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How to visit South Africa during lockdown

We are all experiencing COVID-19 in our own way, and many of us had to cancel trips. When all of this will be over, and how the travel industry will look once it can start operating again, is a big question mark. But in the meanwhile we are all bound to stay at home and sit this out. Not only for our own safety, but equally importantly for the safety of everybody else. I’ve noticed that I spent way more time researching possible future travel destinations. And during my research I found that several luxury hotels and safari lodges in South Africa let you enjoy their destination virtually through live streams on Facebook and Instagram to name a few. It took me a time to get used to it but now I’m hooked and every day I can go on multiple game drives in various locations without having to take a plane, or drive for hours in a game vehicle. Rather enjoy some of the culinary delights that South African top chefs have to offer? Well, they too jumped on the train to do live streams in order for us to get a wonderfull behind the scenes of how they prepare their beautiful dishes. Let me give you a few of my favourites. Tswalu, Kalahari This wonderful private game reserve is located in the southern Kalahari and offers only the best of the best when it comes to game drives, luxury accommodation, gastronomy… these days they take you on live game drives through the massive reserve, looking for some of the elusive animals you can find over here like (among many others) the pangolin and black maned lion. They also have a Q&A with several staff members like the lodge manager, guides and chefs. Talking about their chefs, Tswalu’s executive chef Marnus Scholly works closely together with Michelin star chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen who is one of the top chefs in South Africa. Both of them do regular live streams to showcase their signature dishes while taking questions from the viewers. So if you would like know what camels have to do with food in Tswalu, or why it is tough to spot an aardvark during the summer months you know what to do. Belmond Mount Nelson, Capetown Everyone knows this famous and historical luxury hotel, with its distinct pink colour and beautiful gardens in the middle of the city centre. While the rooms are beautiful and the overall grandeur of the hotel is ever present, it is maybe best known (special among the locals) for its amazing afternoon tea and the great restaurants you’ll find within the hotel. Most notably the Lord Nelson restaurant which is located in probably the most stunning room of the hotel (and arguably CapeTown in general) and the Chef’s table, which can be found in the massive hotel kitchen itself. Two total opposites, one main goal, to blown away the guests with honest and amazing food. Heading the massive kitchen staff is executive chef Rudi Liebenberg who cooks up the most amazing dishes while working in the kitchen of the Mount Nelson hotel. But during this lockdown he shares some of his secrets with the viewers on Instagram while making some of the comfort foods everyone can stir up. Those who don’t have Instagram can still enjoy the cooking lessons on Facebook where they are shared too of course. andBeyond Travel The famous andBeyond travel brand has several luxury safari and beach lodges across southern Africa and even Latin-America. And two of their most popular safari lodges, Ngala and Phinda, are now taking everyone who wants to join on game drive through social media. It is fantastic to see the guides continuing what they do best, and trying to find wildlife that the viewers are asking for. But not only that, they also answer all the questions you might have regarding some of the animals. The two lodges aren’t situated in the same park, which means you will have a better chance to see a bigger diversity of wildlife and plants. Ngala is situated in the Timbavati reserve, which is world renowned for its very rare white lions which you can find over here. There are only a handful of them alive, and most of them live in zoo’s across the world. So the find then and see them act in their natural environment among their pride is something very unique. Phinda on the other hand is located more south, and has its own private game reserve where you can also spot the big 5. Over here the guides will also take you along on their daily game drives to see what they can find and to test both their knowledge but also yours. It is a great feeling to still be on the game vehicle and look for all the animals. You might not have the wind in your hair, and the smell of the earth or fresh rain (if already), but it does give you a glimpse into what it would be to have a holiday here. Jabulani Safari Lodge Those who haven’t heard of Jabulani yet, are missing out. Especially if you are an elephant lover, or a safari enthusiast in general. The story of Jabulani started when the lodge took care of an abandoned elephant calf which was only 4 months old. They called it Jabulani and it was the start of a wonderful story where several orphaned elephants found refuge at the camp. Still today, you can see the elephants roaming freely during the day in the massive Kapama Game reserve, besides an abundance of other animals including the Big 5. Jabulani Safari Lodge is among the most luxurious safari lodges in South Africa and the fact that they combine conservation and luxury travel in such a flawless way makes them very unique. Being member of the Relais & Châteaux chain, you can also expect some amazing plates passing in front of your eyes. All of the staff are very involved and their head ranger Ruan Roos is one of the best in the industry. During these difficult times they share live stories on social media about the elephant herd and how they are doing during lockdown.Besides that you often get some footage from the Kapama game reserve too, specially when they encounter some amazing animals. The Saxon Hotel, Johannesburg This iconic luxury hotel in Johannesburg is known to deliver the best hospitality possible for vip’s and everyone else who wants to enjoy this secluded and tranquil retreat. And now they share all their knowledge on social media to make sure people are indulging at home too. Executive chef Jane-Therese Mulry shares some of her kitchen secrets on live-streams. The Saxon is also know for its famous spa which is among the best in South Africa, and their spa manager Tanya Lopes didn’t wait long to bring some of its glory to the people at home in order to treat their minds and body to something else besides the cover 19 crisis. And of course, a stay (even if it is virtual) at the Saxon can’t be complete without drinking one of their amazing cocktails, so their F&B manager shares cocktail recipe’s in order to make sure you enjoy that time at home. Singita A name that almost doesn’t need any introduction, Singita is well known across the world for its amazing luxury safaris which it offers across several countries in Africa. Now that the guests are gone, they try to make sure we can all enjoy the Singita experience through live game drives which often leads to some amazing sightings like lions, leopards and other wild cats. They also give a great behind the scenes of their K9 anti-poaching unit to give just one example. Or regular updates on their part of helping to raise money for the Grumeti Fund which does some amazing work for the last surviving eastern black rhino’s of which there are only 5 left. Their conservation manager Inge Kotze also explains very clearly what they are doing, what the effects will be and how important these conservation programs are. Besides all the live streams, Singita is also the place to enjoy some of the best wildlife photography out there. Many luxury safari lodges have some amazing photographers, though I feel they don’t always show their work as much as they should. On Instagram you will get to see more of it, but I would love to see an equal amount on my Facebook feed, and Singita just does it perfectly. Londolozi Game Reserve Londolozi is another one of those well known luxury safari destinations and they too try to keep the guests entertained. While guest would go on game drives at least twice a day, they now offer them live from the comfort of your own house. Though truth be told, I doubt your house is as beautiful as the lodges at Londolozi, and if it is, you will still miss the warm and friendly service from all the staff, not to mention the food which is equally impressive. As expected they are also member of the Relais & Châteaux group. Their ranger James Tyrell goes on virtual game drives daily and from the ones I’ve seen, I can’t hide the fact that I miss the excitement of going on game drives in the bush. It really feels like you are sitting in that jeep, warm wind in your hair, sounds from the outdoors all around, and looking everywhere to find those beautiful animals. No worries if you miss the game drive though, as they often put the highlights together on Facebook or Instagram in order for you to enjoy it. These times are unseen in the travel industry, and most probably in any other industry you can think of. Yet, that doesn’t mean people and service providers just sit it out. The amount of amazing initiatives that we’ve seen globally the last few weeks is incredible, and I do believe we must keep a positive outlook of this all, even though we can’t deny the massive financial headache it leaves behind. But by going on these virtual trips across South Africa it makes the lack of travel and social interaction more bearable. Stay safe, follow the guidelines given and let’s hope we can all leave the virtual travels behind as soon as we’re given the chance.

