South Africa’s accommodation options are as diverse as its landscape of craggy mountains, golden savannah, sub-tropical forest and haunting desert. I’ve selected some of the best hotels the country’s most popular travel destinations where you can feel like you’re splurging without breaking the bank…
1. Lion Sands River Lodge - Kruger National Park
The Kruger National Park is South Africa’s premier wildlife destination: a massive chunk of pristine nature that is bordered by the Sabi Sands Game Reserve. Lion Sands River Lodge has been built along the Sabie River in the Sabi Sands to give you the best of both worlds – the privacy of a private reserve and access to the plenty of Kruger. Do book one of their incredible ‘tree houses’, which have been built high up in the branches of mature trees. Completely safe and equipped with an en suite bathroom, the tree houses allow you to sleep under the stars, the gentle southern sun being your alarm clock in the morning…
2. The Palace of the Lost City - Sun City
Sun City is Africa’s most well-known and lavishly built resort that has all the resort favourites like water slides, casinos, golf courses and action-packed activities for young and old. It’s most exclusive hotel – The Palace of the Lost City – was designed to look like the opulent ruins of an ancient civilization and is packed with sculptures, mosaics and friezes. It’s a fun place to end off an African honeymoon or a malaria-free Madikwe safari.
3. Fairlawns Boutique Hotel - Johannesburg
The world’s youngest metropolis and Africa’s city that never sleeps, Johannesburg is more than just a travel hub for Southern Africa. Brimming with art galleries, museums, historical sites, great restaurants and exciting outdoor activities, it is probably South Africa’s best-kept travel secret. Fairlawns, in Joburg’s very upscale Sandton neighbourhood, has individually decorated suites and villas, a massive gym, a spacious spa and outdoor areas perfectly positioned to make the most of the city’s extremely reliable safari-season sunshine.
4. Babylonstoren - Franschhoek, Cape Winelands
The simple life – but with every little convenience – awaits you at Babylonstoren, a working farm at Franschhoek in the Cape Winelands, less than an hour’s drive from Cape Town. Feast on the best, freshest produce at Babel, the on-site restaurant, and enjoy acres of lush gardens to explore when you’re not swimming in the old-fashioned farm reservoir. Here is our plan on how to spend 48 hours at Babylonstoren.
Mont Rochelle - Franschhoek, Cape Winelands
Being South Africa’s undisputed gastronomic capital, it is unsurprising that Franschhoek has so many affordable yet luxurious hotels in its surrounds. Another excellent option is Mont Rochelle, an elegant thatched hotel that has incredible views of the nearby mountains. Wine lovers will enjoy perusing its superb cellars while outdoorsy types can head off on foot, mountain bikes or horses to take in the sunshine and fresh mountain air.
6. Cellars-Hohenhort - Constantia Winelands
The Constantia Valley is a 20-minute drive from the centre of Cape Town and the wine estates here date back to the 1700s. Shaded by mature trees and surrounded by manicured gardens studded with heated swimming pools, a tennis court and a Gary Player chipping and putting green, the Cellars-Hohenort is a gracious but relaxed Constantia hotel. Foodies will love eating at The Greenhouse, a Relais & Chateaux restaurant known for its creative and delicious interpretations of South African favourites. Here is a short guide to making the most of your time in the Constantia Winelands.
7. Kensington Place - Cape Town City
Unlike many other international capitals, the city centre of Cape Town is small, with only a handful of skyscrapers and easily walkable city blocks. It is ringed by upscale neighbourhoods and shielded by the embrace of Table Mountain. Kensington Place is ideal for travellers who want to be close to the city’s action but far away enough to enjoy birdsong in the morning. A boutique hotel with extras like complimentary gym membership for guests, it has views of Table Bay by day and the twinkling city lights by night.
8. Cape Crace - V&A Waterfront, Cape Town
Although it has been calculated that the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town is the country’s most-visited attraction, it is far from a tourist trap. Locals flock here all year round to make the most of views of the harbour and Table Mountain, the excellent shopping, great dining and ever-changing panoply of events, exhibitions and excursions. The Cape Grace has the dual benefit of being within the Waterfront but on one of its quieter sides. A superb spa, wonderful dining and a laidback atmosphere go hand-in-hand with tasteful décor and views of the yacht basin from Bascule, a specialist whisky bar that stocks brands from across the globe.
9. Phinda Forest Lodge - Phinda Private Game Reserve, Kwazulu-Natal
Once an assorted collection of farmland and pineapple plantations, Phinda Private Game Reserve is a crowning testament to the difference a concerted conservation effort can make. Since the 1990s, the reserve has been slowly returning to its natural state and all of the Big 5 - leopard, lion, elephant, rhino and buffalo - have been reintroduced. Forest Lodge is a grown-up's childhood daydream come true: you can now have your own glass-encased suite in the middle of a swathe of indigenous forest and be literally surrounded by lush greenery wherever you look... even from your egg-shaped bathtub and king-sized bed.
10. Ngala Safari Lodge - Timbavati Game Reserve
Although Timbavati is a private reserve, it shares an unfenced western border with the Kruger National Park that allows animals to wander at will and follow ancient paths to water sources. The result is the best of both worlds: the abundance of game of the national park but the privacy and exclusivity afforded by being one of the few game-drive vehicles in the 53 000 hectare reserve. Ngala Safari Lodge is similarly balanced; it has all the charm of an old-school safari lodge but also every modern perk a contemporary safari enthusiast could want. Overlooking a popular waterhole, you have excellent armchair game viewing, too (just remember to pack your binoculars!).
Unless you have an unlimited budget, vacation planning will have you weighing up the virtues of different types of accommodation (here are our insider tips on how to spot a good travel deal). It is possible, with proper consultation with your Africa Safari Expert, to book hotels that offer a very pleasant stay with benefits like on-site spas, gyms and restaurants for reasonable rates. Many travellers mistakenly believe that ‘you only sleep in your room’ but, actually, you do so much more. Your room is a place to rest, recover, regroup and plan: if the weather doesn’t play along or you fall ill, you will want a very comfortable nest with ‘extras’ like air con, views, room service, satellite television and Wi-Fi. With savvy selections, you really can have it all and make the most of your limited holiday time.