15 of the best eco hotels in Southern Africa

Posted by Adel Groenewald on 5 June 2012

Nothing beats a solid escape to nature. Just a simple hut, somewhere on a private beach or in the middle of the wilderness, and nothing to do except explore, relax and indulge. It’s true that few things can revive us as much as pure nature, and therefore it’s important to think of sustaining these natural gems for which Southern Africa is so renowned, so that we can keep on visiting them in the future.

To make your search easier, here are 15 eco-hotels in Southern Africa where you can enjoy a true nature escape with the added knowledge that you’re not harming that which is saving you from the hum-drum of city life. And for those heading into this hustle, there are a few inner-city eco-hotels too.

Western Cape, South Africa

1. Phantom Forest, Knysna

The place: 137 hectares of private nature reserve on the Knysna Rive where Afromontane forest, Cape coastal fynbos and estuarine wetland meet. Here you’ll find over 150 bird species, bush pig, bushbuck, grysbok, the rare blue duiker and other small mammals as you walk along the forest trails.

The approach: The alien vegetation was cleared by hand and this wood was used to create floors, furniture, roofs and boardwalks. Where the decks were built, the small plants were removed and replanted and the use of boardwalks means less impact on the forest floor. The suites were built around the existing trees and all plants are watered with recycled water.

The look: Large thatched roofs reach up into the forest canopy and a freshwater pool merges with the forested surroundings. The tree suites blend in with the forest rather than stand out and are raised on stilts, with large windows looking out over the forest.

Contact: www.phantomforest.com, [email protected], +27 (0)44 386-0046.

2. Farm 215, Uilkraal Valley

The place: 800 hectares of private, fynbos nature reserve, enjoying panoramic views over the Agulhas Plains toward the ocean. To the West you’ll see the mountains of Gansbaai, to the East are the limestone hills of Baardskeerdersbos Valley and, walking along the trails you’ll see some of the rarest plant species of the Cape Floral Kingdom – no street lights or tarred roads in sight.

The approach: Since this is a sanctuary for the Cape Floral Kingdom, the main focus is on sustaining the region by removing alien vegetation and rehabilitating the environment. Energy is provided by solar and water power, only bio-degradable detergents are used and waste water is routed back into nature. Organic produce is used as far as possible.

The look: The rooms take the form of pods and this blend in with the natural environment. Pods are spaced out to ensure privacy and big windows and private decks bring with it beautiful views of the seemingly endless Cape Fynbos landscape.

Contact: www.farm215.co.za, [email protected], +27 (0)28 388 09 20

3. Platbos Forest

The place: 55 hectares of indigenous forest, hidden in the Uilkraal Valley and privately owned by a small family. Also, this is Africa’s southern most indigenous forest and creates the feeling of being completely removed from reality as you stroll peacefully along the trails.

The approach: The owners are focused on rehabilitating the area to restore it to its natural, forested state. Trees for Tomorrow, and Trees for Tourism are two active reforestation projects and one of the major reforestation sites is on the neighbouring Farm 215. The campsite functions completely off the grid, with gas cooking stove, alien fire wood and an eco-toilet.

The look: The camp site is in a forest clearing and three large tents are furnished with beds and built on wooden platforms. The inside-outside kitchen and bathroom blend in with the forest and tree stumps are scattered around the campfire for seating.

Read more about camping in Platbos here.

Contact: www.platbos.co.za, [email protected], +27 (0)82 4110448.

Gauteng, South Africa

4. The Peech, Johannesburg

The place: This hotel is situated in Melrose, an upmarket suburb of Johannesburg. Sandton is 10 minutes drive away and the Rosebank Gautrain station is 5 minutes away. Melrose is peaceful and the streets are lined with trees.

The approach: Hot water is generated by solar geysers, grey water is used for watering the garden and timers are used where possible. All recyclables get recycled, food waste gets processed into garden fertiliser and they bottle their own water on site. There is at least 90 square meters of green space per guest and all batteries are rechargeable.

The look: The hotel has a clean, unpretentious appearance and is decorated in natural colours. The building is surrounded by greenery and natural elements, like wood, feature strongly in the decor.

Contact: www.thepeech.co.za, [email protected], +27 (0)11 537 9797

Eastern Cape, South Africa

5. Bulungula, Transkei

The place: Bulungula overlooks a remote beach along the Wild Coast and is integrated with the nearby Nqileni village. Guests can get to know the locals, enjoy dinner in their mud huts or simply relax on the beaches and explore these remote surroundings.

