According to travel experts, South Africa is one of 2014's hottest travel destinations, and it's easy to see why. It's replete with culture, untamed wilderness and extravagant accommodations thanks to a burgeoning tourism industry. While a trip to Cape Town and its surrounding wine country is likely on any traveler's bucket list, the most magnificent sights are found in the bush — specifically in Kruger National Park and its private reserves.
With roaming wildlife, captivating sunsets and plenty of luxurious accommodations, South Africa provides a romantic backdrop for adventurous honeymooners. But planning a South African safari can be a daunting task. Here are a few tips to help you decide when to go, where to stay and what to expect.
South Africa's winter months (May through September) are the best for safari: there is virtually no rainfall in the northeastern region of the country, meaning less foliage and easier game-spotting. The climate is also more moderate and your risk for malaria is lower than in the summer. Another bonus? This isn't peak tourism season, meaning many of the safari lodge prices are substantially lower.
Kruger National Park, with the densest concentration and variety of wildlife in South Africa, is your best bet for a safari. For your honeymoon, spring for a luxury lodge in one of the private game reserves, like Thornybush, Sabi Sand or Manyeleti, each of which are located within Greater Kruger National Park. The park does allow self-drive safaris, but the region's private reserves offer expert guides and trackers (not to mention far fewer tourists), making for a more intimate experience in the South African bush.
Even though you'll be staying in the African wilderness, you won't exactly be roughing it. Prepare to be spoiled if you choose to stay at a luxury safari lodge. The most honeymoon-worthy properties — often visited by celebrities like Elton John, Bono and Justin Bieber — are Royal Malewane (pictured above), Singita Boulders and Singita Lebombo. These hotels offer state-of-the-art facilities, impeccable decor and furnishings, five-star cuisine and attentive service. Each property is intimate, featuring only eight to 15 suites, allowing for complete seclusion. Wedded bliss will ensue as you're wowed with breathtaking views, romantic dinners under the stars, close wildlife encounters and even private butlers.
Singita properties feature a more modern take on accommodations (think contemporary wood and steel furnishings), while Royal Malewane features an extravagant colonial style, with canopied beds and in-room fireplaces. Even though these properties offer modern conveniences, such as spa and gym facilities, the surrounding environment is what makes these accommodations so unique: Lodges are smack dab in the middle of the bush, with few walls or barriers to the outdoors. You'll be closer to the action — so close that you'll have to be escorted through the bush to your suite.
To get the best of both worlds, reserve a few nights at both Royal Malewane and Singita Lebombo. Lodges are priced per person, per night. Nightly rates for Royal Malewane start at $1,300 USD; $1,615 USD at Singita Lebombo; and $1,370 USD at Singita Boulders. If these are out of your budget, Tintswalo Lodge is an excellent option that's a little more affordable and almost as luxurious — their Boma dinners and fireside sundowners in the bush as are romantic as they are breathtaking. Nightly rates for Tintswalo Lodge start at $630 USD per person. Keep in mind: These lodges are small, so you'll want to book well in advance as availability can often be an issue.
The luxury safari lodges mentioned above operate on an all-inclusive basis. Rates include accommodations, alcoholic beverages — including premium liquor — and two safaris each day (led by an expert guide and tracker in a luxury Land Rover). Rates also include three meals a day and snacks upon request.
Some travelers may be pleasantly surprised by the level of culinary sophistication in the bush, which ranges from upscale European cuisine to local specialties like braai — a unique South African barbecue. On-site sommeliers are also skilled at pairing South African wines with each course. Many meals are served under the stars or in the middle of the wilderness for an extra touch of romance. The only a la carte expenses are spa services and excursions outside of the hotel.
Packing for an African safari can be challenging because of weight restrictions and varying weather conditions, so check out these packing tips before you go.
An exotic South African safari should on your honeymoon short list if you're a couple seeking an unforgettable adventure enhanced by unparalleled luxury. South Africa truly has it all: astounding wildlife, awe-inspiring landscapes, epic sunsets and magnificent food and wine.
Katie Goldstein is a freelance travel journalist specializing in luxury travel and lifestyle. In addition to U.S. News & World Report, her expertise has been featured on The Huffington Post, Fox News, Fodor's and Forbes. She also chronicles her luxe escapades as her alter-ego on Travelingpanties. You can follow her on Twitter @Travelpanties, on Instagram, on Facebook or circle her on Google+.
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