Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town had a lot to live up to – I’ve heard people rave about it for years and now I can say they were absolutely right! It’s a growing and changing city with a cosmopolitan downtown and tranquil wineries and parks on the outskirts. The backdrops are spectacular as Table Mountain towers above and the ocean surrounds it on three sides.

The downtown and waterfront fill with people, restaurants, and shops. The dining options include global cuisines and local artisans.

The Constantia winery region is on the other side of Table Mountain. Pinotage or Chenin Blanc anyone?

Cape Point Park includes the Cape of Good Hope with spectacular views and many shipwrecks. It’s not the southernmost point but it is the most famous one.

I saw elands, baboons, dassies, and ostriches there. Seeing ostriches by the ocean was odd,

but then I saw penguins in trees and shrubs! Boulders Bay has a colony of endangered African penguins right inside the town.

The city is filled with history and stories. I’ll have a separate post with what I learned about the apartheid era during my tours of the city, Robben Island, and District Six.

Right now Cape Town and the cape area has a multi-year drought going on. It is so bad that they were expecting “Day Zero” to happen in April – the day the water sources were empty and they would have to turn off the water to the entire city. But that day has moved back and may not happen this year due to severe water restrictions and conservation efforts.

Taps almost everywhere are turned off and antiseptic sprays used instead. The goal is for each person to use no more than 50 liters (13 gallons) a day for everything. The place I stayed had a plastic tub to collect the shower water and then that water was used to flush the toilets. The conservation efforts are strict but seem to be working. Now they need the rains to come to keep it from getting worse.


Swakopmund and Windhoek, Namibia

Swakopmund sits among the sand dunes on the Atlantic coast. It was a former German colony so the architecture is reminiscent of Bavaria. It’s a popular vacation spot so there are cafes and restaurants and plenty of things to do.

Just a short drive south is Walvis Bay, Namibia’s only port. We took a harbor cruise to see the colonies of cape fur seals.

Some of the seals and great white pelicans even visited us on the catamaran.

Windhoek is the capital of Namibia with about 350,000 people. Its landmarks include the Independence Memorial Museum and a gingerbread style church from 1910.

The city is on a plateau over 5,500 feet high so it is cooler than the rest of the country. And though it is the driest sub-Saharan country, it is the rainy season and there have been rainstorms most days.

Namib Desert, Namibia

Photos of this desert made me want to travel to Namibia and the scenery is truly gorgeous here! The country is about the size of France but with a population of under 3 million so it is one of the least densely populated places in the world. They became independent from South Africa in 1990. It is very dry here with most of the land consisting of desert or scrubland.

The Namib desert runs along the coast for 1,243 miles and is one of the driest places on Earth. The dunes are 65 million years old and at sunrise, the colors and shadows are striking.

As part of the Namib desert, the Deadvlei (Dead Valley) is a salt and clay pan that was once an ancient sea bed. It didn’t look like much when we were hiking to it – and had C. wondering if I was crazy to drag us out here –

But once on the salt pan and in the early morning hours, the colors were constantly changing based on the angle of the sun and the dramatic colors appeared. These photos aren’t photoshopped and were taken within minutes of each other. Really spectacular!

The red color is from iron in the sand oxidizing and creates rust colors that are really vibrant in the morning sun.

The trees are 700 to 1,000 years old! It is so dry here they don’t decompose and the dunes protect them from the wind. But the heat from the sun, which reaches over 100 degrees, has scorched them black.

We also saw oryx and ostriches in the desert and at our hotel near the park, the oryx and guinea fowl (African chickens) came to snack on the landscaping.

Victoria Falls, Zambia and Zimbabwe

The coveted double rainbow photo of Victoria Falls! Since it’s the rainy season most of the view sites are covered in mist and rain but the sun came out for a few hours for some spectacular views.

C. flew out from D.C. and we spent several days in Zambia and in Zimbabwe visiting the falls. We chose an adrenaline tour and went with a guide to Angel’s Pool. It is at the top of the falls and only 5 feet away from the edge to the rocks 300 feet below!!! It was crazy but fun!

Here are a few views from the top of the falls, from the Zambian side, and from the Zimbabwean side. The gorge forms part of the border between the two countries. The falls are the longest in the world at 5,604 feet wide and up to 100 million gallons a minute flow over the edge. The river is brown from all the soil runoff from the rains so the falls look striped!

