South Africa is an incredibly diverse country with distinct ecosystems. The sprawling metropolis of Cape Town offers lush beaches and crystal-clear waters and the West Cape produces some of the best wine in the world.
Head north, however, and you enter a different world. It is here where you can come face-to-face with some of the most precious animals on the planet. Despite the vast emptiness of South Africa’s open plains, there are pockets of paradise; incredible lodges that offer once a lifetime adventures and all the amenities one expects from a luxury hotel. Here, we select five of the best.
Virgin owner and billionaire Sir Richard Branson knows how to build a luxury retreat – his own Necker Island is renowned for being one of the most exclusive destinations in the world. In Ulusaba, he has brought that unrivaled luxury straight to the heart of the Sabi Sands Game Reserve. The retreat is separated into two lodges: Rock Lodge and Safari Lodge.
Rock Lodge is perched on the top of a koppie with panoramic views over the bush below while Safari Lodge boasts adventurous tree house-style rooms. The Cliff Lodge, a part of Rock Lodge, is the height of luxury here. The two suites can be booked together for exclusive use, which includes your own private chef and a private vehicle for game drives.
Elite Traveler had the privilege of reviewing Royal Malewane following an extensive renovation in 2018. At the time, excitement was already building for their upcoming private safari lodge, The Farmstead. This stunning new section, which opened this month, is located just 12 minutes from the main house and offers the same exceptional service that guests have become accustomed to since it opened in 1999.
The lodge’s other villas also benefitted from last year’s renovation. The redesign was led by owner of The Royal Portfolio, Liz Biden, who succeeded in blending a classic safari style with modern and contemporary elements.
Each evening meal is an unforgettable experience. Guests can find themselves dining by candlelight on one night and dancing beneath the stars the next. There are also a range of activities to enjoy, including a visit to the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre for close encounters with eagles, owls, vultures, wild dogs, lions and leopard, among other wildlife species.
Singita Boulders Lodge
Singita Boulders Lodge caused an almighty stir when it first appeared on the banks of the Sand River in 1996. The 12 suites were unapologetically modern, built from rock and shaped by great glass walls. Locals were shocked but tourists loved it.
Now, 23 years later, it is a pillar of the safari industry and remains one of South Africa’s most sought-after lodges. Light floods through all corners of the property, allowing guests to stay in touch with the surrounding Sabi Sand Reserve at all times – even the showers are outside.
Game drives into the lodge’s private reserve are a daily affair with expert guides and trackers on hand to increase your chances of seeing South Africa’s most elusive wildlife. There are a variety of activates to undertake back at the lodge, including a wine tasting session that unbottles some of the most treasured South African vintages.
Opened in April 2019, Cheetah Plains is the freshest lodge out of the luxury safari box. The new lodge is comprised of three houses that celebrate state-of-the-art architecture, South African art and fine wine. The designers have shunned the traditional safari look in favor of a contemporary look. The three houses each come complete with a private pool, dedicated safari guide, a chef, wine gallery and a spa therapist.
The lodge also has some serious eco credentials. The cars that take you into the game reserve are fully electric. The specially-designed Land Cruisers look like traditional safari cars, but use Tesla batteries to make sure they minimize the impact on the environment. The lodge also expects to produce 100 percent of its electricity through solar panels from this month throughout the season.
Singita Ebony Lodge
Singita Ebony Lodge was the only South African safari lodge to be included in Elite Traveler’s Top 100 Hotels for 2019. It was included not just because of its super-stylish décor and stunning suites, but because of its inspiring conservation programs. The lodge is comprised of 12 suites, each with its own private pool, fireplace and a suspended deck. From there, guests are likely to see animals drinking from the river below.
Their night-game drives are a must if you want to increase your chances of spotting the elusive leopard. The bush lodge-style runs consistently throughout the property, providing guests with a true sense of classic safari romance.