From Our Archive
This story was published before Summer 2021, when we launched our new digital experience.

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The South African city’s new wave of high-end spas offers an international experience for very little cost.

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Cape Town has always been full of contradictions: The beaches are beyond inviting, but the ocean’s too cold to venture past dipping a toe; modern high-rises dominate the skyline while wild baboons walk the mountain paths that surround them; the breathtakingly beautiful city has a remarkably ugly past. Now there’s another to add to the list: Preparations to host thousands of rowdy soccer fans who’ll be descending for the World Cup semifinals in July included the top hotels competing to see which could create the most luxurious spa.

It’s not quite the head-scratcher it initially seems. The prolonged isolation of the country meant there was a lot of catching up to do, and its initial attempts at many international trends left much to be desired. South Africa’s early forays into spa tourism centered around opposing concepts that never really jelled: Safari “spa treatments,” for example, reached their nadir with the novel “come to South Africa for a facelift, recuperate on a safari” program that was more popular with television producers than actual patients.

But the four top Cape Town spas we visited aren’t hampered by provincial thinking—these pamper palaces can compete on any international playing field. And with the South African rand still lagging, visitors can experience a full day of exotic treatments for the cost of a massage back home.


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