Where to see the deer rut season in Catalunya

Where to see the deer rut season in Catalunya

There are many stunning wildlife experiences in Europe, and one that is commonly overlooked is the deer rutting season, otherwise called the deer mating season. 

The beautiful mating calls of the stags will certainly draw your attention in the forests of Catalunya – yet many people don’t know where to go to enjoy this unique experience.  

In today’s article, we will dive deep into the best place to go to see and hear the deers mating and at what time of year this takes place. It is one of the best animal spectacles you’ll find in the area – and it won’t definitely leave you feeling indifferent! 

Let’s plan your ideal weekend away and get you ready to experience this wonderful wildlife eco-experience in Catalunya. 

Where to see the deer rut season in Catalunya
Image from a ground telescope

What is the deer calling or rut 

It is on arrival of the ‘zeal period’ for deer which happens once a year and during which stag males start competing with other males for territory and the right to reproduce with the females. 

They use different strategies like making dents on trees with their horns, peeing on to mark their territory and fighting with the other males. But the most noticeable of their zeal tactics is to call or ‘roar’.  

deer rut season in Catalunya
Image from a ground telescope

They call from sunrise to around 11 am and start again at around 5 pm until dark. Does that remind you of the safari schedules in Africa, I bet so! 

Their very loud calling is one of the tactics to attract females. Being in certain areas of the mountains while this phenomenon happens will give you the audio show of a lifetime! Their roar can be heard from far, many kilometres away.

What’s also special is that the stags are so focused on their roaring that fear for humans is relegated to a secondary position, allowing humans to get much closer to them than normal although not as close as a safari in Africa, you still need ground telescopes to see them, as they are not habituated

With the idea of encouraging the population to come and see this roar, rangers will be positioned at different points on the mountains in Catalunya with binoculars and ground telescopes to assist spectators with tools and information on the deers. 

Deer rut season in Catalunya
Image from a ground telescope

How to organize the weekend around the deer calling 

The roar or rut is the period when stags are most vocal, lasting about a month, from mid-September to mid-October. The middle two weeks are the loudest and hence the best weekends to experience the rut. 

You can decide to go on your own or hire one of the accredited guides. As it was our first time we chose to hire one to have a personalized experience and learn as much as we could. On top of that, accredited guides have access to areas of the park not open to the public, so your chances of seeing stags from closer up are better. 

Deer rut season in Catalunya

We spent our mornings and sunsets next to one of the authorized viewpoints having the chance to speak with the ranger there who was fantastic. 

This year (our second year) we will go on our own, still spending some time with the rangers to learn or revisit some concepts. They also have ground telescopes and binoculars that one can borrow and can help you focus in the right direction. 

You definitely need a ground telescope for the observation or a very long (+400mm) zoom lens on a tripod. 

What to bring to deer mating 

In Catalunya, all the areas where deer live are around 2000m above sea level. You definitely need layers and layers of good clothing (we had these and were still really cold – so prepare yourself!). Temperatures were around 2ºC and as you will be standing for most of the day, listening and watching, it gets really cold, really fast! 

  • Thermic long-sleeved t-shirt 
  • Merino jumpers 
  • Scarf 
  • Ski coat 
  • Beanie 
  • Gloves 
  • Thermic leggings and pants on top 
  • Winter socks 
  • Hiking boots 
  • Camera with a zoom lens of at least 400mm (I had my 70-300mm and animals were too far away for any decent photos to be used) 
Deer rut season in Catalunya
My brother and I looking for deer

The average day of deer mating calls 

Here’s how you are going to spend your day or weekend hearing the deers roar. 

  • 5 am: early wake up and drive to your observation point (Some are 2 hours away) 
  • 6 am – 11 am: listen and watch the rut 
  • 11am – 2pm: go back to Refugi de Cuberes (if in Boumort) for a hot meal and to warm up 
  • 2 pm – 4 pm: if you have a private guide you can go on a hike to different areas not open to the public. Be respectful with the rules and don’t try to hike on your own as you could be disturbing the animals
  • 4 pm – 7 pm or later: see and listen to the deers again 
Reserva de Boumort, Catalunya

Best spots to see it in Catalunya 

Reserva de Boumort

The game reserve with the most deer in all Catalunya makes it a premier location for the rut. You will need a 4×4 to drive to the observation point, next to Refugi de Cuberes (a mountain hut with a basic restaurant). From Pobla de Segur (closest town) to Refugi de Cuberes it took about 2h to drive. 

Reserva de Boumort, Catalunya

This game reserve is also special as it is one of the only places in Europe where all four types of vultures on the continent reproduce.  

Every year around August or the beginning of September, a pdf is produced named “InfoBrama2021” (Here’s the 2020 edition). It shares the information in Boumort game reserve: observation points, self-driving routes and deer information. 

If you would like more information or updated information before the InfoBrama pdf is released, get in touch directly at +34 973 654 716 or rncboumort@gencat.cat

Having a guide here means you can get access to areas that aren’t open to the general public, as they’ve implemented strategies to make sure that the animals aren’t disturbed and that humans are only in designated areas.

As we had a private guide we were able to go on a 2h hike to the highest point where there was no calling but we got to see deer crossing the path – and we even got some snow! 

Reserva de Boumort, Catalunya

Some of the accredited guides available in the area are: Pirineu EmocióMónNatura PirineusSerra BoumortAmaroq ExplorersOutdoor AdventourRutes 4×4 Ignasi o Salvatgines

We booked with Ramon from Amaroq Explorers and loved the day we spent there! 

Reserva de Boumort, Catalunya

Where to sleep: Boutique hotel Casa Boumort in Sant Martí de Canals.  

Parc de l’Alt Pirineu i Reserva de l’Alt Pallars 

In this reserve, there are three observation points with rangers. One is next to the village of Gavàs, where you can park your car and walk about 800m. Here there is no ranger. 

The other points that do have rangers are in Alós d’Isil and Port de la Bonaigua (next to Mare de Déu de les Ares). 

Some of the accredited guides available in the area are: Obaga activitats and món natura pirineus.

