South Africa: Evolution of Humankind and the Universe

October 18-30, 2017

American Museum of Natural History Department of Anthropology scientists study the remarkable history of human evolution from our earliest ancestors to modern humans. This epic story is told in the very landscape of South Africa that has revealed an unsurpassed fossil record of life on Earth.

Scientists in the Museum’s Department of Astrophysics seek to unravel the evolution of distant stars and galaxies. The crisp, dry air of South Africa’s vast semi-desert region is perfect for stargazing and is home to the South African Large Telescope (SALT) and the MeerKAT array telescope, among the largest and most impressive of their kinds.

You are invited to join Curator Emeritus of Human Origins Ian Tattersall and Curator of Astrophysics Michael Shara on an extraordinary trip by private plane to examine the evolution of Homo sapiens and the universe, and to consider how humans can explore beyond the Earth just as early humans moved out of Africa to inhabit the entire Earth. Enjoy special site access, private visits, and keen insight that only the Museum can provide.


View of observatory buildings on the South African Large Telescope campus

STARGAZE with SALT’s 11-meter telescope, the largest optical telescope in the Southern Hemisphere, an experience made possible through the Museum’s longstanding partnership with this state-of-the-art facility.

EXPERIENCE rare access at the Wits University vault, home to some of the most important hominid fossils including the recently discovered Homo naledi.

STEP BACK IN TIME at the Cradle of Humankind, including the Sterkfontein Caves, one of the richest, most productive early paleoanthropological sites in the world, and at Pinnacle Point and Blombos Cave, considered the most significant archaeological location in terms of understanding how and when modern humans evolved.

EXPLORE the remote Karoo Basin to see the remarkable fossil heritage in the Rubidge Collection, the scenic landscape of the Valley of Desolation, a national monument since 1939, and rich wildlife in the Samara Game Reserve.

DISCOVER beautiful Cape Town, including behind-the-scenes access to the South African Museum and South African Astronomical Observatory headquarters.

TRAVEL throughout South Africa in comfort aboard privately chartered eight-seat PC-12 aircraft.

ENJOY membership in the Museum’s Patrons Circle and explore the natural world throughout the year.

  Leader Bios

Check out more apps from the American Museum of Natural History
View larger

Michael Shara, Curator, Division of Physical Sciences


Check out more apps from the American Museum of Natural History
View larger

Ian Tattersall, Curator Emeritus, Division of Anthropology

Michael Shara is curator of the Museum’s Astrophysics Department. His research interests include the evolution and explosions of novae and supernovae, the evolution of planets orbiting other stars, and the populations of stars inhabiting dense clusters and galaxies. His research team at the Museum is currently surveying our Milky Way galaxy for all its pre-supernova stars and black hole binaries. Dr. Shara frequently observes with the Hubble Space Telescope and other large ground-based telescopes, and is chairman of the board of SALT. In his lectures, he will describe the emergence of stars and galaxies from the chaos of the Big Bang; the dominance of dark matter and dark energy in the universe; how supernovas demonstrate that ordinary matter—of which the Earth and humans are built—is just 3 percent of the universe; and how humans can expand beyond the Earth to explore the trillion planets in our entire galaxy, just as early humans moved out of Africa to explore the entire Earth.

Ian Tattersall, American Museum of Natural History curator emeritus, is a renowned expert on physical anthropology and human evolution. He has lectured to acclaim on numerous expeditions to Spain, France, and throughout the world. Trained in geology as well as in archaeology and anthropology, his field research on living primates and his fossil collecting has taken him around the globe. Dr. Tattersall co-curated the Museum’s Spitzer Hall of Human Origins and has written many books on the origins of human creativity, including Masters of the PlanetBecoming Human: Evolution and Human Uniqueness; and the recently published The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack, and Other Cautionary Tales from Human Evolution. In his lectures, he will address the evidence for very early human evolution that we will see in the Cradle of Humankind, and the unique perspective that the Pinnacle Point and Blombos Cave sites give us on the emergence of our own extraordinary species Homo sapiens.

Area of detail showing Southern Africa and the itinerary destinations in South Africa. Detail area is outlined on an image of the entire continent.


WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2017HOME > JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA Board overnight flights to Johannesburg.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 19 JOHANNESBURG Upon arrival, transfer to the exclusive Saxon Hotel, one of the world’s leading boutique hotels, in the thriving Sandton neighborhood. Gather this evening for a welcome reception and orientation. Overnight at the Saxon Hotel for two nights.

