With diverse ecosystems and a complex array of habitats, St Lucia is a world-class wildlife destination in South Africa. Throw in sandy beaches and subtropical oceans and you’ll wonder why it’s so quiet.

Surrounded by the warm tropical waters of the Indian Ocean and reinforced by golden sandy beaches, St Lucia is a world-class wilderness area and one of our favourite places in South Africa.

Located at the southern end of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park on the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal, St Lucia is on the edge of a unique ecosystem that hosts a collection of fantastic things to do.

Go on a night safari to spot rare turtle hatchlings making their way to see, take a boat ride on the estuary past hippos, or simply enjoy a sundowner in a beautiful waterside location.

Lush subtropical scenery provides the canvas for a Garden of Eden safari expedition. Across a sprawling wetland system, dry open savannahs feel remote, broad and hot; dehydrated by the disparity of rainfall.

St Lucia is an experience full of surprises; here’s how to make the most of it.

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IN THIS GUIDE

BEST THINGS TO DO IN ST LUCIA, SOUTH AFRICA


01 – BOAT TOURS
02 – JUNGLE SAFARI
03 – MISSION ROCKS
04 – CAPE VIDAL
05 – NIGHT SAFARI
06 – TURTLE HATCHLINGS
07 – GAME DRIVES
08 – SUNDOWNERS
09 – HLUHLUWE
05 – HIPPO SPOTTING

ST LUCIA AND THE ISIMANGALISO WETLAND PARK

iSimangaliso Wetland Park is situated on the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), South Africa, about 275 kilometres north of Durban. It’s a 3,000 square kilometre area made up of coastal wetlands, intricate estuary systems, warm tropical seas and endless sandy beaches.

Due to the abundance of fragile and unique ecosystems, it was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999. With a complex array of habitats, iSimangaliso is home to hippos and crocodiles; elephants and giraffes; leopards and turtles; pelicans and flamingos.

The northern end of iSimangaliso is accessed via Kosi Bay – which you can read all about in our Kosi Bay Guide.

The town of St Lucia is the perfect place to explore the southern end, where the estuary joins the sea. From the town, a river heads inland to form St Lucia Lake which separates the park into the Western and Eastern Shore, each of which has unique ecosystems.

Things to do in St Lucia, South Africa

MAP / THINGS TO DO IN ST LUCIA

To get your bearings in St Lucia, download our map which contains all the activities listed in this guide. To save the map to your device, click on the star which will load the map into “your places” on Google Maps.

1 – SEE HIPPOS & CROCS ON A ST LUCIA ESTUARY BOAT RIDE

A two-hour boat ride on the St Lucia lake is an information-crammed excursion through a delicate, but rich ecosystem. The star attractions are some of South Africa’s most deadly specimens. Drawn to the sweet grass by the river, a bloat of hippos will easily be found yawning for the delight of snapping cameras. The far more elusive Nile crocodile will take a keener eye.

There are generally 4 boat tours a day. As the hippos are slightly more active in the afternoon, we suggest taking the last tour of the day when the calm waters framed by long grasses beautifully catch the late afternoon glow of St Lucia.

The tours depart from Sunset Jetty on the north side of the bridge just at the entrance to the town.

St Lucia Lake Boat Tours / 10am, 12pm, 2pm, 5pm | Cost: 250 per person (£11 / €12 / $13) | Bookingsonline here | Meeting Point: Sunset Jetty

Things to do in St Lucia, South Africa
Things to do in St Lucia, South Africa

2 – TAKE A SELF-DRIVE JUNGLE SAFARI ON THE EASTERN SHORE

A safari drive on the Eastern Shore of the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park is different to any safari experience we’ve had in Africa. Unlike the barren open plains of Etosha National Park, the Eastern Shore is more Jurassic Park with lush green mountainous landscapes.

Various roads dissect the park providing plenty of options to map your own course. Several well-constructed hides have recently been built, allowing you to get out of the car and wait for animals to approach.

The area is relatively small and there are few cars – entrance is limited to 120 cars per day – so it’s easy to explore in half a day. Keep an eye out for the rare samango and vervet monkeys, hippos very early in the morning, and rhinos any time of the day.

We had a few close encounters with a pride of elephants who had hijacked the road. As they can become aggressive in musth, it’s best to give them plenty of space. Drive yourself or take a tour.

iSimangaliso Eastern Shore / enter via the Bhangazi Gate | Opening: Apr-Oct 6am to 6pm; Nov-Mar 5am to 7pm | Cost: adults R51; children R37 + R61 per car + R5 community levy.

