Africa offers the traveller pretty much every kind of accommodation anyone could want. From basic, bring-your-own-everything camping, through to high-end luxury, it’s offered here. We have picked out some of our favourite ‘unusual’ places to stay in southern and East Africa.
Caves, Kagga Kamma, Cederberg, South Africa
So you thought living like The Flintstones was just a cartoon fantasy? Think again. At Kagga Kamma in the spectacular Cederberg, just 250 km from Cape Town, you can live in a cave. These, however, are by no means pre-historic in their interior design. This is luxurious and eco-friendly, cave-dwelling.
Situated in the Swartruggens area of the Cederberg, it’s an area of incredible beauty, fabulous rock formations and fynbos, and home to a wide range of buck, zebra, small mammals and birds. If you’re very lucky, you could spot a shy leopard.
The ten cave suites are carved out of the rock, each with their own private terrace. If you’re looking for the height of romance, Kagga Kamma also offers an open-air room. Situated on a remote rocky outcrop, you can spend a luxurious night sleeping under the stars. And there are lots of stars in the Cederberg!
Corbelled Houses, Stuurmansfontein, Carnarvon, South Africa
Built by the trekboers in the 1800’s, these strange-looking circular houses still stand strong. These houses were not built out of any desire for an architectural experiment but were made out of necessity. The land here is stark, beautiful and barren, with not much other than vast open spaces and scattered rocks. Those rocks were all there was to build with. And build they did – thick-walled, circular houses, that diminished in diameter upwards.
At Stuurmansfontein, you can experience what it was like to live in those days – there is no electricity, no cell phone reception, and no interruption of the incredible peace of the Karoo. Situated near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape, you can revel in the serenity of the Karoo, uninterrupted by modern life, and enjoy the hospitality of the owners of the farm, Piet and Charmaine Botha.
Houseboat Myrtle, Knysna Lagoon, South Africa
Knysna is a little gem in the heart of the Garden Route, built around the gorgeous Knysna Lagoon. It’s a bustling town filled with great restaurants, galleries and shops, and that’s beside all the incredible natural sights in the area – the Knysna Heads, beautiful forests, miles of unspoilt beaches, and everything that comes with that.
Houseboat Myrtle is the ideal base for exploring the area. Located on the Knysna Lagoon, it’s a fully equipped wooden houseboat, sleeping four comfortably.
Spend the day exploring the forest (tree top tours, mountain biking, hiking etc.) or surfing the waves, dolphin spotting or visiting local artists and then escape the busy-ness of Knysna, hop on your dinghy (provided with the houseboat) and head ‘home’ to relax on the deck, or next to the fire in the cosy lounge, surrounded only by water.
TiPi Bush Camp, Addo, South Africa
Just 80 km from Port Elizabeth, the camp offers three large, fully-equipped TiPis that can sleep four people each. They’re situated far enough apart to ensure privacy, and both offer spectacular views over a valley teeming with wildlife. The park has no predators, so you can walk safely and see giraffe, kudu, nyala, eland and more!
Environmental-friendliness is the aim here, so everything is solar.
Swell Eco Lodge, Transkei, South Africa
Experience the Transkei Wild Coast, living in eco-friendly huts styled on traditional Transkei rondavels. Off the beaten track, with thatched roofs and incredible sea-views, Swell Eco Lodge is a perfect place to unwind.
The Wild Coast is known for its unspoilt beaches, rolling green hills dotted with cattle and laid-back lifestyle. Spend the days exploring the area, or just set up camp with a book on the veranda or beach, the choice is yours and time goes slowly here.
If you’re feeling energetic, there are loads of activities offered – surfing, fishing, kayaking, horse riding, hiking, mountain bike trails and more!
Beehive Huts, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, Swaziland
Traditional houses in Swaziland were built using a dome-shaped frame of saplings, covered in grass. They were (and still are) ideal for the climate – warm in winter, cool in summer. While they are not seen that often anymore, having been replaced by brick-and-mortar structures, several camps at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary in the beautiful Ezulwini Valley (Valley of Heavens), offer beehive huts.
Arranged in semi-circles, as they are traditionally – families living together, in separate huts within the circle – they are fully-equipped. They are unfenced, so don’t get a fright if you see a warthog or impala quietly passing through camp. Mlilwane offers, amongst other activities, hiking, horse riding and game drives.
There’s something magical about the smell of a grass hut and you’re sure to sleep well, enjoying the gentle night sounds of the bush.
Desert Camp, Namib Desert, Namibia
At Desert Camp, in the Namib Desert, you get to sleep in house-tent hybrids. Built to blend into the environment, these self-catering houses have adobe plaster walls and bedrooms under canvas.
The Namib Desert is a special place, with an even more special silence to it. The sky here is enormous (and the star-gazing breathtaking!), the air is clean, and the horizon stretches forever.
Situated at the entrance to one of Namibia's world-famous destinations, Sossusvlei and Sesriem, Desert Camp is a great base for exploring this fascinating and beautiful area.