Val d’Aran 

The area has many deer, to the point that you can hear the roar from many places, sometimes even from within the village of Bossòst. At Val d’Aran there is no special observation point, it is a valley in the Pyrenees mountains. 

Deer rut in Catalunya

Is deer roar an ethical wildlife experience in Catalunya? 

The human vs wildlife issue is a very complex one. This is only a general explanation of the situation so readers can understand how the different parks and game reserves operate currently.  

With the historical human killing of wolves and bears, deer have no natural predators, making their reproduction very easy.  

Deer rut in Catalunya

At Val d’Aran there have been bears reintroduced. The current bear vs farmers issue is a hot topic in this area, farmers are learning to understand why the reintroduction of bears is important. 

Without a natural predator for deer throughout pretty much the whole Catalan territory, excluding counted specimens of reintroduced bear, game reserves have opted for controlled hunting to protect the number of deer. 

Having too many deer has a huge impact on the bushes and smaller animals that feed on them. The ecosystem isn’t naturally keeping a balance without wolves and bears.  

Parc Natural del Cadí-Moixeró 

Serra del catllaràs 

Cadí-Moixerò 

Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici 

Would you like to go see the deer mating one day? Let me know in the comments.

Where to see the deer rut season in Catalunya
Where to see the deer rut season in Catalunya

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Two Weeks in South Africa: The Ultimate Itinerary

Two Weeks in South Africa: The Ultimate Itinerary

Planning a trip to South Africa but not sure where to start?

There’s a lot to see in South Africa, it is one of the most diverse countries in the world, from modern and cosmopolitan cities to breathtaking mountains ranges and savannahs.

Here’s the ideal itinerary for two weeks in South Africa. This guide covers the best things to do in Cape Town, Garden Route, Johannesburg, Kruger National Park and more including where to stay in each place.

I have lived in South Africa for 4.5 years and it was about time that I poured all my experience as a bespoke travel designer in Africa into bringing you this ultimate two week itinerary for South Africa.

In this itinerary you are going to find:

  • Cape Town
  • Cape Winelands
  • Garden Route
  • Johannesburg
  • Kruger National Park
  • Drakensberg Mountains
  • St Lucia, Hluhluwe and Sodwana Bay
This map was made with Wanderlog, a trip map maker

How to get here

There are two major international airports in South Africa: Johannesburg (JNB) and Cape Town (CPT). Most travellers will arrive at one of these.

South Africa is a very large country and my best recommendation is to fly into Johannesburg and out of Cape Town or the other way around. Depending on your flights you will complete this itinerary in reverse order and that’s completely fine as it makes sense both ways.

Cape Town from Cable Car at sunrise
Sunrise over Cape Town from the Cable Car

Flight prices from Europe are between 490€ return to anything around 950€ return during peak season at the time of writing. Airlines that fly into SA include: KLM, Air France, British Airways, Qatar, Emirates and Turkish Airlines.

How to move around

Owing to the large size of the country you will need to make use of a mix of transportation methods. For the purposes of this trip, the country can be split into two main areas, Western Cape and Gauteng/Limpopo/Mpumalanga.

Between the two areas, you will need a flight (domestic, quite cheap) or to drive upwards of 13hours.

  • Budget friendly option: BazBus is a scheduled bus that connects major locations in South Africa, with door-to-door service to many hostels. It is a great way to move around if you’re travelling solo or want to save money but it does offer less flexibility, as you can only be dropped off at the hotels and hostels on their route or one that’s very close by.
  • Middle Road: Car rental is inexpensive compared to many other countries and roads are mostly in good condition in landmark areas. I especially recommend the use of a car around Cape Town, the Winelands and the Garden Route as it allows your days to be organized in your preferred way.
  • Private Transfer: if you don’t want to drive around yourself then there are private transfers available to ferry you to the available attractions. In major cities like Cape Town, Johannesburg and surrounds, you can book full day private or group activities. I recommend using private transfers between Kruger, as you are only going to one or two lodges and not moving while you’re there, in which case the car rental price for 2-5 days often turns out more expensive than booking one-way transfers between the points.

How much does a trip to South Africa cost

South Africa is a great budget destination as the currency is weak compared to euros or dollars. It is also a dual country in which accommodation and flight prices are comparable to Europe, but food and daily activities are really cheap in comparison.

As always it will depend on what you spend and the type of hotels and activities you book during your stay.

What makes South Africa’s itinerary expensive are the nights on safari. A lodge can range from 250€ per person per night (on a fully inclusive/full board and activities basis) to +1000€ pp/pn.

On a budget 7 to 9 day trip to SA you should expect to spend 1500€ pp not including international flights.

For 2 weeks in South Africa to 3 weeks in South Africa the budget you should expect to pay is anything between 2000€ to 3500€ per person.

The great thing about SA is that in Cape Town, the Garden Route, the Winelands and Johannesburg you can find great accommodation at very competitive rates, making it easier to go and spend 2 nights on safari and without bringing the price of the entire trip up dramatically.

One week in South Africa: the best itinerary

  • Day 1 – 3: Cape Town and surrounds
  • Day 3 – 4: Johannesburg
  • Day 4 – 7: Safari and surrounds

Two Weeks in South Africa: The Ultimate Itinerary

  • Day 1 – 3: Cape Town
  • Day 4 – 5: Cape Winelands
  • Day 6 – 10: Garden Route
  • Day 10 – 11: Johannesburg
  • Day 11 – 14: Safari

Day 1 in Cape Town: V&A Waterfront, Robben Island, Bo-Kaap

Start your Cape Town adventure by doing some of the most popular and justifiably famous activities. Head up to the Bo-Kaap Neighbourhood. Bo-Kaap is the Cape Malay neighbourhood with its famous colourful houses and cobbled streets.

This quarter is where many years ago rental houses were built and leased to slaves. Today it is still a multicultural area with many residents identifying as Muslim.

Colorful houses of Bo-Kaap

Pro tip: book a cooking class at Lekka Kombuis for the most local experience ever (you get to eat the food and take the recipes home with you!) 

