South Africa - Fodor's The Complete Guide to African Safaris: with South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia, Rwanda & the Seychelles (Full-color Travel Guide) (2015)

Fodor's The Complete Guide to African Safaris: with South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia, Rwanda & the Seychelles (Full-color Travel Guide) (2015)

South Africa

Main Table of Contents

Welcome to South Africa

Kruger National Park

Sabi Sand Game Reserve

KwaZulu-Natal Parks

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

If You Have Time

Gateway Cities

Beach Escapes

Welcome to South Africa

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Top Reasons to Go | Getting Oriented | Planning | About the Restaurants | About the Lodges and Hotels | Communications | Emergencies | Health and Safety | Money Matters | Visitor Info | Must-See Parks

Updated by Lee Middleton, Kate Turkington, Tara Turkington

Since 1994, when Nelson Mandela spearheaded its peaceful transition to democracy, South Africa has become one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in the world. And it’s not difficult to see why. The country is stable and affordable, with an excellent infrastructure; friendly, interesting, amazingly diverse people; and enough stunning sights, sounds, scenery, and attractions to make even the most jaded traveler sit up and take notice. And nearly everybody speaks English—a huge bonus for international visitors.

South Africa has always teemed with game. That’s what drew the early European explorers, who aimed to bring something exotic home with them. After all, as Pliny the Elder, one of Africa’s earliest explorers, wrote almost 2,000 years ago, ex Africa semper aliquid novi (translated as “out of Africa always comes something new”). Sometimes it was a giraffe, a rhinoceros, a strange bird, or an unheard-of plant.

In the latter half of the 19th century, Dr. Livingstone, Scotland’s most famous Christian missionary, opened up much of the interior on his evangelizing expeditions, as did the piratical Englishman Cecil John Rhodes, who famously made his fortune on the Kimberley diamond mines and planned an unsuccessful Cape-to-Cairo railway line. About the same time, lured by the rumors of gold and instant fortunes, hundreds of hunters came to the lowveld to lay their hands on much-sought-after skins, horns, and ivory. Trophy hunters followed, vying with one another to see how many animals they could shoot in one day—often more than 100 each.

Fast Facts

Size 1,221,037 square km (471,442 square miles).

Capital Pretoria (administrative capital); Cape Town (legislative capital); Bloemfontein (judicial capital).

Number of National Parks 22: Addo Elephant, Agulhas, Augrabies Falls, Bontebok, Camdeboo, Golden Gate Highlands, Karoo, Kruger, Mapungubwe, Marakele, Mokala, Mountain Zebra, Namaqua, Table Mountain, Tankwa Karoo, Tsitsikamma, West Coast, and Wilderness National Parks; Ais/Richtersveld and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Parks; Knysna National Lake Area; uKhahlamba/Drakensberg Park.

Number of Private Reserves Hundreds, including Sabi Sands and KwaZulu-Natal’s Phinda and Thanda.

Population Approximately 48 million.

Big Five The gang’s all here.

Language South Africa has 11 official languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, North and South Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. English is widely spoken.

· Time SAST (South African Standard Time), seven hours ahead of North American Eastern Standard Time.

Paul Kruger, president of the Transvaal Republic (a 19th-century Boer country that occupied a portion of present-day South Africa), took the unprecedented visionary step of establishing a protected area for the wildlife in the lowveld region; in 1898 Kruger National Park was born.

South Africa has 22 national parks covering deserts, wetland and marine areas, forests, mountains, scrub, and savanna. Hunting safaris are still popular but are strictly controlled by the government, and licenses are compulsory. Although hunting is a controversial issue, the revenue is substantial and can be ploughed into sustainable conservation, and the impact on the environment is minimal. Increasingly, wildlife conservation is linked with community development; many conservation areas have integrated local communities, the wildlife, and the environment, with benefits for all. Londolozi, MalaMala, Phinda, and Pafuri Camp are internationally acclaimed role models for linking tourism with community-development projects.

Although the “Big Five” was originally a hunting term for those animals that posed the greatest risk to hunters on foot—buffalo, elephants, leopards, lions, and rhinos—it’s used today as the most important criterion for evaluating a lodge or reserve. But let the lure of the Big Five turn your safari into a treasure hunt and you’ll miss the overall wilderness experience. Don’t overlook the bush’s other treasures, from desert meerkats and forest bush babies to antelopes, the handsome caracal, and spotted genets. Add to these hundreds of birds, innumerable insects, trees, flowers, shrubs, and grasses. Don’t forget to search for the “Little Five”: the buffalo weaver, elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, lion ant, and rhinoceros beetle. A guided bush walk may let you see these little critters and more.


Big Game. You’re guaranteed to see big game—including the Big Five—both in national parks and at many private lodges.

Escape the Crowds. South Africa’s game parks are rarely crowded. You’ll see more game with fewer other visitors than almost anywhere else in Africa.

Luxury Escapes. Few other sub-Saharan countries can offer South Africa’s high standards of accommodation, service, and food amid gorgeous surroundings of bush, beach, mountains, and desert.

Take the Family. All the national parks accept children (choose a malaria-free one if your kids are small), and many private lodges have fantastic children’s programs.

Beyond the Parks. Visit Cape Town, one of the most beautiful and stylish cities in the world; the nearby stunning Winelands; the inspiring scenery of the Garden Route; the vibrant port city of Durban; and glorious, soft white-sand beaches.


South Africa lies at the very foot of the continent, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. Not only geographically and scenically diverse, it’s a nation of more than 47 million people of varied origins, cultures, languages, and beliefs. Its cities and much of its infrastructure are thoroughly modern—Johannesburg could pass for any large American city. It’s only when you venture into the rural areas or see the huge satellite squatter camps outside the cities or come face-to-face with the Big Five that you see an entirely different South Africa.

Kruger National Park. A visit to Kruger, one of the world’s great game parks, may rank among the best experiences of your life. With its amazing diversity of scenery, trees, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, Kruger is a place to safari at your own pace and where you can choose between upscale private camps or simple campsites.

Sabi Sand Game Reserve. The most famous and exclusive of South Africa’s private reserves, this 153,000-acre park is home to dozens of private lodges, including the world-famous MalaMala and Londolozi. With perhaps the highest game and leopard density of any private reserve in Southern Africa, Sabi Sand fully deserves its exalted reputation.

KwaZulu-Natal Parks. Zululand’s Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is tiny—less than 6% of Kruger’s size—but delivers the Big Five plus all the plains game. It has about 1,250 species of plants and trees—more than you’ll find in entire countries. Mkuze and Itala are even smaller, but worth a visit, and if you’re looking for the ultimate in luxury, stay at Phinda or Thanda private reserves.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Together with its neighbor, Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park, this park covers more than 38,000 square km (14,670 square miles)—one of very few conservation areas of this magnitude left in the world. Its stark, desolate beauty shelters huge black-maned Kalahari lions among other predators and provides brilliant birding, especially birds of prey.



In the north, summers are sunny and hot (never humid), with short afternoon thunderstorms. Winter days are bright and sunny, but nights can be frosty. Although November through January is Cape Town’s most popular time, with glorious sunshine and long, light evenings, the best weather is in February and March. Cape winters (May-August) are unpredictable with cold, windy, rainy days interspersed with glorious sun. The coastal areas of KwaZulu-Natal are warm year-round, but summers are steamy and hot. The ocean water is warmest in February, but it seldom dips below 17°C (65°F).


Place names in South Africa are in flux. The names in this book were accurate at time of writing, but even if names are different by the time of your trip, don’t worry; all of South Africa will be coping with these large-scale changes and will undoubtedly use both names for a while. Some road signs are signposted alternately in English and Afrikaans.

Air Travel

When booking flights, check the routing carefully, as South Africa-bound flights from United States cities have refueling stops en route, and sometimes those stops can be delayed. Currently only South African Airways and Delta provide direct service from the United States to South Africa, but flights routed through Europe may be more pleasant because they give you an interim stop to stretch your legs.

In peak season (midsummer and South African school vacations), Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport can be particularly busy, so allow an extra hour for domestic flights. If you’re returning home with souvenirs, leave time for a V.A.T. inspection before you join the line for your international flight check-in.

If you’re visiting a game lodge deep in the bush, you’ll be arriving by light plane—and you’ll be restricted in what you can bring. Excess luggage can usually be stored with the operator until your return. Don’t just gloss over this: charter operators take weight very seriously, and some will charge you for an extra ticket if you insist on bringing excess baggage.


Most international flights arrive at and depart from Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport (sometimes abbreviated O.R.T.I.A. by safari companies), 19 km (12 miles) from the city. Several international flights departing from Cape Town are also routed via Johannesburg. Cape Town International is 20 km (12½ miles) southeast of the city, and Durban’s King Shaka International Airport is 35 km (23 miles) north of the city. If you’re traveling to or from either the Johannesburg or Cape Town airports (and, to a lesser extent, Durban), be aware of the time of day. Traffic can be horrendous between 7 and 9 in the morning and between about 3:30 and 6 in the evening.

Just 40 km (25 miles) outside Johannesburg, Lanseria International Airport is closer to Sandton than O.R. Tambo and handles some domestic flights and some charter flights to safari camps.

International Airports
Cape Town International Airport (CPT) | Cape Town | 7490 | 021/937-1200 |
Durban King Shaka International Airport (DUR) | La Mercy, | Durban | 4405 | 032/436-6000 |
Lanseria International Airport (HLA) | Airport Road, Lanseria | 011/367-0300 |
O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB ORTIA) | Kempton Park, | Johannesburg | 1627 | 011/921-6262 |

Domestic Airports

East London Airport (ELS).
Settlers Way | East London | 5200 | 043/706-0304 |

George Airport (GRJ).
Old Mossel Bay Road | George | 044/876-9310 |

Kimberley Airport (KIM).
Compact Patterson & Airports Road | Kimberley | 053/851-1241 |

Pilanesberg Airport (NTY, next to Sun City).
Pilanesberg | Sun City | 0316 | 014/552-1261.

Port Elizabeth Airport (PLZ).
Alister Miller Drive, Walmer | Port Elizabeth | 6011 | 041/507-7348 |

Upington Airport (UTN).
Upington | 8801 | 054/337-7900 |


South Africa’s international airline is South African Airways (SAA). Several major United States carriers also fly to South Africa. Flight times from the U.S. East Coast range from 15 hours (from Atlanta to Johannesburg on Delta) to almost 20 hours (on Delta, via Amsterdam). About 18 hours is the norm.

Three major domestic airlines have flights connecting South Africa’s principal airports. SA Airlink and SA Express are subsidiaries of SAA, and Comair is a subsidiary of British Airways. Low-cost carriers include Kulula and Mango.

Delta. | 800/241-4141 |
South African Airways. | 011/978-1111, 011/978-5577 |
United. | 800/538-2929 |

Domestic Airlines

British Airways/Comair. | 011/921-0222 |
Kulula. | 086/158-5852 |
Mango. | 011/086-6100, 086/100-1234 |
South African Airways/SA Airlink/South African Express. | 011/978-1111, 011/978-5577 |

Charter Flights

Charters are common throughout Southern Africa. These aircraft are well maintained and are almost always booked by your lodge or travel agent. The major charter companies run daily shuttles from O.R. Tambo to popular tourism destinations, such as Kruger Park. Keep in mind that you probably won’t get to choose the charter company you fly with. The aircraft you get depends on the number of passengers flying and can vary from very small (you’ll sit in the co-pilot’s seat) to a much more comfortable commuter plane.

Due to the limited space and size of the aircraft, charter carriers observe strict luggage regulations: luggage must be soft-sided and weigh no more than 57 pounds (and very often less).

Federal Air, based at Johannesburg Airport, is the largest charter air company in South Africa. Wilderness Air is a Botswana-based fly-in charter company that will take you anywhere there’s a landing strip from its base in Jo’burg’s Lanseria Airport.

Charter Companies
African Ramble.

044/533-9006, 083/375-6514 |
Federal Air. | 011/395-9000 |
Wilderness Air. | 011/701-3700, 011/701-3726 |

Car Travel

South Africa has a superb network of multilane roads and highways; however, distances are vast, so guard against fatigue, which is an even bigger killer than alcohol. Toll roads, scattered among the main routes, charge anywhere from R10 to R60. South Africans drive on the left-hand side of the road. Wearing seat belts is required by law, and the legal blood-alcohol limit is 0.08 mg/100 ml, which means about one glass of wine puts you at the limit. It’s illegal to talk on a handheld mobile phone while driving. South Africans can be aggressive and reckless drivers, and accidents are common. You can drive in South Africa for up to six months on any English-language license. TIP Unfortunately, carjackings can and do occur with such frequency that certain high-risk areas are marked by permanent carjacking signs.

Auto Club

Automobile Association of South Africa.
011/799-1670 in Johannesburg, 083/84322 24-hr toll-free emergency |

Maps and Information
AA of South Africa’s store.
Drive South Africa. | 38 Hout Street, | Cape Town | 8001 | 021/423-1912 |


TIP Credit cards aren’t accepted anywhere for fueling your tank, but nearly all gas stations are equipped with ATMs. Huge 24-hour service stations are positioned at regular intervals along all major highways in South Africa. There are no self-service stations, so be sure to tip the attendant R2-R3. Check when booking a rental car as to what fuel to use. Gasoline is measured in liters and is more expensive than in the U.S.


In the countryside parking is mostly free, but you’ll almost certainly need to pay for parking in cities. You’ll find informal parking guards in most cities; they also wear brightly colored vests or T-shirts. They don’t get paid much (in fact some pay for the privilege of working a spot), so they depend on tips. You’ll get the most out of these guys if you acknowledge them when you park, ask them politely to look after your car, and then pay them a couple of rand when you return and find it’s safe.

Rental Cars

It’s common to rent a car for at least part of your trip. Rental rates are similar to those in the U.S., but some companies charge more for weekend rentals. Cars with automatic transmissions and air-conditioning are available but can be expensive. Some companies quote prices without insurance, some include 80% or 90% coverage, and some quote with 100% protection.

The major international companies all have offices in tourist cities and at international airports, and their vehicle types are the same range you’d find at home. There’s no need to rent a 4x4 vehicle, as all roads are paved, including those in Kruger National Park.

In order to rent a car you need to be 23 years old or older and have held a driver’s license for three years. Younger international drivers can rent from some companies but will pay a penalty. You need to get special permission to take rental cars into neighboring countries (including Lesotho and Swaziland). You can’t take rental cars into Zimbabwe. Most companies allow additional drivers, yet some charge.

Car-Rental Insurance

In South Africa it’s necessary to buy special insurance if you plan on crossing borders into neighboring countries, but CDW and TDW (theft-damage waiver) are optional on domestic rentals. Any time you’re considering crossing a border with your rental vehicle, you must inform the rental company ahead of time to fulfill any paperwork requirements and pay additional fees.

Emergency Services
General emergency number. | 112 from mobile phone, 10111 from landline.

Local Agencies
Car Mania. | 021/447-3001 |
Maui Motorhome Rental. | 011/396-1445, 021/385-1994 |
Tempest Car Hire. | O.R. Tambo International Airport | 1627 |
Value Car Hire. | 021/386-7699 |

Major Agencies
Alamo. | 877/222-9075 |
Avis. | 011/923-3660 |
Budget. | 800/527-0700 |
Europcar. | 086/113-1000, 011/479-4000 |
Hertz. | 800/654-3001 |
National Car Rental. | 877/222-9058 |


South Africa’s cities and towns are full of dining options, from chain restaurants like the popular Nando’s to chic cafés. Indian food and Cape Malay dishes are regional favorites in Cape Town, while traditional smoked meats and sausages are available countrywide. In South Africa dinner is eaten at night and lunch at noon. Restaurants serve breakfast until about 11:30; a few serve breakfast all day. If you’re staying at a game lodge, your mealtimes will revolve around the game drives—usually coffee and rusks (similar to biscotti) early in the morning, more coffee and probably muffins on the first game drive, a huge brunch in the late morning, no lunch, tea and something sweet in the late afternoon before the evening game drive, cocktails and snacks on the drive, and a substantial supper, or dinner, at about 8 or 8:30.

Many restaurants accustomed to serving tourists accept credit cards, usually Visa and American Express, with MasterCard increasingly accepted.

Most restaurants welcome casual dress, including jeans and sneakers, but draw the line at shorts and a halter top at dinner, except for restaurants on the beach.


Most hotel rooms come with private bathrooms that are usually en suite, but they may, very occasionally, be across the corridor. You can usually choose between rooms with twin or double beds. A full English breakfast is often included in the rate, particularly in more traditional hotels. In most luxury lodges the rate usually covers the cost of dinner, bed, and breakfast, whereas in game lodges the rate includes everything but alcohol—and some include that. A self-catering room is one with kitchen facilities.


Accommodations range from fairly basic huts to the ultimate in luxury at most of the private camps. The advantage of a private lodge (apart from superb game-viewing) is that often everything is included: lodging, meals, beverages including excellent house wines, game drives, and other activities. You’ll also be treated like royalty. (Indeed, you may well brush shoulders with royals and celebs of all kinds.) Note that there are no elevators in any safari lodging facility in Kruger.

Most national parks have self-catering accommodations (you buy and prepare your own food): budget huts from R350 per couple per night and much more expensive (but worth it) cottages in the more remote and exclusive bush camps that range from R600 to R1,100. Visit the South African National Parks website to get information and book accommodations. TIP Bookings open 11 months in advance for the following year. Make sure you book well in advance and, if possible, avoid July, August, and December, which are South African school vacations.

South Africa National Parks. | 012/428-9111 | |

Dining and Lodging Prices

Prices in the restaurant reviews are the average cost of a main course at dinner or, if dinner isn’t served, at lunch; taxes and service charges are generally included. Prices in the lodging reviews are the lowest cost of a standard double room in high season, excluding taxes, service charges, and meal plans (except at all-inclusives). Prices for rentals are the lowest per-night cost for a one-bedroom unit in high season.



Most hotels and lodges have Internet and/or Wi-Fi, so you can bring your laptop or tablet. You can check email for a few rand either in the comfort of your hotel or at a public Internet café.


There are toll-free numbers in South Africa. There’s also something called a share-call line, for which the cost of the call is split between both parties.

Calling Within South Africa

Local calls (from landline to landline) are very cheap, although all calls from hotels attract a hefty premium. Calls from a mobile phone or from a landline to a mobile are relatively expensive. When making a phone call in South Africa, always use the full 10-digit number, including the area code, even if you’re in the same area.

For directory assistance in South Africa, call 1023. For operator-assisted national long-distance calls, call 1025. For international operator assistance, dial 10903#. These numbers are free if dialed from a Telkom (landline) phone but are charged at normal cell-phone rates from a mobile—and they’re busy call centers.

Calling Outside South Africa

When dialing out from South Africa, dial 00 before the international code. So, for example, you would dial 001 for the United States.

South African Translation Tips

If you’re traveling in South Africa, you should be aware of a few phrases that may not mean what you think.

If a South African tells you she will meet you at the restaurant “just now” or “now now,” this doesn’t mean that she will meet you immediately. It means she will meet you at some vague point in time in the future, which could be 20 minutes or could be two hours. In other words, you’ll probably want to determine an exact time. Also, if a South African tells you something is “lekker,” that’s a good thing: “lekker” can mean anything from cool to sexy.

Another word to note is the term colored (spelled coloured). Although its usage is often offensive to Americans, the term is widely used in South Africa to describe South Africans of mixed race, often descended from imported slaves, the San, the Khoekhoen, and European settlers. Over the years the term coloureds has lost any pejorative connotations. Most coloureds don’t regard themselves as black Africans, and culturally they’re very different.

Mobile Phones

Cell phones are ubiquitous and have quite extensive coverage; South African uses GSM phones. There are four cell-phone service providers in South Africa—Cell C, MTN, Virgin Mobile, and Vodacom—and you can buy these SIM cards, as well as airtime, in supermarkets for as little as R10 for the SIM card (if you purchase SIM cards at the airport, you’ll be charged much more). Cell phones also can be rented by the day, week, or longer from the airport on your arrival, but this is an expensive option. A text message costs a fraction of the cost of making an actual call.


Europ Assistance offers professional evacuation in the event of emergency. If you intend to dive in South Africa, make sure you have DAN membership, which will be honored by Divers Alert Network South Africa (DANSA).

U.S. Consulate, Cape Town.
2 Reddam Ave., Westlake | Cape Town | 7945 | 021/702-7300 | Fax 021/702-7493 | | 8-5, Mon.-Fri.

U.S. Embassy.
877 Pretorius St., Arcadia | Tshwane | 0001 | 012/431-4000 | Fax 012/431-2299 | |

General Emergency Contacts
Ambulance. | 10177.
DANSA. | 010/209-8112 Emergency hotline, 0800/020-111 |
Europ Assistance. | 011/991-8000, 011/991-9000 |
General emergency. | 10111 from landline, 112 from mobile phone.
Police. | 10111 |


Although the majority of visitors experience a crime-free trip to South Africa, it’s essential to practice vigilance and extreme care. Carjacking is a problem, with armed bandits often forcing drivers out of their vehicles at traffic lights, in driveways, or during a fake accident. Always drive with your windows closed and doors locked, don’t stop for hitchhikers, and park in well-lighted places. At traffic lights, leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front so you can pull into another lane if necessary. In the unlikely event you’re carjacked, don’t argue, and don’t look at the carjacker’s face. Just get out of the car, or ask to be let out of the car. Don’t try to keep any of your belongings—they’re all replaceable. If you aren’t given the opportunity to leave the car, try to stay calm, ostentatiously look away from the hijackers so they can be sure you can’t identify them, and follow all instructions. Ask again, calmly, to be let out of the car.

Many places that are unsafe in South Africa won’t bear obvious signs of danger. Make sure you know exactly where you’re going; never set out without detailed directions and a good map or GPS. Many cities are ringed by “no-go” areas. Learn from your hotel or the locals which areas to avoid. If you sense you’ve taken a wrong turn, drive toward a public area, such as a gas station, or building with an armed guard, before attempting to correct your mistake, which could just compound the problem. When parking, don’t leave anything visible in the car; stow it all in the trunk—this includes clothing or shoes. As an added measure, leave the glove box open, to show there’s nothing of value inside (take the rental agreement with you).

Before setting out on foot, ask a local, such as your hotel concierge or a shopkeeper, which route to take and how far you can safely go. Walk with a purposeful stride so you look like you know where you’re going, and duck into a shop or café if you need to check a map, speak on your mobile phone, or recheck the directions you’ve been given. Lone women travelers need to be particularly vigilant about walking alone and locking their rooms. South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of rape. TIP Stay alert. Don’t walk while speaking on a cell phone.

Eating and Drinking

The drinking water in South Africa is treated and, except in rural areas, is absolutely safe to drink. Many people filter it, though, to get rid of the chlorine, as that aseptic status doesn’t come free. You can eat fresh fruits and salads and have ice in your drinks.

Health Warnings

South African Airways Netcare Travel Clinics.
0861/665-665 toll-free in South Africa | |

Medical-Only Insurers

International Medical Group, South Africa.
800/628-4664 |

International SOS Assistance, South Africa.
011/541-1000, 011/541-1300 24-hr emergency |


Rand is the South African currency: 100 cents equal 1 rand. Dollar/rand exchange rate varies from day to day, but for the past couple years has hovered around a trading rate of US$1 to R8. Credit cards are widely accepted in shops, restaurants, and hotels, and there are plenty of ATMs at banks, service stations, and shopping malls.


The official South Africa Tourism website was given a face-lift in 2010. Another government-sponsored website,, is full of useful but general country information.

Visitor Info |
South African Tourism. | 800/593-1318 in U.S., 011/895-3000 in South Africa |


Unfortunately, you probably won’t be able to see all of South Africa in one trip. So the chapter is broken down into Must-See Parks (Kruger National Park, Sabi Sand Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal Parks, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park) and If You Have Time Parks (Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, Pilanesberg National Park, Madikwe, Kwandwe, Addo Elephant Park, Shamwari Game Reserve) to help you better organize your time. We suggest that you read about all of them and then choose for yourself.

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Kruger National Park

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Where to Stay

There’s no getting away from it, and it’s worth repeating: visiting Kruger is likely to be one of the greatest experiences of your life. Founded in 1898 by Paul Kruger, president of what was then the Transvaal Republic, the park is a place to safari at your own pace and choose from upscale private camps or simple campsites.

Kruger lies in the hot lowveld, a subtropical section of Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces that abuts Mozambique. The park cuts a swath 80 km (50 miles) wide and 320 km (200 miles) long from Zimbabwe and the Limpopo River in the north to the Crocodile River in the south. It’s divided into 16 macro eco-zones, each supporting a great variety of plants, birds, and animals, including 145 mammal species and almost 500 species of birds, some of which are found nowhere else in South Africa.

Maps of Kruger are available at all the park gates and in the camp stores, and gas stations can be found at the park gates and at the major camps. Once in the park, observe the speed-limit signs carefully (there are speed traps): 50 kph (31 mph) on paved roads, 40 kph (25 mph) on dirt roads. Leave your vehicle only at designated picnic and viewing sites, and if you do come across animals on the road, allow them to pass before you move. Sometimes you have to be very patient, especially if a breeding herd of elephants is blocking your way. TIP Animals always have the right-of-way. Always be cautious. Kruger isn’t a zoo; you’re entering the territory of wild animals, even though many may be habituated to the sights and sounds of vehicles.


Kruger National Park is hellishly hot in midsummer (November-March), but the bush is green, the animals are sleek and glossy, and the birdlife is prolific, even though high grass and dense foliage make spotting animals more difficult. Winter is the high season. In winter (May-September), the bush is at its dullest, driest, and most colorless, but the game is much easier to spot, as many trees are bare, the grass is low, and animals congregate around the few available permanent water sources. However, temperatures can drop to almost freezing at night and in the very early morning. The shoulder months of April and October are also good, and less crowded.

Kruger National Park: North

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You can fly to either Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA), at Nelspruit, or Hoedspruit airport, close to Kruger’s Orpen Gate, from either Johannesburg or Cape Town. You can also drive; if you drive, a 4x4 isn’t necessary since all roads are paved.

Kruger National Park: South

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Airport Information
Hoedspruit (HDS) |
Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) (MQP) | 013/753-7500 |

Car Rentals
Avis. | 013/750-1015 at KMIA, 015/793-2014 at Hoedspruit |
Budget. | 013/751-1774 at KMIA, 011/398-0123 at Hoedspruit |
Europcar. | 013/751-1855 at KMIA |

Visitor Information
South African National Parks. | 012/428-9111 | |


How and where you tackle Kruger will depend on your time frame. With excellent roads and accommodations, it’s a great place to drive yourself. If you don’t feel up to driving or self-catering, you can choose a lodge just outside the park and take the guided drives—but it’s not quite the same as lying in bed and hearing the hyenas prowling round the camp fence or a lion roaring under the stars.

If you can spend a week here, start in the north at the very top of the park at the Punda Maria Camp, then make your way leisurely south to the very bottom at Crocodile Bridge Gate or Malelane Gate. With only three days or fewer, reserve one of the southern camps such as Berg-en-Dal or Lower Sabie and just plan to explore these areas. No matter where you go in Kruger, be sure to plan your route and accommodations in advance (advance booking is essential). Game-spotting isn’t an exact science: you might see all the Big Five plus hundreds of other animals, but you could see much less. Try to plan your route to include water holes and rivers, which afford your best opportunity to see game. Old Africa hands claim that the very early morning, when the camp gates open, is the best time for game-viewing, but it’s all quite random—you could see a leopard drinking at noon, a breeding herd of elephants midmorning, or a lion pride dozing under a tree in the middle of the afternoon. You could also head out at dawn and find no wildlife at all. Be sure to take at least one guided sunset drive; you won’t likely forget the thrill of catching a nocturnal animal in the spotlight.


Kruger accepts credit cards, which are also useful for big purchases, but you should always have some small change for staff tips (tip your cleaning person R20 per hut per day) and for drinks and snacks at the camp shops although camp shops also accept credit cards.


There are information centers at the Letaba, Skukuza, and Berg-en-Dal rest camps. There’s a daily conservation fee, but Wild Cards, available at the gates or online, are more economical for stays of more than a few days. Reservations for all accommodations, bush drives, wilderness trails, and other park activities must be made through South African National Parks.

Walking Kruger

Kruger’s seven wilderness trails accommodate eight hikers each. On three-day, two-night hikes, led by an armed ranger and local tracker, you walk in the mornings and evenings, with an afternoon siesta. You can generally get closer to animals in a vehicle, but many hikers can recount face-to-face encounters with everything from rhinos to lions.

Be prepared to walk up to 19 km (12 miles) a day. No one under 12 is allowed; those over 60 must have a doctor’s certificate. Hikers sleep in rustic two-bed huts and share a reed-wall bathroom (flush toilets, bucket showers). Meals are simple (stews and barbecues); you bring your own drinks. In summer walking is uncomfortably hot (and trails are cheaper); in winter, nights can be freezing—bring warm clothes and an extra blanket. Reserve 13 months ahead, when bookings open. The cost is about R3,430 per person per trail.

Bushman Trail. In the southwestern corner of the park, this trail takes its name from the San rock paintings and sites found in the area. The trail camp lies in a secluded valley dominated by granite hills and cliffs. Watch for white rhinos, elephants, and buffalo. Check in at Berg-en-Dal.

Metsi Metsi Trail. The permanent water of the nearby N’waswitsontso River makes this one of the best trails for winter game-viewing. Midway between Skukuza and Satara, the trail camp is in the lee of a mountain in an area of gorges, cliffs, and rolling savanna. Check in at Skukuza.

Napi Trail. White rhino sightings are common on this trail, which runs through mixed bushveld between Pretoriuskop and Skukuza. Other possibilities are black rhinos, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, and, if you’re lucky, nomadic wild dogs. The camp is tucked into dense riverine forest at the confluence of the Napi and Biyamiti rivers. Check in at Pretoriuskop.

Nyalaland Trail. In the far north of the park, this trail camp sits among ancient baobab trees near the Luvuvhu River. Walk at the foot of huge rocky gorges and in dense forest. Look for highly sought-after birds: Böhm’s spinetail, Crowned eagle, and Pel’s Fishing Owl. Hippos, crocs, elephants, buffalo, and the nyala antelope are almost a sure thing. Check in at Punda Maria.

Olifants Trail. This spectacularly sited camp sits on a high bluff overlooking the Olifants River and affords regular sightings of elephants, lions, buffalo, and hippos. The landscape varies from riverine forest to the rocky foothills of the Lebombo Mountains. Check in at Letaba.

Sweni Trail. East of Satara, this trail camp overlooks the Sweni Spruit and savanna. The area attracts large herds of zebras, wildebeests, and buffalo with their attendant predators: lions, spotted hyenas, and wild dogs. Check in at Satara.

Wolhuter Trail. You just might come face-to-face with a white rhino on this trail through undulating bushveld, interspersed with rocky kopjes, midway between Berg-en-Dal and Pretoriuskop. Elephants, buffalo, and lions are also likely. Check in at Berg-en-Dal.


Food is cheap and cheerful in Kruger’s cafeterias and restaurants, and usually excellent in the private game lodges. Dinner is eaten 7:30-ish, and it’s unlikely you’ll get a meal in a restaurant after 9. At private lodges, dinner is served after the evening game drive, usually around 8. “Smart casual” is the norm. Many higher-end restaurants close on Monday, and it’s always advisable to make reservations at these places in advance.


Accommodations range from fairly basic in the Kruger Park huts to the ultimate in luxury at most of the private camps. You may forget that you’re in the bush until an elephant strolls past. The advantage of a private lodge (apart from superb game-viewing) is that often everything is included—lodging, meals, beverages including excellent house wines, laundry, game drives, and other activities. Many lodges and hotels offer special midweek or winter low-season rates. If you’re opting for a private game lodge, find out whether it accepts children (many specify kids only over 12) and stay a minimum of two nights, three if you can.


It’s impossible to recommend just one camp in Kruger. One person might prefer the intimacy of Kruger’s oldest camp, Punda Maria, with its whitewashed thatch cottages; another might favor big, bustling Skukuza. A great way to experience the park is to stay in as many of the camps as possible. The SANParks website has a comprehensive overview of the different camps. The bushveld camps are more expensive than the regular camps, but offer much more privacy and exclusivity—but no shops, restaurants, or pools. If you seek the ultimate in luxury, stay at one of the private luxury lodges in the concession areas, some of which also have walking trails.


The lodges that follow are in private concession areas within Kruger.

Rhino Post Safari Lodge.
$$ | This lodge comprises eight spacious suites on stilts overlooking the Mutlumuvi riverbed. Each open-plan suite built of canvas, thatch, wood, and stone has a bedroom, private wooden deck, bathroom with a deep freestanding bath, twin sinks, a separate toilet, and an outdoor shower protected by thick reed poles. Pros: eco-friendly; great game; busy water hole. Cons: canvas makes the suites very hot in summer and very cold in winter. | Rooms from: $371 | Kruger National Park | 035/474-1473 | | 8 suites | All meals.

Singita Lebombo Lodge.
$$$$ | Taking its name from the Lebombo mountain range, Singita Lebombo, winner of numerous international accolades and eco-driven in concept, has been built “to touch the ground lightly.” It hangs seemingly suspended on the edge of a cliff, like a huge glass box in space. Wooden walkways connect the aptly named “lofts” (suites), all of which have an uncluttered style and spectacular views of the river and bushveld below. Outdoor and indoor areas fuse seamlessly. Organic materials—wood, cane, cotton, and linen—are daringly juxtaposed with steel and glass. This is Bauhaus in the bush, with a uniquely African feel. Public areas are light, bright, and airy, furnished with cane furniture, crisp white cushions, comfy armchairs, and recliners. Service is superb, as is the food, and nothing is left to chance. You can buy African art and artifacts at the classy Trading Post or enjoy a beauty treatment at the spa. Pros: stunning avant-garde architecture; superb food, game, and service. Cons: a bit over the top; avoid if you want the traditional safari lodge experience; very pricey. | Rooms from: $1540 | Kruger National Park | 021/683-3424 | | 15 suites | All meals.

Sweni Lodge.
$$$$ | Built on wooden stilts, Sweni is cradled on a low riverbank amid thick virgin bush and ancient trees. More intimate than its sister camp, Lebombo, it has six huge river-facing suites glassed on three sides, wooden on the other. At night khaki floor-to-ceiling drapes lined with silk divide the living area from the bedroom, which has a king-size bed with weighted, coffee-color mosquito netting and a cascade of ceramic beads. Hanging lamp shades of brown netting fashioned like traditional African fish traps, cream mohair throws, and brown leather furniture enhance the natural feel and contrast boldly with the gleam of stainless steel in the living room and bathroom. You can relax in a wooden rocking chair on your large reed-shaded deck while watching an elephant herd drink or spend the night under the stars on a comfy, mosquito-net-draped mattress. Pros: tiny, intimate; great location. Cons: dim lighting; all those earth colors could become a bit depressing. | Rooms from: $1540 | Kruger National Park | 021/683-3424 | | 6 suites | All meals.


Rhino Post Plains Camp is situated in about 30,000 acres of pristine bushveld in the Mutlumuvi area of Kruger, 10 km (6 miles) northeast of Skukuza, the heart of Kruger Park. The area can be easily accessed by road or air. The concession shares a 15-km (9-mile) boundary with MalaMala, in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, and there’s plenty of game movement between the two.

Pafuri Camp.
$ | This gorgeous lodge stretches for more than a kilometer along the banks of the Luvuvhu River in Kruger’s far north. The 240-square-km (93-square-mile) area embraces an amazing variety of landscapes and is one of the few places on earth where fever-tree and baobab forests intermingle. At Crooks Corner, where baddies on the run of bygone days once lurked, a wide swath of sand stretching as far as the eye can see links Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. There’s great game plus ancient history—more than 1.5 million years ago, early humans lived here, and the area holds stone-age tools, rock engravings, and rock paintings. Pafuri also has the best birding in Kruger: this is the place to spot the rare and elusive Pel’s Fishing Owl. There’s a superb children’s program, and special family accommodations provide privacy for parents and kids. The tented rooms face the river. Pros: one of best locations in Kruger; terrific biodiversity; family-friendly; adventurous three-night walking trail. Cons: accessible by road, but it’s a long drive to get there. | Rooms from: $223 | Kruger National Park | 011/257-5111 | | | 20 tents | Some meals.