Check out more apps from the American Museum of Natural History
View larger

Artists' reconstruction: G.J. Sawyer and Viktor Deak

Australopithecus africanus

Check out more apps from the American Museum of Natural History
View larger

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 20 JOHANNESBURG After a morning lecture by Ian Tattersall, enjoy rare access at the Wits University vault, home to some of the world’s most important hominid fossils, including the recently discovered Homo naledi. Continue to the Cradle of Humankind site, in the company of award-winning paleoanthropologist Lee Berger, for private tours of actual working sites such as Sterkfontein and Swartkrans, two of the most fossil-rich limestone caves. A special dining experience at the Cradle of Humankind is planned for this evening.

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 21 JOHANNESBURG > GRAAFF-REINET Board privately chartered Pilatus PC-12 aircraft and fly to Graaff-Reinet, surrounded by stunning Camdeboo National Park in the heart of the Karoo. Explore the Karoo Basin’s world-class assemblage of fossils during a private tour of the Rubidge Collection, boasting a wide diversity of fossils from 250 million years ago. Later in the day, explore Graaff-Reinet, founded by the Dutch in 1786, an historic town set within a horseshoe bend of Sundays River. End the day with a private wine tasting of award-winning vintages and a festive dinner of local specialties. Overnight for two nights at the Drostdy Hotel.

Check out more apps from the American Museum of Natural History
View larger

Check out more apps from the American Museum of Natural History
View larger

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 22 GRAAFF-REINET Join a Camdeboo tracking expedition led by members of South Africa’s Tracker Academy, an organization dedicated to environmental education and wildlife protection. Enjoy an unforgettable lunch at the stunning 70,000-acre Samara Game Reserve, home to cheetah, black and white rhino, buffalo, and great herds of antelope and zebra. After a lecture by Ian Tattersall, head out at sunset for cocktails among the sheer cliffs and rock columns of the Valley of Desolation, a geological wonder also known as the “Cathedral of the Mountains,” followed by dinner and a local choir performance.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 23 GRAAFF-REINET > GEORGE Board our private PC-12s for the city of George, first settled by the timber industry in 1776, in the heart of South Africa’s famed Garden Route coastal area. Enjoy a private tour of Pinnacle Point Caves, where researchers believe the earliest evidence of modern human behavior exists. After lunch amid stunning views of the Indian Ocean at Pinnacle Restaurant, continue along the coast to Blombos Cave, which has yielded the world’s first symbolic objects and remains of tool kits and ochre-processing “workshops” that could date as far back as 100,000 years. Dinner and the rest of the evening are at leisure to sample the amenities of the luxurious Fancourt Resort Hotel. Overnight for one night at Fancourt Resort Hotel.

Check out more apps from the American Museum of Natural History
View larger

The Small Magellanic Cloud

Courtesy of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory

Check out more apps from the American Museum of Natural History
View larger

47 Tucanae

Courtesy of NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 24 CARNARVON > SUTHERLAND Following a lecture by Michael Shara, reboard our private aircraft and fly to Carnarvon for special access to the MeerKAT (formerly Karoo Array Telescope) installation, the largest radio telescope array in the southern hemisphere, and the site of the SKA (Square Kilometer Array), which aims to eclipse the size and reach of all other radio telescopes once it is completed. For lunch, sample southern-African-style braai barbecue alfresco. Take a short flight to remote Sutherland, which is situated in the high Karoo, affording the opportunity for two nights of spectacular stargazing. Overnight at the Sutherland Hotel for two nights.

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 25 SUTHERLAND Spend the day, led by Michael Shara, enjoying special access to the South African Astronomical Observatory field station, highlighted by SALT, the largest optical telescope in the Southern Hemisphere with an 11-meter-wide reflecting surface made up of 91 hexagonal mirrors. The visit extends into the evening to view the night sky.

Ariel view of Cape Town South Africa with Table Mountain in the background.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 26 SUTHERLAND > CAPE TOWN This morning, fly by private plane to beautiful Cape Town, nestled against iconic Table Mountain, for a day of urban exploration. Stroll the cobbled streets of the colorful Bo-Kaap, one of the oldest urban residential areas in Cape Town. Continue to Iziko South African Museum and Planetarium, set in the beautiful Company’s Garden, for a special behind-the-scenes tour of its extensive natural and early human history collections. Spend the evening indulging in traditional African delicacies from all over the continent while enjoying drumming, music, and dance performances. Overnight for three nights at the Cape Grace Hotel.

Small group of penguins on a South African beach

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 27 CAPE TOWN Venture to Cape Peninsula, known for sweeping vistas and sandy beaches, reaching the Cape of Good Hope, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans churn together, as well as Boulders Beach, home to a roaming colony of African penguins. Stop for lunch at Cape Point Vineyards, an award-winning winery and restaurant offering breathtaking views. Return to Cape Town and spend the rest of the day at leisure or join a tour to beautiful Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, situated at the foot of Table Mountain and part of the Cape Floral Region, a UNESCO World Heritage protected area.

