Last month I spent a weekend in Groot Marico, a whacky hippie town in North West Province. Soon after booking the Groot Marico trip, I received an invitation to spend the night at Sun City during the same week. I was really excited. I’d never been to Sun City — which is like a South African Vegas — and had been awaiting an opportunity for years.
Since Groot Marico and Sun City are both in North West, I decided to extend my stay in Groot Marico for a day so I could go straight from there to Sun City. If you’ve been to both Groot Marico and Sun City, you’ll appreciate the humor in this arrangement. Groot Marico and Sun City are in the same province but they might as well exist in two different dimensions.
I was invited to Sun City to participate in the festivities leading up to the Nedbank Golf Challenge, the biggest pro golf tournament in South Africa. I attended the Nedbank Golf Challenge Welcome Dinner, as well as an event called the Style Affair — a ladies’ morning in which women were invited to lounge around the pool, drink champagne, eat canapés, and get manicures, massages, and makeup consultations. Basically, something for the ladies to do while their husbands are out on the golf course.
Sorry, golf fans. I wasn’t invited to the Nedbank Challenge itself. But I did sit on a couch next to Gary Player’s wife.
I have no idea how I made it onto the invite list for this gig. But I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. When someone offers me a night at the Palace of the Lost City — Sun City’s fanciest hotel with rooms beginning at R4577 ($334) per person per night (!) — I just smile and nod enthusiastically.
The History of Sun City
South African hotel magnate Sol Kerzner opened Sun City in 1979, when this region was still part of the Homeland of Bophuthatswana. Homelands (also called Bantustans, but I’ve recently been told Homelands is less derogatory), for lack of a better descriptor, were the apartheid equivalent of Native American reservations in the United States: semi-autonomous regions of South Africa where black people were forced to live. South Africa recognized the Homelands as sovereign nations, but this sovereignty was a sham and the Homelands weren’t recognized by any other country.
This strange political arrangement meant gambling was allowed in Bophuthatswana, along with topless dancing and other naughty activities that were against the law in apartheid South Africa. Hence, Bophuthatswana (which is about two hours from Joburg) was the ideal place for Kerzner to build a giant, outlandish hotel and casino.
Sun City is a massive complex — literally a city of its own in the middle of the bush — with several hotels, timeshares, golf courses, a convention center, a casino, and a water park. The Palace of the Lost City, based loosely around the theme of a lost, ancient African city, is Sun City’s flagship hotel.
The Palace of the Lost City
I wish I’d had one more day and night at the Palace to properly document the place. One day isn’t enough, especially because half that time was taken up by the Nedbank dinner and the Style Affair. It took quite a while to just figure out how to make it from the lobby to my room without getting lost.
But here is my quick review:
Similar to the big hotels I’ve visited on the Las Vegas strip, the Palace of the Lost City is really tacky and really awesome. The lobby of this hotel is unlike any I’ve ever seen, with its three-storey-high ceiling painted with a massive jungle-themed fresco. There are giant animal statues everywhere, often portraying heinous but awe-inspiring predator kills.
Walking the hotel grounds is literally like walking through an actual jungle, with thick forest cover and soaring waterfalls. This jungle is lush and cool and completely man-made. I cringe to think of the electricity and water usage numbers at Sun City, much as I always cringe with the same thoughts in Las Vegas.
The rooms are luxurious and all, but I’m not sure why they are quite so expensive. The decor is dated and I’ve stayed in much nicer places for much less money. I also thought the breakfast buffet was overrated, but I’m generally not a fan of breakfast buffets.
The Palace pool is nice, as is the “adult pool” adjoining the Valley of the Waves waterpark, which is also right next to the Palace and free for hotel guests.
My friend Julia and I hung out at the adult pool, called “the Royal Baths”, on our first afternoon and it was quite amusing. The pool is surrounded by fake crumbling Roman columns — I’m not sure how the Roman columns relate to the lost African city, but I’m not one to quibble. (Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera while we were there but you can see a picture here.) This pool is accessible to adults over 21 and topless sunbathing is allowed. Julia and I didn’t partake but I did see one woman doing so.
Palace of the Lost City Tip
My favorite activity at the Palace, during the short time I was there, was climbing to the top of the highest turret and gazing out at the view. Getting up to the turret is tricky; you have to walk down a long hallway and find the one elevator (there are many) that takes you up to the 9th floor. (Ask a staff person for directions.) That elevator opens into a secret little antechamber with a stairway going up to the turret. The view up there is great, especially at sunset.
All in all, Julia and I had a lot of fun at Sun City. I’d recommend a stay at the Palace for laughs, but by all means do not pay full price.
My stay at Sun City was courtesy of Sun International. Opinions expressed are mine.