South Africa calls for international travel bans to be scrapped | News

South Africa minister of tourism, Lindiwe Sisulu, has confirmed the country remains open to tourism despite the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant.

Authorities in the UK temporarily banned flights and reintroduced quarantine for arrivals from a number of destinations in southern Africa in response to the discovery.

Japan, Israel and the European Union have all also moved to impose stricter measures against South African travellers.

The response was branded “disappointing” by officials in South Africa.

Sisulu explained: “While this is most disappointing South Africa will continue working with policy makers in the UK, Japan, Israel and European Union to ensure that the best possible interventions are put in place.

“I would like to commend the South African scientists on their diligence and all the work they have done and remain confident that all measures will be put in place to mitigate the spread of the virus.”

She added: “We remain open for business and tourism travel, and we appreciate the continued support from various partners across the world and are confident that through the tourism recovery plan in place, we will reignite demand and once more be tourism strong.”

South Africa president, Cyril Ramaphosa, earlier condemned travel bans enacted against his country and its neighbours over the new coronavirus variant Omicron.

He said he was “deeply disappointed” by the action, which he described as unjustified, and called for the bans to be urgently lifted.

Omicron has been classed as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Kgomotso Ramothea, acting hub head at South African Tourism for the UK and Ireland added: “The news of South Africa being put back on the UK red list is devastating for the tourism industry which was just beginning to get back on its feet.

“We were starting to make progress in welcoming visitors back to our wonderful country as we headed into the destination’s summer season.

“We respect the UK government’s need for caution around the new variant, however we are disappointed that South Africa will again be missing out on tourism during the peak season this year which will further delay tourism recovery.

“We would urge the UK government to reconsider current managed quarantine rules to ones that will cause minimal disruption to travel plans while ensuring that people are equally as protected.”

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Kamala Harris calls South Africa travel ban ‘necessary’ amid concerns over COVID-19 omicron variant

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Vice President Kamala Harris said Saturday that she has been briefed about the COVID-19 omicron variant and insisted that the Biden administration did what “is necessary” in implementing travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries to prevent its spread, but made no mention of additional travel restrictions.

Harris’ comments came during a visit to a Christmas market in downtown D.C. in celebration of Small Business Saturday.


US Vice President Kamala Harris makes her way to board a plane before departing from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on June 14, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

US Vice President Kamala Harris makes her way to board a plane before departing from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on June 14, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
(MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

“I have been briefed,” Harris told reporters. “As the president has said, we’re gonna take every precaution and that’s why we’ve taken the measures we have.”

Harris said she “can’t stress enough” how important it is for Americans to get their booster shots or their first or second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. “I will say what I say every time because it remains true. They are safe, the vaccines are free, and they will save your life.”

President Joe Biden, with Vice President Kamala Harris on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden, with Vice President Kamala Harris on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Asked about any additional travel restrictions, Harris thought for a moment and said, “We’ll take it one step at a time, but as of now we’ve done what we believe is necessary.”

Harris was accompanied on her visit to the Christmas market by second gentleman Doug Emhoff. The two bought an assortment of items, including candles from Smell of Love Candles, an “I’m Speaking” calendar, spices, maps from Terratorie and treats from The Capital Candy Jar.


Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a press conference in Paris, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. (Thomas Coex, Pool Photo via AP)

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a press conference in Paris, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. (Thomas Coex, Pool Photo via AP)
(Thomas Coex, Pool Photo via AP)

On Friday, Biden restricted travel from South Africa and seven other countries starting Monday over concerns of the “heavily mutated” omicron variant, which has been identified in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

The omicron variant, according to World Health Organization (WHO) officials, has a large number of mutations, “some of which are concerning.”

In addition to the U.S., the European Union, United Kingdom and Israel have halted air travel to southern Africa in response to the new variant.

