Today: Top 10 most luxurious safari lodges in South Africa
Whether you are a safari virgin hoping to catch your first glimpse of the Big Five or a safari aficionado with a specific sighting in mind, South Africa will rarely disappoint. Although the country is a year-round destination, the extended Southern African winter (April to October) is the best time for a safari, because the shrinking vegetation and wildlife converging on waterholes make for better sightings. Kruger Park is South Africa’s most famous safari destination and even allows visitors to hop around in their own car, although spotting the Big Five on a self-drive safari involves a lot of luck. South Africa’s private game reserves – such as Sabi Sand – offer a far more superior safari experience though since there are no restrictions on access or driving times, only specialized safari vehicles with guides are permitted (and they can go off-road in search of the wildlife) and a maximum of two vehicles at a time are permitted on a single sighting, allowing fantastic photographic opportunities. On top of that, the private fame reserves offer exeptional accommodation that matches the exceptional wildlife experience. Here’s my selection of the 10 best ultra-luxury safari-lodges in South Africa.
There is more information (with reviews & Youtube videos) below the slide show. Think I missed one? Share your favorite South African safari lodge in the comments section.
Permanently stationed on the historically-rich Selati Bridge above the Sabie River in Kruger National Park, Kruger Shalati offers the most unique luxury accommodation in a re-envisioned train which pays homage to the guests who explored the park nearly 100 years ago. The train celebrates where the first visits to the iconic park were allowed in the early 1920s: the train would park overnight in the exact spot where Kruger Shalati is positioned. The hotel offers 31 rooms, consisting of 24 carriage rooms and 7 Bridge House rooms, all of which provide a deeply visceral experience, tailored for immersive comfort. Whether you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind adventure, an enthralling break or to simply immerse yourself in earth’s finest creations, Kruger Shalati welcomes you on a journey of discovery with nature in the most extraordinary way imaginable.
- Hotel website: Kruger Shalati – The Train on the Bridge
- Review: read my review of Kruger Shalati here.
Ulusaba Private Game Reserve, member of Virgin Limited Edition’s award-winning collection of retreats, is Sir Richard Branson’s safari lodge located in the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve. Ulusaba means “place of little fear”, so named because the koppie, or hill, on which Rock Lodge sits provided the ancient Shangaan tribal warriors with the perfect lookout point. Ulusaba has 20 rooms and suites spread over two lodges: Rock Lodge, including the beautiful Cliff Lodge, and Safari Lodge. Rock Lodge has the best view in the Sabi Sand: perched high on the summit of a koppie, with panoramic views over miles of bush, you should grab a pair of binoculars to see what you can spot. Ulusaba’s other resort, Safari Lodge, is built along the banks of the dry Mabrak riverbed and some of the rooms are built treehouse-style and you really get the feeling of being in the heart of life in the bush. Safari Lodge’s rooms provide fascinating views of the animals as they stroll past on their way to the nearby watering hole.
- Hotel website: Ulusaba Private Game Reserve
- Travel tip: get complimentary VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and $100 USD gift shop or spa credit).
With a name that means “love” in isiZulu, Thanda Safari offers an authentically South African wildlife experience matched with sincere commitment to the Zulu culture and passionate conservation of the environment. Located in northern Zululand in KwaZulu Natal, Thanda is home to abundant wildlife, including Africa’s magnificent Big Five. Visitors spend their days on game drives or bush walks and are encouraged to engage in a selection of conservation and cultural programs. Evenings are reserved for fine dining, enjoying wines from the well-stocked cellar, relaxing around the bonfire and star gazing. The luxurious accommodations range from Thanda’s flagship product, Thanda Safari Lodge, which encompasses 9 bush suites, to the exclusive-use Villa iZulu and the ruggedly elegant and utterly romantic Thanda Tented Camp, comprising 15 luxury tents.
- Hotel website: Thanda Private Game Reserve
Set on the banks of the perennial Klaserie River, Kapama Karula is the flagship five-star lodge of Kapama Game Reserve. Meaning ‘place of peace’, this ultra-luxurious and prestigious lodge exudes calmness and depicts the pinnacle of elegant safari accommodation, with wraparound views of the African bush enhancing the overall sense of tranquillity. Modern whitewashed wood and vast sections of glass, complemented by a neutral colour palette, give Kapama Karula a contemporary African feel. The open-plan lounge and bar are spacious yet cosy, with skylights drawing in natural daylight and moonshine. Kapama Karula has twelve suites, each exquisitely decorated and with generous private space. Each suite has its own outside deck area, full-sized heated swimming pool and sun loungers for relaxation.
