This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Groupon Getaways. All opinions are 100% mine.
We're back from our Groupon Getaways trip to South Africa! I have just begun to sort through our 4,000 photos taken between Cape Town and Pilanesberg National Park...why the delay? Well, I had some minor dental work done earlier last month and what began as a small toothache ended in me getting an emergency root canal on Saturday. I'm just grateful that the abscess didn't get bad while I was on vacation, or worse yet, while we were flying home!
South Africa was everything we thought it would be and more. Angeline and I have wanted to go to South Africa for years, but it's always been out of our budget. While it's not very expensive once you are IN South Africa, the flights from the US are crazy! As soon as I saw that Groupon Getaways offered an amazing deal on a 10 day trip to South Africa - including airfare from JFK or Dulles, which are easy and affordable for us to get to from Miami - I knew that this would be the trip for us!
The first portion of our trip was spent in Cape Town, and I arranged a tour of the peninsula and cage diving with great white sharks while we were there. We booked these on our own, but everything else was provided by the Groupon Getaways package. I travel a lot, both for work and for personal pleasure, and I honestly don't enjoy the planning process very much when I travel. Arranging airfare, hotel, transportation and activities - and checking maps and distances to coordinate locations? It's so time consuming and can be frustrating and stressful to boot!
With the Groupon Getaways package we booked, everything was done for me: they booked our flights from NYC to Cape Town, then had a driver waiting for us at the airport, made our hotel reservation for us, had a driver pick us up to take us to the airport once our time in Cape Town was over, booked our flights to Johannesburg, had a driver pick us up at the airport and take us to the Ivory Tree Game Lodge in Pilanesberg National Park, made our reservations there, and had a driver pick us up and take us back to the airport when our time there was over and booked our flights home. It was so nice having someone else make the majority of our travel arrangements!
The only thing I had to do was figure out entertainment while we were in Cape Town. We stayed at the Cape Town Hollow Boutique Hotel, which was really close to a lot of things to do - it was actually next door to the Iziko Museum and public gardens! Angeline and I already knew there were specific things we wanted to do while we were there, so we booked tours for two of the three days, instead of just spending all of our time downtown. There were even cool Groupon offerings available IN South Africa, I just changed the location when I was searching Groupon - that's how I found the cage diving with great white sharks!
Both were amazing experiences, but the peninsula tour really gave us a great sampling of everything that Cape Town has to offer. We spent about 8 hours with a tour operator, a family of four and two couples, making our way across the coastline in a comfy mini bus. Each stop was full of incredible fun and gorgeous scenery, but even the view outside our window was lovely!
Our first stop was Camps Bay, which is pictured above. While the beach was beautiful, you'll notice that there aren't any swimmers in that lovely water - that's partially due to the cold temperature of the water and partially due to the great white shark sighting within the past hour!
In Cape Town, there aren't shark nets to keep the sharks out of the water. They use shark spotters, people who sit on the hill overlooking the beach with a pair of binoculars, searching the water for sharks. When they see one, they radio to the local beach authorities, who raise a red flag with a white line through it. This alerts beach-goers to a shark sighting with the last hour. If you see a black flag, that means that there is currently a shark in the water!
Our next stop was a local marina where for just about $10 US, Angeline and I booked tickets on an excursion to Seal Island, a local rock formation where the seals congregate. I love seals and was so excited to go on this little boat!
As soon as we neared Seal Island, we began seeing little seals frolicking in the waves. They were so adorable!
Are they adorable or what?!
As we made our way to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, we stopped at a lovely scenic overlook for a quick photo. It's rare that Angeline wants to pose for a photo with mom - you know how teenagers are! - but seeing as how I took her to Africa, she obliged a few times on this trip.
Next up was Cape Point, home to the oldest lighthouse in Cape Town. We were warned about the baboons in the area, but we didn't see any while we were there. I was a little disappointed because I love monkeys!
We took a cable car up the mountain to the lighthouse, but by the time we got there, the fog had rolled in and we couldn't really see the view we'd gone up there to see! It was only .75 cents, so we weren't complaining too much.
As we left Cape Point, we made our way to the Cape of Good Hope, which was absolutely beautiful! People can come to the Cape of Good Hope and do some hiking, but we weren't there for very long - just long enough to take some photos and do a little exploring.
This stop wasn't on our itinerary, but our tour guide wanted us to see it since we were so close. I thought it was very thoughtful of him to add it to our tour!
On our way out of the park, we came across wild ostrich on the beach! I'd never seen an ostrich in the wild and was incredibly excited! Our tour guide pulled over to the side of the road and opened the door so that we could all take photos. It was really cool!
Our next stop was lunch and then a walk down to Boulders Beach, which is home to South Africa's penguin colony. Our guide told us that it was once a public beach, but a pair of penguins wandered onto the beach one day and liked it...pretty soon the government had to close the beach to the public and make it a protected penguin habitat!
Entrance to the park was about $9 US, which I thought was a great deal! As we walked down the pathway, I was so excited to see a few penguins here and there, and kept stopping to take photos.
Little did I know that the majority of the colony was just a little bit farther down the beach!
It was so surreal, seeing penguins on a beach! I don't know about you, but seeing penguins on a sunny beach, swimming in the water and then wobbling onto the sand...it's not how I picture penguins! This is one of the things I love about travel, it really opens your eyes and shatters your preconceived notions about so many different things in life.
We even saw fluffy little baby penguins!
Our first day in Cape Town was pretty amazing...but our second day was equally thrilling. We booked a tour to Gansbaai, a town about 2 hours away, near Shark Alley, which you've probably seen featured on many Shark Week shows! We went cage diving with great white sharks and I have to say, this experience was even more outrageous that I thought it would be!
When you go out on this particular cage diving tour, you'll be happy to find that most of the people working on the boat are marine biologists or students working towards their degrees in marine biology. They report their sightings, take photos of the sharks while they are out on these tours, which I thought was really nice. It felt good to be on an educational tour that was entertaining as well!
We began seeing sharks right away after dropping anchor. The first guy to swim up was pretty small and I felt comfortable getting into the cage with sharks of that size.
Of course, as soon as I told my daughter that, this huge shark swam by!
One of the most interesting things about our cage diving with great white sharks tour was that they don't actually chum the water - they use fish oils and other fish products, but there's nothing for the sharks to eat. They use a seal decoy and a bunch of fish heads on a bait line, but they're legally not allowed to feed the sharks, so they never allow the sharks to get ahold of the fish heads.
Because they're not actually feeding the sharks, most of them swim away after one or two tries.