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Biden restricts travel from South Africa and seven other countries starting Monday

Acting on advice from the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Biden administration will restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

Biden on Friday night signed the official proclamation restricting the travel of those “physically present” in the countries during the “14-day period preceding their entry, or attempted entry into the United States.”

The proclamation includes a list of those exempted from the new restrictions, including US citizens, lawful permanent residents and noncitizens who are the spouses of citizens or permanent residents.

It says it will remain in effect until terminated by the President and will not apply to any flights scheduled to arrive in the US that depart prior to 12:01 a.m. EST on Monday.

The decision to restrict travel comes as the federal government is still attempting to learn more about the new variant, named Omicron. They need to see more sequencing, but after discussing what they’ve seen so far, officials decided to halt travel from these other countries out of concern about what they don’t yet know.

Biden was briefed Friday on the new coronavirus variant circulating in southern Africa, he said in the announcement.

He told reporters later Friday of the decision: “I’ve decided we’re going to be cautious.”

“We don’t know a lot about the variant except that it is a big concern and seems to spread rapidly, and I spent about a half hour this morning with my Covid team led by Dr. Fauci, so that was the decision we made,” the President said.

Officials said the policy was implemented out of an abundance of caution given the World Health Organization has now identified this as a variant of concern.

“Our scientists and public health officials are working quickly to learn more about this variant,” one official said.

White House in contact with airlines

A senior Biden administration official said earlier Friday that several steps had to be taken before the restrictions begin on Monday, including the formal US proclamation, Transportation Security Administration directives and coordination with airlines.

“This is a quick timeline but there are things that need to be done beforehand,” the official said.

An airline source told CNN that airline executives and the White House were in touch Friday, prior to the announcement of new travel restrictions.

Another source familiar with the situation said there was a call Friday afternoon with the federal government and the airline industry. The federal government is working on drafting an official directive that will include guidelines for airlines that go into effect just after midnight Monday morning.

The trade group for major US airlines said it has “many unanswered questions” about the forthcoming restrictions. Airlines for America spokesman Carter Yang told CNN the group is communicating with the administration and believes that travel decisions must “be rooted in science.”

“We remain in communication with the US government as specifics remain unknown at this time and there are many unanswered questions,” Yang said. “Amid this rapidly evolving situation, it is critical that US government decisions regarding international travel restrictions and requirements be rooted in science.”

South Africa’s health minister announced Thursday the discovery of the variant, which appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of the country.

Buying time

The travel restrictions will buy the US federal government more time to investigate the new variant, officials say — but not much.

Inside the government, it is seen as inevitable that the new variant will appear in the US at some point, but the new restrictions should give federal health agencies and their global counterparts more time to learn about the variant, including the severity of the disease it causes. Officials do not believe, based on current thinking, that the variant is in the US yet.

Officials acted quickly to implement new restrictions. While the emergency of the variant had been flagged in the last several weeks, it was only in recent days that they learned how serious it was.

US officials are expected to speak to scientists in South Africa again, potentially on Sunday.

Currently, “there’s no indication” that the new variant is in the United States right now — and US scientists are working closely with colleagues in South Africa to learn more about the emerging variant, Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN’s Brianna Keilar before the travel restrictions were announced Friday.

“Right now, we’re getting the material together with our South African colleagues to get a situation where you could actually directly test it. So, right now you’re talking about sort of like a red flag that this might be an issue — but we don’t know,” he said.

“You want to find out if in fact it does evade the vaccines that we’re doing,” Fauci said when asked about potential travel restrictions. “You’re prepared to do everything you need to do to protect the American public, but you want to make sure there’s a basis for doing that.”

Several other countries — including the United Kingdom — have banned flights from South Africa and surrounding African countries in response to the emergence of the variant.

The travel restrictions do not apply to American citizens and lawful permanent residents. As with all international travelers, they must still test negative prior to travel.

This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.

CNN’s Allie Malloy, Jeff Zeleny, Gregory Wallace and Pete Muntean contributed to this report.

