Escape into Africa

Where wild meets sophistication for the travel experience of a lifetime.

An African safari is one of the world’s top travel experiences and these top 10 lodges will allow you to encounter the wildlife without sacrificing creature comforts.

6 January, 2020

Few things beat the thrill of an up-close encounter with elephants, lions or leopards, but if you really want to cap off an African day, then a luxe lodge with view-gazing bar, fine dining and a claw-foot bath provides a welcome way to unwind after the adrenaline of a safari. The fusion of wild landscapes, wild animals and sophisticated accommodation is what makes Africa such a stand-out destination. Here are 10 winning examples.

Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, South Africa

Kwandwe has a host of large animals, an active carnivore research program into leopards and cheetahs, and terrific bird life that includes the eagles and endangered blue cranes. Night safaris allow you to spot aardvark and aardwolf, those baffling animals on a dictionary’s first page. The reserve sits in an area of historic interest; its fortified reception lodge dates from the Frontier War era. Great Fish River Lodge is furnished in 1820s settler farmhouse style, while Ecca Lodge is retro-cool, with giant modernistic prints.

Ruckomechi Camp, Zimbabwe

The floodplains of Mana Pools National Park provide lush habitat for diverse wildlife such as elands, elephants and lions, all frequently sighted from the camp. Lodges sheltered by giant mahogany trees gaze over the Zambezi River towards the Great Rift Valley in Zambia. Cruises and canoeing let you view riverine life such as hippos, crocodiles and fish eagles. Anglers can tackle sharp-toothed tiger fish, one of inland Africa’s fiercest game fish. Accommodation is in luxury tents; an old-fashioned outdoor bath tempts with a soak beneath the stars.

Bateleur Camp, Kenya

This retreat on the less-frequented western edge of Masai Mara National Reserve is a superb spot from which to explore one of Kenya’s best safari parks. Wildlife is abundant; the annual zebra and wildebeest migration is one of the natural world’s most spectacular sights. Batleur’s 1930s-style tents come with polished floorboards, leather armchairs, private bathrooms and a personal butler who serves a memorable bush breakfast for an Out of Africa experience. There’s even a gin bar where you can swap tall tales of bush adventures as sunsets flare.

Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge, Namibia

Sossusvlei sits on the edge of the beautiful, haunting Namib Desert, where jagged mountains and the world’s highest sand dunes can be explored by safari vehicle, quad bike or hot-air balloon. By day, you’ll see many classic African animals, as well as mountain zebras and oryx with glossy coats and sweeping horns. In the evenings, you can sip whiskey by the fire on a deck overlooking an animal-attracting waterhole. Night skies are spectacular; a resident astronomer helps you explore the heavens through a powerful telescope.

Ngala Private Game Reserve, South Africa

The first private reserve to become part of Kruger National Park features some of Africa’s richest concentrations of wildlife. It offers accommodation in thatched cottages with communal dining areas and swimming pool, plus a more exclusive tented camp whose wooden decks overlook the seasonal Timbavati River. You can spot animals from your glass-walled shower; hard to know whether human or beast is the more startled. Rather unnerving walking safaris allow you to track rhino and elephant on foot for an added frisson of adventure.

Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma, Zambia

Although there are two private family lodges here, 12 treehouses connected by wooden walkways through ebony trees are the more romantic option. Indulge in a spa treatment, perch like a bird on the deck for your sundowner, and sleep like a pasha in a vast four-poster bed swathed in gossamer mosquito nets. The getaway sits on superb bend of the Zambezi River 12 kilometres upstream from Victoria Falls in Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park, home to rare white rhinos as well as giraffes, elephants and zebras.

Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, Tanzania

Anyone who dreams of Africa dreams of the Serengeti plains and dramatic Ngorongoro Crater. This Masai-style lodge delivers the dream with a crater-edge location that makes it the most spectacular of all African lodges. You’re surrounded by towering cliffs, montane forest, wide grasslands and soda lakes on which flamingo flock – not to mention superlative wildlife. Lodges at three different camp locations border on the opulent, with chandeliers, gilt mirrors, silk curtains and antiques. Floor-to-ceiling windows extend even to en-suites, capturing gobsmacking outlooks. 

Sadibe Safari Lodge, Botswana

The floodplains of Botswana’s Okavango Delta change dramatically with the seasons, and in the June-to-September flooding period are alive with shimmering dragonflies and kingfishers, eagles swooping on fish, and wallowing hippos. You’ll also see elephants and big cats, as well as more unusual creatures such as honey badgers and sable antelopes. Sadibe sits beneath fig trees on one of the delta’s permanent waterways and is unusual for its stunning contemporary architecture of curved wooden walls and ceilings, said to mimic the scales of a pangolin, one of the delta’s nocturnal creatures.

Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp, Uganda

Few animal encounters are as compelling as a face-to-face meeting with wild gorillas, and sometimes these magnificent creatures take a wander through the safari camp itself in this remote highland area of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. You can stare over the rainforest from its deck – and the dining room and bar, even as you’re tucking into four-course dinners with silver service. This is a safari with a difference; the ecosystem supports a dozen primate and monkey species, 200 butterfly species and over 350 types of birds.

Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa

Phinda, bordering Greater St Lucia Wetland Park in KwaZulu-Natal, is home to the ‘Big Five’ and plenty more wildlife, while the coast nearby has a very diverse marine ecosystem. You could be swimming among colourful fish in the morning, spotting lions in the afternoon and paddling the river by evening, where yawning hippos display cavernous pink mouths full of yellowed teeth. Varied lodges have different locations in forest, mountain or vlei grassland; the best might be Rock Lodge, set into a cliff overlooking a lush valley.