Eat, swim and safari in style with this tried-and-tested St Lucia weekend guide. Here’s how to have the best-possible 48 hours in northern KwaZulu-Natal and a local, budget-friendly bush-and-beach break.
St Lucia is a small town on the eastern coast of South Africa and a summer paradise all year round. A wildlife hotspot too, this is the place for outdoors adventure alongside affordable city comforts.
It’s always summer in St Lucia
South of Sodwana Bay and just two and half hour’s drive north of Durban, St Lucia is South Africa’s own little island town completely surrounded by a game park. The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site and forms the wild welcome mat of St Lucia.
Blessed with variety, St Lucia hosts endless sunshine, wide sandy beaches and vibrant seas for snorkelling. The town was also a runner-up in this year’s ‘Kwela Town of the Year‘ competition and is famous for having hippos that regularly wander down its streets. Yup, there are wonderful wildlife sightings both in town and at the bordering park.
Then, there are great restaurants, a lively central market overflowing with the colourful fruits of this tropical region and, according to locals, 325 sunny days per year. Sounds like the perfect place for a weekend escape.
48 hours: things to do in St Lucia
Fly in on Friday
Book a car with Travelstart. Two and half hour’s drive north of Durban and an hour from Richards Bay, travelling from major South African city centres for a St Lucia weekend is easy.
Do dinner and drinks with a view
The Elephant Lake Hotel overlooks a palm-lined section of the estuary and faces the sunset. If you make it to St Lucia in time, sip a G&T or cold beer to this view and unwind. Locals also recommend the nearby Braza restaurant, which serves hearty Portuguese food and has the added bonus of sharing a menu with neighbouring Ocean Basket, for those who fancy fish instead.
Book a table on the balcony and watch for the hippos that walk the streets in search of sweet grazing.
See St Lucia differently on a night drive
Did you know that chameleons glow in the dark? Well, that’s not entirely true, but they do reflect a bright white when the light catches them perched in the dark foliage. Kian Barker from Shakabarker Tours is a pro at finding them. The drive takes you through town and into the Eastern Shores section of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, where the chances are good of spotting nocturnal bush pigs, spotted hyena, buffalo grazing noisily and even leopards that live in these coastal forests.
Explore iSimangaliso Wetland Park on Saturday
Maps cost R10 and there are plenty of excellent self-drive routes for exploring this sprawling park. I suggest stopping first at the Crocodile and Education Centre. Sadly, it’s a little run down, but the small displays are informative and the guides are so passionate! You can also see the crocodiles being fed on Saturdays at 15:00 and Sundays at 11:30.
There are lots of viewpoints and bird hides to see along the way to your beach destination for the day. The best stops are kuMfazana Pan on the Forest Loop drive, Catalina Bay and kuMziki lookout on the way to Mission Rocks. You simply must get to the newly-renovated Kwasheleni tower too. It’s perfect for finding whales with its exceptional 360-degree views over St Lucia Lake and the Indian Ocean.
Just note that a maximum of 120 day visitors’ cars are allowed into the Cape Vidal area per day. The park gates are open from 05:00 to 19:00 in summer (November – March) and 06:00 to 18:00 in winter (April – October). It’s a two-hour drive from the gate to Cape Vidal if you plan to enjoy the stops, birdwatching and wildlife.
Soak up the sun with a beach day at Cape Vidal
Cape Vidal lies in a Marine Protected Area on the edge of the St Lucia Marine Reserve. This reserve extends north to the Mozambique border and three nautical miles out to sea. You can either relax in the sun (just protect your picnic baskets from the vervet monkeys) or enjoy the splendour that lies in the sea. We recommend both.
Snorkelling with Safari and Surf will not only open up this underwater world to your goggled eyes, their knowledge of the rip currents is crucial for a safe time in the water. Find diamond rays, octopus camouflaged against mottled rocks and shoals of glittering reef fish floating above the sands. The guides know all the little nooks and crannies that marine creatures love to hide in.
Do dinner with a different view
If you leave Cape Vidal by 15:30, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy an early dinner. Try to make it back in time for sunset at the Ski Boat Club. A local hangout, there’s great pizza here and the relaxed pub has sensational views over the estuary and the towering Maphelane dune beyond it.
Enjoy coffee and croissants with hippos on Sunday
Save the best for last and wake up early to watch the sun come up over the St Lucia estuary on a Hippo and Croc Boat Cruise. Mists hang eerily over the waters and Fish eagles cry out across the morning. The boat explores the lake at a sedate pace for two hours with a guide. This lush area has 500 listed bird species and the boat is ideal for landing top photographs of the ‘river horses’ that call this wetland home.
Book cheap flights to Richards Bay or Durban now and see St Lucia for yourself.
Have you visited St Lucia recently? Tell us some of your favourite spots in the comments section below!
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