South Africa Feature

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Drop-Dead Luxury

Not into roughing it? No problem. Our favorite luxe properties will tempt you to defect from the real world and live like kings and queens.

Lion Sands, Sabi Sands Reserve. Family-owned and operated for more than 80 years, the camp's location across from Kruger National Park guarantees awesome animal sightings from just about every vantage point, including your plush king-sized bed. Your every need will be catered to from the moment you arrive.

MalaMala, Sabi Sands Reserve. One of the oldest and most distinguished of all southern African bush lodges, this is the haunt of royalty, celebs, and the jet set.

One and Only Cape Town. Large rooms, a large swimming pool, name-brand restaurants, and a view of Table Mountain are all part of the newest, swankiest hotel on the scene.

Rovos Rail. Some travelers just can't bear to stay put when on a journey. For them, Rovos Rail's plush cars are the best way to stay pampered while on the move.

Thanda Main Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal. This exquisite lodge has beehive-shape dwellings that blend elements of royal Zulu with an eclectic pan-African feel. Shaka never had it this good.

The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa, Cape Town. Sinfully comfy rooms with ocean views in front and those looming Cape Town palisades make this luxury retreat a favorite of those wanting to get a good view of nature.

The Westcliff, Johannesburg. If you can't stay the night, at least come for tea at Johannesburg's cushy grand hotel, cascading down a hillside, interspersed with gardens.

Rubbing Shoulders With Locals

South Africa's rich cultural offerings run from the rhythms of Soweto to the jazz riffs of Cape Town's clubs. Crafts, drama, and dance combine to form the rich cultural mosaic of South Africa, where native beats mingle with European traditions. Step out like a local, or visit some locals and soak it in.

Jazz Tours, Cape Town. Join like-eared aficionados for a tour that will show you the roots of jazz and expose you to some local ear candy.

Jazzart Dance Theatre, Cape Town. The country's oldest modern dance company has a range of programs and teaches in disadvantaged communities.

Kirtsenbosch National Botanical Gardens, Cape Town. The 1,304 acres feature indigenous southern African plants that captivate even the locals. Come for lawn picnics in the shadow of Table Mountain and stay to listen to the Winter Concert Series.

Market Theatre, Johannesburg. One of the country's renowned venues showcasing new works, with a rich legacy. During the era of apartheid it was one of South Africa's only venues where all races could watch together.

Sisal Cooperative, Madikwe. Learn how locals turn sisal fiber to acid-free paper used for colorful gift tags and cards in this workshop adjacent to a mill.

Thusanang Training and Development Project, Klerksdorp. For decades, single mothers have worked together here, creating crafts for resale.

Staying in Fair-Trade Properties

Never sacrificing luxury, these spots look after the environment, the local communities, and the wildlife, so you can feel good while you're having fun.

Cape Grace. Synonymous with understated luxury and smack on Cape Town's V&A Waterfront, this hotel's commitment to the welfare of its staff and to improving the community with job training programs earned it certification by South Africa's Fair Trade in Tourism program.

Chiwa Camp, Zambia. A family-owned and -managed property, the camp supports the surrounding Lower Zambezi area through conservation, wildlife education, and community involvement and works to reintroduce wild cheetahs and the ground hornbill to the area.

Grootbus Private Nature Reserve. On 2,500 acres overlooking Walker Bay in the Western Cape, Grootbus is home to the largest private fynbos garden in the world. You can tour tropical rain forests, watch for whales, and dine on locally grown produce. The reserve's foundation contributes to community education and employment.

Hog Hollow Country Lodge. Once an overgrown wasteland, lodge owners worked tirelessly to return the land to its original, indigenous state. The lodge employs and trains local people from surrounding communities.

Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge. If you're out to bag souvenir beads, textiles, or pottery, make this tranquil lakeside retreat—home to many well-known artists—your base. The community created a source of revenue and relaxation in a serene corner of the country.

Vuyatela, Djuma. Near the Sabi Sands Reserve, the game-viewing at Djuma is among the best there is. The owner-run camp was built with local labor and no machinery to lessen the impact on the environment. The camp's owners also built a day-care center for the local community.