Rhino Post Plains Camp.
$$ | Overlooking a water hole amid an acacia knobthorn thicket deep in the heart of the Timbitene Plain, Plains Camp has comfortably furnished tents with wooden decks and great views of the plains. A deck with a bar and plunge pool is great for postwalk get-togethers, and there’s a small tented dining area. The camp is simple, unpretentious, very friendly, and has great food. Pros: right in the middle of Kruger and easily accessible by road or air; great game; fabulous night drives when everyone else in the Kruger camps is confined to barracks. Cons: surroundings a bit bleak, especially in winter; not much privacy between tents. | Rooms from: $395 | Kruger National Park | 035/474-1473 | | 4 tents | All meals.


Reservations for the following accommodations should be made through South African National Parks ( At this writing, some of the national park accommodations in Kruger are undergoing refurbishment, including installation of air-conditioning; if this is an important amenity for you, call or check the website to confirm its availability in the accommodation of your choice. TIP Book your guided game drives and walks when you check in. Opt for the sunset drive. You’ll get to see the animals coming to drink plus a thrilling night drive.

Permanent Camps

$ | On the banks of the Olifants River, Satara’s rustic satellite camp differs radically from the others because it really is simple, appealing to those who don’t mind roughing it a bit and want to experience the true feel of the bush. There are no shops or restaurants—so bring your own food—and there’s no electricity either (only lanterns). Accommodations are in basic three-bed huts with no windows (vents only); the shared bathroom facilities have running water. You must check in at Olifants, 11 km (7 miles) away. Pros: intimate; evocative hurricane lamps; captures history and atmosphere of the original Kruger Park. Cons: very rustic; no windows or electricity; shared refrigerator; no on-site shop (closest camp is Olifants, 15 minutes away on dirt road). | Rooms from: $35 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 15 campsites, 6 huts.

Fodor’s Choice | Berg-en-Dal.
$ | This rest camp lies at the southern tip of the park, in a basin surrounded by rocky hills. Berg-en-Dal is known for its white rhinos, leopards, and wild dogs, but there’s plenty of other game, too. A dam (often nearly dry in winter) by one side of the perimeter fence offers good game-viewing, including a close look at cruising crocodiles and munching elephants. One of the more attractive camps, it has thoughtful landscaping, which has left much of the indigenous vegetation intact, making for more privacy. It has an attractive pool and well-stocked grocery-curio shop, and kids can run around safely here. Pros: you can sit on benches at the perimeter fence and watch game—particularly elephants and buffalo—come and go all day; evening wildlife videos under the stars; great food options for those on the go. Cons: always crowded (although chalets are well spaced out); very slow service when checking in at reception. | Rooms from: $110 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 69 chalets, 22 family cottages, 2 guesthouses, 82 campsites.

Crocodile Bridge.
$ | In the southeastern corner of the park, this superb small rest camp (it has won several awards for good service) doubles as an entrance gate, which makes it a convenient stopover if you arrive near the park’s closing time and thus too late to make it to another camp. Although the Crocodile River provides a scenic backdrop, any sense of being in the wild is quickly shattered by views of power lines and farms on the south side. The road leading from the camp to Lower Sabie is famous for sightings of general game as well as buffalo, rhinos, cheetahs, and lions, but it’s often crowded on weekends and holidays and during school vacations. A hippo pool lies just 5 km (3 miles) away. Two of the bungalows are geared toward travelers with disabilities. Pros: adjacent to one of best game roads in park; very well run. Cons: close proximity to the outside world of roads and farms makes it very noisy. | Rooms from: $102 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 20 bungalows, 8 safari tents, 18 campsites.

$ | Overlooking the frequently dry Letaba River, this lovely camp sits in the middle of elephant country in the central section of the park. There’s excellent game-viewing on the roads to and all around the Englelhardt and Mingerhout dams: be careful in the early morning and as the sun goes down that you don’t bump a hippo. The camp itself has a real bush feel: all the huts are thatch (ask for one overlooking the river), and the grounds are overgrown with apple-leaf trees, acacias, mopane, and ilala palms. The restaurant and snack bar, with attractive outdoor seating, look out over the broad, sandy riverbed. Even if you’re not staying at Letaba, stop at the superb elephant exhibit at the Environmental Education Centre and marvel at just how big elephants’ tusks can get. Campsites, on the camp’s perimeter, offer lots of shade for your tent or trailer. Pros: lovely old camp full of trees, flowers, and birds; restaurant deck overlooks Letaba riverbed, where there’s always game; interesting environmental center. Cons: a long way from the southern entrance gates, so you’ll need more traveling time; always busy. | Rooms from: $98 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 86 bungalows, 5 huts, 10 guest cottages, 2 guesthouses, 20 safari tents, 60 campsites.

Lower Sabie.
$ | This is one of the most popular camps in Kruger for good reason: it has tremendous views over a broad sweep of the Sabie River and sits in one of the best game-viewing areas of the park (along with Skukuza and Satara). White rhinos, lions, cheetahs, elephants, and buffalo frequently come down to the river to drink, especially in the dry winter months when there is little surface water elsewhere. Long wooden walkways that curve around the restaurant and shop are particularly attractive; you can sit here and look out over the river. Half the safari tents have river views. The vegetation around the camp is mainly grassland savanna interspersed with marula and knobthorn trees. There are lots of animal drinking holes within a few minutes’ drive. Don’t miss the H10 road from Lower Sabie to Tshokwane, where you’ll almost certainly see elephants. Pros: great location right on the river; superb game in vicinity; good atmosphere at the camp. Cons: always crowded; surly restaurant staff. | Rooms from: $110 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 26 huts, 57 bungalows, 24 safari tents, 1 guesthouse, 33 campsites.

$ | Small and intimate, this camp offering privacy and that close-to-the-bush feeling is ideal for backpackers and do-it-yourselfers. If you need supplies, a swim, or a bit more sophistication, you can head over to Berg-en-Dal, just a few kilometers away. A bonus is that you’re within easy driving distance of good game areas around and toward Lower Sabie. Guided bush drives are also on offer. You check in at Malelane Gate, from which the camp is managed. Pros: private and intimate; great for campers and caravans. Cons: right on perimeter fence; unattractive surroundings; lots of backpackers and happy campers; no pool. | Rooms from: $90 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 5 bungalows, 15 campsites.

$ | Orpen’s small, cozy satellite campsite is just 3 km (2 miles) away from the Orpen Gate. It can be hot, dry, and dusty at any time of the year, but you’ll feel close to the bush among thorn and maroela (marula) trees. A small hide (blind) overlooks a water hole, and there’s lots of excellent game in the vicinity, including cheetahs, lions, and rhinos. Pros: hide (blind) overlooking water hole; good game. Cons: only campers and caravans allowed; unattractive surroundings; no pool. | Rooms from: $23 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 20 campsites with power hookups.

$ | Built in the lee of a rocky kopje overlooking a lake, this camp in the northern section is one of Kruger’s biggest. The camp is a landscaped oasis for birds, people, and a few impalas and other grazing animals amid not very attractive surrounding mopane woodlands. If it’s hippos you’re after, from your veranda feast your eyes on a cavalcade of these giants frolicking in the lake. Constructed of rough stone, wood, and thatch, the camp blends well into the thick vegetation. Shaded wooden walkways connect the public areas, all of which overlook the lake, and the view from the open-air bar is awesome. The à la carte restaurant (reserve before 6 pm) serves better food than most of the other camps, and the cottages are better equipped and larger than their counterparts elsewhere in Kruger. Ask for accommodations overlooking the lake when you book. Mopani lacks the intimate charm of some of the smaller camps, and the surrounding mopane woodland doesn’t attract much game, but it’s a really comfortable camp to relax in for a night or two if you’re driving the length of the park. Pros: lovely accommodation; right on big lake; good restaurant and bar; easy to get bookings. Cons: not much game in immediate vicinity. | Rooms from: $97 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 45 bungalows, 12 cottages, 45 guest cottages, 1 guesthouse.

$ | In the center of Kruger, Olifants has the best setting of all the camps: high atop cliffs on a rocky ridge with panoramic views of the distant hills and the Olifants River below. A lovely thatch-sheltered terrace allows you to sit for hours with binoculars and pick out the animals below. Lions often make kills in the river valley, and elephants, buffalo, giraffes, kudu, and other game come to drink and bathe. Try to book one of the thatch rondavels overlooking the river for at least two nights (you’ll need to book a year in advance) so you can hang out on your veranda and watch Africa’s passing show below. It’s a charming old camp, graced with wonderful indigenous trees like sycamore figs, mopane, and sausage—so called because of the huge, brown, sausage-shape fruits that weigh down the branches. The only drawback, particularly in the hot summer months, however, is that it has no pool. Pros: hilltop location gives great views of the river below; elephants, elephants, and more elephants; lovely old-world feel; try for riverside accommodation. Cons: huts in the middle of the camp have no privacy; high malaria area; no pool. | Rooms from: $91 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 108 rondavels, 2 guesthouses.

$ | Don’t dismiss this tiny, underappreciated rest camp in the center of the park because of its proximity to the Orpen Gate. It may not be a particularly attractive camp—the rooms, arranged in a rough semicircle around a large lawn, look out toward the perimeter fence, about 150 feet away—but there’s a permanent water hole where animals come to drink, and plenty of game is in the vicinity, including cheetahs, lions, and rhinos. The two-bedroom huts are a bit sparse, without bathrooms or cooking facilities (although there are good communal ones), but there are three comfortable family cottages with bathrooms and kitchenettes. And it’s a blissfully quiet camp, as there are so few accommodations. Pros: permanent water hole; cheetahs and lions usually in vicinity; quiet and relaxing environment. Cons: very unattractive camp; close to main gate. | Rooms from: $102 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 12 huts, 3 cottages.

$ | This large, bare, nostalgically old-fashioned camp, conveniently close to the Numbi Gate in the southwestern corner of the park, makes a good overnight stop for new arrivals. The rocky kopjes and steep ridges that characterize the surrounding landscape provide an ideal habitat for mountain reedbuck and klipspringers—antelope not always easily seen elsewhere in the park. The area’s sourveld—so named because its vegetation is less sweet and attractive to herbivores than other kinds of vegetation—also attracts browsers like giraffes and kudu, as well as white rhinos, lions, and wild dogs. There’s not a lot of privacy in the camp—accommodations tend to overlook each other—but there is some shade, plus a great swimming pool. Pros: great landscaped pool; good restaurant; old-fashioned nostalgic feel; good cheetah country. Cons: bleak and bare in winter, barracks-style feel. | Rooms from: $94 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 76 rondavels, 51 bungalows, 4 cottages, 40 campsites, 2 guesthouses.

Punda Maria.
$ | It’s a pity that few visitors make it to this lovely little camp in the far north end of the park near Zimbabwe, because in some ways it offers the best bush experience of any of the major rest camps. It’s a small enclave, with tiny whitewashed thatch cottages arranged in terraces on a hill. The camp lies in sandveld, a botanically rich area notable for its plants and bird life. This is Kruger’s best birding camp: at a tiny, saucer-shaped, stone birdbath just over the wall from the barbecue site, dozens of birds come and go all day. A nature trail winds through and behind the camp—also great for birding, as is the Punda/Pafuri road, where you can spot lots of raptors. A guided walking tour from here takes you to one of South Africa’s most interesting archeological sites—the stone Thulamela Ruins, dating from 1250 to 1700. Lodging includes two-bed bungalows with bathrooms and, in some cases, kitchenettes, plus fully equipped safari tents. There are also two very private six-bed family bungalows up on a hill above the camp; they’re visited by an amazing variety of not-often-seen birds and some friendly genets. Reservations are advised for the restaurant (don’t expect too much from the food), and only some of the campsites have power. Pros: possibly the most attractive of all the camps; delightful short walking trail in camp; best birding area in Kruger with some endemic species. Cons: very far north; game less abundant than the south; cottages very close together. | Rooms from: $83 | Kruger National Park | | 22 bungalows, 2 family cottages, 7 safari tents, 61 campsites.

$ | Second in size only to Skukuza, this camp sits in the middle of the hot plains between Olifants and Lower Sabie, in the central section of Kruger. The knobthorn veld surrounding the camp provides the best grazing in the park and attracts large concentrations of game. That in turn brings the predators—lions, cheetahs, hyenas, and wild dogs—which make this one of the best areas in the park for viewing game (especially on the N’wanetsi River Road, also known as S100). If you stand or stroll around the perimeter fence, you may see giraffes, zebras, and waterbucks and other antelope. Despite its size, Satara has far more appeal than Skukuza, possibly because of the privacy it offers (the huts aren’t all piled on top of one another) and because of the tremendous bird life. The restaurant and cafeteria are very pleasant, with shady seating overlooking the lawns and the bush beyond. Accommodations are in large cottages and two- or three-bed thatch rondavels, some with kitchenettes (no cooking utensils). The rondavels, arranged in large circles, face inward onto a central, open, grassy area. Campsites are secluded, with an excellent view of the bush, although they don’t have much shade. Pros: superb location in middle of park; game galore; good on-site shop and restaurant; great guided sunset drives. Cons: not very attractive buildings or immediate surroundings; almost always fully booked. | Rooms from: $111 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 152 rondavels, 10 guest cottages, 3 guesthouses, 103 campsites.

$ | Although this camp lies in the northern section of the park, amid monotonous long stretches of mopane woodland, it benefits enormously from the riverine growth associated with the Shingwedzi River and Kanniedood (Never Die) Dam. As a result, you’ll probably find more game around this camp than anywhere else in the region—especially when you drive the Shingwedzi River Road early in the morning or just before the camp closes at night (but don’t be late—you’ll face a hefty fine). The roof supports of thatch and rough tree trunks give the camp a rugged, pioneer feel. Both the à la carte restaurant and the outdoor cafeteria have views over the Shingwedzi River. Accommodations are of two types: A and B. Try for one of the A units, whose steeply pitched thatch roofs afford an additional two-bed loft; some also have fully equipped kitchenettes. The huts face one another across a fairly barren expanse of dry earth, except in winter, when the gorgeous bright pink impala lilies are in bloom. Pros: lovely atmosphere and good accommodation; game-busy river road; pink impala lilies in season; good restaurants. Cons: many of the accommodations are grouped in a circle around a big open space that is pretty bleak and bare most of the year and affords little individual privacy; roads south full of mopane trees so not much game. | Rooms from: $92 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 12 huts, 65 bungalows, 1 cottage, 1 guesthouse, 65 campsites.

$ | More like a small town than a rest camp, Skukuza has a gas station, police station, airport, post office, car-rental agency, grocery store, and library. It’s nearly always crowded, not only with regular visitors but with busloads of noisy day-trippers, and consequently has lost any bush feel at all. Still, Skukuza is popular for good reason. It’s easily accessible by both air and road, and it lies in a region of thorn thicket teeming with game, including lions, cheetahs, and hyenas. The camp itself sits on a bank of the crocodile-infested Sabie River, with good views of thick reeds, dozing hippos, elephants, and grazing waterbuck. Visit the worthwhile museum and education center to learn something about the history and ecology of the park. However, if you’re allergic to noise and crowds, limit yourself to a stroll along the banks of the Sabie River before heading for one of the smaller camps. Pros: plumb in the middle of best game areas in the park; easily accessible; beautifully located right on river; good museum. Cons: you don’t want to be here when the seemingly never-ending tour and school buses arrive, making it horribly crowded and noisy. | Rooms from: $99 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 198 bungalows, 1 family cottage, 14 guest cottages, 4 guesthouses, 21 safari tents, 108 campsites.

$ | Kruger’s first tented camp, a satellite of Orpen and very close to the Orpen Gate, is superbly sited on the banks of the frequently dry Tamboti River, among sycamore fig and jackalberry trees. Communal facilities make it a bit like an upscale campsite; nevertheless, it’s one of Kruger’s most popular camps, so book well ahead. From your tent you may well see elephants digging in the riverbed for water just beyond the barely visible electrified fence. Each of the walk-in, permanent tents has its own deck overlooking the river, but when you book, ask for one in the deep shade of large riverine trees—worth it in the midsummer heat. All kitchen, washing, and toilet facilities are in two shared central blocks. Just bring your own food and cooking and eating utensils. Luxury tents have a shower, refrigerator, cooking, and braai facilities. Pros: lovely location on banks of tree-lined riverbed; tents provide that real “in the bush” feel. Cons: food, drink, and cooking supplies not included; always fully occupied; shared bathrooms. | Rooms from: $51 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 30 safari tents, 10 luxury tents.

Tsendze Rustic Camp Site.
$ | As its name suggests, this new camp is very rustic with no electricity (personal generators are not allowed) and solar-heated warm, not hot, water. It’s 7 km (4 miles) south of Mopani Rest Camp. Although the camp itself has some lovely ancient trees, basically it’s in the middle of a swath of mopane woodland that doesn’t offer much in the way of a variety of game, and what game there is, is difficult to see. However, you should see elephants (often on the tarred road between Tsendze and Mopani) and large herds of buffalo. The area is reputed to be the home turf for some of Kruger’s big tuskers. If you’re an ardent camper you’ll enjoy the intimate bush experience, and if you’re a birder you’ll be in seventh heaven because what the area lacks in game it makes up for in birds—look out for the endangered ground hornbill. Pros: small and intimate; exclusive to campers and caravans; lovely ancient trees; good birding. Cons: situated in middle of unproductive mopane woodland so not much game other than elephants and buffalo; noisy when camp is full; no electricity; warm (not hot) water. | Rooms from: $22 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 30 campsites.

South Africa’s Tribes


The Zulu are the largest tribe in South Africa. They’re a patriarchal society, and in a traditional Zulu village there are several households, each with its own cattle herds under the authority of a senior male. The men often have more than one wife, and the “great wife” is usually the mother of his male children. An estimated 10 million Zulu live in the KwaZulu-Natal province, where they migrated more than a thousand years ago. Because of the clashes with the British forces, including the bloody battles of the Anglo-Zulu War (1878), which resulted in the demise of the Zulu Kingdom, Zulus are often stereotyped as being a war-mongering people, but this is far from the case. While the Zulu have historically proven to be highly adept in battle, it’s not because of some biological ferocity, but rather an ability to plan and strategize. Today, it’s their musical prowess that has had a major impact on popular culture. Kwaito, for example, a style of music blending dance, hip-hop, and rap music is dominated by Zulu musicians. More traditional Zulu music has been incorporated into the music of western musicians, including Paul Simon and the soundtrack for the Broadway musical The Lion King. One of the more famous Zulu singing groups today is Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which has toured the world with its popular collection of traditional Zulu anthems.


The Xhosa people have lived in the Eastern Cape Province since the 15th century, when they migrated here from East and Central Africa. They’re the second most populous tribe in South Africa (about 8 million people), next to the Zulu. A typical Xhosa village is made up of several kraals, or cattle enclosures, surrounded by family huts. In the 18th century, the Xhosa clashed with the Boers over land; both groups were farmers and eventually war broke out over who had dominion over what. Eventually, the Boers and British colonizers united in a policy of white rule, subjugating black Africans through the passage of the Native Land Act of 1913, which confined black Africans to only 13% of the land in South Africa. This laid the foundation for apartheid, which similarly restricted blacks to areas called Homelands. The Homelands were difficult to farm, overcrowded, and disease-ridden, and remain to this day a shameful part of South Africa’s apartheid past. It wasn’t until Xhosa tribesman Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa in 1994 that the Homelands were abolished.

Luxury Lodge

Protea Hotel Kruger Gate.
$ | Set in its own small reserve 110 yards from the Paul Kruger Gate, this comfortable hotel gives you a luxury alternative to the sometimes bare-bones accommodations of Kruger’s rest camps. The hotel has two major advantages: fast access to the south-central portion of the park, where game-viewing is best, plus the impression that you are in the wilds of Africa. Dinner, heralded by beating drums, is served in a boma, a traditional open-air reed enclosure around a blazing campfire. Rangers lead guided walks through the surrounding bush, and you can even sleep overnight in a tree house, or you can book a guided game drive (note that all these activities cost extra). Rooms, connected by a raised wooden walkway that passes through thick indigenous forest, have Spanish-tile floors and standard hotel furniture. Self-catering chalets sleep six. Relax on the pool deck overlooking the Sabie River, have a cocktail in the cool bar, or puff on a cheroot in the sophisticated cigar bar while the kids take part in a fun-filled Prokidz program (during school vacations only). Pros: good for families; lots of activities from bush walks to game drives (although these cost extra); easily accessible; tree-house sleep-outs. Cons: you can’t get away from the fact that this is a hotel with a hotel atmosphere. | Rooms from: $237 | Kruger Gate | Skukuza | 1350 | 013/735-5671 | | 96 rooms, 7 chalets | Some meals.

Bushveld Camps

Smaller, more intimate, more luxurious, and consequently more expensive than regular rest camps, Kruger’s bushveld camps are in remote wilderness areas of the park that are often off-limits to regular visitors. Access is limited to guests only. As a result you get far more bush and fewer fellow travelers. Night drives and day excursions are available in most of the camps. There are no restaurants, gas pumps, or grocery stores, so bring your provisions with you (though you can buy wood for your barbecue). All accommodations have fully equipped kitchens, bathrooms, ceiling fans, and large verandas, most with air-conditioning. Cottages have tile floors, cheerful furnishings, and cane patio furniture and are sited in stands of trees or clumps of indigenous bush for maximum privacy. Many face directly onto a river or water hole. There’s only a handful of one-bedroom cottages (at Biyamiti, Shimuwini, Sirheni, and Talamati), but it’s worth booking a four-bed cottage and paying the extra, even for only two people. The average cottage price for a couple is R1000 per night with extra people (up to five or six) paying R290 each. If you have a large group or are planning a special celebration, you might consider reserving one of the two bush lodges, which must be booked as a whole: Roodewal Bush Lodge sleeps 16, and Boulders Bush Lodge sleeps 12. Reservations should be made with South African National Parks.

$ | Hidden in the northern reaches of the park, this tiny camp, the oldest of the bushveld camps, is one of Kruger’s most remote destinations. Shaded by tall trees, it overlooks the dry watercourse of the Mashokwe Spruit. A raised platform provides an excellent game-viewing vantage point (don’t forget to apply mosquito repellent if you sit here at dawn or dusk), and it’s only a short drive to two nearby dams, which draw a huge variety of animals, from lions and elephants to zebras and hippos. The main bedroom in each fully equipped cottage has air-conditioning; elsewhere in each cottage there are ceiling fans, a microwave, and a TV. Pros: private and intimate; guests see a lot at the camp’s hide; no traffic jams. Cons: long distance to travel; there’s a TV, which can be a pro or a con depending on your point of view. | Rooms from: $182 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 7 cottages.

$ | Close to the park gate at Crocodile Bridge, this larger-than-average, beautiful, sought-after bush camp overlooks the normally dry sands of the Biyamiti River. It’s very popular because it’s close to the southern gates, and the game is usually prolific. A private sand road over a dry riverbed takes you to the well-sited camp, where big shade trees attract a myriad of birds and make you feel almost completely cocooned in the wilderness. The vegetation is mixed combretum woodland, which attracts healthy populations of kudu, impalas, elephants, lions, and black and white rhinos. After the stars come out you’re likely to hear lions roar, nightjars call, and jackals yip outside the fence. Pros: easily accessible; lots of game; variety of drives in area. Cons: difficult to book because of its popularity; may be a bit too close to civilization for some—you can see adjacent sugarcane fields and farms. | Rooms from: $105 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 15 cottages.

$ | Birders descend in droves on this isolated, peaceful camp set on a lovely dam on the Letaba River. Towering jackalberry and sycamore fig trees provide welcome shade, as well as refuge to a host of resident and migratory birds. Away from the river, the riverine forest quickly gives way to mopane woodland; although this is not a particularly good landscape for game, the outstandingly beautiful roan antelope and handsome, rare black-and-white sable antelope move through the area. Resident leopards patrol the territory, and elephants frequently browse in the mopane. Be sure to visit the huge, ancient baobab tree on the nearest loop road to the camp—shimuwini is the Shangaan word for “place of the baobab,” and there are lots of these striking, unusual trees in the surrounding area. Cottages have one, two, or three bedrooms. One disadvantage is that the camp is accessed by a single road, which gets a bit tedious when you have to drive it every time you leave or return to the camp. Pros: lovely situation on banks of permanent lake; isolated and tranquil; good chance to spot sable and roan. Cons: only one access road so coming and going gets monotonous; game can be sparse. | Rooms from: $185 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 15 cottages.

$ | The most remote of all the bushveld camps and one of the loveliest, Sirheni is a major bird-watching camp that sits on the edge of the Sirheni Dam in an isolated wilderness area in the far north of the park. It’s a long drive to get here but well worth the effort. Because there is permanent water, game—including lions and white rhinos—can often be seen at the dam, particularly in the dry winter months. Keep your eyes open for the resident leopard, which often drinks at the dam in the evening. A rewarding drive for birders and game spotters alike runs along the Mphongolo River. You can watch the sun set over the magnificent bush from one of two secluded viewing platforms at either end of the camp, but be sure to smother yourself with mosquito repellent. Pros: permanent water hole attracts lots of animals, especially in winter; really remote. Cons: high malaria area; difficult to access; no electrical plug points in accommodation; no cell-phone reception, which can be a pro or con. | Rooms from: $154 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 15 cottages.

$ | On the banks of the normally dry N’waswitsontso River in Kruger’s central section, this peaceful camp in the middle of a wide, open valley has excellent game-viewing. Grassy plains and mixed woodlands provide an ideal habitat for herds of impalas, zebras, and wildebeests, as well as lions, cheetahs, and elephants. You can take a break from your vehicle and watch birds and game from a couple of raised viewing platforms inside the perimeter fence. The accommodations are well equipped and comfortable, with cane furniture and airy verandas. Pros: peaceful; good plains game; couple of good picnic spots in vicinity; bigger camps near enough to stock up on supplies. Cons: a bit bland. | Rooms from: $168 | Kruger National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 15 cottages.

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Sabi Sand Game Reserve

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Djuma Private Game Reserve | Leopard Hills Private Game Reserve | Lion Sands Private Game Reserve | Londolozi Reserve | MalaMala Game Reserve | Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve | Singita Sabi Sand

This is the most famous and exclusive of South Africa’s private reserves. Collectively owned and managed, the 153,000-acre reserve near Kruger is home to dozens of private lodges, including the world-famous MalaMala and Londolozi. Sabi Sand fully deserves its exalted reputation, boasting perhaps the highest game density of any private reserve in Southern Africa.

Although not all lodges own vast tracts of land, the majority have traversing rights over most of the reserve. With an average of 20 vehicles watching for game and communicating by radio, you’re bound to see an enormous amount of game and almost certainly the Big Five, and since only three vehicles are allowed at a sighting at a time, you can be assured of a grandstand seat. Sabi Sand is the best area for leopard sightings. It’s a memorable experience to see this beautiful, powerful, and often elusive cat padding purposefully through the bush at night, illuminated in your ranger’s spotlight. There are many lion prides, and occasionally the increasingly rare wild dogs will migrate from Kruger to den in Sabi Sand. You’ll also see white rhinos, zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, most of the antelope species, plus birds galore.

If you can afford it, a splurge on a Kruger SKI (“spend the kids’ inheritance”) vacation could be the experience of a lifetime. Staying for two or three nights (try for three) at a private game lodge combines superb accommodations, service, and food with equally excellent game-viewing. Exclusivity on game drives almost guarantees sightings of the Big Five. Words like “elegance,” “luxury,” and “privacy” are overused when describing the accommodations, but each lodge is unique. One place might have chalets done in modern chic; another, lodges with a colonial feel; and a third, open-air safari tents whose proximity to the bush makes up for what they lack in plushness. At all of them you’ll be treated like royalty, with whom you may well rub shoulders.

Many accommodations have air-conditioning, minibars, room safes, ceiling fans, and luxurious en-suite bathrooms. If mainline phone reception is available, there are room telephones. Cell-phone reception is patchy (depending on the area), but never take your cell phone on a game drive to avoid disturbing the animals and annoying fellow passengers. All camps have radio telephones in case you need to make contact with the outside world. Chartered flights to and from the camps on shared private airstrips are available, or lodges will collect you from Hoedspruit airport or KMIA.

The daily program at each lodge rarely deviates from a pattern, starting with tea, coffee, and muffins or rusks (Boer biscuits) before an early-morning game drive (usually starting at dawn, later in winter). You return to the lodge around 10 am, at which point you dine on an extensive hot breakfast or brunch. You can then choose to go on a bush walk with an armed ranger, where you learn about some of the minutiae of the bush (including the Little Five), although you could also happen on giraffes, antelopes, or any one of the Big Five. But don’t worry—you’ll be well briefed in advance on what you should do if you come face-to-face with, say, a lion. The rest of the day, until the late-afternoon game drive, is spent at leisure—reading up on the bush in the camp library, snoozing, or swimming. A sumptuous afternoon tea is served at 3:30 or 4 before you head back into the bush for your night drive. During the drive, your ranger will find a peaceful spot for sundowners (cocktails), and you can sip the drink of your choice and nibble snacks as you watch one of Africa’s spectacular sunsets. As darkness falls, your ranger will switch on the spotlight so you can spy nocturnal animals: lions, leopards, jackals, porcupines, servals (wildcats), civets, and the enchanting little bush babies. You’ll return to the lodge around 7:30, in time to freshen up before a three- or five-course dinner in a boma (open-air dining area) around a blazing fire. Often the camp staff entertains after dinner with local songs and dances—an unforgettable experience. Children under 12 aren’t allowed at some of the camps; others have great kids’ programs.

Sabi Sands Game Reserve

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Getting Here and Around

Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA), at Nelspruit, and Hoedspruit airport, close to Kruger’s Orpen Gate, serve Sabi Sand Reserve. You can also drive yourself to the reserve and park at your lodge.

Airport Information
Hoedspruit (HDS) |
Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) (MQP) | 27/13-753-7500 |

Visitor Info
Sabi Sand Reserve. | 012/343-1991 |


Shangaan for “roar of the lion,” Djuma is in the northeast corner of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. Your hosts are husband-and-wife team Jurie and Pippa Moolman, who are passionate about their work (Jurie has a bachelor’s degree in ecology). Although there’s a good chance of seeing the Big Five during the bush walk after breakfast and the twice-daily game drives, Djuma also caters to those with special bushveld interests, such as bird-watching or tree identification. Djuma’s rangers and trackers are also adept at finding seldom-seen animals such as wild dogs, spotted hyenas, and genets. At Djuma’s lodges you’ll find none of the formality that sometimes prevails at the larger lodges. For example, members of the staff eat all meals with you and join you around the nighttime fire. In fact, Djuma prides itself on its personal service and sense of intimacy. Dinner menus are chalked up on a blackboard (try ostrich pâté with cranberry sauce for a starter), as is the evening cocktail menu (how about a Screaming Hyena or African Sunrise?). | Djuma Private Game Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | 021/424-1037 | |


$$$$ | A delightful and affordable alternative to the upscale lodges, Galago, which means “lesser bush baby” in Shangaan, is a converted U-shaped farmhouse whose five rooms form an arc around a central fireplace. There’s a big, shady veranda where you can sit and gaze out over the open plain before cooling off in the plunge pool. You can bring your own food and do your own cooking for less than half the all-inclusive price, or you can bring your own supplies and hire the camp’s chef to cook it for you. Game drives and walks are led by your own ranger. This is a perfect camp for a family safari or friends’ reunion. Pros: real value for money; perfect for family or friends; do-it-yourself in style. Cons: hire a cook or you’ll spend your time cooking and entertaining. | Rooms from: $1106 | Djuma Private Game Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | 021/424-1037 Reservations, 013/735-5118 Lodge | | 5 rooms | No meals.

Permanent Camp

$$$$ | Djuma’s vibey, most upscale camp mixes contemporary African township culture with modern Shangaan culture, making it very different from most of the other private camps. Bright colors, trendy designs, hand-painted napkins, and candy-wrapper place mats combine with traditional leather chairs, thatch, and hand-painted mud walls. Look out for some great contemporary African township art, both classic and “naïf” artifacts, and especially for the chandelier made with old Coca-Cola bottles above the dining table. The camp is unfenced, and it’s quite usual to see kudu nibbling the lawns or giraffes towering above the rooftops. Accommodations are in beautifully decorated chalets with private plunge pools. For something different in between drives, why not have your hair braided in funky African style at the Comfort Zone, the in-camp spa? Pros: amazing African art; the only genuinely innovative and funky lodge in Sabi Sands; legendary hosts; trips to authentic villages. Cons: corrugated iron, recycled metals, and in-your-face glitzy township feel not everyone’s taste. | Rooms from: $1572 | Djuma Private Game Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | 021/424-1037 Reservations, 013/735-5118 Lodge | | 5 suites.



Leopard Hills Lodge.
$$$ | Renowned for its relaxed and informal atmosphere, Leopard Hills is one of the premier game lodges in the Sabi Sands area. Set on a rocky outcrop with panoramic views of the surrounding bushveld, this small lodge offers privacy and luxury. Its main draw is its spectacular game-viewing; during a two-night stay you’re almost guaranteed to see the Big Five at close quarters. Rangers are eager to share their knowledge and quick to rush guests off to see big game. The decor has an authentic bush theme, which gels well with the surroundings. Each double room has its own private heated pool (in addition to the main pool) and deck overlooking the bushveld. Bathrooms have his-and-her showers both indoors and out. Attention to detail is apparent in the leopard tracks and similar African motifs that appear in walkways, bedrooms, and bathrooms; check out the ceramic chameleon around the dressing table. Pros: very experienced and knowledgeable owners/managers; many rangers are expert photographers and offer great shooting tips; spacious suites. Cons: bit of a steep climb to the top of the hill and the main areas. | Rooms from: $967 | Leopard Hills Private Game Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | 013/735-5142 | | 8 suites | All meals.


Separated from Kruger National Park by the Sabie River, the reserve has been owned and operated by the More family for four generations. The reserve was purchased in 1933 as a family retreat and opened to the public in 1978 with two lodges and 10,000 acres of undisturbed wildlife that’s available only to its guests. Today, under the watchful eyes of current owners and brothers, Nick and Rob More, the reserve offers guests four different lodging options: the ultraluxe Ivory Lodge, the more economical River Lodge, the once-in-a-lifetime Chalkley Treehouse (yes, it really is a bed on a platform in a tree, but nothing like the tree house in your backyard), and for larger groups the More family vacation home, the 1933 Lodge, complete with personal chef, guide, pool, gym, and wine cellar. The brothers are so committed to keeping the reserve as close to its original state that they employ a full-time ecologist, the only reserve in the Sabi Sands group to do so. Guests of the Lion Sands Private Game Reserve can take direct scheduled flights to the MalaMala Airfield through SA Airlink. | Lion Sands Private Game Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | 013/735-5330 |


Luxury Lodges

Fodor’s Choice | Ivory Lodge.
$$$$ | If you seek the ultimate in luxury, privacy, and relaxation, look no further than this gorgeous, exclusive lodge. Suites are really more like villas as each has its own private entrance and a separate sitting room and bedroom that are joined by a breezeway. Superb views overlooking the Sabi River and Kruger beyond are had from every point, especially on the decks, which come equipped with telescopes—you actually never have to leave your suite to catch views of incredible wildlife. The simple, uncluttered, elegant suites are decorated in contemporary African-European style with wood-burning fireplaces, a butler’s passage-way where your morning tea is delivered, an indoor and outdoor shower, as well as a freestanding tub to relax in at the end of the day. You’ll also have a personal butler and a plunge pool. Relax with intimate dinners and on-the-spot spa treatments, sample some of South Africa’s finest wines in the on-site cellar, or head out on a game drive in a private vehicle with your own personal ranger. You won’t even know if Brangelina or Ewan is in the next villa. TIP If you’re looking for something even more special and over the top, inquire about spending the night at the Chalkley Treehouse. Pros: exclusivity; great views from everywhere; attentive staff. Cons: suites are so comfortable you might not want to leave them; frequency of meals and abundance of good food may have you crying uncle. | Rooms from: $1338 | Lion Sands Private Game Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | | 6 suites | All meals | No children under 12 years old.

