With expert advice, good planning and sufficient time, it is possible to undertake a kosher safari to Africa. While there are some limitations to overcome – such as accessibility to chametz food so you can keep kosher in the middle of the savannah – a small but growing number of safari camps are making provisions to welcome Jewish travellers who keep kosher.
If you wish to celebrate Pesach, Rosh Hashana or Chanukah in Africa or just have a wonderful holiday, here is our best advice based on assisting other Jewish travellers from across the world.
Head for South Africa
Not only is South Africa Africa’s most developed country, it is also home to the continent’s most populous Jewish community. There are at least 80 000 practising Jews in South Africa, making it the easiest place to find hotels with kosher kitchens, kosher restaurants and delis, and synagogues or shuls.
Many international flights arrive in Johannesburg, which has a thriving Jewish community of about 50 000 people, many of whom reside in affluent and safe neighbourhoods such as Sandton, which is also home to top hotels. In Cape Town, a community of about 20 000 Jews ensures that there are plenty of kosher options available, especially in the neighbourhoods of Sea Point and Fresnaye.
Cape Town is also home to the Jewish Museum and the Holocaust Centre, which border the very popular Company’s Gardens, a green lung in the city centre that is ringed by the National Gallery, the Planetarium and the National History Museum. Parliament and the historical Slave Lodge are also within easy walking distance, as is the historic Gardens Shul.
Places to stay in Cape Town
The Clarendon Bantry Bay The staff in this upscale boutique hotel above one of the city’s most exclusive beaches will happily provide kosher options.
The Clarendon Fresnaye A sister property to the Clarendon Bantry Bay, The Fresnaye is closer to the Beit Midrash Morasha (also known as the Arthurs Road Hebrew Congregation) and to the Chabad Centre in nearby St John’s Road. This area is also home to the Green and Sea Point Hebrew Congregation, fondly known as the Marais Road Shul. Both establishments will happily provide candles and matches for Shabbos. If you and family take over the whole of either boutique hotel, the kitchen can be made kosher.
Twelve Apostles Hotel Set in the foothills of the Twelve Apostles mountains and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, this cosy hotel outside the city can order in kosher meals at a surcharge.
Wineries to visit in the Cape Winelands
Backsberg Estate Cellars Situated in the little town of Paarl, Backsberg creates sparkling Brut, Chardonnay, Pinotage, Merlot and Kiddush wine that are kosher and Mevushal for Passover. All their wines are overseen by the Cape Town Beth-din and the Orthodox Union of the United States.
Kleine Draken Translating as ‘little dragon’ in the Afrikaans language, this is the only dedicated kosher winery in South Africa. All its wines are overseen by the Mashiach from the Cape Town Beth-din and are certified by the US OU. The staff can arrange kosher picnics to enjoy out in the gardens, with a bottle of wine or grape juice, of course.
If you are travelling from Cape Town elsewhere into Africa, consider stopping in at Backsberg or Kleine Draken to buy a couple of bottles to take with you to your next destination (be sure to check how much wine you are allowed to take according to customs rules if you are crossing the border out of the country). Although many safari lodge have wine cellars, not all will have access to kosher wine. Spirits, however, are commonly available
Places to stay in Johannesburg
Genesis All Suite Hotel Although the breakfast isn’t kosher, this hotel is in a convenient location in the neighbourhood Fairmont for shopping for kosher food.
The Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa Among the very best hotels in Africa’s wealthiest city, the understated Saxon oozes subtle luxury. The kitchen can follow the rules of kosher but for strict observants, the staff will place an order or allow guests to do so.
The Residence Built in Houghton, Johannesburg’s most affluent enclave and where former president Nelson Mandela lived, The Residence is an upscale boutique hotel with a tennis court, spa and rooftop piano bar. Kosher meals can be arranged.
Places to stay in Durban
Durban is a lively city on South Africa’s sub-tropical eastern coast. Depending on the rest of your itinerary, it is stop-over to get to the Drakensberg, the historic Battlefields or Phinda Private Game Reserve.
