Airlift: Most international flights to the region fly into Johannesburg International Airport and make connections from there.
South African Airways (800-722-9675, ww2.flysaa.com) has the only direct flight from the U.S. into South Africa: the 15-hour Washington, D.C.–Johannesburg flight. As a new member of the Star Alliance, SAA now partners with United.
Transportation: A taxi from the Johannesburg airport to city center takes around 35 minutes and costs about $33. From the airport in Cape Town to city center it's a $25, 30-minute ride.
Passports and Visas: Americans need passports but not visas to visit southern Africa if staying fewer than 90 days.
Climate/Time Zone: Southern Africa is seven hours ahead of EST and the seasons are the opposite of ours.
Tour Operators: One of the best all-round operators in the region is South Africa–based Wilderness Safaris (011-27-11-807-1800, www.wilderness-safaris.com). It runs scores of expertly managed camps and lodges for a variety of budgets in Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The company places a high premium on conservation and encourages agents to book through its destination specialists. For referrals to a destination specialist, e-mail WS via its web site. The average commission is 10 percent.
Doing business for 35 years, CC (Conservation Corporation) Africa (888-882-3742, www.ccafrica.com) operates a wide range of top-notch luxury concessions in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, and is another big proponent of sustainable ecotourism. Choose from a number of specialist tours, from walking safaris to family trips. Agent commissions run 10-to-15 percent. For information and special requests, send an e-mail to the CC Africa Consultants at the Johannesburg office at [email protected]
Abercrombie & Kent's (800-554-7016, www.abercrombiekent.com) top-of-the-line travel itineraries cover South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia, and combine safaris with city stays, spa vacations and more. Among its bush properties are three of Botswana's most lauded luxury safari camps, Chief's Camp, Chobe Chilwero and relative newcomer Baines' Camp. A&K gives agent commissions of 10 percent, and provides an Agent Services Extranet, which lets agencies create custom versions of A&K brochures, for example. For information and special requests, call A&K's Concierge Services at 800-554-7094 and ask for the Destination Specialist for a particular country in southern Africa.
Hotels: In Cape Town, the waterfront Table Bay Hotel, a Sun International property, recently completed a multimillion-dollar refurbishment that includes a spa. All 329 rooms have views either of Table Mountain and the harbor or the ocean and Robben Island; rack rates for doubles run $440-$580. The best accommodations are the Presidential Suites; each has a sitting area, a dining room and even a grand piano in some. Visit www.suninternational.com or call the sales office in the U.S., 954-331-8135. For arranging customized or VIP services, contact Janet Samuel at [email protected] The general manager at Table Bay is Luis Pinheiro, [email protected]
Most rates at bush lodges include game drives, food and entertainment (alcoholic drinks are sometimes extra).
It's hard to beat one of the most respected names in luxury safaris, Singita. The big news is that Singita will take over management of Pamushana Lodge, the company's first foray into Zimbabwe, in July 2007. Pamushana offers the same level of luxury and service as at Singita's seven other properties; clients can fly there without having to go through Harare, where red tape stemming from the unstable political climate can stall travel. Pamushana has Big Five safari action, plus ancient rock-art sites, a freshwater lake loaded with tiger fish and an incredible diversity of habitat.
At the original Singita property in South Africa's Sabi Sand reserve, Singita Private Game Reserve, both Boulders Lodge and Ebony Lodge have gotten sumptuous makeovers. The Ebony lodge and suites have a richer color palette and restored antique furniture. Boulders' new design incorporates natural earth tones and modern furniture. Rates for both Boulders and Ebony lodges are $1,005 per person per night (Pamushana Lodge will have similar rates and its suites similarly outfitted). Each of the suites in Sabi Sand has a similar level of comfort and luxury (and most overlook the Sabi Sand River), but if you're looking for a little extra privacy, ask for suites numbers 7, 8 or 9.
For more on the Singita properties, go to www.singita.com or call 011-27-21-683-3424. To arrange VIP or customized services, contact Vanessa Berry at [email protected] The director of the Singita Management Co. is Mark Witney, [email protected]
International awards keep pouring in for Pezula Resort Hotel & Spa, which opened in December 2004 in Knysna, along South Africa's Garden Route. Pezula has a secluded beach, golf course, and 78 suites, each with its own fireplace, balcony and well-stocked pantry. Rates for standard suites range from $525 to $675; the Presidential Suites run from $1,270 to $1,475. The most requested rooms are the Presidential Suites—they're huge (1,475 square feet), with a separate lounge and dining area, kitchen and private patio or balcony. Go to www.pezula.com for details. To arrange customized service and relay guests' preferences, contact Pezula's reservations manager, Jackie Joubert (011-27-044-402-3410, [email protected]). Pezula's general manager is Russel Binks; his cell phone is 011-27-83-261-9613.
If a client is on a budget and has an of a safari vacation that's something a little less grand than a three-room suite with a private plunge pool, consider Duba Plains (011-27-11-807-1800, www.wilderness-safaris.com), in Botswana's Okavango Delta. The camp has only six tents, and all have decks that overlook the lush, grassy plains of the Okavango. Rack rates are $1,100 to $1,500 double per night, on the lower end of the upscale safari stays.
Restaurants: The southern Africa table is a melting pot of culinary influences, from native to European to South Asian. A highly recommended spot in Cape Town is actually a 20-minute cab ride away, along the Constantia Wine Route. Constantia Uitsig (Spaan-schemat River Rd., 011-21-794-4480) lies in a perfect vineyard setting and serves delicious international cuisine, including grilled springbok loin and a simple, elegant pasta Genovese.
In Cape Town, you can't go wrong with The Cape Colony (in the Mount Nelson hotel, 011-21-483-1850), the perfect venue for a special celebration. Executive Chef Ian Mancais offers both a classical and a contemporary (Asian fusion) menu.
Education: In conjunction with its "Visit Southern Africa" initiative, South African Airways, in partnership with Travel Agent University, offers a Visit Southern Africa Specialist Program (www.tauniv.com)—a training certification program for travel agents. South African Tourism offers the South Africa Fundi Tourism Expert Course (800-593-1318, www.safundi.net, [email protected]), a destination-specialist training course to help tourism professionals sell South Africa more effectively. Fundi offers six different training courses around the country.
• South African Tourism 800-593-1318 www.southafrica.net