One holiday you simply have to get right is your honeymoon but in Africa the huge range of choices can be daunting. Do you go on safari or to the beach? When is the rainy season? Take away the unknown with our advice on when to go and what to do.
The Serengeti provides the stage for Tanzania’s famous Great Wildebeest Migration but this is also a country of big cats, massive elephant herds and thriving chimpanzee-filled rainforests. And with Zanzibar and its getaway Indian Ocean islands like Pemba and Mnemba within easy reach, it’s the perfect ‘bush-and-beach’ destination. Game viewing is generally excellent during the June to October dry season but you’ll need to travel to the Serengeti between November and August to see the Migration. Zanzibar and its nearby islands get their best weather between August and October.
Once on safari you can look forward to expertly guided game drives and there’s usually an opportunity to go hot-air ballooning. If you stay in private reserves or conservancies, you can walking safaris, night drives, off-roading and even mountain biking to the list. Our favourite honeymoon safari accommodation includes exclusive Singita Sabora Tented Camp in the Serengeti and Jabali Ridge in the wild Ruaha National Park – both small, personal lodges that are great for big game viewing. Mnemba Island Lodge delivers the quintessential Indian Ocean experience - coral reefs, sunset sailing and beach dining - while for something a little off the beaten path, try Greystoke Mahale, revelling in its remote lakeside setting and home to Tanzania’s best chimpanzee sightings.
This friendly and easy-travelling country has excellent wildlife viewing in the Etosha National Park but its best honeymoon destination has to be the Namib Desert. A destination best visited in the dry season between June and October, the Namib is a mesmerising land of silent, primal beauty and night skies spilling over with stars. A visit to the famous Sossusvlei dunes – towering hundreds of feet above you - is a must-do activity: you can walk up a dune to greet the rising sun one or take a balloon flight for a birds-eye view. You’ll also explore the desert with expert local guides, on the lookout for unique wildlife in a surprisingly rich and diverse environment.
Our recommended honeymoon accommodation includes intimate and contemporary Sossusvlei Lodge with its dining tables set a stone’s throw from a floodlit waterhole – ask for a suite with private plunge pool. Another one of our favourites is charming Wolwedans Dunes Lodge, complete with panoramic views at almost every turn, not least thanks to the fact that the canvas walls of your suite roll up to immerse you in the landscape.
#7: The Seychelles
Idyllic beaches, clear warm water and a massage for two – that’ll be the Seychelles. A scattering of islands in the Indian Ocean – some large, some not much bigger than a city block – the Seychelles has a well-deserved reputation for romance and enjoys equatorial weather: warm and sunny year-round with a chance of rain at any time. The hottest months are December to April while the wettest are January and February; if you plan to scuba dive then April/May and October/November have the best underwater visibility.
Activities to look forward to include just about every water sport you can think of but there is hiking and mountain biking too. As for where to stay, is there a more iconic place than privately owned North Island? This scrap of jungle-clad granite is the favoured honeymoon destination for royalty and rock stars, guaranteeing a stay of unashamed but gentle indulgence at North Island Lodge - the only accommodation on the island. Your palatial villa comes with its own pool and a lounge that can be converted into a private cinema; chat to the chef about your favourite dishes and you can enjoy them at the restaurant or in your villa, served by candlelight.
With the mile-wide Zambezi River tumbling into the abyss, no wonder the Zambian name for Victoria Falls translates as ‘the Smoke that Thunders’. It is a destination as famous for its white-knuckle adventures like river rafting and bungee jumping as it is for elephant interactions, sunset river cruises and helicopter flips.
The best time to visit depends on your expectations: Victoria Falls is in full flow in March and April but this is the peak rainy season and not a great time for a safari (plus many of the best camps are closed during this time). And in the late safari season – September and October – there can be very little water going over Victoria Falls on the Zambian side, often none in November. The June to August period is a good compromise: dry weather, plenty of water at Victoria Falls and good game viewing on safari.
Tongabezi Lodge is our honeymoon favourite. Set a comfortable distance from the Falls, it’s an award-winning lodge with a strong commitment to the local community. As a guest, you decide on your own itinerary and Tongabezi will make it happen. Try a picnic lunch on Livingstone Island, canapés and champagne just metres away from the edge of Victoria Falls itself.
Go on safari to Botswana and see what Africa’s wildlife was like in the days of the first European explorers: elephants in their tens of thousands, big cats, wild dogs and rivers full of crocodiles and hippopotamus. And between May and October it barely rains at all, giving you half a year to pick a date: June and July are the coldest; September and October the hottest.
