Bucket List: Flying over the Great Barrier Reef & Whitehaven Beach

Bucket List: Flying over the Great Barrier Reef & Whitehaven Beach

Seeing the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) was at the top of my bucket list. It was probably in the top 3 honestly. I remember watching Steve Irwin’s shows when I was younger and dreaming of going there and seeing it for myself. RIP Mr. Irwin.

When trying to decide if I should snorkel in the GBR or do a scenic flight over it, I couldn’t choose. So I did both! It was expensive, but I knew I was probably only going to go to Australia once in my life. That and the fact that the Great Barrier Reef isn’t always going to be around unfortunately. It was worth the splurge for sure.

The next decision I had was whether to fly over the GBR or Whitehaven Beach. In my research, I stumbled upon GSL Aviation, who offered a Reef and Island Scenic Flight that highlights both! Done deal. Sold.

I also got some personal recommendations to go with this company after I had already booked with them, so I felt really good about my decision. Word of mouth is the best advertising right? Oh, and GSL aviation offers planes with guaranteed window seats, which is super important when doing a scenic flight, obviously. C’mon, no one wants the middle seat!

I chose the 60-minute Reef and Island Scenic Flight, far longer than most scenic flights. If I was going to do it, I was going to get the full experience!

The morning started bright and early with a free shuttle pickup from my hotel. After a short safety briefing, we soared above Airlie Beach and made our way to the Great Barrier Reef. Rewind a few days earlier when I snorkelled the outer Great Barrier Reef. I hate to say this, but I was a bit disappointed. I guess I was expecting it to be more colorful. Most the pics you see of it are super photoshopped I guess. It’s sad but the bleaching of coral is a real thing and you definitely can see it for yourself.

flying over the Great Barrier Reef

Trying to fight the glare to get a shot was quite difficult!

Aerial shots are my ultimate favorite and flying over the Great Barrier Reef and seeing it from above was a completely different experience. You can really visualize the bold blue/green colors and see how enormous it really is. Did you know that the Great Barrier Reef is the largest organic structure on earth and is visible from OUTER SPACE? It’s so much easier to grasp that concept when you see it from above!

flying over the Great Barrier Reef

Well, I only saw a small section of it on this flight, but it was incredible! My dream of the Great Barrier Reef had been revived.

No need for a drone when you basically see through a drone’s eyes from above. We had many different viewpoints and plenty of time to really experience it.

flying over the Great Barrier Reef

We flew over the infamous heart Reef, but unfortunately I fumbled with switching cameras and didn’t get the best shot. It was also very sunny and the glare on the windows was quite bad that day. I tried. 

But in case you want to see a better shot, here is a great one from their Instagram!

On our way back, we flew over the idyllic Whitehaven Beach. I ended up going to Whitehaven Beach the next day but seeing it from above was so much better to tell you the truth! You can really appreciate the swirly patterns of pure white silica sand and turquoise waters from above and it will leave you in awe.

flying over the Great Barrier Reef

GSL Aviation also offers transfers to Hamilton Island and they can get you there in just 10 minutes! Or you can combine the transfer with a one hour scenic flight over the GBR and Whitehaven, which I would definitely consider if I was staying on Hamilton Island. The ferry tickets are SUPER expensive to get there, so this option is actually a great value.

For example, a one-way ferry ticket is about $52 USD and the transfer flight is around $75 USD. It’s even cheaper if you do the transfer plus scenic flight!

They also do helicopter tours if that’s what you fancy. Oh, and they operate in Cairns as well. So if you’re up that way and want to see the Reef from above, holla at them!

Tips:

  • I was trying to switch between snap chatting on my phone, taking GoPro shots and videos, and using my wide angle camera lens with my Sony. It was too much and I often missed shots because I was trying to do too much. Stick to one camera and be ready!
  • touch your camera up to glass to prevent glare from the window.

Flying over the Great Barrier Reef is a must do activity when visiting Australia. It was one of the highlights of my entire trip!

PIN for Later ♥

flying over the Great Barrier Reef

Disclaimer: I received a media discount on my scenic flight. However, my opinions are my own and I am in no way obligated to write a positive review. I would never sell out like that! I had the best time and would highly recommend GSL Aviation.

The Perfect Place to Stay in NYC for Solo Travellers

The Perfect Place to Stay in NYC for Solo Travellers

Growing up on the East Coast, I had been to New York City many times. However, I had never traveled there solo. The main reason? It’s ridiculously expensive to stay in a hotel by yourself in Manhattan!

where to stay in new york city

And now that Airbnb has officially been banned in the city (boo), an affordable place is almost impossible to find. Let me rephrase that: an affordable place in a SAFE neighborhood is almost impossible to find.

Washington Jefferson Hotel New York

I’m happy to say I found a cute little place to stay in a great neighborhood called Washington Jefferson Hotel. This hotel specifically caters to solo travellers and offers single rooms that are actually affordable. I wouldn’t say cheap, because that seems to be an oxymoron when it comes to Manhattan. But I think you can catch my drift, ay?

Washington Jefferson Hotel New York

The Neighborhood: Hell’s Kitchen

Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood New York

The hotel is right in the middle of all the action in New York City, yet it is located down a quiet side street. Washington Jefferson Hotel is located in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York City.

Out of the 8-10 times I have been to NYC, I can say that this was one of my favorite areas to stay. Why you may ask? It is the most central area I could ask for when exploring NYC. Almost all the major attractions are walkable from Washington Jefferson Hotel. It is located in Midtown after all.

To give you an idea, here are the walking distances I experienced while staying at WJH:

  • Times Square-6-7 minute walk
  • Central Park (south entrance>): 10 minute walk
  • Theatre District: 1-5 minute walk
  • Rockefeller Center: 7-8 minute walk
where to stay in new york city

Strolling through Central Park on a bike in January? Why not? 🙂

Where to Eat

Bibble and Sip for morning coffee and pastries. If you exit the hotel and take a right, this cute little cafe will be about a 20 second walk on the left side.

