By Seth and Whitney Robertson, TangoInTahiti.com
Whitney and I love a stroll through Paris at midnight or a candlelit Italian dinner as much as the next couple, but South Africa is our pick for the most romantic country in the world. It’s the only place where you can spend the morning whale-watching, the afternoon winetasting, the evening at a 4-star hotel, the next morning cage diving with great whites, and then fall asleep in a luxurious safari tent. We could spend years exploring South Africa (and we’re not the kind of people who explore slowly – 80 minutes in the Louvre and we’ve had our fill). So if you’re sitting on a stack of unused frequent flyer miles and want to go somewhere more exotic than Italy, Paris, or Costa Rica, give South Africa a chance.
We’ll get into the details of how to use your miles and points to book flights and hotels in South Africa at the bottom of this post, but for now let’s focus on the romance: safaris, vineyards, and diving with sharks. You may be wondering how sharks made it on a list of romantic activities. What’s romantic about being locked together in a steel cage as 15-foot sharks circle with rows of gleaming white teeth exposed? It’s just like taking a date to a scary movie or the Tower of Terror at your local theme park – there is something about fear and adrenaline that combine to draw a couple closer together (both emotionally and physically). Our guide informed us that he sees several engagements a year on the deck of his shark-diving boat.
The most terrifying thing about cage diving with great white sharks isn’t the sharks, it’s the water. In Shark Alley (where we dove and much of Discovery’s Shark Week is filmed) the water will drop into the high 40s. Hypothermia would be a real risk without a wetsuit. After dipping her toe in the water, Whitney put on two wetsuits before climbing in the cage.
After you emerge from the cold water and your boat deposits you on land, make sure you plan a fancy dinner by a warm fire to discuss the day’s adventures.
If you’re like us and prefer only to stay in hotels you can book with SPG points or HHonor’s Rewards, you’ll be pleased to know that most shark diving companies will pick you up from your room at the Cape Town Westin or Hilton and transport you to the shark capital of Gansbaai (a 1 ½ hour drive) for no extra charge.
If shark diving isn’t your idea of a romantic date, wineries probably are. The wineries in South Africa not only produce world-class reds, whites, and bubbly, they’re also located in some of the most beautiful countryside on earth. Vineyards climb hillsides with jagged mountains rising behind them and wine-tastings are held in colonial-era buildings.
The wineries are only a 30 to 45 minute drive from your Cape Town hotel, so you can visit with your rental car (rentals run less than $30 a day) or with a bus tour.
Note on Wine: Pinotage is South Africa’s signature red wine grape. If you want to impress snobbish friends, rave about its smoky, earthy boutique.
We know you like to use your points for free hotel stays. Unfortunately, since most safari camps aren’t run by Hilton, Starwood or IHG, you’re going to have to pay for your room the old-fashioned way – with money. However, as painful as it is to pay for a night’s accommodation after you’ve become accustomed to using points, every couple should splurge on a high-end tented safari at least once. We’re talking about a safari where the staff outnumbers guests two-to-one, the food is world class, sheets are made of Egyptian cotton and guests bathe in candlelit claw-foot tubs above watering holes.
Whitney and I chose White Elephant Camp for our splurge. We arrived to a claw-foot tub with a warm bubble bath drawn, a bottle of champagne on ice, and herds of elephants roaming thousands of acres of private reserve. During low season White Elephant runs between $300 and $600 a night (including all meals, walks, game drives, and food), but it’s worth every penny.
If you’re budget conscious, there are less expensive options in the Kruger area.
To get the most bang for your points and miles, we suggest visiting South Africa during their winter low season (during our summer). Focus on Cape Town but visit an additional area for a safari.
Your frequent flyer miles may only take you as far as Johannesburg (Jo’burg to locals) but don’t stay. The Cape Town area has most of the legendary attractions (vineyards, Cape of Good Hope, whalewatching, shark diving). If you’re interested in a safari, fly to Durban or Kruger (or have a safari company pick you up at the Jo’burg airport).
Using Credit Card Points and Miles to Get There
The simplest option may be to use your Chase Ultimate Reward points or United Points to fly South African Airways (via NYC).
Delta has a direct flight from Atlanta to Jo’burg but with devalued Delta Skymiles (skypesos we call them) it will take a LOT of miles to get there. Another good option is using AA miles (or transfer some Starwood points to Alaska Airlines) to fly Cathay Pacific with a layover in Hong Kong. Since a lot of us are loaded with British Airways Avios Points (or partner AA miles), your first thought might be to book a flight to South Africa using British Airways. This is not the best option. It’s a long flight and you’ll be hit with at least 90,000 miles PLUS the hefty fuel surcharges. We only suggest flying BA if you want to spend a few days in Europe on your way over.
Within South Africa you can use British Airways Avios points to fly on Comair, or use one of the budget carriers like Mango or Kalula.
Hotels in Cape Town are pricey (and crime’s a problem, so you want to be in a secure hotel). This is a good place to use your Starwood Points to book the Cape Town Westin – the best value at 10,000 SPG points (or 4,000 points plus $60) per night. If you have reward points with another major hotel chain, they’ll almost certainly have a Cape Town location.
For More Details
Our book, Tango in Tahiti: Africa, is available on amazon.com.
Seth and Whitney Robertson write Tango in Tahiti, their website shows couples how to plan romantic, adventurous getaways that are also affordable. Visit our site at TangoInTahiti.com, like us on Facebook, or check out our books on Amazon.com if you’ve ever dreamed of an exotic, romantic escape but don’t know how to begin planning
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