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BBulungula Lodge is something of a legend in ethical travel circles. Here is an eco-friendly destination in a remote and stunning setting along South Africa’s Wild Coast in Eastern Cape province, which is part-owned by the surrounding community. They are your hosts, and offer a Xhosa village experience you will never forget.
Bulungula Lodge on the aptly named Wild Coast has been rated one of the country’s top ethical and eco-friendly experiences.
It was among the first destinations to be certified by Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa and has become something of a model. But that doesn’t nearly reflect how much fun it is to stay here.
FFirstly, the setting: the Wild Coast is one of the world’s most beautiful places; an unspoilt part of Eastern Cape. It boasts green, rolling hills, white beaches stretching to forever, and clear blue seas full of dolphins and whales. And at night, there is no light pollution: Bulungula will actually give you your night’s tariff back if you don’t see a shooting star in half an hour.
Secondly, the people: the Nqileni community owns 40% of Bulungula, and the arrangement has been a roaring success. The lodge and the village are seamlessly linked. There are no fences, there is no crime, no one will hassle you or beg.
On the contrary, wander around the village and you’ll doubtless be invited into someone’s hut or rondavel for a chat, and maybe even a drink.
Thirdly, the activities (or lack thereof): you might choose to just chill on the beach or in a hammock, or you may want to go horse riding. Or just go with the flow and wander around the village. You may end up having your face painted with clay patterns, or learning how to grind corn or brew the (very popular) local sorghum beer, umqombothi.
Interested in making your own rod and line to fish? Just say so, and someone will show you how. In fact, you can also learn how to throw a net, and catch octopus and crayfish by hand.
There are also great storytellers in the village.
You can also paddle between the cool forested cliffs that line the Xhora River. The birdlife and plant life are astounding, and fish have been known to leap into canoes.
There are also epic beach bonfire parties.
Just as Bulungula Lodge fits in neatly with Wild Coast village life, so it also leaves a light environmental footprint.
Power is supplied by the sun. The ‘rocket showers’ run on paraffin (kerosene), and you will use odourless composting toilets.
Visitors have been known to fall so deeply in love with Bulungula that they end up staying for months.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)47 577 8900
Cell: +27 (0)65 881 5783
How to get here
Getting to Bulungula is almost as much of an adventure as being there. The Bulungula website has printable maps and very detailed directions.
If you are driving, the closest cities (and major airports) are East London, 5 hours' drive away, Durban, just under 9 hours’ drive away, and Port Elizabeth, which is also 9 hours away. The nearest Wild Coast town to Bulungula is Coffee Bay, which is about two-and-a-half hours away.
A good option is to fly to Mthatha, and then catch the lodge’s shuttle which runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, or hire a car from there (a 3-hour drive).
If you’re looking for a real African option, you can catch a taxi, where, apart from Xhosa fellow passengers (who may speak no English), you may have to share your space with chickens and piles of groceries. The trip may or may not involve a ferry and a scenic walk.
Speak to the people at Bulungula if in any doubt.
Best time to visit
The Wild Coast has a mild climate almost all year round. The rainy season is from November to March (late spring to early autumn).
Things to do in the area
You can do a tour around the village with a guide who will introduce you to Xhosa culture.
Walk, paddle or horse ride.
What will it cost?
Accommodation ranges from R130 per person per night to R330 for a double room. Meals start at R16 up to R55.
Length of stay
This is certainly not an overnight destination. Stay for 3 or 4 nights at the very least, or a week. Some have been known to book in for a week and stayed for six.
What to pack
Bring a towel, a torch, a raincoat in summer and a laid-back attitude.
Where to stay
There are 10 huts; half of them dorms and the others double rooms. There is also the option of safari tents on platforms in the forest.
What to eat
Breakfasts are either cooked ‘English’ breakfasts or just porridge and cereal. Lunches are usually huge toasted sandwiches or the option of a Xhosa traditional meal. At night you might eat Malay chicken curry with roti, lamb and butternut stew, or sausage with Nelson Mandela’s favourite, umnqusho (beans and samp). There are also vegetarian options. All meals are reasonably priced, as are the desserts.
You may also want to try out the iLanga Fire Restaurant in the village, which has great sweet and savoury pancakes.
There’s also the option of having a smoothie made in a bicycle-driven blender.
Women from the village have been trained in the art of massage and offer full-body, back or Indian head massages, as well as hand and feet treatments.