Things to do in St. Lucia + Hotel Tips and Hotspots
St. Lucia was a pleasant surprise during our road trip through South Africa. St. Lucia is a tiny village on the east coast of the province Kwazulu Natal. This was actually one of the first villages that we visited in a very long time. Before that we were mostly on safari in game parks. To walk around freely and to have a choice when it came to restaurants was very relaxing. Despite St. Lucia being tiny, there is a lot of activity going on! It is a perfect base to stay for a few days and to see and do all kinds of activities. I would like to give you my tips and practical information about things to see and do in St Lucia.
How to get there?
By car or by bus! Having a private rental car is very nice. I always rent through Rentalcars.com and I’m very satisfied with them. We drove from Swaziland (Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary) to St. Lucia. It took us 4 hours and 15 minutes! This included the speeding ticket we got from the police :-), so watch your speed! From Durban it is about a 3 hours’ drive. If you are traveling by Baz Bus, you have to travel to Durban first, spend the night there and the next morning at 6.30 take a shuttle to St. Lucia. We stayed 3 nights in St. Lucia at Umlilo Lodge!
Things to see and do in St. Lucia?
Three nights is absolutely too short. If you can find the time, stay here for 5 nights!
1. Spotting hippos from the boat during the Hippo Tour
St. Lucia is the place in South Africa to spot hippos. There are about 800 of them in the estuary of St. Lucia. Here the freshwater is mixed with the saltwater of the sea. You can spot the big ones here, just chilling all day! The Hippo & Croc Tour (crocodiles are also present) can be booked easily and everywhere in St. Lucia. We booked our tour at Heritage tours & safaris. You can find their office in the main street of St. Lucia: Mckenzie Street. The boat departs five times a day and costs R240 ($ 17 per person). Our boat left at 4.30 in the afternoon and the tour lasted 2 hours. The boat leaves from Siyabonga Jetty Pier. The pier is a 10 minutes’ walk from the Heritage Tours office or just two minutes away by car. There are free parking spaces.
Pay attention to the summer and winter times! In the winter (June to August) the last boat will leave around 3 pm! View the departure times here.
2. Spotting the Big 5 in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park is a stunning Game Reserve. Hluhluwe and Umfolozi used to be two separate parks. Now that they have been merged, the park has the largest population of black and white rhinos in the world! Besides the BiG 5 (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, buffalo, and elephant), there are plenty of other gorgeous animals in this park. Hluhluwe Park is a 50-minute drive from St. Lucia. You can also drive through it with your own car (entrance for the park R210 / $ 16 p.p.). We chose a day tour with Heritage Tours & Safaris (R1000 / $ 73) including entrance, breakfast, lunch and an experienced ranger). The chance to spot wildlife with an experienced ranger is more likely due to his expertise of the park. Our tour started at 5 in the morning and ended at 3.30 in the afternoon.
3. Self Drive through the iSimangaliso Wetland Park
Isimangaliso Park is a 5-minute drive from St. Lucia. This nature reserve was the first South African area to be added to the Unesco World Heritage List. It’s a huge, elongated park of 332.000 hectares and consists of several areas. These areas can be accessed through different access gates. From St. Lucia you will drive through the Bhangazi Gate. You will have to pay an entrance fee here: a total of R164 ($ 12) for two people and one car). From the Bhangazi Gate, you can drive up to Cape Vidal and back again. It is actually one long road and the viewpoints are clearly indicated along the way. There is no restaurant in the park, so bring a nice picnic!
We spent almost the entire day driving around in iSimangaliso Park. There are several stops where you can get off, these are of course at your own risk. The BIG 4 should be present in the park, everything except the lion. We didn’t spot a lot of wildlife, some rhinos (or how do you call them without a horn?), waterbuck, buffaloes, zebras, kudu, and birds. The horns of the rhinos are sawn off as a precaution. The horn is like a nail, so it will grow back again! Yet it is really sad and gruesome that this needs to be done, but it is better than the alternative: the extinction of these magnificent animals. Every 33 hours a rhino is poached in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. The horn is worth loads of money. It’s also possible to book a game drive at Heritage Tours through the iSimangaliso Park, but we enjoyed driving through it ourselves. The roads are very passable!
4. Afternoon on the beach in Cape Vidal
Cape Vidal is the most mesmeric beach near St. Lucia. It’s located in iSimangaliso Park. If you want to drive directly to Cape Vidal from St. Lucia, it takes about 35 minutes. Beware of the strong current. It’s possible to go snorkeling at Cape Vidal! Tours are offered on-site. Unfortunately, the weather did not allow us to go swim and sunbathe, so we decided to have a nice picnic on the beach!
5. Whale Watching
During the season this is a tour you shouldn’t miss! From June to November, the humpback whale swims in the waters around St. Lucia. These giants can grow up to 17 yards! You can spot them during a tour with a professional skipper. The tour will take a total of 3 hours of which 2 will be spent at sea. If the weather is good, the tour starts at 7 a.m. and at 9 a.m. Costs are R1050 ( $ 76 ). We were in South Africa in January so unfortunately, we were unable to do this tour.
6. Turtle Tour with Night Drive
January is the turtle season. Turtles make their nests and lay their eggs in this month. For this tour you have to get up in the middle of the night, so we decided to skip this one. During the tour you look for the turtles on the beach. The tour is combined with a night drive (night safari).
Where to stay in St. Lucia: our hotel tips
We stayed 3 nights in St. Lucia, but this could have easily been 4 or 5!
We chose: Umlilo Lodge ****
If you like beautiful and special accommodations, then Umlilo Lodge is the place to be in St. Lucia. You will find your dazzling room following wooden paths through the tropical garden, with beautiful flowers, plants and ponds. The rooms are gorgeous, spacious and equipped with air conditioning, mosquito nets, comfortable beds, an ice cream cabinet, TV and a large clean bathroom. We have not slept better anywhere else in South Africa than at Umlilo Lodge!
The family that runs Umlilo Lodge is very hospitable and gives you a lot of information about the things you can do in and around St. Lucia. The location is also perfect and quiet, a two-minute walk from the main street. After the tours and activities in St. Lucia, you can relax in the swimming pool at Umlilo Lodge. Book through Booking.com.
Hotspots in St. Lucia
St. Lucia is (almost) near the sea and that means seafood! We went to eat twice at Ocean Basket!
Ocean Basket is a restaurant chain with several restaurants in South Africa. We enjoyed a delicious fresh sushi here and an exquisite fish dish to share. Yummy! Check out their menu here.
St. Lucia Ski Boat Club
Upon recommendation of Umlilo Lodge we have taken a look here. This restaurant is in a super nice location and the food is absolutely delicious! Be sure to take your binoculars with you because a lot of stuff is swimming in the water! We spotted crocodiles and pelicans!
Read more about South Africa!
Read more about sights and things to do in Cape Town
Our check out our complete road trip itinerary South Africa
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