Last summer, I enjoyed a phenomenal safari & beach holiday in South Africa and Mozambique, probably my best holiday ever. You can read my reviews here:
- Review: Air France Boeing 777 new Business Class from Paris to Johannesburg
- Review: &Beyond Tengile River Lodge, Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa
- Review: Lion Sands Ivory Lodge, Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa (today)
- Review: Kruger Shalati – The Train on the Bridge, Kruger National Park, South Africa
- Review: Kisawa Sanctuary (Mozambique)
- Review: Air France Boeing 777 new Business Class from Johannesburg to Paris
Today: Lion Sands Ivory Lodge, Sabi Sand, South Africa
- Hotel website: Lion Sands Ivory Lodge
- Book your stay at Lion Sands using this personalized inquiry form
- Location: Google maps
Set along the banks of the Sabie River and attracting abundant “big five” wildlife from Sabi Sand and Kruger National Park, the Lion Sands Game Reserve – owned by the More family – has four luxurious lodges: River Lodge, Ivory Lodge, Tinga Lodge, and Narina Lodge. Ivory Lodge 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 eight one-bedroom villas and one two-bedroom 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.
Lion Sands Ivory Lodge features in my top 10 list of the best safari lodges in South Africa.
Have you ever stayed at Lion Sands ? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.
In this review (more info and photos below my YouTube video):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Lion Sands is the only private reserve rooted in both the Kruger National Park and the adjoining Sabi Sand Game Reserve (the oldest private game reserve in South Africa). The Sabie River forms a natural boundary between its two sides, and four waterside lodges provide the ultimate luxury safari bases. Ivory Lodge and River Lodge are located on the Sabi side, and over on Kruger are Narina Lodge and Tinga Lodge. The animals roam freely between them, and no matter which side guests choose to stay on, they will have exceptional game-viewing opportunities. Lion Sands conserves 12 400ha (30 600ac) of a habitat that is home to the highest and most diverse concentration of wildlife in the southern hemisphere. Natural animal populations include all of the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and African buffalo), and the reserve is renowned for the quality of its leopard viewing – the most elusive of predators.
- Lion Sands Ivory Lodge boasts magnificent views of the Sabie River, extending onto the open sand banks of the Kruger National Park. Nestled on the lush banks, the lodge is perfectly positioned to take in the endless procession of animals that arrives to slake their thirst at the water’s edge, as well as the hungry predators who come to hunt them. The low-slung structure consists of eight one-bedroom villas and one two-bedroom set around a communal lodge and linked by raised walkways. The main guest area features a magnificent reception area – a lovely, open space with a water feature and bronze animal sculptures in the garden. From here, a staircase descends to the other public areas, which include wooden viewing decks, a wine cellar, an indoor private lounge with bar, and both an indoor and an open-air (‘boma’) dining area. There’s also an art gallery, where guests can have a chat with visiting African artists.
- The designers of Lion Sands Ivory Lodge – Paul and Karen Wygners of Urban Solutions – have taken a cue from Mother Nature to create an exceptional lodge built of the earth, with natural materials that enhance the surrounding bush environment. The lodge’s timeless design incorporates steel, wood, thatch, glass, water and sand. A sophisticated mid-century architectural contemporary theme defines the lodge’s airy interiors, which were completely refurbished in 2017 by interior designer Paula Hattingh. Bold furniture and an edgy décor are mixed with ambient lighting, influences of tribal design and highly textured finishes. An elegant balance between understated design and an organic expression of the earth is reflected throughout, with enormous windows and open walls framing the stunning vistas outside. Light, sound, flow, wood, water and air weave into the golden thread of the lodges architectural inspiration.
- The eight one-bedroom villas have been designed for privacy and optimum appreciation of the surrounding wilderness. Each villa takes its name from an indigenous bird . Featuring clean-lined furniture and an ebony-and-ivory color scheme, each villa consists of three interconnected areas: an entrance area flanked on either side by a bedroom and living room. The master bedroom features a capony kingsize bed and en suite open-plan bathroom with two basin, a standalone bathtub, an indoor walk-in shower, and an outdoor shower in an indigenous garden forest. The living room comprises a sitting and dining area centered around a fireplace and comes with clean-lined furniture and an ebony-and-ivory color scheme. Large sliding glass doors give way to an expansive viewing deck with a plunge pool and a lounge area. Once behind the large carved mahogany doors to their unit, guests can choose how to spend their time: game viewing from their plunge pool, reclining on the canopied bed, or cozying up around the large fireplace.
