South Africa luxury travel guide


One reason why you will just luck out on luxury vacations in South Africa is because there is such a variety of adventures to be had within a relatively small distance, with exquisite boutique hotels or eco lodges at stunning stop offs along the way. Particularly along the southern coast, where the famous Garden Route is at the heart of most luxury vacations. Don’t be fooled by its name, however, as this 300km route is far from a collection of haughty horticultural hangouts reminiscent of times gone by. This ‘garden’ (and beyond) boasts massive surf beaches, whales, dramatic cliffs at Plettenberg Bay, Klein Karoo grasslands home to mountain zebra, and of course mountains. Such as the Tsitsikamma range and eponymous national park proffering river gorges, hiking and horse riding. And as most luxury vacations here are self drive ones, you will be out there lapping its natural nirvanas most of the time.
Our South Africa luxury travel guide reveals more…

Best time to visit South Africa


The best time to take a luxury vacation in South Africa is whenever you are ready. As these are tailor made trips, you can work out all seasonal nuances with your vacation company. Coastal temperatures rarely dip below 18°C all year. They peak Jan-Feb, and everywhere is busy at Christmas. These hot months are best for wildlife viewing in Kruger National Park. The Garden Route gets watered Jun-Jul, but this is also a great time for festivals in Knysna and the Klein Karoo. Whales come to play Jun-Dec, and baby penguins arrive at Boulders Beach in Jan. Basically, there is always something beautiful going on.

Why choose a luxury vacation to South Africa?

Responsible Travel recommends

Luxury vacations in South Africa offer carefully crafted, tailor made itineraries that not only make things easy, but also embrace the exquisite. Easy because these vacations tend to be self drive, flying into the stunning Mother City of Cape Town, a city that is full of culture and coastal cool. Exquisite because, from here, you have one of the most colossal coastlines in the world stretching out in front of you, with a bevy of beautiful boutique hotels to stay at along the way, all with fine wine and cuisine as par for the course.

Wildlife & activities

There is no shortage of top notch activities to enjoy on this coast, and further afield, from wine tasting to whale watching, horse riding to hiking, surfing to sea kayaking. For wildlife watching, you have marine life which includes not only whales at Hermanus, but also penguins at Boulder Beach, dolphins at Plettenberg Bay and seals at Tsitsikamma National Park.
And then of course there are the Big Five, which you can also see in style. You can do both the coast and world famous Kruger National Park in one trip, taking a domestic flight to Kruger Airport to include a few days of game drives and safaris in the country’s oldest national park. The wildlife watching here is superb, but you can also enjoy the fineries of private reserves that border the park staying in luxury lodges with fine cuisine, and enjoying sundowners in one of the world’s most spectacular wildlife destinations.

Responsible tourism

It is interesting to note that South Africa is the first country in the world to incorporate the principles of Fair Trade into tourism. You can stay in accommodation that has been certified by Fair Trade Tourism, which means that it has committed to fair wages and working conditions, fair purchasing, respect for human rights, culture and environment.

Many of our South African luxury vacation companies have set up foundations or charities to support projects on the ground, so do check these philanthropic gestures that seek to do so much more than give hand outs, instead working with grassroots organisations to really create change. One such organisation that features on some luxury tours is Cape Town’s Uthando, meaning, quite simply, ‘Love’.


South Africans do sassy and sumptuous when it comes to accommodation. Bordering Kruger National Park, you can forgo camping with the crowds for a stay at Nottens Lodge in Sabi Sands private reserve. It is family run, employs local Shangaan staff, adheres to strict eco principles and is a spectacular place to stay. Same goes for Chitwa Chitwa Lodge on the same reserve, but this one overlooks the reserve’s lake, a magnet for myriad birdlife. For families, Marataba Reserve is a very popular spot in the Waterberg region. With stylish stone and canvas lodges looking out to the Waterberg Mountains, they make a visit to the Marakele National Park complete.
Along the Garden Route and wending your way through the Winelands, boutique hotels abound, many of them in buildings of great historical interest. Such as Four Rosmead which is set on the slopes of Table Mountain and is not only a wonderful example of turn of the 19th century architecture but also boasts fine contemporary art, much of it for sale. Another chic sleep can be had at Franschhoek Country House and Villas in the Winelands, which is in a restored manor house and perfumery dating back to 1890.
Luxury travel doesn’t have to mean elite, however, and responsible tour operators work closely with accommodation that has strong community ties. One popular spot is in Oudtshoorn, where a multi ethnic group of 12 women created a network of homes and farms that welcome tourists, something that is still quite rare in non-white households in South Africa.
Photo credits: [Top box: Joseph Argus] [Temp chart: Graeme Churchard] [Wildlife & activities: Julie Macey] [Accomodation: Chris Eason] [Help Desk: Casey Allen]
Written by Catherine Mack
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