A few weeks ago, I returned from a 10-day trip to South Africa, which was by far the most uniquely wonderful trip I have ever been on. There was so much to see, to do, to learn. This country is incredibly beautiful, complex, and brimming with history. I hope the photos can speak for themselves, as I can’t quite do it justice.
By comparison, the packing that went into this trip was a less beautiful experience. To begin, the June/July winter season in South Africa can range from lows around 45 degrees Fahrenheit to highs of mid-80’s, depending on the day… and the region. The two cities we were visiting, Cape Town and Hoedspruit, are at opposite sides of the country, Cape Town on the Southwestern coast, Hoedspruit on the North East, next to Kruger National Park.
Secondly, packing light for this trip wasn’t as simple as tossing a few sweaters into a tote bag and calling it a day. I had to bring a real suitcase, albeit a carry-on. And a fair portion of my bag was allocated to my hiking boots and my DSLR camera. In a carry-on, this doesn’t leave room for much else, particularly when it comes to cold weather gear. I had my work cut out for me, as the weather forecast changed daily in the week leading up to the trip.
After a few days of packing and unpacking, and maybe some rolling around in a pile of clothes and defeat on the floor, I narrowed it down to 16 articles of clothing, not including accessories and underthings.
- 1 waterproof puffer jacket (Everlane)
- 2 sweatshirts: 1 long, 1 cropped (Synergy)
- 3 long sleeve shirts: 1 heavy flannel (secondhand), 1 lightweight flannel (secondhand), 1 turtleneck (Everlane)
- 2 tees: 1 t-shirt (secondhand), 1 v-neck (Camp Collection)
- 2 tanks: 1 gray, 1 white (Synergy)
- 1 pair jeans (vintage Levi’s)
- 1 pair leggings (old, Gap)
- 1 pair lounge pants (secondhand)
- 3 pairs shoes: Ahnu Sugarpine hiking boots, Allbirds Treerunners, and Birkenstocks
- 2 hats: 1 beanie, 1 safari
- 1 pair gloves
- 1 Buff
- 2 bras: 1 bralette, 1 sport
- 10 pairs undies
I also brought my camera, noise-cancelling headphones, my water bottle, two books, one compress pillow, and one notebook. Everything managed to fit into one carry-on and a backpack.
- Soap/Shampoo bar
- Safety razor
- Soapwalla deodorant
- Cocoon Apothecary facial sunscreen
- Bamboo hairbrush
- Jojoba oil
- Contact solution
- Tooth powder
- Bamboo toothbrush
- Facial dry brush
- 2 brushes
- Homemade face powder (in salad dressing container)
- Lipliner pencil
- Brow pencil
- Eyeliner pencil
- RMS Un Cover-up
- RMS Lip2Cheek
- W3LL people mascara
- Eyelash curler
The first leg of our journey was from Chicago to D.C., starting at 6:00 AM, landing in D.C. around 8:00 AM, with a six-hour layover. We took a bus to the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, and took advantage of their large storage lockers to stow away our backpacks and carry-ons for a while. This place is pretty neat if you’re into flying things and all. I spent a little too much time contemplating the human plight for absolute dominion over all life and feeling mildly claustrophobic looking at the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia. If you’re not particularly into aircrafts, I still recommend it as a great option to get out of the airport and stretch your legs on a long layover.
After a few hours, we headed back to the airport, and got ready for the second leg of the trip – D.C. to Johannesburg, which is a 17.5 hour flight.
Unfortunately, South African Air has very strict baggage requirements, and we had to check our carry-on bags. Thank god I took my camera out of my bag and stuffed it into my backpack, because after arriving in Johannesburg, we realized someone had gone through our bags. My dad had a few small items taken, so a word to the wise: use locks when going through J-Berg.
Our final flight took us to Cape Town, and we landed around 9:00 PM local time. As soon as I felt that winter gust of rainy wind, the puffer came out of the bag. We finally arrived at the Table Bay Hotel, located on the Victoria & Albert Waterfront, had a very late dinner, and headed to bed.
On our first full day in Cape Town, we were greeted with some more wind and rain. Which is great news, considering the extreme drought the city had been suffering from over the last several months (and please, no more Toto or Weezer covers).
We had breakfast at the hotel, and walked around the V&A Waterfront, eventually heading for cover in the Two Oceans Aquarium. The aquarium was a good size, considering the vast amounts of screaming children inside, and had a wide variety of wildlife from both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.