Game drives are the main focus when on safari in Botswana: you’ll head out in the early morning and late afternoons to look for big game, returning with a spotlight to catch nocturnal animals on the prowl. Many lodges are set on rivers or in the wetland wilderness of the Okavango Delta, enabling you to explore by motorboat and mokoro – a traditional canoe. Baines Camp lies on the edge of the Okavango Delta and is a great place to start; you can also interact with habituated elephants and wheel your bed outside to sleep on a platform under the Milky Way. Set in rich predator-country and accessible only by air, Jao Camp makes you deeper into the Delta, offering year-round water activities and Botswana’s best safari spa.
Looking for that out-of-the-way beach retreat with plenty of romantic comfort and great weather? Try the Quirimbas Archipelago. A string of coral islands set along Mozambique’s tropical Indian Ocean coast, the Quirimbas doesn’t get much colder than 24°C / 75°F at any time – day or night - and the water temperature starts at that and goes up to 30°C / 86°F. Go between May and September when there is barely any rain and avoid the peak rainy months of January and February.
With much of the archipelago protected as a marine park, the Quirimbas is a natural choice for scuba divers and water sport lovers but you don’t need to get your feet wet to enjoy the Quirimbas. This is also a destination of beachside massages and sunset cruises in a traditional sailing dhow. Accommodation is lightly sprinkled across the islands, elegant, intimate lodges that tend to be the only one on the island; we especially like Azura@Quilalea, set on a private island with sumptuous villas and personalised cuisine, served in a different location each night.
#3: South Africa
Vineyards, deserts and savannahs - the Rainbow Nation offers such a diverse set of destinations it’s hard to remember you’re in the same country. Safari destinations like the Kruger are best visited during the June to October dry season but honeymooners thinking about Cape Town and the Winelands should know that this period is the Cape’s rainy season. And the reverse is true: the Cape is driest between November and April when the Kruger is at its wettest.
Game drives are the main safari activity; stay at a private reserve and add guided walks and spot-lit night drives to the mix. Try Lion Sands Narina Lodge, set in a private concession within the Kruger for exclusive Big 5 sightings, or Jaci’s Tree House, a made-for-romance lodge in the malaria-free Madikwe Private Game Reserve. We also love The Motse, set in a private and breathtakingly beautiful Kalahari landscape full of wildlife.
In the Cape, the attractions of the Winelands are a little more sedentary and include fine food, wine, cheese and chocolate tasting. We recommend the chateau-type ambience of La Residence in Franschhoek, lying at the heart of the Cape Winelands and complete with private butler, chef and chauffeur service.
Victoria Falls may be the obvious choice for a honeymoon in Zimbabwe but this is big game country and home to safari destinations that are just as romantic but with a twist of adventure. Top of our list is the world’s largest manmade lake - Lake Kariba, where a handful of lodges lie on wild lakeside shores offering land and water-based game viewing as well as walking safaris and local community interactions. Go during the May to October dry season to avoid heavy rains and mosquitoes; the weather is coolest and driest from June to the end of August. September and October are very hot and dry months but game viewing at this time is spectacular.
It’s an unspoilt landscape of savannah, open water and distant mountains with sunsets reputed to be among the best in Africa. You can sit on your private balcony and watch one from Bumi Hills Safari Lodge, set next to Matusadona National Park and famous for its flexible schedule, allowing you to plan your day around what you feel like doing and when. There are game drives and boat cruises to choose from but also spa treatments and massages.
Kenya’s Masai Mara, the destination that inspired Hollywood’s ‘Out of Africa’ is indeed a land of sunlit savannahs, thundering herds and the red-cloaked Maasai people. A generally benign climate and amazing year-round game viewing means it’s a place you can visit at most times of the year though we’d recommend avoiding the heavy rains of April and May.
But choosing the right time to go is important if you want to see the great wildebeest migration: the herds cross into the Masai Mara from the neighbouring Serengeti from late July and stay there until November. Morning and afternoon game drives are the best way to see wildlife but many lodges offer hot-air balloon safaris too – complete with champagne breakfast – as well as chances to visit a local Maasai community.
Why not carry through the ‘Out of Africa’ motif to its logical conclusion? Angama Mara is an elegant tented camp built where the film was made and you can even have a picnic for two in the very spot that every film buff will recognise. It is also well located for the wildebeest migration as it enters its most dramatic chapter: the infamous river crossings.