Head to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront for a walk around the harbour. There are many restaurants with beautiful views of the oceans or Table Mountain and plenty of shops from curios to commercial fashion boutiques.

If you want to visit Robben Island (Where Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years) you should book a ticket in advance. Tours depart from the V&A Harbour many times daily.

Another activity you can do from here is to book a yacht half-day trip or a helicopter flip (the 12 minute one will give you a great idea of the city and they have scheduled tours if you’re open to sharing with others).

Cape Town from the helicopter

End your day in Camps Bay, one of the most beautiful neighbourhoods of Cape Town with stunning views of Camps Bay beach and a frontline view of the sunset. Find a restaurant on the Camps Bay strip and enjoy the African sunset with a glass in hand.

Dining options: Chinchilla for a drink before eating and views

Where to stay in Cape Town:

Budget:

Mid-range:

Luxury:

Day 2 in Cape Town: Hiking Table Mountain and Kirstenbosch Gardens

Cape Town is known for the three peaks that make its skyline so famous (left to right Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head). A visit to the city is not complete without a trip up Table Mountain. You have a cable car that takes you to the top where there’s a restaurant and a walkway circuit to stroll around and you’ll get to meet the Dassies. 

Table Mountain at sunset
View. ofTable Mountain from the top of Lion’s Head

If you’re into hiking there are many different and exceptionally beautiful routes that go to the top, my personal favourite is Kasteelpoort. From the top of Kasteelpoort you’d still need to walk on a mostly flat Table Mountain top until you got to the cable car if you want to take a ride down instead of hiking down. If you’re travelling alone, find a group to hike with and get the latest recommendations for safety in the mountains. It’s always better to go with some locals or in a big group for safety.

Kastelpoort hike at Table Mountain National Park

Once you’re done go to Kirstenbosch Botanical gardens. There are various paths and you’ll see the endemic flora and many proteas, the national flower. Kirstenbosch is a great place for a picnic too.

If you’re feeling like another typical Cape Town activity, leave enough time before sunset to enjoy Lion’s Head hiking trail.

Lion's Head
Lion’s Head at sunrise – Seen from Table Mountain

It takes between 40 minutes and 1h to hike up, and it is a very common activity for locals and tourists alike as you get to see the sun setting over the ocean on one side with Table Mountain in the background behind you. Make sure you have enough time for the walk, some time at the top and to get down before the sun sets completely.

Day 3: Cape peninsula day trip

This is one of the must-do day trips from Cape Town for the exceptionally pretty coastal views. Start the day off by driving down the Atlantic Seaboard, the group of neighbourhoods facing the ocean, including Camps Bay where you dined on the first night. On arrival at Hout Bay, you can stop at the harbour and enjoy an optional boat tour of around 40min where you get to meet the local seals.

Continue your drive down the most scenic road in South Africa (if you pay attention you’ll recognise it from some BMW or Audi ads you’ll have seen before!).

Chapman's Peak viewpoint

Chapman’s peak is a pleasure to drive and with so many viewpoints to stop that it can take you shorter or longer to drive. I definitely would recommend stopping at least 2 different viewpoints as the views are quite different.

When you’re on the other side head to Kalk Bay for lunch in one of the adorable cafes on the main road. Kalk Bay has many local boutique shops and a plethora of cute restaurants, giving it a small village atmosphere. After a delicious lunch head down to St James beach to see the colourful beach bungalows that remind me of the Brighton beach ones in Australia.

St James beach houses

After St James head down south towards the Cape Peninsula, but before you arrive there’s the cutest pit stop. Have you heard of the penguins of Boulders Beach? No? It’s time we change that. This beach is famous for being the home of many cute penguins. There are different boardwalks you can walk around to take a look at them, and if you can’t deal with their cuteness you can pay an entrance fee to the actual beach and swim with them (Around them. As always no touching involved).

Head to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. Here’s where the famous sign that separates the Indian and Pacific’s oceans is.

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa
First time in South Africa in 2016!

Psst, in reality, that point is further up the coast! The beaches and nature in the Cape Peninsula are so worth the visit!

Day 4 first day at the Cape Winelands

Only 40 minutes away from Cape Town we find a magical and scenic place known as the Cape Winelands. If you’re into wine, beautiful landscapes and gourmet food – well, I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. 

This is a must-do stop.

Wine, cheese and crackers boarda

Drive to Babylonstoren, the first stop on this route. They have one of my favourite vineyards. Their gardens are enormous and perfect to get a morning stroll in and take some photos on the cacti garden. Finish up in their Greenhouse restaurant for a healthy and earthy breakfast or coffee.

Cacti garden at Babylonstoren

Head to Stellenbosch for a walk around the old town. It is full of art galleries and curio shops. After driving to Warwick wines where they offer picnics and wine pairings under umbrellas and with comfortable pillows for backrests.

Another favourite of mine is Boschendal with its infinite gardens, deli supermarkets and healthy food bowls which are to die for!

Boschendal gardens

There are two main villages in the Cape Winelands, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. It comes down to preference but I prefer Franschhoek for my accommodation.

I like to stay within the town or very close by so that I can have a drink or grab a bite nearby and walk around the beautiful town. It reminds me of an idyllic summer in Europe – which may be why I like it so much.

Where to eat in Franschhoek: Protegee for relaxed fine dining

Where to sleep:

Budget:

Mid-range:

Luxury:

  • Akademie starting from R4250 (248,5€)
Lavender Farm field, Franschhoek

Day 5 in the Winelands: Wine Tram

Embarking on a full day wine tram tour, is arguably the best activity to do in the Winelands. If you’re not into wine don’t worry, there’s delicious food and other pairings at every winery you’ll visit.

You need to book tickets in advance and the trams depart from Franschhoek. Upon booking you’ll need to pick one of the 6 colour lines that will take you around a different set of wineries for the day.

Wine Tram in Franschhoek

It is a great way to enjoy many of the delicious South African wines without being a danger on the road. Again, this is why staying in Franschhoek is super convenient as you can walk to your accommodation and back.