The Beach

South Africa's coastline stretches from tiny towns to desolate windswept acres, and most beach lovers can find exactly what they're after, be it a private cove or an endless stretch of sand.

Boulders Beach, Simon's Town. The sparkling coves ringed by dramatic boulders are also home to a colony of African penguins. Share your spot in the sand with these curious creatures, but a warning: they can be quite loud.

Camps Bay. A broad Atlantic beach backed by looming Table Mountain and a street full of umbrella-shaded cafés. The perfect place to watch a sunset or take a stroll.

Diaz Beach, Cape Point. Many consider this secluded spot, reachable only on foot via a short trail, the Cape's most beautiful beach. Unfortunately the currents are pretty strong, and swimming is not advised.

Rocktail Bay Lodge. If you're in the mood for pristine beaches, surf fishing, snorkeling, or sunbathing, then coming to this lodge nestled in the Maputaland Coastal Reserve will be the perfect beach getaway after your safari.

St. James. Just south of Kalk Bay's shops, St. James's colorful changing cabanas are photo icons. The gentle surf and tidal pool on False Bay are perfect for kids.

Zimbali Lodge. With direct access to the beach, this lodge near Durban is set in one of the last remaining coastal forests in the KwaZulu-Natal province. Play golf, go horseback riding, or swim in the pool on the beach.

Getting Out of the Vehicle

Game drives are thrilling and often action-packed, but sometimes, particularly if you are a second-time visitor to Africa and have ticked off your Big Five, you'd like to get up close and personal with the African bush and its inhabitants. Here are some of the best ways to really get down to nature.

Elephant Safaris. If you prefer your wildlife a bit more tame, visit the Addo Elephant Sanctuary, where you'll meet some trained African elephants available for short rides, walks, petting, and feeding.

Rhino Tracking. Seeing a rhino on foot is quite a different experience from viewing one from a jeep. Depending on your level of interest, you can organize a walking safari within a special area of Kruger for several hours or several days. Along the way, the guide will point out interesting grasses, smaller animals.

Stargazing Safaris. Ask if your lodge has a guide trained in astronomy for a night safari of the Southern Hemisphere's sky.

Turtle Watching. From St. Lucia to Kosi Bay, join a safari to look for loggerhead and leatherback turtles laying their eggs.

Walking Safaris. For some, feeling the grass on their legs and hearing the rustle under their feet is the best way to experience the land. Amble with trained guides for several hours to gain a new perspective on creatures large and small—you may spot the "little five" up close in many locations throughout the country.

Kid-Friendly Destinations

More and more families want their kids to share in their safari experience, and more lodges are catering to kids with programs designed especially for them. Always find out in advance which camps welcome kids, as many still don't allow children under 12. And try for one of the malaria-free reserves to avoid the added worry of antimalarial medication.

Berg-en-Dal. Kids can explore in safety at this attractive, fenced camp, which has a great pool and curio shop. Get them to walk around the camp's perimeter and spot game.

Jaci's Lodges, Madikwe. Whereas many other safari camps hide their family offerings so as not to frighten off other clients, Jaci's celebrates children with Jungle Drives for the littlest adventurers and Family Drives for Mom and Dad, too. Even the food is kid-friendly, with spaghetti and hot dogs on the menu.

Pafuri Camp, Kruger. This lovely camp in Kruger's far north has a superb children's program and special family accommodations that give everybody privacy. Kids love Crooks Corner, where baddies-on-the-run used to hide.

Shamwari Riverdene Lodge. Malaria-free Shamwari constructs family-specific itineraries on-site and even gives kids a gift pack to welcome them. Kid-friendly side trips include a big cat rescue center and wildlife hospital.

Thakadu Tented Camp, Madikwe. Four of the 12 tented suites at this camp in malaria-free Madikwe are designed for families. It's a smaller reserve, but that means less time in the vehicle for antsy kids—and Madikwe does have more than enough game to keep adults happy.

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