By Riaan Viljoen
Africa offers experiences to be found nowhere else on earth. It is home to the world's most pristine natural landscapes and untamed wilderness, but that does not mean that travel to our beautiful continent should be at all rustic.
Southern Africa certainly has a long tradition of grand, exclusive accommodation and hospitality to match the magnificent nature around us. Below, we explore some of the many choices luxury travelers might consider for their next trip.
Khwai Leadwood in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.
Safari lodges are the most uniquely African experience. Lodges are built in the heart of the African wilderness, with expert guides to show you nature's beauty, private chefs to prepare delicious meals, and friendly staff to ensure you every comfort.
There will be multiple game drives every day, taking you up close to lions on the hunt and elephants around the waterhole, to giraffes peering out from above the thorny acacia canopy and through great herds of buffalo roaming the grassy plains. Safari vehicles are well equipped for game viewing, with a tracker accompanying each group to ensure every day you spend there is filled with unbelievable experiences. There are many places throughout Southern Africa for a luxurious safari experience, with vastly different terrain, landscapes, and experiences to savor.
The Okavango Delta
is a seasonal oasis in the Kalahari Desert, where luscious green marshlands replace the small shrubs and dried-out grasses of the Kalahari Basin. Thousands of animals flock to the Delta and bring all the drama of nature's endless cycle with them. A Mokoro, a traditional canoe, is a uniquely immersive way to experience the wilderness and explore the Delta's many islands and streams. It is highly recommended for anyone planning an intimate luxury safari to Africa.
The Victoria Falls
and the spray of the water crashing over its rocky precipice is aptly called 'The Smoke that Thunders' in the local language. It is a great vantage point to explore the beautiful gorges to its south and the magnificent Zambezi River, with several national parks and game reserves to see all the African greats. The great explorer and missionary David Livingstone wrote in a diary entry upon seeing the falls," No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes, but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.""
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park
is South Africa's largest national park and a hub of conservation and biodiversity. It stretches from the Malelane River in the south to the Limpopo River and the imposing Baobab trees that overlook it in the north, with 13 different vegetation types. The Big Five occur in abundance. There are fantastic safari experiences, beautiful views, and memories to last a lifetime.
Sabi Sand is a private game reserve
between the Sabie River and the Sand River in a portion of land on the western border of the Kruger National Park, teeming with life. Since its inception in the 1950s, this game reserve has beautifully conserved its beautiful savanna and grasslands while entertaining many generations of tourists.
Timbavati is the northern neighbor to the Sabi Sand. Among its beautiful acacia bushveld and ephemeral rivers and streams is something spectacular - the reserve is the only place in the world with naturally occurring white lions. At the time of writing, there were 13 of them, and a mesmerizing sight to behold.
Klaserie is the last of the trio of private game reserves mentioned here, though there are others in the greater Kruger region. The Klaserie is one of the quieter reserves here, with all the picturesque nature, animals, and birds the region has for visitors to discover.
Etosha is Namibia's great wilderness park
, a vast expanse of rocky hills and lush savanna and woodland that surround the Etosha Salt Pan, Africa's most significant. On my last trip to the park, I came across more black rhinos than I have ever seen anywhere else, which is a testament to the success of the conservation project here. Millions of flamingoes come to the park yearly, one of only two places southern lesser flamingoes migrate to in the breeding season.
, near Zambia's border with Malawi, is a spectacular park neatly tucked away on the Luangwa River Valley. It boasts several natural rarities, such as the Luangwa giraffe and Cookson's Wildebeest, sub-species known for their intriguing colors and patterns. The park calls itself 'The home to the walking safari,' an unforgettable, immersive experience few will likely forget.
is a remote river-side wonderland in the eastern part of Zambia. The park is Africa's first carbon-neutral national park and home to the spectacular wilderness, great herds of elephants, and nearly 400 bird species whose calls and songs can be heard from the meandering river's banks as the sun rises on this unspoiled utopia.
'Four pools,' as it translates to in chiShona, is a marshland in the Zambezi floodplain that provides an essential resource in the most desperate time of the year - water. As a result, Mana Pools
a seasonal meeting place in the animal kingdom, with colonies of migratory birds and thirsty buffalo, elephants, prides of lion, and other plains game all present in more significant numbers than almost anywhere else in Africa during the peak season from July to December.
Hwange National Park is the jewel of Zimbabwe
, in the far west of the country. It borders the Kalahari Desert, with woodland areas dominated by beautiful Zambezi Teak trees and one of the last great African wild dog packs roaming the park's vast expanses in search of prey. It has a rich history, from Shona settlement and Ndebele raids to British occupation and legends of Great Zimbabwe, with archeological sites dating back to this pre-colonial civilization within the park's borders.