I recommend trying either the purple or orange lines, as these have some of my favourite wineries or restaurants en route. Haute Cabriere is my all-time favourite for lunch or dinner, their food is delicious!

Day 6 to 10: A road trip along the Garden route 

The Garden Route is an incredibly scenic road trip, offering a famous and diverse coastline stretching on for 300km. Ideal for self-drivers and to stay every night or every two in a different town, exploring the country while you drive.

Start from the Winelands and drive to Oudtshoorn. Here you’ll find the Cango Caves, one of the biggest caves I’ve seen.

Cango Caves, Oudtshoorn

Don’t forget to pick their adventure ticket which takes you to many different and amazing little caves not visited on the general tour. There’s also a little slide built into the rocks at the very end. It can get a bit claustrophobic during that last part, so my mum decided not to do that bit of the tour (about 2 minutes).

Visit Wilderness for that small town atmosphere, Knysna for their waterfront market and lagoons that characterize the area. Do bungy jumping from Bloukrans Bridge.

Bungee jumping from Bloukrans bridge

Head to Tsitsikamma National Park for incredible hiking and end the route in Port Elizabeth. If you would like more detailed information on how to structure your Garden Route itinerary and where to sleep head here.

You have the option to drive back to Cape Town (around 6-7h) or to drive to Qqebeha (PLZ) and get a flight there to Johannesburg.

Tsitsikamma national park

Day 10: Johannesburg and the apartheid museum

Johannesburg is 2h flight away and there are flights virtually every hour connecting with Cape Town. Grab an early flight to be able to explore Johannesburg for a full day.

Welcome to the forest city of Johannesburg, where trees are everywhere.

Johannesburg from Hyatt hotel rooftop

The history of South Africa and apartheid is still very recent for many people alive today, and Nelson Mandela is a name that has been made famous around the world. Go to the apartheid museum to learn more about the country’s divisive history.

Once you’re done, go to Soweto for an organized walking or biking tour. Soweto was a black only neighbourhood designated by the white government during Apartheid and ended up becoming the largest black only city in South Africa at the time. Learn the full story while you walk around the quirky streets.

Where to go: check out the Living Jozi rooftop in Maboneng and the Hallmark House rooftop.

Where to stay in Johannesburg

Budget:

Mid-range:

Luxury:

Day 11 – 13  Time to go on safari – Kruger National Park

Finally time to see the big five! The big 5 are lions, buffalo, rhinos, elephants and leopards. They’re named the big 5 as they are the 5 animals that are the most dangerous to hunt and become even more dangerous if hurt.

There are many game reserves with the big 5 around Johannesburg (like Welgevonden Game Reserve) but the most famous and ideal for first (and 20th) time safari-goers is the Kruger National Park.

An elephant at Kruger national park

How to get to the Kruger

The Kruger is as big as Wales or Israel, so you won’t cover the whole thing unless you have a couple of months to spare for this alone. The most common area you’ll visit in Kruger is centred around 3 airports. In the north, we have Hoedspruit (HDS) and in the south Nelspruit/Mbombela (MQP) and Skukuza (SKZ).

Kruger National park and private concessions, South Africa
Credit: Degruyter.com
  • Budget: the most inexpensive way to get to Kruger is to book a passage on Ashton’s tours daily shuttles (no longer daily at the time of writing owing to covid). They depart at around 6 am from OR Tambo Airport which means that you need to spend a night in Johannesburg if you’re entering via Johannesburg before you can head to Kruger.

    If you’re going to Hoedspruit, the shuttle takes 6h to 7h. The trip is in an air-conditioned shuttle with a couple of stops. If you’re going to the Mbombela area the shuttle takes between 4 and 5 hours.
  • Mid range to luxury: the quickest way to get to Kruger is to fly there. Depending on the time of year, flights have different prices but you can expect to pay around R6000 (350€) for a return flight from Johannesburg or Cape Town.

    Paying between 300-450€ per person increases the cost of the trip heavily. Finding more affordable flights is best done with enough time and not always possible.
Leopard at Kruger national park

Understanding the different Kruger areas and accommodation options

The Kruger National Park has a public area with bungalows and campsites, which is the national park. Adjacent to the public area we find the private concessions. These concessions do not have fences between the national park and them, meaning that the animals roam freely and get to decide where they spend their time.

A common misconception is to blame the lodges or rangers if you don’t get to see the big 5 or a certain animal during the stay. All animals are free and they move around as they please, crossing different areas in their migration and territorial patterns.

nThambo tree house chalets in Klaserie
nThambo Tree house chalets in Klaserie Private Concession

The Kruger is a great first timer destination as there is a large number of animals and generally you can see the big 5 and much more in just two nights (this has been my experience on many occasions, but I’ve also missed one or two of the big 5 animals on a two-night stay – it is chance you’ll have to take and of course, increasing the number of nights improves your chances).

In the private concessions, you will find many luxury lodges. These offer full board plus activities (safaris) or a fully inclusive basis (including alcoholic drinks).

Not only do these lodges vary in their pricing (anything from 250€ per person per night to +1000€ pp/pn) but having an expertly trained ranger and tracker to help find the animals increases your chances of seeing the big 5 dramatically. You’ll also learn a lot by listening to their explanations on animal behaviour and the savannah flora.

How lodges work on safari in South Africa

Your accommodation includes your room, 3 meals a day and 2 safaris a day. If you’re on a fully inclusive package, it also includes your sundowner drinks and any alcoholic drinks you order. 

Here’s a standard safari schedule for one day: 

Timetables can move +-30 min depending on the season

  • 5h30: Wake up call
  • 5h45 – 6h00: Quick coffee, tea and rusks (hard biscotti to dip in tea/coffee)
  • 6h00 – 9h00: Morning game drive. Includes pit stop for coffee, tea and snacks
  • 9h00: Breakfast back at the lodge
  • 10h00 – 13h00: Free time
  • 13h00: Some lodges offer lunch, where others offer high tea only. I can guarantee you won’t go hungry!
  • 14h30: High tea
  • 15h00 – 18h00: Afternoon game drive. Includes sundowner drinks
  • 19h00: Dinner

The minimum stay is 2 nights so you can have 4 game drives. The ideal is 3 but this depends on your budget and if you have the capacity to have 4 days of safari then you can explore 2 different lodges and see different areas of the park which, I’ll remind you again, is bigger than the whole of Israel.

