South Africa is a fantastic destination to go on a safari.
Experience the thrill and adventure of an up close encounter with wild elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo and leopard…Africa’s Big Five. Hear the awe inspiring roar of lions echoing across the endless savannah, the sound of crickets chirping in harmony under a star studded sky, feel the breeze whisper across the bushveld - this is the real Africa you will experience
There are many exclusive luxury game lodges to choose from right across the country which all offer fantastic “Big Five” game viewing. At any one of these excusive lodges you will be pampered and spoilt! You will certainly be left with many indelible memories of a romantic, wild “Africa”
With so many to choose from, it is sometimes difficult to know which one is best to go for, so I thought I would compile a list of my “Top 10 Favourite Game Lodges in South Africa”.
This is a personal list, rating the lodges that I have most enjoyed from my own personal experience. It is not an official “top 10 list” as such, although many of the lodges, because they are so good have won awards across the globe.
- Thanda Private Game Reserve
- Mala Mala
- Tinga Private Game Reserve
- Sabi Sabi
10. Hamiltons Tented Camp
1. Singita Private Game Reserve
This is my all time favourite game reserve! Situated in the southeast of the Kruger National Park, on the border of Mozambique, the locale is a pristine, unexplored expanse of flora, sweeping valleys and breathtaking splendour. The game viewing is excellent. There is a wonderful health spa that offers conventional European massages, reflexology, manicures, facials and aromatherapy while the modern gym overlooks the rugged African bush. The Singita South Africa collection is made up of 5 luxury lodges. Two of its lodges, the Ebony and Boulders Lodges, have together been rated the second best resort in the world in the Condé Nast Traveler Readers' Choice survey, the two other Singita lodges, the Lebombo and Sweni Lodges, have been rated the eighth best resort in Africa. Castleton Camp offers a luxury family retreat, booked on an exclusive basis.
2. Thanda Private Game Reserve
Situated in the heart of Zululand, this five-star lodge promises "exclusivity, romance and Zulu culture in the heart of the untamed African bush". It boasts over 400 bird species, a wonderful assortment of wildlife including the Big Five and has won several travel awards. It has been named Africa's leading luxury lodge in the World Travel Awards, and is also the only private game reserve in the world to hold exclusive membership with The Leading Hotels of the World. Thanda offers a Main Lodge perched on a hillside overlooking the bushveld which has luxury suite accommodation and a safari-style Tented Camp – which is truly out of this world. It evokes real images of a bygone era of adventure. Its award-winning wellness centre has a unique Zulu feel, and there are hot and cold outdoor kniepp therapy pools, a reflexology pool, outdoor sala treatment area, steam room and hydrotherapy bath. This is my favourite game reserve for pure romanticism!
3. MalaMala Private Game Reserve
MalaMala is the pioneer of the “Safari Experience” in South Africa. This legendary safari destination shares a common border of 19 kilometres (12 miles) with the Kruger National Park. If you are an avid photographer then this is the game reserve to visit as they are the true experts at “Photographic Safaris”. The accommodation may not be as luxurious as the other lodges (although it is still of a very high quality), but this doesn’t matter as the true experience lies with the game rangers and the fantastic wildlife they can share with you. The buildings in the Main Camp have traditional thatching, spectacular views and are equipped with all the necessary luxuries, while retaining an authentic camp atmosphere. Dinner is served in a reed enclosed boma, while the Buffalo lounge features many local African artworks. The Sable Camp is an ideal retreat for the more reclusive traveller. Rattrays at MalaMala is the epitome of regal colonial safari-style, the newest addition to the MalaMala portfolio it is a culmination of over 40 years of experience within the Rattray Family.
4. Tinga Private Game Reserve
I went on honeymoon to this fantastic game reserve, so of course I think it is brilliant! Tinga Private Game Lodge is situated on the banks of the Sabie River, in the prime game-viewing area of the Kruger National Park. The Sabie River has the highest recorded density of leopards in Africa, and one of the highest predator densities. The Sabie River is also said to have the richest biodiversity of any South African river, with many endangered and rare species (mammals, birds, reptiles and plants) being found in the area. Tinga is fortunate to have access to an exclusive 5000-hectare concession within this area and the Tinga vehicles also have access to the entire Kruger road network, which offers an abundance of historical and wildlife viewings. The game reserve has 2 lodges on its land. Legends, which is out of this world with its large luxurious suites - it epitomize comfort and style! Each suite boasts its own private game-viewing deck and heated plunge pool, with magnificent views of the Sabie River and Narina Lodge which has a distinctly more African feel. It is built on stilts and nestled between the trees on the banks of the Sabie river, the large private wood and thatch suites make Narina the romantic hideaway of your dreams. Each suite opens onto a private game viewing deck with plunge pool and outdoor shower.
