For the last six years I’ve worked as a travel journalist – working first at a South African travel magazine called Getaway and then freelancing for the last few years. My job has taken me on some amazing adventures around the African continent, and I’ve been lucky to stay in some of the best hotels, lodges, campsites and backpackers around in the name of work. I’ve stayed at some eye-wateringly expensive places – super fancy lodges with all the trimmings – but my favourite places to stay are still the backpackers, small guesthouses and campsites. Here’s my list!
Ngepi Camp – Caprivi Strip, Namibia
On the banks of the Kavango River across from Bwabwata National Park in the Caprivi Strip, Ngepi is fun and quirky, with its famously wacky toilets (such as Poopa Falls, and the Royal Throne, where the loo is set up on a deck overlooking the river) and hilarious signs posted all over the camp. The campsites are right next to the river, so at night you fall asleep to the piggyish sounds of hippos grunting only a few metres away. I love staying in the treehouses – simple wooden huts built on stilts over the river. Watching the sunrise with mist floating above the river from your deck is amazing!
Papkuilsfontein – Northern Cape, South Africa
Papkuilsfontein, a sheep, olive and rooibos tea farm near Nieuwoudtville, is my favourite farm escape. There are century-old restored farm cottages to stay in with outdoor showers, delicious three-course meals from the kitchen – proper Karoo farm food – and lots of things to do, from walking on the trails around the farm, taking dips in the dam-style pool and going swimming in natural rock pools. It’s far off the beaten track, deeply relaxing and a great antidote to busy city life.
Marimba Secret Gardens, Vilanculos, Mozambique
I love everything about Marimba Secret Gardens, a rustic backpackers north of Vilanculous in a totally undeveloped area, which you can only reach by 4×4 on a sandy track. There are cosy huts set on stilts surrounded by lovely gardens and thick bush, and the almost-deserted beautiful beach is a short walk away. Activities include kite surfing and snorkeling trips to the islands of the Bazaruto Archipelago, about 30 kilometres off shore. The food is excellent – all fresh and homemade (I loved the fresh catch of the day and the veggie burgers), and guests gather each night around a bonfire before eating under the stars at the al fresco dining room. The Swiss owners, a friendly and chatty couple, really make the place special though – you feel like you’re a friend rather than a guest.
Mumbo Island, Lake Malawi, Malawi
Surrounded by the clear aquamarine water of Lake Malawi, Mumbo Island is a tiny island with nothing on it apart from a low-key lodge, which you reach by kayak from the mainland. Rooms are spacious canvas tents inside wooden structures perched on the edge of the water on a small outcrop which is connected to the main island by a wooden walkway which is romantically lit up at night with hurricane lamps. There’s not much to do except for tuck into delicious food (think veggie pizzas and fresh salads) at the restaurant, chill out on the lovely beach, go snorkeling, swimming, kayaking or scuba diving in the lake, or just sway in your hammock on the deck outside your room, gazing out at the lake. One moment I’ll never forget is waking up in the middle of the night and heading outside to lie on the hammock to watch the lights from the fishermen’s boats illuminate the lake like the twinkling night sky.
Desert Horse Campsite – Aus, Namibia
Namibia has some fantastic (and cheap) campsites in spectacular locations, such as the one at Klein Aus Vista – my favourite. Drive down a two-kilometre sandy track into a vast, beautiful, wild desert landscape of terracotta sand, pale yellow grass, boulders, hills and the occasional tree to get to this rustic campsite, with only 10 sites (each with a tap, table, benches and a barbecue grill) which are spread apart, so you have lots privacy to enjoy the desert silence.