Washington Jefferson Hotel New York

Head to Aria for good Italian food and wine in a romantic setting. It was a little strange going here solo, but the ambiance was great as well as the food! It’s literally 10 seconds from the hotel.

There were SO many food options in the Hell’s Kitchen area, and at a fraction of the cost than what you would expect to pay in NYC. This area is also known for the variety of ethnic foods on offer, including some of my favorites Thai, Indian, and Italian.

Basically, if you exit the hotel and take a left, you will have a plethora of affordable food options, including a market and a few $1 pizza slice places.

Note: the hotel is attached to a Japanese restaurant called Shimizu; however, I did not have time to try this place out unfortunately. I got sidetracked by all the other awesome choices right outside my doorstep!

Petite Room Catered to The Solo Traveller

Washington Jefferson Hotel New York

The Petite room is a small room with everything you could need: comfy bed, goose down comforters, desk, WIFI, flatscreen HDTV, HBO, radio with iPod docking station, your own private bathroom, and more. Basic yet efficient! For a full list of amenities, check out the hotel’s page highlighting the Petite Room here.

Washington Jefferson Hotel New York

A Few Other Perks of Washington Jefferson Hotel

Concierge service-if you’re staying at a hotel that offers concierge service, by all means utilize it! I must say I’m guilty of taking this service for granted. However, when I needed to copy stuff late night, the staff called several copy stores for me while I was resting from my day in my room. They gave me a ring with all the information and options and it was super helpful! I was literally so exhausted I could barely function so this was a lifesaver!

Free Walking Tours of NYC-every Thursday at 9:30am there is a free walking tour of Hell’s Kitchen area. You also have access to all other free walking tours from other Triumph Hotels (NOT to be confused with Trump hotels…God no) in the city. Pretty cool!

Airline ticket printer booth-located in the lobby for all guests to print their airline tickets beforehand. I had never seen this before in any hotel and thought it was great….and necessary!

A small fitness center-call me crazy, but I always work out when I travel. Having a fitness center inside a hotel is key!

Although rates vary based on season, I saw rates as low as $95, an awesome price for a quality/centrally located hotel in NYC!

Verdict

Overall, I really enjoyed my time at Washington Jefferson Hotel and would recommend it for solo travellers. I initially thought it was strange that they didn’t have a restaurant or offer breakfast. However, after I saw how many cute cafes were within a minute walk I didn’t even care!

This hotel may not have been as visually stunning/colorful as most the boutique hotels I usually stay in, but for the price, location, awesome service, and safe neighborhood, it’s definitely a great choice if you’re visiting the city alone. It had everything I needed and I was quite comfortable, what more can you ask for?

Hover over image to PIN for later! ♥

where to stay in New York City

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Washington Jefferson Hotel. However, my opinions remain my own and I’m in no way obligated to write a positive review. I enjoyed my stay and would recommend this hotel to solo travellers.♥

 

What to Do in Cape Town: 6 Can’t Miss Activities

What to Do in Cape Town: 6 Can’t Miss Activities

Cape Town is one of the greatest cities in the entire world. Bold statement, but absolutely true. I have never met someone who didn’t like it and the hype it gets it truly deserves.

My expectations were high, and surprisingly I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, Cape Town blew me out of the water and the bar has been set very high. My only disappointment was that we only stayed there 5 days. I could have stayed for weeks!

Cape Town has everything your imagined ideal city would have: natural beauty of the mountains and beaches, vibrant city life, some of the best wines in the world, reasonable prices, and endless high quality food.

Cape Town quickly became one of my top 3 favorite cities in the world, along with Rome and Istanbul.

So what to do in Cape Town? I could write a book about it, but here are my top pics:

What to do in Cape Town

1. Take a Hike

what to do in Cape Town

Cape Town is for fitness and nature lovers. Hike both Table Mountain or Lion’s Head in a matter of hours with a spectacular view along every step of the way

what to do in Cape Town

We hiked Lion’s Head during golden hour and it was spectacular. You could see the entire city, Table Mountain, and Camp’s Bay in the distance.

what to do in Cape Town

View of Table Mountain on the hike up to Lion’s Head

We didn’t have time to do the Table Mountain hike unfortunately, so we took the cable car instead. The panoramic views over the coastline and city are spectacular.

what to do in Cape Town

2. Grab a Bite to Eat

Hold crap! I wasn’t expecting Cape Town to have such great food! I can honestly say in terms of quality, Cape Town had the most consistently good food out of any country I had ever been!

There are 2 open air markets that you can’t miss on your trip to Cape Town: Hout Bay and Old Biscuit Mill.

Where to eat in Cape Town

The Hout Bay Market (officially called Bay Harbor Market) runs Friday through Sunday and is the place to be on the weekends for good food and live music. Food and specialty shops line the cozy inside market and one could spend hours there. Make sure to go on an empty stomach because there is so much to try!! (There were also many gluten free options for those with allergies like me).

Where to eat in Cape Town

Tip: try the Springbok meat, it’s just like beef but a little sweeter. The springbok is the national bird of South Africa so a nice way to taste the local flavors.

Where to eat in Cape Town

Another favorite is the Old Biscuit Mill that’s only on Saturday mornings. This is another open air market with endless vendors offering a variety of foods. This was probably my favorite food experience in Cape Town, most likely because I found a number of gluten free tables offering delicate treats to satiate my cravings. It’s also another cool hangout spot!

what to do in Cape Town

Gluten free pastry..aka heaven in my mouth 🙂

Bombay Bicycle-order the Choco chili steak (signature dish that’s not on the menu). This was seriously one of the best meals of my life, if not the best. It sounds like a weird combo, but the flavors perfectly complemented the melt-in-your-mouth juicy steak. It was the most tender steak I’d ever tasted and I could have died a happy girl after my last bite. It’s that good. The restaurant also had a great ambiance and intimate setting.