The falls are called Mosi-oa-Tunya or The Smoke That Thunders because it looks like this from a distance. That’s the mist from the falls hitting rocks over 300 feet below!

Zanzibar, Tanzania

The Spice Island! White beaches, blue waters, and a historical center called Stone Town. Zanzibar is only a 2-hour ferry ride from the big city of Dar es Salaam and is part of Tanzania. It has been ruled by the Portuguese, then by Oman until the 1960s when it joined with the mainland.

Tanganyika (mainland) + Zanzibar = Tanzania

The old town is known for its maze of small streets and big, carved, wooden doors. The island was an important port for East Africa and was a center of the slave trade for hundreds of years.

It is known for its spices and there are farms to visit and see what the plants look like. Pepper and vanilla plants below.

And as a result of all the readily available spices the food is very good. Curries with spiced pilau rice, cassava leaves and roots, and pumpkin.

I saw a cooking demo too where the cassava leaves are pounded until they are soft enough to cook like greens.

Some scenes from Stone Town – the beaches get busy once the sun starts to set and it cools off. Many fruits are grown here so juice shops are all over.

And a Safari in Tanzania!

Scattered across the Ndutu plain in Tanzania are 1.3 million wildebeests and 250,000 zebras. They migrate here in February and March to eat the grass on the Serengeti. They’ll give birth and then head north following the rains. It’s hard to tell the scale but we drove for many hours past endless grasslands covered by herds. The Serengeti ecosystem includes the Masai Mara park in Kenya but the area in Tanzania is much, much larger with multiple parks and conservation areas over 5,700 square miles.

Baby zebras have brown stripes so they can hide in the grass.

Black rhinos are critically endangered with only about 5,000 in the world. In Tanzania, each one has a tracking device implanted in their horns and they are monitored by satellite.

We saw two groups of cheetahs sunning on termite mounds. Sadly, only 5% of cubs survive to adulthood. They wandered off when our amazed staring became too much!

The Ngorongoro crater area next to the Serengeti was formed by volcanos. The park is monitored by satellite and rangers and strictly regulated. There are many resident animals here year-round and when the rains come, a lake forms on the valley floor and more animals arrive. There are some permanent water holes for the hippos too!

And probably my favorite photo. In Kenya I vainly searched a tree where a leopard had been spotted but never saw it. In Tanzania, I finally saw one with the binoculars and then used a trick another woman showed me to take a photo with my cell through the binos. See it hiding on the left? (Look for the tail hanging down.)

More photos of animals! A just born wildebeest, warthog family, elephant herd, curious zebra, impalas, giraffes, male lion, and a jackal.

Safari in Kenya

I went on safari in Kenya to the Masai Mara and Lake Nakuru and saw so many animals! The area is called Masai Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti in Tanzania but it’s the same type of ecosystem and animals in both. There’s been some rain recently so it’s green and cool right now. The park has strict rules and as a result, the animals aren’t afraid of people or the vehicles at all. They were so close that I was able to get some great photos!

Pride of lions who were resting. There were about 12 in the area that we could see.

Crowned crane

Masai giraffes – they would feed on acacia trees near the road so we were able to watch them up close.

White rhino at Lake Nakuru. They are more social than black rhinos but this one was on its own.

Baby lion cub!

Zebra – there were herds everywhere

Cape buffalo – this is a male and his horns are thicker in the front because they ran into each other when fighting

Lilac breasted roller


Elephant female whose group had just gone into the trees


Hippos – they look like they’re smiling but they are the deadliest animal in Africa!

Male lion – there were two right by the road and they didn’t move when the vehicles stopped. He guide said they sleep almost all the time, only waking up to feed on what the females have killed. So lazy!

Plains baboons that go into the valley to eat and then return to the trees at night. There were 50 or 60 of them walking back in the evening.

Impalas were everywhere!

Thompson’s gazelles too


Another lion!

I also visited a Masai village nearby and we had a tour and watched the men do a traditional dance. The houses have no electricity or water and are demolished when the tribe moves every 9 years (because of termites). Cattle are very important to the culture so they are brought inside the fenced area every night.