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Top 7 luxury travel experiences in South Africa

South Africa is a destination that oozes perplexing opulence despite its stereotypical façade. Putting political standpoints aside, South Africa offers a highly diverse array of adventures and experiences that cater to the refined individual.

Cape Town has been voted the #2 Best City in the world for 2024 by TimeOut , which surveyed 20,000 people across the world, including a network of global writers and editors. Following these recent (and historical) acclamations, there’s been a common universal assumption that Cape Town is the only city/area worth visiting in South Africa.

However, the lesser-known parts of the country are arguably on-par with the likes of Positano on the Amalfi Coast, the grand Dowager-occupied estates of The Cotswolds, the private island-like villas of the Maldives, and the latest glamping experiences in Oman, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia. All of which are destinations that offer a level of sophistication that has earned them attributes such as the world’s most glamorous.

The key difference between these commercialized offerings and South Africa lies in the country’s strong emphasis on culture. In South Africa, there’s a concept called ‘ubuntu,’ a quality that includes the essential human virtues; compassion and humanity. It permeates every aspect of South African life, including the tourism landscape.

In South Africa, it’s common to see globalized, commercial, luxury offerings infused with ubuntu, creating something reminiscent of the prosperity found in a Zulu kingdom. Luxury adventures and destinations typically showcase clean-cut resorts, well- starched pillows and deconstructed MICHELIN salad leaves. South Africa has all the pompous affinity of luxury, with a homely rendition that keeps travellers well- entranced and quite happy to spend their USD.

With three capitals, desserts, cities, beaches, rivers and more, the southern tip of Africa is home to many lesser-known destinations that are waiting to be explored. It’s common knowledge that people experience things using their 5 sensory outputs. South Africa’s tourism landscape addresses every aspect, ensuring a completely invigorating, all-encompassing experience.

From Champagne tasting overlooking the Atlantic to outrunning cheetah cubs, to glamping in the Karoo, there are so many dazzling opportunities that cannot be experienced elsewhere.

Champagne and macaron tasting in Somerset West

In Somerset West, where verdant vineyards snake across the landscape and majestic mountains stand sentinel, there is an experience that elevates the essence of luxury to new heights. Nestled amidst the prestigious wineries of the Western Cape, Somerset West is a haven for Champagne connoisseurs as well as those who have an affinity for Parisien macarons.

Popular Champagne and macaron selections found at these wineries include Chardonnay MCC and hazelnut,  Shiraz MCC and red velvet, Pinot noir MCC and Turkish delight, and MCC Brut and salted caramel. These exclusive parings, set at five-star estates, can cost upwards of USD 50 per person, especially for those interested in sampling all of the available luxury Champagne brands across Somerset West, Riebeek Kasteel and Stellenbosch.

Cheetah spotting in Limpopo

Limpopo, with its sprawling plains and rugged Savannah, offers a sanctuary for wildlife unlike any other. Here, amidst the vast expanse of untamed beauty, conservation efforts have flourished, offering visitors a rare glimpse into the lives of Africa’s most magnificent creatures, specifically, the cheetah.

But this encounter is more than just a fleeting glimpse of wildlife; it’s an immersive experience that fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation, all while being pampered along the way. Through guided tours, visitors learn about the challenges facing cheetah conservation and the crucial role that responsible tourism plays in safeguarding their future.

This inside insight into Limpopo’s exclusive wildlife haven will cost the average traveller staying at a five-star lodge (such as the Royal Malewane) an estimated USD 5,549 per night per room. Alternatively, families (4-6) can stay in a secluded villa with an all-inclusive cheetah experience for approximately USD 17,846.

Road trip the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands

Similar to that of the United Kingdom’s infamous Cotswolds, the rolling moor- and dale-like landscape of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands offers an old-money getaway fit for King Charles himself. The artistic haven of Nottingham Road, where boutique galleries and craft shops brim with local treasures, is just one of the quaint stops worth making on this trip though the quintessential countryside. Here, amidst the rustic elegance of the country, travellers can indulge in artisanal cheeses, handcrafted chocolates, and bespoke clothing.

The Midlands is scattered with luxurious country estates. Tweed-adorned travellers can unwind in plush suites, enjoy estate exclusivity with every amenity at their fingertips, indulge in spa treatments, and take leisurely strolls through manicured gardens. A stay at one of these country estates ranges from USD 250 to USD 500 per person per night.

Taste the oysters in Knysna

In the heart of South Africa’s picturesque Garden Route, where lush forests meet the ocean, lies a culinary experience that epitomizes luxury and refinement. Knysna offers a few oyster varieties, namely, the Pacific Oyster, Crassostrea gigas, and the wild oyster, Crassostrea margaritacea, or the Knysna Oyster.

