As we short-listed the greatest beach-break holiday destinations for South Africans, we quite literally walked in the sand, plunged into the swimming pools and sampled the cocktail menus for you. Here’s what we found, and how you can have the best December holiday ever.
Bonus: the following destinations are either visa-free for South African passport holders or have an easy visa-on-arrival process.
South Africans’ favourite Indian Ocean island, Mauritius needs little introduction. Visa-free and a short, four-hour flight from Johannesburg (direct flights from Cape Town and Durban also available) Mauritius is our answer to Hawaii in the US. The island is a perfect all-rounder destination, with an appeal for families, honeymooners and groups. Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation.
“Mauritius is one of the best places to travel to with your friends,” says Ashleigh Eales, a South African teacher who recently enjoyed a girls’ getaway to the island. “If it is relaxing by the pool or going on an exciting voyage on a catamaran to one of the tiny islands, Mauritius is the place to go.
“If possible, make sure you go for an all-inclusive package that includes cocktails and return airport transfers,” she adds.
Hotel pick: At the LUX* Grand Gaube Mauritius resort, the outside world seems far away. The hotel is the perfect balance between designer sophistication and laid-back island lifestyle.
In just under four hours after leaving Johannesburg, you could be walking the spice-scented streets of UNESCO-listed Stone Town, or lounging poolside. Zanzibar’s rich history, fascinating architecture (be prepared to snap hundreds of photos of doors), dhow cruises and spice farms are worth a visit – if you can prise yourself out of your pool lounger.
Hotel pick: The five-star Dream of Zanzibar resort is Flight Centre General Manager Marketing and Product, Sue Garrett’s personal favourite.
“In addition to its exquisite location on Kiwengwa beach, I love the fact that this resort offers an-inclusive experience,” she says.
The resort has a staggering nine restaurants and bars, and a private beach fringed with palm trees. It is a foodie and beach-lover’s dream.
Explore the island on the back of a quad bike, racing through plantations and local villages.
The 115 islands of Seychelles are a paradise for nature lovers. Iconic granite boulders, kilometres of quiet beaches and forests that home the islands’ giant Aldabra tortoise, Seychelles is one of the few unspoilt natural havens left on Earth.
For honeymooners or couples embarking on a babymoon, Seychelles offers the ultimate luxury experience.
Hotel pick: Stay at Kempinski Seychelles Resort Baie Lazare, another great choice for families, with its kid’s club and shaded pool area, Olympic-length swimming pool and children’s yoga.
Tucked away in a quiet cove in the south of main island Mahe, all rooms have balconies or terraces that make the most of the scenery. Enjoy a gentle hike (it’s just 20 minutes) up Mount Kempinski overlooking the resort, and cool off with a kayak or snorkel trip to spot turtles, reef shark and eagle rays.
Are you dreaming of seaplanes and overwater villas? The Maldives is a value-for-money destination for South Africans travelling on the rocky rand.
Hotel pick: Centara Ras Fushi Resort and Spa is situated in the North Malé Atoll. The adults-only resort is ideal for a romantic escape. Although it will be difficult to pull yourself away from the spa or Viu bar overlooking the ocean, some of the region’s top dive sites are within close reach.
Experience your own Eat, Pray, Love moment in Bali. It’s considered one of the best beach escapes for spiritual seekers, surfers and culture and beach lovers.
“Bali has amazing all-inclusive resorts, some of which are adults-only and include spa treatments, sunset cruises, yoga sessions and a chance to relax with lots of good food,” says Rebecca Lo, a teacher who visited the destination with her boyfriend in February.
Hotel pick: Grand Mirage Resort and Thalasso Spa is recommended for active families, while Hotel Nikko Bali Benoa Beach is a quiet retreat perfect for romantic breaks and honeymoons and offers all-inclusive packages.
Phuket attracts thousands of South African holidaymakers with its Instagrammable beaches, delicious food, well-established tourist infrastructure and choice of accommodation for every type of traveller.
Leigh van den Berg, a Capetonian blogger (lipglossismylife.com) has travelled extensively in South East Asia in recent months. She says Thailand is the best destination for female travellers.
“I have always felt incredibly safe and, because Thailand’s tourism industry is very well established, most people speak English, and you have easy access to any product or service you could want,” she says.
Hotel pick: Beyond Resort Kata is a quiet tropical retreat, with direct beach access and a swim-up bar and daily happy-hour specials, and is best suited for couples.
South of India, the island of Sri Lanka has sun-splashed beaches, lush rainforests, epic train rides and tea plantations hidden in the mist-shrouded highlands.
“Sri Lanka is beautiful in the mountains,” says Joy Niemack, who travelled there in September and hiked and visited the island’s tea plantations.
Hotel pick: Offering good value for money, the beachfront Heritance Negombo hotel’s highlight is undoubtedly its rooftop spa and incredible ocean views. Take a half-day Enviro cycle tour through Negombo to learn about the area’s history and culture.
There is a hand-picked, Flight Centre expert-approved beach escape that’s just perfect for you. Now is the time to book your December escape. The beach is calling you!