5. Shamwari Private Game Reserve
This is the ultimate African adventure and conservation effort coupled with responsible tourism. The reserve has been voted Africa's leading safari in the World Travel awards, and has worldwide recognition for its conservation efforts. It is situated in verdant bush along the Bushmans River, halfway between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. It is in a malria free area! The 20 000 hectare reserve boasts five eco-systems and a diversity of plant, animal and bird life. Its Bushman's River lodge has been named the world's leading sustainable tourism project in the World Travel awards. Within the Shamwari Game Reserve there are 7 Luxury lodges to choose from that all offer their own sense of style and charm : Eagles Crag Lodge, Long Lee Manor, Riverdene Lodge, Bushmans River Lodge, Bayethe Tented Lodge, Sarili Lodge
6. Sabi Sabi
This is one of the very first private game reserves I went to, so it will always hold very special memories for me. Sabi Sabi lies within the 65 000 hectare Sabi Sands Reserve, located in the southern section of the Kruger National Park. The Sabi Sands is world renowned for its excellent game viewing affording guests the opportunity to see the Big Five as well as smaller creatures that come to drink at the watering holes. The game lodge consists of 3 separate camps (all five-star accommodation) - Selati Camp's colonial era replete with lantern-lit suites (there is no electricity at this camp! But that makes it all that more authentic an experience) - Bush Lodge & Little Bush Camp that offers a more contemporary feel with its luxury suite accommodation - Earth Lodge that has won international awards for its architecture and décor.
7. Londolozi Private Game Reserve
This game reserve exudes elegance and style! Famous for its leopards, this established lodge dates back to 1926. Four exclusive camps (Pioneer Camp, Founders Camp, Varty Camp and Tree Camp) and the private Granite Suites are secluded amongst towering trees on the banks of the Sand River in the world famous Sabi Sands Reserve. This area has one of the highest concentrations of wildlife. There is an ambience of tranquillity and meditative luxury in the design of the camps that ensure an authentic bush experience. The Londolozi Life wellness centre offers yoga, massage and fitness activities. There are game drives, interpretive walks, a library, and a cinematography centre screening films related to the environment and emerging global trends daily. Nothing is too much trouble for the staff and the game rangers are excellent. Don’t mention the food – heaven! If you want pure indulgence then here it is!
8. Ulusaba Private Game Reserve
Owned by Sir Richard Branson, Ulusaba Private Game Reserve is set in the heart of the Sabi Sands Reserve that borders the sprawling Kruger National Park. Nothing that Sir Richard Branson touches is ever ordinary and Ulusaba is no exception. It is the ultimate playground set in the heart of wild Africa. There is nothing more that you could possibly want from an exclusive bush retreat! There are over 13 500 hectares of unspoilt, game-rich bush set in near solitude. The game reserve has 3 exclusive lodges – Rock Lodge, Safari Lodge and Cliff Lodge. They are all exceptional in their accommodation offerings with nothing to be desired. Apart from the expected game viewing activities in open vehicles, there is a luxury gym, a selection of treatments offered in the renowned Aroma Boma, tennis courts, yoga sessions, in the evening you can watch the stars from the bush observatory. The food is outstanding with many local South African and game dishes served. Dinner is served under the African skies around a blazing log fire, with tribal dancers and singers to entertain guests. This is one place you never want to leave!
9. Phinda Resource Reserve
&beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve is situated in the lush Maputaland region in northern KwaZulu-Natal. The reserves borders the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park – a World Heritage Site. Phinda comprises 22 000 hectares of prime conservation land. It is exceptional in that it has seven distinct biospheres that shelter an abundance of wildlife including Africa's Big Five and over 380 bird species. It is located close to the coast and the marine diversity offered nearby is spectacular. Phinda has six splendid safari lodges (Phinda Forest Lodge, Phinda Mountain Lodge, Phinda Rock Lodge, Phinda Vlei Lodge and Phinda Zuka) that range from glass-encased suites on stilts, to lodges with private decks and plunge pools to sumptuous suites among the treetops. The Phinda Homestead is an intimate family lodge overlooking an extinct volcano. The game activities at Phinda are phenomenal – from the expected game drives in open 4 x 4 vehicles, to guided safari walks, to canoeing on the Mzinene River to riverboat cruises to breathtaking coastal flights, beach excursions including snorkelling and scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, turtle viewing, horse riding and cultural visits. It is an adventurers paradise!
10. Hamiltons Tented Camp
Want romance! Then this is it! “Named after Colonel Stephenson Hamilton, who was instrumental in establishing the world famous Kruger National Park, Hamilton's Tented Camp reflects a safari adventure of the early twentieth century, where grace and style were the epitome luxurious living.” This camp really does take you back to a bygone era, where life was filled with adventure and the exotic. The Camp is designed to make you feel like you are on an expedition in the early 1900’s, but there is certainly no skimping on the ultra luxurious! There are six magnificent canvas tents complete with teak floorboards, mosquito nets, slipper baths, outdoor showers and a superb view of the river. They are all linked to the main lodge area by raised timber walkways set amongst ancient Jackalberry trees. Throughout the lodge there is early 1900’s objet d’art scattered about, whilst the lounge area is crammed with reference books, and the opulent dining area adds to the delight of this tranquil spot overlooking the river. The food is amazing and the game viewing is incredible.
Well, I hope that this list whets your appetite for you own safari adventure in South Africa!
For any safari I would recommend a minimum of 2 days (3 or 4 would be better of course!) so that you can see the game and get a real feel for the bush and the wild life. Whilst spotting the “Big Five” has become synonymous with an African safari, don’t let it spoilt your appreciation of the other flora and fauna that abound.
Why not spot the “Little Five” (Leopard Tortoise, Rhinoceros Beetle, The Ant Lion, The Buffalo Weaver, and The Elephant Shrew) or the “Shy Five” (meerkats, bat-eared foxes, aardvark, porcupines and the aardwolf) or the “Big Five Trees” (Yellowwood, Protea, Fever Acacia, Rose Gum and Baobab Tree), the options are endless, so – keep your eyes open and be ready to explore!