River Lodge.
$$ | This friendly lodge is set on one of the longest and best stretches of river frontage in Sabi Sands. You can watch the passing animal and bird show from your deck or from the huge, tree-shaded, wooden viewing area that juts out over the riverbank facing Kruger National Park. The guest rooms are comfortable and attractively Africa themed, with honey-color stone floors with pebble inlays, cream wooden furniture, embroidered white bed linens, and lamps and tables of dark indigenous wood. The food is imaginative and tasty (try kudu stuffed with peanut butter with a mushroom-and-Amarula sauce), the young staff cheerful and enthusiastic, and the rangers highly qualified. After an exhilarating game drive, take a leisurely bush walk, go fishing, sleep out under the stars, or relax with a beauty treatment at Lalamuka Spa (lalamuka means “unwind” in Shangaan). Public spaces are large and comfortable and lack the African designer clutter that mars some other lodges. There’s a resident senior ecologist, plus a classy and interesting curio shop. Pros: fabulous river frontage; very friendly atmosphere. Cons: some chalets built quite close together so not much privacy. | Rooms from: $727 | Lion Sands Private Game Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | | 20 rooms | All meals | No children under 10 years old.


Formerly a family farm and retreat, since 1926, Londolozi today is synonymous with South Africa’s finest game lodges and game experiences. (Londolozi is the Zulu word for “protector of all living things.”) Dave and John Varty, the charismatic and media-friendly grandsons of the original owner, Charles Varty, put Londolozi on the map with glamorous marketing, superb wildlife videos, pet leopards and lions, visiting celebrities, and a vision of style and comfort that grandfather Charles could never have imagined. Now the younger generation, brother-and-sister team Bronwyn and Boyd Varty, have brought their own creative stamp to the magic of Londolozi with a mission to reconnect the human spirit with the wilderness and to carry on their family’s quest to honor the animal kingdom. Game abounds; the Big Five are all here, and the leopards of Londolozi are world famous. There are five camps, each representing a different element in nature: Pioneer Camp (water), Tree Camp (wood), Granite Suites (rock), Varty Camp (fire), and Founders Camp (earth). Each is totally private, hidden in dense riverine forest on the banks of the Sand River. The Varty family lives on the property, and their friendliness and personal attention, along with the many staff who have been here for decades, will make you feel part of the family immediately. The central reception and curio shop are at Varty camp. | Londolozi Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | 011/280-6655 | |


Permanent Camps

Founders Camp.
$$$$ | This camp takes you back to the early days of Londolozi before ecotourism was invented—when it was more important to shoot a lion than to take the perfect shot of it. Refurbished in 2012, 10 stone-and-thatch chalets sit amid thick riverine bush and some are linked to the other chalets by interleading skywalks. Each has its own wooden viewing deck and plunge pool and is decorated in warm comforting earth tones. Old family photographs remind you of Londolozi’s 40-year-old history. Relax on the huge thatch dining and viewing deck that juts out over a quiet backwater of the Sand River, and watch the mammals and birds go by. Pros: has the first zero-emissions safari vehicles; quick and safe access between family rooms, children over four welcome so perfect for traveling family. Cons: all the lodges are in very close proximity to one another | Rooms from: $926 | Londolozi Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | | 10 chalets | All-inclusive.

Granite Suites.
$$$$ | Book all three private suites or just hide yourself away from the rest of the world like the celebrities and royals who favor this gorgeous getaway. Here, it’s all about location, location, location. Huge, flat granite rocks in the riverbed, where elephants chill out and bathe, stretch almost to the horizon in front of your floor-to-ceiling picture windows, and the elephant prints and furnishings done in velvets and silvers, grays, and browns echo the shifting colors and textures of the mighty pachyderms. Bathe in your own rock pool. At night, when your suite is lit by scores of flickering candles, you may truly feel that you’re in wonderland. Pros: among the best-situated accommodation in Sabi Sand with truly stunning views; the candlelit dinners. Cons: pricey. | Rooms from: $1392 | Londolozi Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | | 3 suites | All-inclusive | No children under 16 years old.

Pioneer Camp.
$$$$ | This is the most secluded of all Londolozi’s camps. Three private suites overlook the river and are perfect for getting away from others. If you like, the camp can be adapted into a temporary family homestead for 12. Large entrance halls have a modern Ralph Lauren feel, and your floor-to-window glass sliding panels offer great wilderness views. Many of the touches, such as the classic Victorian bathroom are a loving tribute to the early days and legendary characters of Sparta, the original name of the Londolozi property. Channel into a past world through faded sepia photographs, old hunting prints, horse-drawn carts, gleaming silverware, and scuffed safari treasures, taking you back to a time when it took five days by ox wagon to get to Londolozi. In winter, sink deeply into your comfortable armchair in front of your own blazing fireplace; in summer sit outside in your outdoor dining room and listen to Africa’s night noises. Keep your ears and eyes open for the resident female leopard as she hunts at night. There is a small, intimate boma, inside and outside dining areas, viewing decks, and a gorgeous S-shaped pool nestling in the surrounding bush, where after your dip you can laze on padded lie-out chairs and be lulled to sleep by the birdsong. Pros: genuine and uncontrived romantic-safari atmosphere; only three suites; intimate; interleading skywalks between suites—great for families. Cons: with only three suites it can be hard to book; best if you know all other guests | Rooms from: $1269 | Londolozi Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | 011/280-6655 Reservations | | 3 suites | All-inclusive | No children under 12 years old.

Fodor’s Choice | Tree Camp.
$$$$ | The first Relais & Chateaux game lodge in the world, this gorgeous camp, now completely rebuilt and redesigned (think leopards, lanterns, leadwoods, and leopard orchids), is shaded by thick riverine bush and tucked into the riverbank overlooking indigenous forest. Dave Varty has built more than 20 lodges around Africa, and he feels that this is his triumph. The lodge is themed in chocolate and white, with exquisite leopard photos on the walls, airy and stylish interiors, and elegant yet simple furnishings. Huge bedrooms, en-suite bathrooms, and plunge pools continue the elegance, simplicity, and sophistication. From your spacious deck you look out onto a world of cool-green forest dominated by ancient African ebony and marula trees. Treat yourself to a bottle of bubbly from the Champagne Library and then dine with others while swapping bush stories or alone in your private sala. Pros: the viewing deck; the ancient forest; state-of-the-art designer interiors. Cons: stylishness nudges out coziness. | Rooms from: $1223 | Londolozi Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | 011/280-6655 Reservations | | 6 suites | All-inclusive.

Varty Camp.
$$$$ | This camp’s fire has been burning for more than 80 years, making this location the very soul and center of Londolozi. It’s also the largest of Londolozi’s camps, centered on a thatch A-frame lodge that houses a dining room, sitting areas, and lounge. Meals are served on a broad wooden deck that juts over the riverbed and under an ancient jackalberry tree. The thatch rondavels, which were the Varty family’s original hunting camp, now do duty as a library, a wine cellar, and an interpretive center, where you can listen to history and ecotourism talks—don’t miss the Londolozi Leopard presentation. If you’re looking for romance, have a private dinner on your veranda and go for a moonlight dip in your own plunge pool. In suites, the pool leads right to the riverbed. All rooms are decorated in African ethnic chic—in creams and browns and with the ubiquitous historic family photographs and documents—and have great bushveld views. Families are welcome (children must be over 4), and the fascinating kids’ programs should turn any couch potato into an instant wannabe ranger. Pros: superb children’s programs; meals taken on lovely viewing deck; all Varty chalets are interleading. Cons: lots of kids might not be for you; lacks the intimacy of the smaller Londolozi lodges. | Rooms from: $809 | Londolozi Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | 011/280-6655 Reservations | | 2 superior chalets, 8 chalets | All-inclusive.


This legendary game reserve (designated as such in 1929), which along with Londolozi put South African safaris on the international map, is tops in its field. It delights visitors with incomparable personal service, superb food, and discreetly elegant, comfortable accommodations where you’ll rub shoulders with aristocrats, celebrities, and returning visitors alike. Mike Rattray, a legend in his own time in South Africa’s game-lodge industry, describes MalaMala as “a camp in the bush,” but it’s certainly more than that, although it still retains that genuine bushveld feel of bygone days. Both the outstanding hospitality and the game-viewing experience keep guests coming back. MalaMala constitutes the largest privately owned Big Five game area in South Africa and includes an unfenced 30-km (19-mile) boundary with Kruger National Park, across which game crosses continuously. The variety of habitats ranges from riverine bush, favorite hiding place of the leopard, to open grasslands, where cheetahs hunt. MalaMala’s animal-viewing statistics are probably unbeatable: the Big Five are spotted almost every day. At one moment your well-educated, friendly, articulate ranger might fascinate you by describing the sex life of a dung beetle, as you watch the sturdy male battling his way along the road, pushing his perfectly round ball of dung with wife-to-be perched perilously on top; at another, your adrenaline will flow as you follow a leopard stalking impala in the gathering gloom. Along with the local Shangaan trackers, whose eyesight rivals that of the animals they are tracking, the top-class rangers ensure that your game experience is unforgettable. | MalaMala Game Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | 011/442-2267 | | All meals.


Permanent Camps

Fodor’s Choice | Main Camp.
$$$$ | Ginger-brown stone and thatch air-conditioned rondavels with separate his-and-her bathrooms are decorated in creams and browns and furnished with cane armchairs, colorful handwoven tapestries and rugs, terra-cotta floors, and original artwork. Public areas have a genuine safari feel, with plush couches, animal skins, and African artifacts. Shaded by ancient jackalberry trees, a huge deck overlooks the Sand River and its passing show of animals. Browse in the air-conditioned Monkey Room for books and wildlife videos, sample the magnificent wine cellar, sun yourself by the pool, or stay fit in the well-appointed gym. The food—among the best in the bush—is delicious, wholesome, and varied, with a full buffet at both lunch and dinner. Children are welcomed with special programs, activities, and goody-filled backpacks; kids under 12 are not allowed on game drives unless they’re with their own family group, and children under five are not allowed on game drives at all. One guest room is geared toward travelers with disabilities. Pros: you’ll feel really in the heart of the bush when you look out over the sweeping wilderness views; not as fancy as some of the other camps but you can’t beat the authenticity and history; delicious, hearty, home-style cooking; great kids’ program; unparalleled game-viewing. Cons: rondavels are a bit old-fashioned, but that goes with the ambience. | Rooms from: $685 | MalaMala Game Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | 011/442-2267 Reservations | | 19 rooms | All-inclusive.

Fodor’s Choice | Rattray’s on MalaMala.
$$$$ | The breathtakingly beautiful Rattray’s merges original bushveld style with daring ideas that run the risk of seeming out of place but instead work wonderfully well. Eight opulent khayas (think Tuscan villas) with spacious his-and-her bathrooms, dressing rooms, and private heated plunge pools blend well with the surrounding bush. Each villa’s entrance hall, with art by distinguished African wildlife artists such as Keith Joubert, leads to a huge bedroom with a wooden four-poster bed, and beyond is a lounge liberally scattered with deep sofas, comfy armchairs, padded ottomans, writing desks (for those crucial nightly journal entries), antique Persian rugs, and a dining nook. Bird and botanical prints grace the walls. Floor-to-ceiling windows with insect-proof sliding doors face the Sand River and lead to massive wooden decks where you can view the passing wildlife. The main lodge includes viewing and dining decks, an infinity pool, lounge areas, and tantalizing views over the river. In the paneled library, with plush sofas, inviting leather chairs, old prints and photographs, and battered leather suitcases, the complete works of Kipling, Dickens, and Thackeray rub leather shoulders with contemporary classics and 100-year-old bound copies of England’s classic humorous magazine Punch. After browsing the cellar’s impressive fine wines, have a drink in the bar with its huge fireplace, antique card table, and polished cherrywood bar. Pros: accommodation so spacious it could house a herd of almost anything; heated pool; excellent lighting; fascinating library; unparalleled game-viewing. Cons: Tuscan villas in the bush may not be your idea of Africa. | Rooms from: $975 | MalaMala Game Reserve| Sabi Sand Game Reserve | | 8 villas | All-inclusive.

Fodor’s Choice | Sable Camp.
$$$$ | This fully air-conditioned, exclusive camp at the southern end of Main Camp overlooks the Sand River and surrounding bushveld. With its own pool, library, and boma, it’s smaller and more intimate than Main Camp, but it shares the same magnificent all-around bush and hospitality experience. Pros: small and intimate; privacy guaranteed; unparalleled game-viewing. Cons: you might like it so much you never want to leave. | Rooms from: $850 | MalaMala Game Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | | 7 suites | All-inclusive.


Founded in 1978 at the southern end of Sabi Sands, Sabi Sabi was one of the first reserves, along with Londolozi, to offer photo safaris and to link ecotourism, conservation, and community. Superb accommodations and the sheer density of game supported by its highly varied habitats draw guests back to Sabi Sabi in large numbers. There’s a strong emphasis on ecology: guests are encouraged to look beyond the Big Five and to become aware of the birds and smaller mammals of the bush. | 011/447-7172 Reservations | |


Luxury Lodges

Bush Lodge.
$$$$ | Bush Lodge overlooks a busy water hole (lions are frequent visitors) and the dry course of the Msuthlu River. The thatch, open-sided dining area, observation deck, and pool all have magnificent views of game at the water hole. Thatch suites are connected by walkways that weave between manicured lawns and beneath enormous shade trees where owls and fruit bats call at night. All have a deck overlooking the dry river course (where you may well see an elephant padding along) and outdoor and indoor showers. Chalets at this large lodge are older and smaller—although more intimate in a way—but still roomy; they are creatively decorated with African designs and have a personal wooden deck. Pros: always prolific game around the lodge; busy water hole in front of lodge; roomy chalets. Cons: big and busy might not be your idea of relaxing getaway. | Rooms from: $757 | Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | 011/447-7172 Reservations, 013/735-5656 Lodge | | 25 suites.

Earth Lodge.
$$$$ | This avant-garde, eco-friendly lodge was the first to break away from the traditional safari style and strive for a contemporary theme. It’s a cross between a Hopi cave dwelling and a medieval keep, but with modern luxury. On arrival, all you’ll see is bush and grass-covered hummocks until you descend a hidden stone pathway that opens onto a spectacular landscape of boulders and streams. The lodge has rough-textured, dark-brown walls encrusted with orange seeds and wisps of indigenous grasses. The mud-domed suites are hidden from view until you’re practically at the front door. Surfaces are sculpted from ancient fallen trees, whereas chairs and tables are ultramodern or ‘50s style. Your suite has huge living spaces with a sitting area, mega bathroom, private veranda, and plunge pool. A personal butler takes care of your every need, and there’s a meditation garden. Dine in a subterranean cellar or in the boma, fashioned from roots and branches and lit at night by dozens of lanterns. Pros: out-of the-ordinary avant-garde, eco-friendly architecture and interior design; warm earth colors. Cons: don’t let your butler become too intrusive; although practical for guests who don’t want to walk to their suites, golf carts seem alien in the bush. | Rooms from: $1083 | Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | 011/447-7172 Reservations, 013/735-5261 Lodge | | 13 suites.

Permanent Camps

Little Bush Camp.
$$$$ | This delightful family camp combines airiness and spaciousness with a sense of intimacy. At night glowing oil lanterns lead you along a wooden walkway to your comfortable thatch-roof suite decorated in earthy tones of brown, cream, and white. After your action-packed morning game drive—during which you’ll see game galore—and your delicious brunch, relax on the wooden deck overlooking the bush, have a snooze in your air-conditioned bedroom, or laze away the time between activities at the pool area. In the evening you can sip a glass of complimentary sherry as you watch the stars—if you’re a city slicker, you may never have seen such bright ones. Pros: perfect for families. Cons: it’s popular with families. | Rooms from: $670 | Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | 011/447-7172 Reservations, 013/735-5080 Camp | | 6 suites.

Fodor’s Choice | Sabi Sabi Selati Camp.
$$$$ | For an Out of Africa experience, you can’t beat Selati, an intimate, stylish, colonial-style camp that was formerly the private hunting lodge of a famous South African opera singer. The early-1900s atmosphere is created by the use of genuine train memorabilia—old leather suitcases, antique wooden chairs, nameplates, and signals—that recall the old Selati branch train line, which once crossed the reserve, transporting gold from the interior to the coast of Mozambique in the 1870s. At night the grounds of this small, secluded lodge flicker with the lights of the original shunters’ oil lamps. Dinner is held in the boma, whereas brunch is served in the friendly farmhouse kitchen. Members of the glitterati and European royalty have stayed at the spacious Ivory Presidential Suite, with its Persian rugs and antique furniture. Pros: unique atmosphere because of its old railroad theme; secluded and intimate; Ivory Presidential Suite is superb value for money. Cons: some old-timers preferred the camp when it was just lantern-lit with no electricity. | Rooms from: $780 | Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa | 011/447-7172 Reservations, 013/735-5771 Lodge | | 2 suites, 8 chalets | All meals.


Although Singita (Shangaan for “the miracle”) offers much the same bush and game experience as the other lodges, nothing is too much trouble here. Lodges offer low-key opulence, comforting organic atmosphere, truly spacious accommodations, superb food and wine, and a variety of public spaces—quiet little private dining nooks to a huge viewing deck built around an ancient jackalberry tree, comfortable library with TV and Internet, and attractive poolside bar—really do put this gorgeous lodge head and shoulders above the rest of the herd. Whether you fancy a starlit private supper, a riverside breakfast, or just chilling alone in your megasuite, you’ve only to ask. Forget the usual lodge curio shop and take a ride to the Trading Post where objets d’art, unique handmade jewelry, classy bush gear, and artifacts from all over Africa are clustered together in a series of adjoining rooms and courtyards that seem more like someone’s home than a shop. Pop into the wine cellars and learn about the finest South African wines from the resident sommelier, and then choose some to be shipped directly home. If you’re feeling energetic, the bush bike rides are great. | Singita Sabi Sand | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | 021/683-3424 |


Luxury Lodges

Fodor’s Choice | Boulders Lodge.
$$$$ | As you walk over the wooden bridge spanning a reed- and papyrus-fringed pond, you’ll find yourself in the midst of traditional Africa at its most luxurious. The terra-cotta colors of the polished stone floors blend with the browns, ochers, creams, and russets of the cow-skin rugs, the hide-covered armchairs, the hand-carved tables, the stone benches, and the carefully chosen artifacts that grace the surfaces. Tall pillars of woven reeds, old tree trunks, and stone walls reminiscent of Great Zimbabwe support the huge thatch roof, and from every side there are stunning bushveld views. You’re guaranteed to gasp when you walk into your sumptuous suite. An entrance hall with a fully stocked bar leads into your glass-sided lounge dominated by a freestanding fireplace. Earth-colored fabrics and textures complement leather and wicker armchairs, a zebra-skin ottoman, and desks and tables fashioned from organic wood shapes, with writing, reading, and watercolor materials. A herd of impalas could easily fit into the bathroom, which has dark stone floors, a claw-foot tub, his-and-her basins, and an indoor and outdoor shower. Every door leads out onto a big wooden deck with a bubbling horizon pool, inviting sun loungers, and bushveld views. TIP Request Room 11 or 12, which overlook a waterhole. Pros: spacious accommodation; lovely organic, unpretentious bushveld feel; best food in Sabi Sand. Cons: it’s quite a walk from some of the rooms to the main lodge (although transport is available); refuse the crackling log fire if you’re at all congested. | Rooms from: $1540 | Singita Sabi Sand | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | 021/683-3424 | | 12 suites | All-inclusive.

Ebony Lodge.
$$$$ | If Ernest Hemingway had built his ideal home in the African bush, this would be it. From the moment you walk into the main lounge with its genuine antique furniture, leather chairs gleaming with the polish of years of use, old photographs and paintings, mounted game trophies, and hand-carved doors and windows, you’ll be transported to a past where trendy urban designers had never heard of the bush, brimming glasses toasted the day’s game activities, and deep laughter punctuated the fireside tales. This is really Old Africa at its best. Yellow, red, and orange fabrics bring flashes of bright color to the old club atmosphere and are carried through to the viewing decks over the river below and into the comfortable dining room. Your room gives exactly the same feel—beautiful antiques, a claw-foot bathtub, photographs of royalty and original bush camps, lovely lamps and carvings, splashes of vivid color, a dressing room big enough to swing a leopard by the tail, and a carved four-poster bed that looks out over the bush below. Catch the sun or catch up on your journal at the antique desk or on the big inviting deck with pool and stunning views. Pros: this is the mother lodge of all the Singita properties, and it shows: maturity, warmth, hospitality, and furniture and fittings antique dealers would kill for; check out the cozy library with its amazing old books and magazines. Cons: the beds are very high off the ground—if you’ve short legs or creak a bit, ask for a stool. | Rooms from: $1540 | Singita Sabi Sand | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | 021/683-3424 | | 12 suites | All-inclusive.

Fodor’s Choice | River Lodge.
$$$$ | Although this is one of Sabi Sand’s oldest lodges, it has somehow managed to keep itself something of a secret. Less glamorous than many of its more glitzy neighbors, it scores 10 out of 10 for its quite gorgeous location—one of the best in the whole reserve—with lush green lawns sweeping right down to the Sabi River. The main sitting and dining areas have panoramic river views; if you want a quiet game-watching experience you can sink into one of the big comfy sofas on the deck with your binoculars handy, and animals and birds of one kind or another are sure to happen along. If you go out on a game drive, you’ll see great game—almost certainly the Big Five—and the experienced rangers and staff, some of whom have been at the lodge for years, will guide, advise, and look after you in a friendly, unfussy way. Your roomy air-conditioned suite (try to sleep with the windows open so you don’t miss that lion roaring or hyena whooping) is decorated in soft earth colors and has its own plunge pool. Guests say that there’s something about this lodge that melts effortlessly into its surroundings. It’s a genuine African-bush ambience. Pros: much more affordable than many of its neighbors; unpretentious feel; amazing river views; easy access by road from Johannesburg. Cons: malaria area; no triple rooms for guests with children. | Rooms from: $792 | Exeter Private Game Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | 011/809-4300 | | | 8 suites | All-inclusive.

Permanent Camp

Kirkman’s Kamp.
$$$$ | You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped back in time at this camp. The rooms are strategically clustered around the original 1920s homestead, which, with its colonial furniture, historic memorabilia, and wrap-around veranda, makes you feel like a family guest the moment you arrive. That intimate feeling continues when you sleep beneath a cluster of old photographs above your bed, slip into a leather armchair in front of a blazing log fire, or soak in your claw-foot bathtub in the nostalgia-laden bathroom. Cocoon yourself in your room with its private veranda looking out onto green sweeping lawns, or mingle with the other guests in the homestead where you’ll find it hard to believe that you’re in the 21st century. You’ll see game galore in Sabi Sands (the size of New Jersey), which has the highest density of leopards in the world. Kirkman’s is ideal for families and family reunions. Pros: more affordable than many other Sabi Sands lodges; one of Sabi Sands’ best-loved camps for its old-time nostalgic atmosphere; superb game-viewing; easy road access from Johannesburg. Cons: malaria area; gets tour groups; more of a hotel feel than other lodges. | Rooms from: $699 | Exeter Private Game Reserve | Sabi Sand Game Reserve | 011/809-4300 | | | 18 cottages | All-inclusive.

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KwaZulu-Natal Parks

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Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve | Mkuze Game Reserve | Ithala Game Reserve | Phinda Private Game Reserve | Thanda Private Game Reserve

The province of KwaZulu-Natal is a premier vacation destination for South Africans, with some of the finest game reserves in the country, including the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve. The reserve is small compared to Kruger, but here you’ll see the Big Five and plenty of plains game, plus an incredibly biologically diverse mix of plants and trees. The nearby Mkuze and Ithala game reserves are even smaller but are still worth a visit for their numerous bird species and game.

KwaZulu-Natal’s best private lodges lie in northern Zululand and Maputaland, a remote region close to Mozambique. These lodges are sufficiently close to one another and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve to allow you to put together a bush experience that delivers the Big Five and a great deal more, including superb bird-watching opportunities and an unrivaled beach paradise.


Summers are hot, hot, hot. If you can’t take heat and humidity, then autumn, winter, and early summer are probably the best times to visit.

KwaZulu-Natal Parks

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The Richards Bay airport is the closest to the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi area—about 100 km (60 miles) south of Hluhluwe-Imfolozi and about 224 km (140 miles) south of Ithala. There are daily flights from Johannesburg to Richards Bay; flight time is about an hour. Private lodges will arrange your transfers for you.

Richards Bay Aiport. | 035/789-9630.

Car Rentals
Avis. | 035/789-6555.
Europcar. | 032/436-9500.


Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife can provide information about the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi and Ithala game reserves and can help you book hikes on wilderness trails.

The Elephant Coast’s website has information about dining and lodging, as well as attractions, towns you’ll pass through, sports facilities, and much more. If you’re visiting the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve, all activities can be booked through the website of the province’s official conservation organization, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

By far the largest tour operator in Zululand, umHluhluwe Safaris offers a full range of half- and full-day game drives in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, as well as night drives and bush walks. The company also leads game drives into the Mkuze Game Reserve and guided tours to the bird-rich wetlands and beaches of St. Lucia.


Tour Operator

umHluhluwe Safaris. | 035/562-0519 |

Visitor Info

Elephant Coast.
KwaZulu natal’s Elephant Coast (also called Maputaland) is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of iSimangaliso Wetland Park (The Greater St Lucia Wetland Park), the game-rich reserve of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, the birding mecca of Ndumu, and shelters a world-famous sea turtle nesting and hatching site up near the Mozambique border - plus, of course, elephants galore at Tembe Elephant Park. | 035/562-0966 |

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
033/845-1002 | | R120 admission fee.


Reputedly King Shaka’s favorite hunting ground, Zululand’s Hluhluwe-Imfolozi (pronounced shloo-shloo-ee im-fuh-low-zee) incorporates two of Africa’s oldest reserves: Hluhluwe and Imfolozi, both founded in 1895. In an area of just 906 square km (350 square miles), Hluhluwe-Imfolozi delivers the Big Five plus all the plains game and species like nyala and red duiker that are rare in other parts of the country. Equally important, it boasts one of the most biologically diverse habitats on the planet, a unique mix of forest, woodland, savanna, and grassland. You’ll find about 1,250 species of plants and trees here—more than in some entire countries.

The park is administered by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the province’s official conservation organization, which looks after all the large game reserves and parks as well as many nature reserves. Thanks to its conservation efforts and those of its predecessor, the highly regarded Natal Parks Board, the park can take credit for saving the white rhino from extinction. So successful was the park at increasing white rhino numbers that in 1960 it established its now famous Rhino Capture Unit to relocate rhinos to other reserves in Africa. Poaching in the past nearly decimated Africa’s black rhino population, but as a result of the park’s remarkable conservation efforts, 20% of Africa’s remaining black rhinos now live in this reserve—and you won’t get a better chance of seeing them in the wild than here.

Until 1989 the reserve consisted of two separate parks, Hluhluwe in the north and Imfolozi in the south, separated by a fenced corridor. Although a road (R618) still runs through this corridor, the fences have been removed, and the parks now operate as a single entity. Hluhluwe and the corridor are the most scenic areas of the park, notable for their bush-covered hills and knockout views, whereas Imfolozi is better known for its broad plains. | Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve | 033/845-1002 | | R120 per person.

Getting Here and Around

If you’re traveling to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi from Durban, drive north on the N2 to Mtubatuba, then cut west on the R618 to Mambeni Gate. Otherwise, continue up the N2 to the Hluhluwe exit and follow the signs to the park and Memorial Gate. The whole trip takes about three hours, but watch out for potholes.


Compared to Kruger, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is tiny—less than 6% of Kruger’s size—but such comparisons can be misleading. You can spend days driving around this park and still not see everything, or feel like you’re going in circles. Probably the biggest advantage Hluhluwe has over Kruger is that game-viewing is good year-round, whereas Kruger has seasonal peaks and valleys. Another bonus is its proximity to Mkuze Game Reserve and the spectacular coastal reserves of iSimangaliso Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park. The park is also close enough to Durban to make it a worthwhile one- or two-day excursion.


Armed rangers lead groups of eight on two- to three-hour bush walks departing from Hilltop or Mpila Camp. You rarely spot much game on these walks, but you do see plenty of birds and you learn a great deal about the area’s ecology and tips on how to recognize the signs of the bush, including animal spoor. Walks depart daily at 5:30 am and 3:30 pm (6 and 3 in winter) and cost R215. Reserve a few days in advance at Hilltop Camp reception.


A great way to see the park is on game drives led by rangers. These drives (R270 per person) hold several advantages over driving through the park yourself: you sit high up in an open-air vehicle with a good view and the wind in your face, a ranger explains the finer points of animal behavior and ecology, and your guide has a good idea where to find animals like leopards, cheetahs, and lions. Game drives leave daily at 5:30 am in summer, 6:30 am in winter. The park also offers three-hour night drives, during which you search with powerful spotlights for nocturnal animals. These drives depart at 7, and you should make advance reservations at Hilltop Camp reception.


The park’s Wilderness Trails are every bit as popular as Kruger’s, but they tend to be tougher and more rustic. You should be fit enough to walk up to 16 km (10 miles) a day for a period of three days and four nights. An armed ranger leads the hikes, and all equipment, food, and baggage are carried by donkeys. The first and last nights are spent at Mndindini, a permanent tented camp. The other two are spent under canvas in the bush. While in the bush, hikers bathe in the Imfolozi River or have a hot bucket shower; toilet facilities consist of a spade and toilet-paper roll. Trails, open March-December, are limited to eight people and should be reserved a year in advance (R3,700 per person per trail).

Fully catered two- or three-night Short Trails involve stays at a satellite camp in the wilderness area. You’ll sleep in a dome tent, and although there’s hot water from a bucket shower, your toilet is a spade. Cost is R2,250.

If that sounds too easy, you can always opt for one of the four-night Primitive Trails. On these treks hikers carry their own packs and sleep out under the stars, although there are lightweight tents for inclement weather. A campfire burns all night to scare off animals, and each participant is expected to sit a 90-minute watch. The cost is R2,685 per person per trail.

A less rugged wilderness experience can be had on the Bushveld Trails, based out of the tented Mndindini camp, where you’re guaranteed a bed and some creature comforts. The idea behind these trails is to instill in the participants an appreciation for the beauty of the untamed bush. You can also join the Mpila night drive if you wish. Participation is limited to eight people and costs about R2,390 per person per trail.


Hluhluwe-Imfolozi offers a range of accommodations in government-run rest camps, with an emphasis on self-catering (only Hilltop has a restaurant). The park also has secluded bush lodges and camps, but most foreign visitors can’t avail themselves of these lodgings, as each must be reserved in a block, and the smallest accommodates at least eight people. Conservation levies are R120 per person per day.

Permanent Camps

Hilltop Camp.
$ | It may be a government-run camp, but this delightful lodge in the Hluhluwe half of the park matches some of South Africa’s best private lodges. Perched on the crest of a hill, it has panoramic views over the park, the Hlaza and Nkwakwa hills, and Zululand. Thatch and ocher-color walls give it an African feel. Scattered across the crown of the hill, self-contained chalets have high thatch ceilings, rattan furniture, and small verandas. If you plan to eat all your meals in the restaurant or sample the evening braai (barbecue), forgo the more expensive chalets with fully equipped kitchens. If you’re on a tight budget, opt for a basic rondavel with two beds, a basin, and a refrigerator; toilet facilities are communal. An à la carte restaurant, an attractive pub, a convenience store, and a gas station are on-site. Go for a stroll along a forest trail rich with birdsong, or take a bottle of wine to Hlaza Hide and join the animals as they come for their sundowners. Pros: floodlit water hole; great views; lovely little forest trail great for a stroll. Cons: no shop; staff can be surly and unhelpful. | Rooms from: $77 | Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve | KwaZulu-Natal Parks | 033/845-1000, 035/562-0848 Camp 7-7 | | | 20 rondavels, 49 chalets, 2 lodges.

Mpila Camp.
$ | In the central Imfolozi section of the park, Mpila is humbler than Hilltop Camp and more reminiscent of some of Kruger’s older camps. Choose among 12 fully equipped one-room chalets with en-suite bathroom, kitchenette, and deck, 2 three-bedroom cottages (these come with a cook who will prepare the food you’ve brought with you) 6 self-catering chalets, and in the Safari Tented camp, 13 two- and four-bed self-catering tents with en-suite bathrooms. Three luxurious lodges with resident chef and ranger are also available. Gas is available, but you can only buy curios and sodas at the camp shop, so stock up with groceries before you arrive. Be sure to book your bush walks and game drives on arrival, as they work on a first-come, first-served basis. Pros: game comes right to your door (watch out for hyenas stealing your braai meat); lovely location. Cons: churlish staff; no shop or restaurant. | Rooms from: $77 | Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve | KwaZulu-Natal Parks | 033/845-1000, 035/550-8476/7 Reception at camp | | | 2 cottages, 18 chalets, 14 safari tents, 2 lodges.

Luxury Lodges

Hluhluwe River Lodge.
$ | Overlooking False Bay Lake and the Hluhluwe River flood plain, this luxurious, good-value, spacious, family-owned lodge set in indigenous gardens is the ideal base for visiting the game reserves and the iSimangaliso Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park. After a day spent game-viewing, canoeing, bird-watching, boating, fishing, or walking in the pristine sand forest, you can relax in a terra-cotta-color A-frame chalet with cool stone floors, wood and wicker furniture, and cream-and-brown decor and furnishings. Alternatively, sit out on your wooden deck overlooking the bush, the floodplain, and the lake. This lodge is the only one with direct access to the lake, and as you chug along through bird-filled papyrus channels decorated with water lilies en route to the broad expanses of the main body of water, you might easily feel as though you’re in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Water activities are dependent on the seasonal rains, so check with the lodge in advance. The food is excellent—wholesome country cooking with lots of fresh vegetables and good roasts. There are two family chalets available and children three and under stay free. Pros: only 25 minutes from Hluhluwe-Imfolozi; boat trips (seasonal) reminiscent of Botswana’s Okavango Delta; great for families; fun mountain- and quad-bike trails. Cons: lots of kids in holiday times; activities cost extra. | Rooms from: $186 | Follow signs from Hluhluwe village, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve | KwaZulu-Natal Parks | 035/562-0246 | | 12 chalets | Some meals.

Zululand Tree Lodge.
$ | About 16 km (10 miles) from the park, this lodge lies in a forest of fever trees on the 3,700-acre Ubizane Game Reserve, a small park stocked with white rhinos and plains game. It makes a great base from which to explore Hluhluwe, Mkuze, and St. Lucia. Built of thatch and wood, the open-sided lodge sits on stilts overlooking the Mzinene River. Rooms are in separate cottages, also on stilts, along the riverbank. The rooms themselves are small but tastefully decorated with mosquito nets covering old-fashioned iron bedsteads made up with fluffy white duvets, African-print cushions, wicker, and reed matting. If you want the experience of sleeping alfresco, fold back the huge wooden shutters dividing the bedroom from the open deck. A qualified ranger will take you for a bush walk or a game drive (which is included in your stay) through the small reserve or a little farther afield for a game drive in nearby Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. At the nearby Illala Weavers you can buy superb handwoven Zulu baskets. Pros: bird’s-eye views over lovely game-filled surroundings; very friendly and attentive staff; authentic Zulu baskets available at nearby Illala Weavers. Cons: bookings not always efficient. | Rooms from: $218 | Hluhluwe Rd., Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve | KwaZulu-Natal Parks | 035/562-1020 | | 24 rooms | Some meals.


This 88,900-acre reserve in the shadow of the Ubombo Mountains, between the Mkhuze and Msunduzi rivers, makes up the northwestern spur of the iSimangaliso Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, now a World Heritage site. (The park itself is one of the most important coastal and wetland areas in the world with five interlinked ecosystems: a marine system, a coastal dune system, lake systems, swamps, and inland savanna woodlands.) Mkuze is famous for its birds: more than 400 bird species have been spotted here, including myriad waterfowl drawn to the park’s shallow pans in summer. Several blinds, particularly those overlooking Nsumo Pan, offer superb views. Don’t miss out on the amazing 3-km (2-mile) walk through a spectacular rare forest of towering, ancient fig trees, some as big as 82 feet tall and 39 feet around the base. Although only a fraction of Kruger’s size, this is the place to find rhinos; there’s a healthy population of both black and white rhinos. You won’t find lions, buffalo, or elephants, but the low-lying thornveld supports lots of other game, including zebras, giraffes, kudus, and nyalas. The reserve is 48 km (30 miles) north of Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. TIP There are variant spellings of Mkuze in the area; you may also see Mkuzi or Mkhuzi. | Off N2, Mkuze Game Reserve | KwaZulu-Natal Parks | 035/573-9004 | | R35 per vehicle, R30 per person | Daily 6-6.


