Marchay Senior Advisor and Director of Operations, Elyssa Roberts, recently visited to South Africa. She shares her insights and recommendations to our valued community on this beautiful country, whose diversity of experiences, high quality food and accommodations, and accessibility make it an ideal African destination for adventurous luxury travelers and families.
The best South Africa trip includes time in Cape Town, the Cape Winelands, a safari and, if time permits, the roughly beautiful coastal towns around Hermanus.
My first stop was Cape Town, a stunning coastal city with a fascinating history, unique culture and buzzing culinary scene. Highlights here include Table Mountain, Bo Kaap, the V&A Waterfront and a day trip to Cape of Good Hope and surrounding beach villages. If you are a history buff, you will want to tour Robben Island. There are tons of things for more active members like whale watching (in season), shark diving, surfing, biking and rappelling.
After a few days soaking up Cape Town, head to the Cape Winelands, which are a scenic two hour drive. Come for the…you guessed it – wine! Besides tours and tastings at some of the 100+ wineries in the area, visitors can also go biking, hiking or ride a hot air balloon. I recommend spending some time strolling around the quaint towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek as well.
For safari, Greater Kruger National Park is home to many of the country’s top game reserves and most luxurious lodges. Spend your days on early morning and late afternoon game drives to spot the Big 5. Back at your lodge during the height of the mid-day heat, enjoy a massage, dip in the pool or long, leisurely lunch.
When is the best time to visit?
The best time of year for safari in northern South Africa is June-August, during their dry winter season. Although temperatures drop, there is far more wildlife viewing than during the wetter summer months of December-February. Cape Town and the Winelands have opposite seasonality to the north – their warm, dry season is from December-February and cool, wet season from June-August. I think it’s worth dealing with a little rain and cold in the south to go during their winter months in order to be there during peak wildlife activity.
Where to stay?
In Cape Town we adore The Silo for its central location in the V&A Waterfront and funky, whimsical rooms. The rooftop pool and restaurant are THE place to be on a Friday/Saturday night.
The One&Only is located nearby and feels more like an urban resort. Rooms here are among the most spacious in the city.
Cape Town’s old school grande dame is the Mount Nelson, A Belmond Hotel. The beautifully manicured gardens and attentive service are sure to leave a lasting impression.
Lastly, Ellerman House is a personal favorite. Located in Bantry Bay, an adorable suburb about 20 minutes from Cape Town, the hotel is comprised of just 13 rooms and 2 three bedroom villas. Everything is hyper-personalized to each guest and their art collection is museum worthy.
There is one hotel in the Winelands that stands out from the rest: La Residence. This estate transports you to Provence with its patchwork of olive trees, wildflowers and orange stucco façade. Rooms are tastefully decorated by owner and designer Liz Biden who adds personal touches to each accommodation.
Babylonstoren is also very special, with luxury farmhouse-type bungalows built around sensational gardens (worth a tour and lunch even if you are not staying).
The reigning luxury lodges in Great Kruger include the Singita properties, Cheetah Plains and Royal Malewane. Monwana, Saseka Tented Camp, Lion Sands and Londolozi are other favorites that come in at a lower price range. And a special shout out to Tswalu, which is located in the Kalahari and offers a completely different landscape and wildlife from the lodges in Kruger.
Who should go to South Africa and how to get there?
South Africa is accessible via non-stop flights into Cape Town (with service to/from Washington Dulles, Newark and Atlanta) and Johannesburg (with service to/from Newark and Atlanta). There are non-stop flights to most of the major hubs in Europe, such as London, Paris, Frankfurt and Zurich, as well as the Middle East, like Dubai and Doha.
South Africa is such a varied destination and caters to all travelers from couples to families to multigenerational groups. Overall, I would highly recommend for almost any traveler up for an adventurous trip.