The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa is the official accreditation and grading body for accommodation in South Africa. However, you may still find some establishments clinging to other grading systems. Hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, guesthouses, and game lodges are graded on a star rating from one to five. Grading is not compulsory, and there are many excellent establishments that are not graded. Those that are given a grade are revisited annually; however, these marks are purely subjective and reflect the comfort level and quality of the surroundings.
Be warned that in southern Africa, words do not necessarily mean what you think they do. The term lodge is a particularly tricky one. A guest lodge or a game lodge is almost always an upmarket, full-service facility with loads of extra attractions. But the term lodge when applied to city hotels often indicates a minimum-service hotel, like the City and Town Lodges and Holiday Inn Garden Courts. A backpacker lodge, however, is essentially a hostel.
A rondavel can be a small cabin, often in a rounded shape, and its cousin, the banda, can be anything from a basic stand-alone structure to a Quonset hut. Think very rustic.
We always list the facilities that are available—but we don't specify whether they cost extra: when pricing accommodations, always ask what's included. Price categories are based on a property's least expensive standard double room in high season (excluding holidays). We do not review rustic campgrounds (as opposed to the fairly luxurious safari tents at many private game lodges), but we may mention where they exist alongside other accommodations.
Be sure you understand the hotel's cancellation policy. Some places allow you to cancel without any kind of penalty—even if you prepaid to secure a discounted rate—if you cancel at least 24 hours in advance. Others require you to cancel a week in advance or penalize you the cost of one night. Small inns and B&Bs are most likely to require you to cancel far in advance. Always have written confirmation of your booking when you check in. Most hotels allow children under a certain age to stay in their parents' room at no extra charge, but others charge for them as extra adults, and some don't allow children under 12 at all. Ask about the policy on children before checking in, and make sure you find out the cutoff age for discounts.
In South Africa, most accommodations from hotels to guesthouses do include breakfast in the rate. Most game lodges include all meals, or they may be all-inclusive (including alcohol as well). All hotels listed have private bath unless otherwise noted.
B&Bs are ubiquitous in South Africa. Many are very small and personalized. For more information, contact the Bed and Breakfast Association of South Africa (BABASA) or the Portfolio Collection, which represents more than 700 lodging options in South Africa and publishes a respected list of South Africa's best B&Bs that may also be useful; it offers a similar guide to small hotels and lodges.
BABASA. 082/239–2111; 012/480–4012; www.babasa.co.za.
Portfolio Collection. 021/701–9632; www.portfoliocollection.com.
The Farm Stay website lists a range of farms with self-catering or bed-and-breakfast accommodation in rural areas. Activities on offer include game-viewing, bird-watching, hiking, biking, and horse riding.
Farm Stay. 039/313–0770; www.farmstay.co.za.
Game lodges in South Africa are often designed to fulfill your wildest wildlife fantasy. Top designers have created magical worlds in styles from African chic to throwback bush romance. At the highest end, you can enjoy dinner under starlight on your own deck, or swap stories around the boma (outdoor eating area) at night. For some people the first glimpse of their accommodations is a thrill to rival the best game-viewing.
The term guesthouse may conjure up the image of a flophouse, but in South Africa guesthouses are a cross between an inn and a B&B. Usually in residential neighborhoods, they offer an intimate experience that benefits from the proprietor's tastes and interests, often at a vast savings over hotels. A guesthouse manager might make special arrangements to drive you to an attraction, whereas a hotel might charge extra transportation fees. Long-term visitors tend to choose guesthouses, where they can meet other like-minded travelers who are interested in experiencing the country, not just checking off sites.
Guest House Accommodation of South Africa. 021/762–0880; www.ghasa.co.za.
Sleeping Out. 021/762–1543; www.sleeping-out.co.za.
Your hotel in South Africa will be similar to one at home; the more you pay, the better the quality and amenities. As at home, peak seasons mean peak prices. There are many international chains represented in South Africa, so check with your frequent-stay program to see if you can get a better room or better rate. It might be more fun, though, to experience a local, or African, establishment.
Most hotel rates will include breakfast in the hotel's dining room, and in South Africa that means a full array of meats, cheeses, and eggs cooked to order—a little bonus that makes it easier to ease into your touring day.