The Oyster Box Probably the city’s most glamorous and luxurious hotel set right on the beach, the Oyster Box can order in good kosher food with sufficient notice.
How to combine Cape Town with a safari
Cape Town-Kruger is a very popular combination, especially for first-time visitors to Africa. The travelling times between them are relatively short and the logistics very easy.
Many clients head for safari first. After landing at OR Tambo International Airport, you can overnight in Johannesburg to recover from your long-haul flight and then fly or be driven to the Sabi Sands, a private game reserve that shares an unfenced border with the Kruger National Park. We suggest the Sabi Sands because it is private so there are limited visitor numbers, it is one of the best places to see all of the Big 5 (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino) and it has the highest number of kosher safari lodges in Africa.
Where to stay in Sabi Sand
Dulini Private Game Lodge and Dulini River Lodge Both are set in the unparalleled Sabi Sand Game Reserve, which shares an unfenced border with Kruger. Kosher meals can be arranged from a top caterer in Johannesburg.
Savanna Lodge The Savanna Suite has a private kitchen that is kosher. If you and your family take over the entire lodge, the main kitchen can also be made kosher. In special circumstances, fully catered kosher meals can be arranged from Johannesburg that include options for snacks on game drives and for the rooms’ mini-bars.
Chitwa Chitwa Game Lodge Overlooking one if the reserves largest lakes, Chitwa Chitwa has kosher platers and cutlery, and all food is cooked in foil. The lodge can source meals and wine from a kosher deli in Johannesburg.
Sabi Sabi Little Bush Camp Part of the renowned Sabi Sabi family of lodges, Little Bush has just six suites, each with a private viewing deck and heated spa bath. The staff can arrange kosher meals with sufficient notice.
Where to stay in Timbavati
Kings Camp A throwback to traditional safari style, Kings Camp has a very romantic atmosphere thanks to soft lamp light and a sophisticated atmosphere. It is kosher with a dedicated Mashgiach under the Beth-din Council of South Africa.
Where to stay in Thornybush
Royal Malewane An extremely luxurious lodge with wonderful extras like helicopter flips, elephant interactions, river cruises, specialist guides and hot-air ballooning, Royal Malewane also has a full kosher kitchen for Jewish guests.
Where to stay in Kapama Private Game Reserve
You can also combine Cape Town with Madikwe Private Game Reserve, which has a completely different terrain to Kruger and is an almost unsurpassed place to see rhino and wild dog.
Where to stay in Madikwe
Etali Safari Lodge In addition to a popular private waterhole that attracts lots of game, Etali creates delicious kosher food for safari lovers.
Where to stay at Victoria Falls
Seeing the Victoria Falls – the world’s biggest sheet of falling water – is a bucket-list item for many travellers to Africa. In fact, a Cape Town-Kruger-Vic Falls itinerary is one of our most popular, especially with first-time visitors.
The small town of Livingstone on the Zambian side of the Falls has had a Jewish community since the early 1900s, which peaked at about 1 200 people in the mid-1950s. Today, this number may have decreased but a knowledge of kosher cooking remains in this unexpected corner of Africa.
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The River Club Lying on the banks of the Zambezi River, which feeds the Falls, The River Club harks back to those gracious days of the turn of the last century with silver place settings, black-and-white photos and activities like croquet and billiards (although they have moved with the times and have Wi-Fi, yoga sessions and a running trail). There is a completely separate kosher kitchen that the Mashgiach will open when needed. They are experienced in handling orthodox guests and have two large villas for guests who prefer complete privacy.
The Royal Livingstone The most glamorous hotel that has a view of the Falls’ spray, The Royal Livingstone has access to a kosher kitchen for Jewish guests. Zebra, warthogs and ground squirrels populate the manicured lawns, adding to the uniquely African atmosphere.