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As an alarming new COVID-19 variant emerges, Canada moves to limit travel from southern Africa

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced today that Canada will limit travel from seven countries in southern Africa, a region that has reported cases of a new — and possibly more infectious — COVID-19 variant.

Starting today, all foreign nationals who have travelled through South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini or Mozambique in the last 14 days will be barred from entering Canada.

Canadian citizens and permanent residents will be allowed to return home — but they’ll face a new requirement that could make travel awkward.

Because there are no direct flights between the region and Canada, most travellers transit through airports in Europe, the Middle East and the U.S.

Starting today, travellers must get a molecular test in the country they connect through on their way to Canada.

Then, after landing in Canada, inbound travellers must also get an arrival test and wait for the results of that test at a designated hotel. If the test is negative, those returning travellers would be released to quarantine for a mandatory 14 days at home. They also would be required to go through a so-called “day eight” test on the eighth day of quarantine.

And anyone who has arrived in Canada from southern Africa in the last 14 days must immediately get a COVID-19 test — even if they are asymptomatic. They’re required to go home and quarantine while they wait for those results. 

Countries around the world already have restricted travel from some areas of the African continent in an effort to keep the newly identified coronavirus variant — dubbed the “omicron” variant by the World Health Organization — from crossing their borders.

While many questions remain about how transmissible or virulent this new variant is, the U.K. Health Security Agency warned Friday that the new strain found in southern Africa is the “most complex” and the “most worrying we’ve seen.”

Britain, Israel and Singapore, among others, have restricted travel from South Africa and some neighbouring countries. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is proposing member states pull the “emergency brake” on travel from some countries in Africa to limit the spread of the variant.

In question period Friday, Conservative MP Luc Berthold, the party’s health critic, called for swift action to prevent the new variant from derailing Canada’s progress in the fight against COVID-19.

“Canadians are worried,” Berthold said. “The Liberal government has been slow, slow to warn Canadians, slow to close the borders, slow to provide vaccines. There’s still time to protect Canadians who are fed up with lockdowns.”

Associate Health Minister Carolyn Bennett said pre-departure PCR testing is in place and those tests “are capable of detecting this variant.”

“The COVID-19 situation around the world continues to be volatile and unpredictable and we continue to monitor the situation very closely,” she said.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the government wouldn’t take lessons from the Conservatives on pandemic management when the party’s leader, Erin O’Toole, refuses to require that all Conservative MPs get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Just last week, Alghabra said, the Conservatives were also calling for an end to pre-departure PCR testing and fewer travel restrictions.

“Forgive me for not taking advice from the Conservative Party,” he said.

Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious-disease official, said banning flights to the United States from southern Africa is a “possibility” but that a decision has not been made yet.

“There is always the possibility of doing what the U.K. has done, namely block travel from South Africa and related countries,” Fauci said Friday morning in an interview on CNN.

“That’s certainly something you think about and get prepared to do … But you want to make sure there’s a basis for doing that.”

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WHO meets amid global alarm over new Covid-19 variant found in southern Africa

LONDON — Countries across the world rushed Friday to identify potential cases and halt travel from southern Africa where a new variant of Covid-19 emerged as a sudden source of global alarm.

The global scramble to contain the new Covid-19 variant was met with a plea for caution from the World Health Organization (WHO), even as cases were confirmed in Asia and Europe. The body convened Friday for an emergency meeting to assess the situation.

But stocks and oil prices tumbled on fears of another pandemic setback, and the U.S. woke up the day after Thanksgiving to the possibility of a more uncertain holiday period ahead.

Scientists are concerned by the new variant because of its high number of mutations and rapid early spread in South Africa.Denis Farrell / AP

Scientists are still learning about the variant, which was first identified earlier this week and is currently known as B.1.1.529, but its concerning nature led to rapid developments as fears hit governments and markets alike.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said that federal health officials would hold discussions on Friday with their South African counterparts as the U.S. rushed to gather more data. 

