Bulungula – ecotourism in South Africa

Bulungula had my heart the minute I arrived there.

I remember reading about it in my Lonely Planet, and as soon as I looked at their website, I knew I had to go there at least once.

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The location is perfect: close to a Xhosa village (Nqileni), right next to a river that flows into the beautiful ocean. There’s endless, clean beaches with barely any people on it – but covered in a million big shells and crabs running all over the place at sunrise and sunset.

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But that’s not the only good thing about Bulungula. The place is, unlike many other places in South Africa unfortunately, owned and managed by the local community. As soon as you get there, you will be greeted in isiXhosa and throughout your stay, they will try to teach you the basics (there’s a poster in each toilet with a few words written down, not a bad idea to learn).

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The activities are then of course also led by the people from the village, and sometimes even include a visit to their homes. Bulungula is a bit off the main roads in the area, so the many activities that they offer are actually a really good way to spend your day. They also have super nice common areas with board games for rainy days. There is basically no reception in Bulungula, so it’s the perfect place to go offline for a bit, and enjoy the bliss offered by books, games and each other’s company (as cheesy and cliché as it might sound).

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The other really cool thing about Bulungula are the toilets and showers. Now, I am not someone to usually get over excited about such things… but as it is an eco-lodge, their toilets are compost toilets only (no running water). Which was a first for me, and I really liked the idea. The only slightly more negative thing about it at first was that the straw roof was covered in fairly large spiders at night… but once you realise they won’t do much at all, you get used to them pretty quickly. And it’s also a good excuse to go to bed early.

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The showers were equally cool.

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They’re so-called ‘rocket showers’. The only way you get warm water is by pouring a liquid over toilet paper and setting it on fire at the bottom of a pipe, so that the pipe starts making sounds similar to that of a rocket. If you shower right after coming out of the ocean, warm water is not even needed, as it is about the same temperature.

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Bulungula is also completely off-grid and relies on solar power only. Overall, it is a super eco-friendly place and everything about it is so inspiring for future homes. I actually wish there were more backpackers like this one.

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Getting up early in the morning has never been easier, as you get to go for a dip in the ocean right away and witness beautiful sunrises. I don’t think any of us ever wanted to sleep in while we were staying there.

the view up to the lodge after having crossed the river (which gets wider depending on the tide)

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The rooms are kind of similar to the houses we stayed in during our Wild Coast hike. I was always travelling in big enough groups and ended up sharing a rondavel with friends only, which is pretty luxurious if you’re asking me. The second time I stayed there, we had a house with ocean view as well, it was just beautiful.

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The animals, like everywhere on the Wild Coast, roam around freely, and it is not unusual to get a visit from donkeys, cows, goats, as well as dogs.

the wooden square at the back is an outdoor shower… stargazing while taking a shower, anyone?!

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All buildings in Bulungula are painted by a lady called Sarah (from London). They are super fun to look at and take pictures of – and perfectly match the vibes of the place.

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The bar is open at all times and is basically self-service… just write down what you had and pay for it once you leave (you might get a surpirse once you have to pay for it all at once though, ha).

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Concerning food, you can either bring your own and use their smaller kitchen to prepare it, or you can enjoy the delicious food that is cooked daily by the local women. I cooked my own food the first time I went, and tried their food the second time, and I can just say that their food was sooo much better than pasta with red sauce everyday. You get traditional Xhosa food (similar to what we had on the hike), as well as curries and stews in the evening… Veggie options are not a problem and were probably at least just as good as the meaty ones (which is also not the norm most of the time).

dog Kilo was living the best life

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Charis and Johanna sitting on the steps of the toilet building

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the most beautiful sunset over the village and the river

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Overall, Bulungula is a truly unique place to stay at. Its surroundings are so amazing and there is a lot to do. It is the perfect place to learn about Xhosa culture while travelling and to get the experience to live off-grid for a few days. The people that work there are super friendly and always willing to help. The food they serve is incredibly good. Bulungula is so beautiful that it makes you never want to leave – and if you do have to, you will already know that you will have to return at some point.

read about my first stay in Bulungula (and a description of how we got there) here

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