Where to stay in the Kruger

Outside the Kruger

You can stay outside of the park, self-driving into the Kruger or booking a safari from your accommodation as an extra.

Hoedspruit:

  • Khaya Ndlovu, strating at R2 450 (144€) per person per night

Hazyview:

Chilling at Dulini Lodge pool
Private plunge pool from Dulini Lodge

Inside the Kruger

Budget:

  • Sanparks bungalows or campsites in the public area

Mid-range:

Luxury (but affordable):

Luxury:

Day 14: Exploring the panorama route

This scenic route takes you to the third biggest canyon in the world (and the biggest green canyon), with many viewpoints and waterfalls. Cool right?

Doing the panorama route half-day or full-day private tour or self-drive will be a great decompression activity after the strict schedules while on safari. It is a favourite spot of the locals for its beauty and the rawness of the landscape.

Panorama Route falls
Panorama Route falls

Visit the Blyde river canyon, the three rondavels, God’s window and Bourke’s luck potholes. Some amazing waterfalls are Mac Mac falls, Lisbon falls or Berlin falls. Depending on how tired you are and your eagerness to explore you can include more or fewer of those attractions to make it into a full day or half-day tour.

Blyde River Canon, South Africa

Where to stay in the Panorama Route

South Africa itinerary for 3 weeks

If you have additional days and would like to add another destination to your incredibly diverse trip to South Africa, make sure to include some of the below destinations, based on your personal preferences.

Drakensberg

Known to many as ‘the Berg’, this dramatic mountain range is in my opinion the most spectacular the country has to offer (and that’s saying a lot in this immense country!).

With a name that means “mountain of dragons”, the Berg surrounds the East side of Lesotho (one of the two countries inside of South Africa, the other one is Eswatini/Swaziland) and offers views like this one.

If you enjoy hiking like me you should definitely squeeze in a visit for a few days. 2-3 days will give you enough time to go on a couple of amazing hikes in the area.

Hiking to Tugela Falls in Drakensberg
Tugela falls hike

St Lucia Hluhluwe and Sodwana bay

Visit this area north of Durban on the coast to Mozambique to find a jungle and wetland ecosystem. St Lucia is known for Hluhluwe National Park and its wetlands full of crocodiles and hippos. There are other animals like rhinos in the area as well as private game reserves with the big 5 in a completely different vegetation system to the Kruger.

Sodwana Bay is a paradise for snorkelers and scuba divers with plenty of underwater life as well as the chance to see whale sharks if visiting during the correct season!

Safety in SA

Discussing a trip to South Africa, safety cannot be dismissed. South Africa is a dangerous country (only behind South American cities in violence) but what you see as a tourist and the areas you visit are mostly safe.

Do not walk (always drive or uber), do not be alone at night and do not flash cameras or iPhones. Be aware of people telling you they love your shoes or similar interactions as someone else is probably trying to pick your pockets while you’re distracted.

Now, that said I’ve been here for 4.5 years and have never encountered any problems. Adhere to the rules like you would in any other place and you’ll be safe.

Don’t forget to pin this itinerary for later!

Two weeks in South Africa Itinerary
Two weeks in South Africa Itinerary
Checking in at Hotel Brummell, a unique boutique hotel in Barcelona

Checking in at Hotel Brummell, a unique boutique hotel in Barcelona

If you’re looking for a city escape that ticks all the boxes for a relaxing stay, Hotel Brummell in Poble Sec, Barcelona is where you need to go.  

It’s perfect for people who like to stay in a place with character but also have access to the biggest tourist attractions. 

On my latest visit to Barcelona, I stayed in one of their Penthouses for a couple of nights. I can honestly say that this is one of the nicest hotel rooms that I’ve ever had the privilege to stay in. 

Quick facts: 

  • Ideal for: couples, families with children under 2, business tourists 
  • Price: starting at 89€/night 
  • Location: Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain 
Views from Hotel Brummell at Sunset, Barcelona

How to get there 

From the airport El Prat (BCN) you have various options to get to Hotel Brummell. 

  • Aerobus and metro: Take the blue aerobus from the outside of the terminal to Plaça Espanya. From there take the metro green line towards Trinitat Nova and get off at Paral·lel station. The hotel is 400m walking distance away. 
  • Metro: take the new L9 metro line until Zona Universitària and then the metro green line towards Trinitat Nova to Paral·lel station. This route is a bit longer time wise. 
  • Taxi: the ride is around 18 minutes and it will cost you between 20 – 30€ one way. There are many taxi drivers waiting at the airport. 

Hotel Brummell: The hotel 

With a mix of Mediterranean and Scandinavian decoration, this boutique hotel in Barcelona has kept the soul of a family home and converted it into a designer hotel. 

Hotel Brummell reception area

Upon entering to Hotel Brummell you’ll find a reception and a cute curio shop in an open plan. There is an honesty bar with snacks and drinks set up all day and an inside terrace for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

They have Palo Cortao, a fabulous restaurant inside of their premises, open to the public. 

Brummell has a pool and hammock area for guests, ideal for those lazy days in Barcelona. Located on a middle floor overlooks many facades in the area.

Hotel Brummell pool and terrace

There are couple of nooks under the fire stairs to chill out with beautiful carpets and comfy pillows. 

During our stay communication was available via whatsapp with reception which was very convenient. 