“We want to find out scientist-to-scientist exactly what is going on,” he told CNN. “It’s something that in real time we’re learning more and more about.” 

He told the network that there was no indication at this stage the new variant was already in the United States, but that it was possible. No decision to halt flights had been made yet, he said.

The U.K. said late Thursday it was adding six African countries to its red list, banning all direct flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

They were joined by Israel, which announced Friday it was banning foreign travelers from all African countries, with the exception of North Africa, from entering the country.

European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted Friday that the 27-member bloc, already battling its own growing Covid crisis, would propose halting air travel from southern Africa. Singapore, Japan and Croatia also said they would restrict travel from the region, according to Reuters.

The U.K. Health Security Agency said it was investigating the B.1.1.529 variant, which it said includes a large number of mutations that may change its behavior with regard to vaccines, treatments and transmissibility.

“This is the most significant variant we have encountered to date and urgent research is underway to learn more about its transmissibility, severity and vaccine-susceptibility,” said Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the U.K. Health Security Agency.

About 41 percent of South Africa’s adults have been vaccinated and the number of shots being given per day is relatively low.Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

The variant was found earlier this week in South Africa and Botswana and while the extent of its spread has yet to be determined, a few cases were soon confirmed beyond Africa.

The Hong Kong government said Thursday that it had detected two cases, while Belgium became the first E.U. country to announce a case of the variant on Friday. Israel also said it had identified a case in a traveler returning from Malawi, with two other suspected cases placed in isolation. “We are currently on the verge of a state of emergency,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned. “Our main principle is to act fast, strong and now.”

The WHO said in an emailed statement Friday that it was convening a meeting of its Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution to determine whether it should be designated as a “variant of interest” or “variant of concern.”

Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist and Covid-19 technical lead at the World Health Organization, said Thursday that if it was designated it would be given a Greek name.

“We don’t know very much about this yet, what we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations,” Van Kerkhove said in a video on Thursday. “The concern is that when you have so many mutations it can have an impact on how the virus behaves.”

South Africa has been Africa’s worst-hit country in terms of total reported cases and deaths, but had been experiencing a lull in infections until last week.Emmanuel Croset / AFP via Getty Images file

The organization warned that it would take a few weeks for it to understand the impact this variant has.

“At this point, implementing travel measures is being cautioned against,”  spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told a U.N. briefing in Geneva Friday, according to Reuters.

South Africa also pushed back against the U.K.’s temporary ban on flights from the region, describing it as “rushed.”

“Our immediate concern is the damage that this decision will cause to both the tourism industries and businesses of both countries,” its minister of international relations and co-operation, Naledi Pandor, said in a statement Friday. 

The emergence of the new variant was already being felt around the world, however, where some had hoped that vaccination campaigns could mean a 2022 largely free of the restrictions and anxiety that dominated the past two years.

Oil prices and airline shares plunged, while major stock indexes fell in Europe and Asia and Dow Jones futures dipped 800 points ahead of the market opening in the U.S.

Global vaccination rates remain uneven, with citizens of some wealthy industrialized countries already being offered booster shots while other nations struggle to inoculate their populations due in part to lack of access and public hesitancy.

The global death toll from Covid-19 topped 5 million people earlier this month.

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Countries restrict travel from southern Africa over COVID variant | Coronavirus pandemic News

A growing list of countries, including the UK and Singapore, impose restrictions on travellers from southern Africa.

A growing list of countries, including the UK, Israel and Singapore, have imposed travel restrictions after the discovery of a new coronavirus variant in South Africa.

Scientists have expressed concerns that the new strain could be more resistant to vaccines and could spread more easily.

European and Asian countries tightened travel requirements on Friday after a new coronavirus variant, identified as B.1.1.529, was detected in South Africa.

The Israeli health ministry said on Friday it had detected the country’s first case of the new coronavirus variant in a traveller who returned from Malawi. The traveller and two other suspected cases have been placed in isolation. It said all three are vaccinated but that it is currently looking into their exact vaccination status.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned against imposing new travel restrictions.