Lighthouse, Pelican Point Lodge, Walvis Bay, Namibia
This is the closest you’ll get to being a Lighthouse Master. Built in the former harbour control building at the foot of the Pelican Point Lighthouse, the Pelican Point Lodge is plonked on a peninsula between the wild Atlantic Ocean and the Walvis Bay Lagoon.
Offering spectacular views over both, with abundant seals and birdlife, this remote destination is beautiful in its wildness. Spend your days watching ships pass by, seals frolic (and jackals hunt) and hundreds of birds flapping about, or walk along the desolate beach, discovering treasures the ocean has thrown ashore.
The suites are luxurious and fully-catered, with an ingenious design to ensure that you’re comfortable, regardless of what – sometimes wild! – weather the Atlantic Ocean brings in.
Bakalanga Huts, Planet Baobab, Botswana
The Magadikgadi Salt Pans in Botswana are the remains of an ancient inland ocean. Planet Baobab is on the edge of the Ntwetwe Pan, and offers accommodation in traditional Bakalanga mud huts or Bushman grass huts, allowing you to experience true Africa.
It’s a hospitable, communal place, with many travellers meeting up and swapping travel stories late into the night at the shebeen in the central area, complete with gorgeous beer bottle chandeliers!
While staying here, be sure to join the Kalahari Surf Club in which there are no surfboards, but quad bikes instead. Enjoy the thrill of the wide open spaces of the Makgadikgadi, be dazzled by the Dr Seuss-esque baobabs, and spend a night sleeping under the stars on a traditional bedroll.
Nesbitt Castle, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
So you thought you had to head to the cold northern climes of Scotland to stay in a mediaeval castle? Wrong. Nesbitt Castle, set in a beautiful leafy garden in Bulawayo's suburbs, comes complete with crenellations, towers and gargoyles, all in the middle of Zimbabwe.
Built in the early 1900’s by the eccentric Thomas Holdengarde, it fell into disrepair after the death of his wife in 1967, earning it an eerie reputation as it fell to ruin. In 1988, Digby Nesbitt restored it to its former (and current) glory, and decorated it lavishly with antiques and quirky additions. The quirky additions include a resident ghost, apparently, as every good castle should have.
With nine luxurious suites and many reception rooms filled with memorabilia, books and trinkets, you’ll feel like you should’ve packed your suit of armour!
Victoria Falls Backpackers, Zimbabwe
Set a little out of Victoria Falls, away from the hustle-and-bustle of the town, lies Victoria Falls Backpackers. It offers fairly run-of-the-mill backpacking accommodation options – double en-suite under thatch, dorms, and camping, all set in beautiful gardens, with a central swimming pool and fire pit for meeting other travellers.
We added them to our list, not only for their accommodation, but for the incredible, carved stone outdoor chessboard which has hippos as pawns, and a lion as king. The rest of the garden is pretty cool too, with lovely shade, hammocks and interesting outdoor art.
Jackalberry Treehouse, South Luangwa, Zambia
This whole camp is set up in the trees, eight feet off the ground. It’s built around three, living, Ebony trees, to be exact. With views across the dambo (wetland) and lagoon, you can spend your days on the deck watching while animals come to drink and splash about. Ever had a G&T with an elephant? At Jackalberry Treehouse (part of Flat Dogs Camp) in Zambia, you can.
It’s the height of luxury on safari and offers three main decks with an en-suite bedroom on each side. Both walking and driving safaris are offered, allowing you to marvel at the incredible wildlife and scenery of South Luangwa.
Note: The treehouse is only available in the dry season (5 April to 15 November), as it has no roof!
Mumbo Island, Malawi
If you looked up ‘paradise’ in the dictionary, you may well find Mumbo Island. It’s a tiny island on Lake Malawi (and part of Lake Malawi National Park), that has never been populated, so is still in its pristine, natural state.
Accommodating only fourteen guests in fully-furnished tents with shady decks and hammocks, you’re guaranteed privacy, serenity and pure island joy. To add to its accolades, the entire place is run off-grid – there’s no electricity, all building and furnishing was done locally, with locally-sourced materials, and all waste is recycled.
Here, you can swim, explore, kayak, scuba dive, snorkel or just lie in a hammock reading a book with a view that’ll take your breath away. This is Malawi at its best.
Star Bed, Nkwichi Lodge, Lake Malawi, Mozambique
There can be nothing more magic than sleeping under the African stars. At Nkwichi Lodge, on the Mozambique side of Lake Malawi, they have the ‘Lake of Stars Bed’.
This luxurious, wooden bed can be set up on the shores of the lake, on a private beach watched over by fantastical baobabs or a rocky island just off the shore. Wherever it is, this is the height of romance and the night skies will have you in awe. Now’s the time to wish on those shooting stars!
Party at Mozambeat Motel, Tofo, Mozambique
A little back from the warm, azure waters of Tofo Beach (but within easy walking distance) in Mozambique, is the rhythmic Mozambeat Motel. ‘Quirky’ doesn’t do this place justice – it’s a tropical paradise motel dedicated to music and fun.
