12 of our favourite bush and beach stays in St Lucia

Posted by Pippa de Bruyn on 27 November 2018 Tags:, ,

This town is South Africa’s first world heritage site and offers wild shores, animal encounters and a true beach-and-bush holiday.

Lidiko Lodge. Image by Melanie van Zyl

What I found about accommodation here

• ‘Watch out for hippos and leopards!’ read the WhatsApp from one host, attaching photographic proof. Surrounded by the iSimangaliso National Park, St Lucia offers some of the most surreal sightings you’ll ever see on the tarred streets of a town.

• It’s become a very popular stop on the road-trip route from Joburg to Durban via Kruger, so just about every second house is now a B&B, and there are plenty of restaurant options to service them, mostly lining Mckenzie Street.

• There’s solid stock but no standout beauties (other than Makakatana Bay).

• The self-catering category is dominated by apartments, many of them run down. There’s a dearth of large or beautifully furnished options for those who like to cook.

• The town itself is very ‘suburban-ordinary’ so I mined the west-facing options overlooking the estuary and the east-facing options bordering the park.

• St Lucia is perennially popular so there is very little seasonal variation in tariffs.

Best hotel

1. Elephant Lake Hotel

TripAdvisor No. 1 of 3 hotels

Image by Melanie van Zyl

If you want to stay in a hotel, this is it. The first to be built in St Lucia, it bagged the best location: on the raised shoreline overlooking the estuary, with sprawling lawns that invite a G&T (as well as the occasional foraging hippo). Rooms were recently renovated so they’re in fairly good nick, with air con, TV and tea/coffee-making facilities but no bar fridge or Wi-Fi. There are 56 rooms spread over only two floors, so it can be quite a trek to get to some of them. The hotel is popular with tour groups, so it usually has a busy vibe thanks to a pricing strategy that equals the many ordinary B&Bs that carpet this little town. That said, it’s very much a three star establishment, so don’t expect luxury or stellar service – just a neat, comfortable, clean room, well-meaning service and hotel facilities that include a bar with a sunset view and a good-sized swimming pool. It’s walking distance from the shops and restaurants.

Room tip Ground-floor rooms have a private patio leading out to the pool.

Cost From R665 per person sharing B&B.

Contact 0355901001, elephantlakestlucia.co.za

Best overall B&B

2. Lidiko Lodge

TripAdvisor No. 1 of 30 Speciality Lodgings

Image by Melanie van Zyl

If you don’t mind forfeiting a view, Lidiko Lodge is the best option in town, with tropical gardens, well-equipped rooms, professional staff and many thoughtful touches. On arrival, guests are offered a welcome drink and provided with an extremely thorough briefing on activities and restaurants in the area – it’s great stuff, better than anything on offer at the tourism bureau. Only breakfast is served but restaurants are a five-minute stroll away, and the atmosphere feels more like a lodge than a B&B. There are several communal seating areas and 16 rooms on terraced levels surrounding an inviting central courtyard with a pool and palm trees. Rooms are comfortable, and there’s great attention to detail: delicious biscuits, filter coffee, great mattress, excellent shower pressure, a private patio furnished with chairs and a minibar you’re welcome to stock yourself, although there’s a good honesty-bar selection too.

Room tip Pretty identical, so no issue taking whatever you are given.

Cost R800 per person sharing B&B (children from R300 to R500).

Contact 0355901581, lidikolodge.co.za

 

Best self-catering cottages

3. Front Chalet at Sunset Lodge

TripAdvisor No. 8 of 30 Speciality Lodgings

Front Chalet at Sunset Lodge. Image by Melanie van Zyl

Sunset Lodge is a west-facing property overlooking the estuary, with eight log cabins (sleeping two to five people) built on either side of the driveway, but only one has a view: aptly named Front Chalet. And what a view! Overlooking a particularly pretty part of the estuary, you could be tending the fire at sundown while hippos graze on the adjoining lawn, thanking your lucky urstars as they start to appear. No decor awards, but if you’ve bagged Front Chalet you’ll spend all your time on the large deck drinking in the lush surrounds. Alternately, the communal pool area – with a decent-sized pool surrounded by generous decks and a fire pit – offers the same magnificent view. Friendly owners Shelley Klomfass and Richard Cawood live on the property and work hard to ensure that guests get the most out of their stay.