“WHO recommends that countries continued to apply a risk-based and a scientific approach when implementing travel measures … implementing travel measures is being cautioned against,” spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva on Friday.

The WHO said that it will take a few weeks to determine exactly how transmissible the new variant is.

“Researchers are working to understand more about the mutations and what they potentially mean for how transmissible or virulent this variant is,” the WHO spokesman said, as WHO experts began a virtual meeting to determine whether B.1.1.529 should be classified as a variant of interest or of concern.

BioNTech assessing vaccine against new strain

BioNTech said on Friday it was studying how well the coronavirus vaccine it developed with Pfizer protects against the new variant.

“We expect more data from the laboratory tests in two weeks at the latest. These data will provide more information about whether B.1.1.529 could be an escape variant that may require an adjustment of our vaccine if the variant spreads globally,” a BioNTech spokesperson said.

A total of about 50 confirmed cases have also been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana. The confirmed cases in Botswana and Hong Kong were detected among travellers from South Africa.

Britain announced that it was banning flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries effective at noon (12:00 GMT) on Friday and that anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a coronavirus test and to quarantine.

Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller, reporting from Johannesburg, said “southern African countries depend on tourism and trade” and the new restrictions were crushing hopes ahead of the holiday season.

South Africa recently obtained its removal from a UK red list. “There is certainly concern on the part of the South African government, which said this ban has been rushed,” Miller said.

South Africa will speak to British authorities to try to get them to reconsider their ban, the Foreign Ministry in Pretoria said. “Our immediate concern is the damage that this decision will cause to both the tourism industries and businesses of both countries,” Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in a statement.

The 27-nation EU bloc also said it would consider new restrictions as it battles a fourth spike of the coronavirus pandemic.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement that she “proposes, in close coordination with the member states, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region.”

Italy’s health ministry announced measures to ban entry into Italy of anyone who has been in seven southern African nations – South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini – in the past 14 days.

The Netherlands is planning similar measures.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said airlines coming back from South Africa will only be able to transport German citizens home, and travellers will need to go into quarantine for 14 days whether they are vaccinated or not.

Germany has seen new record daily case numbers in recent days and passed the mark of 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday.

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Covid: Africa travel restrictions over variant fear – BBC News

  1. Covid: Africa travel restrictions over variant fear  BBC News
  2. New COVID variant: UK urgently brings in travel restrictions to stop spread of ‘the worst one we’ve seen so far’  Sky News
  3. Covid Live Updates: South Africa Identifies New Variant; Travel Ban  The New York Times
  4. Six southern African countries added to UK’s travel red list travel amid COVID-19 variant concern  Euronews
  5. View Full Coverage on Google News

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Israel bars travel to and from South Africa over new COVID strain – Israel News

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Things to Know Before Traveling to South Africa in 2021

A dispatch from an American who recently spent three weeks in the country.

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Editor’s note: In her role as Marketing and Social Media manager at SmartFlyer, NYC-based Kayla Douglas looks after the agency’s website and social feeds. She’s passionate about empowering the ever-growing community of SmartFlyer agents to approach social media marketing with authenticity. Always on the hunt for the next hot travel trend, you can typically find Kayla reading, running, writing, and creating content. A cortado (or glass of wine, depending on the time!) is rarely out of reach.

When South Africa opened its borders to Americans last fall, I decided to plan a bucket-list trip combining its safari regions with Cape Town and the nearby Winelands. As the news developed around the “South African variant,” I knew I was going to have a difficult decision to make. Could I still go? Should I still go? Thankfully, I didn’t have to rely on doom scrolling alone—one of my dear friends and colleagues is travel advisor Tiffany Figueredo, who splits her time between Cape Town and Fort Worth. 

She gave me real-time guidance on the situation on the ground, and this intel ultimately empowered me to make an informed decision. I spent three weeks there [in February 2021], managing marketing and social media projects for SmartFlyer and enjoying some personal leisure travel. 

