There are plenty of awe-inspiring destinations and unique places to visit in South Africa. With such a healthy mix of mountains, coastline, and forested land – it’s a haven for any kind of traveler.
Unfortunately, as a South African, I sometimes forget to explore my own home.
After our honeymoon, I realised that there are so many places I’ve yet to discover in South Africa. So I thought I’d start with the places I’m less likely to find anywhere else.
Hidden Gems (so many caves!)
Have you ever dreamt of sleeping inside a mountain? Maybe not, but these are absolutely stunning.
Kagga Kamma Caves, Cederberg
A luxurious stay in the Cederberg region, with wildlife roaming and stunning surrounding landscapes, this is definitely a bucket list destination.
Cost: R3500+ per night for 2 adults sharing (check prices on Booking.com)
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Four hours outside of Cape Town, you’ll find this magnificent accommodation in the Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve. The reserve has ten of these stunning cave suites, as well as five hut suites, a sky suite, a star suite, and a campsite.
So whether you want to sleep on a comfy bed while staring at the stars, or rough it out in a tent with your pals, there’s something for everyone.
I am more interested, though, in the thought of sleeping in one of the manmade caves. My childhood dreams of living like the Flinstones can finally become reality – minus the pet dinosaur, of course.
Makkedaat Caves, Willowmore
For those of us on a budget, we can still enjoy the caveman lifestyle, closer to the Eastern Cape.
Cost: R500 per night/ 2 adults sharing (check prices on their website)
Gorgeous, natural, and way more affordable. The Makkedaat Caves in Bavianskloof are located on a working farm.
There are many natural rock formations on the farm that have been turned into accommodation. These include two larger spaces, which are perfect for families. And then my personal favourite, Swaeltjie Nes. This sleeps two people, and looks to be a romantic hideaway for couples in love.
The farm has space for camping as well, and there are plenty of activity options for everyone. From hiking to picnics, or (what I’d be doing) simply enjoying the cool caves and taking the time to read!
Interesting Places (on Water)
I’m more of a landbody – my first ever boat ride was during our day in Knysna, and that was just a short lagoon ride. But these houseboats look like they’d be a ton of fun – even if just for one night.
Houseboat Myrtle, Knysna
Fall asleep to the soft sounds of the Knysna Lagoon, and wake up to glorious views.
Cost: From R1250 – R2000 for 2 guests, depending on season. (Check prices on Afristay)
This quaint houseboat is one of the originals in Knysna. It offers the perfect peaceful getaway for families, couples, or even just singles looking for some alone time.
It’s a short dinghy boat ride from the waterfront, where you can enjoy shopping, dining, and fascinating people-watching. But it’s also far away enough that you could hide away and enjoy peaceful alone time as well.
The boat can sleep 4 people, on 2 double beds – so you could do a couples’ retreat or stack the kids together on the second bed. If you are a water lover, fishing, kayaking, and other water sports are sure to be enjoyed here.
Me? I can see the peace and quiet being useful during hours of late-night writing. And early morning wake-ups with the seagulls sound like a special kind of paradise.
Unfound Treasures (Castles, towers, and fairytales)
Feel like royalty, even if just for a night. Enjoy a peaceful slumber in one of these fairytale-like castles and towers.
Flycatcher Castle, Graskop
One of Mpumalanga’s jewels, this castle attracts visitors from all over the world. It’s also quite a favourite for weddings and events.
Cost: Around R1550 per night for 2 adults sharing.
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Set on the edge of the tiny town of Graskop, this castle is magnifcent, full stop. It’s large, with six suites, each with their own private en suite (try and book the rooms with the very fancy free-standing bathtub!).
There’s also a chapel, an art gallery, and the most impressive gardens on the castle grounds.
The area offers enough to keep you busy for your stay. Visit God’s Window, go trail hiking, or just enjoy the town. Or you could just spend most of your time walking regally through the castle passages – because how often can you do that?!
Castle in Clarens, Free State
Enjoy an entire castle to yourself, nestled in the heart of the Maluti Mountains. This building is steeped in stories and decorated in storybook fashion.
Cost: R1200 per weekday night for 2 people sharing. R2600 per weekend night for 2 people sharing. (Check prices on Afristay)
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Modeled in theme with the Fairytale of Rapunzel, this tiny fortress calls loudly to me!
When you book here, you get the entire castle to enjoy alone. It has 2 bedrooms and can sleep 4 people on 2 double beds. It also has its own lounge, kitchen, and stunning braai area. There’s a library (yes, please), a games room and a fireplace in the lounge.
This medieval building is surrounded by undisturbed natural views, including stunning flowers in the garden. Inside, the decor matches the outside, and the tower rooms offers some spectacular sights out the windows.
The castle is about 20 minutes outside of the town of Clarens. The area offers art galleries, museums, and restaurants to explore. Or hiking, horseriding, and abseiling for the more adventurous princes and princesses.
Bethesda Tower, Karoo
A magical, cosy place to sleep in the small town of Nieu Bethesda.
Cost: ±R400 per night for 2 adults sharing. (check prices on Afristay)
If you’ve never been to Nieu Bethesda, this is the perfect excuse to visit.
I lived in Graaf Reinet for a year as a teen, and we visited the Owl House. I was way to young and oblivious, though, and never realised how much more this town had to offer.
This tower accommodation sits above a cafe and an arts centre. Proceeds from the tower are used to uplift the local community, specifically disadvantage persons.
There are 4 rooms, 2 of which are high up in the tower. Unfortunately, each bathroom is shared by two rooms, but this doesn’t seem to take away from the charm. The rooms are quaint, but clean, and the hospitality is welcoming and friendly – which is exactly what you’d expect in the Karoo.
