The South African Rand is down. Way down. Meaning the world’s best safaris won’t break the bank. So, if you’re a wine lover envisioning crisp Chenin Blancs and strolls through striking Cape Dutch vineyards, a parent who wants to watch your kid’s jaw drop getting up close to Africa’s iconic wildlife, a history buff who wants to walk in Mandela’s footsteps, or you’re ready to just slow down for life out of the ordinary routine (with some copper hot tubs and private plunge pools mixed in)–we can steer you straight.
Between Trevor Noah stepping into the spotlight on the Daily Show and the discovery of Homo Naledi near Johannesburg, all eyes are on South Africa. The nation is seizing the moment. Cape Town is hipper than ever with local-centric food spots, under-the-radar boutiques, and untouched stretches of coast. Johannesburg is rebranding from a stopover to a destination in its own right. Behind-the-scenes cycling tours and a downtown urban renaissance that is loaded with history and storytelling will make you realize how much you don’t know about South Africa yet. From the city to the seriously remote, hotels are raising the bar with bespoke designs (think Scandinavian-chic in the bush), activities not found elsewhere (imagine helping save rhinos by tracking them for conservation by helicopter), and stays completely tailored to you. If you have kids they’ll be instantly won over by guides who make the unknown sounds, tastes and sights fascinating and familiar. If you’re honeymooning, try something you’ve only read about by spending a night in a lantern-lit treehouse star bed.
Photograph by Ana Cissa
Our South Africa expert, Daniela, shares what she’s excited about right now. Based in Cape Town, her weekend trips to South Africa’s best hotels and safari lodges keep us all in the know. And her little one, she just turned 6, isn’t shy about sharing what’s awesome (or not so great) from the kid’s perspective.
Wild South Africa
SUP along deserted wild beaches, past shipwrecks and through kelp forests in the undiscovered stretches of the Cape Peninsula.
Walk on the wild side—literally. We recommend getting out of the vehicle to take on serious trails and hike with the wildlife. Between treks, unwind at the totally remote, mountain-ledge Marataba Trails Lodge for 180-degree views into Waterfall Valley, utter privacy (they’ll never host more than eight guests at once), and refined Scandinavian-meets-safari style.
Take part in an educational and transformative hands-on rhino tagging experience and be a part of South Africa’s anti-poaching rhino conservation efforts. Guests can assist with the notching, DNA sampling and micro chipping of the rhino’s horns at Molori Safari, as well as work on the ground with the vet and ecologist or take to the air in a helicopter during the rhino search.
The Cape Town You Want to Know
Scratch beneath the surface to discover South African home cooking on a gourmet, back-streets walking tour that’ll have you tasting Cape Town’s finest soul food—pap, Falooda (a traditional Muslim rose milkshake), bunny chow (a staple of South Africa’s Indian diaspora), bobotie pies (South Africa’s answer to a meat pie), and Cape Town’s best cup of coffee at our favorite micro coffee roaster (if you’re a lover of caffeine make it a flat white; if tea is your drink of choice don’t miss the Rooibos chai).
Hit Woodstock and the Old Biscuit Mill—the place locals and clued-in travelers rub elbows while sampling the local farms’ seasonal harvest, admiring awesome street art, and hunting for homegrown designer fashion and homewares. This is Cape Town’s answer to Brooklyn’s DUMBO. Keep the mood going with an evening stroll up Bree Street. Every first Thursday of the month, art galleries, restaurants and shops stay open well after dark for First Thursdays. Right now I love the The Dining Room for it’s hip, underground feel.
For an active dose of Cape Town’s best in a single day, begin with a sunrise hike up Lion’s Head, then take in the skyline with a SUP session (or a morning surf!) in Camps Bay, jog off jet lag with a trail run atop Table Mountain (one of the new 7 Wonders of the World) and cap off the day with a sundowner while soaking up the city’s awe-inspiring views. Mixed in with the action your guides will shed perspective on Cape Town’s complicated and fascinating history and life for local Capetonians today.
Bypass the typical driving tours of Johannesburg’s townships and opt to hop on bicycles to explore the city’s biggest township, Soweto. On a 2-hour ride you’ll see memorial highlights, slow to the pace of day-to-day life, and go where cars can’t.
Once considered off-limits, Joburg’s Central Business District is undergoing a renaissance. Intimate cafes, forward-looking art galleries, designer boutiques and restaurants are appearing in pockets. The best way to see the area is on foot. Include a visit to Constitutional Hill for a contemplative look into South Africa’s past and rise of human rights advocacy. Local’s and visitors love Maboneng District where you’ll find music venues, creative spaces and cool shops.
