The idea of travelling to Southern Africa usually conjures up romantic notions of wildlife safaris and exotic adventure. But if you are looking for a less traditional route to explore this vast and exciting continent there’s an alternative kind of safari for you – via stunning spas, Buddhist retreats and meditation wells. I discovered a ‘Big Five*’ for the body and soul … with a distinctly African twist.
Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Retreat (Western Cape, South Africa) Recognised as one of the world’s best hotels by USA Travel & Leisure magazine and a member of the exclusive Relais and Chateaux, this is a wilderness experience offering African-style luxury with soul. The Reserve is part of a World Heritage site located in the Cederberg Mountains, 3-4 hours drive from Cape Town, dedicated to restoring indigenous wildlife and flora and protecting 130 San Bushman rock art sites. With just 16 rooms, the Lodge is private and intimate, but you also get to mingle with other guests and the very knowledgeable rangers. With gourmet cuisine, the heavenly Gingko day spa and a beautiful setting this is the perfect place to rest, heal and pamper yourself. On the daily nature drives you can expect to see Cape Mountain Zebra, Eland, Bontebok and more than 150 bird species. Relax by the pool or with a stroll through the medicinal gardens, or get physical with a host of outdoor activities including hiking, rock-climbing, mountain biking, archery, fly-fishing and canoeing. What to bring: A sense of adventure, a good pair of walking shoes and someone who deserves to be seduced by the surroundings. Cost: From R1750 per person (twin share) for a standard room (low season). Rates are per person per night including all meals, guided tours and activities (excluding spa treatments). Bookings: Phone +27(21)685 2598 or visit www.bushmanskloof.co.za
Buddhist Retreat Centre (Ixopo, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa) The Buddhist Retreat Centre(BRC)offers a beautiful place to learn about Buddhist philosophy, psychology, meditation, arts and culture. Set amongst tranquil Zen gardens and indigenous bush, the BRC overlooks one of the great valleys of the Umkomaas river system just 90-minutes drive from Durban. The 125-hectare estate has also received National Heritage status by former President Nelson Mandela in recognition of its work in protecting the flora and fauna of the area. The BRC runs a full program of educational retreats ranging from Buddhist meditation practices to yoga, Tai Chi and Chi Kung, to drumming workshops, painting workshops, couples and family retreats. You can join a hosted retreat or simply stay and enjoy a self-guided retreat with access to BRC staff for advise on Buddhist teachings and meditation. Make sure you buy a copy of their ’Quiet Food’ cookbook which holds the secret to the infamous BRC fare. What to bring: The BRC recommends bringing casual comfortable clothes, a warm waterproof jacket, torch, walking shoes and umbrella. Cost: From R280-R720 per person, per day depending on what style of accommodation you choose. Costs include accommodation and meals. Buddhist tradition does not charge for teachings so it is also good karma to donate a voluntary ‘dana’ to the teachers or the Centre. Bookings: Phone +27 (39) 8341 863 or www.brcixopo.co.za
Temenos Country Retreat (McGregor, Western Cape, South Africa) Just over two hours drive from Cape Town, Temenos is a great spot for a romantic escape, time out or a spiritual holiday. The Retreat has 13 fully equipped self-contained cottages set within beautiful gardens and contemplative spaces. The vibe is Zen meets rustic Byzantine. Facilities include a meditation well, library, chapel, lap swimming pool, Tebaldi’s restaurant and massage treatment rooms. Outside the front gate lies the quaint village of McGregor where you find art classes, health shops, cafes and local craft galleries. There is a full calendar of events throughout the year including Wellness Weeks and silent retreats. What to bring: If you don’t want to leave your cottage then bring everything from tea bags to tofu – otherwise, there’s Café Temenos, and the town of McGregor has some good eating spots. Costs From R460 per person per night (accommodation only). Three-day Wellness Retreats start at R2700 per person including accommodation, meals, morning walks, yoga sessions, two body therapies and daily meditation. Bookings Phone: + 27 (23) 6251 871 or www.temenos.org.za
Yoga Safari (Botswana, Southern Africa) Spiritual meets safari. Yoga Safari offers unique week-long retreats combining daily yoga and meditation with an African wildlife adventure including the chance to see the ‘big five*’. With the reassurance of an experienced guide, the safari takes you through the Central Kalahari to the Moremi Game Reserve where you’ll stay in a traditional bush-safari camp with walk-in canvas dome tents, camp beds complete with mattresses, sheets, duvet, pillow and towels, warm showers and a fire to sit around and enjoy ‘sundowners’ (pre-dinner drinks). Safari locations change throughout the year according to the season and movement of the game. You don’t have to be an experienced yogi to come along, but a basic level of fitness is recommended. What to bring: There’s a full packing list on the Yoga Safari website. Cost: The 8-day/ 7-night retreats are US$3499 per person sharing including all meals, yoga and game drives. Bookings: For upcoming dates and bookings phone +267 7140 0108 or visit www.yogasafari.com
Earth Travel (Southern Africa) Earth Travel offers unforgettable travel adventures around the world including bike tours through some of South Africa’s most beautiful and wild places including Kruger National Park, Cape Town and the Wild Coast. With tours ranging from 3-14 days, this is a sometimes challenging but enjoyable way to get fit, even if you’re not to begin with. The average day involves two to six hours of cycling, but there’s a back-up team if you want to hoist your bike, take it easy and enjoy the scenery. Earth Travel also offers self-drive and customised tours through Southern Africa including wildlife safaris and sporting holidays to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Malawi and the Seyshelles. What to bring: Your own biking gear if you have it – otherwise you can hire everything you need from Earth Travel, a basic level of fitness and a willing, challenging spirit. Costs: from R3000 per person for set tours. Cost includes all accommodation and meals, Earth Travel guide and backup team. Customised tours are priced on individual requirements. Bookings: www.earthtravel.co.za or email email@example.com
FAST FACTS & TIPS:
- * The ‘Big Five’ is a term coined by big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. The term is still used on wildlife safaris referring to the lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros and leopard.
- The official tourist website for South Africa is http://www.southafrica.net/
- For cheap airfares, hotel bookings and car hire in Africa visit www.kulula.com
* The ‘Big Five’ is a term coined by big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. The term is still used on wildlife safaris referring to the lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros and leopard.
© Kris McIntyre 2010