- The exclusive Fish Eagle Villa is the ‘pièce de résistance’ of Ivory Lodge. Booked on an exclusive basis, the massive villa comes with its own Chef, as well as dedicated Field Guide and private safari vehicle. Although privacy and exclusivity are assured, visitors are welcome to use the facilities within Ivory Lodge for their enjoyment. The double-suite Fish Eagle Villa is comprised of two private single suites, connected by an entrance hall, lounge and study room. There is also an expansive deck and covered patio with lap pool, a private fire deck, a star jetty for private enjoyment of the natural environment and vivid Milky Way above, a private wellness area (with double treatment rooms) and exercise facility. Welcoming children 10 years and older are welcome, the Fish Eagle Villa can accommodate four adults or a maximum of six guests for families (two young children on single beds, sharing in their parents’ room).
- Lion Sands Ivory Lodge has its own intimate spa offering a range of treatments with natural and ethically formulated Africology product. Africology is one of South Africa’s leading natural, eco-friendly and holistic spa and skincare companies, specializing in natural ingredients that are bio-identical to the human biology. Located next to the main lodge, the small spa is accessed via a path that breaks away from a raised timber public walkway, and features one treatment room and an open-sided relaxation area. Highly skilled therapists create an individually tailored wellness experience that aims to relax the body, quiet the mind and rejuvenate the spirit. Yoga enthusiasts can also practice their discipline in this tranquil and serene space. Those who love to work up a sweat and spent some excess energy can do so in the fully equipped gym while enjoying views of the surrounding bush.
- Guests will never go hungry or thirsty at Lion Sands Ivory Lodge, where all meals and beverages (including premium wines) are included in the room rate. From the sumptuous breakfasts and tapas-style lunches to delectable three-course dinners served in a variety of dining spaces, the lodge’s chefs are masters of their craft, and share a passion for creating a sophisticated cuisine that appeals to all palates, whether for the sweet tooth, vegetarian, health conscious or meat lover. The lodge’s popular bush dinners, set up in the wild or in the boma next to the main lodge, are guaranteed to delight and create lasting memories. Besides lunch, dinner and breakfast, guests can also look forward to a coffee stop while out on morning game drive, afternoon tea with a lovely variety of snacks, and a sundowner stop during the afternoon game drive. In the event of bad or cold weather, meals are served in the lodge’s dining spaces with fire place.
- All stays at Lion Sands Ivory Lodge include twice daily, game viewing safaris in comfort and with superbly knowledgeable guides. Game drives are conducted in open 4×4 safari vehicles and accompanied by a two-man team (of which the tracker will sit on the front of the vehicle). All safari vehicles are equipped with binoculars and seat a maximum of six guests. Morning game drives have a distinct character than late afternoon game drives allowing guests to spot different species of wildlife in an ever changing natural setting. Hot-water bottles and blankets keep away the cold during the chilly mornings in the winter months (June to September). Chances of spotting all Big Five animals are exceptionally high in this part of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve and the wilderness area around Lion Sands is famous for its incredible number of leopard sightings. A maximum of three vehicles at a time are permitted on a single sighting in Lion Sands, resulting in a more intimate wildlife experience and fantastic photographic opportunities.
- The game drives at dawn and dusk – when the wildlife is most active and the temperature more moderate – form the basic rhythm of the day at Lion Sands Ivory Lodge. To engage with the landscape even more intimately, guests can also explore the bush on foot with the lodge’s armed expert guides and trackers at their side. Heading out into the bush on foot reveals a whole new dimension of the African wilderness, as your senses will be on high alert with the anticipation of a possible sighting around the next bush. Feeling the grass brush your hands, hearing the crunch of scrub nearby, and spotting game appear just meters off is an exhilarating experience that you will never forget! Bush walks are generally conducted after breakfast before the heat sets in, and last approximately 90 to 120 minutes, depending on the fitness level of the participants.