Ghost Mountain Inn.
$ | Swaths of scarlet bougainvillea run riot in the lush gardens of this family-owned country inn with tastefully furnished rooms that each have a small veranda. It was here that Rider Haggard wrote some of his adventure stories, inspired perhaps by the mysterious lights and elusive flickering flames that give the mountain its spooky name. Large, invitingly restful public areas have terra-cotta tiles and comfortable cane furniture, and the cozy African lounge makes you feel like you’ve slipped back to the past. Don’t miss the enthusiastic Zulu dancing before a succulent barbecue under the stars. At first light, wander down to the lake and watch the waterbirds wake up, or, later in the day, sit in the blind and watch them come home to roost. There’s an excellent curio shop. The friendly staff can arrange tours to the neighboring game reserves and cultural sights or will fix you up to go bird-watching or fishing. Pros: good value for money; friendly staff, generous buffet. Cons: hotel-like atmosphere; tour buses overnight here. | Rooms from: $89 | Fish Eagle Rd.,Mkuze Game Reserve | Mkuze | 035/573-1025 | | | 50 rooms | Breakfast.


In northern KwaZulu-Natal Province, close to the Swaziland border, Ithala (sometimes spelled “Itala”), at 296 square km (114 square miles), is small even compared with the relatively compact Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. Its size and its dearth of lions are probably why this delightful park 221 km (137 miles) northwest of Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is usually bypassed, even by South Africans—although they clearly don’t know what they’re missing. The other four of the Big Five are here—it’s excellent for black and white rhinos—and the park is stocked with cheetahs, hyenas, giraffes, and an array of antelopes among its 80 mammal species. It’s also an excellent spot for birders. The stunning landscapes and the relaxed game-viewing make this area a breath of fresh air after the Big Five melee of Kruger.

The reserve, founded in 1972 and run by KZN Wildlife, is a rugged region that drops 3,290 feet in just 15 km (9 miles) through sandstone cliffs, multicolor rocks, granite hills, ironstone outcrops, and quartz formations. Watered by nine small rivers rising in its vicinity and covered with rich soils, Ithala supports a varied cross section of vegetation, encompassing riverine thicket, wetland, open savanna, and acacia woodland. Arriving at its Ntshondwe Camp is nothing short of dramatic. The meandering road climbs from open plains to the top of a plateau dotted with granite formations, which at the last minute magically yield the rest camp at the foot of pink and russet cliffs. | Ithala Game Reserve | KwaZulu-Natal Parks | 033/845-1002 | | R40 per per person, R30 per vehicle.

Getting Here and Around

If you’re headed to Ithala from Durban, drive north on the N2 to Empangeni, and then head west on the R34 to Vryheid. From here cut east on the R69 to Louwsburg. The reserve is immediately northwest of the village, from which there are clear signs. The journey from Durban takes around five hours and from Hluhluwe-Imfolozi about 2½ hours. Roads are good, and there are plenty of gas stations along the way.


Although Ithala has several exclusive bush camps, these are booked up months in advance by South Africans, making the chalets at its main camp the only practical accommodations for foreign visitors. Two people sharing a two-bed unit at Ntshondwe will pay about R700 per person per night.

Fodor’s Choice | Ntshondwe Camp.
$ | In architecture, landscaping, and style, this beautiful government-run rest camp, 69 km (43 miles) from Vryheid, comes closer than any other in the country to matching the expensive private lodges. Built around granite boulders and vegetation lush with acacias, wild figs, and giant cactuslike euphorbias, airy chalets with steep thatch roofs blend perfectly with the surroundings. Its two-, four-, and six-bed units can accommodate a total of 200 guests. Each self-catering chalet has a spacious lounge simply furnished with cane chairs, a fully equipped kitchen, and a large veranda surrounded by indigenous bush. Keep an eye open for eagles soaring above the pink and russet sandstone cliffs. A magnificent game-viewing deck juts out over a steep slope to provide views of a water hole and extensive panoramas of the surrounding valleys. Take a guided game drive (R190) or guided walk (R175), hike a self-guided trail, or follow one of the well-laid-out drives with markers at points of interest. Picnic at one of the many scenic picnic spots, all of which have barbecue facilities and toilets. A gas station, a store (with great curios), and a good restaurant are all on the premises. Pros: tarred road access; guided game drives or self-drive; spectacular surroundings. Cons: it’s a busy conference and wedding venue. | Rooms from: $86 | Ithala Game Reserve | KwaZulu-Natal Parks | 033/845-1000, 034/983-2540 | | 39 chalets | No meals.


Established in 1991, this eco-award-winning flagship &Beyond (formerly CCAfrica) reserve is a heartening example of tourism serving the environment with panache. Phinda (pin-duh) is Zulu for “return,” referring to the restoration of 54,360 acres of overgrazed ranchland in northern Zululand to bushveld. You may find it impossible to believe the area wasn’t always the thick bush you see all around you. Phinda can claim a stunning variety of five different ecosystems: sand forest (which grows on the fossil dunes of an earlier coastline), savanna, bushveld, open woodland, and verdant wetlands.

Phinda can deliver the Big Five, although not as consistently or in such numbers as most lodges in Mpumalanga. Buffalo, leopards, lions, cheetahs, spotted hyenas, elephants, white rhinos, hippos, giraffes, impalas, and the rare, elusive, tiny Suni antelope are all here, and rangers provide exciting interpretive game drives for guests. Bird life is prolific and extraordinary, with some special Zululand finds: the pink-throated twin spot, the crested guinea fowl, the African broadbill, and the crowned eagle. Where Phinda also excels is in the superb quality of its rangers, who can provide fascinating commentary on everything from local birds to frogs. It’s amazing just how enthralling the love life of a dung beetle can be! There are also Phinda adventures (optional extras) down the Mzinene River for a close-up look at crocodiles, hippos, and birds; big-game fishing or scuba diving off the deserted, wildly beautiful Maputaland coast; and sightseeing flights over Phinda and the highest vegetated dunes in the world. | Phinda Private Game Reserve | KwaZulu-Natal Parks | 011/809-4300 |


For all reservations, contact &Beyond ( | 011/809-4300).

Luxury Lodges

Fodor’s Choice | Forest Lodge.
$$$$ | Hidden in a rare sand forest, this fabulous lodge overlooks a small water hole where nyalas, warthogs, and baboons frequently come to drink. The lodge is a real departure from the traditional thatch structures so common in South Africa. It’s very modern, with a vaguely Japanese Zen feel, thanks to glass-paneled walls, light woods, and a deliberately spare, clean look. The effect is stylish and very elegant, softened by modern African art and sculpture. Suites use the same architectural concepts as the lodge, where walls have become windows, and rely on the dense forest (or curtains) for privacy. As a result, you’ll likely feel very close to your surroundings, and it’s possible to lie in bed or take a shower while watching colorful nyalas grazing just feet away. Pros: magical feeling of oneness with the surrounding bush; light and airy, Zulu-Zen decor. Cons: being in a glass box could make some visitors nervous; not for traditional types. | Rooms from: $699 | Phinda Private Game Reserve | KwaZulu-Natal Parks | 011/809-4300 | | 16 suites | All-inclusive.

Mountain Lodge.
$$$$ | This attractive thatch lodge sits on a rocky hill overlooking miles of bushveld plains and the Ubombo Mountains. Wide verandas lead into the lounge and bar, graced with high ceilings, dark beams, and cool tile floors. In winter guests can snuggle into cushioned wicker chairs next to a blazing log fire. Brick pathways wind down the hillside from the lodge to elegant split-level suites with mosquito nets, thatch roofs, and large decks overlooking the reserve. African baskets, beadwork, and grass matting beautifully complement the bush atmosphere. Children are welcome, although those under five are not allowed on game drives and 6- to 11-year-olds are permitted only at the manager’s discretion. Pros: great mountain views; very family-friendly. Cons: rather bland decor; pricey if you take the kids. | Rooms from: $699 | Phinda Private Game Reserve| KwaZulu-Natal Parks | 011/809-4300 | | 25 suites | All-inclusive.

Rock Lodge.
$$$$ | If you get tired of the eagle’s-eye view of the deep valley below from your private veranda, you can write in your journal in your luxurious sitting room or take a late-night dip in your own plunge pool. All of Phinda’s activities are included—twice-daily game drives, nature walks, riverboat cruises, and canoe trips along the Mzinene River. Scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, and spectacular small-plane flights are extras. Don’t miss out on one of Phinda’s legendary bush dinners: hundreds of lanterns light up the surrounding forest and bush, and the food is unforgettable. Pros: personal plunge pools; amazing views. Cons: stay away if you suffer from vertigo. | Rooms from: $757 | Phinda Private Game Reserve | KwaZulu-Natal Parks | 011/809-4300 | | 6 suites | All-inclusive.

Vlei Lodge.
$$$$ | Accommodations at this small and intimate lodge are nestled in the shade of the sand forest and are so private it’s hard to believe there are other guests. Suites—made of thatch, teak, and glass—have a distinct Asian feel and overlook a marshland on the edge of an inviting woodland. The bedrooms and bathrooms are huge, and each suite has a private plunge pool (one visitor found a lion drinking from his) and outdoor deck. The lounge-living area of the lodge has two fireplaces on opposite glass walls, a dining area, and a large terrace under a canopy of trees, where breakfast is served. The bush braai, with its splendid food and fairy-tale setting, is a memorable occasion after an evening game drive. Pros: superb views over the floodplains—you can lie on your bed and watch the ever-changing show of game; lovely warm romantic feel. Cons: you’re so cosseted and comfortable you’ll be hard put to make all those game drives; lots of mosquitoes and flying insects. | Rooms from: $757 | Phinda Private Game Reserve | KwaZulu-Natal Parks | 011/809-4300 | | 6 suites | All-inclusive.

Zuka Lodge.
$$$$ | An exclusive, single-use lodge for a family or small group of friends, Zuka (zuka means “sixpence” in Zulu) is a couple of miles from the bigger lodges. Thatch cottages overlook a busy water hole, and you’ll be looked after by the camp’s personal ranger, host, butler, and chef. Children are welcome. Pros: exclusivity; it’s like having your own private holiday retreat; gives you the feeling of immediate celebrity status. Cons: this exclusivity comes at a high price; choose your fellow guests carefully—you’re on your own here. | Rooms from: $4895 | Phinda Private Game Reserve | KwaZulu-Natal Parks | 011/809-4300 | | 4 cottages (which must be rented as one unit) | All-inclusive.


23 km (14 miles) north of Hluhluwe, 400 km (248 miles) north of Durban.

Thanda (tan-duh) is Zulu for “love,” and its philosophy echoes just that: “for the love of nature, wildlife, and dear ones.” The 37,000-acre reserve is restoring former farmlands and hunting grounds to their previous pristine state, thanks to a joint venture with local communities and the king of the Zulus, Goodwill Zweletini, who donated some of his royal hunting grounds to the project. Game that used to roam this wilderness centuries ago has been reestablished, including the Big Five. Rangers often have to work hard to find game, but the rewards of seriously tracking lions or rhinos with your enthusiastic and very experienced ranger and tracker are great. Because its owner is passionately committed not only to the land but also to the local people, there are many opportunities to interact with them. Don’t miss out on Vula Zulu, one of the most magical and powerful Zulu experiences offered in South Africa. After exploring the village, including the chief’s kraal (compound) and the hut of the sangoma (shaman), you’ll be treated to the Vula Zulu show, a memorable blend of narration, high-energy dance, song, and mime that recounts Zulu history. The lodge can also arrange golf, scuba diving, snorkeling, whale-watching, and fishing expeditions. | D242 off N2 Hluhluwe, Thanda Private Game Reserve | KwaZulu-Natal Parks | 011/469-5082 |

Getting Here and Around

Road transfers from Richards Bay and Durban airports can be arranged with the reserve.


For all reservations, contact Thanda (035/573-1899 | | Both the tented camp and the main lodge have kids’ programs and a customized junior-ranger course.

Luxury Lodge

Thanda Main Lodge.
$$$$ | There’s a palpable feeling of earth energy in this magical and exquisite lodge that blends elements of royal Zulu with an eclectic pan-African feel. Beautiful domed, beehive-shaped dwellings perch on the side of rolling hills and overlook mountains and bushveld. Inside, contemporary Scandinavian touches meet African chic—from the “eyelashes” of slatted poles that peep out from under the thatch roofs to the embedded mosaics in royal Zulu red and blue that decorate the polished, honey-color stone floors. Creative light fixtures include chandeliers made of handcrafted Zulu beads and lamps of straw or filmy cotton mesh. A huge stone fireplace divides the bedroom area from the comfortable and roomy lounge. Each chalet has a different color scheme and is decorated with beaded, hand-embroidered cushions and throws. Dip in your personal plunge pool after an exciting game drive, sunbathe on your private deck, or commune with the surrounding bushveld in your cool, cushioned sala (outdoor covered deck). Later, after a meal that many a fine restaurant would be proud to serve, come back to your chalet to find a bedtime story on your pillow, marshmallows waiting to be toasted over flickering candles, and a glass of Amarula cream. Or dine alone in your private boma by the light of the stars and the leaping flames of a fragrant wood fire. The spacious, uncluttered public areas—dining decks, bomas, library, and lounge—are decorated in restful earth tones accented by royal Zulu colors, beads from Malawi, Ghanaian ceremonial masks, and Indonesian chairs. Pros: luxury unlimited; superb food and service; kids will love the junior-ranger program; late-night snacks and drinks await you in your room. Cons: a bit over the top—some might say it’s Hollywood in the bush; very near to the main road. | Rooms from: $820 | Thanda Private Game Reserve | KwaZulu-Natal Parks | | 9 chalets | All-inclusive.

Permanent Camp

Thanda Tented Camp.
$$ | Perfect for a family or friends’ reunion, this intimate camp deep in the bush brings you into close contact with your surroundings. You might wake up in your spacious safari tent with en-suite bathroom and private veranda to find a warthog or nyala grazing outside. The camp has its own vehicle, ranger, and tracker, and a huge sala with pool and sundeck. Pros: opportunities to learn stargazing; perfect for small (adults only) reunions or celebrations. Cons: only four tents so hope for pleasant fellow guests. | Rooms from: $299 | Thanda Private Game Reserve | KwaZulu-Natal Parks | 035/573-1899 | | 14 tents | All-inclusive.

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Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

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Where to Stay

If you’re looking for true wilderness, remoteness, and stark, almost surreal landscapes and you’re not averse to forgoing the ultimate in luxury and getting sand in your hair, then this amazing, uniquely beautiful park within the Kalahari Desert is for you.

In an odd little finger of the country jutting north between Botswana in the east and Namibia in the west lies South Africa’s second largest park after Kruger. Kgalagadi was officially launched in 2000 as the first transfrontier, or “Peace Park,” in Southern Africa by merging South Africa’s vast Kalahari Gemsbok National Park with the even larger Gemsbok National Park in Botswana. The name Kgalagadi (pronounced kala-hardy) is derived from the San language and means “place of thirst.” It’s now one of the largest protected wilderness areas in the world—an area of more than 38,000 square km (14,670 square miles). Of this awesome area, 9,600 square km (3,700 square miles) fall in South Africa, and the rest in Botswana. Passing through the Twee Rivieren Gate, you’ll encounter a vast desert under enormous, usually cloudless skies and a sense of space and openness that few other places can offer.

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier is less commercialized and developed than Kruger. The roads aren’t paved, and you’ll come across far fewer people and cars. There’s less game on the whole than in Kruger, but because there’s also less vegetation, the animals are much more visible. Also, because the game and large carnivores are concentrated in two riverbeds (the route that two roads follow), the park offers unsurpassed viewing and photographic opportunities. Perhaps the key to really appreciating this barren place is in understanding how its creatures have adapted to their harsh surroundings to survive—like the gemsbok, which has a sophisticated cooling system allowing it to tolerate extreme changes in body temperature. There are also insects in the park that inhale only every half hour or so to preserve the moisture that breathing expends.

The landscape—endless dunes punctuated with blond grass and the odd thorn tree—is dominated by two wadis (dry riverbeds): the Nossob (which forms the border between South Africa and Botswana) and its tributary, the Auob. The Nossob flows only a few times a century, and the Auob flows only once every couple of decades or so. A single road runs beside each riverbed, along which windmills pump water into man-made water holes, which help the animals to survive and provide good viewing stations for visitors. There are 82 water holes, 49 of which are along tourist roads. Park management struggles to keep up their maintenance; it’s a constant battle against the elements, with the elements often winning. Similarly, the park constantly maintains and improves tourist roads, but again it’s a never-ending struggle. A third road traverses the park’s interior to join the other two. The scenery and vegetation on this road change dramatically from the two river valleys, which are dominated by sandy banks, to a grassier escarpment. Two more dune roads have been added, and several 4x4 routes have been developed. From Nossob camp a road leads to Union’s End, the country’s northernmost tip, where South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana meet. Allow a full day for the long and dusty drive, which is 124 km (77 miles) one-way. It’s possible to enter Botswana from the South African side, but you’ll need a 4x4. The park infrastructure in Botswana is very basic, with just three campsites and mostly 4x4 terrain.

The park is famous for its gemsbok and its legendary, huge, black-maned Kalahari lions. It also has leopard, cheetah, eland, blue wildebeest, and giraffe, as well as meerkat and mongoose. Rarer desert species, such as the desert-adapted springbok, the elusive aardvark, and the pretty Cape fox, also make their home here. Among birders, the park is known as one of Africa’s raptor meccas; it’s filled with bateleurs, lappet-faced vultures, pygmy falcons, and the cooperatively hunting red-necked falcons and gabar goshawks.

The park’s legendary night drives (approximately R200 per person) depart most evenings at around 5:30 in summer, earlier in winter (check when you get to your camp), from Twee Rivieren Camp and Nossob. The drives set out just as the park gate closes to everyone else. You’ll have a chance to see rare nocturnal animals like the brown hyena and the bat-eared fox by spotlight. The guided morning walks—during which you see the sun rise over the Kalahari and could bump into a lion—are also a must. Reservations are essential and can be made when you book your accommodations.


The park can be superhot in summer and freezing at night in winter (literally below zero, with frost on the ground). Autumn—from late February to mid-April—is perhaps the best time to visit. It’s cool after the rains, and many of the migratory birds are still around. The winter months of June and July are also a good time. It’s best to make reservations as far in advance as possible, even up to 11 months if you want to visit at Easter or in June or July, when there are school vacations.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

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Upington International Airport is 260 km (162 miles) south of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park; many lodgings provide shuttle service from the airport, or you can rent a car at the airport. If you reserve a car through an agency in Upington, you can pick it up from the Twee Rivieren Camp. If you drive from Johannesburg you have a choice of two routes: either via Upington (with the last stretch a 60-km [37-mile] gravel road) or via Kuruman, Hotazel, and Vanzylrus (with about 340 km [211 miles] of gravel road). The gravel sections on both routes are badly corrugated, so don’t speed.


There’s a daily conservation fee, but Wild Cards, available at the gates or online, are more economical for stays of more than a few days. Reservations for all accommodations, bush drives, wilderness trails, and other park activities must be made through South African National Parks.


Airport Information
Upington International Airport. | 054/337-7900.

Visitor Info
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. | Park reception at Twee Rivieren Camp | 890 | 054/561-2000 |
South African National Parks. | 012/428-9111 Pretoria, 021/552-0008 Cape Town |

San Culture and Language

Also called the /Xam, the hunter-gatherer San (Bushmen) have a culture that dates back more than 20,000 years, and their genetic origins are more than 1 million years old, contemporary humans’ oldest. Fast-forward a few years—about 2,000 years ago, to be inexact—when Korana or Khoi (Khoe) herders migrated south, bringing their livestock and settling along the Orange (Gariep/Garieb), Vaal, and Riet rivers. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Griquas—thought to be part Khoi and part slave—moved into the Northern Cape with their cattle and sheep.

At one time 20 to 30 languages pertaining to various clans flourished, but colonialism brought with it devastating results for the San’s native tongue. It lost out to Tswana and Afrikaans. In the nick of time in the 1870s, British doctor Wilhelm Bleek, who spoke /Xam, and Lucy Lloyd recorded the last activities of /Xam culture and tradition. (Some of these records can be found at the McGregor Museum in Kimberley.)

Still, thousands of Northern Cape residents today acknowledge an ancestral connection to the largest San or /Xam group of the 18th and 19th centuries. The two biggest remaining groups are the !Xu and Khwe, who live at Schmidtsdrift, 80 km (50 miles) from Kimberley. Among the best-known groups in South Africa today are the Khomani San.



Fodor’s Choice | !Xaus Lodge.
$$ | If you want to experience one of South Africa’s most beautiful and isolated parks without hassle, then this luxury lodge owned by the Khomani San and Mier communities and jointly managed with SANParks is the place for you. You’ll be picked up in a 4x4 from Twee Rivieren, fed, watered, taken on game drives and desert walks, and introduced to the local San. Located deep in the desert 32 km (20 miles) from the Auob River road along a track that crosses the red dunes of the Kalahari, this enchanting lodge overlooks an amazingly scenic pan. The twin-bed, en-suite chalets perch on sand dunes overlooking a water hole; each chalet has a private deck. A fan will keep you cool in summer, and a gas heater, hot-water bottle, and warm sheets will help you stay warm on winter nights. A welcome swimming pool is set in a deck overlooking the pan. The attractive rustic furniture and eye-catching artwork throughout this delightful, unique lodge are all made by local craftspeople and artists. Activities include game drives in an open safari vehicle, walks with San trackers, and a chance to watch San artists at work. At night the stars and planets are bright and clear; a telescope brings ancient tradition and modern technology together as the San interpret for you their legends of the night sky. But !Xaus (pronounced kaus) comprises so much more than its activities: it is solitude, peace, and silence as you “listen” to day turn into night, plus interaction with the cheerful and willing staff, the majority of whom come from the surrounding local communities. Pros: unique wilderness setting; only private lodge in area; opportunities to interact with the local people. Cons: very long (almost an hour) roller-coaster approach road through dunes. | Rooms from: $361 | Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park | 021/701-7860 | | | 12 chalets | All-inclusive.


Accommodations within the park are in three traditional rest camps and several highly sought-after wilderness camps (try to reserve these if possible), which are spread around the park. All of the traditional rest camps have shops selling food, curios, and some basic equipment, but Twee Rivieren has the best variety of fresh fruit, vegetables, milk, and meat, and is the only camp with a restaurant. Twee Rivieren is also the only camp with telephone and cell-phone reception (although cell-phone reception quickly disappears as you head into the dunes) and 24-hour electricity; the other camps have gas and electricity, but the electricity runs only part of the day, at different times in each camp.

For all national park accommodations, contact South African National Parks (, or you can reserve directly through the park if you happen to be there and would like to stay a night or add another night onto your stay.


There’s a limited number of campsites (R195) at Nossob (20) and Twee Rivieren (24). All campsites have a braai (barbecue) and access to electricity and water, and there are communal bathroom facilities and a basic communal kitchen. Before you arrive, be sure to arm yourself with the “blue camping plug”—available from any camping-caravanning shop—and a long extension cord. Try to find a shady spot.

Rest Camps

$ | In the central section of the park, this camp is on the Botswana border, 166 km (103 miles) from Twee Rivieren. Basic brick chalets come with an outside braai and real bush atmosphere and sleep three to six people. Guesthouses have showers but no tubs. Most of the chalets are less than 50 yards from the fence, and there’s also a stunning blind overlooking the water hole. You can see game without even leaving camp, but watch out for marauding jackals here; although they’re not dangerous or aggressive, they’re always on the lookout for unattended food. A small shop sells the basics. There’s no electricity in the camp, and the generators are turned off at 11. Pros: this is the place to see predators, particularly lions; predator information center. Cons: barren, unattractive camp; no phone reception. | Rooms from: $73 | Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park | 012/428-9111 Reservations | | 15 chalets, 1 cottage, 2 guesthouses, 21 campsites.

Twee Rivieren.
$ | On the Kgalagadi’s southern boundary, this camp is home to the park’s headquarters. It’s the biggest of the camps and has the most modern facilities; all units have fully equipped kitchens, and the camp shop here is the best. You can choose from a couple of types of accommodations, from a two-bedroom, six-bed family cottage to a bungalow with two single beds and a sleeper couch. Try for units 1-16, which look out over the dunes. Take a guided morning walk and a night drive—worth every penny. There are educational exhibits on the Kalahari’s animal and plant life. From Upington to Twee Rivieren is 260 km (161 miles) on a relatively good road; only the last 52 km (32 miles) are gravel. Pros: modern, well-equipped chalets; on-site grocery store selling only basics; not-to-be-missed guided morning and night drives; 24-hour electricity. Cons: the biggest and noisiest camp in the area. | Rooms from: $83 | Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park | 012/428-9111 Reservations | | 1 cottage, 30 bungalows.

Wilderness Camps

Kgalagadi is the first national park to provide accommodation deep in the wilderness, where several unfenced wilderness camps with their own water holes for game-viewing put you deep in the heart of the Kalahari. These enchanting camps are very popular, so make your reservations well in advance—11 months ahead, if possible. Each camp is slightly different, but all have the same facilities and are similarly priced. All have an equipped kitchen with a gas-powered refrigerator, solar-powered lights, gas for hot water, and a deck with braai facilities. You do need to supply your own water and firewood.

As all of these camps are unfenced (which is part of their desirability and charm), you should never walk outside your accommodation at night—you don’t want to come face-to-face with a hungry lion or scavenging hyena!

$ | This camp overlooks an enormous expanse of sand and a water hole, where you can watch game come and go from your deck or from the communal areas. Four double cabins with their own bathrooms border a narrow walkway that leads to a large communal kitchen, dining room, and braai area. Bitterpan is accessible only by 4x4, and only guests here may use the road from Nossob to Urikaruus. Pros: spectacular game-viewing from your accommodation; beautiful desert scenery; only four cabins. Cons: 4x4s only; no children under 12; communal kitchen and eating area (cross fingers you share the camp with amenable visitors); it’s a long drive to get here from any starting point; guests have to bring their own drinking water and firewood. | Rooms from: $110 | Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park | 012/428-9111 | | 4 cabins.

$ | Although you’ll need a 4x4 to negotiate the two-track road to Gharagab, it’s worth every dusty mile for the chance to feel like you’re the only person on earth. Situated in the far northern region of the park close to the Namibian border, this camp provides stunning elevated views of Kalahari dunes and the thornveld savanna. Although the game isn’t as abundant as in the Grootkolk area, you’re likely to have unusual or even rare sightings, such as a honey badger, eland, or an aardvark, and the feeling of splendid isolation is unforgettable. You may never again feel this alone. Each long tent built on wooden stilts has a kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom, plus a wooden deck (with a braai) overlooking a water hole. Pros: you’ve probably never experienced solitary wilderness such as this. Cons: 4x4s only; no children under 12; not much in the way of big game; guests must bring their own drinking water and firewood. | Rooms from: $112 | Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park | 012/428-9111 | | 4 cabins | No meals.

$ | Surrounded by camelthorn trees and close to the Nossob River bed, this lovely camp has good game-viewing, with lions, cheetahs, hyenas, and lots of antelope, including oryx and springbok. All four well-sited rustic desert cabins have a good view of the water hole, which is spotlighted for a couple of hours every night. Although the road to Grootkolk is heavily corrugated, you can negotiate it with a two-wheel-drive vehicle. Pros: spotlighted water hole; sublime wilderness; ceiling fans in the cabins. Cons: 4x4s or 2x4s only; no children under 12; chalets are made from canvas and sandbags, so if you prefer something more substantial, stay away. | Rooms from: $122 | Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park | 012/428-9111 | | 4 cabins | No meals.

Kalahari Tent Camp.
$ | Many visitors say that this good game-viewing camp overlooking the Auob River bed and water hole is one of the most beautiful places in the park, so try to stay for more than one night. Your accommodation consists of a large walk-in tent with a spacious and attractive bedroom, shower, and toilet. There’s a separate, fully equipped kitchen tent, also suitable as a dining room, and the terrace between these two tents has excellent views over the riverbed and its wildlife. At night, look out for jackals, lions, a resident family of meerkats, and spare-wheel-cover-eating hyenas around the tents—just be sure to stay in your tent at night and avoid walking around. The secluded honeymoon unit has a king-size bed and a bath and shower. The camp is near the Mata Mata shop and gas station. Pros: near Mata Mata, which has a shop and gas; excellent game; family-friendly; lovely honeymoon tent; ceiling fans in the tents, pool. Cons: guests must bring their own drinking water and firewood. | Rooms from: $125 | Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park | 012/428-9111 | | 10 tents, 4 family tents, 1 honeymoon tent | No meals.

$ | Perched high on a big sand dune only 8 km (5 miles) from the game-rich Auob River road, this small camp overlooks seemingly infinite red Kalahari sands, creating an amazing sense of space and isolation. To be among the red dunes at full moon is an unforgettable experience. The four cabins have stunning views over the desert and come with a kitchen tent, bedroom, bathroom, and deck with braai. Situated in the Twee Rivieren region, the camp can be easily reached with a two-wheel-drive vehicle. Pros: easily accessible with a sedan; you can start your game drives before residents of the other camps reach the area so you have the game to yourself for a while; the red Kalahari sands are unforgettable. Cons: no children under 12; guests must bring their own drinking water and firewood. | Rooms from: $122 | Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park | 012/428-9111 Reservations | | | 4 cabins | No meals.

$ | Four cabins with kitchens, bedrooms, and bathrooms are built on stilts among camelthorn trees overlooking the Auob River. You’ll easily spot game as it comes to drink at the water hole close to the cabins. On-site wardens will help you interpret the spoor you find around your cabin. Set in the Mata Mata region, Urikaruus is accessible by two-wheel-drive vehicles. Pros: accessible with a sedan; stunning location; game to yourself on early-morning and late-afternoon drives; cabins have their own kitchen. Cons: no children under 12; guests must bring their own drinking water and firewood. | Rooms from: $122 | Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park | 012/428-9111 | | 4 cabins | No meals.

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If You Have Time

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Tswalu Kalahari Reserve | Addo Elephant National Park | Shamwari Game Reserve | Kwandwe Private Game Reserve | Madikwe Game Reserve

Although this chapter goes into great detail about the must-see parks in South Africa, there are many others to explore if you have time. Here are a few good ones to consider.


300 km (186 miles) northwest of Kimberley, 270 km (168 miles) northeast of Upington.

Near the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is the malaria-free Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, which at 900 square km (347 square miles) is the biggest privately owned game reserve in Africa; it’s the perfect place to photograph a gemsbok against a red dune and an azure sky. Initially founded as a conservation project by the late millionaire Stephen Boler primarily to protect and breed the endangered desert rhino, it’s now owned by the Oppenheimer family. Today it spreads over endless Kalahari dunes covered with tufts of golden veld and over much of the Northern Cape’s Korannaberg mountain range. Its initial population of 7,000 animals has grown to more than 12,000, and it’s now home to lion, cheetah, buffalo, giraffe, and many species of antelope. It’s the best place in Africa to see rhino—the reserve has more than 50 white and 20 black rhinos, which have amazingly adapted to living in the desert. Other rare species include roan and sable antelope, black wildebeest, and mountain zebra. There’s not so much game as in some of Mpumalanga’s private reserves because the land has a lower carrying capacity (the annual rainfall is only about 9¾ inches). But when you do see the animals, the lack of vegetation makes sightings spectacular. And the fact that only about three open-sided game vehicles traverse an area two-thirds the size of the entire Sabi Sands makes your escape all the more complete.

This is one of the most child-friendly game reserves in Southern Africa. Children are welcomed and well catered to, with lots of freedom and special activities. | 053/781-9331 | |

Getting Here and Around

It’s easiest to fly to Kimberley or Upington and be picked up from there by the lodge. Daily flights are available from Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town with Airlink and Federal Air. Road transfers from Kimberley or Upington can be arranged, or you can book a charter flight from Johannesburg.


The emphasis at Tswalu Reserve is on exclusivity, which is why the entire reserve can accommodate no more than 30 people at a time. For reservations, contact |

The Motse.
$$$$ | Tswalu’s main lodge is made up of freestanding thatch-and-stone suites clustered around a large main building with a heated natural-color pool and a floodlighted water hole. The decor—in keeping with the unusual and unique Tswalu experience—is minimalist and modern, echoing the landscape in colors and textures. Pros: special children’s room and babysitting services and nannies available; unique desert landscape; same great wildlife as Tarkuni; wonderful library with rare books. Cons: no elephants. | Rooms from: $1037 | Tswalu Kalahari Reserve | | 8 suites | All meals.

$$$$ | In a private section of Tswalu, Tarkuni is an exclusive, self-contained house decorated similarly to Motswe and offering a comparable level of luxury. Perfect for small groups and families, Tarkuni sleeps 10 and comes with its own chef, game vehicle, and tracker. The food is almost as memorable as the scenery, and every meal is served in a different location: on a lantern-lighted dune or alongside a crackling fire in the lodge’s boma. Apart from guided walks and drives, horseback trails (not included in the rate) that you traverse with a qualified guide offer close encounters with wildlife. Two sets of bunk beds, plus an adjoining nanny’s quarters, are geared toward children. Pros: this is excellent value for the money, and if there are 10 of you it works out to be far more affordable than most other luxury lodges; a children’s paradise; black-maned Kalahari lions, occasional wild dogs, cheetah, and one-third of South Africa’s endangered desert black rhino population; if you’re a fan of TV’s Meerkat Manor, you’ll be in a seventh heaven. Cons: no elephants. | Rooms from: $5711 | Tswalu Kalahari Reserve | | 1 house | All meals.


72 km (45 miles) north of Port Elizabeth.

Smack in the middle of a citrus-growing and horse-breeding area, Addo Elephant National Park is home to elephants, buffalo, black rhino, leopards, hippos, spotted hyena, hundreds of kudu and other antelopes, and lions. At present the park has about 420,000 acres, but it’s expanding all the time and is intended to reach a total of about 600,000 acres. But Addo is a work in progress: not all of the land is contiguous, and parts of the land are not properly fenced in yet. The most accessible parts of the park are the original, main section and the Colchester, Kabouga, Woody Cape, and Zuurberg sections. The original section of Addo still holds most of the game and is served by Addo Main Camp. The Colchester section, in the south, which has one SANParks camp, is contiguous with the main area but is not properly fenced yet so there’s not much game there. The scenic Nyati section is separated from the main section by a road and railway line; there are two luxury lodges in the Nyati section, and the game-viewing is excellent (but exclusive to guests staying in the lodges). Just north of Nyati is the mountainous Zuurberg section, which doesn’t have a large variety of game but is particularly scenic, with fabulous hiking trails and horse trails. It is also the closest section of the park to Addo Elephant Back Safaris.

You can explore the park in your own vehicle, in which case you need to heed the road signs that claim “dung beetles have right of way” … seriously. Addo is home to the almost-endemic and extremely rare flightless dung beetle, which can often be seen rolling its unusual incubator across the roads. Watch out for them (they’re only about 2 inches long, but they have the right-of-way—as well as sharp spines that can puncture tires), and watch them: they’re fascinating.

Instead of driving you could take a night or day game drive with a park ranger in an open vehicle from the main camp. A more adventurous option is to ride a horse among the elephants. Warning: no citrus fruit may be brought into the park, as elephants find it irresistible and can smell it for miles. | Addo Elephant National Park | 042/233-8600 | | R150 | Daily 7-7 (may vary with seasons).

Getting Here and Around

The closest airport to Addo Elephant Park is Port Elizabeth (PLZ) airport. Flights arrive daily from all of South Africa’s main cities via South African Airways, SA Airlink, and the budget airline Kulula. Flights from Cape Town take one hour and from Johannesburg 1½ hours.

Traveling by car is the easiest and best way to tour this area as there’s no public transportation. Some roads are unpaved but are in decent condition. Most lodges will organize airport transfers for their guests.


Addo Elephant Back Safaris.
This company lets you get up close and personal with a small group of trained African elephants. You get to do a short elephant ride and then go for a scenic walk through the bush with them. You can touch them, feed them, and watch them as they bathe themselves with sand, water, or both (i.e., mud). The whole experience lasts about two to three hours and includes a meal either before or after the safari. You can also arrange for a fly-in day trip from Port Elizabeth. | Addo Elephant National Park | 086/123-3672, 042/235-1400 | | R875 | Visits by appointment only.

