For a mind-body-spirit recharge: Bali, Indonesia
It’s called the ‘island of the gods’ and some say it vibrates at a higher frequency or possesses a magical charge. It’s that same energetic spark that fuelled the quest for soul nourishment in the Julia Roberts movie Eat Pray Love. In the film, Roberts’s character spends her time in the town of Ubud, the island’s cultural heart. Aside from an irresistible vibe and gorgeous green surrounds, Ubud is packed with yoga studios, mystical Balinese healers, and therapists ready to align your chakras, perform colonic irrigations, or magically rid the soul of bad energy. Plus, there are boutiques selling covetable clothing, and restaurants ready to indulge the fussiest tastes. Based in Ubud, you can visit photogenic rice terraces, take soul-cleansing dips in the sacred waters of one of Bali’s 10 000 temples, and do the mandatory predawn hike to witness sunrise from atop a volcano. And when you return from an arduous day of sightseeing, there’ll be literally thousands of hands ready to pamper you with an energising massage. Beyond Ubud, it’s possible to indulge in the cocktail-fuelled mayhem of sybaritic Seminyak, unravel in the hedonistic party pits that line Kuta, or seek out the serenity of a low-key surf spot on the other side of the island, hidden from the world like a castaway.
Go & stay
Perennially busy, Bali is best visited in April, May, June or September; avoid the crush of July and August, when it’s warmest and driest. With a stop in its home base, Singapore Airlines will deliver you from Joburg to Denpasar in less than 14 hours. Bag a room at Alila Ubud, a hillside retreat designed like a gorgeous Balinese village – it’s five kilometres from Ubud.
For adventure-seekers: Palawan, Philippines
Of the Philippine archipelago’s 7 000-plus islands, Palawan’s the one most often touted as some kind of earthly Eden. It has all those elements you’ve seen in the brochures: turquoise-tinted water, beautiful bays fringed by palm trees and dense jungle, and an infinitude of multicoloured tropical fish cavorting through gorgeous coral reefs. On the main island, there are many places to find an adventure, including the Puerto Princesa Underground River, on which you can take a boat tour to check out some astonishing rock-and cave formations. At Port Barton, you can snorkel with turtles, and at El Nido you can kayak through lagoons surrounded by looming limestone rocks and cliffs. In the city of Puerto Princesa, there are firefly-watching tours that happen from boats on the Iwahig River, lined by mangrove trees and illuminated by plankton in the water. In the southeast, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park shelters half the species of coral on the planet, plus hundreds of fish species, sharks, dolphins and whales – the diving off live-aboard boats is mind blowing. And then there’s the endless island-hopping between multitudes of smaller islets off the Palawan ‘mainland’ – what’s best is to grab a spot on a traditional paraw sailing boat so you can feast on seafood and take in the dramatic scenery as you navigate between bays.
Go & stay
Palawan is best visited from April through June. Cathay Pacific will fly you from Joburg to Manila in under 17 hours; various airlines and ferries can connect you to Palawan. Although you may want to hole up in a beach shack or spend your days on a live-aboard boat, if you crave a hip, comfortable hotel sporting fresh design and loads of amenities, Puerto Princesa’s Hue is ideal. thehuehotel.com
For honeymooners: Seychelles
In 1958, decades before Prince William and Kate Middleton chose to honeymoon here, author Ian Fleming visited Seychelles seeking inspiration for his next James Bond novel, For Your Eyes Only. However, it wasn’t until the Miss World beauty pageant – held here in 1997 and 1998 – that the world fell in love with this tiny nation of 115 islands. As TV cameras framed beauty queens against backdrops of creamy beaches and idyllic blue coves bordered by granite boulders and pastel-hued sunsets, word spread like wildfire: Paradise exists, and it’s somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Centuries before beauties and honeymooners began gathering on its shores, though, the islands were popular hideouts for pirates. It’s even believed that there’s treasure still buried here – supposedly on Moyenne Island. Today, though, the treasures that travellers come for are rest and relaxation. The tropical tempo and lushness of the hills magically calm the nerves and instantly ease visitors into a languid reverie – perfect for honeymooners looking to breathe, relax and celebrate with the one they love. When you’re not lounging on the beach, you can dive or snorkel through coral gardens and shipwrecks or alongside humongous whale sharks. On shore, you can explore nature reserves where rare creatures (including the world’s largest wild tortoise) can be found along with the world’s largest seed, the coco de mer or sea coconut.