Kafue is Zambia's great wildlife sanctuary
. This colossus of a park is over 22000 square kilometers big, making it one of Africa's largest, and has been particularly important in the conservation of lions alongside its sister park, South Luangwa. Huge avian diversity is found in the miombo woodlands and dambos, a local term for grasslands that flood to become marshlands in the rainy season, such as the Busanga Plains in the park's far north-west.
The Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park
and many private nature reserves, including the Phinda
, Manyoni, Thanda, and Mkuze Private Game reserves, are a bastion of conservation in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. Here, Zulu tales and beautiful scenery are intertwined, with many animals roaming over what is largely still Zulu royal lands.
Azura Quilalea in the Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique.
Stunning beaches, sunny skies, and clear light blue waters are the hallmarks of a tropical paradise holiday. Southern Africa has some of the most exclusive tropical resorts in the world, where a handful of guests enjoy the warm ocean waters, local cocktails, and wonderful weather to indulge, relax, and enjoy.
Bazaruto and Quirimbas Archipelagos
and Quirimbas Archipelagos off the Mozambican coast are at the pinnacle of what Southern Africa offers. The Bazaruto Islands are in the country's south, near Vilanculos, while the Quirimbas Archipelago is in the far north, near the border with Tanzania. Once the small plane lands on these secluded islands, all left to do is enjoy. Luxury travelers can snorkel in the shallows between the many scattered islands, savor the delicious tropical fruit and gourmet menu selection, and enjoy the many beachside activities without a care.
iSimangaliso: Kosi Bay
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is not only a UNESCO World Heritage site but also home to some of South Africa's most beautiful beaches and wonderful subtropical coastline. In the north, there is Kosi Bay, a utopia where Kosi Palms line the sunlit seaside, and plant biodiversity reigns supreme, with mangroves and coastal forests, endemic cycads and ferns, and a host of rare animals and birds. Kosi Bay is also the ancient capital of the Tembe Kingdom, a kingdom of the Tsonga people that inhabit present-day South Africa and Mozambique that reigned here from the 13th to the 18th century.
iSimangaliso: Sodwana Bay
Sodwana Bay isn't one of the top-rated family holiday destinations in South Africa for no reason. It has a plethora of activities and experiences to offer guests in its shallow, warm ocean waters. Whales frequently stop by on their ancient migratory routes, while dolphins typically keep surfers and kayakers company. There are extraordinary coral reefs to see beneath the water's surface, the most southerly in Africa, and beautiful forests and marshes surround the bay's golden beaches.
The majestic Drakensberg Mountain Range in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Mountainous regions worldwide are often symbolic of a getaway, a place of solitude where nature's elements have carved out masterpieces in rock, and we can escape the hustle of the city and the world around us.
South Africa is home to the oldest mountain range in the world, the Barberton Greenstone Belt, a World Heritage Site, which, alongside the Waterberg and Magaliesberg Mountains, is billions of years old and dates back to the earliest days of our planet. The Drakensberg is our biggest, covered in lush greenery year-round, while the Cape Fold Mountains are a fortress for the Cape Floral Kingdom's most beautiful protea and fynbos species.
The Drakensberg Mountains
are as mysterious as they are beautiful. The mountains date back to the breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana around 200 million years ago. Still, the real magic of the Drakensberg lies in the biodiversity of its plants and animals and the prehistoric art of its many caves. The 'uKhahlamba', or 'barrier of spears' as they are called in isiZulu, are home to a vast collection of Khoisan rock art, the last remnants of the ancient people of South Africa. The region has some beautiful boutique hotels and lodges with astonishing views and exciting trails to explore.
Cape Fold Belt
The Cape Fold Mountains are a diverse range of scattered mountain ranges in the Cape Fold Belt, from the Cederberg Mountains in the west to the Baviaanskloof Mountains in the east. Magnificent valleys lined by lilies, flowering shrubs, and a diverse array of proteas are found throughout. The Namaqualand region near the Cederberg Mountains forms carpets of flowering daisies of all colors. It is a site to behold with the rugged mountainous backdrop, while the southernmost African forests of the Tsitsikamma Mountains have some of the most famous walking trails in the country.
Barberton Makhonja Mountains
Near South Africa's border with eSwatini is a quiet and beautiful corner of the Mpumalanga province. The Barberton Greenstone Belt, of which the Barberton Makhonja Mountains are a part, is over 3.6 Billion years ago and dates back to the birth of life on our planet. Geotrails are a great way to explore this geological history. A nature reserve preserves the region's endemic aloes, proteas, and other plants, along with several lesser-known wildlife species, such as the Oribi, Mountain Reedbuck, Eland, and South African Hedgehog.