Schotia Safaris.
If you’re short on time or budget, Schotia offers a good value, family-run, no-frills safari experience taking place in a privately owned wildlife reserve bordering the eastern side of Addo. Due to its small size (4,200 acres) and the fact that it’s very densely stocked (more than 2,000 animals and 40 species) you’re almost guaranteed to see a wide variety of wildlife—lion, giraffes, hippos, white rhinos, crocodiles, zebras, and all kinds of buck. The popular Tooth and Claw safari (R660) starts at 2:30 pm and includes a game drive and a tasty, generous buffet dinner served in an attractive open-air area with roaring fires. After dinner you’re taken on a short night drive back to the reception area—keep your eyes peeled for some unusual nocturnal animals. There’s also the option of going on a morning game drive into Addo, with lunch, and then the Tooth and Claw safari for R1,320. Other packages include one or two nights’ accommodation on the reserve. Although you may see other vehicles during your drive, tours are very good value and well run, and the guides are excellent. The Tooth and Claw half-day safari can be done easily as a day trip from Port Elizabeth, as it’s only a 45-minute drive away. | Addo Elephant National Park | 042/235-1436 |


Park Accommodations

Addo Elephant National Park Main Camp.
$ | One of the best SANParks rest camps, this location has a range of self-catering accommodations, such as safari tents, forest cabins, rondavels, cottages, and chalets, and a shop that sells basic supplies as well as souvenirs. An à la carte restaurant with reasonable prices is open for all meals, and a floodlighted water hole is nearby. Prices are calculated according to a complicated SANParks formula, which works by unit price, not per person. Camping rates are R175 for up to two people. Note that these are the minimum rates even if there’s only one person booking the accommodation. There’s also a conservation levy, which is paid per person per day in the park. Pros: great value; you get to enter the game area before the main gates open and go on night drives. Cons: the shop has only basic supplies; the rondavels have shared cooking facilities. | Rooms from: $103 | Addo Elephant National Park | 012/428-9111 | | 30 chalets, 12 tent sites, 13 cottages, 2 guesthouses, 10 campsites, 10 cabins, 6 rondavels, 30 caravan sites | No meals.

Luxury Lodges

Gorah Elephant Camp.
$$$$ | A private concession within the main section of Addo, this lodge has accommodations in spacious, luxurious tents with thick thatch canopies that are furnished in colonial-era antiques. Each tent has an en-suite bathroom with shower and a private deck with views. The lodge itself, a gracious old farmhouse dating from 1856, overlooks a watering hole, so it’s possible to watch elephants, buffalo, and other animals from your lunch table or the veranda. Everything is understated yet seriously stylish, including the swimming-pool area, and the cuisine and service are outstanding. There’s no electricity (although solar lamps are more than adequate), and dinner is served by romantic candlelight, either on the veranda or in the splendid dining room. The lodge operates two game drives a day, and the website has interesting updates on the animals viewed on recent game drives. Pros: the food and service are top-notch; guests are not required to sit together at meals. Cons: rooms do not have bathtubs. | Rooms from: $710 | Addo Elephant National Park | 044/501-1111 | | | 11 tents | All-inclusive.

Fodor’s Choice | Hitgeheim Country Lodge.
$$ | This lovely lodge is set on a steep cliff overlooking the Sundays River and the town of Addo. Classically decorated rooms graced with lovely antiques are in separate thatch buildings, all with verandas overlooking the river. The bathrooms are spacious and luxuriously appointed with large tubs and enormous shower stalls. Some rooms have indoor and outdoor showers. Birds frolic in the natural vegetation that has been allowed to grow up to the edge of the verandas, and tame buck often wander around the garden. Hitgeheim (pronounced hitch-ee-hime) is situated on an eco-reserve and you can go for walks to observe bird life and perhaps view some of the 11 indigenous antelope species found here. The food is fabulous, and most guests opt to stay for the six-course dinners (R325, guests only), although simpler dinner options can be tailor-made to your preferences. The lodge has its own game-viewing vehicle and guide, which can be booked at an extra cost, and can also organize elephant-back riding and day trips to the nearby Big Five game reserves. Pros: personal touches, such as a turndown service and luxury bath products by the South African company Charlotte Rhys; friendly and helpful owners. Cons: not for independent travelers, as the owners like to arrange your activities for you; the restaurant is not open to nonguests. | Rooms from: $290 | 18 km (11 miles) from Addo Main Gate on R335, then follow R336 to Kirkwood | Addo Elephant National Park | 042/234-0778 | | 8 chalets | Breakfast.

River Bend Country Lodge.
$$ | Situated on a 34,594-acre private concession within the Nyati section of Addo, River Bend perfectly balances the feel of a sophisticated, comfortable country house with all the facilities of a game lodge. The spacious public rooms, filled with antiques and comfy couches, are in a beautifully renovated farmhouse and outbuildings. The guest rooms are in individual cottages with private verandas dotted around the lovely gardens; some have outdoor showers and each is uniquely decorated with a different color scheme. In addition to the usual game drives, you can tour the adjacent citrus farm and a small game sanctuary, where you may see animals not found in Addo—giraffes, white rhinos, blue wildebeest, nyala, and impala. There’s also a safari villa that sleeps six. Pros: kids are welcome, and there’s an enclosed playground; the food is excellent, especially the seven-course dinner menu. Cons: decor is more English colonial than African; only the honeymoon suite has a plunge pool. | Rooms from: $420 | On R335, about 70 km (43 miles) north of Port Elizabeth | Addo Elephant National Park | 042/233-8000 | | | 8 suites | All meals.


45 km (72 miles) from Port Elizabeth.

In the Eastern Cape, Shamwari Game Reserve is, in every sense of the word, a conservation triumph. Unprofitable farmland has been turned into a successful tourist attraction, wild animals have been reintroduced, and alien vegetation has been, and is still being, eradicated. The reserve is constantly being expanded and now stands at about 62,000 acres. Its mandate is to conserve not only the big impressive animals but also small things: the plants, buildings, history, and culture of the area. Shamwari has been named the World’s Leading Conservation Company and Safari Lodge at the World Travel Awards 13 times. | Shamwari Game Reserve | 041/407-1000 |

Getting Here and Around

The closest airport to Shamwari Game Reserve is Port Elizabeth (PLZ) airport, about 45 km (72 miles) away. Small and easy to navigate, the airport is served daily by South African Airways, SA Airlink, and Kulula. Flights arrive from Cape Town (1 hour) and Johannesburg (1½ hours). From here it’s best to rent your own car, as there isn’t any reliable public transportation. If you’re flying into Port Elizabeth and visiting only Shamwari, it may be easier to arrange an airport transfer with the reserve. As with all of the luxury game reserves, it’s advised that you arrive by midday so you can check in and have lunch before the afternoon game drive.


Luxury Lodges

Bayethe Tented Lodge.
$$$ | Huge air-conditioned safari tents under thatch roofs create comfortable accommodations, and private decks with plunge pools overlook the Buffalo River. One tent is wheelchair accessible. Suites, which are separated from the other rooms by the reception area and a walk of a hundred yards or so, are huge and impressive. Gleaming light wood floors, fireplaces, and an enormous deck with the most beautiful loungers all contribute to a sense of restrained style and opulence. As at all the lodges at Shamwari, you sit with your game ranger and other guests for breakfast and dinner. Pros: each tent has an amazing outside shower and hammock; tents have fabulous bathrooms; the king-size beds have comfortable 400-thread-count sheets. Cons: no Wi-Fi. | Rooms from: $553 | Shamwari Game Reserve | 041/407-1000 | | 12 tents | All-inclusive.

Fodor’s Choice | Eagles Crag.
$$$$ | Very different from the other Shamwari options, this sleek, modern lodge makes use of light wood, pale sandstone, and stainless-steel finishes. It’s light and airy and spacious. All rooms have indoor and outdoor showers and private decks with plunge pools. Glass walls fold away to bring the feel of the bush into the room. You may also spot a movie star along with the wildlife; a number of celebrities have stayed here. As with all the lodges at Shamwari, breakfast and dinner are taken communally with your guide and other guests. Dinner alternates between a traditional South African braai cooked on open fires and an à la carte menu. Pros: a carefully selected choice of top local wines and spirits is included; the rooms are enormous. Cons: the reception areas are very large and can feel impersonal. | Rooms from: $670 | Shamwari Game Reserve | 041/407-1000 | | 9 suites | All-inclusive.

Lobengula Lodge.
$$$$ | Rooms are set around a central lawn and pool area but face outward for privacy. Thatch roofs and earth tones are part of the African decor. All rooms have outdoor and indoor showers and open onto a private veranda. Two rooms and the suite have private plunge pools. Meals are served around a fireplace, and you may choose wines from the extensive cellar. Pros: there are only six rooms, so it feels very exclusive; service is top-notch. Cons: only three rooms have private pools; meals are taken communally with other guests and your ranger. | Rooms from: $5650 | Shamwari Game Reserve | 041/407-1000 | | 6 suites | All-inclusive.


38 km (24 miles) northeast of Grahamstown.

Kwandwe Private Game Reserve is tucked away in the Eastern Cape, near the quaint, historic cathedral city of Grahamstown. More than a decade ago, the area was ravaged farmland and goat-ridden semidesert. Today it is a conservation triumph—more than 55,000 acres of various vegetation types and scenic diversity, including rocky outcrops, great plains, thorn thickets, forests, desert scrub, and the Great Fish River—that’s home to more than 7,000 mammals, including the Big Five. Your chances of seeing the elusive black rhino are very good, and it’s likely you’ll see game you don’t always see elsewhere, such as the black wildebeest, the black-footed cat, caracal, Cape grysbok, and many rare and endangered birds. Kwandwe is also known for its nocturnal animals, so it’s worth opting for a night drive, during which you stand a pretty good chance of unusual sightings like aardwolf, aardvark, porcupine, genet, and other creatures of the night.

Kwandwe means “place of the blue crane” in Xhosa, and you may well see South Africa’s national bird on any of your thrilling game drives. If you come in winter, you’ll see one of nature’s finest floral displays, when thousands of scarlet, orange, and fiery-red aloes are in bloom, attended by colorful sunbirds. | 046/622-7897 | |

Getting Here and Around

Kwandwe is a 20-minute drive from Grahamstown, and air and road shuttles are available from Port Elizabeth, which is a two-hour drive.


There are four great places to stay within the reserve; guests can choose between classic colonial or modern chic. You’ll be cosseted, pampered, well-fed, and taken on some memorable wildlife adventures. Kwandwe is a member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux group. All the lodges listed here have cable TV in a communal area as well as a safari shop, and massages are available upon request. The child-friendly lodges have movies and games. In the single-use lodges, these are hidden away in a cupboard, so you can keep their existence a secret from your brood unless a rainy day makes them essential. For reservations, contact |

Luxury Lodges

Ecca Lodge.
$$$ | This classy lodge combines understated modern elegance with Scandinavian chic. High, white, open-raftered, wooden ceilings top paneled walls, and the furnishings complement and enhance the views outside the huge windows and viewing decks. Orange cushions echo the flowering aloes, soft greens repeat the surrounding wilderness, and the pillars of rough-hewn rock with russet-colored rugs at their base recall the kopjes and wildflowers that dot the reserve. Your bedroom may qualify as one of the biggest you will ever sleep in. Keep the curtains facing your king-size bed open at night so that you’re woken by a dazzling dawn. Chill by the rim-flow lodge pool, or just hang out at your private plunge pool with only the birds and the sounds of the wilderness to keep you company. You’ll dine in a big airy dining room with an interactive kitchen. Watch the chef whip up bobotie (spicy minced meat with savory custard topping)—the house special—toss a pancake or three, or stir some succulent sauce. If you find time, watch DVDs or read in the library or games room, or just sit on your massive wraparound deck and listen to the silence. Pros: superb guides; attentive well-trained local staff; a must-see community center and village. Cons: temperamental showers that ricochet between scalding hot and freezing cold; no tea and coffee in the rooms. | Rooms from: $588 | Kwandwe Private Game Reserve | 046/622-7897 | | 6 rooms | All meals.

Fodor’s Choice | Great Fish River Lodge.
$$$ | If you have an artistic eye, you’ll immediately notice how the curving thatch roof of the main buildings echoes the mountain skyline opposite. Steps lead down to the public areas—dining room, comfortable lounges, and library—that sprawl along the banks of the Great Fish River. Floor-to-ceiling windows bathe the stone walls, Persian rugs, fireplaces, deep armchairs, bookcases, and old prints and photographs in clear light. At night the stars provide a dazzling display as lions call over the noise of the rushing river. All the spacious en-suite bedrooms overlook the river, and you’ll be hard put to tear yourself away from your personal plunge-pool-with-a-view to go chasing game. The suites are decorated in greens, browns, and creams that make you feel part of the world outside your picture windows. The lodge is permeated with a comfortable colonial ambience—the 21st century has never seemed so far away. Pros: spectacular river views; unusual habitats (it’s not often you find lions clambering up and down rocky outcrops); ultrafriendly staff. Cons: avoid if you’re a bit unsteady as there are lots of tricky steps. | Rooms from: $588 | Kwandwe Private Game Reserve | 046/622-7897 | | 9 suites | All meals.

Melton Manor.
$$$$ | Slightly bigger than Uplands, the Manor accommodates up to eight guests and offers the same superb service and exclusivity. It’s a farmhouse in contemporary style with handmade clay chandeliers, cowhide rugs, vintage ball-and-claw armoires, and huge bathrooms with claw-foot tubs. Built around a small central lawn with a swimming pool, the four spacious rooms look outward into the bush for privacy. You have your own chef and game ranger, and you call the shots. This is a great option for families, as you can take the little ones on game drives or leave them behind with babysitters. It’s also a good deal for three couples traveling together (and a great deal for four). Pros: exclusivity deluxe; great food. Cons: as you’re in your own group you miss out on the opportunity to meet other lodge guests. | Rooms from: $1925 | Kwandwe Private Game Reserve | 046/622-7897 | | 4 rooms | All meals.

Uplands Homestead.
$$$$ | If you’re a small family or a bunch of friends and want to have a genuine, very exclusive, out-of-Africa experience, then stay at this restored 1905 colonial farmhouse. There are three spacious en-suite bedrooms with balconies furnished in early Settlers style, and you’ll have your own tracking and guiding team, plus a dedicated chef. The game experience is excellent, and you’ll have memorable moments sitting around a blazing log fire as you swap fireside tales in the evening. Try one of Kwandwe’s specialist safaris that range from learning about carnivore research to walking trails and excursions revealing the colorful past of this area, which is steeped in cultural, military, and archaeological history. Pros: perfect for that special family occasion or friends’ reunion. Cons: you’re in very close proximity to other guests, so it can be a bummer if you don’t mesh well. | Rooms from: $1685 | Kwandwe Private Game Reserve | 011/809-4300 | | 3 rooms | All meals.


Just as leopards and Sabi Sand Game Reserve are synonymous, think of Madikwe Game Reserve and wild dogs in the same way. This is probably your best chance in South Africa to have an almost guaranteed sighting of the “painted wolves.”

More than two decades ago the 765-square-km (475-square-mile) area bordering Botswana was a wasteland of abandoned cattle farms, overgrown bush, and rusting fences. A brilliant and unique collaboration between the North West Parks Board, private enterprise, and local communities changed all that when Operation Phoenix—one of the most ambitious game relocation programs in the world—relocated 8000 animals of 27 different species to Madikwe. Soon after, it became one of the fastest-growing safari destinations in South Africa.

Madikwe today is teeming with game. Spot the Big Five, plus resident breeding packs of the endangered painted wolves—the wild dogs of Africa. On your morning, evening, or night game drive, you’ll spot dozens of cheetahs, hippos, zebras, wildebeests, antelopes of all kinds, monkeys, and baboons. Birders can spot more than 350 birds. Be dazzled by the crimson-breasted shrike, the lilac-breasted roller, yellow-billed and red-billed hornbills, rlue waxbills, and lots more birds both brightly colored and demurely attired that are here.

Madikwe can’t claim the great rivers, giant riverine trees, and range of habitats that Kruger or Sabi Sand have, but it has a diverse landscape including wide plains, thick bushveld, an area steeped in history, and a background of low purple mountains. The reserve also has three advantages over many of the others: it’s only 4½ hours from Johannesburg on good roads; it’s malaria-free; and it doesn’t allow day visitors. Choose between 30 top-class lodges, get your binoculars ready, and off you go.

Getting Here and Around

Madikwe is an easy drive on good roads from Johannesburg. Take the N4 from Johannesburg towards Swartruggens and Zeerust. At Zeerust take the R49 and follow the Madikwe signs. Ask your lodge for detailed instructions. You’ll be driven around in an open game vehicle by your lodge; guided bush walks are also available. No day visitors are allowed.


In the south, choose between the ultraluxurious Tuningi Lodge, where a 300-year-old fig tree stands sentinel over a busy water hole, or either of Jaci’s delightful lodges. Madikwe Safari Lodge, managed by the More family of Mpumalanga’s Lion Sands, is another example of this company’s high standards of luxury, service, and game-viewing.

Tau Lodge in the north of the reserve is more like a small resort than a private safari lodge, but the accommodations are excellent, the food good, and game drives excellent. Always check for special offers at any of the Madikwe lodges. You can often get very affordable rates especially off-season.

Luxury Lodges

Jaci’s Lodges.
$$$ | The two lodges that comprise Jaci’s Lodges are family owned and their longstanding reputation for friendliness, superb game drives, and comfortable accommodations has made them synonymous with the name of Madikwe Game Reserve. Jaci’s Safari Lodge sits in the heart of the reserve on the edge of the Marico River. You’ll stay in one of eight roomy tented suites with outdoor showers, free-standing baths, and a private deck looking out over the bushveld and river below. The welcoming public areas are bright and cheerful with a seamless fusion of contemporary and African decor. This is probably one of the most child-friendly lodges in South Africa. Take the older kids with you on guided game drives or the little ones on special children’s drives (four years and under). Child supervision is available during evening meals or for morning or afternoon drives. You can also take refuge in the loft bar. The eight rooms of the secluded Jaci’s Tree Lodge, built of rosewood and thatch and perched on stilts connected by wooden walkways, have views across the river. You may not want to leave your leafy aerie and its surrounding birdsong. Pros: friendly, welcoming atmosphere; great children’s activities and facilities; great game. Cons: if children aren’t your thing, stay away from Safari Lodge. | Rooms from: $523 | Madikwe Game Reserve | 083/700-2071 | | | 8 suites per camp | All meals.

Madikwe Safari Lodge.
$$$$ | This stunning five-star lodge in the central eastern region of the park is managed by the More family of Lion Sands, and their attention to detail, reputation for fine food and excellent service, and thrilling game drives are readily apparent. Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, and Jay-Z have all spent family time here. The lodge comprises three different lodges: Lelapa, the largest, with 12 suites; Kopano and Dithaba both with four suites each. Imagine a happy union between Middle Earth and Great Zimbabwe—adobe and thatch buildings with pointed roofs, house nooks, crannies, viewing decks, bars, and dining areas. The suites are huge, with floor-to-ceiling windows, a lounge area with a comfy sofa, and an open fireplace. Your room includes a king-size bed, dressing area, bathroom with his-and-her basins and large tub, and an indoor-outdoor shower. Earth tones are complemented by bright cushions and throws. Sit out on your large wooden deck and watch the amazing bird life, or dip into the plunge pool on those very hot days. Kids are welcome and a visit to the fascinating Eco House, which houses all kinds of interesting natural exhibits is a must. Pros: malaria-free; superb accommodation; great food; excellent game-viewing. Cons: not as scenically beautiful as the Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal reserves; long walks between suites. | Rooms from: $757 | Madikwe Game Reserve | 018/350-9931 | | | 20 suites | All meals.

Tuningi Safari Lodge.
$$$ | A 300 year-old fig tree dominates the the ultraluxurious Tuningi Lodge overlooking a busy water hole that will keep you entranced all day. In winter especially this water hole is a pachyderm Times Square, with elephants coming and going all day and night. The lodge is themed around African-colonial chic with a huge comfortable lounge overlooking the pool. Your spacious villa decorated in earth tones with lots of wood everywhere has a king-size bed, a bathroom with a sunken bath, and an open fireplace (wonderful in winter). Tuningi is child-friendly and has special children’s programs. If you want some quiet time, dedicated rangers and staff will take care of the kids, and if you’re traveling with family or in a small group seeking privacy, then the family unit of Little Tuningi fits the bill. Pros: superb accommodation, service, and food. Cons: pricey but look out for special offers particularly in the off-season. | Rooms from: $553 | Madikwe Game Reserve | 082/894-0960 | | | 16 villas | All meals.

Thakadu River Camp.
$$$ | This gorgeous community-based tented safari camp is built of stone, wood, and canvas. It lies on the banks of the Marico River in the eastern part of Madikwe. It is unique in South Africa in that the Molatedi community owns the development and runs it in tandem with North-West Parks and a private company, The Madikwe Collection. You’ll stay in a tented suite decorated in an Asian-African style which nestles in the riverine canopy with your own private viewing deck and en-suite bathroom with his and hers basins, a Victorian bath, a shower and separate toilet. Tents are huge and comfortably furnished with a big four-poster bed, polished wood floors, an inviting couch, oriental rugs, wooden chests, and brass lamps making it hard to believe that the Big Five are roaming just outside. Four of the tents are family suites with an extra sleeper couch. Children of all ages are welcome and there’s a great children’s program. Nannies are also available for the very small children. There’s a big open-plan dining, lounge and bar area overlooking the surrounding river and bush. An unusual bonus is that as you lap up your luxurious surroundings your conscience will be stilled by knowing that your comfort and support is really helping the local community. Pros: drop-dead luxury, gorgeous views, full-on community involvement. Cons: you’ll be sharing the reserve with lots of other vehicles (although only 3 allowed around a predator sighting). | Rooms from: $553 | Madikwe Game Reserve | 011/805-9995 | | 12 suites | All meals.

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Gateway Cities

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Johannesburg | Cape Town

South Africa’s two hub cities are Johannesburg and Cape Town. It’s almost certain that you’ll arrive and leave the country from one of these two cities. Make the most of your time in transit—there’s a lot you can do in 24 hours, or even less.


Johannesburg epitomizes South Africa’s paradoxical make-up—it’s rich, poor, innovative, and historical. Traders hawk skop (boiled sheep’s head, split open and eaten off newspaper) in front of polished glass buildings, as taxis jockey for position in rush hour. Sangomas (traditional healers) lay out herbs and roots next to the pavement tents of roadside barbers, and you never seem to be far from a woman selling vetkoek (dollops of deep-fried dough), beneath billboards advertising investment banks or cellphones.

Jo’burg was born as a mining camp, and its downtown area—the oldest part—is a jumbled grid of one-way streets heading in opposite directions reflecting its hasty start to life. While the city center is experiencing a revival, it’s not somewhere that all visitors choose to visit close up. The attractions in or close to the city center include the Nelson Mandela Bridge, MuseuMAfrica and the SAB World of Beer in the Newtown area, the Johannesburg Art Gallery, the Standard Bank Gallery and Diagonal Street in the downtown area, and Constitution Hill, the Civic Theatre, and the Johannesburg Planetarium and Origins Centre, both at the University of the Witwatersrand, in Braamfontein.


When to Go

Jo’burgers boast that they enjoy the best climate in the world: not too hot in summer (mid-September-mid-April), not too cold in winter (mid-April-mid-September) and not prone to sudden temperature changes. Summer may have the edge, though: it’s when the gardens and open spaces are at their most beautiful.

Getting Here and Around

Airport Transfers O.R. Tambo International Airport (formerly Johannesburg International Airport) is linked to the city by a fast highway, which is especially busy before 9 am and between 4 and 7 pm.

The high-speed Gautrain operates a route between Johannesburg and Pretoria, and to the O.R.Tambo International Airport. It takes just 12 minutes to get from the airport to the central area of Sandton—a route that can take an hour in a car. At R115 per person one way from the airport to any of the stations, it’s also cheaper than a cab or airport shuttle. There are special Gautrain buses that pick up train passengers and travel fairly wide routes in Johannesburg and Pretoria, but if you’re in a hurry or have luggage, it’s best to take a taxi, which you’ll find parked outside any of the stations (be sure to travel in a metered taxi or ask for a price to your destination up front). The train is an enjoyable ride, and worth doing if you have the chance.

Magic Bus offers private transfers to all major Sandton hotels (R455 per vehicle, for up to seven people) as well as door-to-door chauffeur services anywhere in Johannesburg, Pretoria, or even to Sun City (call them for rates). The journey from the airport to Sandton takes 45 minutes to an hour, longer in rush-hour traffic. Airport Link will ferry you from the airport (or anywhere in Gauteng or even farther afield, just inquire for rates) in a small luxury bus for R420 for the first person and an additional R55 per extra person. Wilro Tours runs private transfers from the airport to Sandton, Rosebank, Fourways and Westcliff for R755 for up to three people, plus R250 if you arrive between 9 pm and 6 am, and will also shuttle you to Rovos Rail, the Blue Train, or elsewhere (inquire directly for rates). In addition, scores of licensed taxis line up outside the airport terminal. By law they must have a working meter. Expect to pay about R350-R450 for a trip to Sandton. Negotiate a price before you get in a taxi.

Most hotels offer transfers. Prices vary, depending on where you are staying, but plan on R350-R450 ($35-$45) for a ride from the airport to Sandton, Rosebank or Melrose hotels or guest houses. Most will allow you to add the charge to your bill, so you needn’t worry about paying in cash.

Car Travel It’s virtually impossible to see anything of the Johannesburg area without a car. Your best bet is to rent one, decide what you want to see, and get a good road map or rent a GPS navigator. If you’re reluctant to drive yourself, book a couple day tours that will pick you up from where you’re staying or from a central landmark. Often, these are an excellent value, and you get an insider’s perspective.

Taxi Travel Shared minibus taxis form the backbone of Jo’burg’s transportation for ordinary commuters, but you should avoid using them since they’re often not roadworthy, drivers can be irresponsible, and it’s difficult to know where they’re going without consulting a local or knowing an African language like Zulu. Car taxis, though more expensive, are easier to use. They have stands at the airport and the train station, but otherwise you must phone for one. Ask the taxi company how long it will take the taxi to get to you. Taxis should be licensed and have a working meter. Expect to pay about R450 to the airport from town or Sandton and about R250 to the city center from Sandton.


If you have only one day in Jo’burg, take a tour of Soweto and visit the Apartheid Museum, then stop by Constitution Hill if you have a chance. Spend the evening having dinner at an African-style restaurant, such as Moyo. If you have a second day, focus on what interests you most: perhaps a trip to the Cradle of Humankind, where you can explore the sites of some of the world’s most significant paleontological discoveries; a trip to Cullinan, where you can visit a working diamond mine; or a fun day or two at Sun City.


Several companies offer general-interest tours of Johannesburg, some of which are customizable. Expect to pay about R1,200 to R1,500 for a full-day tour, double that for a single-person tour, and about R700 to R900 for a half-day tour (double that if for a single person). Small-group tours tend to be more expensive than larger group tours.

Africa Explore offers full-day and half-day tours; the full package (from R1,300 per person per day on a group tour to R1,920 per person for a single-person tour) includes the Kromdraai Gold Mine, Sterkfontein Caves, and the Rhino and Lion Park.

Tours of Soweto are offered by many of the above operators as well as from, a private initiative of tour operator KDR Travel.

Safety and Precautions

Johannesburg is notorious for being a dangerous city—it’s quite common to hear about serious crimes such as armed robbery and murder. Even South Africans fear it, regarding it as some Americans regard New York City: big and bad. That said, it’s safe for visitors who avoid dangerous areas and take reasonable precautions. TIP Never, ever visit a township or squatter camp on your own. Carjacking is so prevalent that there are permanent street signs marking those areas that are most dangerous. Order a car service or transportation from your hotel for trips in and around the city. TIP It’s inadvisable to drive yourself in and around the city, as certain areas are known carjacking spots. If you do, drive with your doors locked and no visible bags or valuables inside the car.

Visitor Information

The helpful Gauteng Tourism Authority has information on the whole province and a good website, but more detailed information is often available from local tourism associations—for example, the Soweto branch of the national Accommodation Association lists more than 20 lodgings. The Johannesburg Tourism Company also has a good website, with information about Johannesburg and up-to-date listings of events happening around the city. Both the Gauteng Tourism Authority’s and City of Johannesburg’s websites list local events, news, service advisories, and more.

National Tourism Association—Soweto.
7862 Pitsonyane Street, Orlando West | Soweto | 1804 | 072/882-9664 |


Airport Transfers
Airport Link. | 011/794-8300, 083/625-5090 |
Gautrain. | Rosebank, | Johannesburg | 0800/428-87246 | .
Magic Bus. | 011/548-0800 |
Wilro Tours & Transfers. | 011/789-9688 |

General Interest Tours
Africa Explore. | 011/917-1999, 072/242-2281 |
JMT Tours and Safaris. | 010/233-0073, 083/307-4390 |
Johannesburg Tourism. | 011/214-0700 |
Palaeo-Tours. | 011/023-4234 |
Wilro Tours & Transfers. | 011/789-9688 |

Maxi Taxi. | 011/648-1200, 011/648-1212.
Rose Taxis. | 011/403-9625 |
Quick Cab. | 086/166-5566 |

Township Tours | 011/315-1534 |

Visitor Info
City of Johannesburg. |
Gauteng Tourism Authority. | 011/085-2500 |



U.S. Embassy.
1 Sandton Dr. | Sandton | 2146 | 011/290-3000.

Emergency Services

10177 National emergency number, 122 From a mobile phone, 011/375-5911 When in Johannesburg and environs, 082/911 Netcare 911 (private medical rescue service). Call this number if you have medical insurance.

General Emergencies.
10111 from landline, 112 from cell.



Milpark Hospital.
9 Guild Rd., off Empire Rd., Parktown West | 2193 | 011/480-5600 |

Mediclinic Sandton.
Main Rd. and Peter Pl., off William Nicol Dr. | Bryanston | 2021 | 011/709-2000 |


The Greater Johannesburg metropolitan area is massive—more than 1,600 square km (635 square miles)—incorporating the large municipalities of Randburg and Sandton to the north. Most of the sights are just north of the city center, which degenerated badly in the 1990s but is now being revamped.

About 20 km (12 miles) southwest of downtown Johannesburg lies the vast township of Soweto, where you can take a township tour and visit the Hector Pieterson Museum. To the southeast, in Ormonde, are the Apartheid Museum and Gold Reef City. Johannesburg’s northern suburbs are its most affluent. Rosebank and Sandton are the city’s shopping meccas.

TIP If you only have 24 hours, spend the evening at Newtown, and the next day take any one of the numerous half-day or full-day tours on offer.

Fodor’s Choice | Apartheid Museum.
The Apartheid Museum takes you on a journey through South African apartheid history—from the entrance, where you pass through a turnstile according to your assigned skin color (black or white), to the myriad historical, brutally honest, and sometimes shocking photographs, video displays, films, documents, and other exhibits. It’s an emotional, multilayered journey. As you walk chronologically through the apartheid years and eventually reach the country’s first steps to freedom, with democratic elections in 1994, you experience a taste of the pain and suffering with which so many South Africans had to live. A room with 121 ropes with hangman’s knots hanging from the ceiling—one rope for each political prisoner executed in the apartheid era—is especially chilling. | Northern Pkwy. and Gold Reef Rd., Ormonde | 2091 | 011/309-4700 | | R60 | Tues.-Sun. 9-5.

Fodor’s Choice | Cradle of Humankind.
This World Heritage Site stretches over an area of about 470 square km (181 square miles), with about 300 caves. Inside these caves, paleoanthropologists have discovered thousands of fossils of hominids and other animals, dating back about 4 million years. The most famous of these fossils are Mrs. Ples and Little Foot, both Australopithecus hominids more than 2 million years old. Although the Cradle does not have the world’s oldest hominid fossils, it does have the most complete fossil record of human evolution of anywhere on earth and has produced more hominid fossils than anywhere else.

Archaeological finds at the Cradle of Humankind include 1.7 million-year-old stone tools, the oldest recorded in southern Africa. At Swartkrans, near Sterkfontein, a collection of burned bones tells us that our ancestors could manage fire more than 1 million years ago.

Not all the fossil sites in the Cradle are open to the public, but a tour of the Sterkfontein Caves and the visitor center provides an excellent overview of the finds in the Cradle, and a trip to Maropeng, a much larger visitor center 10 km (6 miles) from the Sterkfontein Caves, provides even more background. Special tours to fossil sites with expert guides can be booked on the Maropeng website, at

Public transport to the Cradle of Humankind area is limited, so using a rental car or transfer with a tour company is best, and some hotels in the area arrange transport on request. The Cradle of Humankind is about a 90-minute drive northwest of Johannesburg and is relatively well signposted once you get off the N1 highway at the 14th Avenue off-ramp. | Off R563 Hekpoort Rd., Sterkfontein | 1911 | 014/577-9000 |

Maropeng Visitor Centre.
Maropeng is the official visitor centre of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. It provides information about the various fossil sites in the area. About a 90-minute drive from either Johannesburg or Pretoria, it’s one of the area’s top attractions. | Off R563 Hekpoort Rd., Sterkfontein | 1911 | 014/577-9000 |

Gold Reef City.
This theme park lets you step back in time to 1880s Johannesburg and see why it became known as the City of Gold. One of the city’s most popular attractions, it has good rides that kids will enjoy and is based on the history of Jo’burg. In addition to riding the Anaconda, a scary rollercoaster on which you hang under the track, feet in the air, you can (for an additional fee) descend into an old gold mine and see molten gold being poured, or watch a gumboot dance, a riveting miners’ dance. The reconstructed streets are lined with operating Victorian-style shops and restaurants. And for those with money to burn, the large, glitzy Gold Reef Village Casino beckons across the road. | Shaft 14, Northern Parkway, 6 km (4 miles) south of city center, Ormonde | 2091 | 011/248-6800 | | R160 | Wed.-Sun. (except for school holidays, when it’s open 7 days a week) 9:30-5; mine tours 10-4 every hour.

Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum.
Opposite Holy Cross Church, a stone’s throw from the former homes of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Vilakazi Street, the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum is a crucial landmark. Pieterson, a 13-year-old scholar, was the first victim of police fire on June 16, 1976, when schoolchildren rose up to protest their second-rate Bantu (black) education system. The memorial is a paved area with benches for reflection, an inscribed stone and simple water feature; inside the museum are grainy photographs and films that bring that fateful day to life. A total of 562 small granite blocks in the museum courtyard are a tribute to the children who died in the Soweto uprisings. | Khumalo and Phela Sts., Orlando West | 1804 | 011/536-2253 | | R30 | Mon.-Fri. 10-4, Sat. 10-5, Sun. 10-4.


Jo’burgers love eating out, and there are thousands of restaurants scattered throughout the city to satisfy them. Some notable destinations for food include Melrose Arch, Parkhurst, Sandton, the South (for its Portuguese cuisine), Melville, and Chinatown in the CBD (Central Business District). Try asking locals what they recommend; eating out is the most popular form of entertainment in Johannesburg, and everyone has a list of favorite spots, which changes often. Also check out the restaurants recommended on the official Johannesburg website ( Smart-casual dress is a good bet. Many establishments are closed on Sunday nights and Monday.

The Butcher Shop and Grill.
$$$ | STEAKHOUSE | This is a good place for hungry meat lovers. It specializes in prime South African meat aged to perfection by Alan Pick, the butcher-owner. An operating butchery features prominently in the restaurant, and special cuts can be ordered for the meal or to take home. Kudu, springbok, ostrich, and other game are often on the specials list, and only the most tender cuts are served. For lighter choices, try the chicken or linefish. Jelly and custard pudding is a favorite with regulars. There’s an excellent wine cellar. | Average main: $29 | Nelson Mandela Sq., Shop 30 | Sandton | 2196 | 011/784-8676 |

Gramadoelas at the Market Theatre.
$$ | AFRICAN | Crossing the threshold here is like stepping into a strange old museum: African artifacts and mirrors litter the huge room. Established in 1967, Gramadoelas has hosted an impressive list of guests including Nelson Mandela, Elton John, the Queen of England, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and many others. The restaurant specializes in South African fare, but does have a few dishes from farther north in the continent. Try umngqusho (beans and whole corn) or, if you’re feeling adventurous, mogodu (unbleached ox tripe) or masonja (mopane worms, or large, edible caterpillars). Traditional Cape Malay dishes include lamb bredie (lamb casserole in a tomato sauce) and bobotie (a spicy casserole of minced lamb with savory custard topping). Meat lovers will like the selection of game meats such as the kudu (antelope) panfried with dried fruit and spices. The popular buffet is available Tues.-Sat. evenings for R250. | Average main: $12 | Market Theatre, Margaret Mcingana St., Newtown | 2001 | 011/838-6960 | | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. No lunch Mon.

