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


We’ve spent quite a bit of time in South Africa, and the one thing we’ve come to appreciate more than anything is the diversity of the landscape. From the semi-arid plains of the Little Karoo to the dramatic Blyde River Canyon, South Africa is a colourful assortment of varied backdrops.

St Lucia, South Africa. You’re no exception.

Backed by the warm tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, reinforced by sandy beaches, divided by sprawling wetlands, and invigorated by a multitude of ecosystems, St Lucia is a world-class wilderness area.

And all the wonderful things to do in St Lucia are no less exhaustive than the diverse environment. Lush subtropical scenery provides the canvas for a Garden of Eden safari expedition. Just across the lake, dry open savannahs feel remote, broad and hot; dehydrated by the disparity of rainfall.

St Lucia is an experience full of surprises.

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ST LUCIA AND THE ISIMANGALISO WETLAND PARK

iSimangaliso Wetland Park is situated on the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal, 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.

WHAT TO DO IN ST LUCIA, SOUTH AFRICA


1 / Enjoy a St Lucia estuary boat ride

2 / Take a jungle safari on the Eastern Shore

3 / Discover marine life at Mission Rocks

4 / Relax on unspoilt Cape Vidal beach

5 / Catch rare wildlife on a late-night drive

6 / Watch turtle hatchlings go to sea

7 / Search for game on the Western Shore

8 / Sip a sundowner overlooking the estuary

9 / Take a day trip to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Wildlife Park

10 / Spot hippos on the streets

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

Lake St Lucia, the sprawling estuary system that backs onto the town, is one of the most abundant, naturally endowed wetlands in the world.

A two-hour boat ride on the lake is an information-crammed excursion through a delicate, but rich ecosystem. Spot one of the 529 bird species including the industrious but fastidious weaver bird who constructs an elaborate hanging nest to attract females, only to destroy it if it’s unsuccessful.

The star attractions on the St Lucia boat trip, however, 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. But 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. Unfortunately, Sunset Jetty has nowhere to sit and enjoy the sunset.


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

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. Lush green mountainous vegetation creates a jungle-like atmosphere.

Various roads dissect the park providing plenty of options to map your own course. Rather than spotting wildlife far off in the distance, the Eastern Shore is more about bumping into them on the road by chance.

Several well-constructed hides have recently been built, allowing you to get out of the car and wait for animals to approach. We didn’t have much luck in any of the hides, but it always seemed worth a quick stop.

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.


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 teaming 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.

It’s a beautiful spot to spend an afternoon. Inspect the rock pools for signs of life, or go nuts enjoying some excellent fishing.

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 sunbaking is a great thing to do in St Lucia. Be sure to check out the view from the top of the dunes.

Although there are a few appealing looking sandy stretches, 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

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. Cape Vidal has that remote, facility-devoid feel we love. Located at the northern end of the Eastern Shore drive (see below), it’s where bush and beach combine. Relaxing and secluded, Cape Vidal is one of the more soothing things to do in St Lucia.

Set up camp, get the braai going and enjoy a long boozy lunch on one of our favourite beaches in South Africa. 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 of 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.


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

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: online in advance

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. It was a highlight of our trip to KwaZulu-Natal and a wonderful thing to do in St Lucia.

The 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.

Book the turtle tour the day you arrive in St Lucia as tours can only go out in low tide.


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 that makes up the Western Shores of iSimangaliso was formerly forestry plantations. Over the last decade, thousands of hectares of foreign trees have been removed, rehabilitating the natural eco-system and restoring habitats.

As a result, it’s a great experience with a very different feel to the Eastern Shore. Amble along the many roads spotting giraffe, nyala, rhino, zebra and wildebeest. Given the sparse landscape, seeing the animals is relatively easy and a great opportunity to capture wide African vistas.

The scenery is excellent and there are several hides to sit and wait for 4-legged passers-by. Don’t miss 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. Skip the seafood in favour of the excellent KwaZulu curries.

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 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.

If you’re lucky, you might even see a family of hippos on the opposite bank.

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 position 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 has all of the big 5 and we were lucky enough to see four of them. Leopards, alas, 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.


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

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. This quirky fact about a relatively under visited part of South Africa keeps intrigued tourists up at night seeking out this weird phenomenon.

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. But they’re also just trying to go about the business of feeding their families so it’s a good idea to leave them alone as much as possible – even if they don’t pose 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.

IF IT’S THE SEASON

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 / BOOK A TOUR

WHERE TO STAY IN ST LUCIA

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. Because the hippos are often spotted in town, it’s not possible to walk around at night. Strolling between the restaurants on the main street is fine, but it wouldn’t be advisable to walk from the main street to your hotel. Therefore, it doesn’t really matter where you stay in St Lucia: you’ll need to drive in for dinner each night and most tour operators will collect you from your hotel.

Here are some recommendations from us.

WELCOMING GUESTHOUSE

ST LUCIA ESCAPE


With all the right facilities and the option to select individual rooms, self-catering apartments or 3-bedroom holiday homes, St Lucia Escape is an excellent choice for a deluxe stay. They have a Full English each morning and a private bar each evening.

