South Africa is great to visit in winter, because prices drop, there are fewer tourists, and safaris are more comfortable (no sitting in a blazing hot Land Rover for hours at a time!)
Though the weather might be colder and wetter than in summer, it’s not hard to find accommodation that keeps you warm and well taken care of — not to mention winter discounts.
See yourself through South Africa’s colder months by snuggling up next to the fire in one of these cozy winter retreats.
KolKol Mountain Lodge, Bot Rivier, Western Cape
An hour away from Cape Town on the van der Stel Pass near Bot Rivier, KolKol Mountain Lodge fulfills your winter cabin getaway fantasies. Six Canadian-style log cabins each come with a private wood-fired hot tub on the deck (where you can luxuriate in and look out over fynbos-covered hills and the Babilonstoren Mountains beyond), rustic but stylish interiors and stone fireplaces for roaring log fires on cold winter nights.
Granny Mouse Country House, Kwazulu-Natal Midlands, Kwazulu-Natal
The KwaZulu-Natal Midlands is one of South Africa’s most beautiful regions in winter, with its undulating green fields covered in an icing-sugar dusting of frost and the occasional sprinkling of snow. There’s a wealth of wonderful accommodation options to choose from here, but one of the best is Granny Mouse Country House, a luxury guest house that features gorgeous country-style rooms kitted out with fireplaces, so you can snuggle up in bed and gaze out at the misty valley vista out of your window. Spend days exploring the area’s gourmet treasures and evenings back at Granny Mouse’s, where the fine dining restaurant offers excellent cuisine.
Abalone House, Paternoster, Western Cape
A beach escape might seem like an unusual choice for a winter getaway, but Abalone House in the tiny West Coast fishing village of Paternoster is not your usual beach hotel. The five-star, ten-room guesthouse is decorated in a lavish bohemian style, filled with eclectic art works, from Tretchikoff wall prints, Persian rugs and crystal chandeliers to quirky ornaments and plush fabrics, making it feel like the home of an eccentric yet stylish artist – and luxuriantly cosy at the same time. The restaurant, run by celebrity chef Reuben Riffel, is top notch – sit in the romantic, sumptuous candlelit dining room and feast on dishes such as double-baked snoek (a local fish) soufflé with salted apricots and ginger caramel malva pudding with buttermilk sherbet accompanied by a superb wine list, as well as single-malt whiskies and some of South Africa’s best-ranked artisanal brandies. Make sure to book yourself one of the sea view rooms and weather the winter Cape storms of crashing waves and billowing winds in comfort, or on sunnier days, head up to the roof deck to soak in the Jacuzzi while gazing out over the ocean.
Castle in Clarens, Clarens, Free State
Live out your fairytale fantasies in Rapunzel’s Tower, a self-catering guesthouse just outside the charming Free State town of Clarens that looks like it’s straight out of the pages of a storybook. Complete with a turret, life-size mural paintings depicting scenes from Rapunzel, lavish palatial décor, embroidered bathrobes suitable for royalty and a bathtub suspended 12 metres off the ground, Rapunzel’s Tower is one of South Africa’s most unique places to stay, and is particularly cosy in the cold winter months.
Three Trees at Spioenkop, Drakensberg, Kwazulu-Natal
In the foothills of the magnificent Drakensberg mountains, Three Trees is an intimate, characterful four-star family-run lodge that sleeps just 18 people in the heart of the historic Anglo-Boer War battlefields. There’s lots to do in the area, from fascinating guided tours of the battlefields, hiking the trails through 1300 hectares of the rolling foothills, bird watching, mountain biking, horse riding through the countryside, and wildlife spotting and guided rhino tracking on foot in the neighbouring Spioenkop Game Reserve, but you could easily spend days relaxing at the lodge. Beautifully decorated, the lodge features lovely communal living spaces – a lounge with a fireplace and puzzles, books and games for rainy days and a dining room where you eat three-course dinners together with the other guests, and afterwards sip cognac in front of the fire.
Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve, Cederberg, Western Cape
The Cederberg in the Western Cape, a few hours’ drive north of Cape Town, is beautiful in winter, whether the weather brings crisp sunny days (perfect for hiking), or rainy ones, when waterfalls gush down the mountains and you retreat in front of a fireplace with a good bottle of red. Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve is just the place to stay: this private reserve (where you can go hiking, tackle 4×4 trails and discover ancient rock art) offers unusual cave suites that have been built into the sandstone rocks, with ensuite bathrooms, private terraces and comfortable furnishings – a perfect winter hideaway.
Tanda Tula Safari Camp, Timbavati, Limpopo
Escape the cold of winter in most of the country by heading north to Limpopo, where you’ll be greeted with sunny, warm days, no rain and chilly – though not freezing – nights. Winter is the best time of year to be in the bush, as the dry vegetation means you can spot wildlife more easily, and the lack of water draws animals to waterholes. This time of year is extremely busy in Kruger National Park, and many of the camps are booked up many months in advance, especially around school holidays. Avoid the crowds of Kruger and head to the private Timbavati Reserve, which is on the edge of Kruger, instead. Tanda Tula Safari Camp is a great option in the reserve – a small, owner-run camp with just 12 luxury safari tents to stay in, spread out along a riverbed. Take dips in the infinity pool (where elephants sometimes stop by for a drink) on warm afternoons in between game drives in the Big Five reserve, read a book from the library in front of the log fire in the lounge, and enjoy dinners around a communal candlelit table under the stars.