Budget South African Wedding:
Where to stay and what to do.
I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again, South Africa really is the perfect destination for a fairytale wedding, and for an unforgettable holiday with your guests. If you stay where we did, Marloth Park - situated in the Mpumalanga province, you’ll not only find yourself surrounded by nature 24/7 but, you’ll actually have wild animals eating from your palm or joining you at the breakfast table, literally. Which in the case of warthogs, can be quite embarrassing when the bacon comes out.
From Marloth, you’ll find yourself taking tours, or self-driving into the world famous Kruger National Park (Daily entry fee £16 around $20), to see amazing elephants, lions, hyena, monkeys, myriad of birds and any other creatures you may be lucky enough to stumble upon. Urgh, I mean drive upon. Please don’t drive upon them. And don't get out of the car, either, EVER.
You’ll find yourself standing around a Braai (South African for BBQ), with an ice cold bottle of Black Label or a glass or famous South African wine, while zebras peek over the coals to see what’s on offer.
You’ll find yourself sharing ghost stories under the night sky; the crackling of the fire as an underscore. The distant roar of lions and the whoops of hyena send shivers down your spine - there’s nothing like experiencing firsthand what you’ve only before seen in documentaries. Meanwhile, behind you, the cutest little bushbabies come down from the trees to feed on the yogurt you left out for them earlier that day.
If all of this sounds a little too far-fetched, like a scene from Lion King…Well, my friend, I can tell you…it's all true! All of this, is a reality in Marloth Park. And it was our destination of choice, not only for the wedding but for the duration of everyone’s stay. I think you can see why - this place is quite literally magical, and it has a charm that’s hard to beat.
It must all come at quite a cost you say? No siree. Marloth is fairly inexpensive, and depending on how you decide to work out the accommodation between everyone, it can be very, very inexpensive.
We hired two large houses that claimed to sleep 10 people each. I say ‘claimed’, because they really slept 8, comfortably. They had the capability of sleeping 10 people, but two would have to sleep out on the landing, out in the open, with no privacy. Almost like a punishment for being naughty. I do wish the owners of the houses were a little more specific about this, because it did end up being a bit of a nightmare and there was a lot of room-manoeuvring and politicking to make sure everyone was satisfied. Besides this, the one house was incredible, the other not so much. We found both houses through Safari now. We did a search for the dates and area we wanted, and then we’d sneakily look up the house name in a Google search to find out if the house owners had their own websites. That way we could speak to them directly and not just book blindly through an agency. Sorry Safari Now…but you do add quite a premium to the prices. It’s also a better way of knocking the price down, if needed, and most people are willing. Especially if it’s not high season. Both houses were self catering, in fact all are on Marloth Park unless you’re staying in a lodge. Self catering is of course the cheaper route to take, if you have a load of you. We kept a weekly kitty that everyone threw money into for the week’s food and drink, and a couple of people were in charge of buying the groceries for everyone. There are restaurants in Marloth, but they are a little limited and samey.
Les Trois Marulas was our favourite of the two accommodations, and it only cost us £1,500 (around $1,800) to hire it for the full 3 weeks. It’s a massive wooden lodge owned by a French couple. It has 4 en-suite rooms - 3 with a shower and 1 with a bath. So it sleeps 8 people very comfortably. If you have teenage boys or a naughty drunk aunt who doesn’t mind sleeping out in the open on the landing, then it can be made into the 10 sleeper they advertise it as. The location is perfect - not far from the Kruger National Park fence, so you can walk over and peak into the raging wilderness whenever your heart desires - possibly seeing elephants or hippos. Especially at sunset with a glass of chilled wine…arghghg, take me back! It’s not too close to other houses, and it seems to be the perfect place for animals to pass through. That house got some serious animal action. It was constantly surrounded by skittish warthog, timid bushbuck, majestic kudu, little squabbling mongoose (mongeese?) and zebras clonking their hooves on the patio as they aggressively demand more feed (which you can buy cheaply from the local shop). Not to mention the nocturnal appearances of the gorgeous little bush babies that seem to live in the rafters of most of the houses (get some natural yogurt to entice them down!). Below you'll find two 360º videos of the houses, so you can see the sort of surroundings you can find the houses in. If using a phone, simply tilt it up and down, side to side to view all around you, if on a laptop, click and drag the video with your mouse.