CHECK PRICES

BUDGET FRIENDLY

POMPANO GUEST HOUSE


Located close to Estuary beach and with good facilities including a pool, sun terrace and a shared lounge, Pompano Guest House is a great budget-friendly option in St Lucia. It’s neat and cosy and they do a very satisfying continental breakfast.

CHECK PRICES

STYLISH STAY – OUR PICK

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.

CHECK PRICES

WELCOMING GUESTHOUSE

ST LUCIA ESCAPE


With all the right facilities and the option to select individual rooms, self-catering apartments or 3-bedroom holiday homes, St Lucia Escape is an excellent choice for a deluxe stay. They have a Full English each morning and a private bar each evening.

CHECK PRICES

BUDGET FRIENDLY

POMPANO GUEST HOUSE


Located close to Estuary beach and with good facilities including a pool, sun terrace and a shared lounge, Pompano Guest House is a great budget-friendly option in St Lucia. It’s neat and cosy and they do a very satisfying continental breakfast.

CHECK PRICES

STYLISH STAY – OUR PICK

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.

CHECK PRICES

HOW TO GET TO ST LUCIA

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.

AUTO EUROPE

HIRING A CAR IN SOUTH AFRICA

The best portal we’ve found for booking hire cars is Auto Europe. They have access to cars from all the major companies which are compared on a grid format that clearly displays the prices for different car sizes across each provider.

They also display what is and isn’t included in the price and offer good value insurance options. With a great interface and 24-hour customer service, we highly recommend them.

Check South Africa car rental prices based on your home location.

EUROPE CUSTOMERSUSA CUSTOMERS

AUTO EUROPE

HIRING A CAR IN SOUTH AFRICA

The best portal we’ve found for booking hire cars is Auto Europe. They have access to cars from all the major companies which are compared on a grid format that clearly displays the prices for different car sizes across each provider.

They also display what is and isn’t included in the price and offer good value insurance options. With a great interface and 24-hour customer service, we highly recommend them.

Check South Africa car rental prices based on your home location.

EUROPE CUSTOMERSUSA CUSTOMERS

WHERE TO EAT IN ST LUCIA

As the main hub for people visiting iSimangaliso, St Lucia has a number of good eating options aimed specifically at tourists. Most of them occupy a small section along the main road so it’s easy to have a stroll around and pick something you fancy.  Here are our suggestions.

REEF AND DUNE

With everything from steak to pizza and anything in-between, Reef & Dune is a good option if you’re looking for a lot of choice. The service is attentive and friendly, and they can whip up a pretty good coffee.

51 McKenzie Street | 10am to 9pm


OCEAN BASKET

Ocean Basket is a chain in South Africa that seems to have cornered the tourist seafood market. But their Mediterranean-inspired seafood preparation is good, and the price is just right.

73 McKenzie St, Georgiou Centre | 10am to 9pm


ST LUCIA SKI BOAT CLUB

What they lack in quality preparation the St Lucia Ski Boat Club more than makes up for in friendly service and location. Look for the simpler side of the menu and try the local KwaZulu curries, they’re pretty good.

St Lucia Estuary | 12pm to 8.30pm


BRAZA

Braza cuts their scene between South African classics (meat) and South American staples (meat). However, what they do they do well and if you can get a seat on the upstairs terrace it’s a great option for dinner.

73 McKenzie St, Georgiou Centre | 6am to 10pm


KAUAI

Kauai is also a chain in South Africa, but if you want a break from the meat fest, this is the place for you. They have a large selection of tasty salads which can also be put together in a wrap.

73 McKenzie Street | 7am to 6pm

WHEN 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.

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.

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.

Whale watching is best from mid-June to November.

December to February is thunderstorm season and it’s not uncommon to get a brief, but heavy downpour every afternoon.

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

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RHINO CARD

If you are a South African resident and plan on visiting many Ezemvelo run parks in KwaZulu Natal (and there are many), get the Rhino Card. It costs R250 per person for one year and provides free entrance to the parks plus discounts on other activities. Apply here.

MAP / THINGS TO DO IN ST LUCIA, SOUTH AFRICA

St Lucia and the surrounding area is relatively easy to navigate. The town is small and iSimangaliso is split by the Western and Eastern Shore. To save our map with all the attractions in this guide.

To save this map, click on the star in the title bar which will save it to SAVED -> MAPS in Google Maps.

WHERE NEXT?

If you found this guide useful, please head over to Instagram and follow us to stay up to date with our adventures.

South Africa is a place we have visited many times over the years. With incredible scenery, great food and amazing wildlife opportunities, it’s one of our favourite places to visit.

Here are a few of our favourite South Africa articles.

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Got a second to vote for us?

We were honoured to be selected as one of the Best Cultural Travel Blogs by Teletext Holidays, which puts us up for the Best Travel Blog at the British Travel Awards

We would love it if you could spare a quick minute to vote for us.

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