South Africa is currently open to American travelers, with proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of arrival. No quarantine is required. 

Lesson 1: Buy all the insurance

After deciding that I was going to take the leap, I armored up with extra insurance coverage on top of my annual Arch RoamRight’s Multi-Trip insurance policy and annual MedjetHorizon membership. For this trip, I invested in COVAC Global, the only travel membership that will bring you home if you contract COVID-19 while traveling; their motto is “if you get sick, you get home,” plain and simple.

Naturally, these precautions were on top of my negative PCR test required no more than 72 hours before departure for South Africa. In terms of PPE, I had extra peace of mind thanks to Kaze Origins N95 masks and lots of TripWipes used in-flight. All of this was worth it—once I got there, I felt reassured that I’d made the right decision both for my mental health and in support of our recovering industry. 

Lesson 2: Advisors are a big help when it comes to planning a safari

Let the safari begin: Boarding a Federal Airlines PC12 flight

Flying to—and through—South Africa

I flew from Newark on United Polaris into Frankfurt, then connected on Lufthansa to Johannesburg. To acclimate [from the jet lag], I stayed one night at the Four Seasons Hotel the Westcliff, though I’m excited to see that the Saxon Hotel is reopening on May 1 to give travelers another luxury option in the city.

The bush planes out to Sabi Sands and Kruger National Park are most easily accessible via Johannesburg. These flight logistics are nearly impossible to Google, which is just another reason to book with a savvy travel advisor. Mine booked me on Federal Air, a carrier that services the safari regions on its beautifully outfitted PC12s. Pro tip: You can store larger, hard-sided luggage at the Federal Air Lounge in Johannesburg since you can only bring a small, soft-sided duffel on safari. My advice would be to pack accordingly and remember that [most] lodges do complimentary laundry service, so less is more. 

Lesson no. 3: Know the differences between Sabi Sands and Kruger

On safari in the Sabi Sands

Lesson 4: Want to see leopards? Sabi Sands is the place

The ways in which these two regions are governed makes for highly distinct experiences. Sabi Sands is privately owned by six of the original families who took over this previously agricultural land. They work together to maintain the landscape to this day, which has long been a gathering place for leopards. While the lodges across Sabi Sands communicate with one another, you won’t see guests from another lodge out on a game drive because it’s all privatized. 

Kruger is owned and controlled by the government—there are strict rules that prohibit vehicles from leaving the demarcated roads. Many locals flock to Kruger to do self-drive safaris. For those staying in luxury properties, a handful of lodges have exclusive use of particular plots of land that aren’t subject to the limitations of the national park. This affords them the option to do spot-lit night drives, guided nature walks, and off-road driving for close-up encounters. Ultimately, you can see the Big 5 in both Sabi Sands and Kruger, so it will most likely come down to which lodge(s) you’re most compelled to experience—another place where your travel advisor can help. 

Starting Singita-style in Sabi Sands

We began our safari portion in the Sabi Sands—a vast game reserve about an hour’s bush plane ride from Johannesburg—at Singita Ebony Lodge. This was the very first Singita [it opened in 1993], and it sits on the Sand River, with just a dozen suites, each with its own private plunge pool. It feels like a fresh interpretation of a classic safari lodge. For those seeking more contemporary design, sister property Singita Boulders Lodge is just next door. The underground wine cellar at Boulders offers an extensive collection, including premium South African wines and rare auction wines. Finally, for those looking for a buyout, there’s Singita Castleton, also close by. 

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You don’t even always have to leave the lodge to see animals. On the very first afternoon we were at the lodge, a leopard decided to enjoy our personal suite deck just moments after we’d come inside. Our neighbor captured the entire situation on video, which we reviewed together in absolute awe during afternoon tea before the same leopard casually strolled through camp. It was an unbelievable start to our stay.