The approach: Electricity is provided by solar power and bathrooms have rocket showers and odourless compost toilets. If guests buy food somewhere in the village, they are asked to bring as little packaging as possible with them.

The look: 10 huts are placed a little away from each other, creating a village feel. Huts are round, have thatched roofs and enjoy views of the sea and forest. Communal hammocks can be found and homemade meals are served three times a day.

Contact: www.bulungula.com, [email protected], +27 (0)47 577 8900

6. The Kraal Backpackers, Wild Coast

The place: The Kraal is situated 40km from Port St Johns and close enough to Hluleka Nature reserve to hike there. The huts are on the beachfront and guests can explore the village or relax on the beach, surf or snorkel.

The approach: The entire backpackers is completely off the grid and runs on solar energy. They also catch their own rainwater, grow their own vegetables and breed nguni chickens. You’ll see that they recycle, use biogas toilets and have a hybrid hot-water system in place.

The look: You’ll find huts of different sizes, some sleeping two and some that form dorm rooms. The huts are round and thatched and blend in with the environment because they resemble a Xhosa village. There is a communal area where guests can relax and delicious homemade meals are served at the restaurant in the village.

Contact: www.thekraalbackpackers.co.za, 082 871 4964 (bad reception – sms recommended)

Limpopo, South Africa

7. Umlani Bushcamp, Timbavati Game Reserve

The place: This classic African safari camp is situated in a remote region of the Timbavati Game Reserve which borders the Kruger National Park. Guests can explore the bush on game drives, tracking on foot and nature walks.

The approach: The huts are constructed of locally sourced reed and thatch and no electricity is used whatsoever. Light comes from candles and oil lamps.

The look: The huts blend in with the natural environment and creates the idea of a traditioanl village in the wilderness. With only eight tents, the camp accommodates a maximum of 16 guests at a time.

Contact: www.umlani.com, [email protected], +27 (0)21 785 5547

8. Mashovhela, Soutpansberg

The place: This used to be a Venda settlement that has been abandoned, and it’s situated in the Morning Sun Nature Reserve, tucked away in the Soutpansberg Mountains. Guests can explore the area on hikes and trails and search for the abundant bird life.

The approach: The roads and walking trails around the lodge follow existing wagon roadways and footpaths of the abandoned Venda village. The camp runs entirely on renewable energy sources and they’re constantly removing alien vegetation. The wood is then used for fires and to craft almost all of the furniture at the lodge.

The look: 10 circular, en suite chalets with thatched roofs are tucked away in the bush, each with its own veranda. Chalets are painted and decorated with warm, African colours and the communal area has a restaurant, bar, boma, swimming pool and shop.

Contact: www.mashovhela.com, [email protected], +27 (0)12 991 6930

Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa

9. Duma Manzi

The place: A 5000 hectare nature reserve that is peaceful and scenic with 300 species of bird and wildlife that include buffalo, giraffe, zebra, black-backed jackal and even the elusive leopard. Game drives, nature walks, birding and fishing are popular activities, as are butterflying, frogging and stargazing – clearly, something to please all nature lovers.

The approach: To start with, the lodge is built on abandoned farm buildings to avoid further harming the environment. They use natural light, solar power and gas instead of electricity and purify their own water. The grey water is used for irrigation, showers are fitted with water reducers and all waste gets recycled. The paint is lead-free and natural materials like recycled bricks, sandstone and glass was used for construction. The kitchen uses only locally sourced, organic ingredients. Read their Green Fact File for even more eco-friendliness.

The look: The lodge blends in very well with the surroundings and suits its secluded location well. Rooms and common areas feature many natural elements like stone and thatch and there’s an elegant, yet rustic feel to it. Rooms all have private wooden decks that overlook the river.

Contact: www.dumamanzi.co.za,  [email protected], +27 (0)82 653 3475.

10. Amangwane Camp, Kosi Bay

The place: This is the northern most tip of South Africa’s East Coast, inside the iSimangaliso Wetland Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you’ll find everything from swamps forests, marshes, mangroves, coastal dunes, sandy beaches, lakes and exotic wildlife. Enjoy walking trails, snorkelling and swimming with the local dolphins in this 11 000 hectare tropical paradise.

The approach: The entire camp is a joint venture with the local community and a large portion of the profit go directly to local initiatives. Bungalows are built out of reeds sourced from the local community and fitted with canvas roofs. Electricity comes from solar power and they did away with the pressure pump, rather elevating the water tank 6m above the ground to generate water pressure with gravity.

The look: The camp consist of 10, rustic-looking reed chalets, each with two twin beds and an en suite bathroom. A lapa-area creates a social place where guests can get together and share stories in the evening.