Pair it with a treehouse getaway in the mountains of La Garrotxa


The rooms at Hotel Brummell 

This boutique hotel has 20 rooms in different categories. The hotel has fire stairs on the interior side of the hotel, that serve to add character to the property. The types of rooms are: 

Hotel Brummell rooms
Hotel Brummell rooms
  • Poolside standard is their smaller and more comfortable room with views over the fire stairs and the pool 
  • Mountain Deluxe is the most spacious room with views over Montjuïc mountain 
  • Penthouse, their signature rooms on the highest level of the hotel. They offer an outdoor bathtub and a terrace with views over the whole city (and the pool below) or Montjuïc mountain and park (and the rising moon). 
Hotel Brummell penthouse hot tub

If you book their rooms through their website directly you will receive a hand printed cotton gift bag, that I carry everywhere, along with a couple of other surprises! 

When booking you can pick the room only or the breakfast rate, as well as add an airport pick up or a massage, yoga class or sauna. 

Hotel Brummell also has 4 other city apartments in different areas of Barcelona. You can book them through their website. You’ll find a well thought out décor as if you were staying in the hotel.  

Activities available  

Hotel Brummell offers yoga classes and training sessions at the Garage, next door. They are offered for free to guests. The space also offers massages.  

The hotel has a hot sauna that you can book at reception. 

Hotel Brummell relaxation nook

As the hotel is in Poble Sec, take a short walk to La Rambla del Poble Sec and indulge in local tapas and delicious food. It is close to the club Apolo and the rest of Barcelona is only a short metro ride away! If you need a full guide of Barcelona, have a look. 

What you’ll love 

To leave your ego at the door and relax in a well designed boutique hotel in the Barcelona Centre. Close to all activities but tucked away in a quiet street offering the ultimate experience to their guests. 

Try to book their penthouse with views over the city, pictured, for incredible sunsets from your balcony bath tub. 

Hotel Brummell sunset views from penthouse room

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Checking in at Hotel Brummell, a unique boutique hotel in Barcelona
Checking in at Hotel Brummell, a unique boutique hotel in Barcelona
Epic tree houses with hot tub at Cabanyes Entre Valls

Epic tree houses with hot tub at Cabanyes Entre Valls

A tree house stay overlooking the Bianya valley, Cabanyes entre Valls is a marvellous nature experience. Combining design, sustainability, childhood dreams and nature – you will not want to leave this beautiful hotel. 

Staying at a tree house is already an incredible experience as it is, but what if you added the latest wooden interior décor and a private deck with a hot tub? Now, that makes it truly remarkable! 

Looking for a unique hotel to stay at in Catalunya? Let’s dive into this review. 

Cabanyes entre Valls tree house

Quick facts: 

  • Good for: couples, families 
  • Price: Starting at 169€ 
  • Location: La Garrotxa, Catalunya 

How to get there 

Cabanyes entre valls is located in la Garrotxa, an area only 1.5 hours away from Barcelona, Catalunya. 

There are different routes available but the fastest one is on the C-17 road, which has tolls. 

The road is all tarred except for the last 200m onto the property. You can definitely drive there in a city car up to reception and the first two cabins. For the last two cabins, the road is a bit more complicated but they will advise you upon check in.

We drove a Seat Mii and could go to the lowest (4th) tree house without any issues, barring a couple small scrapes to the lower part of the car. Driving slowly it really wasn’t a big deal. You can also park in their main parking lot and walk down or get a lift to your tree house. 

Cabanyes entre valls: check in 

Cabanyes entre valls is located in a beautiful property, Mas Espunya, in a nook between two hills with views of the valley below and a wide range of views of the property. 

The property has a couple of houses where the owners of the property and the hotel live. The most visually stunning building you will see is the reception and restaurant area. A double story building with big wooden arches and rustic boho decoration that will make you fall in love with the place as soon as you begin your check in. 

Cabanyes entre Valls reception

The restaurant is open to the public for lunch every day of the week, and offers breakfast and dinner to guests only.   

Breakfast is included in your nightly rate and includes a variety of local, fresh produce delivered around 9am direct to your tree house.  

You can pick between vegan and non-vegan options at reception each day for the next day, with fresh and local produce like veggie pates, sourdough bread, fresh orange juice, cheese and cold meats as well as croissants & chocolate croissants for those with a sweet tooth. 

Cabanyes entre Valls pla del grèvol tree house

Dinner is not included but I highly recommend you try it at least one night during your stay. Their cuisine is really tasty, made with km0 ingredients and you can choose where to eat. If you want to go to the restaurant you can, or you can also get it delivered to your tree house. Every delivery is made with reusable containers, jars and bottles, so there is no plastic which I love!

The tree houses at Cabanyes entre valls 

They have 4 tree houses currently. Quintanic tree house is the family one. It is a duplex tree house that can host a small family, with a double bed and an individual bed upstairs. Another bed can be added for a maximum of 4 people.  

The other tree houses can all sleep two adults with the option of 1 extra guest.  

Cabanyes entre Valls tree house

They are all quite separated from each other and you have privacy on your deck, which is really important to me! 

The material used for the construction is wood and it is exquisitely decorated inside. They went for a very neutral colour palette that matches the forest and brings it all together.  

Cabanyes entre Valls tree house and bed views

The bedrooms have a queen size bed, ensuite shower and bathroom as well as a small table for dining. They all come with a nespresso machine, water bottle, glasses, cups and coffee, tea and sugar nook.  There’s a pellet stove to keep you warm too.

Cabanyes entre Valls pla del grèvol tree house
Cabanyes entre Valls pla del grèvol tree house

The private deck has two lounge chairs, a table and the star of the show: the hot tub! 

There’s a room cleaning service daily, so if you stay for more than one night, you can let them know when you’re going out so that they can clean the room for you. 

Cabanyes entre Valls hot tub in your own tree house

Looking for another unique sleep in Catalunya? Check the list of Sweet dreams here.  


Activities available at Cabanyes Entre Valls 

The property has two walking trails that are amazing. If you have enough time to, then doing both of them is a must.  

The first hiking trail is a short 20 minute each way flat path to get to a fountain. It is mostly in the shade of trees and will take you far into the property, you will get a feel for the vast size of the area. This one is good for a family with young kids or a lazy stroll. You can take a picnic and have it there, they’ll prepare one for you at reception. 