3 – DISCOVER MARINE LIFE AND BATS AT RUGGED MISSION ROCKS

The rugged beauty of Mission Rocks, 16 kilometres north of the St Lucia estuary, is more than just a beautiful spot for a picnic. Low tide reveals a network of rock pools teeming with tiny marine life – valuable contributors to the local biodiversity. At high tide, thunderous waves crashing against the rocks provide an element of drama to the scenic view.

Around 500 metres from the picnic area – along one of the intermittent stretches of sandy beaches – a cave houses thousands of fruit bats. A stroll down to see the bats after an afternoon of sunbaking is a great thing to do in St Lucia. Be sure to check out the view from the top of the dunes.

Given the nature of the coastline, it’s not advisable to swim or snorkel at Mission Rock. Save that for Cape Vidal.

Mission Rocks / 20 minutes North of the Bhangazi Gate on the Eastern Shore

Things to do in St Lucia, South Africa

4 – ENJOY THE UNSPOILT CAPE VIDAL BEACH

Cape Vidal is 23 kilometres from Mission Rocks and ideal if you want to swim, snorkel and generally unwind on an unspoilt sweep of golden beach. Located at the northern end of the Eastern Shore drive (see below), it’s where bush and beach combine.

The soft golden sand framed by grassy dunes and warm tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, make Cape Vidal a glorious way to spend an afternoon in St Lucia. With a shelf that drops off just off the beach, Cape Vidal is also a great choice for fishing and snorkelling.

From St Lucia, the drive to Cape Vidal runs through the iSimangaliso Wetland Park where you can try your luck at spotting some of the area’s diverse wildlife. With regular stops, allow at least 2 hours to get through the park to Cape Vidal.

Facilities are limited except for toilets and a small shop selling nothing of any particular use near the car park. Take whatever you need with you or join this wetland tour which combines a snorkelling safari with rhino and elephant watching.

Cape Vidal / 45 minutes from the Bhangazi Gate on the Eastern Shore drive, without stops.

Things to do in St Lucia, South Africa
Things to do in St Lucia, South Africa

5 – CATCH RARE SIGHTINGS ON A ST LUCIA NIGHT SAFARI

Hippos spend most of the day lazing in the water, eyes poking just above the surfaces, yawning occasionally. But at night, they often travel up to 15 kilometres on dry land in search of food. So, one of the best opportunities to see a hippo in full is on a night safari in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

In addition to roaming hippos, buffalo and elephants can also be very active at night. A sharper eye is required to spot the saucer-like eyes of bushbabies as they climb through trees searching for fruit.

The big prize on a St Lucia night safari is the elusive leopard. In fact, with a bit of luck, it’s possible to spot 4 of the Big 5 (there are no lions).

A knowledgeable guide will maximise your viewing opportunities with lightning-fast reflexes and a well-trained eye. Tea and coffee is provided, as are blankets to keep you warm. Despite sizzling temperatures in the day, it can get very cold at night.

St Lucia Night Safari / 7pm and 8pm pick up from your accommodation | Cost: R250 (£23 / $28 / €26) | Bookings: in advance through your accommodation or in town

Things to do in St Lucia, South Africa

6 – WATCH TURTLE HATCHLINGS MAKE THEIR VOYAGE TO SEA

If there’s one experience not to be missed in the area, it’s a night drive to see the turtles nesting on the beach.

Tours start late in the evening and include a brief night safari on the way down to Cape Vidal. Once there, the blackness of the night sky envelops the beach with just a hint of moonlight flicking on the waves. This lack of light pollution provides the protection that Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles seek to lay their eggs.

With the gentle sound of the night-time ocean guiding the way, the tour continues by 4×4 along the beach until turtle tracks are found. Two tracks mean the female has laid her eggs and has returned to the sea. One track means she’s still out there.

Watching these massive prehistoric creatures pull themselves back into the ocean was a mesmerising experience. Watching the hatchlings commence their awkward journey to the same destination was an absolute privilege. Only 1% of turtle hatchlings make it to adulthood, those that do survive won’t return to the beach for another 35 years to lay eggs. The males won’t return at all.

