An African safari is an adventure that should be on every traveller’s bucket-list. But how to choose between the hundreds of lodges scattered from the Serengeti to the Skeleton Coast? Whether you’re tracking chimpanzees or marvelling at the migration, these seven lodges will keep you coming back for more.
1. Singita Boulders Lodge, South Africa
There are few better places in Africa to see big cats than the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, adjoining South Africa’s famous Kruger National Park. Here, on the banks of the Sand River, Singita Boulders Lodge has long set the bar for high-end safaris — and, after a major refurbishment, the lodge is looking more impressive than ever. The decor has been refined by interior designer Boyd Ferguson to an organic, earthy expression of the space and tranquillity of the surrounding bush, with a muted colour palette, bespoke furniture and superb artwork adorning the walls. Those eponymous boulders make their presence felt throughout the lodge, too: in the stone cladding alongside four-poster beds draped in romantic netting; protruding like the backs of elephants through the spacious wooden deck overlooking the river and, most notably, dominating the wine cellar.
Singita boasts the most impressive wine collection of any safari outfit in Africa, with well-trained sommeliers on hand to offer pairings with your dinner, or guided tastings through top South African estates. It’s the perfect partnership to the superb guides that bring the wildlife of the Sabi Sand to life each day. While those wild encounters will no doubt be a highlight of your stay, in the case of Singita Boulders, the lodge is as much a destination in itself.
+27 13 735 9800; www.singita.com
2. And Beyond Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge, Botswana
Botswana’s Okavango Delta, the world’s largest inland delta, is a watery wonderland of crystal clear channels fringed by lush forests and waving grasslands. And with the September 2014 reopening of Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge, award-winning safari operator &Beyond has added a dose of cutting-edge, eco-friendly design to this bucket-list destination.
Inspired by the armour-like skin of the elusive pangolin, the wooden shingles and soaring timber beams help Sandibe blend effortlessly into the landscape. Just eight luxury suites stretch away from the lodge, with each room raised above the papyrus reed banks to offer panoramic delta views from every corner. The decor is organic yet quirky, with tree trunk side tables, crocodile-embossed leather sofas and subtle African motifs that won’t detract or distract from the views beyond. King-size beds look straight out onto the delta; the sounds of native bird calls and elephants splashing in the water act as your morning wake-up call. Winding wooden walkways lead to decks that jut out over the channels, offering superb sunset views as the guttural grunting of hippos provides a soundtrack to a gourmet dinner under the stars.
Unlike many other lodges in the Okavango, Sandibe also offers game drives each morning and afternoon, with game viewing possible throughout the year regardless of whether the delta is in flood. Night drives are another unique activity here, offering the chance to spot leopard, serval, and lions on the hunt.
+27 11 809 4314; www.andbeyond.com
3. Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, Rwanda
Trekking to find mountain gorillas remains one of the most thrilling wilderness experiences in Africa, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. The long walks across steep terrain, battling thick forests and muddy tracks, make seeking out the families of habituated wild gorillas in the Virunga Mountains a tough ask for most travellers — which makes the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge all the more welcome.
As the first luxe lodge in close proximity to Rwanda’s iconic Parc National des Volcans, this unique property combines the charm of a small country hotel with the exotic flavour of a traditional safari lodge. The styling of the six cottages and two suites is comfortable rather than luxurious, but all offer spacious lounges, en suite bathrooms and sheltered verandas offering views of the majestic Virunga Mountains. Aside from regular treks to view the Sabyinyo gorillas, walks to discover the local colonies of golden monkey are also offered, along with mountain bike and bird-watching excursions. Visits to Dian Fossey’s original research camp at Karisoke, as well as the Buhanga Sacred Forest, are also available.
+254 20 273 4000; www.governorscamp.com
4. Rubondo Island Camp, Tanzania
An island where elephants roam the forests, chimpanzees hide in trees and massive Nile perch cruise the waters? This may be one of the most remarkable wilderness destinations in Africa and the largest island national park on the continent, but don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of Rubondo. Nor of its eight-suite safari camp that clings to the shore of Lake Victoria.