Cabanyes entre Valls tree house from exterior

The second hiking trail is a loop taking you to the biggest tree of the property and takes about 1h to complete. This one is a little bit harder but not too challenging, although I would not recommend it for couples with young children. 

What you’ll love 

A glass of wine in your private hot tub as the sun is setting. You will spend all your time inside until every one of your fingers is wrinkled. 

Cabanyes entre Valls tree house from exterior

Having breakfast in your cabin brought to you is already the best feeling, but when they tie it to a rope that you need to pull up yourself, it adds to the overall experience.  

There’s signal throughout the property that you can use to work if you need to. We had a number of video calls on 4G and it worked great – not a bad remote working spot! 

Late check out at 12 will allow for a slow morning without any rush, enjoying the views from your elevated tree house and deck.  

Staying at Cabanyes Entre Valls, a tree house hotel in Catalunya, 2 hours from Barcelona.
Staying at Cabanyes Entre Valls, a tree house hotel in Catalunya, 2 hours from Barcelona.
Star Bed at Samara Game Reserve: sleeping under the stars

Star Bed at Samara Game Reserve: sleeping under the stars

Going on safari is always magical but if you want an experience that is truly unlike any other, sleep under the stars and listen to the sounds of the bush from your Star Bed!

Are you dreaming of sleeping out under thousands of stars in South Africa? Now you can!  

This magnificent room without walls or a roof in the middle of the game reserve is one of the most unique and unusual hotel rooms you’ll ever encounter. Oh, and it’s going to be as romantic as any night in the wilderness can be. 

Here’s everything you need to know if you want to visit Samara Game Reserve and have a once in a lifetime evening! 

Quick facts: 

  • Good for: couples (the rest of the lodge is great for families and groups of friends too!)
  • Price: ZAR 3750 per person per night on Full Board + Activities (216.1€) 
  • Location: Eastern Cape, South Africa 
Epic night on Samara's Star Bed

Do you want to have a visual of the reserve and the rooms before we dive deep into details? Watch the video:

Where is Samara Game Reserve 

Samara Private game reserve is a luxury reserve in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. It lies in the heart of the Great Karoo area and is a 40 min drive from Graaff Reinet, one of the most historic settlement towns in South Africa. 

On safari at Samara Game Reserve

How to get there 

Depending on where you are coming from, the reserve can be reached by different means. 

  • International flight: if you’re arriving via international flight and your first stop is Samara, your flight to Johannesburg (JNB) or Cape Town (CPT) will connect you with a flight to Port Elizabeth (PLZ).  
  • Domestic flight: Gqeberha (previously called Port Elizabeth) is the closest airport to the game reserve. From here you can rent a car or book a transfer with the reservations team at Samara. 
  • Driving from Cape Town: on a drive from Cape Town to Samara Karoo lodge, if you were to not stop it will take 7h30min. It is a long drive and you can split it up with a visit to the Winelands or the Garden Route on your way. 

They have extensive instructions on their website and also recommend the use of what3words. It is a system that gives 3 words to every square meter in the world and lets you have a very precise and accurate location. 

On safari at Samara Game Reserve

About Samara Game Reserve

Samara is a luxury game reserve in the Eastern Cape. This award-winning game reserve has 27 hectares of wilderness, with different biomes and views over the Plains of Camdeboo in the Great Karoo. 

24 years ago Samara was made up of 11 cattle farms. The owners bought the terrain in the hopes of restoring the land, fauna and flora endemic to the area that had been killed or chased away by poor farming practices and agriculture for a couple of centuries. 

On safari at Samara Game Reserve

Today the reserve boasts more than 60 mammal species, including the big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo), cheetah, giraffe and cape mountain zebra. 

Samara has a Film and study facility that observes their cheetah as well as the first government accredited tracker school.  

They also have two lodges, Samara Karoo Lodge and Samara Manor House. We only visited Karoo Lodge. 

Samara is in the Eastern Cape, which has no malaria. This makes the reserve a great destination if you’re worried about Malaria, are of risk (or pregnant) or would prefer to not have to medicate yourself and your family.

About Samara Karoo Lodge 

Samara Karoo Lodge is the furthest away from the main entrance of the two lodges. On arrival, you’ll be met by a roundabout in front of the main building, with a fountain in the middle. The lodge is fenced so that guests can walk between the lodge’s different areas safely. 

Upon arrival, you’ll be helped with your bags to reception while your car is driven to the parking lot. The main building is square, with a reception and curio shop facing the car entrance. The left hand side of the building is taken up by the bar and lounge area, while the restaurant is at the back.  

The kitchen and staff area are in the middle and the rooms are on the right hand side of the building, with views over the mountain. 

Outside the bar and restaurant area, you’ll find comfortable couches and chairs, decorated with vivid colours that match the colonial style of the lodge. There is a beautiful and big grass garden next to the restaurant outdoor area, where they can set up lanterns around the dinner tables to light things up. 

Next to the main building, the pool area is surrounded by a beautiful stone wall, providing some privacy for the guests lounging around it. The pool has hammocks and umbrellas around it, as well as a covered gazebo with outdoor furniture. There is a kids play area next to it. 

The Karoo Retreats and Sibella Family Suite are standalone rooms on the left hand side of the main building, following a path that takes you to each of them. 

The rooms at Samara Karoo Lodge  

The rooms are big and spacious, with an open living space for the bed, the lounge area and the fireplace. There’s a private porch with views of the reserve and comfortable chairs. 

There is a four posted bed with a mosquito net around it and they provide tea and coffee facilities and a mini-fridge. 

The bathroom is located behind the bed’s wall, with open walls on both sides of the room. There are double basins, a dresser, an enclosed toilet and an enclosed shower, as well as a bath. 

To top it all off, there’s also an outdoor shower! 

Star Bed at Samara Game Reserve 

Set against a dramatic mountain backdrop in a secluded location away from the reserve roads, the platform has a 360º view over the bush from Samara.