Tours depart late in the evening and last around 6 to 8 hours. Dinner is provided as well as instructions on how to minimise any disturbance to the turtles or hatchlings.

Turtle Tours / Depart around 9pm | Dates: November to February | Bookings: arrange with your accommodation.

7 – SCOPE THE WIDE-OPEN SAVANAH ON A WESTERN SHORE GAME DRIVE

Receiving only half the annual rainfall as its sister park on the opposite side of the lake, the St. Lucia’s Western Shore is a different safari experience with expansive grasslands and sparse bush.

Most of the area was formerly forestry plantations but over the last decade, thousands of hectares of foreign trees have been removed, rehabilitating the natural ecosystem and restoring habitats.

As a result, the sparse offers a great opportunity to spot many of Africa’s finest safari animals. Amble along the many roads spotting giraffe, nyala, rhino, zebra and wildebeest capture wide African vistas.

Don’t miss the hides that allow you to sit and wait for 4-legged passers-by or the canopy walk.

iSimangaliso Eastern Shore / enter via the Dukukduku Gate or Nhlozi Gate | Opening: Apr-Oct 6am to 6pm; Nov-Mar 5am to 7pm | Cost: adults R51; children R37 + R61 per car + R5 community levy.

8 – HAVE A SUNDOWNER OVER THE ESTUARY

It should be said that the town of St Lucia itself is slightly uninspiring. Most of the shops and restaurants are stretched along the main road with the accommodation options dotted along suburban streets. It’s good for facilities and there are some decent eating options, but few places maximise the beautiful seaside location.

There are two exceptions that are good options for a scenic sundowner.

The Ski Boat Club St Lucia, hugging the banks of the estuary, is a relaxed friendly restaurant with a decent menu and a great beer garden. It’s not the best view of the estuary, but it is the best view where you can order a beer, sit outside and enjoy those balmy South African evenings.

The second place to enjoy the late afternoon in St Lucia is at the boat jetty just near the centre of town (see our map for the exact location). There are no facilities, but there is a lawn overlooking the water. Bring your own beers, pull up a patch of turf and enjoy a drink in one of the most picturesque parts of town.

Things to do in St Lucia, South Africa.

9 – CATCH THE BIG 5 ON A DAY TRIP TO HLUHLUWE-IMFOLOZI WILDLIFE PARK

Apart from the unique ecosystem of iSimangaliso, St Lucia is well-positioned to take advantage of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Wildlife Park – one of our favourites of the smaller wildlife parks in South Africa.

Similar to the Western Shore, Hluhluwe has a Garden of Eden feel where troops of monkeys scamper over jungle-like vines and elephants bathe in picturesque rivers. It’s a beautiful park and small enough to get a good feel of the place on a day trip from St Lucia.

The park offers the opportunity to spot many African safari animals, including all of the big 5. We were lucky enough to see four of them, sadly the leopard continued to evade us. What we can almost guarantee, however, is excellent sightings of rhinos. These majestic creatures can regularly be found wandering through the trees with their young in toe looking for food.

It’s one hour drive from St Lucia to the Nyalazi Gate – the closest entrance into Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. Spotting animals, particularly cats, is best done early in the morning. So, leave as early as you can. Full day and half-day Hluhluwe-Imfolozi tours leave from St. Lucia.

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Wildlife Park / enter via Nyalazi Gate, 6am to 5pm | Bring: ID is inspected at the gate.

Things to do in St Lucia, South Africa.
Things to do in St Lucia, South Africa.

10 – SPOT HIPPOS ON THE STREETS OF ST LUCIA

One of the things you may have heard about St Lucia is that hippos roam the main streets.

And it’s true, hippos do roam the streets at night looking for food. However, they are also one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. They’re aggressive, big, and can move surprisingly fast for such a sizeable creature. It’s estimated, they kill around 500 people every year in Africa, so it’s a good idea to leave them alone as much as possible – even if they don’t appear to be posing a threat.

By all means, check out this weird feature of St Lucia, but do it from the safety of your car. If you do spot a hippo, keep a respectable distance so you don’t scare them.

Given the presence of hippos in the street, it’s not a good idea to walk anywhere in St Lucia at night.

Things to do in St Lucia, South Africa

IF IT’S THE SEASON – WHALE SPOTTING

Over the winter months, humpback whales migrate to the warmer waters around St Lucia to give birth. So, if you’re in the area between mid-June and November, it’s the perfect time to join a whale watching tour.