Originating from the Sea of Japan, the cultivated oyster is grown in Port Elizabeth and Saldanha Bay in submerged cages or intertidal racks; while the wild Knysna Oyster, occurs naturally along the southern coast of South Africa between the Transkei in the east and Cape Agulhas in the west.

These oysters are available for sampling at one of the many bay-side restaurants overlooking the Knysna quays and will cost an average of USD 15 per platter. From classic mignonette and tangy lemon wedges to innovative sauces and gourmet toppings, each addition is carefully curated to complement the delicate flavour of the oysters. These are often accompanied by some of South Africa’s greatest wines.

Glamp the Karoo

The Karoo, a semi-arid region renowned for its unique flora, dramatic landscapes, and serene solitude, offers a camping stay unlike any other. Tourists often prefer to travel with exclusive glamping companies which organise transportation across the desert as well as intimate, undiscovered experiences.

Glamping across the Karoo offers a portal where luxury and nature coexist in perfect harmony. Many of these experiences encompass chef-prepared feasts using locally sourced ingredients, blending traditional South African flavors with contemporary culinary techniques; celestial-like stargazing; and oasis-like tents.

An all-inclusive glamping trip in the Karoo with a five-star lodge (such as Kuganha) costs an average of USD 680.19 per couple.

Stay in a luxury villa or houseboat in Langebaan

Langebaan is coastal town situated on South Africa’s west coast, right on the edge of the picturesque Langebaan Lagoon, a protected marine reserve that stretches for miles and offers an array of water-based activities. One of the most common luxury experiences to encounter here is staying at one of the luxury houseboats directly on the Gatorade lagoon.

A one-night stay aboard one of these luxury houseboats will set travellers back an estimated USD 1000. However, the best way to experience these houseboats is with a group of friends, given its size, which usually holds a 24-person capacity. According to TripAdvisor, Luxury Yacht Charters is the preferred choice of many when it comes to choosing a luxury charter.

While the villas themselves are a haven of relaxation, Langebaan offers a wealth of activities to enrich any stay. The calm waters of the lagoon are perfect for a variety of water sports, from kayaking and paddleboarding to windsurfing and sailing. Guests can also explore the marine life with a snorkelling or scuba diving excursion, or take a leisurely catamaran trip to discover hidden coves and secluded beaches along the coast.

Drive Chapman’s Peak in a vintage car

Along the dramatic coastline of South Africa’s Cape Peninsula, where rugged cliffs plunge into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, lies an experience that captures the essence of timeless elegance and adventure.

Chapman’s Peak Drive, often heralded as one of the world’s most scenic routes, winds its way through 9 kilometres of modern road and hairpin bends. This engineering marvel, carved into the mountainside, offers panoramic views that are nothing short of spectacular. Whether it’s a sleek Jaguar E-Type, a stately Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, or a spirited 1971 MG Roadster, there are many vintage car hiring companies offering the experience.

The average cost to rent a vintage car fluctuates between USD 170 to USD 200+. Along the route, drivers will pass through coastal villages such as Hout Bay and Noordhoek while circumnavigating the rugged cliffs, which are carpeted with fynbos.

For some, these may not be the most expensive experiences out there, but that’s why South Africa is different. The country offers incredible experiences amidst landscapes and areas that travellers have likely never seen before, all at a reasonable price by luxury standards. Ultimately, South Africa is an indulgent experience rather than a flashy display of wealth. South Africa is understated, and guides its travellers as they experience a new type of exploration; one of multifaceted.

Jessica Bayley

Jessica is a published author, international journalist and editor. She covers everything from backpacking to luxury travel. Jessica holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism and has worked with international publications, hotels and travel agencies, writing SEO travel content that converts. You’ll find her writing in unconventional spaces such as café’s in London, beaches in Cape Town or cabins in Switzerland. Direct contact: Jessicabayley001@icloud.com

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8 Comments

  1. I’ve never been lucky with cheetahs. The best I’ve done is to see some ears in long grass about 80 yards away. Time for me to have another safari soon to see if I can do any better!

  2. A houseboat on the Langebaan Lagoon sounds very different, that would be some travel experience.

  3. Oysters – I’ll be there. Wherever I go in the world, if they’ve got oysters, I have to try them.

  4. I’ve done 3 South African safaris from the UK and always flown into Jo’burg. Big mistake never going to Cape Town, I keep hearing so much good stuff about it, I must put that right next safari.

  5. That’s an interesting take on South Africa. I’d never thought of comparing parts of the country to the Amalfi Coast, the Cotswolds and the Maldives. Though that’s fair enough as it is such a huge and diverse nation.

  6. It was a good idea to write this post. Too many people think that South Africa’s all about safaris and then get back in their plane without doing anything else. There really is so much more to this great country.

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