Trip Reports

An African Safari On Points: A Tryst with the Wilderness

This article covers a 10-day trip to South Africa with a focus on exploring the natural wildlife and Safaris of the region. We also look at possible flight options, their onboard experience and hotel redemptions across multiple cities in the trip and enlist a day-wise itinerary of activities and famous tourist attractions.

Africa has always fascinated me since my childhood. I remember watching NatGeo shows of various animals in their natural habitat almost daily with my father when I was young. With my son being an animal lover too, it was an easy choice this year to take a trip to Africa. Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa were among the different options that I had initially shortlisted.

After getting a few quotes from travel companies, I realized that the Safaris in Kenya and Tanzania cost way more than those in South Africa. The usual price for a family of three comes around $1000 for a mid-range accommodation per night in Kenya. South Africa also provided more options apart from Safaris including the chance to visit Cape Town and drive the gorgeous Garden Route. During the search for redemption options, I stumbled upon the Mantis Founders Lodge which is part of the Accor Group and also became the highlight of our trip later.

Airport and Lounge

I got to experience the new Chennai International Terminal for the first time. While it is a decent upgrade from the existing building, there is still a lot of catching up to do when compared to other airports in the country. A makeshift lounge was already functional. The TFS lounge which is under construction when operational can host 200 Business class and 175 credit card customers.

Flight Experience and Booking

Flight Booking

I booked the itinerary below with 2,20,500 United miles and $204.48 in taxes for 3 pax with the Excursionist Perk covering the Cape Town (CPT) – George (GRJ) leg. The revenue rates would have been around ₹3L.

Onboard Experience

The Chennai (MAA) – Addis Ababa (ADD) leg was in a B737–8 and Addis Ababa (ADD) – Cape Town (CPT) was in B787–8. I was dreading the 737 leg but the first-row seats made the experience much better with extra legroom. I booked the first-row seats by calling Ethiopian customer care for around 3.5k per leg, per seat (cannot be done online ). IFE (only available on 787) was decent with a not-so-great movie collection but a few good classics and Indian movies. The crew was attentive with a smile. The food tasted much better than it looked and we mostly got the option of rice with Chicken/Fish/Mutton. I recommend pre-booking vegetarian meals if you require them by calling customer care. There is internet available on 787 legs. It costs 25 $ for a full flight, 5$ for a 1-hour pass, and 9$ for a 2-hour pass.

Addis Ababa (ADD) airport is not fancy but is very efficient. The lines move fast and the security personnel are also very helpful in assisting passengers who need it. There are no Priority Pass Lounges but there is a lounge that accepts Amex Plat Charge cards. There are many coffee shops with comfortable seating to sample Ethiopian coffee. On the return leg, we made it through a 50-minute transit easily.

Hotels and Itinerary

Days 1–5

AC Hotel by Marriott — V&A Waterfront

I paid around ₹11.5k per night for 4 nights. As a Marriott Platinum benefit, I received $10 per night as F&B credit apart from other benefits and free breakfast. The same property can also be booked for 66–85k MB points for 5 nights depending on the dates. There are regular shuttles and Water Taxis to the V&A waterfront and the hotel has good views of the Table Mountains and excellent coffee for breakfast.

Days 6-7

Protea Hotel Knysna Quays

Image Credits: Marriott International
Image Credits: Marriott International

We stayed in Protea by Marriott Hotel Knysna Quays which is a basic lodge near the Quay. The room was small but functional with easy access to restaurants and shops nearby. The boat tours also start from the getty nearby.

I paid around ₹15k for 2 Nights and it can also be booked for around 21k MB points per night.

Days 8–10

Stay and Safari at Mantis Founders

It is a coincidence that we had kept the best for the last. This is probably the most unique experience I have had compared to a hotel anywhere in the world. The best part is that it is also an all-inclusive property which includes all meals, coffee/wine/drinks, and two safaris every day. I booked this with about 25k (+6k for 1 Child Supplement) Accor Points per night.

Mantis is the personal lodge of Adrian Gardiner who started the conservation efforts in the Eastern Cape, SA. There is so much history to this place. Brad Pitt/Travolta and Tiger Woods are among the few celebrities who have stayed here. There is an actual railway carriage that you can stay in and since this property only has 6 rooms, we got plenty of individual attention. They surprised us every day with meals and the places we dined in.

Some of the best meals were Barbecue, Venison steak, and fish cooked African style. They also served excellent vegetarian options for my Wife and Son.

Of course, the best surprise was seeing the wildlife just outside the lodge. The landscape ( which is a part of Shamwari Wildlife Park) that you see during the safari is just magical. The rangers are very experienced and try their best to catch a glimpse of every wildlife at the park.

Some of the animals at the park are the Big Five ( Elephant, Lion, Leopard, African Buffalo, and Black Rhino), a variety of Antelopes ( Impala, Oryx, Springbok, Kudu), giraffes, hippos, hyenas, foxes, and monkeys of different types among others.

Daywise Itinerary

Day 1

  • We landed at around 2 PM and the immigration took less than 10 minutes. For a change, it was nice to see an immigration officer friendly and smiling which made me think later about how it brightens the entire trip to come.
  • Got the MTN sim card at the airport which worked well even in remote locations.
  • I used for airport transfers. While Uber is available, I like the convenience of someone waiting and holding your nameplate after a long flight. They charge 25$ which is very reasonable.

Places Visited

  • Cape Wheel -I recommend going during the sunset to catch a good glimpse of the city.
  • V&A waterfront — It has a high-end mall and plenty of excellent restaurants. African Choir Bands provide lively performances in the evenings here.

Restaurants in V&A that we enjoyed dining.