Historical Places (converted transportation)
Possibly my favourite section. After staying in Santos Express, I cannot wait to try the rest.
Old Mac Daddy, Elgin Valley
A luxury trailer park, according to their website. This is both fascinating and intriguing.
Cost: ±R1900 per night for a unit sleeping 2 adults, family units can accommodate 2 kids as well. (Check out prices on booking.com)
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Old Mac Daddy is a trailer park in Elgin Valley, just over an hour from Cape Town. The brilliant design of the park allows a luxury stay with a twist.
The park is full of pimped-out Airstream trailers. There are 12 of these, each one designed and decorated by talented artists from Cape Town. The trailers sleep 2 adults, but some of them have space for up to 2 kids as well. Many of them have built-on living spaces, and include their own bathrooms – with very inviting bathtubs.
I tried to pick my favourite – but then I got distracted and spent too long drooling over the gallery. Some notable ones are “Life Before Colour”; “Private Life Of Plants”; and “The Dream”.
The park has its own dam, and a ton of activities – inlcuding archery, zorbing, hiking, and mountain biking. This is great for family fun, but also works for a quick couple breakaway.
Ox Wagon Lodge, Hartbeespoort
Find your Voortrekker roots and enjoy a much more comfortable stay in a converted ox wagon.
Cost: R650 pp/pn – includes champagne breakfast (check out their website, it seems the only way to book is to email or call)
This lodge has a unique concept. Old-school ox wagons have been converted into comfy bedrooms and attached to chalets with sitting areas and bathrooms.
There are 6 wagon chalets, all located close to each other. This would make the ideal family getaway, especially with adult kids. The lodge is also well-known for its awesome wedding hosting, as well as other parties.
Located close to Harties dam, this lodge allows the perfect opportunity to take in the area while enjoying a unique experience. I also love how they start their days with a champagne breakfast!
Santos Express Train Lodge – Mossel Bay
A quirky stay right on Diaz beach in Mossel Bay. Fall asleep to the crashing waves, and wake to the fresh sea breeze.
Cost: Private rooms cost R500 – R1300 per night for 2 adults sharing.
In today’s South Africa, train rides are anything but luxurious, fun, or even safe. So the novelty of sleeping on a train is something that excites and entices me.
The Santos Express is a stationary train that has been converted into a lodge. The original carriages have been turned into rooms, ranging from hostel rooms to a private honeymoon caboose. And then the latest wooden carriages are the new Royal Suites.
This accommodation is affordable and located a few steps away from the Indian ocean. The Royal Suites boast king-size beds, a wardrobe, and the most magnificent bathrooms – which include a Victorian bathtub.
At the end of the lodge is a restaurant, so breakfast and sunrise views are a must. And the rest of Mossel Bay awaits you during your stay. Warm ocean waters attract surfers and swimmers, while the museums welcome the history lovers. Tons of good food and friendly faces complete this fantastic stay.
Tourist Attractions (all kinds of tents)
These tents are out-of-the-ordinary but in the best way possible.
Farr Out Guesthouse Wigwam, Garden Route
Enjoy the stunning West Coast, surrounded by fynbos, and sleep in a wigwam (not the same as teepee… just fyi)
The newest addition to the already homey Farr Out Guesthouse is this delightful wigwam room. With home comforts in a glamping style, you can experience the West Coast as you probably have never before.
Enjoy all necessary amenities, a comfy bed, and a gorgeous garden as you step outside your door.
Stay in a Lighthouse (!!)
I didn’t even know this was possible… but there are four lighthouses in South Africa that you can actually sleep at. Each one has the same rates per cottage, and has between 1 and 3 cottages. To book go to the Stay at Lighthouses website.
Cape Columbine Lighthouse
This lighthouse has 3 cottages. Two of them have 3 bedrooms and sleep 6 people, and one has just 1 bedroom and sleeps 2 people. The cottages all have outdoor braais and access to a swimming pool.
Great Fish Point Lighthouse
This lighthouse in the Eastern Cape has 2 cottages, each with 3 bedrooms, and each able to sleep 6 people. The cottages are fully equipped, have swimming pool access and an outdoor braai area.
Danger Point Lighthouse
Located in Gansbaai, Danger point has 1 cottage with 3 bedrooms. The cottage can sleep 6 people and has an indoor braai area.
Cape St Blaize Lighthouse
Set on a breathtaking cliff in Mossel Bay, this lighthouse offers one cottage with 3 bedrooms. It can sleep 6 people, and offers stunning views.
Other Interesting Places
Here are a few more places that I found… although I’ll probably be adding to this list as I go.
Tenikwa Treetops, Knysna Forest
You can’t get much closer to nature than this – sleeping up in a treehouse built for adults.
Cost: ±R2000 per night for 2 adults sharing (Check prices on Booking.com)
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This lodge offers eco-friendly accommodation for those wanting to stay right in the middle of the Garden Route’s natural beauty. Each treehouse offers unimaginable views of the surrounding forests and gorge.
The suites are built around their natural surroundings, with as little disturbance as possible. There are family suites, couple suites, and even a wheelchair-accessible suite. Each suite has its own kitchen facilities as well, for early morning coffee and dinner cooking.
The lodge is definitely a different kind of experience. Three of the eight suites use dry compost toilets, the height of the suites means you’re high above most of the rest of the world, and there is wildlife all around. This is bound to leave incredible memories.
I had no idea how many stunning hidden gems there were in South Africa. And my list is surely not complete yet. I can’t wait to visit them all. Top of my list is definitely Castle of Clarens and the Ox Wagons.
Do you know of any magical places I’ve left out? Have you been to any of the places I’ve mentioned? Are you planning on visiting any of them soon? Let me know in the comments 🙂