The coolest Airbnbs in South Africa - from house boats and treehouses to vast mansions

Business Insider SA
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  • Airbnb is now allowed under South Africa's lockdown Level 2 conditions.
  • Among the country's 35,000 listings are some true gems, including treehouses, tiny houses, and massive mansions.
  • Rentals range from R200 per night for a "vegan" campsite, right up to R130,000 for a Clifton mansion.
  • For more stories visit Business Insider. 

* This article has been updated below.

After an almost five-month ban, Airbnb establishments in South Africa have finally been permitted to host guests again

The booking platform has grown rapidly in popularity in recent years - the country has in excess of 35,000 Airbnb hosts, who’ve rented homes to more than two million guests. And between 2017 and 2018, activity on the platform generated an estimated R8.7 billion in economic impact in South Africa

The local offerings on Airbnb are therefore vast, and cater for a wide range of tastes and budgets. Options include no-frills spare bedrooms, underwhelming inner-city and suburban dwellings, and a range of mid-range rentals that are fine, but unlikely to offer too much excitement. 

But amongst the thousands of listings are some truly unique properties that have garnered consistently high ratings from enthusiastic travellers .

Here are some of the most original, and popular, properties currently available to rent on Airbnb in South Africa.

Stuurmansfontein Corbelled House - Carnarvon

If lockdown has had you dreaming of more isolation, then this corbelled house in the Northern Cape Town of Carnarvon may be exactly what you’re looking for. 

The owner describes it as a “faraway South African spot with a real sense of frontier history”. The home available to rent is a national monument, and similar structures only exist in three districts in the province.

The house sleeps six guests in three bedrooms, and including Airbnb’s service fee, costs R1,395 per night. Reviews are universally praiseworthy - it has a near flawless five-star rating from the 20 guests who’ve ranked it.

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Paddadam at Waterval Farmstay - Graaff-Reinet

This remote farm stay is another ideal property for those looking to get away from the city - and other people. 

The rustic stone cottage available for rent is located on a farm outside the town of Graaff-Reinet. It sleeps two, and was built on the foundation of an old dam between two small hills. The owners say staying here “will take you back to basics” - although the house is fully equipped, toilets and hot water are located in an adjacent outhouse. 

A single night’s stay for two adults, including cleaning and service fee, costs R872 - and the property’s 11 reviewers have awarded it a 4.9 out of 5 rating.

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Castle in Clarens - Clarens

This entire castle in the Maluti Mountains is available to rent for R5,812 per night. It sleeps four guests in two bedrooms, and the listing says guests can enjoy a fanatical experience “only fit for royalty - no detail was spared”. The castle even has a tower that the owner says “will introduce you to the world of royalty, fantasy and luxury”.

Reviews for the property are near-flawless, with one labelling the property as one of a kind, and another a place in which “to connect with your inner child and be a King or Queen”.

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A mansion in Cape Town*

If money is no object, and a desirable address with a reasonable view is of the utmost importance, then this Nettleton Road mansion, on the slopes of Lion’s Head, might suffice. It costs R130,000 a night and sleeps up to 12 guests in six bedrooms.

The property is one to behold - it features a waterfall, oil paintings and statues, grand piano, library, winding red-carpet staircase, a private chef, and a butler who’s apparently happy to deliver drinks to the outside sun loungers.

It’s unclear whether anyone has ever shelled up this much money to rent the property on Airbnb, as there are, as yet, no reviews.

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Under the stars eco camp site, Rheenendal

On the other end of the spectrum, free from butlers, red carpets and grand pianos, is the Peace of Eden Nature Lodge & Vegan Retreat. In spite of the lack of luxuries, the campsite has a near-perfect rating of 4.94 out of 5 after 16 reviews - and it’ll cost you just R232 a night to pitch a two-person tent here.

The campsite has no kitchen or electricity, ablutions are housed in a rustic timber hut, and the owners request that guests respect their vegan ways by not eating meat while on the property (they’ll happily prepare a vegan breakfast and dinner for a little extra). 

None of these seems to bother the reviewers, though, who praise the hosts’ hospitality, and the serenity and beauty of the Rheenendal location.

