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Follow Me! My Itinerary to S. Africa and Mauritius
Hello, I’m Tania and if you’re a stranger to me, let me tell you, I love to travel. Luckily, I have been fortunate enough to also have a boyfriend that shares the same excitement for travel as I do. Having said that, it has always been our dream to go to Africa. We’ve fantasized about seeing it’s countryside, going on a safari and mingling with the locals plenty of times. So when the time and money seemed right we jumped on the chance to follow our dreams and check off some boxes on our bucket list. It was such a great vacation for us. After our trip a lightbulb went off and I got to thinking about how many people often get overwhelmed with thoughts of planning such a trip. So I decided to share our slightly over two-week travel itinerary for those to follow that may find themselves in such a dilemma.
- Day 1 To Johannesburg
- Day 2 Continue Flight to Johannesburg
- Day 3 Explored Sandton
- Day 4-7 Lodged at the Phelwana Game Lodge
- Day 8 Back to Johannesburg
- Day 9-16 In Mauritius
- Day 17-18 Heading back home
Day 1 Airport Shuffle
I live in Louisville, KY so that’s where our journey began. We took a simple flight from Louisville, KY (SDF) to Washington, DC’s Dulles Airport (IAD). From there we began our long awaited (and dreaded) two part journey from Washington, DC to Johannesburg, South Africa, which would last us a total of a whopping 19 hours or so combined. If you’re curious, yes, we could have done a straight flight from Louisville to Johannesburg but for our own reasons we split up the first part of our flight. Boy and I’ll tell ya, there were such mixed feelings about the flight. We were excited about the journey that lay ahead but worried the flight would consume our soul with boredom. After all was said and done, it wasn’t too bad. It was our first long flight and though we lingered through the air hour upon hour, we found things to keep ourselves busy with. We brought books, music and our most treasured outlet, a crossword puzzle book! But the best counter against our boredom was the fact that our flight enabled us to watch free new and old movies that we may have missed back home.
More than likely your flight will also be through South African Airways. I am unsure if all flights are different but our flight took us from Washington, DC. (IAD) then to Dakar (DKR) to Johannesburg-O.R. Tambo International (JNB). A stop in Dakar’s airport is required in order to refuel. Hey anything to avoid falling out of the sky is fine by me. Other than that to add to the greatness of the flight the food was actually pretty great. We received two meals on the flight. Flight and a movie? Not too bad. We we’re really impressed with our flight on South African Airways.
Also, South African Airways asks that you check-in at least 3 hours up until 24 hours before your flight. The earliest you do this, the better off you’ll be. We decided to check in 24 hours before our flight as well as change our seats while we were at it. Best. Decision. Ever. Because they had us placed on the very back row right near the little girl’s and little boy’s room. Not cool. So it is wise for you to do the same if you didn’t already have your seats picked out during your ticket purchasing. Someone’s gotta be near the restrooms. Gotta make sure it’s not you!
*Side Note: Normally a shot is required to immune against yellow fever and hepatitis A but luckily we didn’t need it because we didn’t have to get off the plane for its refueling. Awesome! Money saved.
**Side Note: In the event that the first leg of your flight to Johannesburg was like ours and not a direct flight to Dakar, what we did to avoid rushing between picking up our luggage in Washington and rushing to check them back in, was simple. When we left Louisville we asked for our luggage to go straight to Johannesburg as we only had an hour between landing and getting to our gate. This was successfully done because our flight through United Airlines is in the Star Alliance network with South African Airways.
Day 2'ish Johannesburg Arrival
After soaring between dusk in the states and the dawn of a new country, we were happy that we were about to set foot on solid ground after such a long flight. Giddy with thoughts of adding Africa to our traveling experience, we still had a ways to go before fully engulfing ourselves. Having gotten about 4 hours of semi-sleep our next leg was crucial. We had to now take the Gautrain, which is the train system in Johannesburg, to reach our destination hotel in Sandton which is about a 20 minute scenic ride on the train from the O.R. Tambo Johannesburg airport. The Hilton Sandton was where we decided to stay because we wanted to be near the popular Mandela Square in downtown Johannesburg.