The second house we hired I would not recommend, unfortunately. It’s a beautiful house but almost impossible to sleep in if you’re unlucky enough to end up in one of the downstairs bedrooms. See, the floors are wooden and so rickety that even a gentle wriggle upstairs sounds like an earthquake to those below. Dread to think what a courting couple might sound like (luckily we had two smelly boys above us).
This house is called Pemba Lodge, I’m naming it so that you don’t end up making the same mistake we did. However, there are many big homes like this in Marloth Park, and we’d certainly recommend getting one in the area of Les Trois Marulas.
We didn’t spend all our time in Marloth Park, as we wanted to show our guests another part of the Mpumalanga Province - it’s just too beautiful not to. We decided to spend 3 nights in a little town called Hoedspruit, which is where my husband and I met on a Safari guiding course (he was making a web series for the company, see it here: Bushwise Diaries).
To get there, we took a day out to drive along the Panorama Route, which is definitely one of the most scenic drives in all of South Africa. There are plenty of viewpoints to stop off at and none of them will disappoint. Our favourite is ‘The Three Rondavels’. You can also stop to buy all sorts of African arts and crafts along this route, which I highly recommend doing over buying it from the Kruger Park or in feverish desperation at the airport. Exactly the same stuff (some of it tatty old trash, some of it genuinely lovely) will be for sale at the airport…so if you can bear to carry it around thereafter, buy it at the stalls and not the airport or Kruger. The stallholders can be a little pestering, and try to tug on the heartstrings (as well as the purse-strings, but you can always get a good deal). We’d also recommend stopping off in a little town called Graskop to have lunch at the apparently world famous Harries Pancakes - they do the most delicious sweet and savoury pancakes. Go on, you deserve a treat after all that driving. They also sell local coffee, which is a novelty, but like a hot puddle. Next door is a luxury chocolate store and all over Graskop there are stores selling trinkets by the truckload. You will also be approached by men trying to sell you bags of nuts. In our experience, they’re rank. The macadamias are like eating a bit of chewing gum someone stuck under a chair in school.
Once in Hoedspruit, we stayed in Loerie Guesthouse for a few nights. It’s nothing special, but the rooms are big and clean, there’s a swimming pool and it’s right in the middle of town. Hoedspruit really is nothing special at all (it is for us, but that’s just nostalgic dreamery) - it’s merely well situated to get to some great activities. A couple of places we would recommend for food and/or too many drinks are:
Sleepers Bar and Restaurant - in the centre of town, occupying the old train station. This place is lovely, the food is pretty good and the Black Label runs on tap all night. If you want a bit of local bar action, the little inside room is proper local and we’ve had many an evening being forced to drink shots by the local drunk farmers.
Three Bridges at The Outpost - owned by the same people who own Sleepers, this place does more or less the same food, except it’s a 20 minute drive out of town and a beautiful place for a sunset cocktail out by the river. You may see hippos, you’ll probably see a power cut and you should definitely try a milkshake.
Once in Hoedspruit, you can go off and do loads of stuff. There’s a list below, and some of them are in our guide to South African Wildlife Experiences video…
- Visit the world famous Jessica the hippo. A tame hippo? Yes sir! Feed her, kiss her, put your feet on her.
- Go and gawp at the massive Baobab tree nearby and have lunch at the Upside down Restaurant.
- Visit the factory where the creamy liquor Amarula is made.
- Visit the pub that’s been built inside a baobab (it’s a bit smelly).
- Go to Fort Capoeira - a pub in the centre of town that was once called the most dangerous bar in the world. It’s not so scary now, but be careful!
- Walk with a tame-yet-free cheetah in the amazing Tshukudu game reserve.
- Visit the nearby Vervet Monkey centre.
- Do a tour of Moholoholo Wildlife Sanctuary (honey badgers!)
2 weeks at Les Trois Marulas: £1,500
8 nights at Pemba Lodge: £750
3 nights at Lourie Guesthouse: £90
Total accommodation costs: £2,340
Bear in mind this does not include travel costs, food or entry fees into the parks or into any other attraction.
- 3 steps to clearer skin & getting fit.
- Dressing the bride & bridal party on a budget.
- Surviving the Registry Office.
- Flights and car hire.
- The venue, catering & music.
- The cake, flowers & decor.