Tip: you must make a reservation in advance as it’s a very popular place!

Bacini’s for pizza-right across from Bombay bicycle is Bacini’s. It’s nothing fancy inside, this is more of a local spot. The pizza was outstanding and they even had gluten free crusts! Avocado on pizza is a thing in Cape Town and it was friggin’ amazing! I’m hooked and now I’m always going to expect avo on my pizza wherever I go.

→An added bonus: we ran into Davos from Game of Thrones here! For extreme fanatics of the show, this made our whole trip!

Tiger’s Milk-another great restaurant downtown with that had the best gluten free leg of lamb pizza with a dallop of hummus and feta. Omg was it good.

V&A Market on the Wharf –this was the 3rd market we went to in Cape Town and it didn’t disappoint! It was great for fruit juices, shakes, pastries, and also lactose free froyo!

3. Take a Road Trip Down the Coast

what to do in Cape Town

The plunging coastlines around Cape Town are nothing short of spectacular. You can’t leave without getting to explore the area on a road trip! Drive down the Cape Peninsula all the way down to Penguin Beach. If you have time, stop in Muizenberg Beach to photograph the row of colorful beach shacks.

what to do in Cape Town

Penguin heaven 😉

If you have even more time, make sure to head down to Hermanus, a quint little seaside town a 2-hr drive from Cape Town, known for whale watching and shark tank diving in its neighbor city Gansbaii.

what to do in Cape Town

How pretty is Hermanus??

On the way back to Cape Town, drive along False bay, which I thought was prettier than the actual Cape Peninsula honestly.

Tip: on your drive back from Hermanus, stop at Betty’s Bay, the less-touristy version of Penguin Beach. There was hardly anyone there when we went and we got up close and personal with the little guys!  The cost is 10 rand for a parking permit but no one was there to enforce it.

what to do in Cape Town

4. View Cape Town from Above

One of my favorite things to do in a new city is get an epic aerial view. No view can get more epic than from a helicopter! We had 360 degrees of unobstructed views of the beautiful city, coast lines, beaches, peaks, and mountains. It was absolutely breathtaking.

what to do in Cape Town

Unedited GoPro pic from the helicoptor

We decided to go with NAC Helicopters for our flight over Cape Town, mainly due their almost perfect reviews as well as their impeccable safety record (100% accident-fee). The perfect safety record alone is a deciding factor when it comes to putting my life into someone else’s hands in the air.

what to do in Cape Town

NAC Helicopters also offers tailored destination flights, so if you really want to ball out and show up somewhere in style, this would be a fun thing to splurge on!

The staff was super professional and kind, and I felt safe from the minute I walked into the door greeted by their warm smiles.

Tip: make sure to schedule the helicopter tour early in the trip in case of cancellations due to weather. We actually had our first flight cancelled so ended up re-scheduling it on our last day luckily.

What to do in Cape Town

5. Hop On Hop off Bus (seriously)

I never in a million years thought I would recommend a “touristy” Hop on Hop off Bus, but this is definitely an exception! The public transportation in Cape Town and vicinity is not that great so this is actually a great way to see all that Cape Town has to offer! You can buy a one-day pass for around $12 and a 2-day pass for around $20.

Kirstenbosch gardens

Spellbound in the enchanted forest inside Kirstenbosch gardens

The Hop on Hop Off bus has 3 different color-coded routes and I recommend all 3 if you have time! It’s no surprise my favorite was the purple route since this was the wine route!

what to do in Cape Town

Camp’s Bay-what I called the Malibu of Cape Town

If you’re short on time like we were, we only had a day to do the bus tour. Our favorite can’t miss stops included:

  • Kirstenbosch Gardens
  • Camp’s bay
  • Purple wine route (the entire thing)
  • Table Mountain
  • Hout Bay

6. Drink World Class Wine

South Africa is known for its Pinotage red blend, distinctive to this area of the globe. Make sure you try a glass (or 5) of this delicious red wine, as this blend is not grown anywhere else in the world!

what to do in Cape Town

There are SO many vineyards within an hour or so drive from Cape Town and I recommend spending an entire day in Stellenbosch, and if you have time Franchoek as well.

what to do in Cape Town

The wine tasting crew! Carebear Abroad and I, along with our friend Nick, who lives in Cape Town. We met Nick on our 12-day Turkey trip 2 years before. #travelfriends

Our favorite winery was Vergelegen Estate. The property grounds were impeccably gorgeous and the staff was extremely interactive and fun. Oh, and apparently you can have a picnic in the camphor forest, which sounds amazing! Unfortunately it was closed when we went, but if you end up going, please let me know how it is!

 

If you’re planning what to do in Cape Town, hopefully these 6 recommendations are at the top of your list! There is so much more to discover in this unique city and we only just cracked the tip of the iceberg.

I cannot wait to get back to Cape Town and stay longer next time to enjoy more of the local life. Until then, I’ll keep dreaming about it. ♥

 

PIN for later 🙂

what to do in Cape Town

Disclaimer: I was a guest of NAC Helicopters. However, my opinions are my own and I am in no way obligated to leave positive feedback. I thought the helicopter tour was awesome and the best way to see the city!

Have you Been To Cape Town? What were Your Highlights? Did I miss Anything? Do tell! ♥

Visiting Whitehaven Beach in One Day

Visiting Whitehaven Beach in One Day

With 74 islands in the Whitsundays, it might seem hard to choose which one to visit. For me, the decision was a no-brainer. Voted as one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world, Whitehaven Beach was the main reason I added The Whitsundays into my 13 day Australia adventure. Famous for its heaven-like white silica sand and turquoise swirl patterns, it’s no secret why Whitehaven Beach is the most photographed beach in all of Australia.

