, and we closed out the restaurant. It felt like catching up with an old friend.


Do you have a bucket list? Put South Africa at the top of it! Give me a call at (855) 923-2434, and let’s start planning your perfect itinerary.

Until the next adventure, happy travels!

Julie Fratarcangeli