Tswalu Kalahari is South Africa’s largest and most remotely loctaed private game reserve, now protecting over 110,000 hectares of spectacular grasslands and mountains. The owners, the Oppenheimer family, take conservation as their absolute priority and have a vision to “restore the Kalahari to itself.” No more than 30 guests at a time can discover the beauty of this arid savannah, its diverse wildlife and the serenity of what may well be South Africa’s last great wilderness. You can choose to stay at either Tswalu Kalahari’s main property, designated “The Motse”; the nearby personal home of the Oppenheimer family, so-called “Tarkuni”; or one of Loapi’s six ultra-luxury tented homes. At all three camps, a private safari vehicle, guide and tracker is guaranteed with each booking. The total number of beds across the three camps represents the lowest ratio of guests to space in a privately protected area in South Africa.
- Hotel website: Tswalu Kalahari
Royal Malewane is a luxury safari lodge with only seven one- to six-bedroom villas, located in Thornybush private game reserve on the western border of the Kruger National Park. The lodge, which has Bill Gates, Bono and Elton John among its repeat guests, exudes the romance and beauty of a bygone age while offering every modern comfort and convenience. Besides exhiliriating Big Five safaris, guests can also indulge in relaxing treatments at the tranquil waters of Royal Malewane’s bush spa and enjoy nightly feasts under the African stars. Royal Malewane also operates two other luxury lodges within the same private game reserve – Farmstead and Waterside, each one embodying an exquisite vision of contemporary design and ultimate hospitality.
- Hotel website: Royal Malewane
- Travel tip: get complimentary VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and $100 USD gift from Royal Malewane).
- Review: read my review of Royal Malewane here.
Londolozi Game Reserve, Member of Relais & Châteaux, is one of the original safari camps in South Africa. Four generations of family-run hospitality and 40 years of experience hosting ecotourism have culminated in an entirely unique and transcendent bushveld experience for the discerning guest. Guests can choose from one of four small camps or stay in one of just three exclusive Private Granite Suites, each built with nature in mind and designed to blend seamlessly with the surrounding habitat. Londolozi offers some of the most spectacular game viewing in an ideal setting, with the some of the highest densities of wild leopards in the world. The Londolozi Healing House experience also offers guests to combine the core safari excursions with artful resting, curated bodywork and yoga in the surrounds of the expansive wilderness presence of Londolozi.
- Hotel website: Private Granite Suites
Singita Lebombo Lodge is a celebration of cutting-edge design in an African context where everything defers to nature. This dramatic lodge comprises 13 suites and one villa that give guests a front row seat to the Kruger National Park with bold, contemporary open plan suites suspended above the N’Wanetsi River. The exclusive concession is a richly diverse habitat, teeming with game, beneath endless African skies. Other highlights of the lodge include a roof terrace and wine studio (a multi-level retreat which boasts a library, multi-media room, wine studio and rooftop viewing area), an interactive kitchen, and a lovely lap pool. All communal areas of the lodge have been pushed out to ensure that the outside bursts in, offering elegant, calm and meditative spaces immersed in a dramatic landscape of giant euphorbia trees.
- Hotel website: Singita Lebombo Lodge
Set along the banks of the Sabie River and attracting abundant “big five” wildlife from Sabi Sand Game Reserve and Kruger National Park, Lion Sands has four luxurious lodges: River Lodge, Ivory Lodge, Tinga Lodge, and Narina Lodge. Ivory Lodge, which was complety renovated in 2017, is the understated jewel in the Lion Sands crown and the most exclusive safari lodge of South Africa. The ultra-luxe lodge is all about elegance, with an aura of sophistication yet simplicity, boldness yet balance, ebony and ivory, perfect harmony, exclusivity, sensitivity and complete privacy. The 8 one-bedroom Villas and 1 two-bedroom Fish Eagle Villa have their own private rim flow plunge pools with magnificent views over the Sabie River, allowing guests to cool down from the hot African sun while watching animals as they quench their thirst a mere stone’s throw away.
- Hotel website: Ivory Lodge Lion Sands
- Other accolades: Ivory Lodge Lion Sands also features in my top 10 lists of the world’s most amazing outdoor hotel rooms, the world’s best honeymoon resorts, the best hotels in South Africa, and Africa’s most insanely beautiful safari lodges.
- Review: read my review of Lion Sands Ivory Lodge here.
Situated in a perfect position on the banks of the Sand River – in the heart of the world-famous Sabi Sand Game Reserve – lies &Beyond Tengile River Lodge. The magnificent lodge features nine enormous, air-conditioned, secluded suites, dotted in the dappled shade of the bushveld, each with panoramic river views. In addition to a master bedroom, bathroom and outdoor shower, there is a lounge, dining area, fully-stocked bar, coffee station, and an outdoor deck with private lap pool. For families, two of the lodge’s suites are joined by a covered walkway to create a family suite. The lodge’s guest area offers a mixed selection of open, interactive and private places. Bespoke furniture, lights and unique décor pieces have been created from skilled local artists and striking fabrics have been masterfully hand-painted.
- Hotel website: &Beyond Tengile River Lodge
- Review: read my review of &Beyond Tengile River Lodge here.