With only 2 full days to explore the Whitsundays, I knew I wanted to spend an entire day on this Whitehaven Beach. Overnight sailing is super popular in the Whitsundays, and had I had more time I would have considered this option. However, visiting Whitehaven Beach in a single day is possible and a great option if you’re short on time.

I took a full day cruise to Whitehaven Beach with Cruise Whitsundays, who offer a full-day day tour called Whitehaven Beach, Snorkelling, Hill Inlet & Lookout. I picked this tour mainly because it offers more time on Whitehaven Beach than any other tour, as well as the near perfect reviews it received on Trip Advisor.

Below is a map of the full-day itinerary courtesy of Cruise Whitsundays.

Cruise Whitsundays

Morning Pick up and Briefing

The cruise leaves bright and early from Airlie Beach at 7am and returns at 6:20pm. It’s a long day action packed with fun stuff to do, so make sure to get a good night’s sleep! There’s also an option to get picked up at Daydream Island or Hamilton Island if that’s where you’re staying.

The ride over to Whitsunday Island is pretty long at around 2 hours, but the seats were very plush and comfy. Complementary coffee and tea are available on the first floor.

During the long ride you will be introduced to the crew members, who are personally assigned to each group to give them a briefing of the day of what to expect. I really liked the personalized attention, something I’m not used to when going on a tour.

Our guide Jack was AWESOME from the start. He had so much charisma and was very interactive with everyone. He even remembered ALL our names in a matter of minutes. Jack was born to be a tour guide and his passion for it made the tour so much more memorable. Jack made the tour. Period.

Hill Inlet & Lookout 

We arrived to Whitehaven Beach to drop some of the passengers off who weren’t doing the full day cruise and we hopped onto a little speed boat to head to Hill Inlet. Not all the cruises go to the Hill Inlet and I’m sure many are disappointed to learn this, so no matter what tour you do make sure it includes the Hill Inlet!

Whitehaven Beach

Getting dropped off to walk up the Hill Inlet lookout. We saw a lemon shark right near those bushes in the water!

Whitehaven Beach Hill Inlet

We jumped off onto the soft silica sand and followed Jack up the path to the lookout. We stopped along the way a few times as he taught us a little about the surrounding plant life. He also pointed out a few huge spiders resting in their webs that I wish I never saw. My worst nightmare.

Whitehaven Beach Hill Inlet

Completely unedited iPhone pano of Whitehaven Beach

It was an easy 15 minute walk up to the lookout where we had about 20 minutes of free time to enjoy the scenery and take photos. The Hill Inlet gives you the best view of Whitehaven Beach. The view you see in all the photos of the turquoise and white swirly patterns. There’s nowhere else in the world like it and this was the highlight of the tour for me.

Whitehaven Beach

We were told that the pattern of swirls change about every 4 hours, so you’ll never take the same photo as someone else. I only wish we were there longer so we could see it in different lights.

Free Time on Whitehaven Beach and BBQ Lunch 

After the spectacular views on the Hill Inlet we were dropped off on the idyllic Whitehaven Beach. We were given about 2 hours to walk the beach, play in the water, and eat lunch. They offer free stinger suits as well as half dome tents to provide shade from the sun.

Note: the sun is very HOT in this part of Australia and because the silica sand is very reflective, you’re at increased risk for burns. Make sure to drink lots of water and keep reapplying sunscreen. I actually ended up getting heat exhaustion/dehydration from being outside all day and the recovery was painful. I was basically sick for the next 7 days of my trip with a pounding headache, night sweats, and fatigue.

Whitehaven Beach

For lunch they brought actual grills and set them up under a tarp to cook for us, which I thought was pretty cool. Lunch consisted of salad, beef, chicken, sausage, and pasta salad. The meat was a little dry and not as tasty as I expected seeing as they were cooking it fresh right in front of us. I also couldn’t eat half the stuff they served due to my gluten allergy so I can’t comment on the other food. The food I tried was just okay.

Snorkelling

There were only a few passengers who chose the full day option, so it was really nice to have only a small group to snorkel. We boarded a small speed boat once again for the 5 minute ride around the corner where we were dropped off to snorkel.

Whitehaven Beach snorkeling

I kid you not, out of all the snorkelling I did in Australia, including the Outer Great Barrier Reef, this was the BEST snorkelling! The combination of colorful coral and heaps of fish blew me away. I was NOT expecting this to be the best snorkelling in Australia. Another great reason to do the full day tour!

Whitehaven Beach snorkeling

WhiteHaven Beach Final Relaxation 

After the amazing snorkelling we were dropped back off at Whitehaven Beach. We were given almost 2 more hours of leisurely time to relax and do what we pleased. I really liked the fact we were given so much free time, something you usually don’t get when doing a tour.

Whitehaven Beach

I had plenty of time to play with my GoPro and take some cool shots without being rushed for once.

Whitehaven Beach GoPro

Unedited GoPro shot. How pretty is this place?

Unfortunately, I think this was the beginning of the heat exhaustion/dehydration for me. I spent way too much time in the sun and I paid the price. Spend some time in the shade if you can, learn from my mistakes!

Overall Impressions

Whitehaven Beach is undeniably one of the most beautiful beached in the entire world. Spending an entire day exploring the beach, the Hill Inlet, and snorkelling was the perfect way to experience one of the prettiest parts of Australia. I was extremely pleased with Cruise Whitsundays in terms of their professionalism, the activities on offer, the jovial and fun tour guides, the cleanliness of the boats, and the the overall itinerary. I would cruise with them again in a heartbeat!