Fodor’s Choice | Moyo.
$$ | AFRICAN | From the food and decor to the music and live entertainment, Moyo is strongly African in theme. The focus of the rich and varied menu is pan-African, incorporating tandoori cookery from northern Africa, Cape Malay influences such as lentil bobotie, Moroccan-influenced tasty tagines (stews with lamb, chicken, fish, or seven vegetables), and ostrich burgers and other dishes representing South Africa. Diners are often entertained by storytellers, face painters, and musicians. The restaurant has six locations . At night or in wintertime, Melrose Arch is the best bet of the two Jo’burg outposts. In summer and during the day, the Zoo Lake branch is the nicest. | Average main: $17 | Melrose Arch, Shop 5, High St., Melrose North | 2196 | 011/684-1477 | | Reservations essential.

Wandie’s Place.
$$ | AFRICAN | Wandie’s Place isn’t the only good township restaurant, but it’s the best known and one of the most popular spots in Jo’burg. The decor is eclectic township (a bit makeshift), and the walls are adorned with signatures and business cards of tourists who have crossed its path. The waiters are smartly dressed in bow ties, and the food is truly African. Meat stews, imifino (a leafy African dish), sweet potatoes, beans, corn porridge, traditionally cooked pumpkin, chicken, and tripe are laid out in a buffet in a motley selection of pots and containers. The food is hot, the drinks are cold, and the conversation flows. You may end up here with a tour bus, but it’s big enough to cope. It’s not that difficult to find, and parking is safe, but it’s probably better to organize a visit on a guided trip. | Average main: $17 | 618 Makhalamele St., Dube | 1801 | 011/982-2796 |


Many of the hotels are linked to nearby malls and are well policed. Boutique hotels have sprung up everywhere, as have bed-and-breakfasts. Hotels are quieter in December and January when schools are closed and many Jo’burgers go to the coast for their annual holidays. Rates are often cheaper over this period. Most, if not all, of the good hotels are now in the northern suburbs.

54 on Bath.
$$ | HOTEL | Most of the visitors to 54 on Bath are businesspeople drawn to the old-world elegance behind the towering brick facade and concrete columns, though the popular champagne bar does draw locals. It’s also in the center of Rosebank and linked to the nearby mall and African crafts market by a second-floor sky bridge. The upmarket restaurant, Level Four, has established itself as one of Johannesburg’s culinary centers. Travelers rave about the breakfast and dinner (an a la carte menu including dishes like rib-eye steak, duck and salmon). One of the hotel’s finest features is the rooftop garden and pool area, which has sweeping views of the northern suburbs’ greenery. Pros: free Wi-Fi for in-house guests throughout the hotel; direct access to malls via sky bridge; free transportation to the Gautrain station. Cons: construction in the area can be noisy; not on airport shuttle route, although the hotel will arrange transport from the airport for a fee. | Rooms from: $408 | 54 Bath Ave., Rosebank | 2196 | 011/344-8500 | | 71 rooms, 2 suites | Breakfast.

$ | HOTEL | This small, upmarket guesthouse in central Rosebank is an old Cape Dutch house with a gracious garden that offers good value in an area known for expensive accommodation. It has an engaging mix of old and new—Oregon pine floorboards, antique inlaid-wood side tables from Morocco, custom-made couches, and modern, whimsical sculptures like one by Anton Smit, of a woman floating above water. The bedroom suites are luxurious and have heated floors; four have wheelchair access. The superb food has a strong French influence, though often with a local twist, and the chef adapts his menu daily to whatever fresh ingredients he can purchase. Pros: 24-hour manned security and CCTV cameras; free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel; restaurant serves breakfast daily, and lunch and dinner are available upon request. Cons: Some of the on-site parking spaces are difficult to negotiate; noise from the pool activity can travel to the suites; dining at lunch and dinner times needs to be booked in advance. | Rooms from: $186 | 27 Sturdee Ave., at Jellicoe Ave., Rosebank | 2196 | 011/252-3300 | | 9 suites, including 1 room with kitchen | Breakfast.

Crowne Plaza Johannesburg-The Rosebank.
$ | HOTEL | Notable for its quirky public spaces—Louis XVI reproduction armchairs, white shaggy rugs, and the very popular Circle Bar with its beaded booths—The Rosebank Crowne Plaza is an “it” spot for late-night revelry. Standard rooms are small but perfectly formed, with white vinyl armchairs and side tables. Most will love the black-glass bathroom cube in the deluxe rooms (except those who enjoy privacy—this is not the room to share with a buddy). The so-called Heavenly beds are just that, and directional lighting means you can read while your partner sleeps. Sony Bravia LCD screens with 28 satellite-TV channels, and iPod docking stations are standard in every room. Rooms also feature good work spaces, with back-supporting swivel chairs and multiple plug adaptors at eye level. Pros: hip nightspot; great spa and gym. Cons: popular with partying locals; bathrooms in deluxe suites lack privacy. | Rooms from: $227 | Tyrwhitt and Sturdee Aves., Rosebank | 2132 | 011/448-3600 | | 294 rooms, 24 suites. | Breakfast.

InterContinental Johannesburg O.R. Tambo Airport.
$$ | HOTEL | A few paces from international arrivals and adjacent to the car-rental companies, this is a good choice for those who have a one-night layover. The InterContinental is very comfortable and upscale, with a chic African interior of warm woods and granite. Those who spend a few nights here do so for the business and meeting facilities and proximity to industrial areas, though it’s also a quick 12-minute ride on the high-speed Gautrain into the center of Sandton from the airport. Rooms are soundproof and have blackout curtains, and the eighth-floor heated pool, gym, and spa offers jet-lag-specific treatments. The Quills bar on the ground level serves meals 24 hours. Pros: ideal for those who don’t need to go into Johannesburg or who have a layover before a connecting flight; free Internet; great runway views from gym and pool. Cons: large and impersonal; you won’t see much of Johannesburg without leaving the hotel. | Rooms from: $424 | O.R. Tambo Airport, Kempton Park | 1619 | 011/961-5400 | | 138 rooms, 2 suites | Breakfast.

Melrose Arch

Melrose Arch.
$$ | HOTEL | This ultramodern hotel is within the shopping, dining, and residential enclave Melrose Arch. The eclectic decor mixes modern and traditional African influences, with high-tech, colored lighting throughout and sculptures, baskets, and furnishings all highlighting the African locale. Even the elevators reflect this mix, with one representing the African day and the other, almost completely dark, suggesting the night. Mainly catering to businesspeople, the hotel has free Wi-Fi access in each room and in the public areas, including the warm, mahogany-clad library bar. The rooms are well equipped, and each has a view of the pool and garden or overlooks a square. The pool area highlights the eccentric and modern taste that is echoed throughout the hotel, with trees planted in larger-than-life steel buckets, and tables and chairs set out in a few inches of water. Sip a cocktail here while soaking your feet in the heated pool, which has music piped underwater. African-inspired meals are offered at the stylish and modern restaurant, March. Pros: Melrose Arch is a high-security gated community with good dining and shopping options within safe walking distance; the Library bar is a favorite with well-heeled executives. Cons: hipster decor might not appeal to everyone; some might find it hard to relax in a high-energy environment; no on-site gym, but a Virgin Active Gym, one of the country’s best, is available at R200 per visit within easy walking distance. | Rooms from: $430 | 1 Melrose Sq., Melrose Arch | 2076 | 011/214-6666 | | 117 rooms, 1 suite | Breakfast.

Radisson Blu Gautrain.
$$ | HOTEL | Built for the FIFA 2010 World Cup, this convenient and classy hotel is a minute away from the Sandton Gautrain station (O.R. Tambo is 12 minutes away by the Gautrain) and only a few minutes’ walk from Sandton’s business district and shopping centers. It’s light, modern, airy, and although the views aren’t great it scores full marks for location, good service and food, and elegant accommodation. Radisson Blu Gautrain is not to be confused with Radisson Blue Sandton, which is close by, but which doesn’t have as good a location. Pros: fantastic location; classy, with all amenities, excellent accommodations. Cons: unattractive surroundings. | Rooms from: $290 | Corner Rivonia Rd. and West St., Sandton | 2196 | 011/286-1000 | | 216 rooms | Breakfast.

Fodor’s Choice | The Saxon Hotel.
$$$$ | HOTEL | In the exclusive suburb of Sandhurst, adjacent to the commercial and shopping center of Sandton, the Saxon Hotel has repeatedly received awards for its excellence. Heads of state have stayed here, including Nelson Mandela, who came here after his release from prison and to work on his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. The butlers pride themselves on keeping files on their guests, right down to what they order from the bar. An azure pool adjoins the sleek, modern building. Inside, the feeling is calm and classical, and there’s an extensive African art collection on display throughout the hotel. Rooms are huge, with big bay windows overlooking the gardens or pool. Large-screen TVs, DVD players, surround sound, and a workstation with a fast Internet connection are standard. The delightful restaurant has a wonderful setting. Pros: possibly the most exclusive address in Gauteng; exceptionally high security; good for business travelers or high-profile folk who’d rather not see anyone else in the corridors. Cons: some might find the atmosphere a bit snooty; children under 14 not welcome in restaurant; pricey. | Rooms from: $950 | 36 Saxon Rd., Sandhurst | 2196 | 011/292-6000 | | 53 suites | Breakfast.

Ten Bompas.
$$ | This hotel-cum-restaurant is small and luxurious, and the decor is minimalist, with carefully chosen African art. Suites, each done by a different interior designer, have separate lounges and bedrooms, with fireplaces, complimentary minibars, and satellite TV. You can also peruse brochures for the hotel’s partner game lodges in the far north of Kruger National Park. The restaurant receives consistently good reviews. Its menu changes with the seasons. The food is exciting and fresh: wild mushroom risotto and thyme tart, or ostrich burgers, for example. It also has a well-stocked wine cellar. Pros: sophisticated without being snooty; complimentary bar; complimentary same-day laundry service. Cons: a taxi-ride away from shopping or sightseeing. | Rooms from: $378 | 10 Bompas Rd., Dunkeld West | 2196 | 011/341-0282 | | 10 suites | Breakfast.


Fodor’s Choice | The Westcliff.
$$ | HOTEL | This landmark hotel and Johannesburg icon was built on a steep hill and has wide views over the northern suburbs and the Johannesburg Zoo. You’re taken to your destination by a shuttle service, winding your way up twisting lanes. Bedrooms are in multistory villas, many with balconies. Enormous bathrooms have marble vanities and huge soaking tubs. The cuisine, service, and facilities are all top-notch. The Westcliff is known throughout the city for its lavish Sunday brunch, for which reservations are recommended, and for its high teas and sundowner cocktails. Pros: luxurious bath products; sexy Polo Lounge bar; stellar DVD collection of Academy Award winners; suites are very roomy. Cons: lots of stairs and no elevator; main pool is within public view of the restaurant and bar; there’s nothing of note within walking distance. | Rooms from: $346 | 67 Jan Smuts Ave., Westcliff | 2193 | 011/481-6000 | | 81 rooms, 36 suites | Breakfast.


Johannesburg comes alive after dark, and whether you’re a 24-hour visitor, rebellious punk rocker, or a suave executive in search of a classy lounge, there’s always something to do.

The Star.
A good place to find out what’s going on is in the “Tonight” section of The Star, Johannesburg’s major daily. |

Rivonia and the business district of Sandton have become trendy spots for young, hip professionals and their style-conscious friends, and the old neighborhood of Greenside still has streets filled with lively little bars and restaurants and a sprinkling of clubs.

Market Theatre.
The Newtown Cultural Precinct, an old area that started as a produce market, has undergone a successful rejuvenation. Now clean and brightly lit, it’s home to the Market Theatre, which is famous for its contemporary South African and African productions in particular. It was also an important theater for anti-apartheid protest theater. The theater occasionally features traditional African music and jazz performances. The complex also has a good bar and restaurant and an art gallery. | 56 Margaret Mcingana Sts., Newtown | 2001 | 011/832-1641 |

The suburb of Norwood has a central street with a good selection of small restaurants and bars.

Emperor’s Palace.
If you’re looking to dine, dance and gamble, but don’t want to venture to far from the airport, Emperor’s Palace is next to the O.R. Tambo Airport. This is also a popular hotel. | 64 Jones Road, Kempton Park | 011/928-1000 |


Whether you’re after designer clothes, the latest books or DVDs, high-quality African art, or glamorous gifts, Johannesburg offers outstanding shopping opportunities. At the city’s several markets, bargaining can get you a great price.

African Craft Market.
The African Craft Market, between the Rosebank Mall and the Zone, has a huge variety of African crafts from Cape to Cairo, all displayed to the background beat of traditional African music. Drive a hard bargain here-the vendors expect you to! | Cradock Ave. and Baker St., Rosebank | 2196 | 011/880-2906 | | Daily 9-6.

Rooftop Market.
Rosebank’s Rooftop Market has become a Sunday tradition in the city. More than 600 stalls sell African and Western crafts, antiques, books, food, art, trinkets, CDs, jewelry, and clothes. Frequently, African musicians, dancers, and other entertainers delight the crowds. | The Mall of Rosebank,50 Bath Ave., Rosebank | 2196 | 011/442-4488 | | Sun. 9-5.


Whether you’re partaking in the Capetonian inclination towards alfresco fine dining (the so-called “Mother City” is home to many of the country’s best restaurants) or sipping wine atop Table Mountain, you sense—correctly—that this is South Africa’s most urbane, civilized city.

Here elegant Cape Dutch buildings abut ornate Victorian architecture and imposing British monuments. In the Bo-Kaap neighborhood, the call to prayer echoes through cobbled streets lined with houses painted in bright pastels, while the sweet tang of Malay curry wafts through the air. Flower sellers, newspapers hawkers, and numerous markets keep street life pulsing, and every lamppost advertises another festival, concert, or cultural happening.

But as impressive as Cape Town’s urban offerings are, what you’ll ultimately recall about this city is the sheer grandeur of its setting—the mesmerizing beauty of Table Mountain rising above the city, the stunning drama of the mountains cascading into the sea, and the gorgeous hues of the two oceans. Francis Drake wasn’t exaggerating when he said this was “the fairest Cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth,” and he would have little cause to change his opinion today.

A visit to Cape Town is often synonymous with a visit to the peninsula beneath the city, and for good reason. With pristine white-sand beaches, hundreds of mountain trails, and numerous activities from surfing to paragliding to mountain biking, the accessibility, variety, and pure beauty of the great outdoors will keep nature lovers and outdoor adventurers occupied for hours, if not days. You could spend a week exploring just the city and peninsula.

Often likened to San Francisco, Cape Town has two things that the City by the Bay doesn’t—Table Mountain and Africa. The mountain, or tabletop, is vital to Cape Town’s identity. It dominates the city in a way that’s difficult to comprehend until you visit. In the afternoon, when creeping fingers of clouds spill over Table Mountain and reach toward the city, the whole town seems to shiver and hold its breath. Meanwhile, for all of its bon-vivant European vibe, Cape Town also reflects the diversity, vitality, and spirit of the many African peoples who call this city home.


Getting Here and Around

Airport Transfers It should take about 20 minutes to get from the airport to the city; during rush hour it can easily be double that. The city’s convenient and affordable My CiTi Airport Bus (R57) runs every 20 minutes from 4:20 am to 10 pm between Cape Town International Airport and the Civic Centre station in downtown Cape Town. From the Civic Centre, you can catch another bus or take a taxi to your final destination. Can’t be bothered with transfers? Don’t worry, private operators also abound. Metered taxis and shuttle services (usually minivans) are based inside the domestic baggage hall and outside the international and domestic terminals and can also be phoned for airport drop-offs. Rates vary depending on the operator, number of passengers, destination, and time of arrival.

One person going into the city center alone pays about R280-300 in a metered taxi; a group of up to four will usually pay the same rate. TIP Reports of overcharging are common, so check the fare first. Touch Down Taxis is the only officially authorized airport taxi. Look for the ACSA symbol on the vehicles.

Private transfer companies include Shawn Casey Taxi Service, which charges a fixed rate for up to four passengers but must be booked ahead. For single travelers, a prearranged shared shuttle with the Backpacker Bus or Magic Bus is the most economical, costing about R160-R265 per person (mention that you don’t mind sharing). For the ultimate luxury ride you can hire a six-seat Lincoln stretch limo from Cape Limousine Services. A surcharge of up to R50 is sometimes levied from 10 pm until early morning, and some shuttles charge more for arrivals than for departures to cover waiting time.

Car Travel All major car-rental companies have counters at Cape Town International, and driving to the City Bowl or V&A Waterfront is straightforward in daylight. A car is by far the best way to get around Cape Town, particularly in the evening, when public transportation closes down. Cape Town’s roads are excellent, but they’re unusual in a few respects and can be a bit confusing. Signage is inconsistent, switching between Afrikaans and English, between different names for the same road (especially highways), and between different destinations on the same route. Sometimes the signs simply vanish. TIP Cape Town is also littered with signs indicating “cape town” instead of “city centre”, as well as “kapstaad,” which is Afrikaans for Cape Town. Good one-page maps are essential and freely available from car-rental agencies and tourism information desks. Among the hazards are pedestrians running across highways, speeding vehicles, and minibus taxis. Roadblocks for document and DWI checks are also becoming more frequent.

The main arteries leading out of the city are the N1, which bypasses the city’s Northern Suburbs en route to Paarl and, ultimately, Johannesburg; and the N2, which heads out past Khayelitsha and through Somerset West to the Overberg and the Garden Route before continuing on through the Eastern Cape to Durban. Branching off the N1, the N7 goes to Namibia. The M3 splits off from the N2 near Observatory, leading to the Peninsula via Claremont and Constantia; it’s the main route to the False Bay towns like Muizenberg, and the starting-off point for peninsula destinations like Cape Point Nature Reserve. Rush hour affects all major arteries into the city from 7 to 9, and out of the city from 4 to 6:30.

Taxi Travel Taxis are expensive compared with other forms of transportation but offer a quick way to get around the city center. Don’t expect to see the throngs of cabs you find in London or New York. Your best bet is to summon a cab by phone or head to one of the major taxi stands, such as at Greenmarket Square or either end of Adderley Street (near the Slave Lodge and outside the train station). For lower rates, try a Rikki shared taxi, which will run between R15-R35 for rides within Cape Town central. Lodging establishments often have a relationship with particular companies and/or drivers; using them will assure safe, reliable service, especially at night.


There are several numbers you can call for general emergencies, including Vodacom mobile networks, which will connect Vodacom users to relevant local emergency services, even if out of airtime. If you get lost on Table Mountain, call Metro Medical Emergency Services, and for all sea emergencies, call the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI).

Health and Safety

There’s no reason for paranoia in Cape Town, but there are a few things to look out for. Aside from busy nightlife zones like Long Street, avoid the City Bowl at night and on Saturday afternoons and Sundays, when it’s very quiet. Street kids and roving teens are blamed for much of the petty crime, but sophisticated crime syndicates are often involved, and many of Cape Town’s fraudsters are smartly dressed. Cell phones can be snatched from car seats through open windows and even out of people’s hands while in use. Watch your pockets at busy transportation interchanges and on trains. Pick a crowded car; if you suddenly find yourself alone, move to another one. Public transportation collapses after dark. Unless you’re at the Waterfront or are in a large group, use metered taxis. Better still, rent a car, but don’t leave valuables visible and don’t park in isolated areas. Despite thousands of safe visits every year, Table Mountain, which couldn’t look less threatening, has been the location of several knife-point robberies in daylight. The point is, never be completely off guard.

Poor signage is an issue in Cape Town, especially in the black townships, where most streets still have numbers rather than names and many streets aren’t signed at all. Carry a good map, and visit township attractions only as part of an organized tour with a reputable operator. Women and couples are strongly advised not to walk in isolated places after dark. If you want to walk somewhere in the evening, make sure you do so in a large group, stay vigilant at all times, and keep flashy jewelry and expensive cameras hidden, or better yet, at the hotel.

Money Matters

Most shops, restaurants, hotels, and B&Bs in Cape Town take credit cards, but you need cash to buy gas. TIP Don’t even think about changing money at your hotel. The rates at most hotels are outrageous, and the city has plenty of banks and bureaux de change (exchange counters) offering better rates; most are open during business hours (weekdays and Saturday mornings). Even better, use your ATM card and draw cash directly for the best rate; just take care when at the ATM and use one that’s inside an establishment like a mall or shop (rather than on the street).


Numerous companies offer guided tours of the city center, the peninsula, the Winelands, and any place else in the Cape (or beyond) that you might wish to visit. They differ in type of transportation used, focus, and size. For comprehensive information on touring companies, head to one of the Cape Town Tourism offices; alternately, ask for recommendations at your hotel.

The Waterfront Boat Company offers trips on a range of boats, from yachts to large motor cruisers. A 1½-hour sunset cruise from the V&A Waterfront costs about R200 and includes a glass of bubbly. Tigger 2 also runs a sunset cruise from the Waterfront to Clifton 4th beach or Table Bay for the same price. Drumbeat Charters runs a variety of trips in the Hout Bay area, ranging from sunset cruises to full-day crayfishing expeditions. A trip from Hout Bay to Seal Island with Drumbeat Charters costs R68 for adults, R25 for kids. TIP The only boat trip to actually land on Robben Island is the museum’s ferry.

Many companies offer various bus and car tours. For shared group tours, expect to pay R400-R600 for a half-day trip and about R675-R900 for a full-day tour (the smaller and more personalized the tour, the higher the price). Private tours can cost much more. Cape Point Route specializes in trips around the peninsula, and runs excellent full-day “themed” tours (e.g., photography, cycling, bird-watching, and lighthouses).

The hop-on/hop-off red City Sightseeing bus is a pleasant way to familiarize yourself with Cape Town; a day ticket costs R150, and there are two routes to choose from. The Red Route runs through the city, and you can get on and off at major museums, the V&A Waterfront, Table Mountain Cableway, Two Oceans Aquarium, and other attractions. The Blue Route takes you farther afield—to Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens, Hout Bay, and Camps Bay, to name a few destinations. Tickets are available at the Waterfront outside the aquarium or on the bus.

Fly from the V&A Waterfront for a tour of the city and surrounding area on a three- to six-seat chopper. Most operators charge R2,200-R3,500 for a 20-minute trip and R7,200-R10,000 for 60 minutes in the air. Custom tours can also be arranged, and the price varies according to how many people are flying. Several companies offer walking tours of Cape Town, from the V&A Waterfront to Bo-Kaap, covering important historical attractions, architecture, and highlights of modern-day Cape Town.

Pamphlets for a self-guided walking tour of city-center attractions can be picked up at Cape Town Tourism.

Visitor Information

Cape Town Tourism is the city’s official tourist body, providing information on tours, hotels, restaurants, rental cars, and shops. It has a coffee shop and Internet café. The staff make hotel, tour, and travel reservations. From October to March, the office in town is open weekdays 8-6, Saturday 8:30-2, and Sunday 9-1; from April to September, it’s open weekdays 8-5:30, Saturday 8:30-1, and Sunday 9-1. The branch at the Waterfront (near the Red Shed) is open daily 9-9.


Airport Transfers

Backpacker Bus. | 021/424-1184 |
Cape Limousine Services. | 021/785-3100.
Citi Hopper. | 021/936-3460/1, 082/773-7678 |
Legend Tours and Transfers. | 021/704-9140 |
Magic Bus Airport Transfers. | 021/505-6300 |
Marine Taxis. | 0861/434-0434, 021/913-6813 |
My CiTi Bus. | 0800/656-463 South Africa only |
Shawn Casey Taxi. | 082/954-4867.
Touch Down Taxis. | 021/919-4659.

Boat Tours
Drumbeat Charters. | 021/791-4441 |
Tigger 2 Charters. | 021/418-0241 |
Waterfront Boat Company. | 021/418-0134 |

Bus and Car Tours
African Eagle Day Tours. | 021/464-4260 |
Cape Point Route. | 021/782-9356 |
Cape Sidecar Adventures. | 021/434-9855, 082/308-5483 mobile |
City Sightseeing Hop On-Hop Off. | 021/511-6000 |
Coffeebeans Routes. | 021/424-3572 |
Friends of Dorothy. | 021/531-0646 |
Hylton Ross Tours. | 021/511-1784 |
iKapa Tours & Travel. | 021/443-2300 |

Emergency Services
Ambulance. | 10177.
Metro Medical Emergency Services. | 021/937-0300.
National Sea Rescue Institute. | 021/434-4011, 021/449-3500 |
Police. | 10111.
Police, fire, and ambulance services. | 107 from landline.
Vodacom emergency services. | 112.

Exchange Services
American Express.
Sahara House, Thibault Square, Ground Floor, Cape Town Central | 8001 | 021/425-7991 | | Shop 11A, V&A Arcade, next to V&A Hotel, Waterfront | 8001 | 021/419-3917 |

Helicopter Tours
Civair Helicopters.
021/419-5182 |
NAC/Makana Aviation.
021/425-3868 |


Christiaan Barnard Hospital.

Constantiaberg Medi-clinic.

Excite Taxis.
| 021/448-4444 |
Marine Taxis. | 021/434-0434 |
Rikkis. | 0861/745-547 in SA only |
Sea Point Taxis. | 021/434-4444. Unicab. | 021/486-1600 |

Visitor Info

WESGRO-Cape Town Routes Unlimited.
FNB Building, St Georges Mall, 7th Floor, Cape Town Central | 8001 | 021/405-4500 |
Cape Town Tourism. | The Pinnacle Building, Burg and Castle Sts., Cape Town Central | 8001 | 021/487-6800, 0861/322-223 in SA only |

Walking Tours
Cape Town on Foot. | 021/462-4252 |
Footsteps to Freedom. | 021/671-6878, 083/452-1112 |
Ilios Travel. | 021/697-4056 |
Tana Baru Tours. | 021/424-0719, 073/237-3800 |


The Cape Winelands.
No stay or stopover in Cape Town would be complete without a trip to the historic Cape Winelands, which lie in the city’s backyard. They produce fine wine amid the exquisite beauty of purple mountains, serried vines, and elegant Cape Dutch estates. By South African standards, this southwestern region of the Cape is a settled land, with a sense of continuity lacking in much of the rest of the country. Here farms have been handed down from one generation to another for centuries, and old-name families like the Cloetes and Myburghs have become part of the fabric of the region. In less than an hour you can reach the wine centers of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, and Paarl—making the city an ideal base from which to explore. If your time is limited in the Cape Town area, you might want to join one of the many tours to the Winelands.

Greenmarket Square.
For more than a century this cobbled square served as a forum for public announcements, including the 1834 declaration abolishing slavery, which was read from the balcony of the Old Town House, overlooking the square. In the 19th century the square became a vegetable market as well as a popular watering hole, and you can still enjoy a drink at an open-air restaurant or hotel veranda while watching the crowds go by. Today the square has a popular outdoor market, and is flanked by some of the best examples of art-deco architecture in South Africa. | Greenmarket Square, Burg St. between Longmarket St. and Hout St., Cape Town Central | 8000.

Old Town House. A beautiful example of urban Cape Dutch architecture, the Old Town House is now home to the extensive Michaelis Collection. This 17th-century collection of Dutch paintings includes evocative etchings by Rembrandt, as well as changing exhibits. | Greenmarket Square, Cape Town Central | 8001 | 021/481-3933 | | R10 | Weekdays 10-5, Sat. 10-4.

Fodor’s Choice | Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens.
Spectacular in each season, these world-famous gardens showcase stunning South African flora in a magnificent setting, extending up the eastern slopes of Table Mountain and overlooking the sprawling city and the distant Hottentots Holland Mountains. No wonder the gardens are photographed from every angle. They aren’t just enjoyed by out-of-town visitors; on weekends Capetonians flock here with their families to lie on the lawns and read their newspapers while the kids run riot. Walking trails meander through the gardens, and grassy banks are ideal for a picnic or afternoon nap. The plantings are limited to species indigenous to Southern Africa, including fynbos—hardy, thin-leaved plants that proliferate in the Cape. Among these are proteas, including silver trees and king proteas, ericas, and restios (reeds). Magnificent sculptures from Zimbabwe are displayed around the gardens, too. Garden highlights include a large cycad garden, the Bird Bath (a beautiful stone pool built around a crystal-clear spring), and the fragrance garden, which is wheelchair-friendly and has a tapping rail and Braille interpretive boards. Free 90-minute guided tours take place daily at 10 (except Sunday). Those who have difficulty walking can enjoy a comprehensive tour lasting one hour (R50, hourly 9-3) in seven-person (excluding the driver) golf carts. Another wheelchair trail leads from the main paths into the wilder section of the park, getting close to the feel of the mountain walks. Concerts featuring the best of South African entertainment—from classical music to township jazz to rock and roll—are held on summer Sundays starting an hour before sunset. But get there early, as the space fills quickly with picnicking music lovers. A visitor center by the conservatory houses a restaurant, bookstore, and coffee shop. Unfortunately, muggings have become increasingly more common in the gardens’ isolated areas, and women are advised not to walk alone in the upper reaches of the park far from general activity. | Rhodes Dr., Newlands | 7735 | 021/799-8783 | | R42 | Apr.-Aug., daily 8-6; Sept.-Mar., daily 8-7.

Long Street.
The section of Long between Orange and Strand streets is lined with magnificently restored Georgian and Victorian buildings. Wrought-iron balconies and fancy curlicues on these colorful houses evoke the French Quarter in New Orleans. In the 1960s, Long Street played host to bars, prostitutes, and sleazy hotels, but today antiques dealers, the Pan-African Market, funky clothing outlets and a plethora of cafés, bars, and restaurants make this one of the best browsing streets in the city. Lodgings here range from backpackers’ digs to the posh Grand Daddy. At the mountain end is Long Street Baths, an indoor swimming pool and old Turkish hammam (steam bath). | Between Orange St. and Strand St., Cape Town Central | 8001.

Fodor’s Choice | Robben Island.
Made famous by its most illustrious inhabitant, Nelson Mandela, this island, whose name is Dutch for “seals,” has a long and sad history. At various times a prison, leper colony, mental institution, and military base, it is finally filling a positive, enlightening, and empowering role in its latest incarnation as a museum.

Declared a World Heritage site on December 1, 1997, Robben Island has become a symbol of the triumph of the human spirit. In 1997 around 90,000 made the pilgrimage; in 2006 more than 300,000 crossed the water to see where some of the greatest South Africans spent much of their lives. Visiting the island is a sobering experience, which begins at the modern Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island, an impressive embarkation center that doubles as a conference center. Interactive exhibits display historic photos of prison life. Next make the journey across the water, remembering to watch Table Mountain recede in the distance and imagine what it must have been like to have just received a 20-year jail sentence. Boats leave on the hour (every other hour in winter), and the crossing takes 30 minutes.

Tours are organized by the Robben Island Museum. (Other operators advertise Robben Island tours but just take visitors on a boat trip around the island.) As a result of the reconciliation process, most tour guides are former political prisoners. During the 2½-hour tour, you walk through the prison and see the cells where Mandela and other leaders were imprisoned. You also tour the lime quarry, Robert Sobukwe’s place of confinement, and the leper church. Due to increased demand for tickets during peak season (December-January), make bookings at least three weeks in advance. Take sunglasses and a hat in summer. TIP You are advised to tip your guide only if you feel that the tour has been informative. | Nelson Mandela Gateway, Waterfront | 8002 | 021/413-4200 | | R230 | Nov.-Apr., boats depart from the Nelson Mandela Gateway daily 8-3; May-Sept./Oct., daily 9-1; last boat generally leaves the island at 6 pm in summer and 4 pm in winter. Opening times and boat departures will vary, so be sure to phone ahead to confirm.

Fodor’s Choice | Table Mountain.
Officially one of the new 7 Wonders of Nature, Table Mountain truly is one of Southern Africa’s most beautiful and impressive natural bodies. The views from its summit are awe-inspiring. The mountain rises more than 3,500 feet above the city, and its distinctive flat top is visible to sailors 65 km (40 miles) out to sea. It’s possible to climb the mountain, thought it’ll take two to three hours, depending on your level of fitness. There is no water along the route; you must take at least 2 liters (½ gallon) of water per person. Table Mountain can be dangerous if you’re not familiar with the terrain. Many paths that look like good routes down the mountain end in treacherous cliffs. Do not underestimate this mountain. It may be in the middle of a city, but it is not a genteel town park. Wear sturdy shoes or hiking boots; always take warm clothes, such as a Windbreaker, and a mobile phone; and let someone know of your plans. Also be aware that in light of occasional muggings here, it’s unwise to walk alone on the mountain. It’s recommended that you travel in a group or, better yet, with a guide. Consult the staff at a Cape Town Tourism office for more guidelines. Another way to reach the summit is to take the cable car, which affords fantastic views. Cable cars depart from the Lower Cable Station, which lies on the slope of Table Mountain near its western end; the station is a long way from the city on foot, and you’re better off traveling by car, taxi, or rikki. | Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, Tafelberg Rd. | 8001 | 021/424-8181 | | R205 round-trip, R105 one-way | Daily 8:30-7:30. Hours vary. Check when you arrive. Cable car closes in strong winds.

Fodor’s Choice | Two Oceans Aquarium.
This aquarium is considered one of the finest in the world. Stunning displays reveal the marine life of the warm Indian Ocean and the icy Atlantic. It’s a hands-on place, with a touch pool for children and opportunities for certified divers to explore the vast, five-story kelp forest or the predator tank, where you share the water with a couple of large ragged-tooth sharks (Carcharias taurus) and get a legal adrenaline rush (R625, R475 with own gear). If you don’t fancy getting wet, you can still watch the feeding in the predator tank every day at 3. But there’s more to the aquarium than just snapping jaws. Look for the endangered African penguins, also known as jackass penguins because of the awkward braying noise they make; pulsating moon jellies and spider crabs; and a new frog exhibit. | Dock Rd., V & A Waterfront | 8002 | 021/418-3823 | | R112 | Daily 9:30-6.


Cape Town dining offers plenty of peak foodie experiences these days, with stellar restaurants from organic slow-food cafés to the best of fine dining populating this city by the sea. With Cape chefs showing the same enthusiasm for global trends as their counterparts worldwide, French and Italian fare now regularly shares the table with Japanese and pan-Asian flavors to great effect. Ethiopian, Lebanese, and even South American cuisines are all now becoming commonplace, and sushi is ubiquitous. South Africa’s wonderful local produce, seafood, and meat is increasingly being found flavored by yuzu and chipotle, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying yummy local favorites like savory chicken pies or the perfect lamb shank.

Africa Café.
$$$ | AFRICAN | Touristy as it may be, this friendly restaurant in a historic 18th-century former home is perhaps the only one boasting city views and an array of African cuisine. The theme here is a communal feast, with dishes originating from Ethiopia to Zambia, and Kenya to Angola. There are no starters or entrées, but rather a tasty series of patties, puffs, and pastries, along with dishes like an East African mchicha wa nazi (spinach cooked in a peanut sauce), and mwana wa nkosa (Karoo lamb stew). Vegetarian dishes are plentiful, including the Ethiopian aib (curd cheese with herbs). The cost of this colorful prix-fixe abundance (including dessert) is R245 per person. Wines from Cape estates are available, or you can ask for umqomboti beer, brewed from sorghum or millet. | Average main: $29 | Heritage Square,108 Shortmarket St., Cape Town Central | 8001 | 021/422-0221 | | Closed on Sundays; no lunch.