After insisting that I buy myself a postcard with penguins on it, we meandered our way back to the hotel, where we had some time to change before high tea. This was my first experience with high tea, and all I can say, is who needs dinner when you have a two hour, three-course tea? There were over 60 options of local, loose leaf tea, and three rounds of cakes and pastries. It was divine.
The next morning, the concierge had arranged a driving tour of Cape Point, the most south western corner of the continent. We started the tour with the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, which offers spectacular eastern views of Table Mountain. We managed to explore quite a bit before a torrential downpour. This was the first of many ten to fifteen-minute rainstorms, immediately followed by a rainbow and beautiful weather.
We continued the drive through Table Mountain National Park, stopping occasionally for some views of the ocean.
The next stop on the tour was the Boulders Beach colony of wild African penguins. This was my first experience seeing penguins in the wild. A few of them had wandered off of the beach, however, and into the populated neighborhoods nearby. I had to resist the urge to scoop a few little guys waddling around someone’s driveway and return them to their friends.
We then entered Cape Point National Park, driving past a few wild ostriches and impala along the way. There were also some families of baboons walking along the road, as well as on jumping onto the roofs of cars in the nearby parking lot.
The next stop was the Cape of Good Hope, which was originally thought by early explorers to be the the southern tip of the continent, as well as the dividing point between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.
We continued our route to Cape Point, the last stop. There you can hike up to see the original lighthouse from 1859. We had another 20-minute rainstorm, and took cover in the little history center at the top. I’m glad we waited it out. Here, you can spectacular views of the coastline, rainbows occasionally included.
We climbed back down, and headed inland for some late lunch at the Hub Cafe in Scarborough, a cute upstairs cafe with organic veggie options.
We drove back to the hotel to relax for a few hours. We opted for traditional African cuisine for dinner at Marco’s African Place, which also provides live music and dancing. Their daily specials included sheep kidney/hearts, impala steak, fried caterpillars, alligator, and ostrich. I ordered the vegetarian pasta.
On our last day in Cape Town, we took a thirty-minute ferry ride to Robben Island to tour the island and prison museum. From the end of the 17th century until 1991, the island had been used to house political prisoners, most notably Nelson Mandela for 18 of his 27-year sentence during apartheid. Our tour guide of the prison was a former inmate during the eighties, a few years after Mandela was relocated.
Having a former inmate as the tour guide was incredibly powerful. He spoke about how apartheid was carried out within the prison itself, with food and supplies being divied up based on racial profiles: whites getting the thickest blankets and largest helpings of food and coffee, colored people getting smaller portions and thinner blankets, and black people getting the thinnest blankets and least amount of food. He explained how the system was designed to continue the alienation and resentment amongst prisoners. These people had lived in isolation from one another for generations, and it wasn’t until they were imprisoned that they were able to speak freely to one another, eventually banding together in hunger strikes to demand equal resources.
The prison is left in its original state, weeds growing in through cracks in the cement, demonstrating the reality of what used to be, only a few decades ago. We continued the tour of the island, which is inhabited by a little over one hundred people, many of whom work at the museum.
The conclusion of the tour brought us back to the ferry, and we returned to the Waterfront. We grabbed a meal at Life Grand Cafe, sat by the wood stove fire, and had a hot cup of tea.
The weather decided to brighten up on our last morning, offering the first and only clear view of Table Mountain. Figures, right? We had our breakfast at the hotel, packed our bags, and headed to the airport to continue part two of the trip, a safari at the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, in Hoedspruit.
Things I learned:
- 17 hour flights are brutal. Bring a travel pillow, because the one that the airline gives you is generally a glorified butt cushion.
- I am eternally grateful for waterproof hiking boots.
- I packed sandals and sleeveless shirts, and wore none of them.
- Spotty weather and brief rainstorms are typical during the rainy season in Cape Town.
- Bring a lock for your luggage when traveling through Johannesberg. Or opt to put all of your valuables in your personal item.
- Talk to locals; learn as much as you can. Everyone we spoke with was incredibly friendly, proud of their country, and loved to talk about its history and current events.
- If it’s not there already, put South Africa on your bucket list.
Have any questions about my packing list, or any comments about must-sees in Cape Town? Let me know below. And stay tuned for part two!