The choice of accommodations can make or break a holiday, so we take special pride in providing you with the best recommendations. The selection in this guide covers a wide variety of budgets, but all share the common ability to delight -- be it because of a fabulous location, special decor, great service, or excellent views (and, of course, some cover all those criteria). For the sake of variety, I'm not keen on booking an entire holiday through one hotel chain, but sometimes you can negotiate a better deal this way. Three Cities (www.threecities.co.za) is probably my favorite hotel group, though it doesn't include my favorite hotels. They offer a wide variety of properties in South Africa's best locations. If you want a luxury safari with a possible beach stop, you will certainly want to contact Wilderness Safaris and &Beyond, both in Kruger, Botswana, and Kwazulu Natal (www.wilderness-safaris.com and www.andbeyond.com). Wilderness Safaris has the best (and most) locations in Botswana; &Beyond has the edge in terms of design and such luxuries as personal butlers.
The following sites featuring property collections are highly recommended: Specializing in owner-managed establishments with real character, often in unusual locations, is the Greenwood Guide to South Africa (www.greenwoodguides.com). If you intend to spend a lengthy amount of time in South Africa and cover a lot of ground, and if you like self-catering options off the beaten track or intimate places where you can interact with the owners, the Greenwood team's unerring eye for unusual and personal lodgings will stand you in good stead. Portfolio (www.portfoliocollection.com) brings out an attractive range of free booklets profiling the full spectrum of options across the country; all the properties are online as well. The B&B Collection offers fair to excellent budget options, some in quite luxurious surroundings. If anything, you have almost too many choices -- not all of them to our standard -- but if you stick to the Luxury and Great Comfort options (indicated by colored shields), you're likely to be delighted with the good value. In the Retreats Collection, the focus is upmarket guesthouses where you usually can't go wrong (though a few duds creep in every year); top of the range is the Country Places Collection, which includes some of the best game lodges in the country. Each review comes with at least one photograph -- with more on their website. If a safari is the primary reason you're heading south, you'd be well advised to take a look at the excellent selection in Classic Safari Camps of Africa (www.classicsafaricamps.com).
Note: South Africa has a great selection of self-catering options -- good for families or for those wishing to prolong their stay -- and, thanks to restaurant delivery services in most urban centers, you won't even have to cook. A number of companies offer what is referred to as the Villa Stay, most of them in Cape Town. Icon Villas (www.icape.co.za) offers a particularly good service, with a wide range of properties, from flats in the center of Cape Town to private villas on game lodges; but it is the hands-on management by proprietor Therese Botha, with her attention to detail, from quality of linen to great location, that gives them an edge. Icon also offers a full concierge service. For rural options, try to track down the excellent Budget Getaways, or go to www.farmstay.co.za for more off-the-beaten-track options. Last but not least, those looking at the most cost-effective way to travel should visit www.homeexchange.com. There are some superb South African homes listed here -- many of them in the most sought-after areas in Cape Town, with views, pools, and ultraluxurious furnishings and fittings.