Africa is like nowhere else on earth. It’s the cradle of human civilisation, where ancient cultures live and thrive, wild animals stalk jungles and plains, and a billion stars light up the night sky, seemingly for you and you alone.
What better way to experience this prehistoric continent than surrounded by nature at its most pure, staying within the romantic surrounds of a luxury African safari lodge, of course.
Searching for the big five animals by day, sleeping in a premium tented camp or treehouse villa by night, and then waking to the sight of an elephant or zebra passing by your window… every day presents a new adventure.
The best luxury African safari lodges
In no particular order, and by no means a definitive list, here are some of the very best African safari lodges, resorts and glamping tents.
1. Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge – Botswana
Botswana’s Chobe National Park offers unparalleled wildlife viewing. Not only is it home to the highest concentration of animals – including the lions, cheetahs and buffalo – all year round, it also lays claim to the continent’s largest population of elephants.
Although many would gladly sleep in a ramshackle hide to get the closest view, you don’t have to. Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge is home to 12 exquisite tented rooms perched on elevated timber platforms, complemented by expertly prepared dishes, premium wines, a spa and more.
In addition to unforgettable safari drives, guests can watch fireflies dance in the shadows at nightly campfire gatherings, feel dwarfed by a cathedral-like grove of baobab trees, see 1,500-year-old bush paintings, or use powerful telescopes to explore the clear sky.
2. Sanctuary Retreats Chief’s Camp – Botswana
A haven where luxury, wildlife, adventure and relaxation unite, Chief’s Camp is the flagship property of Sanctuary Retreats. Set within Moremi Game Reserve, at the heart of the biodiverse Okavango Delta, its ‘safari chic’ style delivers the quintessential African experience.
The camp features 10 timber bush pavilions and one suite, each with an outside seating area and terrace pool – perfect for viewing abundant wildlife that calls the reserve home.
Elephants, rhinos, zebras and more than 500 bird species can be seen here year-round.
Visitors can join expert guides on 4×4 drives, paddle on a ‘mokoro’ dugout canoe, or even take to the sky with a scenic helicopter flight.
Sanctuary Chief’s Camp also supports a Rhino Relocation project, which aims to protect and conserve rhinos that face critical threats.
3. Lion Sands Game Reserve – South Africa
Skirting the edges of Sabi Sabi and Kruger National Park, Lion Sands Game Reserve is one of the most awarded lodges in South Africa. With six different accommodation options, from the classic River Lodge to intimate Fish Eagle Residence, there’s something for every taste.
The ultimate experience though? The treehouses: luxurious, lantern-lit open-air huts equipped with four poster beds, where you can sleep under a brilliant starry sky, with the stillness of the night punctuated only by animals’ whistles, huffs and growls.
Whichever lodge you choose though, it’s guaranteed to be a life-changing experience.
4. Singita Sabora Tented Camp – Tanzania
Situated in the Grumeti Reserves, a wilderness area spanning over 350,000 acres adjacent to Serengeti National Park, Singita Sabora Tented Camp is like a time capsule of a bygone era. It’s authentic and luxurious without being over the top.
Refurbished in 2021, Sabora’s stripped-back new look offers a modern interpretation of the tented safari experience with nine ensuite tents. Each is now styled in an earthy palette that befits its bushland setting, with fresh takes on classic furnishings giving them a contemporary edge.
Attentive yet discreet service is a trademark of the Singita brand, with knowledgeable staff and guides on hand to offer insights into the beauty and biodiversity of each location. Lions, buffalo, elephants, gazelle and wildebeest are just a handful of the animals to be found.
5. Mahali Mzuri – Kenya
Virgin Limited Edition has an enviable stable of exclusive properties around the globe, from ski chalets to tropical islands. Its remote Kenyan property Mahali Mzuri – named #1 in the world in the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards 2021 – is its shining star.
Ensconced in the renowned Masai Mara Reserve, the 12 tent bush camp offers a front row seat to the Great Migration, where some two millions animals (including wildebeest, zebras and gazelle) annually migrate from between the Masai Mara and Tanzania’s Serengeti.
Mahali Mzuri sits within the 33,000 Olare Motorogi Conservancy. Although you could easily sit back and let the wildlife come to you, the camp’s experienced field guides can tailor an experience just for you, seeking out the animals that sit atop your African bucket list.
6. Singita Lebombo Lodge – South Africa
Perched above the N’wanetsi River in Kruger National Park, Singita Lebombo Lodge is a different kind of experience, yet one that is just as enchanting. The design, inspired by bird’s nests lining the waterway, is unobtrusive, fading into the natural landscape.