Once arriving to the O.R. Tambo Johannesburg Airport we had to exchange our money for rands, gather our luggage and find the train. We exchanged our money with ease. Found our luggage no problem. The train however was easy but required a few extra steps. Once getting free from customs we asked for assistance on how to reach the train station from an airport employee. Here’s what we found out: As you make your way from customs you will go through a set of windowed doors and come upon a circled walkway. To the right of that circle, towards the KFC, you will see a set of escalators. There are also elevators near the escalators if you can catch it. However, if you take the escalators, you will take two escalator rides up. If unsure, always ask someone or merely follow the signs hanging down. Once on the upper platform you will see a set of kiosks and a window where you can buy your tickets for the Gautrain. The tickets are paid for in rand and placed on a card instead of paper tickets. You can pay for round trip or single trips. For a single way it cost us 151 rand. About 11 bucks.
After paying for our tickets we found the train no problem. If you go straight past the gated entryway, continue straight and make a left. Voila! There you will have the Gautrain. You can’t miss it. It takes you straight to the city of Sandton within 20 minutes or so, if that will be your destination. When you reach Sandton, you will disembark and take the train escalators or elevators all the way up until you can’t go anymore. Another escalator outside of the gates that requires a swipe of your train card will then take you to the street level of the city of Sandton. Boy, when we arrived to Sandton it was our first full breath of fresh air since leaving Louisville and it was great! We finally felt free.
Day 3 Exploring Sandton
Our goal was to only stay at the Hilton Sandton for 2 days before proceeding on to our “true” destination which was at The Phelwana Game Lodge in Hoedspruit. So for our first full day we headed out on the town to Mandela Square. There are a string of restaurants and a way cool mall sharing the area. It was finally nice to see some of the city and its people.
Day 4 Terminals and Transpos
The big (and long) day finally came where we would head to the Phelwana Game Lodge (To check out my review of this lodge click here.). Good. Because my excitement for safari’ing was rising. However, in order to be picked up for the lodge we had to arrange for a shuttle to pick us up (we did this weeks before our trip) at the O.R. Tambo Airport. But first to get from our hotel to the Sandton Train Station and then on to the O.R. Tambo Airport, we had to figure out what to do. Our dilemma was that while normally a shuttle can be requested to take you from the Hilton Sandton to the Sandton Train Station, we had to catch the train by 6 in the a.m. and the hotel’s shuttle does not start that early. So we immediately used google maps to figure out our walking route to the train station. We knew on the cab ride to our hotel just days ago, it didn’t seem to be that far. According to Google maps it was about a 10 walk. Nothing to it. So we gathered our things and set out in the dim lit morning to the train station. If you’re lucky you may find a cab to hail but by the time you hail him you wouldn’t have much way to go before you find yourself at the train station. But depending on how much luggage you have, you may want to have the hotel call you a cab. We didn’t have much luggage and were up for the adventure of walking to the station. Within minutes we arrived at the station and were taken from the train station to the O.R. Tambo Johannesburg Airport.
*Side Note: Though we stayed at the Hilton Sandton, I noticed the Radisson Blu (There are 2 Radissons downtown; be careful to choose the right one.) that was literally right across the street from the train station. You may want to look into staying there if you plan to stay for just a night in Johannesburg like we did, before moving on to the Phelwana Game Lodge, as it is closer. Another alternative would be to stay somewhere right near the airport such as with the Intercontinental Hotel or the City Lodge Hotel. Again, we wanted to be in the downtown, Mandela Square area. That’s why we had reservations at the Hilton Sandton. If you have no interest in hanging in Downtown Sandton, then choosing a hotel near the airport would be better.
Once we arrived at the airport, we made our way to the main level where we began days before. We were told to meet our Ashtons Tours transportation at the Bus Terminal. Though oftentimes airports can be confusing, signs were clearly marked up above with BUS TERMINAL. We made our way there quite quickly and smoothly if I do say so myself considering it was 6 in the morning and with no food in our bellies. There was an instant hustle and bustle of people coming and going once we got there; with a steady traffic of transport vans and buses ready and waiting to pick up their passengers for the day. Finally after waiting for a few, our transport van arrived and picked us up, along with other groups, and we were soon on our way to the Phelwana Game Lodge. Our ride ended up being about a 4 hour drive (including 2 breaks) to a small airport called the Eastgate Airport. We were then dropped off with the expectations of being picked up by a driver representing the lodge. Here also, you can exchange your money if necessary. Keep in mind, the exchange rate may not be as great. Once our ride from the lodge arrived we were taken to the Phelwana Lodge.
Day 5 Finally Phelwana
Spent time exploring the lodge some. Went on a game drive through the facility and enjoyed a Sundowner with the other parties that were with us.
Day 6 Big 5 Day
Safari in Kruger Park – Schedule this either ahead of time or if time is permitting you can schedule a safari while at the lodge.
