Africa — Wheelchair-accessible travel in Botswana, Zambia & South Africa


Sunset in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

by Sarah Rosenbloom, Chicago, IL

From December 15, 2005, to January 4, 2006, my son and I took a wonderful trip to Botswana, Zambia and South Africa. What set this trip apart from others was that it was a combination of a 7-day completely guided safari in Botswana plus land arrangements in Zambia and South Africa, with a rental car for five days so we could enjoy the independence of driving along South Africa's southern coast from Cape Town to Knysna and back. Also, I found a marvelous travel company, Endeavour Safaris, whose main focus is catering to people with disabilities.

Botswana

We left Chicago via Iberia Airlines, arriving in Madrid the following morning. We booked a hotel room for for the day and managed a stop at the Prado Museum before flying on late that evening to Johannesburg, a long, 12hour trip.

Lions at rest in the Okavango Delta.

We spent our first night in Jo'burg at the City Lodge, the first of our hotels geared to those using wheelchairs and walkers. The manager kept our shopping-spree goodies us since we would be returning to the hotel at the end of our trip. Then we were off for the experience of a lifetime!

We arrived in Maun, Botswana, and there, awaiting our arrival, was Mike Hill, our guide and all-around guru on the Okavango Delta, the location of the first of our campsites. The van had a ramp for my wheelchair, but as the days progressed my mode of transportation became the walker. Mike’s case of camera lenses and a tool chest became my steps for getting into and out of the van.

Our routine for the next five days was get up around 5.a.m., grab a bite to eat and then head off on a several-hour morning game drive. Then it was back to camp for a delicious late-morning brunch. A well-deserved nap came next because of the midday heat and then we were off again for a late-afternoon game drive. We managed never to miss the most magnificent sunsets on the way home.

Although I can give Mike credit for the morning and afternoon teas on the hood of his van, the credit for the scenery and animal life we saw must be given to Mother Nature. We saw elephants, lions, hippopotamuses, badgers, red-and yellow-billed hornbills, giraffes, zebras, impalas and dung beetles plus jackals and vultures awaiting their turns to feed.

The end of a successful flight over Victoria Falls.

I was impressed with Mike’s use of a tape recorder, with which he had recorded animal sounds for his hearing-impaired clients, and with the molds he had made of animal faces for his blind clients to touch.

After three days at Okavango we broke camp and moved to a second site, in Chobe National Park. Although the wildlife was not as abundant over the next several days, we viewed vervet monkeys, baboons, kudus, yellow-billed storks and mongooses. On our last afternoon safari, we watched a female leopard stalk her prey for at least an hour. Thrilling!

Our accommodations were basic tents, each with two cots and inside toilet facilities, and my shower was designed for a disabled individual. But, with all of this, what most impressed me was how the cook produced magnificent gourmet meals every brunch and evening. One morning we even had hot bread cooked in a can over the open fire.

The South African wines were delicious, and if we had a request of Mike, the cook or his two helpers, it was answered immediately. But, as we found, that's Botswana for you!

Zambia

From Botswana we flew in a 4-seater plane to Livingstone, Zambia, where we were met by our guide for the next few days. We stayed at the Taita Falcon Lodge, about a 35-minute drive from the airport. The lodge overlooks one of the gorges of the Zambia River and it offered great views. One morning we saw a group of rafters drift by the hotel.

Included in the hotel rate was a trip to world-famous Victoria Falls and a sunset cruise. We also booked a helicopter flight over the falls, and my son did a microlight flight over them. Vic Falls, or Mosi-o-Tunya as the locals refer to them, are very impressive, even though they were not at their full strength when we were there.

As it turned out, we had Christmas Eve dinner in Zambia. A very lovely touch offered by the owners of the Taita Falcon was a small, hand-carved wooden animal given to each of their guests as a dinner gift.

South Africa

Cape Point, South Africa.

Our final days of the trip were spent in South Africa, a country of many surprises, from fine wines and great native craft centers in Cape Town and Durban to museums and, most important of all, delightful people.

Cape Town’s City Lodge was right downtown and within walking distance of the Victoria & Albert shopping center. Our first day there turned out to be Boxing Day.

After my son picked up our rental car, we drove to a must-see stop, Table Mountain. From the top you look over the whole city — quite impressive.

As an aside, we found the American handicapped car sticker honored everyplace we went, so parking was no problem.

For the rest of the day, we headed off to the wine country. Doing the typical tourist thing, we drove to Cape Point the next day, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. Although I could not walk the steps to the lighthouse, I did ride the funicular. What a view from the top!

On our way back to Cape Town we had lunch at the Seaport Restaurant, then we visited the nearby penguin rookery. It was fascinating to see them come in in waves from the ocean and know exactly where to go.

The next day we set off on a Garden Route adventure. Our first stop was in Mossel Bay, at the Boutique Hotel & Spa. What was unique about our stay here was that I was the first person to spend the night in their new handicapped-accessible room. Also, the hotel accommodated us by serving us dinner in our room when the dining room was fully booked. It was delicious.

Aerial view of Victoria Falls.

We next stayed at the 5-star Pezula Resort Hotel in Knysna, which sits atop the hill overlooking their golf course with its world-renowned restaurant. Again, our suite, or bungalow, was handicapped accessible, and I got around the property by golf cart as did the other patrons of the hotel. The Pezula is a member of the group The Leading Hotels of the World.

Since my son wanted to go diving, we spent several days in and around Durban, staying at the Shelbourne Hotel. The Shelbourne put on a grand New Year's Eve dinner for its guests.

We did some sightseeing at Oribi Gorge and at the aquarium in Durban and had a marvelous shopping stop at Out Of Africa, where Zulu crafts were in abundance.

Back in Johannesburg, before going to the airport and flying home we had most of the day free, so we chose to take a tour of Soweto. It was definitely an eye opener and a learning experience.

Would I take a trip to Southern Africa again? I would go with Mike on any tour Endeavour Safaris does. What sets Endeavour apart is the personal touch. After we left Botswana, we were contacted several times along the way to make sure all was well. And meeting Mike Hill's family, who came to the hotel in Cape Town to have breakfast with us, was a highlight.

In all, it was a great, exciting — and accessible — tour.