Room tip If prize-pick Front Chalet is booked, opt for one of the cabins behind it. They’re close together but you can spend your days at the pool.
Cost Front Chalet from R1 795 (sleeps 4). Other chalets from R795 (two-sleeper).
Contact 0355901197,sunsetstlucia.co.za

 

A special splurge

4. Makakatana Bay Lodge

TripAdvisor No. 1 of 4 Speciality Lodgings (In iSimanagliso Wetlands Park)

Image by Melanie van Zyl

The only accommodation options within the park are the self-catering bungalows at Cape Vidal and this luxury lodge on a private concession 20 kilometres from St Lucia. If you’re not on a budget, this is hands down the best way to explore iSimangaliso, with professional wildlife guides and game drives that take you on roads that are inaccessible as a regular visitor, as well as on exclusive boat trips. The landscapes are extraordinary but the lodge itself is also worth every cent. Its elegantly appointed bungalows – each privately located and reached via raised walkways – have private decks and outdoor bath tubs and showers. The lodge is professionally and warmly managed by the Morrison family, now the fourth-generation custodians of this pristine wilderness. Forego at least one game drive for sundowners in the small but beautifully located pool. Dinners, served around the campfire, are excellent three-course affairs. This is a very special place – the kind that creates indelible memories.

Room tip The Honeymoon Suite has the best unobstructed view of the wetlands.
Cost From R4 943 full board with activities, such as game drives and boat safaris, or from R3 884 per person sharing DBB only.
Contact 0355504189, makakatana.com

Most exclusive B&B

5. Serene-estate

TripAdvisor No. 9 of 33 B&Bs/Inns

Serene Estate. Image by Melanie van Zyl

This uncluttered, architect-designed B&B is unlike anything else in the village, with enormous, somewhat stark rooms. The best of them open onto the gorgeous pool: a 12-metre-long, 1,8-metre-deep well of water, slightly raised, with decks on either side and loungers from which to make the most of the property’s uninterrupted views. Bordering the park, the lush wilderness surrounds are wonderful. On the morning I arrived, there was an enormous troop of mongooses gambolling between vervet monkeys chomping on fruit the owners, Hans van de Wijgert and Olga Bilderbeek, usually leave out for the buck after breakfast – a real Edenic sight! Bushbuck, hippos, bush pigs and red duikers are all regular visitors, and you share this view with no one but fellow guests – maximum 14 at any given time (and no children under 14). The manager is on hand to arrange tours and restaurant bookings.

Room Tip The six Parkside Suites not only have the best views but are enormous, with a seating area and extra-long, king-size beds. The downstairs corner suites are more private.
Cost Park Suites R1 075 pp sharing, Garden Room from R975 per person sharing. Breakfast is included and there’s a minimum two-night stay (15 per cent less in May and June and 1–17 December, if booked direct).
Contact 0723652450, serene-estate.co.za

Best Bargain

6. Monzi Safaris Tented Camp & Backpackers

Image by Melanie van Zyl

A tented encampment in the centre of town, this is the most happening spot in St Lucia, with two groovy lounge-barswimming- pool areas and open-air, shaded kitchens (guests can use both pools but must stick to their own kitchens). The two sections blend well together visually: Monzi Backpackers comprises domed tents on a raised platform, three private rooms and two dorms; beyond this is the Tented Camp, which has several en-suite tents on timber platforms built at different levels. The tents are pretty close together but there is a strict no-noise policy. I particularly liked the Backpackers’ communal area, with loungers separated by billowing curtains and a pool table and sofas under shade. The kitchens are well equipped and kept spotless – guests are strictly prohibited from doing any washing up! There are also several braai spots. Each Tented Camp tent has its own clearly marked mini-fridge in the kitchen, while backpackers are provided with marked Tupperwares in their shared fridge. Open safari vehicles are on hand to take guests to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park and Cape Vidal (extra charge).