A morning coffee at Londolozi with Tiffany Figueiredo

While safarigoers typically wouldn’t do a split stay in this way, we opted to check out nearby Londolozi to maximize our knowledge as travel professionals. Their collection of five lodges is relaxed and familial—it grew out of a family camp established in the 1920s. The Varty family has always had a total commitment to conservation—they first acquired the land where Londolozi now stands in 1926 when there was absolutely nothing but bushveld stretching to the horizon.

Nearly 100 years later, they still live there and have contributed so much to the richness of the Sabi Sands. In Zulu, Londolozi means “Protector of All Things,” and this was the basis under which the camp was developed and how it is maintained. They pioneered the concept of a photo safari during a time when wildlife tourism presented the opportunity to salvage land divided by both literal fences and racial tension, especially during apartheid. Nelson Mandela once visited the property and said, “Londolozi represents a model of the dream I cherish for the future of nature preservation in our country.” Like all stays, it was the people who left the most sincere impact on me. 

One night, as we were watching a pride of lions, I asked our game ranger, Krist, how she landed in her career. She said she had previously been a primary school teacher, and one of her students asked her what she had wanted to be at her age. She replied that she’d always wanted to be a game ranger. A week later, she resigned from the school and enrolled in Londolozi’s intensive ranger school—an intensive training program that culminates in the rangers-in-training being out in the bush by themselves for days! It was awe-inspiring to see a woman succeed in such a male-dominated field. 

Many of the lodge guests right now are locals. With international tourism numbers still recovering due to COVID, South African properties have seized the unique opportunity to cater to domestic travelers with more rates more favorable to local currency. 

Next up: Kruger National Park 

We stayed at Singita Lebombo Lodge, easily one of the highlights of my time in South Africa. I flew with Federal Air from Sabi Sands to Kruger. It’s a relatively short trip, but feels like a completely new landscape now that you’re even farther east. You can see the ridge to Mozambique with the sounds of the N’wanesti River and all the birds as your backdrop. The sleek, contemporary suites have been built into the cliff to resemble eagle’s nests and completely blend in as if you’re floating between the earth and sky. If you can manage to leave your room (did I mention the outdoor bed?), there is an on-property cooking school that nurtures local talent.

Singita Sweni Lodge is right next door and has more rich pops of color than neutrals. Like in Sabi, these sister properties share a spa and shop. I chose a 90-minute crystal healing massage and I felt in a trance by the time I left. I’m not big on souvenir buying, but Singita’s chic boutique has homewares and furnishings that help you recreate the safari dream at home. For those eager to peruse, they actually just launched an online version!

Lesson no. 5: Bake in some down time between safari and Cape Town sightseeing 

Hiking on Cape Town’s Lion’s Head Mountain

After safari, I routed back to Cape Town. When working on your South Africa itinerary, I’d keep in mind that safari is more tiring than you may imagine. It’s a lot of early mornings on top of your jet lag. If you’re going straight to Cape Town, be sure to create some breathing room in your itinerary. I was working during the days while in the city and would highly recommend this for anyone whose job allows them similar flexibility. 

I was fortunate enough to base myself at Ellerman House for part of the time, and during the stay, met a fellow guest who is a University of London professor and has been teaching all of his classes via Zoom right from the property’s library for months. I mean, why not? You’ve got the sun, beach, art, a gym, exquisite food, and of course, Wi-Fi. We are ushering in a new way of working and the chance to WFHotel is probably one of the biggest upsides.

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Ellerman House is a privately owned, 11-room [plus two villas] hotel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and with its incredible art collection, an assortment of mid-19th-century to modern-day South African art,  it could easily be a museum. But it feels cozy and not at all stuffy. One of the best parts about a stay here—well, aside from the gin cart!—is that you can go on a private art tour with their in-house curator, and learn about the complex history of South Africa through the art.

