Top 10: most luxurious safari lodges in South Africa

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (February 6, 2017): Top 10 most luxurious safari lodges in South Africa.

Whether you are a safari virgin hoping to catch your first glimpse of the Big Five or a safari aficionado with a specific sighting in mind, South Africa will rarely disappoint. And the country offers some ultraluxe accommodations to match the exceptional wildlife experience. Here’s my top 10 of South Africa’s most luxurious safari lodges.

There is more information (with reviews & Youtube clips) below the slide show. Think I missed one? Share your favorite South African safari lodge in the comments section, or take my poll below!

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Named for the African wild dog which calls the local area home, Sanctuary Makanyane Safari Lodge is situated on the edge of a dramatic ravine within Madikwe Game Reserve. This luxurious lodge caters for just sixteen guests, ensuring personal attention and exclusivity. Constructed from local stone, wood and thatch and blending effortlessly with the bush, the lodge allows guests to continuously experience the natural beauty of their surroundings. The eight luxurious suites, each with glass-walled bedrooms, overlook the Marico River, offering uninterrupted views of the surrounding bush. All suites have open-fronted lounges, private sundecks and spacious bathrooms that can be opened to the forest. The lodge has an infinity-edge swimming pool, gym, health and beauty treatment centre and lookout point with magnificent views.

  • Hotel website: Sanctuary Makanyane Safari Lodge

Award-winning Leopard Hills is located in the western sector of the renowned Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, bordering the world-famous Kruger National Park. The lodge is spectacularly situated atop a rocky outcrop, offering magnificent views over the bush and an active waterhole on the plains below. The reserve comprises over 10,000 hectares of incredibly diverse ecosystems making Leopard Hills the ideal destination to view plentiful game in its natural habitat. The five-star luxury lodge features eight newly renovated and decorated glass-fronted, air-conditioned suites, each with private plunge pool and spectacular views over the African bush. Superb game-viewing and a wide variety of activities, along with outstanding fine dining, attended to by professional and friendly staff; all create the safari experience of a lifetime.

  • Hotel website: Leopard Hills Private Game Reserve

Ulusaba Private Game Reserve, member of Virgin Limited Edition’s award-winning collection of retreats, is Sir Richard Branson’s safari lodge located in the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve. Ulusaba means “place of little fear”. That’s because the koppie where Rock Lodge sits provided the ancient Shangaan warriors with the perfect lookout point. Rock Lodge has the best view in the Sabi Sand: perched high on the summit of a koppie, with panoramic views over miles of bush, you should grab a pair of binoculars to see what you can spot. Ulusaba’s other resort, Safari Lodge, is built along the banks of the dry Mabrak riverbed and some of the rooms are built treehouse-style and you really get the feeling of being in the heart of life in the bush. Safari Lodge’s rooms provide fascinating views of the animals as they stroll past on their way to the nearby watering hole.

  • Hotel website: Ulusaba Private Game Reserve

Tswalu Kalahari is South Africa’s largest private game reserve, now protecting over 110,000 hectares of spectacular grasslands and mountains. The owners, the Oppenheimer family, take conservation as their absolute priority and have a vision to “restore the Kalahari to itself.” No more than 30 guests at a time can discover the beauty of this arid savannah, its diverse wildlife and the serenity of what may well be South Africa’s last great wilderness. You can choose to stay at either Tswalu Kalahari’s main property, designated “The Motse”, or at the nearby personal home of the Oppenheimer family, so-called “Tarkuni”. Motse means village in Tswana and it consists of just nine secluded suites, each with their own private deck and open fireplace. Tarkuni’s five luxurious suites, each with a magnificent en-suite bathroom, accommodate a maximum of 10 guests in total and is perfect for families and larger groups.

  • Hotel website: Tswalu Kalahari

Thanda Safari offers an authentic wildlife experience, matched with sincere commitment to the Zulu culture and passionate conservation of the environment. Meaning ‘love’ in isiZulu, Thanda is a proud member of The Leading Hotels of the World and is known for exclusive close-up encounters with Africa’s magnificent Big Five. Thanda Safari offers three very different products, each with their own style, atmosphere and appeal. Thanda Safari Lodge, Thanda’s flagship product, is known for its 9 bush suites – each the height of luxurious exclusivity and African abundance. Villa iZulu is an exclusive bush residence beyond any traditional understanding of extravagance and service. And Thanda Tented Camp, with its 14 grand tents and 1 grande deluxe tent, offers a truly relaxed and authentic safari experience.