Room tip The three double rooms in the Backpacker section are the most private. In the Tented Camp, number 6 is the most elevated (for views).
Cost Tented camp from R535 per person sharing. Backpackers dome tent R480 (sleeps two) or R285 per person sharing a room. Packages including activities are available.
Contact 0355901697, monzisafaris.com

Perfect for birdies

8. Kingfisher Lodge

TripAdvisor No. 14 of 33 B&Bs/Inns

Image by Melanie van Zyl

Located right at the end of the cul-de-sac that truncates Mckenzie Street, this B&B is the last house perched on the rise overlooking the estuary. It puts you right on the doorstep of St Lucia’s best walking trail, named after the iGwalagwala Forest through which it winds. Tropical gardens blend seamlessly into the forest surrounds, making Kingfisher Lodge a regular choice for reputable birding outfit Lawson’s (apparently, twitchers have ticked off as many bird species lounging about in the garden as they have in the park itself). The lodge was once a family home, and still feels homely: decor in the public spaces is a bit frilly, but the eight, purpose-built garden suites are great. The shady deck lounge next to the pool and lawns, overlooking the estuary, is a tranquil place to while away an afternoon. Rooms have air con, Wi-Fi and a minibar, but no TV. It’s on the edge of town within walking distance of restaurants – watch out for hippos at night!

Room tip The garden rooms are like dinky cottages, each with a private entrance and shaded outside seating area with a sofa, table and chairs. Room 5 is the smallest and cheapest; rooms 3 and 4 are the biggest.

Cost From R650 per person sharing B&B.

Contact 0355901015, stluciakingfisherlodge.co.za

Worth a look

9. Umlilo
This 13-room, treehouse- style lodge, built on several levels, has timber walkways fringed by dense tropical plants and the sound of running water and fountains everywhere. Be sure to book one of the top-floor rooms; some of the others can feel less private. From R800 per person sharing B&B. umlilolodge.co.za
10. St Lucia Eco Lodge
Some rooms are looking a little tired but not so the self-catering Ocean Suites. There are only four of these; bag a top-floor one and you’ll have the best sea view in St Lucia. From R985 per person sharing. stlucia-ecolodge.co.za
11. Kwalucia Safari Retreat
Catering for the international market, this Africa-themed guest house has just four rooms and high service standards. From R1 125 per person sharing B&B (minimum two-night stay). kwalucia.com
12. St Lucia Wetlands Guest
House One of the village originals, it opened 21 years ago and is a top choice. Expect welcoming owners, a great pool and garden, and good value – just five rooms and a five-sleeper family unit. From R650 per sharing B&B. stluciawetlands.com
13. Amazulu
This large property, with 18 rooms, is built around a central pool area. The rooms are spacious and identical, making it a good choice for groups. From R780 pp sharing B&B. amazululodge.com

Don’t miss this

• Ticking off a species list: the area claims 526 birds, 97 mammals (32 of these marine), 36 snakes, 35 frogs, 2 000 flowering plants, 110 butterflies, 80 dragonflies, 100 corals, five mangrove trees and five turtles.

• Cruising the estuary, past crocs and hippos, on a safari boat.

• Snorkelling at Cape Vidal, on the northern end of the lake.

• Having a few cold ones at the Ski-Boat Club. The road back into town is often used by hippos.

• Horse-riding along the endless stretch of white beach, past the highest forested dunes in Africa.

• A bicycle tour of Khula Village, which includes planting a tree, a visit to the butterfly dome, a shisa nyama and a beer at the local tavern.