If you stay at the Silo, it has the dual benefit of owner and avid art enthusiast Liz Biden’s curated collection and it sits above Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA). Both spaces have a focus on Africa’s emerging contemporary artists. I was really impressed by MOCAA’s integration of the pandemic into its collections. What a surreal moment to see art made in 2020 hanging on a wall addressing a pandemic that we are very much still living in. It was a reminder that we are literally making history every single day. For both your time taking in the art at the Silo and MOCAA, I’d recommend partnering with Royal Portfolio’s Resident Art Concierge for more in-depth storytelling and historical context. 

A stop near Hermanus en route to the Winelands

Since we had a fair amount of room in our itinerary, we built in a stop before routing to the Winelands a bit further south at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, an ecofocused property about two-and-a-half hours from Cape Town. Visiting in July would be ideal, when you can do a floral safari and see the country’s famous fynbos at their pink peak. Here, you can also ride horses, go shark diving, whale watch, and so much more. I loved how the Grootbos team is incorporating sustainability and community enhancement through the Grootbos Foundation, a nonprofit that has an on-site ecotourism and hospitality training school—you can even visit during your stay.

In the Winelands, we stayed at two family-owned properties, La Residence, a Royal Portfolio property, and Babylonstoren, a working farm. It is a dream to be at the La Residence pool in one of their photogenic white and yellow cabanas overlooking the Franschhoek Valley after a winetasting. 

For those who crave less of a chandelier vibe and lean more to clean lines, Babylonstoren is another top contender for the Winelands, a place I equate to a Disneyland for adults. There is every imaginable amenity under the sun: a wine cellar, fruit and vegetable garden, multiple restaurants, an essential oil shop, a bakery, a butcherie, the spa and pool, and more. I adored our stay in one of the stand-alone Fynbos Cottages outfitted with a kitchen, fireplace, and private patio. You’re given a golf cart and bikes at check-in so you really have free rein to explore the vast property as you see fit.

At the end of a leisurely walk through the grounds with the head gardener en route to breakfast, there was a moment when I heard one of the farmers whistling as he worked, assembling a fresh fruit basket for a guest’s room. It reminded me that despite the doom and gloom we hear every day, there is real goodness—whistling while you work goodness—if you’re willing and able to leave your bubble. The world awaits. 

Lesson no. 6: Have cash on hand, even at the airport

My departure back to New York was a reminder of how flexible we need to remain with travel these days. While my SmartFlyer travel agent had already handled the cancellation of my flight from Cape Town and rerouted me through Johannesburg, the constantly evolving testing requirements caught up to me on this leg. It was seamless to get a PCR test in the Winelands to meet the U.S. requirement for a negative result no more than 72 hours before departure but, despite having this completely valid PCR taken just 24 hours prior, I hit a block.

There was a third party scanning passports and test results before you even got the Lufthansa check-in who insisted mine didn’t meet the requirements of my transit destination, Frankfurt. They refused to take the results for basically anyone on our flight, and negotiating with them wasn’t working.

Conveniently, there was a tent set up in the airport providing rapid tests with an immediate result. My advice here is to just have local cash on you just in case something like this happens to you, too. It was only 500 rand [around $33 now], but they did not accept international credit cards. That said, build in more time than you think you’ll need at the airport. Expect that travel right now simply has more red tape and you’ll have to show your COVID test multiple times. And above all, remember that leaving your bubble is a privilege—travel responsibly. 

When’s the best time to go to South Africa?

The summer time in Cape Town (December to March) doesn’t exactly match up with the dry season in the bush. So, there are pros and cons to any time of year. But for South Africa’s high season for safari running from June to August, this cooler, dryer time of year comes with less availability and higher rates. Conversely, low safari season, which runs from November to April, comes with more accessible rates, some rain showers, and more lush landscapes that make for gorgeous photos but can make spotting game a bit more challenging. Talk to your travel advisor about what would be the best fit for your schedule and personal preferences.

As told to Annie Fitzsimmons.

>>Next: 11 Overwater Bungalows Around the World to Book for 2021

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