Do you dream of seeing elephants in the wild up close? Is hiking a must on every trip you take? Would you love to see penguins on a sandy beach? Are you foodies or oenophiles, or both? Do you love a road trip? If any one of these is a yes, it’s safe to say a South African honeymoon is your dream come true. The southernmost country on the African continent is spectacular in so many ways. It’s impossible to rank the reasons to experience it firsthand. If you decide to take the plunge and head to the place where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, there are a few things to know.
First, it’s wonderfully affordable. The South African Rand is weak against the United States dollar, so the value for your money is incredible, especially when dining. Remember its place in the Southern Hemisphere means the seasons are opposite from ours, meaning our winter is their summer. Still, it’s not exactly snowy ever. The wind in Cape Town in summer is legendary but won’t prevent you from doing anything. And there are many things to do. Favorite pursuits in the coastal city include hiking (you can’t miss Table Mountain. Even if you don’t climb to the top of the plateau that overlooks the city, you can take the cable car and walk around the top), paragliding, surfing, cage diving with sharks and taking scenic drives to epic vistas and wildlife preserves. Anyone interested in history or politics shouldn’t miss a tour of Robben Island, the place Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. Penguin lovers, Boulders Beach is for you—the pristine sandy beach is where a massive colony of adorable African penguins live.
The city is also known for its food scene, so go hungry. It’s definitely a place for couples to indulge in tasting menu after tasting menu, try exotic new foods (it’s Africa, after all!) and forget all about the diet you were on before you said “I do.” There are hundreds of mouthwatering meals to be had and it’s wise to plan ahead, for dinners especially, since many of the most popular restaurants require reservations quite a bit in advance. Schedule time on the weekends to visit some of the food markets that are oh so tasty—it’s a good time to share so you can try more things. Side note: Renting a car is a good option if you’re comfortable driving on the left side of the road, but Uber is also really cheap in the city (there is no public transportation).
Hotels are as gorgeous as the natural beauty in the city, from beachy options in the suburbs of Camps Bay and Clifton to harborside at the V&A Waterfront. There The Silo Hotel is a new five-star boutique hotel that requires a serious splurge, but if you can swing it it’s worth every penny. Vibrant and art-filled, the architecturally significant bolthole is an aesthete’s dream (it’s also perched above the Zeitz MOCAA contemporary art museum if you crave more), plus unmatched 360-degree views from its guests-only rooftop pinnacle. The pool up there is also epic, so take a camera and plan to relax in the sun for at least a day with a local gin cocktail in hand. The One&Only Cape Town has its own sprawling free-form pool dotted with cabanas and its expansive spa conveniently located near it for ultimate pampering post-wedding. If you can bear to leave your large room or suite, the live acoustic music and innovative mixology at Vista Bar—plus the top-rated Nobu and Reuben’s beside it—is a good reason.
The pretty-in-pink Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, a stalwart in Cape Town for decades, feels a bit more hidden away, with a robust array of experiences to engage you in Cape Town’s culture. There, the spa offers a pink quartz crystal massage perfect for lovers, and you can arrange a portrait session with their artist-in-residence who was actually Mandela’s portrait specialist. Or take a walk through Fynbos with a nature specialist and sip sundowners from the mountainside as the sun sets.
Outside Cape Town are wildlife parks where couples can do a one-day safari, or you can go a bit farther afield to a place like Kruger National Park or Sabi Sands where renowned luxury camps by andBeyond and Singita are. For an even more opulent experience, try Royal Malawane. There are also jaw-droppingly beautiful road trips along the southern and eastern coast of South Africa, like the Garden Route and around the Wild Coast. If embarking on the former, you can set out from Cape Town or take a domestic flight east and rent a car.
The Garden Route is as bucolic and verdant as its name alludes. A series of small coastal towns is braided with parks, reserves, and rivers providing an outdoor enthusiast with tough decisions about what to do: bungee jumping? Surfing? Canyoning (in South Africa it’s called “kloofing” and Africanyon leads the best adrenaline-drenched tours)? Hiking? And then there’s wine-tasting, of course. True outdoor enthusiasts should not miss the honeymoon treehouse—yes, treehouse!—at Teniqua Treetops, where you’ll feel like the only people in the world gazing out over the verdant canopy carpet from your bathtub-for-two with a view. It’s equipped with a kitchen so you can seduce your partner with a cooked-in-a-treehouse meal using local farm-fresh ingredients.
Also along the scenic route is the serene and special Emily Moon Lodge, virtually made for couples. The scenery from the balcony of your room could make you swoon, especially with a glass of South African wine in hand. Work up an appetite to feast at their acclaimed restaurant with a canoe trip through the snaking river bends lined with graceful grasses. For a beachier stay, opt for The Plettenberg Hotel, an elegant getaway with the most ideal Indian Ocean views, mouthwatering cuisine, and a pool poised perfectly to spot pods of dolphins playing in the surf. Surfers shouldn’t miss Jeffrey’s Bay, a town with excellent world-class breaks, cute eateries, and basic hotels.
Back near Cape Town is a road trip that should be included on every honeymoon itinerary: the short one to the winelands, South Africa’s Napa/Sonoma. Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are the two most-known wine-producing towns, with the latter drawing lovers in droves because of its selection of charming small hotels and supreme luxury properties, not to mention its acclaimed restaurants (save even more room for your days here). Leeu Estates’ collection includes an endlessly elegant flagship property set among vineyards and gardens (perfect for picnics and intimate walks), and two cute and more colorful hotels on the main drag of town, Leeu House and Le Quartier Francais, perfectly poised for casual meals at the Indian restaurant Marigold and Mexican-inspired brewery Tuk Tuk.
Meanwhile, Sir Richard Branson’s Mont Rochelle also has a popular tasting room and restaurant for wine-drenched meals in the sun. It’s the perfect place to hideaway in a plush room or get a little active with lawn games overlooking the valley. La Residence, by the same hotel group as The Silo, is a lesson in luxury—there’s even an Elton John suite, named because it’s as lavish as the fabulous performer who has stayed there. You can’t help but feel like an A-lister when dining at the super-private estate or lounging at the mountain-view pool as peacocks strut around you.
There’s so much wining and dining (and vino-tasting) to be done that it’s hard to limit yourself to one place. Although less well known, Paarl is another key part of the winelands, and its star is undoubtedly Babylonstoren. It's a historical farm—although one rooted in colonialism—that dates to the 1700s and operates to this day, producing not just wine but olive oil and countless varieties of produce (including one type of grape that tastes like mango). The magnificent garden tour alone is worth a visit. Those staying on the extensive and chic property can also swim, ride bikes, and wander through the sweet-smelling grounds when not ensconced in the bright and comfortable suites and cottages; relaxing in the salt room or sauna, or drooling over fresher-than-fresh meals at Babel, the signature restaurant. A day or two here and you and your partner may just decide to embrace South Africa in general—and stay.