Fodor’s Choice | Aubergine.
$$$ | EUROPEAN | Aubergine’s timber-and-glass interior matches chef-owner Harald Bresselschmidt’s classic-with-a-twist cuisine. A beaded Strelitzia flower in the entrance hall is a clue to what will come: the freshest South African produce prepared with strong classical methods that echo the German chef’s roots. Purists who appreciate dishes that allow natural flavors to shine will thoroughly enjoy a languorous multicourse meal. The superb wine selection includes 10 vintages under the restaurant’s own label, matured South African bottles, and excellent if costly European choices. The seafood on the menu is wonderful: abalone (a local delicacy) is thinly sliced and served with a creamy squid ink risotto, and the Cape Sea Harvest, gratin filled with prawns and fresh fish, has a delectable saffron sauce. Heartier options include grilled chalmar beef fillet in a lemon thyme sauce. The Cinq à Sept (served between 5 and 7 in the evening) is a more affordable way of enjoying this fine restaurant. | Average main: $22 | 39 Barnet St., Gardens | 8001 | 021/465-4909 | | Reservations essential | Closed Sun.; no lunch Mon., Tues., and Sat.

Fodor’s Choice | Bizerca Bistro.
$$ | BISTRO | With its superb cuisine and excellent service, diners will adore this French bistro’s new location in a gorgeous old Cape Dutch building on Heritage Square. Classic, delicious fare (like the signature raw Norwegian salmon salad with ginger, soy, and shallots, or braised pig trotter with seared scallops and truffle oil) is served in a warm wood-floored dining room with a vertical garden feature, as well as in a lovely outside courtyard. The culinary magic is mostly found in the form of daily specials presented chalkboard-style, and enthusiastically explained by a charming French maître d’. Lunch is buzzier than dinner, but the food is splendid every time. The summer months will also see a tapas and drinks menu from 3 to 6 during the week. | Average main: $17 | Heritage Square,100 Shortmarket St., Cape Town Central | 8001 | 021/418-0001 | | Reservations essential | Closed Sun.; no lunch Sat.

$$ | ASIAN | This Pan-Asian restaurant’s complex menu of dim sum, sushi, and wok-fried items is very tasty, but with all the other great restaurants in town, it’s questionable if it’s worth the waiting lists, multiple seatings, loud interior, and minimum spend requirement. The dim sum is probably your best option (the steamed scallop siu mai traditional Chinese dumpling with salmon roe is delicious), and the Peking duck with paper-thin pancakes a favorite. Grills include mint lamb chops served with dry red chilies and garlic. Four kitchens mean that dishes arrive when ready, which translates into fellow diners possibly watching while you eat, or vice versa. The owners of Haiku also own Bukhara, the very good Indian restaurant above it. There’s a minimum per-person charge of R168. | Average main: $20 | 33 Burg St., Cape Town Central | 8001 | 021/424-7000 | | Reservations essential | No lunch Sun.

Fodor’s Choice | La Colombe.
$$$ | INTERNATIONAL | Constantia Uitsig is home to three good restaurants, but it’s La Colombe, with its excellent Provence-inspired food with an Asian sensibility, that attracts the most attention and garners every award. The eight-course Gourmands tasting menu, inspired by the restaurant’s direct environment, is an exquisite culinary experience that is all the more sublime paired with wines chosen from the excellent winelist (or tome, as they affectionately refer to it). The à la carte chalkboard menu items are equally superb, including creative wonders such as foie gras-topped medallions of springbok loin in a cherry wood jus. The pan-seared scallops and pork belly are not to be missed, and the pistachio-and-apricot terrine will finish your meal with the perfect sweetness. Fantastic service and the classic yet warm ambience of the wine estate’s old buildings, are the perfect setting for a splurge of a meal that you won’t forget. | Average main: $24 | Constantia Uitsig Farm, Spaanschemat River Rd., Constantia | 7806 | 021/794-2390 | | Reservations essential.

$$ | ASIAN FUSION | This relaxed fusion-glam eatery in the posh Vineyard Hotel & Spa outside Cape Town attracts well-heeled regulars, who come for chef Mike Basset’s fusion flair, evidenced in dishes like the bacon-and-pea riosotto cakes, shredded spare rib soup with mushroom-soy broth, and the divine truffle-teriyaki beef fillet topped with perfectly crisped tempura vegetables. Evenings are all about the amazingly good value seven-course tasting menu. Lunches are more casual but still boast favorite dishes like the green curry mussel chowder. High-backed sofas and black chandeliers lend a touch of Alice in Wonderland to the art-deco-meets-Japanese-nightclub-cool aesthetic. Don’t neglect the fabulous wine list, which features many of the country’s best. | Average main: $17 | Vineyard Hotel & Spa,60 Colinton Rd., Newlands | 7700 | 021/657-4545 | | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. and Mon.

Fodor’s Choice | Nobu.
$$ | JAPANESE | Exceptional new-style Japanese cuisine with a South American twist has come to Cape Town. Guests dine in a vast hall-like restaurant with ceilings more than three stories high. With no views to speak of, food is always the main event. If budget allows, the Omakase seven-course tasting menu is the way to go for a culinary and visual surprise that takes into account personal dietary restrictions. It’s equally delicious to order à la carte. Though dishes like the Alaskan black cod and Australian Wagyu (similar to beer-fed Kobe beef) are costly by local standards, the menu is generally very affordable in comparison with Nobu’s sister branches in New York or London. The sake-roasted kingklip (firm local white fish) with Sansho salsa is excellent. There is a stellar selection of sake and, of course, excellent local wines. | Average main: $18 | One&Only Cape Town, Dock Rd., Waterfront | 8001 | 021/431-4511 | | Reservations essential | No lunch.

Panama Jack’s.
$$ | SEAFOOD | In this raw-timber structure in the heart of the docks, about 3 mi north of other V&A venues, the music is loud, the tables are crowded, and the decor is nonexistent, but tourists come in droves to gorge on fresh seafood. Expect to pay upwards of R530 per kilogram for local crayfish (similar to lobster), a whopping R1,150 a kilogram for the scarce and endangered wild abalone, which is being poached nearly to extinction, and R430 per kilog for Namibian crab. Large prawns start at R185 for 10 from Morocco. There is plenty of less expensive seafood as well, and daily specials such as baby squid and local line-caught fish are competitively priced. Lunch specials are more reasonably priced. | Average main: $16 | Quay 500, Harbour, Waterfront | 8005 | 021/447-3992 | | No lunch Sat.

The Pot Luck Club.
$$ | ECLECTIC | A casual tapas-style venture from Cape Town star-chef Luke Dale Roberst, this hip eatery is a great place to come with a group to enjoy fine-dining level nibbles that, if ordered correctly, don’t have to blow your budget. The menu changes regularly, but the crispy curried celery leaves and wild mushrooms on brioche with porcini dust, are a fabulous way to start, and the smoked beef fillet with truffle café au lait is not to be missed. Rather than thinking tapas, think of each plate as a half portion. The cocktails are equally delicious, the service friendly and efficient, and the atmosphere, with its exposed red brick walls and funky lighting, very relaxed. | Average main: $14 | Old Biscuit Mill, Albert Rd., Woodstock | Cape Town | 7925 | 021/447-0804 | | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. and Mon.

The Roundhouse.
$$$$ | MODERN EUROPEAN | Known for its exceptional natural beauty, Cape Town is surprisingly short on restaurants with killer views. The Roundhouse is helping close that gap. Converted from its origins as an 18th-century Table Mountain-side hunting lodge, this unique fine-dining restaurant overlooking Camps Bay specializes in inventive and surprising flavor combinations—think lamb tongue with celeriac purée and nasturtiums, or deer with pear, elderberries, and lavender—served by an excellent and exceptionally suave team of waiters. The Somerset Room offers sea views, but can be noisy. The private room for up to eight guests may better suit big groups. Beware of the outstanding wine list: it can easily ratchet up the bill. | Average main: $52 | The Glen, Camps Bay | Cape Town | 8005 | 021/438-4347 |

Fodor’s Choice | Royale Eatery.
$ | BURGER | Gourmet hamburgers—more than 50 at last count—are the mainstays at this hip Long Street eatery. Classic cheeseburgers lead the robust menu, but inventive vegetarian options are just as bountiful (the Elkington, for one, pairs spicy raita yogurt with a roasted butternut, pumpkin, carrot, and sunflower-seed patty) as are more exotic choices, like the juicy Big Bird ostrich burger smothered in beetroot relish—reason alone to make a pilgrimage here. Save room, too, for one of the 24 double-thick milkshakes listed under “dessert;” the unusual combos range from fresh avocado and mint to Jack Daniels and peanut butter. The diner-style ground-floor eatery accepts walk-ins and draws a young crowd; reserve ahead for a quieter table in the cozy, second-floor dining room where the walls are lined with musical instruments and sheet music. | Average main: $10 | 273 Long Street, Cape Town Central | Cape Town | 021/422-4536 | | Closed Sun.

Skinny Legs & All.
$ | CAFÉ | Serving delicious, organic fare from breakfast through lunch, this unpretentious yet design-conscious café is a great addition to Cape Town’s downtown food scene. Starting the day with the only muffin in town worth eating (a carrot-coconut concoction, perfectly spiced and not too sweet), breakfast also includes items like raw muesli with sheep’s milk yogurt, fresh scones, and French toast with vanilla-infused compote. Lunch usually includes some kind of risotto, soup in the winter, and several salad options in the summer. Though the menu changes regularly, expect dishes like a cinnamon-spiced quinoa salad with roasted eggplant and toasted almonds, wild mushroom parcels with wild rice, or the Lumberjack sandwich of roasted chicken and avocado with homemade coriander mayo. Friendly owner-managed service, free Wi-Fi, plenty of reading material, and some great art on the walls complete the picture. | Average main: $9 | 70 Loop St., Cape Town Central | Cape Town | 8001 | 021/423-5403 | | Closed Sun.

Fodor’s Choice | The Test Kitchen.
$$$ | ECLECTIC | When chef Luke Dale Roberts opened this deceptively casual-looking eatery in Cape Town’s trendy Woodstock area, Time Magazine announced that the neighborhood had arrived. Serving 3-, 5-, and 12-course tasting menus of truly mind-blowing inspiration, Roberts is working some serious foodie magic here, and you’ll be lucky if you can get a table (it’s typically booked at least two months in advance). The wonders begin with an amuse bouche of dark chocolate, duck liver, and porcini shortbread, a dish that brilliantly showcases Roberts’s genius for working sweet against savory. The journey continues with dishes like the rare smoked beef fillet with gorgonzola, fresh pear, candied pecans, and a miso-cured egg yolk, and the fricasse of pork and scallops with a ginger purée and bourbon velouté. Expect the unexpected (both in taste sensation and the arrival of little yummies you didn’t order), and don’t neglect the cocktails, which are also brilliant. The relaxed ambience created by exposed brick, funky lamps, friendly staff, and a totally open service area acts as a great foil to the cuisine coming out of this kitchen. | Average main: $22 | Shop 104A, The Old Biscuit Mill,375 Albert Rd., Woodstock | Cape Town | 7925 | 021/447-2337 | | | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. and Mon.

$$ | MODERN ASIAN | Truly sublime dishes (prawns with heart of palm, cashews, and a divine yuzu-sesame dressing) battle it out with decent if overly sweet Asian fare at this restaurant with a view. Once known for its excellent sushi, the quality of the salmon roses and numerous rolls can be a bit inconsistent these days, but if you hit it on a good day, you’re in for a treat. However, the gorgeous sunset-facing sea views, tasty cocktails, relaxed beach-chic ambience, and great service make it worth the gamble. Chocolate fondant with a butterscotch sauce or star anise-and-coconut crème brûlée are dessert highlights. This is a good place to enjoy a killer view and reasonable Asian-fusion fare. Note that smoking is permitted on the narrow balcony, which means that if the wind changes direction, nearby diners in the nonsmoking section may suffer the smell. Wafu, on the upper level, is excellent for drinks and serves a good dim sum menu. | Average main: $14 | 1st Floor, Surry Place and Beach Rd., Mouille Point | Cape Town | 8001 | 021/433-2377 |

Willoughby & Co.
$$ | JAPANESE | Though unfortunately set inside the mall, this buzzing hive of activity consistently churns out what many would argue is the city’s best sushi, thus adding a certain joy to a trip to the V&A. Always using the highest quality seafood, Chef Sam and his team have created an array of fanciful and decadent signature rolls such as the creamy rock-shrimp maki (a tuna-style roll graced with large chunks of tempura fried crayfish in a spicy mayo-based sauce) and the rainbow nation roll (salmon, avocado, and tuna topped with caviar and a few squizzles of delicious sesame-oil and sweet chili sauces). The traditional sashimi is also excellent, as is the Japanese Kitchen menu. There will almost inevitably be a line during normal dinner hours; however, it goes quickly (especially if you sit at the sushi bar, which is the place to be) and you’re likely to be offered free tastes of various new vintages while waiting. | Average main: $13 | Victoria Wharf, Shop 6132, Victoria Wharf, V & A Waterfront | Cape Town | 8002 | 021/418-6115 | | Reservations not accepted.

Southern Suburbs

This is a pricey area with few good, inexpensive options. You’ll also need to rent a car or take a taxi just about everywhere you want to go.


Finding lodging in Cape Town can be a nightmare during peak travel season (December-January), as many of the good reasonable accommodations (of which there aren’t enough to begin with) are booked up. It’s worth traveling between April and August, if you can, to take advantage of the “secret season” discounts that (especially at luxury hotels) are sometimes half the high-season rate. If you arrive in Cape Town without a reservation, head for the Tourism Office (021/487-6800 |, which has a helpful accommodations desk.

Hotels around upper Long or lower Kloof Streets are a good option for urbanites who’ll appreciate the area’s historic value, nonstop action, and proximity to museums, restaurants, and other city sights. Families may enjoy the Waterfront, with its plethora of activities and gorgeous harbor and mountain views. Atlantic Coast hotels provide more of a beach-vacation atmosphere, as do those on the False Bay side of the Peninsula, but you’ll need a car to get around.

Many small luxury accommodations either don’t permit children or have minimum-age restrictions.

Rental Properties

If you want to save money, consider renting a fully furnished apartment, especially if you’re staying for a week or longer.

Cape Stay.
Cape Stay has a wide selection of accommodations to suit different needs, from very simple and affordable apartments to luxurious villas to special rates at well-known hotels. | Rooms from: $47 |

CAPSOL Property & Tourism Solutions.
CAPSOL Property & Tourism Solutions has around 2,000 high-quality, furnished, fully stocked villas and apartments on its books. Apartments range from R600 to R20,000 per night, with a minimum three-night stay. | Rooms from: $700 | 021/438-9644 |

Portfolio of Places.
The Portfolio of Places brochure includes guesthouses, B&Bs, villas, and more, at all prices and with useful search functions. | Rooms from: $93 | 021/701-9632 | | n/a.

Hotels and Resorts

Cape Grace.
$$$$ | HOTEL | Decor at this storied hotel reflects a mélange of indigenous and foreign influences that have come to epitomize the Cape: hand-painted fabrics embellished with proteas, antiques like old cane fishing rods and Dutch china, and nautical murals make up the eclectic theme. From its stellar location in the working harbor section of the Waterfront, Cape Grace continues to charm with its library where guests can take afternoon tea, enjoy views of the ships, or cozy up by a fire. Pros: mountain and harbor views from all rooms; fabulous spa; great breakfast; family-friendly, personlized service. Cons: unconventional decor may not suit all tastes. | Rooms from: $667 | West Quay Rd., Waterfront | 8001 | 021/410-7100 | | 120 rooms | Breakfast.

Cape Heritage Hotel.
$ | B&B/INN | Built as a private home in 1771, this beautiful boutique hotel boasts teak-beamed ceilings, foot-wide yellow-wood floorboards, and numerous other details that recall its gracious past. The spacious rooms are individually decorated, many melding the best of South Africa’s dynamic contemporary art scene with old world colonial elegance. Some have four-poster beds, others exposed brickwork, but each has its own special charm. Rooms overlooking the pleasant courtyard—complete with tables sheltered by what’s claimed to be the oldest grapevine in South Africa—may be a little noisy, but the revelry stops at midnight sharp. Parking is across the street in a section of a public lot with good security, and friendly staff make sure everything runs smoothly. Pros: excellent eateries in adjoining Heritage Square; free Wi-Fi in rooms and public areas; great location in Cape Town’s historic district. Cons: bordered by one busy road; parking isn’t free. | Rooms from: $211 | 90 Bree St., Cape Town Central | Cape Town | 8001 | 021/424-4646 | | 17 rooms | Breakfast.

Daddy Long Legs Boutique Hotel.
$ | HOTEL | Independent travelers with artistic streaks love this place. It was built to represent the creative community of Cape Town, and well-known local artists—including poet-author Finuala Dowling and architect Andre Vorster—were given a budget and invited to decorate a room to their tastes. The results are fantastic. In the Photo Booth room, a huge portrait behind the bed is made up of 3,240 black-and-white photos of Capetonians, while a funky room by the fusion band Freshlyground has a bright red throw, portraits of the band members, and music. But it’s not all about show—the amenities are all in place as well. The linen is crisp and clean, the staff is friendly, and the only real drawback is the potential noise and parking dearth of Long Street. Pros: lots of dash for the cash; central location for party animals. Cons: small rooms; Long Street is noisy until late into the night; breakfast and Wi-Fi not included. | Rooms from: $125 | 134 Long St., Cape Town Central | 8001 | 021/422-3074 | | 13 rooms | No meals.

The Dock House Boutique Hotel.
$$$ | HOTEL | Victorian splendor meets modern glam at this stunning boutique hotel perched over Cape Town’s trendy and ever-popular Waterfront. The Dock House Boutique Hotel, with only a handful of rooms and butler-style service, oozes pampered privacy. Antique silver artifacts, crystal chandeliers, edgy artwork, and bathrooms are sure to impress. The staff, dressed in white linen tunics, provides immaculate yet understated service. The property’s prime location means visitors can freely (and safely) explore the Waterfront’s plethora of dining, shopping, and other attractions. But, with a private chef dishing up divine room-service meals, a pool and bar overlooking the harbor, and a full range of treatments and gym facilities at the Urban Beauty spa annex, it’s entirely possible you’ll never want to leave. Pros: the hotel’s elegant interior has been featured in decor magazines; close to activities, dining, and shopping; excellent room service. Cons: guests have to walk outside to reach the gym and spa; those wishing to socialize with other guests should look elsewhere. | Rooms from: $595 | Portswood Close, Portswood Ridge, V & A Waterfront | Cape Town | 8002 | 021/421-9334 | | 5 rooms; 1 suite.

Fodor’s Choice | Ellerman House.
$$$$ | HOTEL | Built in 1912 for shipping magnate Sir John Ellerman, what may be Cape Town’s finest hotel sits high on a hill in Bantry Bay, graced with stupendous views of the sea, and an art collection that puts the National Gallery to shame. Broad, terraced lawns fronted by elegant balustrades step down the beautifully landscaped hillside to a sparkling pool, and further on, to the new contemporary art gallery (which, as with every feature at Ellerman, is for guests only). Decorated in Regency style, the drawing room, living room, and library are sumptiously elegant, yet not forbiddingly formal. Guest rooms flaunt enormous picture windows, high ceilings, and exquisite bathrooms. The hotel accommodates only a handful of guests, and a highly trained staff caters to their every whim. In the kitchen chefs prepare whatever guests request, and all drinks except certain wines and champagne are included in the rates. If you’re traveling with a group, or want absolute privacy, the adjacent (and even costlier) Ellerman Villa is the way to go. Pros: stunning national art collection adorns the walls; free airport transfers; hand-finished laundry packed in tissue paper; free, fully stocked guest pantry. Cons: Kloof Road is busy; often booked a year in advance. | Rooms from: $1048 | 180 Kloof Rd., Bantry Bay | Cape Town | 8001 | 021/430-3200 | | 11 rooms.

$ | B&B/INN | The upper floors of a beautifully restored Victorian buiding on Long Street house this incredibly good-value boutique hotel comprised of six luxurious and comfortable rooms. Chic design—all elegant white-and-silver minimalism—retains warmth thanks to the historic setting. Two rooms boast free-standing Victorian baths, and one enjoys a private balcony with a great view of Table Mountain. The hotel has good amenities (satellite TV, tea and coffee in the room) for the price, not to mention an excellent restaurant downstairs. The service is attentive and knowledgeable, as you’d expect from an owner-managed venture. Pros: surprisingly opulent digs for the price; free Wi-Fi in the restaurant; great service. Cons: noise from Long Street can be an issue; must pay for parking and breakfast. | Rooms from: $87 | 230 Long Street, Cape Town Central | Cape Town | 8001 | 021/422-5877 | | 6 rooms.

More Cape Cadogan.
$ | B&B/INN | Declared a national monument in 1984, this lovely Georgian and Victorian boutique hotel dates back to the beginning of the 19th century. Its public areas, such as a library, lounge with wood-burning fireplace, and patio area, are great places to relax and collect oneself before heading out or on returning from the day’s travels. The staff are pleasant and accommodating and will help you arrange just about anything you need. The rooms are decorated with well-chosen contemporary and antique furnishings. Those interested in self-catering will find the More Quarters, a series of apartments in four historic homes just feet from the hotel, the ideal lodging option for a longer stay. Pros: minutes from the busy and popular Long and Kloof streets; free shuttle to the Watefront; apartments available for those who want to self-cater. Cons: traffic noise (hooting minibus taxis at nearby intersection); tile floors in some of the rooms can be slippery; breakfast mediocre. | Rooms from: $222 | 5 Upper Union St., Gardens | 8001 | 021/480-8080 | | 6 rooms, 6 luxury suites, 1 presidential villa | Breakfast.

Fodor’s Choice | Mount Nelson Hotel.
$$$$ | HOTEL | This distinctive pink landmark is the grande dame of Cape Town. Since it opened its doors in 1899 to accommodate passengers just off the Union-Castle steamships, it has been the focal point of Cape social life. It retains a traditional charm and gentility that other luxury hotels often lack: a lavish afternoon tea is served in the lounge to piano accompaniment, the Planet Bar is very glam, and the staff almost outnumber the guests. Rooms are decorated with fine antiques and fresh flowers and have an air of aristocracy about them. The hotel stands at the top of Government Avenue, but, surrounded as it is by 9 acres of manicured gardens, it might as well be in the country. Once a week the head gardener leads a guided tour through the magnificent gardens, and tea is served afterward. Very civilized! For peak season, December-March, it’s advisable to book a year in advance. Pros: aesthetically, this is the real colonial deal; guests include movie stars and diplomats; excellent restaurant. Cons: breakfast and lunch restaurant overlooks guests at the pool. | Rooms from: $722 | 76 Orange St., Gardens | 8001 | 021/483-1000 | | 124 rooms, 85 suites | Breakfast.

One & Only Cape Town.
$$$$ | RESORT | The One & Only Cape Town opened in 2009 amid international fanfare and celebrity guests, including Robert De Niro (a partner in the on-site Nobu Restaurant). There are audible gasps when people enter for the first time and see Table Mountain framed in the splendid four-story-high glass windows of the sunken Vista Lounge and bar. Surrounded by a moat, the Island suites and Spa have a distinct tropical resort feel to them, while the rooms in the seven-story Marina Rise main building all ooze contemporary African design chic. All rooms are larger than you’d find in most other hotels, and beautifully furnished. The Island’s gorgeous outdoor pool is large enough for laps and oxygenated, promising clean water and enhanced youthfulness, and the spa is phenomenal. Pros: conveniently located in the heart of the Watefront with plenty of activities just out the door; oceans of space and great views from all rooms; fantasic kids’ programs; personalized services. Cons: Marina Rise guests must walk through the lounge in their swimming trunks/robe to reach the pool and/or spa; as a big hotel it can feel a little impersonal. | Rooms from: $725 | Dock Rd., V & A Waterfront | Cape Town | 8002 | 021/431-5888 | | 131 rooms | Breakfast.

Fodor’s Choice | Tintswalo Atlantic.
$$$$ | HOTEL | Visitors attracted to the Cape Peninsula for its natural grandeur will think they’ve died and gone to heaven when arriving at this discreetly luxurious boutique hotel. Directly off Chapman’s Peak Drive (a contender for world’s most scenic road) and built around a wonderland of native fynbos plants and milk wood trees, Tintswalo Atlantic is the only beachfront development in Table Mountain National Park. Themed after different islands, 11 roomy suites all boast breathtaking views of Hout Bay, comfy verandas, wood-burning stoves, and divine bedding—all against the sound of breaking waves. Only 20 minutes from Cape Town, guests can enjoy the city but may rather opt to watch the whales playing in the bay. Exquisite four-course meals, an impressive wine cellar, in-room spa treatments, a fabulous pool deck (with the same view), and excellent service complete the pampering at this exclusive and truly unique hideaway. Pros: mind-blowing location; stupendous breakfast and great afternoon tea; gorgeous beach chic decor. Cons: no gym; must drive to all activities and sights; no kids under 13 (except December 15-January 15). | Rooms from: $908 | Km2 Chapman’s Peak Dr., Chapman’s Peak | Hout Bay | 7806 | 011/464-1070 | | 10 island suites; 1 presidential suite | Some meals.

Townhouse Hotel.
$ | HOTEL | Its proximity to government buildings and its easygoing atmosphere make the Townhouse a popular choice, especially for the business traveler. It was upgraded in 2009 to a sexier scheme of browns, and succeeds in providing a restful retreat from the hubbub of the city. Request a room with a view of the mountain. Rates include breakfast. Pros: Very central location; helpful staff. Cons: not a great area to walk around in at night; parking is costly and slightly challenging as it’s in a nearby building accessed by one-way roads; smoking floor can be bothersome for nonsmokers. | Rooms from: $219 | 60 Corporation St., Cape Town Central | 8000 | 021/465-7050 | | 106 rooms.

Face-to-Face with Jaws

One can’t help but get swept up in the frenzy that’s the Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week. If watching the great white sharks on TV doesn’t soothe your curiosity, then head to Gansbaai ( May through August (a.k.a Prime Great White viewing season). About a 2½ hour drive from Cape Town, this Western Cape town is the self-proclaimed Great White Shark capital of the world. The town is decked out in shark-themed paraphernalia. Keep an eye out for buildings decorated in discarded diving cages and murals fringed with triangular white teeth.

For the very brave, you can get face to face with Jaws ( in specially designed shark cages. Those who don’t fancy actually diving with Jaws, but still want to experience the powerful creatures, can take a boat trip to Dyer Island (, home to 50,000 cape fur seals—the Great White’s favorite treat. Success rates are good, as rarely a day goes by without spotting at least one Great White. If you’re lucky you’ll get calm seas, 30-feet visibility, and a “player” or two (the term used by operators to describe an individual shark that stays around the boat).

If you time things right, you could head for the Eastern Cape coast in July to intercept the Sardine Run (, when literally millions of sardines (and the Humpback whales, dolphins, and sharks that eat them) make their way up South Africa’s eastern coast to find warmer waters. Many SCUBA charters, including Reefteach (, offer daily excursions for experienced and non-experienced divers or those who want to watch from the safety of the boat.

—Kate Turkington


Scuba Diving

The diving around the Cape is excellent, with kelp forests, cold-water corals, very brightly colored reef life, and numerous wrecks. An unusual experience is a dive in the Two Oceans Aquarium. CMSA, NAUI, and PADI dive courses are offered by local operators; open-water certification courses begin at about R2,950 (all-inclusive).

Orca Industries.
Orca Industries offers dive courses, charters, and wreck dives. | 021/671-9673 |

Scuba Shack.
The friendly Scuba Shack is based out of Muizenberg and can organize dives around the peninsula. | Muizenberg | 072/603-8630 |

Shark Diving

Seeing great white sharks hunting seals around False Bay’s Seal Island is one of the most exhilarating natural displays you’re likely to witness. And if witnessing it all from a boat isn’t thrill enough, you can get in the water (in a cage).

Apex Predators.
Run by marine biologists, Apex Predators runs small trips from Simon’s Town during season (February-September). If the great whites aren’t around, try the Ocean Predator Trip, in which you cage-dive with makos and blues. | Simon’s Town | 079/051-8558, 021/786-5717 |

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Beach Escapes

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Durban | Plettenberg Bay | Wilderness | Maputaland Coastal Forest Reserve

So you’ve had your fill of exploring the bush, tracking animals and birds, and immersing yourself in wilderness. Now maybe you’ve got time to head for the beach. Summer is the best time to catch a tan, but people also head to Durban in winter as well as in summer.


Though Durban is South Africa’s most vibrant city and Africa’s busiest port, it also has some of the most accessible, beautiful, and safe beaches in the world. Warm water and clean sand extend up the Dolphin (North) Coast and beyond, and south from Durban, down the Hibiscus Coast. Even in winter (April to September), the weather is particularly pleasant and you’ll be able to swim.

Durban’s beachfront extends for about 12 km (7½ miles) from South Beach, at the base of Durban Point, past North Beach and the Suncoast Casino to Blue Lagoon, on the southern bank of the Umgeni River. The section of beachfront between South Beach and the Suncoast Casino is a popular stretch of the promenade frequented by early-morning and late-afternoon joggers, cyclists, and walkers. It’s lovely to take a stroll early or late in the day, but don’t walk here late at night. Venture onto one of the many piers and watch surfers tackling Durban’s famous waves. Of any place in Durban, the Beachfront most defines the city.


Getting Here and Around

Durban’s King Shaka International Airport, at La Mercy on the north coast, is about 17 km (11 miles) from Umhlanga and about 32 km (20 miles) from Durban. The most inexpensive transfer into Durban and back is the Airport Shuttle Service, which costs R70 and departs every half hour from outside international arrivals. Drop-off points include all Durban hotels, the city center, Beachfront, the International Conference Centre, Moses Mabhida Stadium, and uShaka Marine World. Drivers are fairly flexible and likely to drop you anywhere central on prior request. Call ahead and the bus will pick you up at any hotel in the city; there’s no need to reserve for the trip into Durban. If you plan to go farther afield, catch a taxi from outside the terminal building.

Durban is relatively easy to negotiate using the sea as a reference point. Downtown Durban is dominated by two parallel one-way streets, Dr. Pixley Kaseme Street (West Street) going toward the sea and Anton Lembede Street (Smith Street) going away from the sea, toward Berea and Pietermaritzburg; together they get you in and out of the city center easily. Parking downtown is a nightmare; head for an underground garage whenever you can.

Avis, Budget, Europcar, Tempest, and Capital have rental offices at the airport. The cheapest car costs about R300 per day, including insurance and 200 km (125 miles) free, plus R2.10 per kilometer (per half mile), or about R550 for the weekend. Avis offers unlimited mileage to international visitors, as long as you can produce your passport and return ticket as proof.

Colorfully decorated rickshaws are unique to Durban—you won’t find them in any other South African city. Though their origins lie in India, these two-seat carriages with large wheels are pulled exclusively by Zulu men dressed in feathered headgear and traditional garb. The rickshaw runners ply their trade all day, every day, mostly along the Golden Mile section of the beachfront. The going rate is R50 per person for about 15 minutes, and around R15 for a photo (don’t assume you can take a picture without paying for the privilege). While it’s worth doing because it’ll be memorable and you won’t have the opportunity anywhere else—negotiate the rate before boarding.

Taxis are metered and start at R5, with an additional R9 to R10 per kilometer (per half mile); after-hours and time-based charges apply. Fares are calculated per vehicle up to four passengers. Expect to pay about R50 from City Hall to North Beach and R350 to King Shaka International Airport. The most convenient taxi stands are around City Hall, in front of the beach hotels, and along Florida Road in Morningside. Some cabs display a “for-hire” light, whereas others you simply hail when you can see they’re empty; they’re easy to find, or your hotel or restaurant will call one for you. If you’re headed to the Indian Market on a weekend, consider having your taxi wait for you, as it can be difficult to flag a taxi in this neighborhood.

Money Matters

There are plenty of ATMs in and around Durban—at shopping centers, large attractions like Suncoast and uShaka, smaller supermarkets, and petrol (gas) stations. Most bank branches exchange money, and the airport and uShaka have money exchanges, as do Rennies, Travelex, and AmEx foreign-exchange bureaus. Shops in the bigger malls like Gateway, Pavilion, Musgrave, and La Lucia often take traveler’s checks. Though you’ll need cash at the markets, don’t carry too much. Use credit cards where you can.

Safety and Precautions

Durban hasn’t escaped the crime evident in every South African city. Particularly in the city center but also elsewhere, smash-and-grab thieves roam the streets, looking for bags or valuables in your car, even while you’re driving. While there’s no need to be fearful; be observant wherever you go. Hire a guide to take you around Durban, don’t wander around the city center or outside your hotel alone at night, and keep expensive cameras and other possessions concealed. The Durban beachfront, Umhlanga, and the outlying areas are safe to explore on your own, though you’ll need a taxi or car to get between them.


US Consulate, Durban.
Old Mutual Building,303 Dr Pixley Kaseme St., city center | 4001 | 031/305-7600 |

Emergency Services

082-911, 10177.


General Emergencies.



Entabeni Hospital.
148 South Ridge Rd., Glenwood | 4001 | 031/204-1300, 031/204-1377 trauma |

St. Augustine’s.
107 Chelmsford Rd., Glenwood | 4001 | 031/268-5000, 031/268-5030 trauma.

Umhlanga Hospital.
323 Umhlanga Rocks Dr. | Umhlanga | 4321 | 031/560-5612, 031/560-5607 trauma.


The city’s tourism office, Durban Tourism, offers cultural and historical walking tours in the city for R100 per person. Tours depart from the Tourist Junction weekdays at 9:30 and return at 1:30, but you need to book in advance, as the tour guide arrives only if reservations have been made. Durban Tourism offers other tour options as well; see these on its website.

Sightseeing cruises around Durban Bay are also popular. Your hotel should be able to assist in recommending tour companies, and most will tailor a trip for you, although there may be a minimum charge for small parties.

Visitor Information

The Tourist Junction, in the restored old Durban Station building provides information on almost everything that’s happening in Durban and KwaZulu-Natal. Among the companies represented are: an accommodation service; a KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service booking desk; regional KwaZulu-Natal tourist offices; and various bus and transport companies. It’s open weekdays 8-4:30 and weekends 9-2. Umhlanga Tourism (covering the coast directly north of Durban) is open weekdays 8:30-5 and Saturday 9-1.


Airports Company South Africa. | 011/921-6262 |
King Shaka International Airport. | 032/436-6000 |

Airport Transfers
Airport Shuttle Service. | 031/465-5573.

Rental Companies
Avis. | 086/102-1111 |
Budget. | 086/1016-622 |
Europcar. | 086/1131-000 |
Tempest Car Hire. | 0861/836-7378 |

Tour Operators
Durban Tourism. | 031/322-4164 |
Da Boss. | 031/305-3099.
Sarie Marais Pleasure Cruises. | 031/305-2844.

Visitor Info
Tourism KwaZulu-Natal. | 031/366-7500 |
Tourist Junction. | 160 Monty Naicker Rd. [Pine St.], City Centre | 4001 | 031/366-7500 |
Umhlanga Tourism. | Shop 1A Chartwell Centre,15 Chartwell Dr., | Umhlanga | 4321 | 031/561-4257 |


To get the most from your visit, get ready to explore the city center which includes the Indian District, the Beachfront, Berea, and Morningside. If you’re concerned about safety within the city, book tours through Tourist Junction.

KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board.
Most of the popular bathing beaches in KwaZulu-Natal are protected by shark nets maintained by this shark-research institute, one of the world’s foremost. Each day, weather permitting, crews in ski boats check the nets, releasing healthy sharks back into the ocean and bringing dead ones back to the institute, where they are dissected and studied. One-hour tours are offered, including a shark dissection (sharks’ stomachs have included such surprising objects as a boot, a tin can, and a car license plate!) and an enjoyable and fascinating audiovisual presentation on sharks and shark nets. An exhibit area and good curio shop are also here. You can join the early-morning trip from Durban harbor to watch the staff service the shark nets off Durban’s Golden Mile. Depending on the season, you might see dolphins and whales close at hand. Booking is essential for trips to the shark nets, and a minimum of six people is required; no one under age six is allowed. TIP Book well in advance for this—it may turn out to be a highlight of your trip. No kids under six. | 1a Herrwood Dr. | 4319 | 031/566-0400, 082/403-9206 | | Presentation R35, boat trips R350 | Presentation Tues., Wed., and Thurs. at 9 and 2, Sun. at 2. Boat trips to shark nets, daily (weather dependent) 6:30-8:30 am.

uShaka Marine World.
This aquatic complex combines the uShaka Sea World aquarium and the uShaka Wet ‘n Wild water park. The world’s fifth largest aquarium and the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, uShaka Sea World has a capacity of nearly six million gallons of water, more than four times the size of Cape Town’s aquarium. The innovative design is as impressive as its size. You enter through the side of a giant ship and walk down several stories, past the massive skeleton of Misty, a southern right whale that died near Cape Town after colliding with a ship, until a sign welcomes you to the “bottom of the ocean.” Here you enter a “labyrinth of shipwrecks”—a jumble of five different fake but highly realistic wrecks, from an early-20th-century passenger cruiser to a steamship. Within this labyrinth are massive tanks, housing more than 350 species of fish and other sea life and the biggest variety of sharks in the world. On land, there are dolphin, penguin and seal shows, and a variety of reptiles and amphibians at the Dangerous Creatures exhibit to be viewed for an additional fee.

