With so many habitats, southern Africa is one of the most rewarding bird-watching destinations in the world. Birders looking for escorted tours of the bush throughout the country, with the focus primarily but not exclusively on bird-watching, contact Peter Lawson (tel. 27/13/741-2458; www.lawsons.co.za). Not only is he excellent company, but he also loves what he does and puts together itineraries to suit your particular interests or needs.
Cultural & Historical Tours
Another good Cape Town tour worth booking in advance is a Cape Town Jazz Safari, offered by Andulela Tours (tel. 021/790-2592; www.andulela.com). The highly personal tour kicks off with a visit to the District Six Café for a drink, then heads off to the home of a well-known local musician, such as Mac McKenzie, the king of Goema (a fusion of jazz, samba, and traditional drumming), and ending at a restaurant in Landsdowne.
Palaeo-Tours (tel. 011/726-8788; www.palaeotours.com) offers fascinating trips to some of the key sites in what has become known as the Cradle of Humankind, declared a World Heritage Site in 1999 for the significant paleoanthropological discoveries made in the area since 1966. Guides are paleoanthropology scientists or Ph.D. students who will explain the history of evolution while taking you to working excavation sites. The area is some 20 minutes from Johannesburg city; tours, comprising two site visits, usually last 5 hours. All Palaeo-Tours are by arrangement only, so book before you leave home.
From dropping like a stone into the Batoka ravine to walking with lions and surfing the Zambezi as it churns like a washing machine, Victoria Falls is a mecca for adrenaline junkies and outdoors enthusiasts. For a complete list of what to do in the Victoria Falls area, check out Safari Par Excellence (www.safpar.net), though it's worth noting here that their elephant-back safaris have been very controversial. For a complete directory of operators specializing in adventure pursuits in South Africa, purchase the Getaway Adventure Guide or take a look at www.getawaytoafrica.com.
Food & Wine Trips
The delightfully named Samp and Soufflé (www.sampsouffle.com) specializes in custom-designed luxury "food adventures," in which you can help cook your meals with some of South Africa's most well-regarded chefs; learn to cook venison, say, in a tented camp deep in Big 5 country, or take self-driven or chauffeured gourmet tours that lead from one destination restaurant to the next. Excursions can include visits to authentic produce markets and working wine estates, where you will meet some of the country's most interesting wine makers. (Of course, you could just as easily book yourself a suite in Franschhoek, justifiably known as the culinary capital of the Cape, and just work your way through the superb selection of restaurants in that lush little valley.) For a short culinary tour, consider booking one of Andula's Cape Malay or African Cooking safaris (www.andulela.com), in which you visit a home in the local community and prepare a three-course meal with your hostess. This is not haute cuisine, by any means, but the interaction with real Cape locals (rather than the Eurocentric community that runs much of the tourism industry in the city) will be a lasting memory.
There are countless wine tours on offer, but serious wine lovers would do well to book a tour with Stephen Flesch (tel. 021/705-4317 or 083/229-3581; www.gourmetwinetours.co.za). Former chairman of the Wine Tasters Guild of S.A. and an ardent wine lover, Stephen personally knows many of the winemakers and proprietors of the top wine estates -- his knowledge of South African wines spans 4 decades. He will take into account your particular interests or wine preferences, and tailor an itinerary that covers both historical estates and rustic farms off the beaten track. The day trip includes a stop at one of the Winelands' top award-winning restaurants (he is, after all, secretary of Cape Town's Slow Food Convivium). Rates for a full day are R1,500 for the first person and R700 for each additional person. Half-day is R1,000 for the first person and R450 for each additional person.
Guides for Gourmets & Gourmands -- Cape Town is regularly cited as one of the best-value cities in the world for serious gourmets, who rave about the fine dining to be had at a fraction of what it would cost in comparable restaurants in New York, London, Paris, or Sydney. If you're a serious gourmand or are going to be here for a while, don't miss these three restaurant guides: Eat Out (www.eatout.co.za), an annual overview of restaurants throughout the country, with an annual top 10 that is highly rated (and coveted), is very thorough, and you can find a review on the restaurant closest to you with the click of a button. More discriminating and critical, dine, published by Wine magazine (www.winemag.co.za), also covers the country and publishes an annual top 100. Rossouw's Restaurants (www.rossouwsrestaurants.com) is an annual guide that divides top picks according to budget, as well as useful selections under such categories as "Family" and "Romantic"; diners send in most of the review notes, so you're not being influenced by a few food critics' palates (though Rossouw does the final edit).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.