- Truly unique is the option to sleep out under the stars in one of the private reserve’s treehouses (optional and at an additional cost). Ideal for the hopeless romantic or for anyone who simply wishes to reconnect with the earth, the insanely beautiful treehouses provide panoramic views of the bush, as well as a safe and luxurious vantage point from which to watch twilight slowly turn to night. All treehouses are securely constructed above the ground, so animals remain at a safe and comfortable distance. The treehouses are booked – for an extra fee – in conjunction with your accommodation at Lion Sands Ivory Lodge: you pack an overnight bag with your essentials, while leaving your other belongings back in your room at camp (so you’re still secured a room if the weather conditions don’t allow an overnight sleep under the African stars). You get a full orientation when you are dropped off before sunset, and will remain on call via the radio left behind until it is time to leave the following morning after sunrise.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
- Lion Sands Ivory Lodge is situated within a low-risk malaria area. The risk is almost zero during the the dry winter months (May to September) but the illness is more prevalent in the wet summer season (October to April). Medications can be used to prevent the chances of contracting malaria, especially during the wet season. For advice on the use of any malaria prophylaxis, you need to contact the health authorities or your local travel clinic prior to your travels. In addition to any prophylactics, the following mitigation measures are recommended: cover your arms, legs and feet in the evenings and apply a mosquito repellent containing DEET.
- Lion Sands Ivory Lodge is only partially fenced off, so guests are required to be vigilant at all times. Leopards, lions, buffalos, and elephants, as well as venomous snakes and scorpions are present in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, although it’s rare for them to be within the area of the lodge itself. However, under no circumstances are guests allowed to walk around the lodge at night, unless accompanied by a staff member. Do not worry though as it’s all part of the excitement of being immersed in a true African safari.
- Lion Sands Ivory Lodge is an ultra-luxury lodge where guests relax at their private villa in between game drives. Although the lodge does have a beautiful communal area (with lounge, bar, dining room, viewing deck, spa and gym), there is no communal pool area. For most guests, that won’t be a problem though since they’ll prefer to spend time within the complete privacy of their own villa compound, which is equipped with a pool anyway (although the villa pools are quite small, very cold and not suitable to swim laps).
- During my stay at Lion Sands Ivory Lodge, I was a bit unlucky with the weather. Despite it being the dry season, it rained a lot, making wildlife quite difficult to spot during the game drives. Of course, that’s not the fault of the lodge. Nonetheless, it felt like the bad weather also affected a bit the motivation of our guide (which is crucial to find the animals and to keep up the spirit). Unfortunately, the guide and tracker often seemed to disagree on what direction to follow, and they did not give the impression of being really engaged during the game drives, so it sometimes felt as if we were just being driven around (although we did get to see the Big Five). That said, I am sure that the experience would have been totally different when the weather would have been nice (which was the case during my previous visit at Lions Sands).
- Location: 10/10
- Design: 10/10
- Pool: 7/10 (private plunge pools only)
- Rooms: 10/10
- Food: 9/10
- Breakfast: 9/10
- Spa: 8/10
- Service: 9/10
- Wow factor: 10/10
- Value for money: 8/10
- Overall experience: exceptional 9/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: read here my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Lion Sands Ivory Lodge (and/or receive many free perks).
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best time to visit Lion Sands Ivory Lodge really depends on your personal preferences – nature has something to offer throughout the year. Incredible game viewing can be experienced at any time and there is not really a ‘best time of year for game viewing’. The Sabi Sand Game Reserve enjoys high temperatures, frequent rains and dramatic thunder storms in the summer months (October to April). The vegetation is lush and verdant attracting incredible bird life while many new borns appear at this time of year. The winter months (May to September) are drier and cooler – the vegetation is sparser resulting in improved visibility for game viewing as the animals make their way to the watering holes for hydration.
HOW TO GET THERE
Lion Sands Ivory Lodge is easily accessible by road from Johannesburg in under 5 hours. Most guests though will prefer to travel by air, by making use of a commercial flight to one of the two nearby airports:
- The tiny Skukuza Airport – the only commercial airport within Kruger National Park – is located about 20 minutes from the lodge and offers daily flights from Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban.
- The distance to the other airport in the area, Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport near Nelspruit, is approximately 110 kilometers (68 miles) and it takes around 1 hour and 30 minutes to get to the lodge
Below is a selection of my photos of Lion Sands Ivory Lodge in Sabi Sand, South Africa. To view more photos (including food and game drives), click here.