  • Hotel website: Thanda Private Game Reserve

Set within 75 000 hectares of safari park, Madikwe Hills Private Game Lodge is situated on a rocky outcrop in the heart of the malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve in the North West Province of South Africa, along the border with Botswana. Ingeniously set amongst boulders and age-old Tamboti trees, the private game lodge terrain is home not only to the big five animals of Africa, but also to a wealth of over 66 mammal species, including the rare African wild dog, as well as cheetah, eland, kudu, giraffe and a range of more than 300 resident and migratory species of birds. The lodge accommodates up to 24 guests in vast, well-spaced and utterly private glass-fronted suites scattered across the hillside, camouflaged by tamboti-beamed thatch roofs.

  • Hotel website: Madikwe Hills Private Game Lodge

Set on the banks of the perennial Klaserie River, Kapama Karula is the flagship five-star lodge of Kapama Game Reserve. Meaning ‘place of peace’, this ultra-luxurious and prestigious lodge exudes calmness and depicts the pinnacle of elegant safari accommodation, with wraparound views of the African bush enhancing the overall sense of tranquillity. Modern whitewashed wood and vast sections of glass, complemented by a neutral colour palette, give Kapama Karula a contemporary African feel. The open-plan lounge and bar are spacious yet cosy, with skylights drawing in natural daylight and moonshine. Kapama Karula has twelve suites, each exquisitely decorated and with generous private space. Each suite has its own outside deck area, full-sized heated swimming pool and sun loungers for relaxation.

  • Hotel website: Kapama Karula
  • Other accolades: Kapama Karula also features in my top 10 list of the best hotels in South Africa.
  • Review: read here my review of Kapama Karula.

Singita Lebombo Lodge is a celebration of cutting-edge design in an African context where everything defers to nature. This dramatic lodge comprises 13 suites and one villa that give guests a front row seat to the Kruger National Park with bold, contemporary open plan suites suspended above the N’Wanetsi River. The exclusive concession is a richly diverse habitat, teeming with game, beneath endless African skies. Other highlights of the lodge include a roof terrace and wine studio (a multi-level retreat which boasts a library, multi-media room, wine studio and rooftop viewing area), an interactive kitchen, and a lovely lap pool. All communal areas of the lodge have been pushed out to ensure that the outside bursts in, offering elegant, calm and meditative spaces immersed in a dramatic landscape of giant euphorbia trees.

  • Hotel website: Singita Lebombo Lodge

Ivory Lodge, which was recently completely renovated, offers its guests an African Bushveld experience in lavish comfort. Extraordinarily beautiful in its simplicity and texture, the lodge’s timeless design incorporates steel, wood, thatch, glass, water & sand enhancing the surrounding bush environment. A sophisticated contemporary theme defines the interiors, with bold furniture and edgy decor, ambient lighting, inferences of tribal design and highly textured finishes. Each of the 8 villas include a private rim flow pool, exquisitely appointed bedroom and lounge, and simply more of everything. The more adventurous may want to opt to stay at one of the ultraluxurious treehouses operated by the same management of in the same wildlife reserve, guaranteeing a once in a lifetime experience and the ultimate African bush experience.

Royal Malewane is a luxury safari lodge with only 7 one- to six-bedroom villas, located in Thornybush private game reserve on the western border of the Kruger National Park. The lodge, which has Bill Gates, Bono and Elton John among its repeat guests, exudes the romance and beauty of a bygone age while offering every modern comfort and convenience. Here, the classic safari experience is unsurpassed with unrivaled Big Five game viewing and the country’s most qualified guiding team, who will provide detailed insights into the complex and fascinating ecosystems of the South African bushveld. Guests can also indulge in sensual treatments at the tranquil waters of Royal Malewane’s Bush Spa and enjoy nightly feasts under the African stars.

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