PIN for later♥

Whitehaven Beach cruise

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Cruise Whitsundays on this tour. My opinions, however, remain my own and I am in no way obligated to write a positive review. I highly enjoyed my cruise and would definitely recommend this tour! ♥

Have you ever been to Whitehaven Beach? Did you do an overnight cruise or a day trip? Which would you recommend?

Bucket List: Staying in a Safari Lodge in Africa

Bucket List: Staying in a Safari Lodge in Africa

After 4 hours of border crossings, visa applications, and transfers, we finally arrived to Zimbabwe, Africa, completely drained from the past 10 hours of transiting. As we stepped out of our shuttle van and proceeding on the dirt path, I caught what I thought was a pig in the corner of my eye. But alas, it was a warthog! A cute little (big) “Pumba” grazing nearby. I had a feeling this was the first of many Lion King fantasies that would come to life on this journey staying at Victoria Falls River Lodge. Little did I know…

We climbed into a small boat with our luggage, where we were escorted for the 10 minute ride across the Zambezi River. We started to feel really giddy as we had no idea what to except for the next 2 days in front of us. That and the fact that the wind in our face was a great wake-up call!

We finally pulled up to a cute little dock where several of the team members of Victoria Falls River Lodge joyfully welcomed us. Is this what royalty feels like? I don’t know, but I’ll take it! We let ourselves feel “cool” for a minute..until we realized each and every guest gets escorted by boat. Oh well, it felt good while it lasted haha.

The Victoria Falls River Lodge is not a Hotel, it’s an EXPERIENCE. Let me explain…

As soon as we arrived into the spectacular open-air lobby, we were given a welcome drink as well as a “briefing”. The basic message of the briefing: “we are situated in the Zambezi National Park with no fences or barriers between us and the wild animals. For this reason, you will need to be escorted back to your rooms after dark by one of our trained field guides. You may not walk back to your room alone”.

Excuse me, what did he just say? We are basically on the grounds of a live nature reserve with NO BARRIERS? NO EFFING BARRIERS!!! Carey and I looked at each other with huge eyes and gasped a little. WOW. This is going to be an intense few days.

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

This was the start to something fabulous, we could feel it! I mean, what other time in your life are you going to experience something like this?

Victoria Falls River Lodge is made up of 14 luxury tents situated on the edge of the Zambezi River. Included in your stay is 3 gourmet meals a day, free coffee/tea/snacks available all day, one sunrise or sunset game drive AND one sunrise or sunset river cruise, as well as the entrance fee to the Zambezi National Park.

We really loved the fact that there were only 14 tents available because this made this a more intimate experience with only a few guests staying at one time. As a result, the staff were able to give us their undivided attention.

Victoria Falls River Lodge

In particular, the young manager named Andrew checked in with us at every meal, making sure we were having the BEST time. He was super engaging and you could really feel that he wanted to make sure this was an unforgettable experience for us. Well, he definitely accomplished that! He became more like a friend in the short 2 days we spent there. If you’re reading this, thank you and we miss you Andrew! 🙂

Open-Air Lobby

One of the most visually stunning aspects of Victoria Falls River Lodge is the open-air lobby and restaurant. The lounge area is formed by a crescent-shaped thatched roof and offers panoramic views of the Zambezi River and surrounding area.

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

On one side is the dining area and the other side is a huge area for lounging with comfy couches and simple local decor.

Down a little walkway off the main lobby is a bar area that opens up with an awesome view over the Zambezi River. It was closed when we were there in August, but we still went and lounged around there and took some photos.

Victoria Falls River Lodge

There was also a small pool and lounge area right near the lobby/dining area. We were told that elephants were just grazing in this area a few days before!

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

Open-Air Dining

Included in your stay at Victoria Falls River Lodge is 3 gourmet meals per day. Alcohol is NOT included and you must pay extra for that. You are given a tab at checkout for all your extras. A glass of wine was only $3.50, and it was a HUGE glass. In American measures, it was more like a double glass of wine. I sat back in bliss as they poured my jumbo glass of wine. Paradise found? Haha.

Victoria Falls River Lodge

Yumm salmon salad for lunch

We were given a menu at every meal with a few items to choose from including fish, salads, steak, and vegetarian options. They were also very flexible with gluten free options and offered me a few different varieties of foods. There was also coffee and snacks available at all times of the day. Overall, the food was great! I had no complaints.

Our EPIC Luxury Treehouse

My childhood treehouse fantasies came to life in this magnificent dwelling that we got to call home for 2 nights. First of all, it was super spacious. Second of all, it was so nicely decorated and cozy. There was SO much to do around the lodge but we didn’t want to leave our room.

Victoria Falls River Lodge

The shower/bath area was HUGE and it felt very freeing to shower in this big space. A thin curtain could be pulled for privacy from the outside room. There was also an outdoor shower if you fancied it! It was quite cold during the early mornings and late night so we didn’t use the outdoor shower unfortunately.

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

Victoria Falls River Lodge

There was a nice deck with lounge chairs and a jacuzzi overlook the river. It was gorgeous. We were told that this was a popular spot to see hippos, rhinos, and elephants drinking, but we weren’t lucky enough to see that.

We did however wake up one morning to all the plants and shrubs trampled over, hinting that a herd of hippos were right next to our tent! A little scary but exciting nonetheless. We also were awoken one night to the sound of scratching noises on our tent. We never found out what it was but it was freaky!

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

We had 2 separate twin beds that were covered with a large mosquito net. There weren’t outlets near the bed, but they were located in the center counter area. There was also a big comfy couch in the living area, heating/AC, and yes, an actual tree trunk in the center of the treehouse! This place was AWESOME! This was definitely glamping to the fullest!

