When you hear the name ‘St. Lucia’, what do you picture? We bet it’s the Caribbean island, with beautiful warm waters, lush green forests and towering volcanic mountains. Would you believe us if we told you there was another St. Lucia in the world? With beautiful warm waters, lush green forests, but no volcanic mountains (we don’t consider that a bad thing). To top it off, it’s surrounded by a World Heritage Site brimming with Africa’s iconic wildlife. Welcome to one of the best places to visit in South Africa, the tiny tourist town of St Lucia, in Kwazulu-Natal.
Having run volunteer programs in St. Lucia for the past ten years, we’re definitely in the minority of the world’s population who have heard about this breath-taking destination. So, let us give you the run down on why you should be ditching the Caribbean for this tropical, Zululand town.
Here are our top eight reasons why St. Lucia is one of the best places to visit in South Africa:
You’ll get an instant taste of the vibrant Zulu culture as you land at King Shaka International Airport, before undertaking the 2.5-hour drive to St. Lucia. Shaka was King of the Zulus in the nineteenth century and settled his people in a large area on the east coast of South Africa. Famed as warrior, Shaka eventually created the most powerful kingdom in the whole of South Africa. Following King Shaka’s demise, the Zulu Kingdom was seized by Dutch and English colonialists, with a small portion left to the Zulus – now known as Zululand. As a visitor to this beautiful region of South Africa, you’ll get plenty of opportunities to learn more about Zulu culture; the spiritual beliefs, the vibrant, beaded clothing traditionally worn, as well as their unique language which incorporates three types of clicking sounds.
St. Lucia certainly has its quirks; like hippos roaming the streets in the evening. Where else in the world can claim this?! While it sounds dangerous, residents and African Impact volunteers alike quickly become accustomed to it and it certainly makes for a cool photo opportunity. The town itself is actually home to the largest hippo and crocodile population in the whole of South Africa, so make the most of it by enjoying a boat cruise along the estuary. On land, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to wildlife encounters, making it one of the best places to visit in South Africa. Staying directly next door to the World Heritage Site, iSimangaliso, you’ll be able to spot rhino, elephant and leopard on safari-drives, or even visit one of the most famous national parks on the continent, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. St. Lucia is a hub for safari operators, offering incredible day and night game drives that are incredibly good value for money.
There are very few areas on the African continent where you can spot free-roaming Big 5 animals (lions, leopards, rhinos, buffalos and elephants) so close to the beach. Well, in St. Lucia you can. The wild, rugged coastline that travels from St. Lucia all the way up to the south of Mozambique is a tropical paradise, perfect for snorkeling, scuba-diving or water-sports. Unlike the waters around Cape Town, St. Lucia sits on the Indian Ocean and benefits from warm currents, bringing with it spectacular marine life. As a volunteer or visitor in St. Lucia, we’d recommend packing a picnic and heading north along the coast to Cape Vidal for an unforgettable afternoon on the beach.
We mentioned King Shaka International Airport already, but what we forgot to tell you was that it was built to welcome famous footballers and tourists during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. This surge of passengers resulted in a number of direct flight paths established, meaning you might dodge those pesky airport layovers when flying from your home country. What’s better than that? Well, it’s also very easy to jet off all over South Africa when Zululand is your base – making it one of the best places to visit in South Africa. If you decide to join us and become a volunteer in St. Lucia, you are only one direct flight away from cities including Cape Town and Johannesburg after your placement ends.
Zululand is notorious for being a close-knit community, and therefore, a safe place to visit in South Africa. A word in Zulu (appropriately as you’ll be travelling to the Kingdom of the Zulus) is “ubuntu”, which means “I am, because you are”, or that a person is a person through other people. Confusing? A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, so you will be warmly welcomed with open arms by the community. Added to the warmth of the locals is the winning fact that St. Lucia and the Zululand region is a low-risk malaria zone. This means the likelihood of contracting malaria during your stay is close to zero. It, in fact, has been 10 years since a case of malaria was reported and it has been smooth sailing since.
Zululand’s reputation as a safe destination means it is open to visitors of all ages. Aside from the endless activities and excursions to enjoy in the area (think safari’s, kayaking, snorkelling, boat cruises and more), volunteering is also an option for both the young and old. While it’s often considered an activity for youngsters, a well-seasoned traveler or couple can also have a wonderful time – even bringing along their own kids. For first timers abroad, as well as those under the age of eighteen, St. Lucia is the perfect way to dip your toe into the travel pool as the town is easy to navigate and tour operators are on-hand to book any activity you’re keen to get involved in.
They say money can’t buy happiness; but saving money can. South Africa is a great value for money destination as the local currency (South African Rand) fares well against international currencies. This means, fortunately for you, that the price of living and general cost of food, drinks and excursions is much less than what you’d expect in other destinations across the world. Take the price of a beer; roughly $2 or £1.50 – sometimes even less, depending on where you go. As a visitor to St. Lucia, you’ll be able to book world-class safaris and top-notch accommodation for a fraction of the price of what you would spend in other iconic destinations, including Tanzania and Kenya. We bet a flight to South Africa is half the price of what you’d pay to reach the Caribbean, too.
A visit to South Africa is incomplete without immersing yourself in the life of a local. That’s where volunteering comes in. While it’s easy to sit back and enjoy the comfort of a stunning hotel or the luxury treatment provided by game lodges in the area, volunteering in St. Lucia will allow you real insight into the Zulu culture, as well as the opportunity to do some good. African Impact have been working in St. Lucia for over ten years and offer two vastly different projects for you to get involved in; our Rural Medical Program and our Vulnerable Childcare Project. Through our long-standing relationships with community members in the surrounding Zulu villages, we’re able to provide sustainable support to those in need and welcome you to join us (even if it’s only for a day!).
Convinced that St. Lucia is one of the best places to visit in South Africa yet? Get in touch with us if you’d like to learn more about volunteering in St. Lucia – even if just for one day!