Hotels in St. Lucia, South Africa
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St. Lucia, South Africa: welcome to the wonders of iSimangaliso
Surrounded completely by a natural world heritage site, St. Lucia offers both the romance of a remote locale and all the welcome amenities of a well-established village, including fine restaurants, fuel stations, and a friendly population of about four hundred. Numbering among the locals are many skilled tour operators, eager to show travellers the many sides of iSimangaliso Wetland Park; South Africa’s first world heritage site contains eight interconnected eco-systems, from pristine lakes and ancient coastal dunes to rustling savannah and teeming woodlands. Accommodations in St. Lucia range from luxurious boutique hotels to homey lodges and self-catering apartments.
Go on safari in iSimangaliso or Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve
A safari tour of iSimangaliso Wetland Park provides an excellent introduction to its “miracles and wonder.” By day, sightseers can travel through the bush, forest, and beach in a 4x4 off-road vehicle, with several short hikes to prime locations for spotting hippos, giraffes, and elephants, not to mention a multitude of feathered and wee creatures. Travellers who thrill at the prospect of being out in the wilderness after dark, however, can book a night drive safari; many species, including the notoriously elusive leopard, are bolder in the moonlight. From November to March, iSimangaliso visitors can take a special beach safari to see loggerhead and leather back turtles preparing their nests and laying eggs. The Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve, known for its sweeping grasslands, rolling hills, and rich history, is another unforgettable safari destination. In addition to the “big five” species-- rhino, elephant, buffalo, lion and leopard---the reserve is home to 23,000 impala and over 300 species of birds.
Cruise with crocs, watch whales, or catch the big one
Lake St. Lucia is particularly special place within iSimangaliso; at its northern end, tropical waters, sandy beaches, and coral reef give way to the reedy uMkhuze wetlands, while its western shores are lined with bone dry savannah and thornveld. This unique confluence of ecosystems is also, unsurprisingly, thickly populated with water birds, fish, hippos, and crocodiles; two-hour boat cruises along the estuary depart regularly, and offer up-close (yet perfectly safe!) views of the famously toothy animals. Travellers who don’t mind getting a bit wet can depart directly from St. Lucia aboard a zippy cruiser in search of humpback whales; though operators cannot guarantee acrobatics such as breaches and tail splashes, the boat is able to get within 50 metres of the gentle giants, so be sure to bring a (waterproof!) camera along. High season lasts from mid-June to mid-November. Deep sea sport fishing for formidable species such as marlin is also very popular around the Elephant Coast, and St. Lucia offers a host of highly experienced skippers.
Long walks on the beach
Just outside St. Lucia, sightseers will find the Western Shores section of iSimangaliso; the former forestry plantation has been completely rehabilitated and fitted with new attractions, including the stunning uMthoma Aerial Boardwalk, which offers an inspiring view across Lake St. Lucia’s narrows. Here travellers can see as far north as Cape Vidal, and south to Maphelane. About 45 minutes away by car, Cape Vidal is a spectacular, sheltered bay, favoured by swimmers, surfers, ski boaters, and fly fishermen. At low spring tides, its rock reef is completely exposed, creating a beguiling playground for snorkelers. Cape Vidal also offers several beachfront log cabins, ideal for families or small groups. Shore fishermen, however, may prefer St. Lucia as a base of operations; the majestic dunes of Maphelane are within an easy walk across the uMfolozi River, a prime location for the sport. However, when the river mouth is open, the waters may contain hungry crocodiles or hippo, so crossing on foot is definitely not recommended.
It takes a village…
Though iSimangaliso and the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve are, without a doubt, the biggest tourist draws to St. Lucia, observant visitors will find many other delights in and around the village, beginning with iGwalagwala Hiking Trail. The easy, two-kilometre scenic walk leads from Albacore Street through the forest, winding southward along the estuary, where visitors are likely to spot a wide variety of birds. The Veyane Cultural Village, also not far from St. Lucia, is well worth a stop, too. Here travellers can tour a Zulu homestead and learn about traditional Zulu culture from the people who live there, including a few words of the language and a dance. Adventurous souls can even spend the night there on a grass mat inside a traditional, beehive-shaped hut. Another modest, if much more modern, alternative to traditional hotel accommodations is the Chane Cheese Farm and Lodge. The fully operational goat cheese farm offers hands-on tours, a sparkling swimming pool, and a fine restaurant.