An epic night at Star Bed room in Samara

It comprises a four-poster bed with a draped mosquito net. An eating area with a laid out table and a drinks table to set up with gourmet picnic baskets and cold drinks with ice. 

There is no roof whatsoever, this activity is only available when the weather permits. Creature comforts are taken care of with luxurious sheets, dressing gowns and Lindt chocolates on your bed. There is a bathroom enclosed with bamboo poles and a basin with fresh water.  

An epic night at Star Bed room in Samara

A truly luxury Karoo sleep out experience – lit by twinkling stars overhead and lanterns all around the deck of the Star Bed. 

An epic night at Star Bed room in Samara

When night came, all of our expectations were exceeded! Lanterns off for the night and in the middle of a game reserve, the stars were everywhere. We lay in bed trying to grasp the immensity of the starry night and the milky way above us, and made every effort to not fall asleep too quickly. 

What to bring to the Star Bed 

On the day of your special experience, you’ll leave on a shorter afternoon safari to get to the Star Bed with plenty of time to enjoy the back dropping views, the sunset and the night. 

An epic night at Star Bed room in Samara

As drinks of your choice and a gourmet picnic including more than 3 courses and snacks are packed for you, you just need to pack a quick night bag before departing. Don’t forget to pack: 

  • Warm layers, it can get pretty cold once the sun sets 
  • Charged camera and phone, I can guarantee you will run out of space taking photos and videos!

Activities available 

Safari 

The basis of the reserve is Full Board and activities. The activities include 2 daily safaris, one in the morning (approx. 6-9am) and one in the afternoon (approx. 4-7pm). These are included in your price and take place on their 4×4 cars with your guide and a tracker. 

On safari at Samara Game Reserve

There’s the option to go on a full day trip experience instead (5-6h) and have a picnic lunch somewhere on the reserve. As it is so big, some guests choose to do that so they can see more of the area.

Please note animals are generally not active during the hot hours of the day, so you are less likely to see as many animals as if you were doing the two regular game drives. 

Tracking cheetah on foot 

This is their flagship activity. We had been tracking them and when Dom (our guide) stopped the car and told us to grab our cameras we couldn’t see anything. 

After walking for about 100m I could see them for the first time. There were 9 of them, the mother and cubs, lying on the ground, blending in with the environment.  

We arrived at just the right time, as the sun was coming out and that’s when the animals start getting more active. 

Tracking cheetah on foot at Samara Game Reserve

The cheetahs are habituated to humans (more on this below) and did not care that we were quietly observing them. We were perhaps 4-6m away from them, able to sit down on the floor and set up my tripod to watch them for a couple of hours. 

This was such an insane experience, only comparable to gorilla trekking in Uganda. During our time with them, the sun started shining and getting hotter and slowly but surely they all started stretching, licking themselves or each other and moving to the shade of a nearby tree. 

Tracking cheetah on foot at Samara Game Reserve

I cannot recommend this experience enough, it is a must do when visiting Samara Game Reserve. 

Fly Camping 

During warm months (October to May) they offer the option of fly camping. This means going on a bush walk with your tracker across the reserve and sleeping in a comfortable tent set up in the middle of the reserve, after a delicious meal. 

Mountain biking 

They have guided routes in the area where there are predators and non guided in the area with only plains game where land is still rehabilitating. 

Conservation and rehabilitation at Samara 

They currently have 26 hectares that are being rehabilitated, but only 13 of those are open to the public and safaris. When they bought the land their goal was to bring back the flora and fauna, and they’ve done an incredible job already!

On safari at Samara Game Reserve

The endemic species typical from the Karoo make the landscapes of Samara very different from any other safari I’ve ever been on. 

They are planning to open up some more areas when the flora has grown more, but their work never ends. 

They also have a ‘Plant a Spekboom’ initiative where all guests get a spekboom, an endemic South African plant that helps to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by acting as a carbon sponge.

You can take the spekboom with you to nurture and grow at home (if you live in SA) or plant it in the reserve, where they have a giant area dedicated to removing carbon dioxide. There’s also the option for international businesses to pay to plant a large section of spekboom to offset their emissions. 

On safari at Samara Game Reserve

They are carefully reintroducing animals, one at a time always taking their food habits into consideration (ie how many antelope does a new, fully grown lion need to eat in a week? How many lions do we have? How many antelope do we have?) to not have an imbalance between predators and plain game. 

You can organize a conservation journey with them in which safaris are on offer but you will be spending time with trackers and Samara’s experts on various activities like wildlife monitoring, land rehabilitation or camera trapping.  

Why is it an ethical wildlife safari destination?

Samara’s goal was to rehabilitate the land to what it once was by reintroducing species that used to live in the area 125 years ago, like cheetahs. They are conducting an incredible conservation and rehabilitation effort, introducing animals to live wild inside the reserve. 

All animals are habituated to 4×4 cars, and the cheetah are habituated to cars and humans walking. There is no further interaction with the animals, which makes it an ethical wildlife destination

Safari at Samara Game Reserve

If you have doubts about what makes a wildlife encounter ethical head to this link to understand more. Essentially it means there’s no touching, no petting, the animals are wild and humans don’t stop them/prevent them from killing, reproducing, dying or otherwise living a wild life.  

What exactly does it mean they are habituated? They are wild and live wild lives. But they are habituated to humans, meaning for generations mothers have taught cubs that humans sometimes get close on car or foot and observe them. If the mom is calm the pups learn the behaviour and continue it. Doing this does not interfere with their wild lives at all. 

What you’ll love 

Sleeping in a Star Bed in Africa will top your unique hotels list for sure! It is really special to watch the sunset on a 360º view of the bush, sipping on your drink of choice and hearing the sounds of nature and animals as the sun sets. 

Once it is truly dark, and you turn off the lanterns what you thought you knew about stars becomes obsolete. Everywhere your eyes can see is littered with stars, and you won’t want to close your eyes to go to sleep!

Would you dare spend a night at the Star Bed?

Epic night sleeping at the Star Bed
Epic night sleeping at the Star Bed

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