  • TANG Restaurant —They serve excellent Japanese Izakaya and Cantonese-style dishes.
  • Mozambique — Mozambique-style prawns were delicious.
  • Knysna Oyster Company — One of the best oysters that I had anywhere. They were fresh and succulent.

There is also an Indian restaurant “Raj” in V&A if you miss the Indian food.

Tip: Don’t miss trying the excellent craft Gins available in all of the restaurants in South Africa.

Day 2

Places Visited

  • Two Oceans Aquarium- Must do if you are traveling with kids. It is a beautiful aquarium wide variety of fishes, eels, jellyfish, giant stingrays, and penguins.
  • Wine tasting at De Grendel Wines — There are many wine-growing regions in Cape including the famous Stellenbosch & Franschhoek. You can spend an entire day on many of these farms. Since we had limited time, we decided to go to De Grendel Wine Estate which is nearby. It is a beautiful farm with an excellent wine-tasting menu and glorious views of the Table Mountain and the city.
  • Old Biscuit Mill — It is a neighbourhood market that has food stalls, live music and boutique shops for clothes. It provided us with the opportunity to try out different African cuisines at the same time for lunch. The Knysna oysters that I got here were delicious.
  • Gold Restaurant: It provides an interactive food experience with its African Set Menu, group drumming and dance experiences. It is touristy but we liked the ambience and the food.

Day 3

We took a day trip to Cape Peninsula on a double-decker bus from The views of the city from the top decker-of the bus were charming.

Views from the bus

Tip: You can also take the Cape Town city pass which allows you unlimited access to the Hop On and Hop Off bus and allows you free entry to many of the attractions( and a 25% discount on the peninsula trip. This helps to save costs if you want to cover many attractions. We only got the one-day pass for the day-4 trip. There are 3 or 5-day passes available as well

Places Visited :

  • Boulders Beach — You can see the African penguins in their natural habitat.
  • Cape of Good Hope: It is the southwestern tip of Africa which is inside a natural park where you can spot Wild ostriches and Antelopes. The tour includes a 60-minute trek along the coastline. The views were magical during the trek.

Day 4

We got the day pass and covered most of the places using the Ho-Ho bus. The day pass also covers the entry to Table Mountain Cable Car and Kirstenbosch Gardens.

  • Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden — A big botanical garden with a nice view of the Table Mountain on the backdrop. It has a wide variety of botanical species and flowers.
  • Camps Bay Beach — The most popular beach in Cape Town with white sands and a promenade full of restaurants and clubs. It is a nice spot to spend an afternoon for lunch overlooking the beach.
  • Table Mountains: Being the Icon of the city, it did not disappoint. The views are magical from the top. You can check for the current wait times and visibility on this site before planning the visit. The cable cars do not operate when it is too windy or when there is heavy rain.
  • Bo-Kaap: A historical neighbourhood with colourful houses to mark the end of Slavery.

Days 5, 6 and 7

Driving the Garden Route

After a short domestic flight from Cape Town to George, we got the rented car that I booked through Hertz which cost around ₹40k for a week after the corporate discount. You can compare the prices from different rentals at or use a corporate discount which can give a discount of up to 50% sometimes

We can use the Indian License in South Africa as long as it is in English. Driving is simple as they drive on the same side as India. The only thing that took time to get used to is the method of passing a 4-way intersection without working signals. We drove approximately 600 km from George to Eastern Cape and with a stop in Knysna in between for 2 Nights.

Places Visited on the Garden Route

It is not without a reason why they named the southern coast “The Garden Route”. The Entire route seems like a big garden with mountains and valleys on the left and the coast and beaches on the right side of the road. It was so much fun driving this route.

  • Wilderness Beach– A long sandy beach which is part of a national reserve.
  • Map of Africa View Point —Landscape that resembles the map of Africa. You also get good views of the sea from the opposite end.
  • Knysna Elephant Park —We got to feed and interact with Elephants and Zebras at a close distance.

Birds of Eden: Beautiful aviary with a wide variety of colourful birds- Cockatoo, Macaw, Ibis, Flamingos, Cranes etc.

Knysna Head: They are a pair of sandstone cliffs that separate the Knysna Lagoon. It is the best spot to be in during sunset to catch the beautiful view of the cliffs and the Knysna Quay.

  • There are many more attractions where we just peaked during the drive without stopping including Plettenberg Bay and Tsitsikamma National Park. I can easily spend a week on the Garden route if time permits.

Days 8, 9 and 10

These days were mostly spent in and around the Mantis Lodge, my experience is briefly captured in the above section.


We drove back to Port Elizabeth and spent a few hours before the flight in the Boardwalk Mall. We stayed in the same AC Marriott for a night to catch the flight back home the next afternoon.

Safety was top of my mind before the trip. But, the tourist areas are very safe as long as you don’t venture into secluded lands after sunset. Big hotels usually have power backups and were not affected by water shortage when we visited. When I look back, it is probably our best trip after having visited more than 25 countries. The landscapes were mesmerizing, the food and gin were amazing and the people were very friendly. The Safari has to be the best part of the trip, it’s so much different from anything I had imagined. The fun is in waiting patiently, searching for animals and finding them in front of your eyes at a close distance. It made me want to do more safaris and I am planning my next trip to Masai Mara later this year as I type this.

Bonus: Visa

I applied through Akbar Travels for 6.5 INR per person since VFS was not available in Chennai. It took two weeks to arrive and you can only apply for it a few weeks before the travel. The process was smooth and the documents required were very similar to a Schengen Visa. Yellow fever is required if transit time > 12 hours through the Yellow fever belt. We got vaccinated as we were transiting through Ethiopia.

A trip report by @travelsofram, edited by Abhishek for PointsDojo. Originally published as an article on Medium.

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