A forest-edge campsite at Peace of Eden

Into The Wild - Wilderness

This locally-built Alaskan log cabin in Wilderness took over one year to complete - and its owner and builder describes it as the “perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and every day of life”. 

The cabin is set in a forest, is fully equipped, and can sleep up to three guests. After 74 reviews it has an impressive 4.85 out of 5 rating. There’s a two-night minimum stay, with the first bookings in 2021 costing approximately R1,499 for two people.

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"Off-the-grid" stone cottage - Barrydale

This remote, off-the-grid stone cottage in Barrydale ticks all the boxes for an isolated escape - right down to its self-service check in process. 

It’s located in the Touwsberg Private Nature Reserve, just off the popular Route 62, 40km from the town of Barrydale. There’s abundant wildlife roaming the reserve - but cellphone signal and electricity are in shorter supply. 

Although the cottage has no power, it’s equipped with gas appliances and solar lights - and it has racked up a 4.98 out of 5 rating. It sleeps four guests in two rooms, and its two-night minimum stay means a visit will cost approximately R3,000 for two nights, including cleaning and service fees.

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The "DAM" House - Hartbeespoort

Staying in an old dam may not sound like the ultimate getaway, but the 4.97 out of 5 rating on this Airbnb property outside Johannesburg might suggest otherwise. 

The house is located in the Cradle of Humankind, and was originally a farm dam that’s been converted into a double story dwelling.

It sleeps two guests on a king size bed on the second floor, which has views of the surrounding farm - and there’s an outdoor shower for those who want to bask in the isolation the property brings.

There’s a two-night minimum stay, which including service and cleaning fees costs R2,174.

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Tiny house - Scarborough

This tiny house, located in the sleepy town of Scarborough, fits an impressive amount of normal-sized comforts into what’s essentially a modified shipping container. There’s a kitchenette, toilet, shower, and lounge area, with an upstairs loft-style “bedroom” with a double bed. 

It’s unlikely to appease the large, or those looking for space, but the novelty of staying in an expertly designed tiny house, and a large outdoor area for when the insides get too small, all just a few hundred metres from the ocean, has garnered it a 4.91 out of 5 rating from 70 guests thus far. 

Its two-night minimum stay means it’ll cost two people a minimum of R1,209, including service fee.

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Houseboat Myrtle - Knysna

Myrtle is a house boat that sleeps four, and bobs on the tranquil waters of the Knysna Lagoon.

The owners describe it as a “self-contained wooden cottage on the water”, and it’s permanently anchored in its spot in the Knysna Lagoon, a two minute dinghy ride from the Knysna Waterfront.

Myrtle, one of the famous original Knysna houseboats, has two decks from which you can drop a fishing line, or just enjoy views of the lagoon, Knysna Heads, or the quays.

It’s one of the country’s more popular Airbnb rentals, and after 228 reviews it still has an impressive rating of 4.84. Including service fee, one night for two people costs R1,453.

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Treehouse - Port Elizabeth

This treehouse in Port Elizabeth is comfortably one of the more unique - and popular - AirBnb listings in the country. It’s located in the treetops outside Port Elizabeth, is beautifully designed, and has both valley and sea views. 

The owners call it the perfect place in which to relax and unwind - but it’s not short of amenities, including high-speed WiFi.

After 349 reviews the treehouse has an impressive rating of 4.9 out of 5 - and a single night’s stay, including service and cleaning fees, will cost around R1,395.

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Grysklip High Mountain Stone Cottage - Cederberg

This grey-stone cottage in the Cederberg is built into a rock wall, and has been constructed using stones collected on the property, which the owner says lends it an appealing kind of camouflage in the surrounding wilderness.

It offers “views in every direction”, but in spite of the extensive use of stone, the owner assures guests that it’s “warm and cosy with wooden floors and Cape furniture and colourful Himalayan textiles”. 

This cottage is located at the end of a jeep track at 1,100 metres, that requires a 4x4 ride from the owner to reach. There’s a two-night minimum stay policy at the property, which means the minimum cost for two people, including service fee, is R2,790.

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* This article was updated after publication with new pricing for 21 Nettleton, which says its Airbnb listing price at the time of publication was incorrect. It is now listed on Airbnb at R130,000 per night, with no two-night minimum, instead of the R55,000 per night first reported here.

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