Kristof Eyckmans

Kristof Eyckmans is a travel writer from Antwerp, Belgium. He’s been living all across the globe and while he loves wildlife and nature, he can still enjoy a good urban jungle.

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  1. The interior of the Belmond Mount Nelson looks incredibly regal and sophisticated. When you say it’s so distinctive and pink, do you mean it’s pink on the outside? The wonders of technology, allowing hotels to still be present and part of the conversation with things like Instagram and social media.

    I’ll keep Singita in mind as we’ve talked about doing a safari in recent times, and I think this current lockdown has made us all the more aware of those things we’ve still not managed to do in our lives. Their Grumeti Fund is a wonderful idea and I hope they do really well in their efforts to help the eastern black rhino.

    You’re right of course, the situation doesn’t mean everything simply stops and it’s amazing to see the creative way brands and companies and providers are thinking outside the box to still be active during this time in some way. I imagine for a lot of people, the fact that we can’t go anywhere makes us value our independence and ability to travel so much more and we’re already thinking of where to go and what to do next when it’s safe to do so once the crisis is over. It’s not easy to imagine when that will be, but it will end eventually.

    1. Indeed, I mean the exterior of the Belmond Mount Nelson hotel. It was painted pink back in 1918 to celebrate the end of WWI and as a sign of peace. It kept that colour ever since.

      The Grumeti fund is indeed a great initiative, but I must be honest and say that all of the above mentioned safari lodges have similar initiatives, but I didn’t always mention them. They all focus on different aspects of conservation, but each equally important (and needed) of course.

  2. Truly amazing. I have been wanting to visit South Africa for such a long time. Recently, I’ve been meeting lots of South African people and they have some great information about where to go and what to see. I could spend a lot of time there, and I hope that’s possible sometime soon.

  3. If my Visa expire how I going to South Africa. I am coming form South Africa January 23. I am in Bangladesh now but my visa already expire so how possible to going South Africa

    1. In that case you best contact the South African representation in your country. As SA doesn’t have an embassy in Bangladesh you need to contact the South African mission in Colombo, Sri Lanka as they’re also taking care of Bangladesh.

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