Note: the tent is raise above the ground so you aren’t in any real danger when you are inside.

Game Drive (included)

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

All guests are offered an inclusive game drive, with the option of early morning or evening. Although we HATE waking up early, we opted for the early morning game drive as this is prime time for large feline viewing. We were picked up at our treehouse villa around 6am and taken to the lobby for a quick coffee and snack. We were then off on our game drive through the Zambezi National Park, aka our backyard! We were the only ones on the morning game drive so it was like we had our own little private VIP safari!

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

The early morning air was crisp and frigid, and we were given blankets and a big heat compress to warm our hands. It was pitch black when we started, but the morning sun soon peaked in warming us up a bit.

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

Nothing but smiles with our awesome safari guide!

Unfortunately, you aren’t ever guaranteed to see the coveted animals during a game drive and we were a little unlucky that morning. We did, however, get to see endless amounts of Pumba’s, colourful birds, a flock of baboons, and a few crocodiles! I look at it as a warm up of what was to come in Africa!

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

We stopped along the riverbank where we disembarked from the open air vehicle and took some photos of the surrounding area. Our guide set up a nice little breakfast picnic on the front of his vehicle, consisting of coffee and pastries. Usually on safaris, you cannot get out of the vehicle, so this was really cool to step off onto the sole where wild animals roam! The view was spectacular and we basked in it for a bit before packing up and heading back.

River Cruise (included)

You also have an option of a sunrise or sunset river cruise, and we opted for the latter. It turned out to be a great choice! We were treated with wine and cheeses/crackers as we set sail on the river.

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

We though it was just a river cruise, but we had no idea it was a river cruise game drive! (For that reason, we didn’t bring our cameras and our phone pics didn’t turn out so well…so not many animal pics to show). Our guide stopped in a shallow area and to our surprise we saw our first signs of hippos! We couldn’t help but sing the hungry hungry hippo song! C’mon, you know you would have too! 

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

It was incredible to get up that close to a real live hippo! Let alone a whole pack of them. We were then shocked to learn from our guide that hippos cannot actually swim! WHAT? Ya, I didn’t believe it until i googled it. Talk about doubting Thomas. Apparently they are TOO HEAVY TO SWIM! So they just push their hooves across the bottom of the water. The more you know..

The BEST part of the river cruise was on our way back, thinking the cruise was over, we spotted a large herd of elephants drinking water at the river’s edge. Our first elephant siting in the wild brought a flood of emotions and we both had tears in our eyes! Our guide pulled up as close as he could (without disturbing them), and we just observed. It was incredible! The first big animal sighting is something you will never forget!

Toa Spa

The newest addition to the lodge is a spa with a spectacular view of the Zambezi River offering massages, manis/pedis, and more. We snuck in a 30 minute massage into our hectic schedules and it was incredible. There is something extra relaxing about getting a massage right on the edge of the peaceful waterfront. It was the perfect way to wind down from all the adrenaline activities we had participated in.

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge Spa

Photo taken by @carebearabroad

Oh, did I mention Victoria Falls River Lodge will help Plan ALL your adventure activities?

This made it so much less stressful. We were given a little booklet with all the activity info in our rooms so we could get an idea of what we wanted to do. We relayed that to the concierge and he contacted the 3rd party vendors to get all the details. They even arranged a shuttle to transport us (and by shuttle I mean one of their open air safari vehicles!).

Victoria Falls River Lodge activities

The activities we decided on were the gorge swing, the flying fox, Devil’s Pool, and a microlight flight over the falls! You can read all about them in my recent blog post (+video) here, where I coined Victoria Falls the “Mini Adventure Capital of the World”.

Here’s a short YouTube video I made of all the awesome activities we did in Victoria Falls:

We were first dropped off at the entrance to the falls, where we ventured to view the falls up close. Entrance is $30. After that we walked about 5-10 minutes to the Lookout Cafe where they offered most of the high wire activities, including bungee jumping, gorge swing, flying fox, and more!

Tip: make sure you book your activities as far in advance as you can because they do sell out, especially in peak season!

To sum up our 2 days in Victoria Falls River Lodge, my travel partner in crime CareBear Abroad made this awesome video:

PIN for later 🙂

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

 

Disclaimer: We were guests of Victoria Falls River Lodge; however, my opinions and AMAZING experience are my own. I would never recommend a place I didn’t truly LOVE. Carebear Abroad and I had a blast!

What to Expect on Your First Safari in Kruger National Park

What to Expect on Your First Safari in Kruger National Park

Who doesn’t have “doing a safari in Africa” on their bucket list? This girl sure did! I have always dreamt about doing a safari, since I was young. In fact, it was at the very TOP of my bucket list. However, this dream never seemed like a reality as I was always told safaris cost like 5 grand. WRONG!

If you’re not too high maintenance and don’t mind “roughing it” a little (and by roughing it I mean glamping), they can totally be affordable for most budgets!

As my friend CareBear Abroad and I would be in South Africa, we really wanted to visit Kruger National Park, the biggest safari park in South Africa!

Searching for a tour company can be extremely overwhelming because there are SO many tours in Kruger National Park. The one thing we did know is that we wanted a safari with a SMALL group size for a more personalised experience. This is a once-in-a-lifetime-experience and we wanted it to be perfect!

We found a tour company called Africa Spear Safaris that offered small group safaris. It got great reviews and had a very reasonable price. Bingo! We chose the 4day/3night option with a pickup from Johannesburg.

I think I can speak for Carey as well and say this was one of the best experiences of our lives! NOTHING can compare with being in the wild in Africa on a safari!

Note: Please don’t go on a safari unless you have a nice zoom lens. I made the mistake and have literally no good pics to show from it. Thankfully, my travel partner Carebear Abroad was with me on this trip and she was able to supply most of the wildlife pics for this article (as marked). Thank you Carey!!! ♥

Kruger National Park Safari

 

So, What Exactly do you DO on a Safari?

