South Africa

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Ten Days in South Africa

With its dramatic coastline and lush interiors, South Africa offers one of the world's most diverse landscapes. Between vibrant Cape Town and its Winelands, the scenic coastal Garden Route and safari camps in the wilderness, it's also a massive place to explore, making itinerary-planning challenging. Here are ten days that give a taste--but know that most first-time visitors will want to return for more.

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Day 1-4: Cape Town

Cape Town

Sitting in a bowl-like valley framed by mountains that seem to rise vertically out of the sea, Cape Town is known as the Mother City. Get your bearings from above by taking the cable-car ride up to Table Mountain. Return for a lunch and stroll around the bustling V&A Waterfront, which holds many shops, restaurants and such hotels as Cape Grace and Table Bay Hotel.

From here, take the ferry to Robben Island to see the former prison that held many political figures, including Nelson Mandela (whose memoir, "Long Walk to Freedom," is a must-read). Cape Town's apartheid history is also on display at District Six Museum. Some 60,000 people were forcibly moved from District Six in the 1970s, and the many personal tragedies examined at the museum powerfully reflect the city's darkest time.

It's hard to stick solely to the museums in Cape Town, while the natural splendor beckons. At the stunning Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, founded in 1913, stop by the Tea Room for an afternoon break. Another fabulous excursion is the False Bay Coast, which runs along the Indian Ocean, with breaks at Kalk Bay (increasingly trendy with restaurants and art galleries) and a visit to the penguin colony at Boulder's Beach, a delightful stop for families traveling with kids. En route back to central Cape Town, reserve a table at the minimalist-chic Harbour House in Kalk Bay.

In recent years, Cape Town has emerged as a real foodie destination. When looking for great dining, seek out any project headed by Luke Dale Roberts, one of South Africa's most celebrated chefs. His Test Kitchen, in the reclaimed Old Biscuit Mill, as well as his Pot Luck Club & Gallery are both excellent.

Gourmets should also save at least one day for exploring the Cape Winelands, about an hour's drive from Cape Town. Scenic town like Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl and Constantia offer a historic frame to this dynamic region that seems to have invented the concept of farm-to-table dining. Don't miss Reubens, a Franschhoek classic; Le Quartier Français, headed by innovative chef Margot Janse; Overture, a sleek eatery overlooking Stellenbosch, and Pierneef à la Motte, a newcomer at the wine estate of opera singer Hanneli Rupert.

Day 5-6: Garden Route

Garden Route

The drive from Cape Town to George takes about five hours, but along the way, you travel along the aptly named Garden Route, making for a scenic drive. Between a mountain range and the Indian Ocean, the route runs past Bloukrans Bridge, home to the world's highest bridge bungee jump. Continue on to George, a popular seaside town whose feel is reminiscent of such U.S. resort destinations as Cape Cod and Nantucket. Relax for a few days at Fancourt, acclaimed as one of Africa's top golfing resorts.

Day 7-10: Shambala Private Game Reserve

Shambala Private Game Reserve

No trip to South Africa would be complete without some time spent in the bush on safari. Large national parks like Kruger are world-renowned but equally pleasurable are smaller game reserves, where guests have the wildlife practically to themselves. Shambala Private Game Reserve is located in the Waterberg plateau, north of Johannesburg. More than 371,000 acres have been combined into a protected UNESCO-listed Biosphere Reserve, making for incredible animal diversity. Guests of Zulu Camp can expect to see the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros), as well as cheetah and black impala. Thanda Private Game Reserve is set in KwaZulu-Natal, the history-rich South African province that's roughly the size of Portugal. One of the highlights of a stay at Thanda is visiting Vula Zulu Village, a living museum of Zulu culture. Elephants were successfully reintroduced to Thanda’s 14,000-hectar reserve (around 35,000 acres), so guests can see these magnificent creatures back in the wild--along with black rhino, cheetah, lion and rhino--on daily game drives.

Transfer to Johannesburg (3-hour drive) for your international flight home.

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