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by David Cohen
Colors, adventure and energy… these are some of the qualities one encounters when visiting South Africa. From incredible wildlife and astounding scenery to thriving cities, South Africa has it all. South Africa’s complexity emerged from Dutch and British colonial history, internal warfare, and decades of struggle to become a modern democracy. In 1652, Jan Riebeeck arrived in the Cape to establish a station for the powerful Dutch East India Company, importers of slaves from all parts of Africa.

Years later riots and violence against the colonial rule caused the weakening of the Dutch power and finally, the British seized the Cape in 1795. In 1994 after decades of apartheid rule, Nelson Mandela become the first president of a fully democratic South Africa. Eight journalists left New York City on a direct flight to Johannesburg on South Africa Airlines, and although we were excited about the trip, the airline’s economy class is intolerable for a 15-hour flight. Our first stop was Sun City, two-and-a-half hours outside Johannesburg. This over-the-top resort, with its Las Vegas-style entertainment and man-made beach, is the entertainment capital of the Northwest province.

At Sun City we stayed at the Palace, a luxurious 5 star hotel with overly lavish accommodations–we would have preferred something a bit more subtle.The Pilanesberg Game Reserve, adjacent to Sun City, lies in an extinct volcanic mountain and is the largest game reserve in South Africa and the best place to witness the most spectacular wildlife in the region. Wild animals seen frolicking here include white and black rhinos, giraffes, zebras, cheetahs, elephants, lions, water buffaloes, hippopotamuses, and many bird species. But the day’s highlight was only ten minutes away from the hotel at the Sundown Ranch, where we held a lion cub–one of the trip’s most unforgettable moments.

The safari continued with a visit to Makweti & Metsi lodges in the Welgevonden area (both Welgevonden and Pilanesberg are malaria-free). Only three hours away from Sun City, these lodges are elegant and beautifully designed and maintained. Our friendly and knowledgeable ranger, Wayne, made our stay memorable. In his open Land Rover we drove up and down rocky hills and over creeks, experiencing the flora and fauna of mother Africa. Here we searched for lions and enjoyed a night safari. To add to the ambience of the evening, the crew surprised us with a picnic in the wilderness, where we witnessed a colorful sunset. Sipping champagne and eating hors d’oeuvres in the wild was an unforgettable treat–and hearing the sounds of animals nearby made the experience even more exhilarating.

From Makweti & Metsi Lodges the tour continued northeast toward the famous Kruger National Park, where heat and humidity are as common as the blue sky. At this prime attraction you can sit and watch the wildlife from the privacy of your own room. Imagine watching the first unsteady steps of a lion cub or listening to the joyful calls of birds seeking mates or watching monkeys fighting among themselves– all from the luxury of your personal lodge. Here you’ll be pampered with every comfort imaginable and have the finest cuisine delivered to your doorstep or prepared and served for you in the wild.

At Mala Mala and Singita Game Reserves located inside the Sabi Sand Reserve near Kruger National Park, miracles really do came true. These resorts are first-class and offer luxury accommodations with a distinctly African style. One night at Mala Mala we tracked a family of leopards that seemed unconcerned by our proximity.

After a week on safari we flew to Cape Town, the gay mecca of South Africa. This hot destination is one of the most visited spots in South Africa, even when the sun isn’t shining. Cradled between the mountains and the sea, Cape Town attractions include beautiful sandy beaches, wine country, botanical gardens, museums, shopping, and more. A cable ride to the top of  Table Mountain is a must. Named for its flat top, this mountain dominates the city’s skyline. From the top you can witness some of the best views of Cape Town and the peninsula. Visiting wine country is also required.

Over the past 10 years South Africa’s wine industry has experienced a renaissance, and their wines are among the most popular in the New World. A full day trip to wine country is recommended.Other places to visit are Cape Point, a cruise to Seal Island (a seal preserve), a trip to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for over 25 years, and the Castle of Good Hope.

We stayed at the Table Bay Hotel, a 5-star hotel on the stunning waterfront that is only minutes away from the gay village, Cape Town’s Boystown. The De Waterkant Village apartments–a complex of 60 beautiful restored historic cottages in the heart of the gay village–is another place where you can enjoy the privacy of home. Within walking distance to clubs, bars, bathhouses, restaurants, and shops, this village is the place where people meet to play day and night.Planning to explore the nightlife? We recommend some of the following spots. If dancing is what you want, then 55 is the stop for you–this club opens late and has a friendly crowd. Bronx is the most popular bar in the village, and is mixed, crowded and interesting. If a sophisticated atmosphere is important then Manhattan Café and Bar is the place to go. For steamy action go to the Hothouse or Steamers. Both bathhouses are open 24 hours on the weekends. Another spot to check out, especially on Sundays, is Clifton 3rd–the gay beach where you can mingle with locals.

DavidTours arranged dinner at Rozenhof restaurant where we dined with many of David Rubin’s (the owner of DavidTours) friends. We also were invited to a Sunday afternoon cocktail party at his friends’ mountaintop home, where the view of the peninsula was spectacular. Due to Cape Town’s high crime rate, caution is highly recommended here, and taking a taxi from one spot to another is a way of life. Make sure to call a taxi from inside an establishment, and never pick up a cab at the street corner.

From Cape Town we flew to Zambia to visit Victoria Falls–one of the world’s largest and most beautiful waterfalls. Nearby, at the Royal Livingston Hotel we treated ourselves to massages and were able to enjoy some rest and relaxation. At night we cruised the Zambezi River aboard the African Queen, where we witnessed a remarkable sunset with colors that reminded me of a Gaugin painting. The river was crowded with hippopotamuses and crocodiles. The following day we took a helicopter ride to see breathtaking Victoria Falls from above–Incredible! Unfortunately, three years of drought made the walking tour of the falls a bit disappointing.

From Zambia the tour traveled to Johannesburg. At night we dined with Rubin’s friends again. After dinner we visited the Heartland, a complex of gay bars which lacked the energy of metropolitan clubs and discos in the United States and Europe. After spending the final night of the tour at the Grace Hotel in Rosebank, an affluent suburb, we spent our last day bargain hunting at the Mall at Rosebank–the Mall’s African craft market has all your gift and souvenir needs.

South Africa’s diverse population, wonderful wildlife, and rich culture offer the traveler an unforgettable experience. Many thanks to DavidTours the organizer, and to our tour guide Christian who made our trip memorable.

To learn more about Africa call DavidTours at (888) 723-0699 or visit their website at www.DavidTours.com.

 ents from the top bar.