Day 7 Day Tripping
Took a day trip and did some sightseeing through a bit of S. Africa. We saw an beautiful alternative to God’s Window, the Lisbon Falls and Bourkes Luck Potholes. We arranged a tour for this through Phelwana Game Lodge during our stay there.
Day 8 Traveling Back
This day we left the lodge with saddened faces but happy hearts and were taken back by one of the Phelwana Lodge employees to the Eastgate Airport where our transportation from Ashtons Tours was scheduled meet us again and pick us up. (The pick-ups were arranged with Ashtons Tours via e-mail weeks before our vacation even began.) We were then taken back on another 4 hour drive to the O. R. Tambo Johannesburg Airport to the same bus terminal.
Our plan was to stay overnight in Johannesburg before starting our next leg of our vacation which was to Mauritius. The reason being is that there were no scheduled flights to Mauritius after the time that we arrived back into Johannesburg. So we had reservations to stay at the Premier Hotel O.R. Tambo. The great thing about Premier was that it was close to the airport and there would be a free shuttle from the hotel that could take us to the airport when we were ready to head out for our early morning flight to Mauritius.
Side note: We were supposed to call Premier Hotel for a shuttle to pick us up but couldn’t get a call through on the phones available inside the bus terminal. But lucky for us (and unbeknownst to us), the shuttle for Premier comes every so often to the bus terminal and we were able to catch it without being on any list for scheduled pick-ups.
Day 9 On to Mauritius
We take the shuttle from Premier and head to the airport in order to fly out to the Mauritius airport, Mahebourg (MRU), from Johannesburg. The flight was about 4 hours. When we landed, we exchanged our money for rupees and met up with our transportation who was right on time. Matter of fact, he was there before we arrived and was readily waiting. FYI, we informed our transportation of both our arrival and returning dates at the time of reserving it with Taxis Mauritius.com. Again, we did this about a month in advance to our vacation date.
Surprisingly to us it took an hour to get from the Mauritius airport to our hotel, the Veranda Grand Baie Hotel & Spa. (To check out my review for this hotel click here.) By the time we reached our hotel there was enough time to grab a bite to eat as it was getting dark. Plus we were yet again exhausted from the travel and much needed rest was in order if we were to explore our new destination the next day.
*Side Note: Mauritius is 2 hours ahead of Johannesburg.
**Side Note: The Mauritius airport is super small. There were about 5-6 eateries within it. Before arriving to the airport, you may want to grab something substantial to eat. There are two places before checking in your luggage and about 2 after. I advise you to eat at one of the two before checking in your luggage because it seemed to have more of a selection to choose from than the eateries near the gates.
Day 10 Explore Mauritius
Couldn’t wait to rise and shine. And it was well worth it. The ocean was absolutely gorgeous. Unless you have bad weather when you go, Mauritius is truly beautiful. We enjoyed the day exploring our surroundings and checking out some of the restaurants and food carts that lined the road minutes from where we were staying. We also partook into some of the free activities that our resort offered.
Day 11 Express to Port Louis
We decided to take the Express Bus to Port Louis to explore the City Center which is abuzz with eateries and bustling downtown life. It was a nice outing if you’re up for breaking away from your R&Ring for a while.
Day 12-16 More R&R
The rest of the week was just relaxing and enjoying the time spent in Mauritius.
Day 17 & 18 Byes and Flies
Home again, home again, jiggety jig. If only it were that easy. We still had to catch a flight from Johannesburg to Dakar, Dakar to Washington, Washington to North Carolina, North Carolina to Louisville, KY. Gulp! Another day laden with a blur of flight exchanges and butt-numbing flights. And that’s indeed what we did. The next day we left for the Sandton Train Station via the shuttle offered by the glorious Sandton Sun. (It was truly an awesome place to stay.Very upscale and posh) We took the train from Sandton to the O.R. Tambo Johannesburg Airport. By this time we felt like pros. Everything hit right on time for the rest of the leg of our travel. Soon enough from airport to airport we found ourselves back home 22 hours later. By far, the longest flight I’ve ever taken but so well worth it!
To say that my boyfriend and I immensely enjoyed our journey from Africa to Mauritius would still be an understatement. Even through the hustle of finding gates and making connecting flights our spinning heads still managed to find the time to enjoy every moment. To see Africa and Mauritius’ beauty also made us take the time to appreciate the world we live in. So much so that I want you to do the same. By following our itinerary, you too can see part of that world. Even if you tweak our route more to your liking, I hope my information has made planning such a big trip a little less scary and has given you the push to put a trip to the continent of Africa into your future plans.
If you have any questions or comments please leave them below.