To make sure you see what you want to see, read our detailed guide to the best time to visit South Africa.

WHERE TO STAY IN ST LUCIA, SOUTH AFRICA?

St Lucia sits just outside the southern end of the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park. The main attractions of Cape Vidal, Mission Rocks, and the Eastern and Western Shores are all located within the park but are only a very short drive from the centre of town.

St Lucia is small, and all the shops and restaurants are on the main street. However, because of the hippos roaming the streets, you’ll need to drive to dinner each night anyway.

Here are some recommendations from us.

URBAN GLAMPING

LUXURY TENTED VILLAGE

With a pool, BBQ area and large deck, these luxury tents are a great way to experience friendly South African hospitality. All tents have a fridge and private bathroom; there’s also a shared kitchen.


GARDEN SETTING

LODGE AFRIQUE

Located beside the estuary, these thatched suites have plenty of African charm with all the right facilities including an outdoor shower. The tropical garden setting and beautiful pool make it a great place to hang out.


STYLISH STAY

SANDPIPER INN

The Sandpiper Inn is a great guest house with everything you need for a comfortable stay. Each room has a terrace overlooking the pool where they do a healthy breakfast every day. The friendly hosts will help you organise any guides you need.

Things to do in St Lucia, South Africa

HOW TO GET TO ST LUCIA, SOUTH AFRICA

St Lucia is an easy 3-hour drive from Durban along a good quality dual carriage highway.

The main airlines flying into King Shaka International Airport in Durban are British Airways, Emirates, Qatar and South Africa Airlines. If you’re travelling from Europe, it’s most likely you’ll need to connect in Johannesburg.  However, there are several daily flights from the other hubs in South Africa including Cape Town and Elizabeth Bay.

GETTING AROUND ST LUCIA

To really appreciate the unique environment of St Lucia you need your own car. A lot of the sights are spread around across the wetlands and the two safari drives are much better if you can do them on your own timetable.

Fortunately, car hire in South Africa is relatively inexpensive and the driving conditions are easy. Most of the roads are paved, except for a few within the park. However, even these would be fine to do in a regular 2WD vehicle, unless there has been considerable rain.

We recommend rentalcars.com who compare prices across all the major car rental companies.

Things to do in St Lucia, South Africa

BEST TIME TO VISIT ST LUCIA

There’s no perfect time to go to St Lucia. With year-round sun and balmy subtropical weather – we’d consider it any time of year. However, the experiences you are looking for will determine the best time to go to St Lucia.

FOR TURTLE NESTING

Turtle nesting season, one of our personal highlights and a thoroughly fantastic thing to do in St Lucia, is bang in the middle of summer. It’s incredible to witness, but it does get hot and humid. The best time to spot the females laying eggs is between November to January; hatching is January to March.

FOR ANIMAL SPOTTING

The dry and mild winter season (May to September) is best for animal spotting. This is particularly good for seeing big cats as the foliage is less thick, giving them fewer places to hide.

FOR WHALE WATCHING

Whale watching is best from mid-June to November. Keep in mind that December to February is thunderstorm season and it’s not uncommon to get a brief, but heavy downpour every afternoon.

FOR HIPPO SIGHTINGS

The good news is that hippos, St Lucia’s star attraction, are easy to see all year.

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TIPS FOR VISITING ST LUCIA

1 – If you are a South African resident and plan on visiting several parks in KwaZulu Natal (and there are many), get the Rhino Card. It costs R250 per person for one year and provides free entrance.

2 – Book the turtle tour the day you arrive in St Lucia as tours can only go out in low tide. To make sure you catch the turtle – and anything else you want to do – read our article on the best time to visit South Africa.

3 – Given the presence of hippos in the street, it’s not a good idea to walk anywhere in St Lucia at night.

WHERE NEXT?

As one of our favourite places to visit for winter sun, great hiking and incredible wildlife opportunities, we’ve been to South Africa several times. Here’s some more reading you might find useful.

How to design your own South Africa itinerary

When to visit South Africa

5-day Cape Town itinerary

10 reasons to visit the magnificent Drakensberg Mountains

A 4×4 adventure up the Sani Pass to Lesotho

A complete guide to Cathedral Peak

27 incredible African safari animals and where to see them

Sabi Sands vs Kruger – which safari experience is better?

10 tips for seeing the most animals on a self-drive Kruger safari


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