The huge second-floor deck plays host to sundowners and turns into a dancefloor later, while the lively bar serves icy beers and bright cocktails. The freshest seafood and Mozambican specialities, like piri-piri chicken, are served daily at the restaurant.
With regular Tuesday Poker Nights, Wednesday Moonshine Cinema Nights and parties, braai nights and live bands, this is the place to go if you’re a music lover who likes to party!
Treehouses, Chole Mjini, Tanzania
Baobab trees are like something out of a Dr Seuss book. Something really large and incredibly beautiful. At Chole Mjini, you get to sleep in a treehouse built around a living baobab. There are seven treehouses, built in different places, around different trees, on this magic island just of Mafia Island, in the warm Indian Ocean off Tanzania.
Chole Mjini is owner/family-built and run, and is the epitome of ‘green tourism’, with everything locally-sourced and off-the-grid, and huge emphasis on empowering and including the local community.
Sleep in the trees, spend days scuba-diving, snorkelling, swimming with whale sharks, exploring the island (and its ruins) and visiting Popo Park, the world’s first park for fruit bat conservation – pure bliss.
Under Sea, Manta Resort, Zanzibar
Turn the aquarium idea on its head off Zanzibar. On the floating room, it’s like you’re being watched by the sea life that abounds. Swedish-designed, and moored 250 m off the tip of Pemba Island (and Manta Resort), this miracle of modern engineering sleeps two.
With a deck above on which to laze, suntan, eat meals and star gaze, and a glass-walled bedroom below the water line, it’s hard to get any closer (in sheer luxury) to sleeping in the sea.
Be prepared to watch, and be watched by, curious sea animals, and a particularly voyeuristic trumpet fish, affectionately called Nick.
Houseboat, Dreamer’s Island, Zanzibar
This place makes you want to talk ‘Pirate’, and keep a parrot on your shoulder. A 5-minute boat ride from Stone Town (opposite Africa House), Dreamer’s Island offers a basic room to stay. On the sea.
Dreamer’s Island is a houseboat bar and restaurant, away from the hustle-and-bustle of Stone Town and with views across to its twinkling lights at night, or – the other way – across the azure Indian Ocean to the horizon. It’s the perfect sundowner spot.
The room is offered through Airbnb and is above the restaurant/bar deck. Shiver me timbers, lovelies, this is an experience!
Giraffe Manor, Nairobi, Kenya
If your greatest desire in life is to eat breakfast with a giraffe, get yourself to Giraffe Manor in Kenya, immediately. Set in the leafy suburb of Langata in Nairobi, this old colonial building is set within 140 acres of indigenous forest.
And here’s where the fun comes in – that land is home to a large herd of Rothschild giraffe, who regularly come up to the manor, poking their heads in the windows in the mornings and evenings, hoping for a little treat!
Tower-Living, Hippo Point, Naivasha, Kenya
Dodo’s Folly, one of the houses offered (for limited times through the year) at Hippo Point, has to be seen to believed. It’s an 8-storey, 120-foot tall tower, luxuriously furnished, with views across Oloidien Bay.
Hippo Point is located in the Lake Naivasha National Park, between Lake Naivasha and Lake Oloidien. This means that it is in an area filled with beautiful birds (over 350 species) and incredible wildlife. It is here you can walk, swim, cycle or just relax and watch the birds, hippos and zebra (and the rest of the 1 200 animals who call this home) amble past from your tower!
The Ark, Aberdare, Kenya
North of Nairobi, in the lush Aberdare National Park, lies one of the quirkiest lodges Africa has to offer. Built to look like Noah’s Ark, The Ark is run like a ship, complete with ‘decks’ and reference to being ‘on board’!
The most incredible thing about The Ark, though, is that it is built right next to a very active waterhole, to which a wide range of wild animals flock, day and night. They have a great bell system that allows you to wake up and head to one of the viewing decks if big game arrives in the night – one ring for elephant, two for rhino, three for leopard!
Thatched Tents, Murchison River Lodge, Uganda
If you’re looking for a camping safari, without the hassle of putting up tents, Murchison River Lodge in Uganda is for you. Situated on the River Nile with beautiful views of the Murchison Falls National Park, the camp is comfortable and rustic. Accommodation is in permanent tents, covered by protective thatch with built-in bathrooms.
This is camping at its best – eco-friendly, no electricity and tents under thatch that are ready and made up for you. All you need is the desire to experience the wilds of Africa, a sun hat and some insect repellent.
Malakai Eco Lodge, Kampala, Uganda
With a range of rooms and cottages – each one different, and with plenty of quirkiness – Malakai Eco Lodge is a delight. Built from volcanic rocks, in the trees and with locally-sourced materials, the rooms and cottages are set in beautiful gardens with fish-filled ponds and prolific birdlife.
As an aside, it’s also conveniently situated on the Entebbe Road, between Kampala and Entebbe.