The Waterberg is a UNESCO World Heritage Biosphere Reserve and an imposing site on the Limpopo horizon. It is a prime example of the bushveld habitat, with greater biodiversity than the surrounding lowlands and over 43% of those species being endemic. The Waterberg has a history in local Pedi and Afrikaans folklore for being a place of sorcery, and ancient rock art, like the famous 'dancing kudu', fills its caves, painted by some of the first peoples on earth.
The Links at Fancourt in George, Western Cape, South Africa.
South Africa has some of the best and most beautiful golf courses in the world, from courses on the wilderness frontier to Wineland Valley retreats. Fancourt, in the south of the Western Cape Province, on the famous Garden Route, is perhaps the most revered and boasts four pristine courses.
'Africa's Major,' the Nedbank Golf Challenge, takes place in Sun City at the Gary Player Country Club, next door to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve within a few hour's drive from Johannesburg. There is a variety to choose from, each with its own boutique hotel and activities for the family.
Fancourt is nestled beneath the slopes of the beautiful Outeniqua mountains in the town of George in the Western Cape. Its four courses regularly rank as some of the best in South Africa, and its boutique hotel is also a great vantage point from which to explore the many wonders of the Garden Route.
Gary Player Country Club
The Gary Player Country Club
and surrounding Sun City resort is a wonderful family getaway spot where holiday resort and golf excellence meet African safaris and wilderness. Pilanesberg is home to the entire Big 5, and there are many activities organized by the resort to entertain the whole family.
St. Francis Links
St. Francis is home to the PGA Championship Eastern Cape and a stellar course in the idyllic seaside town of St. Francis Bay. It, too, lies on the Garden Route, near the mouth of the Krom Rivier and Cape St Francis, with many white sandy beaches close by.
, owned by one of South Africa's richest, the Rupert Family, lies on the boundary of the Kruger National Park in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa, just a few minute's drive from its Malelane Gate. With sunny skies nearly year-round and birds and wildlife to enjoy, Leopard Creek is another beautiful mix between the Safari and golfing experience unique to this part of the world.
is another one of the country's pre-eminent golf courses tucked away behind the gates of the exclusive Val de Vie Estate near Paarl in the Western Cape. Golf, polo, cycling, hiking, and wine-tasting are all on the cards, and the estate is part of the Berg River valley, a World Heritage Site set up to conserve this unique part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, one of the most biodiverse regions on earth.
Travelers walking through the solitary Sossusvlei, situated between the giant red dunes of the Namib Desert.
The desert is an ominous place, with beautiful dunes and desert plants and skies lit up by a spectacular display of the Milkyway and all its stars.
The Namib Desert in Namibia is the world's oldest, with ominous reminders of its great and long history. At the same time, the Kalahari desert has more of nature's inhabitants than one would expect for such an arid place. The Kalahari is also the last stronghold of many of the remaining Khoisan peoples, the ancient inhabitants of Southern Africa, such as the Nama in Namibia and the San in Botswana and South Africa.
is a salt pan in the Namib-Naklauft National Park's heart of the Namib Desert. It is as spectacular as it is forbidding like an ancient oasis capturing memories of a bygone age. It is transformed every 15 years when floodwaters fill the pan and rekindle those ancient memories. Great dunes, such as the 325m high "Big Daddy" and other equally mesmerizing desert scenes, are in the vicinity, with a host of desert adventures to embark on.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
'Place of thirst,' as it is known in seTswana, is a transfrontier park in the south of the Kalahari desert, between both South Africa and Botswana. It is one of the most loved parks in the SAN Parks portfolio, and visiting will definitely be a unique and amazing experience. Meerkats, the poster child of the Kalahari, often stop by to say hello within the park's camps, and a Kalahari sub-species of Lion with a black mane is a sight to behold with the desert acacia trees as its backdrop.
Makgadikgadi Salt Pans
The Makgadikgadi Pans
are the counter pole of the Okavango in Botswana, a harsh salt pan whose white surface can be seen from space. Once part of the incredible Lake Makgadikgadi that dried up thousands of years ago, these pans are mostly desolate until the wet season fills the pan temporarily, attracting fantastic wildlife and birdlife. The Makgadikgadi pans are a breeding site for the Greater Flamingo, the only such site alongside the Etosha pan.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve
The Central Kalahari
is a place to escape, with its grasslands, rocky valleys, and local San community. The San are an ancient people that have lived in southern Africa for tens of thousands of years in harmony with and reverence for the natural world around them. The park takes you away from the bustle of the modern era, and many cultural experiences take you up close to the San's ways. The Oryx, Wild Dog, Cheetah, and Lion are just some of the animals to see here, and locally-inspired culinary experiences are worth a try.