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 28 CAPE TOWN Following a morning lecture by Michael Shara, embark on a cruise of Table Bay to visit Robben Island, well-known for the prison that held Nelson Mandela for 18 of his 27 years behind bars. Later, Shara leads a visit to SALT’s administrative headquarters, which houses a beautiful century-old telescope and the machine shop where sophisticated instruments are manufactured using computerized robotics. Enjoy a private farewell dinner at Tintswalo Atlantic, a five-star, award-winning boutique lodge at the base of Table Mountain National Park.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 29 CAPE TOWN > HOME Opt for a morning excursion to ascend Table Mountain in the fabled Aerial Cableway or relax in town before a late check-out and afternoon flights home.


The entrance to Pinnacle Point Cave and the stairway leading up to it

What to Expect

This is a relatively strenuous program and you must be in good physical condition to participate. Visits to paleoanthropological excavation sites may necessitate walking and climbing unassisted without handrails, sometimes over steep and slippery terrain. Walking for up to one mile unassisted, standing for up to two hours at other sites, and climbing several flights of stairs that may not have handrails will be required. October is early spring in South Africa, with average high temperatures in the upper 60s and lows in the 50s °F. October is generally dry, with clear skies and sunshine, though some light rainfall is possible.

Check out more apps from the American Museum of Natural History
View larger

Check out more apps from the American Museum of Natural History
View larger

The Aircraft

Accommodating eight passengers each in spacious comfort, the Swiss-manufactured, state-of-the-art Pilatus PC-12 plane integrates a single turboprop engine into an aerodynamically advanced airframe and is recognized as one of the world’s safest aircraft. With its high cruising speed and great range, it is ideally suited for accessing remote destinations in southern Africa and can take off from short, remote airstrips.

Optional Extension: MalaMala Game Reserve

October 29 – November 2, 2017

Join jeep safaris and bush walks in South Africa’s largest private Big-Five game reserve, located between Kruger National Park and Sabi Sand Game Reserve, for opportunities to see lion, elephant, water buffalo, leopard, rhino, zebra, giraffe, colorful birdlife, and more. Between game drives, take advantage of Rattray’s on MalaMala, a regal lodge featuring beautiful old-world furnishings, infinity pool, gym and steam room, massage service, and historic library. The Museum will have exclusive access to Rattray’s eight luxurious khayas (suites) which feature en-suite bathrooms with secluded outdoor showers, private heated pools, private verandas and hand-selected furnishings. Overnight for three nights at Rattray’s on MalaMala.


Main Program Double occupancy $45,000 per person

Main Program Single supplement $5,000

Optional Extension rates available upon request

Rates are based on a minimum of 11 participants and a maximum of 24 participants.

Participation requires current membership in the Patrons Circle at or above the Collector level per traveler household. Please click here or call 212-769-5153 for more details.


+        Hotel accommodations for 10 nights

+        10 breakfasts, 8 lunches, and 5 dinners

+        All excursions, transportation, and entrance fees as outlined in the itinerary

+        Travel by privately chartered PC-12 aircraft within South Africa

+        Full program of briefings, lectures, and presentations

+        Private arrival and departure transfers

+        Baggage handling

+        Gratuities to porters, wait staff, guides, drivers, and pilots

+        Welcome and farewell receptions, house wine, beer, and soft drinks with all lunches and dinners, bottled water on motor coaches

Professional tour manager and expert in-country guides throughout

Not Included:

+        U.S. domestic and international airfare

+        Passport and visa expenses

+        Medical expenses and immunizations

+        Travel insurance

+        Optional excursions or deviations from the scheduled tour

+        Excess baggage charges

+        Meals not specified in the itinerary; dishes and beverages not part of the included meals

+        Laundry or dry cleaning, telephone, fax, internet and email charges, room service, and other items of a personal nature


To guarantee your place on this unique Museum journey, please contact us today.
Elizabeth DeGaetano
Associate Director of Expeditions

Terms and Conditions

RESPONSIBILITY STATEMENT American Museum of Natural History Expeditions (AMNHE) has appointed Criterion Travel (CT), a professional tour operator, to manage and operate this tour as an independent contractor. Throughout these Terms and Conditions, references to “we” or “us” refer to AMNHE and CT.

AMNHE provides the educational enrichment and the study leader/s for the tour. CT acts only as an agent for any transportation carrier, hotel, ground operator, or other suppliers of services connected with this tour (referred to herein as “providers”), who in turn are solely responsible and liable for providing their respective services. The passenger tickets in use by the carriers shall constitute the sole contract between the carriers and the passenger—the carriers are not responsible for any act, omission, or event during the time participants are not aboard their conveyances.