The extensive uShaka Wet ‘n Wild water-fun park comprises slides, pools, and about 10 different water rides. The intensity ranges from toddler to adrenaline junkie. Durban’s moderate winter temperatures make it an attraction pretty much all year round, though it’s especially popular in summer. TIP Avoid on public holidays and call ahead during winter when hours may change. | 1 King Shaka Ave., South Beach | 4001 | 031/328-8000 | | Sea World R125, Wet ‘n Wild R125, combo ticket R165 | Daily 9-5.


The sea near Durban, unlike that around the Cape, is comfortably warm year round: in summer the water temperature can top 27°C (80°F), whereas in winter 19°C (65°F) is considered cold. The beaches are safe, the sand is a beautiful golden color, and you’ll see people swimming even in winter. Most of KwaZulu-Natal’s main beaches are protected by shark nets and staffed by lifeguards, and there are usually information boards stating the wind direction, water temperature, and the existence of any potentially dangerous swimming conditions.

A visit to Durban’s beaches is a pleasant assault on the senses—the prickle of the salt-laden breeze, the aroma of coconut sun cream, the splash of waves, and the party mood—keeping visitors coming back for more. It’s not a good idea to walk alone on deserted beaches or display jewelry or other valuables—and never walk at night.

Bluff Beaches.
Around 10 km (6 miles) south of Durban lie the Bluff beaches in the suburb of the same name. Offering a less crowded alternative, Brighton Beach and Anstey’s Beach are popular surf spots created by southerly surf swells breaking on the rocky reef below. Cave Rock is a paradise of interesting rock pools at low tide and a wave ride for the fearless at high tide. Amenities: food and drink, lifeguards, parking, showers, toilets. Best for: surfing, swimming. | Foreshore Dr., Bluff | Durban.

Golden Mile.
Durban’s Golden Mile is a series of beaches divided by piers. Body-boarders favor North Beach while New Pier and Bay are preferred surfing spots. Swimmers are catered for in designated areas. Remain between the flags or beacons and away from the sides of piers where strong currents wash straight out to sea. Chairs and umbrellas may be hired from vendors. Just off the sand, popular beachfront hotels like the Edward, Blue Waters, Elangeni, Belaire, Tropicana, and Garden Court jostle for visitors’ favor. Amenities: parking, food and drink, lifeguards, showers, toilets. Best for: surfing, swimming, partiers. | Suncoast to Vetch’s Pier, from north to south | Durban.

Umhlanga Beaches.
At 17 km north of Durban, Umhlanga Beaches are less crowded than the Golden Mile and easily accessible via pathways from parking lots down to a promenade skirting the busy beachfront. The proximity of holiday apartments and premier hotels like the Oyster Box, Cabanas, and Beverly Hills is a bonus. A paved, palm-lined walkway extends to Umhlanga’s iconic lighthouse. Amenities: food and drink, lifeguards, parking, showers, toilets. Best for: surfing, swimming, walking | Lagoon Dr., Umhlanga | Durban.

uShaka Beach.
In front of uShaka Marine World aquarium and water theme park lies uShaka Beach and the adjacent Addington Beach, where small waves and calm conditions attract families, and sand sculptors create intricate artwork. Grassy banks offer an alternative to the sand, and the local surf school is busy all year round. Umbrellas and chairs may be hired, and the Moyo Restaurant pier is a great spot for cocktails at sunset. A block inland, in the rejuvenated Point area, is the trendy Docklands hotel. Amenities: parking (fee), lifeguards, toilets, food and drink, water sports. Best for: sunrise, sunset, walking, swimming. | 1 King Shaka Ave., Point | Durban.


Durban offers some superb dining, provided you eat to its strengths. Thanks to a huge Indian population, it has some of the best curry restaurants in the country. Durban’s other great gastronomic delight is fresh seafood, especially prawns brought down the coast from Mozambique. Apart from the food, some of the dining locales—including many with spectacular sea views—are among the best in the world.

Café Jiran.
$ | CAFÉ | Although Café Jiran built a reputation on superb coffees and beachfront breakfasts, their dinner menu is up there with the best in Durban. Right on the Durban promenade, at the northern end of the Golden Mile, it’s easily accessible over a palm-lined road from the beach. Decor is contemporary and comfortable, with chunky leather couches, ceramic flooring, and extra-large lampshades giving the split-level restaurant an edgy look. Take in the sounds of world jazz as you make your menu and wine choices. Meat mains include grilled lamb cutlets on a warm salad of new potatoes, rocket pesto, feta, and wilted baby spinach with a port jus and aioli. For a fish option, try fresh grilled linefish with lemon anchovy cream. The lasagna with mushroom ragout, spinach, and ratatouille is perfect for vegetarians. Round off with a legendary coffee or one of many exotic organic teas—served in a glass teapot. | Average main: $10 | Belaire Hotel Suites,151 Snell Parade, Point | Durban | 4056 | 031/332-4485 | | No dinner Mon.

Cargo Hold.
$$ | SEAFOOD | You might need to book several weeks in advance to secure a table next to the shark tank here, but if you do it’ll be one of your most memorable dining experiences. Enjoy a duo of carpaccios—smoked ostrich or peppered beef—while 13-foot ragged-tooth sharks drift right by your table and sandsharks stir up the sandy bottom. Aside from the array of fish dishes like salmon trout in a phyllo pastry wrap or peri-peri (spicy chili-pepper sauce) calamari with basmati rice, Cargo Hold also serves meat dishes like slow-braised lamb shank in tomato, honey, lemon, and Dijon mustard. The restaurant is done up like a shipwreck; of three floors, two have tank frontage. TIP The view of the shark tank from the bottom floor is best, so ask for this when booking. The restaurant is part of the building known as the Phantom Ship. Access to the ship is from the promenade next to the ship’s giant propeller. | Average main: $14 | 1 King Shaka Ave., in the Phantom Ship, Point | 4001 | 031/328-8082 | | Reservations essential.

Havana Grill.
$$ | SOUTH AFRICAN | Attention to detail and freshly prepared, quality food combine to make this one of Durban’s finest restaurants. It offers spectacular sea vistas (ask for a table with a view when making your reservation) and clean, contemporary decor, with white leather-upholstered chairs, wall-length couches, and antelope horns on the walls. Steak—prepared in the in-house butchery and aged on meat hooks in a giant fridge—and seafood are specialties. Try Havana’s tasting platter for starters (minimum of two people sharing): a varying mix of nachos; jalapeño poppers stuffed with cheese; grilled calamari; bruschetta; lamb and spring rolls. For mains, consider the grain-fed vs grass-fed rump with a duo of peppercorn and red-wine sauce; seasonal varieties of venison or line fish (likely swordfish, dorado, or Cape salmon). There’s a good basic domestic wine list, but take the opportunity to make a selection from a walk-in cellar lined with unique, lesser-known wines. | Average main: $15 | Shop U2, Suncoast Casino & Entertainment World, North Beach | 4001 | 031/337-1305 | | Reservations essential | No children after 6 pm.


Fodor’s Choice | Oyster Box Hotel.
$$ | HOTEL | With a 180-degree view of the Indian Ocean, Umhlanga’s Oyster Box has been successfully modernized without detracting from its colonial roots. Lose yourself in the leather comfort of the private library with a choice of good reads, or sip an evening cocktail on the Ocean Terrace where an infinity pool blends seamlessly with the sea. The hotel’s 46 luxury rooms offer a choice of outlook on tropical greenery or sparkling ocean with the town’s landmark red-and-white lighthouse in the foreground. In keeping with its name, the hotel’s Oyster Bar is kept stocked with fresh oysters and champagne on ice, or, on the other end of the food spectrum, deliciously hot and spicy curries are to be had in the Palm Court, a sunlit venue during the day where high teas are sought-after occasions. The Colony Restaurant fits the bill for fine formal dining, while the Grill Room menu promises freshly caught seafood. The hotel’s wine cellar is lined with top local and international reds and whites. Pros: a legendary hotel well deserving of its stellar reputation. Cons: lots of long corridors and signage is a bit confusing | Rooms from: $428 | 2 Lighthouse Rd | Umhlanga | 4319 | 031/514-5000 | | 46 rooms | Breakfast.

Quarters on Florida.
$ | HOTEL | Four converted Victorian homes comprise the city’s most intimate boutique hotel, on Florida Road; an additional, newer, 17-room property up the road is called Quarters on Avondale. Both are contemporary European-style properties, although the Florida Road hotel has a colonial African feel and the new sister hotel is more modern in its approach. Rooms have mahogany furniture, cream-colored, damask-covered beds, and sunken tubs in luxurious bathrooms. Many of the rooms have small verandas facing onto Florida Road, with its swaying palm trees and sometimes busy traffic, but double-glazed windows help to dull noise. Pros: tastefully appointed rooms; on-site restaurants; close to restaurants and nightlife of Florida Road. Cons: despite efforts, street-facing rooms are noisy; no pool; limited off-street parking. | Rooms from: $175 | 101 Florida Rd., Morningside | 4001 | 031/303-5246 | | 17 rooms | Breakfast.

Southern Sun Elangeni.
$ | HOTEL | A top beachfront hotel along the Golden Mile, this 21-story high-rise overlooks North Beach and is a two-minute drive from the city center. It attracts a mix of business, conference, and leisure travelers, (discounted weekend rates). TIP Though most rooms have views of the ocean, request a room on an upper floor to take advantage of a full sea view. The hotel houses Daruma, one of the few Japanese restaurants in the city, as well as a first-class Indian restaurant, Jewel of India. A minimum three-night stay is required. Pros: Tour and travel desk; friendly staff; tastefully decorated rooms. Cons: Not for travelers who prefer an intimate hotel experience; breakfast not included in price during peak times. | Rooms from: $204 | 63 O.R. Tambo St, Beachfront | 4001 | 031/362-1300 | | 449 rooms | Breakfast.

Suncoast Hotel and Towers.
$ | HOTEL | This hotel is a stone’s throw from the beach, and like the adjacent casino, it’s designed in the art-deco style of the 1930s, which is in keeping with some of Durban’s architectural heritage. The rooms are rather small, elegantly minimalist with furnishings in pastel shades. The sea views from the higher floors are spectacular (sea-facing rooms are slightly more expensive but worth it). The hotel mostly attracts business people and gamblers. Mediterranean cuisine is a speciality at The Riviera, but look out for local favorites as an option; for a more relaxed setting, cocktails are de rigueur at The Bar. The 36 suites in the towers are more luxuriously appointed than those in the hotel. Pros: closest hotel to Moses Mabhida Stadium; fantastic spa; access to beautiful beach. Cons: smallish rooms. | Rooms from: $221 | 20 Battery Beach Rd.,Beachfront | 4001 | 031/314-7878 | | 165 rooms | Breakfast.


Essenwood Craft Market.
One of the most popular of Durban’s many flea markets, the Essenwood Craft Market is held every Saturday from 9 to 2. Classy stalls sell homemade traditional food, plants and herbs, baked goods, handmade clothes and crafts, leatherwork, bath and beauty products, jewellery, soft furnishings and much more—under massive trees in the shady setting of Berea Park. | Stephen Dlamini, Essenwood Rd., Berea | 4001 | 031/208-1264 |

The Stables Lifestyle Market.
Although The Stables Lifestyle Market carries cheap imports from the East, these are offset by an interesting selection of local crafts, antiques, collectables, wooden masks, beaded and leather goods, and more. Add-ons include entertainment and food stalls. | Jacko Jackson Dr., Newmarket horse stables, next to the Mr. Price King’s Park Rugby Stadium | 4001 | 031/312-3058 | | Wed. & Fri., 6 pm-10 pm. Sunday, 10-5. Closed Jun-Jul.

Victoria Street Market.
The most vibrant cross-cultural market in the city, the Victoria Street Market is a century old trading area where more than 150 stall-holders sell everything from recordings of African music to rolls of fabric, curios, brass ornaments, Chinese goods, incense and curry spices. Bargaining is expected here, much as it is in India. | Indian District | 4001 | 031/306-4021 |


32 km (20 miles) east of Knysna.

Plettenberg Bay is South Africa’s premier beach resort, as the empty houses on Beachy Head Road (known as Millionaires’ Mile) during the 11 months when it’s not beach season will attest. But in December the hordes with all their teenage offspring arrive en masse. Even then you can find yourself a stretch of lonely beach if you’re prepared to walk to the end of Keurboomstrand. Plett, as it’s commonly known, is one of the best places in the world to watch whales and dolphins. Boat-based trips are run from Central Beach, as are sea-kayaking trips, which, although loads of fun, aren’t quite as efficient as the big motorboats.

Getting Here and Around

There’s an airport in Plett, but it’s not currently in operation. There’s no public transportation to and around Plett, so your best bet is renting a car and driving yourself.


Emergency Services

National Sea Rescue Institute.
1 Glengariff Road, Three Anchor Bay | Cape Town | 8005 | 021/434-4011 | Fax 021/434-1661 | |


Plettenberg Bay Medi-Clinic.
Muller St. | 6600 | 044/501-5100 |

Rental Cars



Tourist Information

Plettenberg Bay Tourism Association.
Shop 35, Melville’s Corner, Marine Dr. and Main St. | 6600 | 044/533-1960 | |


Jacks Jungle Juice.
It’s fun to take a tour of the Jacks Jungle Juice mampoer (moonshine) distillery, located at the Buffalo Hills Game Reserve and Lodge. You can see how mampoer is made, and taste several mampoer-based liqueurs. | Stofpad, Wittedrif | 6600 | 044/535-9739 | | Free | Weekdays 9-3.


Plett presides over a stretch of coastline that has inspired rave reviews since the Portuguese first set eyes on it in 1497 and dubbed it bahia formosa (the beautiful bay). Three rivers flow into the sea here, the most spectacular of which—the Keurbooms—backs up to form a large lagoon. For swimming, surfing, sailing, hiking, and fishing you can’t do much better than Plett, although the water is still colder than it is around Durban and in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

Sadly, Lookout Beach, Plett’s flagship Blue Flag beach (indicating high environmental standards) disappeared when the mouth of the lagoon shifted.

TIP Keep in mind that the beach facilities (i.e., lifeguards, food concession, etc.) are available only during the summer months (November-April).

Central Beach.
All the dolphin-watching boats and kayak trips leave from Central Beach. A constant stream of tenders going out to the fishing boats moored in the bay makes this area quite busy, but it’s still a great spot. Just keep away from the boat-launching area and swim in the southern section. Amenities: Lifeguard, toilets, showers, food & drink, grills/fire pits, parking lot.

Keurboomstrand is about 10 km (6 miles) from Plett—right on the eastern edge of the bay. If you’re fit, you can walk all the way from here to Nature’s Valley, but you need to watch both the tides and the steep, rocky sections. It’s best to ask locals before tackling this. Even if you’re not fit, you can walk about a mile down the beach, relax for a while, and then walk back. Amenities: Lifeguard, toilets, showers, food concession, grills/fire pits, parking lot. Best for: walking.

Robberg Beach.
Just on the other side of the Beacon Isle, the unmissable hotel at the end of the tombolo (a sand spit linking the island to the mainland), is Robberg Beach, a great swimming beach that continues in a graceful curve all the way to Robberg Peninsula. You can get pretty good sightings of dolphins and whales just behind the back break. Amenities: Lifeguard, toilets, showers, food concession, parking lot. Best for: swimming.


Plett has plenty of fabulous places to eat and overnight, although dining options are better in Knysna.

Cornuti Al Mare.
$$ | ITALIAN | The blue and white tiles on the facade of this popular, casual Italian eatery—a favorite with locals that’s usually pretty full—give the place a beach-house feel. Try the pastas or the thin-crust wood-fired pizzas; the potato pizza is so much tastier than it sounds. Salads, seafood, and steaks round out the menu. In summer, get here early to get a seat on the veranda. | Average main: $12 | Oddlands and Perestrello Sts. | 6600 | 044/533-1277 | | Reservations not accepted.

Plett Ski Boat Club.
$ | SEAFOOD | Want to know a secret? Plett fisherfolk, ski-boat skippers, surfers, kayak operators, and other locals frequent this very, very casual eatery. It’s right on the beach where the ski boats launch, so there’s a great view—especially from the outside tables. It offers really good value for the money: well-cooked, fresh but not fancy seafood, the usual burgers and fries, and full breakfasts. Many locals can be reliably tracked down to the popular bar on weekday afternoons—especially if there is a rugby match on TV. | Average main: $10 | Central Beach | 6600 | 044/533-4147 | | Reservations not accepted | No dinner.


Fodor’s Choice | Bitou River Lodge.
$ | B&B/INN | Some places just seem to get everything right. This lovely, quiet, restful B&B has a wonderful location on the bank of the Bitou River, about 3 km (2 miles) upstream from the lagoon. Rooms overlook a pretty garden and a quiet bird-rich and lily-filled pond. The decor is understated and soothing, with neutral pastels dominating. Breakfasts are delicious affairs with freshly baked breads, muffins, and other goodies, in addition to the usual fruit, cereal, and eggs. Bitou feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere, but it’s only a 10-minute drive from the center of town. Don’t pass up the opportunity to explore the river in one of the available canoes. Pros: beautiful river running past the property; owners are friendly and helpful. Cons: no a/c in the rooms; it’s a 10-minute drive to the nearest restaurant. | Rooms from: $79 | About 3 km (2 miles) on the R340 to Wittedrif (off the N2) | 044/535-9577, 082/978-6164 | | | 5 rooms | Breakfast.

Hunter’s Country House.
$ | B&B/INN | Just 10 minutes from town, this tranquil property is set amid gardens that fall away into a forested valley. The heart of the lodge is an old farmstead, a lovely thatch building with low beams and large fireplaces. Guest rooms are in individual white thatch cottages, each with its own fireplace and veranda. Three suites have private plunge pools. Tasteful antiques grace the rooms, and claw-foot tubs are the centerpiece of many of the gigantic bathrooms. Service is outstanding. Most guests eat at the hotel’s excellent table d’hôte restaurant ($$$$), which brings a French touch to local South African produce. Reservations are essential for nonguests. There’s also the option of eating at Zinzi’s ($$), a separate restaurant on the grounds. It’s part of Tsala Treetop Lodge, but it’s open to Hunter’s Country House guests, too. The Summer House, in the garden, is open for teas and lunches in summer. The lodge is very child-friendly, with facilities for both little ones and teens, making it one of the few places where you don’t have to sacrifice sophistication for family accommodations. Pros: you have a choice of three excellent restaurants; breakfasts are sublime; complimentary wine is a nice touch. Cons: atmosphere is quite formal; 10-minute drive from town. | Rooms from: $151 | Off N2, between Plettenberg Bay and Knysna | 044/501-1111 Reservations | | | 18 suites | Breakfast.

$$$ | HOTEL | High on a rocky point in Plettenberg Bay, this luxury hotel has unbelievable views of the bay, the Tsitsikamma Mountains, and Keurbooms Lagoon; miles of magnificent beach; and, in season, whales frolicking just beyond the waves. Built around an 1860 manor house, the hotel is light and bright, decorated in shades of white and blue. Service is wonderfully attentive, with a front-desk staff that tries to anticipate your every need. Even if you don’t stay here, treat yourself to lunch on the hotel terrace. Diners sit under large fabric umbrellas and look out over a pool that seems to extend right into the incredible views. The lunch menu offers light meals, salads, and sandwiches. Dinner in The Sand ($$; reservations essential) is a fancier affair, focusing on local meat and seafood, and you can have a romantic dinner for two in the private dining room in the cellar for no extra charge. Villas are self-catering. Pros: watch dolphins frolicking from your room; walk down to the beach in minutes; the view from the breakfast terrace is incredible. Cons: standard rooms are small; some rooms look out onto the car park. | Rooms from: $513 | Lookout Rocks | 044/533-2030 | | 25 rooms, 12 suites, 2 villas | Breakfast.

Plettenberg Park.
$ | HOTEL | The setting of this stylish, minimalist lodge—in splendid isolation on a cliff top in a private nature reserve on the western (wild) side of Robberg Peninsula—is one of the best anywhere, and the view of the open ocean across fynbos-clad hills is spectacular. Rooms are decorated in understated creams, blues, and browns; those that face the sea have dramatic views, and the others overlook a tranquil lily pond. A steep path leads to a private beach and natural tidal pool. Pros: rooms are spacious; the restaurant is good; there’s a private beach. Cons: pool has no view; no a/c in the rooms. | Rooms from: $241 | 4 Robberg Rd. | 6600 | 044/533-9067 | | | 10 rooms | Some meals.



Robberg Nature Reserve.
Robberg Nature Reserve, open daily 8-6, has three fabulous walks. The shortest takes about a half hour and offers great views of the ocean. A longer walk (1½ hours) passes above a seal colony and connects to the “island” via a tombolo. At 3 hours or more (up to 4 if you are leisurely), the longest walk goes right to the end of the peninsula. You need to watch the tides on this one. In addition to great sea views, dolphins, whales, birds, and seals, there are fantastic flowers and swimming beaches (make sure to consult the map as to which beaches are safe for swimming, however). Admission is R40, and it’s worth taking a picnic. A fascinating archaeological excavation at Nelson’s Bay Cave has a display outlining the occupation of the cave over thousands of years. | Robberg Rd., near the airport | 6600 | 044/533-2125 | | R40 | 8-6.


Plettenberg Bay is one of the very best locations worldwide for boat-based whale- and dolphin-watching. Most days, visitors see at least two cetacean species and Cape fur seals, as well as a variety of seabirds, including Cape gannets and African penguins. On some days people have seen up to six cetacean species in the course of a few hours.

Two similar operators have you board an open vehicle outside a shop and from there step directly onto a boat at the beach. Boats are fast, safe, and dry. Both operators offer similar trips, and boats are licensed to come as close as 164 feet to the whales. These trips are limited in season to one trip per company per day in order to minimize disturbance to the whales.

Ocean Blue.
Ocean Blue has a 1½-2 hour whale-watching trip that costs R650 and a dolphin-watching trip that costs R400. | Hopwood St., Central Beach | 6600 | 044/533-5083 | |

Ocean Safaris.
Ocean Safaris runs regular whale-watching trips from the beach area. These last 1½ to two hours and cost R650. Trips to see dolphins cost R400. Seal and Bay Discovery trip cost R250. | Hopwood St., Central Beach | 6600 | 044/533-4963 |


Old Nick.
Plenty of shops in and around town sell casual beachwear and various crafts, but for a good concentration in a small place, you can’t beat Old Nick. Originally just a pottery and weaving studio, it has grown to include a host of other crafts—so many that you could spend a whole day here. | N2, just east of town | 6600 | 044/533-1395 |


12 km (7 miles) southeast of George.

Wilderness is a popular vacation resort for good reason. Backed by thickly forested hills and cliffs, the tiny town presides over a magical stretch of beach between the Kaaimans and Touw rivers, as well as a spectacular system of waterways, lakes, and lagoons strung out along the coast, separated from the sea by towering vegetated dunes.

Getting Here and Around


If you arrive in Wilderness without having booked any accommodation, the tourist office is an excellent resource. It has binders with photographs and full details of accommodations in the area. Staff will even phone ahead to make a reservation for you at the lodging of your choice.

Tourist Information

Wilderness Tourism.
124 York Street | 6530 | 044/801-9103 |


Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park.
Much of the area now falls under the control of the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park, a 299,000-acre reserve that stretches east along the coast for 31 km (19 miles). This wetlands paradise draws birders from all over the country to its two blinds. Walking trails wend through the park, including the circular 10-km (6-mile) Pied Kingfisher Trail, which covers the best of what Wilderness has to offer: beach, lagoon, marsh, and river. | Off N2 | 6560 | 044/877-1197 | | R22 | 7-6 daily.


$$ | ITALIAN | Friendly service, great food, and good value are the highlights of this Italian eatery conveniently located in the middle of town. The emphasis is on crispy thin-crust pizzas—the butternut squash, feta, and rocket (arugula) is a favorite with locals—pastas, and other Italian dishes. Try the slow-roasted lamb shanks or linefish cooked in a parcel with shrimp and mussels in a creamy fennel sauce. | Average main: $14 | George Road, Leilas Lane | 6536 | 044/877-1403.

Fodor’s Choice | Zucchini.
$$ | SOUTH AFRICAN | The focus here is on free-range, organic, fresh, and seasonal food. Chances are the salad on your plate has been freshly picked from the organic garden outside. The result is tasty, imaginative, healthy fare that’s served in generous portions. Vegetarians won’t know where to start. The menu changes regularly, but think roasted vegetables of the day served with sweet potato fries, a garden salad, and a veggie cigar (a golden phyllo-pastry tube stuffed with vegetables and feta) or the lasagna, layers of grilled vegetables with herb and egg fritters and mozzarella. There are also homemade pastas, soups, sandwiches, and a range of salads served either roasted or raw. Meat eaters take heart, you have not been neglected. Venison frikkadells (meatballs) are served with a buttery potato mash and beetroot chutney, and there are steaks served with potato wedges and dishes like slow-cooked lamb shanks with potato mash and roasted vegetables. The setting is a charming, rustic wooden cottage, and guests are encouraged to linger over their meal. Zucchini’s is part of Timberlake Farm Stall, which has a range of artisan and organic shops and a kiddies’ playground. | Average main: $12 | Timberlake Farm Stall, off the N2 halfway between Sedgefield and Wilderness | 6560 | 044/882-1240 | |

Ebb and Flow Restcamp, Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park.
$ | RESORT | This rest camp is divided into the North and South sections. The South section is larger and consists of brick family cottages that sleep up to six, as well as log cabins and forest huts, both of which sleep up to four. The log cabins are prettier than the cottages, but both are bright and pleasant, furnished in a plain but adequate manner with floral or geometric curtains and upholstery; both have bedrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms with balconies. Forest cabins are smaller but cute. Campsites, some of which directly overlook the river, are set on a wide lawn under trees. The much smaller North section has a few grassy campsites and a dozen rondavels (round huts). Two of the rondavels don’t have their own bathrooms, but the communal bathroom areas for the campsite are well maintained, clean, and adequate. You can fish, hike, and boat here. Pros: central location that’s easy to get to; lots of activities on offer. Cons: accommodation options are clustered together; rondavels not particularly attractive. | Rooms from: $63 | Off N2 | 6560 | 044/877-1197 | | | 5 cottages; 9 log cabins; 20 forest cabins; 12 rondavels, 10 with bath; 121 campsites.

$ | B&B/INN | Deep-pile carpets, double-volume spaces, spectacular floral arrangements, and voluminous drapes framing the sea-view windows add to the sense of opulence at this beachfront establishment. The classic, over-the-top style—with dramatic shades of terra-cotta and rich vibrant fabrics—tells you you’re about to be pampered. Rooms are individually decorated, and all have balconies. The beach is just a short hop from the lawns or the saltwater pool. A small kitchenette means you can prepare a small snack or call for delivery. Pros: just a short walk to the beach; bathrooms are modern and large. Cons: too far to walk into town. | Rooms from: $234 | 43 Die Duin | 6560 | 044/877-0022 | | | 6 suites | Breakfast.


The Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park and environs provide opportunities for lovely walks, fantastic paddling, and fishing.


Eden Adventures.
Based inside the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park, Eden Adventures offers abseiling (rappelling) in Kaaimans Gorge (R475). This is a half-day trip, but they can be combined to form a full-day trip (R750 with lunch). You can also rent a two-seater canoe for exploring the wetlands (R250 per day). Eden Adventures also runs a two-and-a-half-day guided canoeing and hiking trip in the park. It’s fully catered, and accommodation is in either a tented camp or chalets (prices on request). Custom tours can also be arranged. | 044/877-0179 | |


Garden Route Trail.
On the five-day guided Garden Route Trail, you start in the Ebb and Flow Restcamp and then head east along the coast, taking in long beach walks and coastal forest before ending in Brenton on Sea. The emphasis is on the natural environment, and knowledgeable guides provide commentary along the way. The trip is catered and portered, and you do some canoeing in addition to hiking. The five-day trail costs from R4,900 depending on the number of people. There is also a number of popular day walks, such as a guided forest canoe and walking trail (R220) and a Moonlight Meander on the beach at full moon (R60). | 044/883-1015, 082/213-5931 |


Getting Here and Around

Visitors fly into Richards Bay from Johannesburg and are picked up by the lodge staff, who make all the flight and pickup arrangements for you. If you’d like to drive instead of fly, the lodge can arrange a car service to get you to and from Johannesburg. You could drive yourself, but it’s really an unnecessary waste of time as you won’t be able to use the vehicle once you’re on the property. Plus, you’d need to rent a 4x4 as the last part of the road is very bumpy and muddy.

When to Go

The loggerhead and leatherback turtle egg-laying season goes from November through early March. During these months rangers lead after-dinner drives and walks down the beach to look for turtles, and you can expect to cover as much as 16 km (10 miles) in a night. From a weather standpoint, the best times to visit the lodge are probably spring (September-October) and autumn (March-May). In summer the temperature regularly soars past 38°C (100°F), and swimming during winter is a brisk proposition. August is the windiest month, and it’s in summer that the turtles come ashore to dig their nests and lay their eggs—an awesome spectacle.


Maputaland Coastal Forest Reserve.
Expect great swaths of pale, creamy sand stretching to far-off rocky headlands; a shimmering, undulating horizon where whales blow. Watch out for pods of dolphins leaping and dancing in the morning sun. If you’re here in season (November-early March), one of nature’s greatest and most spiritually uplifting experiences is waiting for you—turtle tracking. Nothing, not photographs, not wildlife documentaries, prepares you for the size of these creatures. On any given night, you might see a huge, humbling leatherback, 2 meters long and weighing up to 1,100 pounds, drag her great body up through the surf to the high-water mark at the back of the beach. There she will dig a deep hole and lay up to a 120 gleaming white eggs, bigger than a golf ball but smaller than a tennis ball. It will have taken her many, many years to achieve this moment of fruition, a voyage through time and across the great oceans of the world—a long, solitary journey in the cold black depths of the sea, meeting and mating only once every seven years, and always coming back to within 100 meters of the spot on the beach where she herself had been born. And if your luck holds, you might even observe the miracle of the hatchlings, when perfect bonsai leatherback turtles dig themselves out of their deep, sandy nest and rush pell-mell toward the sea under a star-studded sky. | Maputaland Coastal Forest Reserve.


Rocktail Beach Camp.
$ | RESORT | This family-friendly, rustic camp lies behind the dunes fronting the Indian Ocean in lush coastal forest. It’s a brisk 20-minute walk to the golden beach that sweeps in a gentle arc several miles to the north. There are no lifeguards or shark nets, but the swimming and snorkeling are fabulous. The camp consists of 17 simple tented chalets with en-suite bathrooms. Seven suites are great for families and sleep two adults and two children. The private honeymoon suite has gorgeous ocean and forest views. Wood and canvas create a rustic ambience, complemented by solar lighting and basic furnishings. Relax on the large veranda or raised viewing deck, sample some of the offerings in the wine cellar, or cool off in the pool while the children have fun in the playroom. Activities include great surf fishing (no tackle provided), snorkeling, and walking through the forest or along the beach. Rangers lead excursions to see hippo pools, the rich bird-life of Lake Sibaya, and Kosi Bay, where the local Tembe people catch fish using the age-old method of basket netting, and Tsonga descendants also use ancient woven fish traps. Scuba diving is among the best in the world with unspoiled reefs and total exclusivity. Gugulesizwe is a joint venture between Wilderness Safaris and the local community, and once at the camp you can try optional extras such as horseback riding, sangoma visits, quad biking, star gazing and Zulu dancing. For many people, though, a trip to Rocktail Beach Camp is simply an opportunity to kick back and just soak in the atmosphere of an unspoiled coastal wilderness. Pros: great place to relax; children’s playroom. Cons: difficult to travel to; 20-minute walk to the beach. | Rooms from: $184 | Maputaland Coastal Forest Reserve | 011/257-5111 Reservations | | | 17 chalets, 1 honeymoon suite | All meals.

Fodor’s Choice | Thonga Beach Lodge.
$$ | RESORT | Dramatically sited, this lovely beach lodge makes the best of its unique situation. Twelve air-conditioned, thatch suites decorated in chic Robinson Crusoe style look out over indigenous coastal and forest bush a stone’s throw from the sea. Chill out on your personal deck, lounge on the viewing deck or by the pool, or walk barefoot down the boardwalks leading to the beach, where you can recline on a lounge chair shaded by white cotton “sails.” The food is delicious, creative, and you’ll be amazed at just how hungry the sea air makes you. A guide will walk along the beach with you to Island Rock, where at low tide, you can float among the rocks and pools. If you’ve never snorkeled, then now is your chance. Go for sundowners to Lake Sibaya, South Africa’s largest, freshwater lake, with its spectacular birdlife, and watch out for lumbering hippos as they come out to graze. Take a guided walk through the forest, grassland, or wetlands around the lodge, or go diving to the pristine reefs offshore (one is as big as two football fields) or just stay on board and watch for whales and dolphins. Then relax with a treatment at the in-house Sea-Spa. Pros: Robinson Crusoe deluxe; privacy and tranquility; discover different (all magical) ecosystems. Cons: difficult to get to; so pricey. | Rooms from: $371 | Eshowe | 3815 | 035/474-1473 Reservations | | | 12 chalets | All meals.

Fodor’s Choice | Hog Hollow Country Lodge.
$ | B&B/INN | Vistas stretch into the misty green distance at this lovely lodge set among gardens on the edge of a forested gorge. Rooms are decorated in a modern African motif, with cast-iron furniture, white linen, and African artwork. In summer the private verandas with hammocks are as popular as the fireplaces are in winter. The food (for lodge guests only) is great, and meals are sociable affairs, taken around a huge table in the main house; breakfasts are taken on the patio, from where you can watch vervet monkeys play in the trees. Local seafood and ostrich are well represented on the menu, but vegetarian food is handled with flair. An energetic one-hour walk through the forest will bring you to Monkeyland, Birds of Eden, and the Elephant Sanctuary. The lodge is very conscientious about environmental issues. Pros: lodge hires its staff from the surrounding community and trains them; breakfasts are great, especially the breakfast trifle. Cons: dining is communal, although you can opt to have a separate table. | Rooms from: $154 | The Crags, Askop Rd. | Plettenberg Bay | 6600 | 044/534-8879 | | | 16 suites | Breakfast.

Fodor’s Choice | Grootbos Private Nature Reserve.
$$$ | RESORT ALL-INCLUSIVE | Only a 15-minute drive from Hermanus and two hours from Cape Town, this private nature reserve is on 2,500 acres of Western Cape landscape overlooking Walker Bay. Here you can observe protea, fynbos, milk-wood forests, and tropical rain forests, as well as aquatic life: penguins, dolphins, seals, and Southern Right whales in early spring. Hiking trails, horseback riding, beaches, and children’s programs are close by. Privacy is paramount in the luxurious suites, which have fireplaces, sunken bathtubs, and private sundecks opening onto fynbos, sea, and mountains as far as the eye can see. Go for the newer Forest Lodge suites that seamlessly meld nature and modern amenities. The reserve’s foundation works to educate and employ the community with conservation, research, and sustainable-living projects. The cuisine is exquisite, enhanced by vegetables and herbs grown on the premises. Pros: certified green property; secluded natural surrounds; whale-watching. Cons: confining for longer stays; expensive. | Rooms from: $489 | 028/384-8000, 028/384-8053 Reservations | | | 23 suites | All-inclusive.

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