This may sound stupid, but I have always wondered what you do all day on a safari. Well, I can tell you that you go out searching for animals on a game drive LITERALLY ALL DAY LONG!

Our mornings started at about 5am with a small pre-brekkie snack and coffee at 5:45am. I am so NOT a morning person and nothing can get me out of bed at 5am…except animals! I love animals to death. Maybe even more that people. Is that bad? 

 

The first morning game drive starts at 6am sharp, prime time for large feline viewing! After brekkie, you embark on another game drive in the afternoon, followed by lunch and then a final late afternoon game drive.

Dinner usually commences at 7 or 8 and then it’s time to pass out. It was an exhausting schedule, but 100% worth it. The adrenaline and excitement kept us awake all day! That and coffee…lot’s of it!

The first night we had a BBQ dinner with choice of steak, chicken, or pork. It was really tasty and we were were even offered seconds!

We brought our own wine into the safari camps, which saved us money. I recommend stocking up if you plan to engage in consuming any alcohol (and I fully support this action ♥).

Does a Small Group Size Really Make a Difference?

OMG, HELL YES it does! Carey and I were accompanied by a lovely British family of 3, making a total of only 5 people in our vehicle. I cannot tell you how much of a difference this made! We were really able to bond with this family and now have some new friends in the UK!

Kruger National Park Safari

Our small safari crew and awesome guide Dave. We miss you guys!!

As we were driving through Kruger, we saw so many other bigger safari vehicles jam packed with people. The people in the middle had a crappy view and couldn’t really get in position for great photos. I am SO glad we chose the smaller group as it made the experience so much more memorable!

Are you in Danger During a Safari?

A traditional safari vehicle is an open vehicle, meaning the sides and sometimes the top are fully open and exposed. The guide will explain to you on day one to avoid loud noises, sudden movements, or sticking any body part outside of the vehicle as wild animals can see this as a threat.

So really, you aren’t guaranteed full safety, but don’t let that deter you. Nothing is guaranteed in life. They take out 100’s of vehicles daily and the chance of something bad happening is slim. Just follow your guide’s precautions and you will be fine! The fear of a dangerous animal encounter is half the thrill! Trust me on this one.

What Kind of Close Animal Encounters Did We Experience?

Here is s quick clip straight from my iPhone that I put on IG, just to give you a little idea of what you will see…

Our first morning started out with a sunrise over the dewy/foggy land. Out of nowhere, the mysterious elephants appeared in the distance. It was so eerie and beautiful, it’s something I will never forget!

The scariest part was when one huge bull elephant came within 10 feet of our vehicle, stopped and stared us down for a good 5 seconds, and then went on his way. I’m not going to lie, I was trembling as I realised the power of this humungous being weighing a few tons. At any moment he could have charged and trampled us.

Kruger National Park Safari

Photo by @CarebearAbroad

The most thrilling animal encounter came when we spotted a pack of lions and adorable (yet ferocious) baby cubs. There were about 4 lionesses and 6 cubs laying around being lazy.

We stayed for awhile until they started to get up and attempted to cross the street. At this point, there were about 15 other vehicles at this spot trying to get a better glimpse.

Kruger National Park Safari

My favorite safari photo shot by @CarebearAbroad

We had a prime location on the road and the lions started to cross RIGHT beside our vehicle. They literally came within 2 inches of the car. At any point, they could have jumped up and mauled us to death and my heart was racing like I had never experienced before.

We were able to see the whole pack of lions cross with a front row seat! Our guide Dave said that in 30 years that was the second best lion encounter he has ever witnessed.

The thrill and adrenaline that runs through your veins when you’re up close and personal with a deadly wild animal is the most exciting thing I have ever experienced in my life. It’s something hard to explain and you would only understand once it happens to you! It gives me goosebumps just thinking of it.♥

What kind of animals do you see at Kruger National Park?

A shit ton! Here is a list of animals we saw:

  • impalas
  • steinbock
  • elephants
  • giraffes
  • rhinos
  • leopards
  • lions
  • birds
  • hippos
  • crocodiles
  • mongoose
  • water bucks
  • kudu
  • warthogs
  • monkeys
  • baboons
  • wildebeests
  • vultures
  • hyenas

What is the Big 5?

The coveted big 5 consists of the elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, and leopard. This is why most people go on safaris, to see the prized big 5!

Kruger National Park Safari

Photo by @CarebearAbroad

How Likely Are you to See the Big 5?

You are never guaranteed to see the Big 5 quite honestly. But I’d say you have a good chance in Kruger. We were lucky enough to see the big 5 twice! We actually saw the big 5 on one single game drive in the afternoon. It was incredible!

Kruger National Park Safari

Photo by @CarebearAbroad

“Oh my God, oh my God, go back, go back…..leopard…in..tree”.

I could barely speak as I saw this beautiful creature lounging high up in the tree. The above photo is of the leopard I spotted with my own eyes after we were eagerly searching for the last of the Big 5 animals.

At one point I thought we might not get to see one as the leopard is the most elusive and difficult to spot out of all the Big 5. My crazy cat lady instincts kicked in big time and of course I would be the one to spot this gorgeous large cat. #catwhisperer ♥

What Should You Wear During a Safari?

We had our safari in August, which is technically their summer. Winter is their dry season, and we were told by our guide that August and September were the best months to visit Kruger National Park.

Anyway, winter in South Africa means frigid mornings and evenings and very hot afternoons. I would definitely recommend bringing a jacket, hat, gloves, wool socks. It was also a little windy when were were driving, adding to the cold.

We always brought a change of clothes for the afternoon as it got super hot. You will have time to change during lunch hour so keep that in mind! We were bundled up for winter in the mornings and evenings, and in tank tops and shorts in the afternoons.