Stand in Nelson Mandela’s footsteps at Liliesleaf farm-come-museum. This farm was secretly owned by the Communist Party and was where Mandela hid in plain sight from authorities by posing as a gardener. The museum is a memorial to the struggle and a fascinating archive of the times.
For families: After watching my daughter grow up frequently visiting the Sabi Sand Game Reserve and now living in Cape Town with hundreds of safari weekend trips, I can get very creative for my family travelers! A few favorites:
Cape Grace: Honestly, nobody in Cape Town does family-time better. Kid-centric amenities abound. Think child-sized gowns and slippers, personalized welcome platters with treats pre-selected by the kids, children’s organic bath products, a step stool in the bathroom so your little one can easily reach the sink, and fun activities like gingerbread man decorating over the holidays.
Morukuru Farm House: This feels more like a home than a lodge, probably because it was created by a family for families! The contemporary farmstead on the 100hectare property is fenced, so kids can explore the area safely while feeling like they’re out in the heart of the bush. Activities like bushwalks, game drives and stargazing are all guided to keep kids engaged and having fun.
Kwandwe Ecca Lodge: This is another favorite that is fantastic for kids. An example of their dedication to ensuring kids have an unforgettable time includes the “Bugs & Bones” walk, where kids have the chance to burn off some energy while finding and identifying animal tracks, learning about animal bones and bugs, and they have the most unbelievable African bedtime stories to cap off the day. My daughter Vesper still asks for them!
For honeymooners: Ellerman House for romantic suites with views of the Atlantic, private dinners in the Champagne Cellar and stunning walks along the coast.
For safari, Lion Sands Treehouses offer a candlelit night under the stars.
For over-the-top luxury: All things Singita. Singita Ebony Lodge just received a major facelift and is a must-stay for any well-heeled traveler. We are particularly excited about the floor-to-ceiling glass walls which instantly bring the outside in. (Plus, I have a soft for Singita Ebony Lodge since I lived on the property a few years back.)
For off-the-beaten-path luxury: Tanda Tula’s sundowners by elephant drinking holes, bush dinners by lantern light beneath baobabs beside dry riverbeds, and designer under-canvas tents can’t be beat.
For the ultra-adventurous: LEOBO for malaria-free adventure on a private reserve. You’ll have the run of the privately-owned family home with activities ranging from helicopter rides over the reserve to riding safaris and super-fast cross-country Polaris drives.
For food lovers: Le Quartier Francais for its award-winning restaurant, The Tasting Room, or Delaire Graf for their Indochine restaurant (it was just nominated as one of the top 20 restaurants in the country). We also love Cape Town’s Test Kitchen for local favorites with a twist and a superb wine list. And of course a stroll through the Old Biscuit Mill for seasonal samples on Saturday never leaves you hungry.
I would drive 45 minutes today for another meal at Babylonstoren’s farm-to-fork restaurant, Babel. It’s very special. Their garden has over 300 types of edible plants that they forage from before each meal. Heaven on earth. Step out of the restaurant doors and you’re right there in it.
Buyouts for the ultimate friends & family-only experience: A buyout is as good as it gets. With a whole house or lodge, private chef, guides, and landscape to yourself, you and your nearest and dearest can really relax and have a totally personalized experienced. You won’t have to worry about making small talk, planning around meal times, or hesitate if you decide one day you want to lounge poolside, the next take a walking safari, and the next hop in the car for impromptu tastings through the winelands. My favorites:
Royal Malawane’s Africa House: You’ll have a private game reserve in the Kruger Park region all to yourself. Spotting the big five without any other vehicles in sight is special. With gigantic oriental carpets strewn over marble floors, an infinity pool where elephants come to drink, and one of the best private spa experiences I’ve come across, Africa House is about indulgence.
Le Cle Des Montagne: The four villas are ideal for multi-generational trips or just a great group of friends. You can book just one or all four and hop from pool-to-pool for sundowners or lunch on the verandah. They’re set right in the Franschhoek Valley—hands down one of South Africa’s most beautiful wine regions—where vineyards produce some of the world’s best sparkling wines. Between tastings and relaxing, you can take jaunts into town to browse the designer boutiques, art galleries, and enjoy fine dining at Cape Dutch-style farms (definitely book a meal at Babylonstoren).
26 Sunset Villa: If you’re planning a few days (or even longer) in Cape Town before heading for the bush or winelands, book this villa as your Cape Town base. This is the height of Cape Town style with an open floor plan, wraparound windows with views of the ocean, heated pool and steam room, a full staff always there for whatever you need but never intrusive, and a gourmet kitchen for putting the fresh produce you grab at Orajezicth City Farm to use.
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