Charmed by Southern Africa - United Hub
Amazing destination

Charmed by Southern Africa

By The Hub team, July 19, 2019

Each week we profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.

By San Franciso Customer Service Representative, Leonida Esquieres

Two years of preparation for this adventure brought my family and close friends to southern Africa. Since this is the farthest destination we've ever planned, we decided to cover at least three neighboring countries — South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana — to save on travel. We weren't sure what to expect from these places, but surprisingly, it turned out to be the most amazing adventure. Our long journey from the U.S. (33 hours) brought us first to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. To get there, you could fly to many of United's European destinations and then take Star Alliance partner airlines to get to Africa. (Later this year you'll be able to fly nonstop from Newark to Cape Town)

Victoria Falls

Zimbabwe

Our first stop was the city of Victoria Falls, home to the famous, spectacular and most beautiful waterfall also called Victoria Falls. It is referred to as "The Smoke that Thunders" and is one of Earth's greatest spectacles, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world as well as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Made up of a series of gorges and falls, the size and power of this massive body of water is awe-inspiring. As we planned to witness the "lunar rainbow," which only happens during a full moon, we scheduled to go at that time. The lunar rainbow can be seen for three nights of each lunar cycle during the full moon. The moon bow is created by the mist of the falls as light from the moon is refracted by water particles, creating a rainbow effect. Although it is something extraordinary, I must say that it was more fun to see the falls at day time while getting drenched from the thick mist.

The next day's highlight was the much-anticipated Zambezi River sunset cruise. What could be better than an open bar sunset cruise while soaking up the beauty of Africa? As we drifted along the river we admired the splashes of color that the setting sun painted in the sky as well as watched the wildlife in the serenity of this place. At the end of the cruise we tasted unique cuisines such as impala meat, buffalo meat and worms (yes, worms) at Boma restaurant.

Botswana

A short and easy trip from Zimbabwe, Botswana makes for a great trip to this and a wonderful safari destination. It's an astonishing place and home to amazing wildlife. We did both a Thebe River boat safari and a mobile safari through Chobe National Park. The river safari was entertaining and is an authentic Botswanan experience. Chobe is famous for its large population of elephants and one of the best wildlife destinations in the world, which overwhelmed us as we tried to capture photos of all of the amazing animals in sight. The baby animals were so cute, glued close to their mothers or underneath them. What a sheer display of wildlife in their natural habitat. A herd of buffalos swimming across mini islands, sunbathing crocodiles, hippos in the bank, a herd of kudus under the trees, families of monkeys with babies hanging underneath mothers along our relaxing river cruise — we saw it all. The baby elephants were so adorable you'd want to take them home.

From Zimbabwe we flew on our Star Alliance partner South African Airways (SA) to Johannesburg, our point of entry into South Africa.

South Africa, the rainbow nation

I have put off South Africa for too long, to my regret now. Admittedly, I was worried by its reputation for crime and discouraged by the distance. But my experience proved otherwise — the people were very nice, it was peaceful everywhere we went and the scenery is so beautiful it makes the long distance worth it.

After a night's rest in Johannesburg, we headed to Cradle of Humankind, renowned as the birthplace of humanity. The Sterkfontein Caves in the Cradle of Humankind put the origins of humans into perspective and gave an intriguing look into our collective past. It is here that some of the most important fossils were found. The network of limestone caves and old mines at Sterkfontein today hold one of the most renowned paleontological sites in the world, made famous by a breakthrough in 1947 when an almost perfect adult skull nicknamed "Mrs. Ples" was found. The skull dates back 2 million years, providing valuable evidence for the origins of human evolution in Africa.

A monkey at Kruger National Park
A kudos at Kruger National Park

Our next stop was Kruger National Park for more wilderness sightings during a safari on a jeep. There, we witnessed a hyena family, leopards, lions, zebras, giraffes, kudus, buffalos, monkeys roaming on the streets stealing fruits or chasing us, and more elephants. What's more interesting is where we stayed for a couple of nights, called Hippo Hollow Country Estate, which offers cute chalet bungalows and a resident hippo roaming in the backyard. I swear it was near our chalet one night making loud noises.

On our third day we went to a place called God's Window on the Drakensberg escarpment in Mpumalanga, which is known as Paradise Country. God's Window is so called gets its name because of the panoramic view that it offers of the Lowveld, located more than 900 meters below with lush forest clad ravine. Despite the fog during our early morning visit, the incredible view was still marvelous and so enigmatic.