Contact: www.thewetlandpark.co.za/amangwane, [email protected], +27 (0)35 590 1233.


11. Ngepi, Caprivi

The place: This island lies in the northern reaches of the Okvango Delta panhandle in the Caprivi Strip. From here you can enjoy Mokoro safaris, boat cruises, fishing and village visits to get to know this remote and untouched natural environment.

The approach: Guests are encouraged to get involved and get to know the local San Bushmen and Hambukushu tribes, respecting their environment and ways of life. Renewable, commercially grown South African pine wood and gum poles, local reeds and thatch is used for construction. They filter their own drinking water and use grey water for irrigation. Energy and hot water comes from solar power and everything gets recycled.

The look: The camping site is shaded by trees and located on a large lawn. You’ll also find tree houses on the river banks and bush huts for families. These are constructed out of natural materials and blend in seamlessly with the environment.

Contact: www.ngepicamp.com, [email protected], +264 81 202 8200.


12. Azura, Benguerra Island

The place: This is the classic island paradise, with endless stretches of untouched beach and crystal clear ocean waters. You won’t find large, commercial resorts anywhere near. The island lies off the coast of Mozambique and is part of the Marine National Park, allowing for many snorkelling and diving opportunities.

The approach: All the villas were built by hand with natural elements like thatched jekka roofs. Rather than hiring construction workers, the locals were trained in essential building skills and a fleet of local dhows were used to transport the materials. All wood came from sustainable sources, showers are heated by solar power and grey water is used for irrigation.

The look: 16 villas are dotted along the beach, each with a private veranda and plunge pool. Your front door walks directly onto the beach and the rest of the area is surrounded by indigenous tropical gardens.

Contact: www.azura-retreats.com/benguerra, [email protected], +27 (0)767 050 599.


13. Campi ya Kanzi, Masai Mara

The place: This small, privately owned concession is situated within the Masai Mara and is far removed from tourist buses and large crowds. Landscapes are incredibly diverse, offering many wildlife and nature exploring opportunities on game drives and walking safaris. You can also meet local Maasai people and truly get to know their culture and ways of life.

The approach: The main focus of the camp is to let the local Maasai preserve their wildlife and cultural heritage as well as their natural environment. All water comes from rain cropping and solar water heaters supply hot water. Photovoltaic panels satisfy all the electricity needs.

The look: The camp consists of luxury canvas tents and sleeps no more than 16 guests at a time. Tents have thatched roofs and are spaced apart from each other to ensure maximum privacy. Each tent has a dedicated Maasai attendant to see to all your personal needs.

Contact: www.maasai.com, [email protected], +254 45 622 516


14. Kisampa, bordering Saadani National Park

The place: The camp is situated on a remote hilltop northeast of Dar es Salaam, offering beautiful views of the savanna. This is a private, community conservation sanctuary, so you won’t come across other safari-goers as you explore the wilderness and search for wildlife

The approach: All wood used for construction comes from local, sustainable sources and lights are powered by solar energy. Water is heated using either solar power or firewood from fallen or dying trees. Toilets are engineered to use less water and bucket showers help save water. Everything gets recycled and open-sided living spaces leave no need for air-conditioning.

The look: The six thatched bungalows are rustic and simple and can sleep a maximum of 14 guests. Inside is a hand-crafted double bed and outside is a hammock and bush shower. You’ll also find a communal lounge area with comfortable seats and couches.

Contact: www.afrikaafrikasafaris.com/kisampa-overview, [email protected], +25 5769 204 159.


15. Domwe Island, Lake Malawi

The place: Domwe Island is the largest unpopulated island on Lake Malawi. It is separated from the mainland by the Ilala Gap, which have run dry many times, resulting in a variety of mammals that now live on the island. Guests can enjoy a range of water sports on Lake Malawi or explore the island on foot.

The approach: You’ll find no electricity on the island as everything is powered by solar power, lamps and wind-up torches. They make use of  compost eco-toilets and kitchen waste gets taken back to the mainland where it’s either used for compost or burnt. Water comes from the lake and is chlorinated on the island and tents are built on raised decks and can removed without leaving a trace. Wood and thatch is sourced from sustainable sources in Malawi and furniture is made locally.

The look: The camp lies behind a small beach and consists of three fully furnished tents and two tent sites. There is also a dining tent, bar and water sport gazebo. There is a shared, self-catering kitchen that is fully-equipped with gas stoves and utensils.

Contact: www.kayakafrica.net, [email protected], +27 (0)21 783 1955.

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