We shall not be held liable for (A) any damage to, or loss of, property or injury to, or death of, persons occasioned directly or indirectly by an act or omission of any provider, including but not limited to any defect in any aircraft, watercraft, or vehicle operated or provided by such other provider, and (B) any loss or damage due to delay, cancellation, or disruption in any manner caused by the laws, regulations, acts or failures to act, demands, orders, or interpositions of any government or any subdivision or agent, thereof, or by acts of God, strikes, fire, flood, war, rebellion, terrorism, insurrection, sickness, quarantine, epidemics, theft, or any other cause(s) beyond our control. Baggage and personal effects are at all times the sole responsibility of the participant.

By registering for an AMNH Expedition, “you” (the “participant” or “passenger”) acknowledge and agree to the Responsibility Statement and the Terms and Conditions herein. You waive and release any claim against us for any such loss, damage, injury, or death, and each participant is required to sign a confirmation of such waiver and release as a condition to participating in the tour. If the program that you enroll in has a U.S. Department of State travel warning in effect for a destination on the program, you will receive a copy of the travel warning upon confirmation along with an additional Waiver of Liability, Assumption of Risk & Indemnity Agreement. You can rest assured that the safety of our travelers is of the utmost importance to us and we continually monitor the political and security situation within the destinations on each itinerary.

ELIGIBILITY AND HEALTH REQUIREMENTS Anyone under 18 at the commencement of the trip must be accompanied by a parent or guardian for the entire program. There is no upper age limit; however, all participants must be in good physical and mental health.

By paying the deposit for passage, the passenger certifies that he/she does not have any physical or other condition of disability that would create a hazard for him/her or other passengers. Any physical condition requiring special attention, diet, or treatment must be reported in writing on the passenger information form sent to you upon confirmation of your place on the expedition. All reasonable efforts will be made to accommodate special diets and treatment; however, we cannot guarantee special arrangements. We reserve the right to decline to accept any person as a member of an expedition or to require any traveler to withdraw from an expedition at his or her own expense at any time when such action is determined by the tour staff to be in the best interest of the health, safety, and general welfare of the expedition group or individual expedition members.

BASIS OF RATES All prices are per person based on two sharing a room, and fares are quoted in U.S. dollars. Per-person rates for single, triple, or quad occupancy may be available if not already noted. Please inquire. The rates are based on current airfares, tariffs, fuel costs, and currency values which are subject to change due to unforeseen circumstances. The prices are based on the minimum number of participants, as specified in the pricing, joining the expedition. While we will do everything possible to maintain the listed prices, they are subject to change. Due to fluctuations in oil prices, a fuel surcharge may be added to your tour price. If it is necessary to levy a surcharge, we reserve the right to do so with notification prior to trip departure.

SINGLE TRAVELERS A limited number of single rooms are available at extra cost on a first-come, first-served basis, but availability cannot be guaranteed. We make every effort to match single travelers who request a roommate. Neither a single room nor a share can be guaranteed. Participants will be notified if we are unsuccessful in finding a suitable roommate. In this case, the single supplement will be charged.

DEPOSITS AND PAYMENTS A deposit of $10,000 per person is required to confirm a reservation and is payable by check or credit card. Final payment is due June 20, 2017 (120 days prior to departure) and is payable by check. By submitting your deposit, you are bound by the terms and conditions detailed in this brochure. Full payment is required for reservations made after the final payment date.

CANCELLATIONS Cancellations that occur 120 days or more prior to departure are subject to an administrative fee of $5,000 per person. Cancellations that occur 119 or fewer days prior to departure are subject to full forfeiture of the trip price. AMNHE reserves the right to cancel a reservation if full payment has not been received by the designated final payment due date.

Leaving a trip in progress, for any reason whatsoever, will not result in a refund, and no refunds will be made for any unused portions of a trip. AMNHE reserves the right to cancel any trip because of inadequate enrollment that makes the trip economically unfeasible to operate, or because of good-faith concerns with respect to the safety, health, or welfare of the participants. If AMNHE or CT cancels an expedition prior to departure, you will receive a full refund of recoverable funds paid to CT. If we cancel the trip in progress, you will receive a prorated refund of recoverable costs based on the number of days not completed on the expedition.

TRAVEL INSURANCE For your protection, trip cancellation and travel insurance is strongly recommended. Detailed information on the cancellation and travel insurance available will be provided with your reservation confirmation and is available online at This insurance is at an additional cost and is available up until you make final payment for the expedition.

AIR TICKETS PURCHASED INDEPENDENT OF THE TOUR We urge you to check airline cancellation penalties before purchasing airline tickets since departure times and flights can change. Tours also can be cancelled due to low enrollments. We do not accept liability for cancellation penalties related to domestic or international airline tickets purchased independently in conjunction with a tour.

ITINERARY CHANGES The itinerary and study-leader staff presented are subject to modification and change. Every reasonable effort will be made to operate programs as planned, but alterations may still occur without allowance of refund.

SMOKING POLICY For the comfort of all participants, we ask that there be no smoking during all group activities, including excursions and meals.