As you may have heard, penguins are nowhere on or even near the list of the Big Five animals that make up the Holy Grail of an African safari. Elephants, rhinos and Cape buffalo would trample them. Any lion or leopard would see a beach full of black-and-white appetizers. But if you’re ready to make your bucket-list safari happen, it’s worth remembering that there’s much more to Africa than the alpha animals of the veldt. Travelers who invest all of their time in the deep wilds only scratch the surface of what the continent has to offer.
The country of South Africa is the perfect place to realize your Big Five safari fantasies and to counter-balance them with sightings that are just as amazing: Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope, vineyard trails that lead to world-class wine tastings, the teeming townships that have risen in the wake of apartheid and—yes—penguins. You can have it all on this new Classic Journeys trip without committing to the weeks of travel time that many safaris entail.
Of course, the safari days are just what you hoped they would be. You’ll be in the Phinda Private Game Preserve, native habitat for lions, leopards, elephants, Cape buffalo and rhinos... as well as other species such as cheetahs. What’s unique about Phinda is how the Indian Ocean has influenced the climate, creating seven distinct ecosystems in closer proximity than almost anywhere else. The animals you came to see live naturally within easy range. From your luxury lodge within the preserve—complete with spectacular chalets, swimming pools and fine cuisine—you go for drives and walks with the highest chance of success that you’ll witness the animal behavior and get the photos you hoped for. (The big regret of many safari veterans is the endless hours they spent in Land Rovers without ever spotting a leopard.)
The safari is the climax of this carefully curated trip, but it’s hardly the only high point. You start in Cape Town, rightly known as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, as you’ll see for yourself on the cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain. Some of the most important chapters in the history of apartheid were written here. You’ll visit Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for nearly 20 years. Your expert local guide will be candid about the social impacts of the policy and take you for a revealing visit to Langa, the oldest of the cultural townships erected after apartheid. In the spirit of ubuntu—humanity towards others—you’ll deliver soup ingredients to the kitchen of a small school and meet the children.
One of the most momentous geographic spots on earth is the Cape of Good Hope where 15th-century Portuguese navigators first reached the turning point around Africa’s southern tip. You’ll see it from high above from a walking trail at Cape Point. Nearby on Boulder Beach, you’ll come face-to-face with the flock of African penguins that nest there. You’ll also settle into Stellenbosch, the town at the heart of the Cape Winelands. World-class vineyards sweep across scenic hills in an endless patchwork. You’ll take a lovely walk on a wine estate in the Franschhoek Valley and enjoy tastings in boutique wineries. How perfect is it that one of the wine trails just happens to intersect with an artisanal bakery, a wine bar and a sweet shop full of traditional Cape desserts?
From your first glimpse of Cape Town to the ultimate thrill of spotting a leopard draped across the limb of a tree, South Africa will exceed your expectations. By all means, go for the Big Five... but plan on returning home with a thousand other great memories.