My recent visit to South Africa

Dear Mushinda Traveler,

Every year since 1995, when I launched Mushinda, I have traveled to Southern and East Africa inspecting properties, meeting with ground operators, and spending time with my amazing teams on the ground.  That all changed in 2020.  My trip to Rwanda to go gorilla trekking and onwards to Tanzania and Kenya was canceled and, like all of you, I found myself housebound.

I am thrilled to report that I have just returned from my first trip to South Africa since Covid and I wanted to give you all a report on my findings.  I took the Delta flight from Atlanta directly into Johannesburg.  The new planes and pods in First Class are very comfortable.  Negative PCR tests were required before boarding the flight (both ways).  This was a bit tedious and we were asked to show our printed test results on at least three different occasions.  However, knowing that everyone on the plane had just tested negative was very reassuring.

I elected to spend the first night at the Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg.  I found many of the familiar faces waiting to greet me warmly.  COVID protocols were abundantly evident.  Everyone was masked and hand sanitizing stations were ubiquitous.  You could not enter a restaurant without first having your temperature taken.  Interestingly, they took my temperature on my wrist.

From there I flew to Cape Town.  Here too I was amazed at the adherence to Covid safety.  The only time I ever saw someone unmasked was one of the hotel staff who was taking the trash to the dumpster.  Cape Town was “buzzing” with tourists from all over the world.  I was quite surprised at how busy it was.  I was told that the day travel restrictions from Europe and the UK were lifted the reservation department’s phones started ringing off the hook.

Bookings for next year at many of the camps are almost back to pre-pandemic levels.
From Cape Town, I flew to the Sabi Sands Reserve where I visited some of the new and newly renovated properties.  Camp staff at most properties are almost 100% vaccinated.  The same was true for the hotel staff in Cape Town and Johannesburg.  There does not seem to be a reluctance to get the vaccine, the limiting factor is access.

It was wonderful to be out in the wide-open spaces again and to experience the bush as it has been for millennia.  I found myself completely invigorated by my exposure to the freedom and solitude.  The sounds and smells of the African bush were overwhelming.  Social distancing comes naturally when out on a game drive.  There is no need for masks or other protection.

Covid is not a “thing of the past” and everyone is very aware that there could be another surge around the corner.  But Africa has adapted unbelievably well and has learned to cope with the situation.  From a Covid perspective, I felt safer there than I do in the US.  Current levels are very low.

Across the board, I found that properties have invested heavily in upgrading their facilities to meet and exceed Covid protocols and in training staff.  I could not believe what an outstanding job they have done to retain their loyal team members.  Despite the lack of income, layoffs were almost unheard of.  Chefs were trained to do guard duties, housekeepers were used for landscaping.  Everyone adapted and pulled together to weather the storm.

For those of you who have either postponed your trips or have recently booked to go, you have a fabulous experience waiting.  The warmth and hospitality that was already so prevalent has been even further heightened by two years of tourist drought.  For those who have been waiting to return – there is not a better part of the world to explore right now.

I personally cannot wait for my return visit.

Fond regards,

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