The Karoo is a semi-desert region in South Africa, home to some of the highest concentrations of succulent plant species and the 6th largest optical telescope in the world due to the region's clear night skies and extraordinary stargazing potential. It is divided into the Great and Little Karoo, on either side of the Cape Fold Mountains. The little Karoo is more plant-rich and part of the Cape Floral Kingdom. At the same time, vineyards, fruit, and olive orchards are dotted all over its many valleys, offering visitors various cultural, culinary, and wilderness experiences.
The luxurious Cape Grace Hotel is located at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.
Luxury city hotels are ideal bases for exploring the culture and nightlife offered by South Africa's cosmopolitan centers. There is exceptional shopping and a variety of cultural and historical attractions.
is a truly cosmopolitan city at the tip of Africa, steeped in culture and rich history that shaped modern South Africa. Xhosa, Afrikaans, Coloured, English, and Cape Malay cultures are the main proponents of the city's cultural diversity, with dozens of smaller influences from across the continent and around the world. As a result, it is a foodie's paradise and a level of cultural depth waiting to be explored. Stunning mountain views and white sandy beaches also surround it. Table Mountain is one of the city's most renowned attractions, with nearly a million visitors each year, and the Table Mountain National Park has beautiful nature and hiking trails with views of its green slopes and the mother city below. The waterfront and its surroundings have fantastic shopping and culinary experiences to offer visitors, and Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens showcases the region's beautiful plant biodiversity. Winemaking is a part of the Cape culture, and there are many Winelands very close to the city, all with exceptional restaurants and, recently, often gourmet picnics, which have become very popular.
The 'place of reeds' as it translates to from isiZulu, is a commercial hub on the east coast of South Africa, with beautiful beaches and fantastic weather year-round. Some of the most famous hotels here overlook the lighthouse, near the urban center, which offers visitors and guests a host of shopping experiences, great restaurants, and seaside adventures. It is a melting pot of culture, with Zulu, Durban Indian, Afrikaans, and South African English culture all part of the mix.
Sandton hosts the wealthiest square mile in Africa, the financial hub of South Africa, and culture from all over the country and continent. Its skyscrapers look over the surrounding Gauteng suburbs, and the Gautrain station in Sandton is one of the busiest. Many fine dining and local cuisine restaurants can be found here, along with great shopping, leisure, and cultural experiences, including trips to Soweto that explore the history of Nelson Mandela and other liberation icons in South Africa's struggle for democracy and freedom.
View from a Superior Room at the Delaire Graff Estate in Stellenbosch, Cape Winelands.
South African wine is among the best and some of the world's most diverse. Our winemaking region is concentrated in the western valleys of the Cape, known for the plant biodiversity and Cape Fold Mountains, as well as its winemaking prowess.
Swartland wines, made from grapes grown to the north of Cape Town, tend to be richer and fruitier than their Boland cousins, grown to the northeast of the mother city. Cape Dutch farmhouses sit atop the vineyard-covered hills here as far as the eye can see, and some of the country's best restaurants and culinary experiences can also be found here.
Stellenbosch is the largest town in the traditional heart of the Cape Winelands
and a vibrant town where students, wine, and adventure are never too far away. Dozens of the country's oldest and most famous wine farms are within 30 30-minute drive of the town, and a lively art, culinary, and shopping scene in the town's beautifully preserved historic center offers travelers a myriad of attractions to choose from during their stay here.
This wealthy Wineland town is at the heart of Huguenot history in Southern Africa. Beautiful farm châteaux, a whitewashed Cape Dutch-styled town center, and some of the most luxurious hotels and grand wine farms are all characteristic of the artsy, wine-obsessed town of Franschhoek. The Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve near Franschhoek helps preserve the exquisite natural beauty of the place on the slopes of the Franschhoek Valley mountains.
Montagu is a less-known but equally beautiful part of the Cape Winelands with a fast-developing tourist industry. It is home to some of the best wine grapes and fresh fruit cultivated in the Cape. Cape Fold Mountains surround the town, with hiking trails, freshwater springs, and beautiful views waiting to be explored.
The Swartland describes the fertile region to the north of Cape Town, which includes many art towns, such as Riebeek Kasteel and Riebeek West, a host of wine farms, and a peaceful village atmosphere, all within an hour's drive from the city. It is also a great place to explore the West Coast, known for its beautiful wildflowers, fresh seafood, and rugged landscapes.
The newest wine region of South Africa has popped up near the coastal town of Plettenberg Bay, in the far east of the Western Cape, on the famous Garden Route. Here, there are beautiful nature reserves, ocean adventures, and lazy beaches to enjoy, along with a host of great local restaurants serving fresh seafood and locally sourced meat and produce.