Go & stay
It’s never unpleasant in the Seychelles, but the weather’s best in April/May and October/November. It’s a five-hour direct flight from Joburg to Victoria on Mahé island on Air Seychelles. The highlights here are the luxury beachfront resorts. At MAIA Luxury Resort & Spa, stay in a villa set in a 12 ha forest garden on Mahé Island, with a butler and VIP pampering. Option B is Paradise Sun, a charming hotel on Praslin Island with Creole-style bungalows.
For history and culture: Santorini, Greece
Adrift in the Aegean Sea, roughly midway between Athens and Crete, Santorini is home to a mere 15 500 people. Each year, they’re supplemented by two million visitors who come to gawk at the world’s only inhabited volcanic caldera. The drama of its ridiculous natural beauty is enhanced by the bone-white houses forming villages that scale the hills and cling precariously to the cliffs. Its good looks are a beguiling counterpoint to the inherent danger of the place: In 1956 a terrifying earthquake sent two-thirds of the population into exile. While the sea-facing, cliff-hugging villages will charm your pants off, the island’s interior is where you’ll find vestiges of old Santorini – between vineyards and traditional villages sporting blue-domed chapels, its mineral-rich farmland still produces cherry tomatoes, brinjals, and broad beans. Visit quieter hamlets such as Megalochori, Pyrgos and Emporio, and – on the summit of Mesa Vouno – the ruins of the ancient Minoan city of Akrotiri, buried by a far more devastating eruption; its story is told at the Museum of Prehistoric Thera in Fira. The other way to connect with that history is to stay in a cave hotel fashioned from Yposkafo – vaulted houses made from ash and solidified lava.
Go & stay
In July and August, prices and tourist numbers soar. April through early June and late September to October are quieter, while winter offers the double bonus of discounts and minimal crowds. You can fly there with Turkish Airlines and Aegean Airlines, changing planes in Istanbul and Athens, but there’s no harm in catching a ferry or catamaran from Athens to the island. In Fira, Hotel Atlantis is smart and surprisingly affordable – even in high season. It has 25 rooms, sea and caldera views, and a pool. atlantishotel.gr
For a far-flung getaway: St Helena, Atlantic Ocean
Essentially a volcano tip sticking out of the deep Atlantic, St Helena is known as Napoleon Bonaparte’s final port of exile. He died there in 1821, and ever since then, most visitors have been nature enthusiasts and seekers of off-the-grid travel experiences. Part of the allure has always been its remoteness and relative inaccessibility – until recently you could only get there by ship. While the island’s edges are a bit like a semi desert, its interior consists of lush green hills and valleys. Aside from hiking and looking for some of the island’s usual creatures (such as the wirebird, an endemic spindly-legged plover), one of the island’s biggest thrills happens in the water. Playful pantropical dolphins are spotted in massive pods, and there are whales, sea turtles, and seasonal congregations of whale sharks, making this an underrated snorkelling and diving gem. On land, reminders of Napoleon’s banishment still stand, including Longwood House, where he lived out his final days. There is also a number of coffee plantations, a distillery, and the oldest Anglican church in the southern hemisphere.
Go & stay
Although best visited in the summer, from November through March, the island is subject to highly changeable mid-Atlantic weather. Airlink flies from Joburg to St Helena every Saturday. For a classy stay on an historic property, try The Consulate Hotel in Jamestown, the island’s main settlement.
For families: Zanzibar, Tanzania
Waves of traders – Swahili, Portuguese, Omani, Chinese – have left their mark on this alluring tropical island off the Tanzanian coast, and for centuries it was a hub of East Africa’s awful and bloody slave trade. Despite its dark history, however, the spice island has evolved into a paradisal beach destination. Aside from its draw as an island fantasy, it scores extra points for easy access from anywhere on the island to Stone Town, the island’s historic centre. It means you can mix downtime in and around the water with full-scale cultural immersion: Go snorkelling in the morning and in the afternoon the family can explore a labyrinth of winding alleys, mosques and carved Zanzibari doorways. You’ll discover markets, museums, Arabian palaces and medieval mansions, as well as a little-known bar-cum-restaurant dedicated to the most famous person ever born on the island: Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara, in 1946)!
Go & stay
It’s hot and dry from October through to February, but cool from June to October. Zanzibar is less than four hours away on a Mango flight, but do compare prices with Kenya Airways – although it’ll take longer, flights are much more frequent. In the north, The Zanzibari is a lovely, laid-back boutique-style hotel with just eight rooms, a pair of villas and a suite. It’s set above a beach on a squat coral cliff, close to the sea – and is just lovely.