Accessed via air from Johannesburg, followed by a brief scenic drive, the lodge is surrounded by a 33,000-acre private concession within the national park. Leopards, lions, hippos, hyena, nyala… the wildlife on offer within its confines is truly remarkable.
Each of the 15 loft-style suites is tastefully furnished with rustic-chic decor and floor-to-ceiling windows to take advantage of the view, together with a sleepout on the balcony for stargazing.
There’s also a 25-metre swimming pool, roof terrace, and the Singita Community Cooking School onsite. The school provides employment and training for the local community, is a great way for guests to delve into the local cuisine – and eat it too.
7. andBeyond Phinda Rock Lodge – South Africa
Dramatically set into a cliffside overlooking Leopard Rock, andBeyond Phinda Rock Lodge is one of six enchanting retreats nestled within a 70,000 acre private game reserve spanning seven distinct habitats. Though all six are worth visiting, Rock Lodge is truly unique.
Catering to just 12 guests at a time, each of its six suites is built from rustic contoured stone and adobe, with extensive exposed beams and timber shutters, and opening to a private plunge pool and outdoor shower. And the views? Astonishing.
While there, you can experience a variety of adventures, including twice-daily game drives offering a chance to spot rare black rhinos and elusive leopards, nature walks, conservation and community experiences, local village tours, and night drives.
8. Angama Mara – Kenya
Taking its name from a Swahili word meaning ‘suspended in mid air’, Angama Mara fits that description to a tee – with views like you’re floating above the Great Rift Valley. Wildlife spotting can be enjoyed, but it’s the interaction with the local people that sets this lodge apart.
In the heartland of Maasailand, guests can experience the Maasai culture, interacting with these remarkable people at the lodge and in the surrounding community. Dancing warriors, walks with a Maasai naturalist guide, and beading with the mamas can all be experienced daily.
Straddling two small kopjes (hills), the lodge features 30 spacious canvas tents, with polished parquet floors, brass finishes and floor-to-ceiling windows to take advantage of the outlook.
9. andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge – Namibia
Though its setting amid an ocean of sand dunes, rocky outcrops and gravel plains could easily overwhelm it, the architecture of Sossusvlei Desert Lodge more than holds its own.
Spread along the curve of an escarpment, the 11 suite lodge is stunning from all angles. At its core is the main guest area, with an elegant circular swimming pool, inviting lounge and bar, and decks with binoculars ready for you to take a closer look at the landscape.
Scenic helicopter flights and private picnics, guided hikes and e-bike rides, hot air balloon flights and dune walks within the parched Namib Desert, including a chance to scale the 325-metre ‘big daddy’ dune, are just a handful of the activities available.
10. MalaMala – South Africa
Lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and African buffalo – better known as the ‘big five’ – sit atop every safari goers wish list. At MalaMala, within the sprawling Sabi Sand Game Reserve, visitors can witness all of these majestic creatures in one place, and so many more.
A typical day begins with a morning safari drive, followed by a midday siesta (with sensational food and drinks to boot), before venturing out to see what else you can find. As darkness unfolds, powerful spotlights are employed to help you spot elusive nocturnal wildlife.
There are three enchanting camps to choose from: Rattray’s, Sable and MalaMala Camp, each offering a unique experience, yet sharing the same luxury DNA. MalaMala is also one of just a few African safari lodges to have a universally accessible suite for disabled guests.
11. Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp – Uganda
Lions and tigers and bears? Not here. Set within Uganda’s famed Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp is all about primates. And the first fleeting glimpse of a giant silverback or baby gorilla spied through the trees is a moment you’ll never forget.
Each of the ten 10 suites is a haven of earthy refinement, with textured furnishings echoing the greenery outside. Stone-walled bathrooms with deep soaking bathtubs are an appreciated addition, particularly after trekking through the jungle in search of gorillas.
As with all Sanctuary Retreats, gourmet food, wine and impeccable service are all highlights. As is the spa, which uses Africology products infused with some of South Africa’s indigenous plants, such as Rooibos, Aloe Ferox, Marula and African Potato.
12. Ulusaba Private Game Reserve – South Africa
Set within the vast Sabi Sand Reserve, on Kruger’s western border, Ulusaba is another of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Limited Edition properties. Its name, meaning ‘place of little fear’, refers to its mountaintop location, once used as a lookout by brave warriors.
All-inclusive of meals, drinks and two daily game drives, the hotel offers 20 gorgeous rooms and suites spanning three distinct lodges: Rock Lodge, Safari Lodge and Cliff Lodge, each affording beautiful views of the surrounding wildlife reserve. It can even be hired exclusively.
Beyond the wildlife, guests can indulge with cocktails by the pool, treat themselves to bespoke spa treatments, or volunteer and visit local villages – there’s no shortage of things to do.