Where to stay in Botswana
Botswana is a dream destination, and it’s our firm belief that all travellers to Africa should see the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park at least once. There are a few premier lodges where it is possible to pre-order kosher meals such as:
Abu Camp A very exclusive camp amid a massive private concession in the Delta, Abu is famous for its sensitive elephant interaction with habituated elephants.
Little Mombo With just three luxurious suites, Little Mombo is perfect if you want to take over an entire lodge and have it all to yourselves. For bigger parties, head to its larger sister camp, Mombo.
Where to stay in Kenya
Like Botswana, Kenya is a must-see destination for safari lovers. The Masai Mara is known for the annual Wildebeest Migration from about July to October, when hundreds of thousands of bellowing gnus cross the treacherous Mara River in search of fresh grazing on the Mara plains.
Angama Mara A very high-end lodge with expansive views of the Masai Mara from its glass-fronted suites high up on the escarpment, Angama Mara is able to accommodate travellers who keep kosher thanks to their separate, stand-alone kosher kitchen that is only unlocked for Jewish guests. It is stocked with all the necessary utensils, crockery and cutlery as a well as washing up, cooking and refrigeration facilities.
Meals are generally vegetarian and fish dishes prepared without dairy products but kosher meat, cheese, yoghurt and champagne can be arranged at extra expense from South Africa. Ready-prepared and sealed kosher meals can be flown in from the Beth Din in Johannesburg for the guests' account. Angama Mara can also secure the services of a Rabbi or Mashgiach from South Africa with at least six months' notice - his or her travel, accommodation and transfer costs will be for the guests' bill.
Tips for orthodox travellers to Africa to keep kosher
- In big cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa, you can order food from KoshWhere.com and have it delivered to your hotel or guesthouse.
- Major South African grocers like Pick n Pay, Spar and Checkers in Jewish neighbourhoods like Sea Point and Fresnaye in Cape Town have large kosher sections with plenty of options. You can also stock up on snacks here for transfers, days out and self-drive holidays.
- Please bear in mind that there might be a surcharge for kosher meals, especially at remote safari camps where supplies have to be trucked or flow in.
- The closer you travel to South Africa, the easier and more cost-effective it will be to secure kosher meals.
- Many of the exclusive safari villas have their own kitchens and can accommodate you bringing your own chef and supplies.
- It is also very challenging to keep kosher on mobile camping trips as there are very limited kitchen facilities. If you would like to go camping, discuss booking out an entire for your family (with no other guests) so that the operator can make the necessary arrangements, if possible.
The safari year
Seasonality on safari is governed by rain. The general rule is that the wet summer is low, green or off season, while the dry winter is high or peak season. Accommodation is pricier and booked out longer in advance for high season, which generally falls from about July to October across Africa.
Consider when the major celebrations fall every year to ensure you get your first choice of accommodation and the best available rates.
Pesach Since Passover and the Christian festival of Easter sometimes coincide, you may find availability limited as most African countries have school holidays over Easter and many Africans travel then. Safari destinations closer to major cities – like Kruger, Etosha, Addo Elephant, Chobe, Vic Falls and Amboseli – will likely be very busy. It can pay to book up to nine months in advance. This is a good time to visit Victoria Falls as the waters will be rising, leading to a more impressive display.
Rosh Hashana It is likely that this will fall during the African spring, when the high season is slowly transitioning to low season (known in the industry as ‘shoulder season’). Since there are no regional holidays and travellers in the US and Europe are generally gearing up for the school year, you should aim to book at least six months in advance.
Chanukah As with Pesach and Easter, Chanukah may likely coincide with the Christian run-up to Christmas, both of which will coincide with regional holidays. Although December is technically part of low season, rates do increase over Christmas and New Year’s. Cities like Cape Town are extremely popular and can sell out six to nine months in advance.
The key to a satisfying kosher safari is enquire as soon as you know you want to go and to be upfront with your Africa Safari Expert about your needs. This will allow him or her to craft the perfect journey for you, in some of Africa’s most beautiful places.