NEED TO KNOW
LOCATION iSimangaliso is between St. Lucia village and the Mozambique border, 171 miles (275 km) north of Durban, South Africa
BEACH FRONTAGE 155 miles (250 km)
KEY WILDLIFE White rhinos, green turtles, blue monkeys, humpback whales ACTIVITIES Snorkeling, scuba diving, whale- and dolphin-spotting
iSimangaliso is the largest and most ecologically varied coastal sanctuary in Africa, protecting a vast subtropical wetland system that stretches from the wildly beautiful St. Lucia Estuary in the south to the pristine Kosi Bay in the north.
A succession of spectacular and largely undeveloped beaches fringe the park’s eastern edge, including the popular swimming spots around St. Lucia village and the semi-deserted Cape Vidal, Sodwana Bay, and Rocktail Bay – wide arcs of peach-colored sand hemmed in by the world’s tallest forested dunes.
It would be easy to spend two weeks in iSimangaliso, beach-hopping from south to north with a stash of paperbacks, a collapsible umbrella, and a large towel. But this would be missing the point of a trip here. The beaches, beautiful though they are, are only part of the appeal of this extraordinary wilderness, the rich biodiversity of which left Nelson Mandela spellbound when he came here in 2001 (a fate from which few visitors to the park can escape).
iSimangaliso became South Africa’s first ever UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. It is a living Eden where rhinos, elephants, leopards, sharks, and whales thrive in a remarkable mosaic of natural habitats, from beach and coral reef to swamp, forest, and savanna. More than 500 bird species exist here, as well as high densities of hippo and crocodile, especially around the mangrove-lined St.
Lucia Estuary, which is easily explored by boat. The open waters offshore are legendary among game fishers, while the coral reefs around Sodwana – the most southerly reefs in the world – are lauded by snorkelers and divers. The beaches in the north of the park are a vital breeding ground for marine turtles, and on a clear day, hikers might well be treated to the distant sight of breaching whales from the tops of the sand dunes.
Getting There The nearest international airport is in Durban. From here, St. Lucia village is accessible on public transportation (buses, coaches, and mini-bus taxis), and operators within the village offer a good range of day trips. Otherwise, the best option is to rent a car in Durban.
When to Go The dry southern winter (May–Sep) is more comfortable than the sweaty summer. Whale-watching is best from June to October, and bird-watching from November to March.