Rubondo seems built for the jaded safari traveller who has been everywhere and got the T-shirt collection to prove it. This exclusive camp by award-winning operator Asilia Africa uses only local materials and labour to ensure an authentic luxury escape. High canvas roofs let the lake breezes whisper through camp, while African colours add dashes of vibrancy to the otherwise muted tones of the lodge.
Your day moves to the rhythm of the island, with morning forest walks to discover the local birdlife and — if you’re lucky — the families of wild chimpanzees that call the untouched equatorial forest home. Daily canoe and fishing excursions (catch and release only) will get you out onto the waters of Africa’s largest lake. And if you prefer to stay at camp and relax, in-room massage treatments are also available.
+27 21 418 0468; www.rubondo.asiliaafrica.com
5. Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, Namibia
Hoanib isn’t the sort of lodge you stumble across, or visit on a whim. For this is one of the most remote camps in Namibia; a land never short on personal space. With just two million people in a country nearly three times the size of Germany, its former colonial ruler, there’s enough room for everyone. And so too at this beautiful camp from Wilderness Safaris.
Bedouin-style tents and a playful sense of interior design make this one of the most modern safari camps in Southern Africa, with glass walls letting the desert vistas dominate each canvas-clad suite. Sustainability is key here too, with the camp running entirely on solar power.
Daily wilderness excursions leave at the crack of dawn to avoid the worst of the searing desert heat. One day could see you navigating the dry Hoanib River bed, traversing dusty flood plains and windswept dune fields to emerge on the fog-shrouded shoreline of the Skeleton Coast. Another could have you heading inland in search of the desert-adapted elephants and lions that have made their home here. Whichever it is, the days are utterly memorable. Return to one of the eight suites, each with its own private deck, where a glass of chilled South African wine and an explosion of stars overhead greet weary, dusty travellers at the end of another great day out.
+27 -21 -702 -7500; www.wilderness-safaris.com
6. Singita Mara River Tented Camp, Tanzania
Experienced safari travellers speak of the Lamai Wedge in hushed tones. Sandwiched between Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve and the Mara River, this northern-most tip of the Serengeti National Park is at the heart of the action during the annual Great Migration. This is where the vast herds of wildebeest gather in their hundreds of thousands before braving the crocodile-infested waters of the Mara River.
In stark contrast to the muted greens and browns of the Serengeti, there’s a decidedly playful feel to this famous camp. Nguni lampshades and artworks by local craftsmen add a touch of contemporary Afro-bohemian chic, while the white canvas roofs and classic decor touches hark back to the days of vintage safaris.
The bare-bones approach of those early days is long gone though: each of the six canvas-tented suites offers en-suite facilities with a memorable outdoor bath, while the main lodge has Wi-Fi access and a plunge pool with views of the Mara River. Worried about the impact of all these modern conveniences? Don’t be; this eco-friendly camp runs entirely off solar energy.
+27 21 683 3424; www.singita.com/mara-river-tented-camp
7. Chinzombo Camp, Zambia
Norman Carr Safaris have always blazed a trail in the South Luangwa National Park, a secluded slice of Zambian wilderness. They were the first to offer walking safaris and the first to train Zambians as expert local guides. And now they’re the first to offer an ultra-luxurious safari experience in this remarkable part of the African continent.
Chinzombo Camp is set on 24 hectares of private river frontage. Six spacious villas (including one for a group of at least five guests) rest in the shade of ancient msikzi trees, and the view from each deck is an uninterrupted panorama over a bend in the Luangwa River. Each villa offers a plunge pool and an open-sided bathroom, with classic touches complementing the modern design ethos.
Norman Carr Safaris also has some of the best guides in the business and is particularly famous for its thrilling walking safaris. The South Luangwa National Park offers one of the most untouched safari destinations on the continent, giving guests a chance to take the road less travelled. For those looking for exclusivity and luxury in equal measure, Chinzombo Camp is it.
+260 216 246025; www.normancarrsafaris.com