You also want to keep in mind that you will want to wear something comfy as you will be sitting in a vehicle literally all day. I wore my gym pants/leggings every day and it worked out perfect. When it comes to safaris, comfort definitely wins over style!

Note: you definitely want to bring some bug spray and/or mosquito repellant bracelets for your safari. I didn’t want to take malaria pills due to the possible side effects (personal choice) so I made sure I covered myself from getting eaten alive. I used a combo of natural bug spray and bracelets. I also do NOT like Deet chemicals so I went with the natural alternatives which worked out excellent! I didn’t get ANY mosquito bites on my entire 4-day safari so I highly recommend the below products I used.

Is Kruger National Park too Touristy?

Yes and no. But for the most part no. Let me explain. At some points, especially with the lion viewings, there were way too may vehicles there than we would have liked. Our guide Dave informed us that there are even FaceBook group dedicated to spotting the big cats (lions and leopards). With real time updates, these vehicles were able to get to the scene very quickly. But half the fun of a safari is spotting the animals on your own! So I don’t get it.

Kruger National Park Safari

Photo by @CarebearAbroad

On the other hand, the fact that there are daily vehicles cruising through the park, the animals are used to the noise of the engines. Therefore, they never get scared away and you can view them in their natural habitat! A huge plus! I would also assume they are less likely to attack humans due to this, but hey, that’s just my opinion.

What are the Accommodations Like?

Let me start by saying I am SO not a camper. It doesn’t mean i’m high maintenance. It just means I like electricity and NO bugs. So I knew this would be a challenge for me.

Have you heard of glamping? Welp, this was kinda like that and it ended up being not that bad! We were able to try out 3 different accommodation types on this safari.

1.Simple “tent cabin”: this was basically like a little hut with 2 beds, a fridge, and a small dresser, and thats about it! The communal bathrooms/showers were about a 50 meter walk from our place. It was scary at night and we were warned of possible monkeys and/or hyenas, so once it got dark, we decided to hold it until the morning.

 

2.Cabin with ensuite bathroom: this was definitely the best of the 3 and consisted of 3 single beds, a fridge, and in-house bathroom and shower. It also had the most space of the 3.

Kruger National Park Safari3. Cute little circular cabin: this was very similar to the first cabin, with the exception of a sink inside the room. It was very small and cramped so minimal luggage is recommended!

Kruger National Park Safari

Note: most the cabins had only one or 2 outlets, so keep that in mind if you have a lot of electronics to charge. In the last cabin, there was only ONE outlet so we had to share, which really sucked seeing as we both had our phones, cameras, Gopro’s, and extra power banks to charge. We made it work, but barely!

I have been using the Jackery dual power bank for the past year and it was a total lifesaver on this trip! It has 2 USB ports to charge and it charged my iPhone and camera batteries at least 3 full charges each. This power bank is slightly heavier than I would like it to be, but it’s by far the BEST I’ve ever used and a must have for my travels.

*You also have the option to upgrade accommodations so make sure to check when booking your safari!

The Importance of a Great Safari Guide

Iv’e said this many times before: a tour guide can really make or break a tour! We got lucky with the BEST guide named Dave.

He had been a park ranger for 25+ years and his passion for it seeped through his skin. A plus was that he knew a bunch of secret spots for viewings and never let us down!

Kruger National Park Safari

Photo by @CarebearAbroad

He was highly engaged with us and always made sure were were comfortable and having a good time. He had a soft demeanour and was the nicest guy! We miss you Dave!

He was constantly informing of us animal behaviours, pointing out each and every bird species, and telling us some crazy stories. If you happen to get a tour guide named Dave, please ask him about the elephant whisperer story! Pretty creepy!

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • small group size (5 total)
  • private transport all the way from Johannesburg
  • our awesome guide Dave
  • 3 game drives a day
  • high chance of seeing the big 5 (we saw them twice!)
  • BBQ dinner was great
  • thrilling animal encounters
  • accommodations were basic, but much better than sleeping in a zip-up tent!

Cons

  • not many gluten free options (story of my life)
  • not many food options in general
  • lack of outlets (hey, this is supposed to be roughing it, isn’t it? Haha)

Note: I must mention one of the cons specifically was that the owner forgot about my gluten allergy (not cool). I was able to eat the BBQ, but the early morning snacks of muffins, etc I couldn’t eat so I was literally starving and hangry. On the other hand, Dave was awesome and went with me to a little shop and personally bought me some snacks to eat in the mornings, so it worked out. Forgetting about a food allergy is NOT something to take lightly because some people DIE from it. (My condition is not life or death, but some are…). So ya, I have had some bad luck with tour companies “forgetting” about my allergy and it seems to be happening more often. I would recommend double checking a few days before your tour to make sure they have note of it! It didn’t ruin my time or anything, but I had to mention it because I can’t just highlight all the good.

The Final Verdict

Overall, you must do a safari once in your life before you die. You just have to! It is one of the top 3 experiences of not just traveling, but of my life!

The thrill of findings these animals and then to have a close encounter is the most thrilling thing I have ever experienced. At some moments, I cried tears of joy because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

I am so glad we chose to tour with Africa Spear Safaris on our first Kruger National Park Safari and I would 100% recommend them! This one goes down in the books! Thanks guys!♥

Note: Carey and I were guests of Africa Spear Safaris during our safari. My opinions, however, remain my own and I am in no way obligated to write a positive review. This experience was AMAZING and I would highly recommend this company. 

Full disclosure: the few Amazon products in this article are affiliate links, meaning I may earn a small commission if you purchase these products, at no extra cost to you. This is what keeps the blog up and running so a special thank you for that! ♥

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Kruger National Park Safari