South Africa prides itself on its variety — travellers can taste traditional dishes from an array of different cultures, take photographs of landscapes ranging from beach to desert to jagged mountains, and indulge in anything from spas and sunbathing to bungee jumping, wildlife walks or shark-cage diving. And the variety doesn’t stop there; if you’d like to spice up your nights, you can step away from the usual range of superb guest houses, lively backpacker hostels or upmarket hotels. From hanging out in an old jail cell to sleeping inside a cave, here are nine unusual places to stay in South Africa.
It might not seem like much of a holiday, but sleeping in a converted jail cell certainly makes for a more interesting travel tale than staying in yet another guest house. The Old Jail in Philippolis, a tiny town in the Free State, serves as a simple but quirky accommodation option. The bedroom-cells are far from roomy, but there are a few added luxuries that prisoners in the 19th-century town prison wouldn’t have enjoyed — comfy mattresses, a self-catering kitchen and of course, your own key. If the historical aspect appeals, but the pokey room not-so-much, try the Old Jail Bed & Breakfast in Willowmore (Eastern Cape). Here the impressive Victorian façade has been preserved, but interior walls have been knocked down and cells converted into luxury en-suite doubles.
Under the stars
The chance to spend the night outside is one available to you pretty much anywhere in the world, but South Africa takes al fresco sleepovers to a whole new level. Taking advantage of the country’s spectacular night skies, a number of upmarket lodges offer “sleepouts.” Forget about leaky tents or lumpy sleeping mats — here your entire five-star room is moved out into the wilderness, king-sized bed, bedside lamps, en-suite bathroom and all. Close to Cape Town you can indulge in the ultimate “glamping” experience at Kagga Kamma, a remote retreat in the semi-desert Karoo. Further north, particularly around Kruger National Park, there are a number of other open-air sleeping options, with the Chalkley Treehouse at Lion Sands Game Reserve perhaps offering the ultimate chance to truly experience the African wilds.
Under a traditional roof
Corbelled houses are an idiosyncratic feature of the vast and largely empty Northern Cape. When the trekboers ventured north, they soon noted the lack of trees and quickly adapted their building methods to be timber-free. Corbelling is an intricate way of building roofs using nothing but stones, and today a few of the corbelled houses are open as guest houses, allowing you the chance to soak up the Northern Cape solitude while admiring centuries’ old handiwork.
In a cave
KwaZulu-Natal’s Drakensberg Mountains are dotted with caves offering a little more shelter than your tent might provide, but if you fancy a cave stay with a few trimmings, head for theBaviaanskloof Nature Reserve in the Eastern Cape. The Makkedaat Caves have been reinforced with timber and furnished with a few little extras — rustic kitchens, outdoor showers and a “loo with a view.” It’s the perfect way to get up close to this ruggedly beautiful corner of the country without having to forsake all home comforts.
In a wine cellar
In the Cape Winelands you can ride horses or bikes through the vineyards, sip wines paired with chocolate, cheese or marshmallows, dine in world class restaurants or bathe in grape juice at a luxury spa. A lesser-known fact though, is that you can also sleep in a disused wine cellar. Nuy Valley winery, between the towns of Worcester and Robertson, offers basic backpacker accommodation in the one-time wine cellar. Claustrophobics and those who really feel the cold might want to look for other places to stay in South Africa, but those ticking off cool places to stay will love it here.