View overlooking Cape Town

By the time we reached our main destination of Cape Town, we were hooked. South Africa's beauty is incomparable with any other countries we've seen. We filled our five days here (not enough) climbing Table Mountain with an incredible sweeping view of the city. Flanked by Devil's Peak and Lion's Head, Table Mountain makes up the northern end of the Cape Fold Mountain range. Legend has it that the tablecloth of clouds that pours over the mountain when the southeaster blows is the result of a smoking contest between the devil and a retired sea captain, Jan van Hunks. Blessed with crisp blue skies, we rode in a cable car and enjoyed the spectacular view from the peak.

The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town is situated on the Atlantic shore and offers a breathtaking view of Table Mountain and the ocean, making it a relaxing place to chill. We took a ferry to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. The legacy of apartheid is still very clearly visible and it was touching. Robben Island, the unique symbol of "the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, suffering and injustice" with a rich 500-year-old multi-layered history, represents an important aspect of South Africa's history.

The colorful homes in Cape Town

Bo-Kaap is one of the most photographed places in Cape Town so we weren't going to miss it. This place was formerly called the Malay Quarter when the colorful houses called "huurhuisjes" were built and rented to slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia and other African countries. It was told that while leased these houses were white and when that law was lifted — and they were allowed to buy the houses — they painted them bright colors as an expression of their freedom. They are indeed very attractive and unique.

Ready for some African wine? Western Cape is your spot. The Cape Winelands is a region of the Western Cape Province and is home to world-class vineyards of South Africa. We had a wonderful wine tasting experience with views of the mountains surrounding the vineyards. We also stopped at Cape of Good Hope, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet offering stunning views of the sea, flora and fauna. It was a dream come true to reach the most south-western point of the African Continent. Along our way on each stop were smaller charming Victorian villages, which were adorable and gave us a different perspective on South Africa that you wouldn't feel anywhere else in the world. A visit to Seal Island and Boulders Beach, where you can spot African penguins, were an added bonus.

Finding splendid beauty and wilderness in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana changed our perspective. Southern Africa offers dramatic mountain ranges, golden coast lines, wildlife, vibrant cities and centuries of history. It's amazing and worth traveling 30-plus hours to. I'm really looking forward to our Cape Town service starting in December.

United Awards Free Flights for a Year to Winners of "Your Shot to Fly" Sweepstakes

Grand prize winners live in Bradenton, FL; Cleveland, OH; Goodyear, AZ; Oakland, CA and San Francisco, CA
By United Newsroom, July 29, 2021

CHICAGO, July 29, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- United Airlines today announced the five lucky grand prize winners of its "Your Shot to Fly" sweepstakes, who will each get to fly anywhere in the world United flies with a companion over the course of the next year. The winners of the "Your Shot to Fly" sweepstakes are:

  • Ashley Cronkhite from Bradenton, FL
  • Robert Simicak from Cleveland, OH
  • Sean Husmoe from Goodyear, AZ
  • Lauren Aldredge from Oakland CA
  • Lauren M. from San Francisco, CA

The sweepstakes was in support of the Biden administration's ongoing national effort to encourage more people to get their COVID-19 vaccination and encouraged United's MileagePlus® loyalty members to upload their vaccine records to United. In less than a month, more than one million MileagePlus members uploaded their vaccine cards to the United app and website for a shot to win one of the grand prizes. In June the airline awarded 30 first prize winners with a pair of roundtrip tickets anywhere United flies.

United First U.S. Airline to Offer Economy Customers Option to Pre-Order Snacks and Beverages

New pre-order option builds on the airline's contactless payment technology and is another example of the customer experience transformation underway at United
By United Newsroom, July 28, 2021

CHICAGO, July 28, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Starting today on select flights, all United customers – no matter what cabin of service they're flying in – can use the airline's award-winning mobile app and website to pre-order meals, snacks and beverages up to five days before they're scheduled to travel. United is the first and only U.S. airline to offer economy customers the option to pre-order snacks and beverages, a reflection of the customer experience transformation underway at the airline.



United Airlines to Operate More than 40 Weekly Flights as England Re-Opens to U.S. Travelers

In August, United is adding a second daily flight from Washington, D.C. to London
By United Newsroom, July 28, 2021

CHICAGO, July 28, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- With today's announcement of England reopening to fully vaccinated travelers from the U.S. beginning Aug 2, United Airlines is making it easier for business and leisure customers to jet across the pond with the addition of flights to London. In August, United will have six daily flights between the U.S. and London, including a second daily flight from Washington, D.C. and increasing service from Houston to daily. United looks forward to resuming additional London service in the coming months as well as launching new nonstop service between Boston and London. Customers traveling to England must be fully vaccinated in the U.S. with vaccines that have been approved by the FDA and must take a test before departure as well as a PCR test within the first two days of arrival. Passengers vaccinated in the U.S. will also need to complete a passenger locator form prior to traveling to England and provide proof of U.S. residency.

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