Emerging from one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, with residents confined to their homes and alcohol sales banned, the Rainbow Nation seems to have turned the tide on coronavirus. On November 11, President Cyril Ramaphosa opened the country’s borders to all travellers in possession of a negative Covid test.
And although there are currently no air corridors with UK and Ireland, it’s hoped the situation will soon change as the number of coronavirus cases fall.
As South Africa enters its summer, beautiful days and the weak rand make for a good value break. Here’s where to go…
An urban escape that’s wild
The jewel in South Africa’s crown, the vibrant city of Cape Town has emerged from hibernation with a host of new restaurants and art experiences. Popular restaurateur Liam Tomlinson has opened a new dining enterprise at Tintswalo Atlantic (tintswalo.com), offering a tapas sharing menu. For those eager to explore and work up an appetite, Escape + Explore (escapeexplore.com) offer tours by electric bike or stand up paddle board, as well as for families, travelling nannies, hop-on storytellers and guides. In addition, all the star attractions are open again. This includes the Table Mountain Cable Car which gives you panoramic views of the city Table Bay the surrounding mountains and the rest of the Table Mountain National Park. Attracting more than 25 million visitors since it opened in 1929, it’s a five-minute cable car trip (wheelchair accessible) to the top of the mountain that rises 1,089 metres above the city. Once at the summit find a spot to enjoy the vistas or drop into the self-service cafe, go for a hike or book a guided tour where you’ll spot wildlife such as agama lizards sunning themselves.
Back down at ground level visit the ZEITZ Museum Of Contemporary Art Africa (zeitzmocaa.museum) which in 2021 features Tracey Rose’s Shooting Down Babylon exhibition. A radical voice in the international and South African art world since the mid 90s, her uncompromising vision includes large-scale exhibition work spanning from 1996 to 2019.
Life here has always revolved around being outside, with al-fresco dining, pop-up cinemas under the stars and sundowners on the beach being a regular part of everyday life – making it the ideal city break for our current climate.
Befriend an octopus
Documenting the tender relationship between a filmmaker and one of the ocean’s smartest residents, surprise Netflix hit documentary My Octopus Teacher was filmed in the Atlantic waters of the western Cape. To come and find out what lives below surface, check in to Lekkerwater Beach Lodge (naturalselection.com), a 34 000-hectare conservancy on ancient dunes, in De Hoop Nature Reserve three hours’ drive from Cape Town, where floor-to-ceiling doors open onto crashing waves. Discover all kinds of curious creatures on rock-pool walks along the rough-hewn coastline, or watch dolphins playing close to shore. Also on offer is some of the world’s best land-based whale watching as from July to November Southern Right whales migrate here from Antarctica to calve and breed in the warm seas offshore. For guests, a sheltered swimming pool is ideal for a dip if the ocean is too cold. From £243 per night with breakfast.
Delve into the world of conservation
Daily game drives are replaced with impact drives at the conservation-focused Marataba Reserve in the Limpopo Province (marataba.co.za), three and a half hours’ drive and a short flight from Johannesburg. With hands-on activities, pioneering conservation projects and spectacular scenery, guests can gain an insight into the day-to-day workings of a private wildlife reserve. As well as taking part in collaring rhinos, telemetry tracking cheetahs, or helping to compile individual identikits for elephants to determine their growth rates, there are tailor-made stays including day and night game drives, boating, wild walking (16+), family-friendly nature walks, tracking, monitoring and compiling ID kits of key species, camera trap set up, transect walks, game census logging, park control centre technology, tree planting and land rehabilitation, rare species monitoring and identification and visits to the Marataba Research and Rewilding Centre. Founders Camp has four suites available on an exclusive basis and each booking is assigned a private conservation guide. Rates start at ZAR 33,000/£1,629 per night for four guests, additional guests ZAR 8,250/£407 per person per night. Visit classic-portfolio.com.
Hike the Drakensberg
If you’ve been craving fresh air and big skies, head to the Drakensberg mountain range, which divides the kingdom of Lesotho and the province of KwaZulu-Natal. For a digital detox, the simple wooden cabins at Green Fire Lodge (greenfire.co.za) are a great option. Rates from ZAR 1,900/£94 per person per night. Without any wifi or phone reception, you’ll be free to fully appreciate the view. Activities range from an hour’s scenic loop trail to a full day visit to a vulture colony. For the keen adventurer, you can join a guided two to four-day trek covering 15km of trails a day. Visit the thevulturetrail.com.
Dive into the Indian Ocean
Less than 100km from the border with Mozambique in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site, sits Thonga Beach Lodge (thongabeachlodge.co.za). Five room types all built with wood, thatch and glass on raised platforms are set in indigenous coastal bush in dunes, a stone’s throw from the sea.Warm water from the Indian Ocean laps white sand beaches, where leatherback turtles nest from November to February and nocturnal walks and drives along the beach in search of them are available every night. Enjoy daily guided snorkels to explore the underwater marine life - beginner and advanced scuba divers are in one of the country’s premier places - or spot whales and dolphins from the surface, or even from a sun lounger on the decking in front of your beachfront room. April to June has the best weather and diving is best from December to May. The addition of excellent seafood and a good selection of local wines make this barefoot a favourite holiday destination for South Africans already in the know. From ZAR 4,470/£20 per per person per night.