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Best safari lodges in South Africa 2024/25

Our South Africa expert gives insight into the best places to stay on SA safari.

Alistair

Alistair

Africa Specialist
Published on

19 Dec 2023

Updated on

16 Apr 2024

Best Lodges in SA 1

When evaluating the top safari lodges in South Africa, the key criteria may seem quite straightforward. Primarily, one should consider the richness of wildlife opportunities available. Following closely in importance are the standards of guiding, and not to be overlooked, the levels of hospitality and comfort provided.

Nevertheless, the situation is more intricate than it appears. For instance, take Sabi Sands, where you'll find a plethora of high-end lodges in close proximity to each other. Many would argue that these lodges provide similar wildlife and guiding experience, which prompts them to distinguish themselves by offering increasingly opulent accommodation, wine lists that would tantalize even the most discerning sommeliers, and spa facilities that rival those of a five-star country club.

Often, it comes to personal taste, or due to the demand of these luxurious establishments, simply what is available. In the latter case, an unknown gem is frequently discovered when the standard is so high. Throughout South Africa the boundaries are constantly being driven higher as are the prices, this doesn’t stop the ferocious demand of the wealthy Europeans, Americans, and Japanese. Below I look at a few and in no order nominate what I consider to be the best in various locations across South Africa.

Sabi Sands Leopard
Leopard in a tree

Best of the Sabi Sands


Londolozi Private Game Reserve

Londolozi is known for its luxurious accommodation with a blend of modern amenities and traditional African aesthetics, exceptional wildlife viewing and a strong focus on conservation, including anti-poaching efforts and wildlife research. The wildlife viewing is all but guaranteed and their guides and trackers offer super local knowledge as well as a friendly smile and good chat whilst offering you your sundowner.

The reserve has a rich and proud history, dating back to the early 1920s when it was first established as a hunting concession, however, it has since transitioned into a beautiful contemporary conservation-focused lodge.

Londolozi Private Granite Suites welcomes families (over 12) and offers family-friendly accommodations and activities. This makes it an excellent choice for multi-generational travel and introducing children to the wonders of the African wilderness.

What stands out about The Granite Suites over the other Londolozi Lodges is the marvellous contemporary feel and spacious air of their suites. All have magical views out over the Sand River along with private plunge pool and outdoor shower as well as the biggest comfiest beds. Definitely one if you are looking for a stylish stay.

Private Granite Suites Outside Riverview Elephants bath South Africa
Londolozi private Granite Suites

Singita Boulders

Singita Boulders offers ultra-luxurious lodgings with a reputation for top-notch service and wildlife experiences. Boulders’ sister property Ebony based in a very similar location also offers the same service and experience but in my opinion, the rooms offered at Boulders are more interesting and have a more modern feel. As with Londolozi the game viewing is outstanding (they are neighbouring concessions after all) and the guides and trackers are excellent.

Singita's lodges are renowned for their architectural brilliance and harmonious integration with the natural surroundings. The lodges are designed with meticulous attention to detail, combining current aesthetics with African influences and whilst that sounds familiar to Londolozi, Singita does this brilliantly with a different take. Singita is also known for its world-class dining experiences. Guests can savour gourmet meals prepared with locally sourced ingredients beautifully paired with some of the best South African wines. Private dining experiences in the bush or on the lodges' decks are also available.

All the Singita properties are deeply committed to conservation and sustainable tourism. The organization is involved in various conservation initiatives, including anti-poaching efforts, community development, and wildlife research. Guests have the opportunity to learn about and support these efforts during their stay.

Deck at Singita Boulders South Africa
Relaxing on the deck at Singita Boulders

Ivory Lodge

Ivory Lodge - Lion Sands, offers ultra-luxurious and beautifully designed private suites. These ultra-private villas are spacious, elegantly furnished, and equipped with modern amenities, private plunge pools, outdoor showers, and expansive viewing decks…again, sound familiar?

So, what sets Ivory Lodge apart? Their super sleep-out tree houses for one. The lodge has three of these (shared with its sister properties) and whilst the rooms at Ivory Lodge, or most other lodges in this blog, want for nothing, there is nothing that beats the romance of sleeping out underneath the blanket of African stars, happy in the knowledge that you are both comfortable and safe! You will head out to one of these treehouses with a hamper of goodies in the afternoon, have a sumptuous dinner and then enjoy being cosy in a big comfy bed watching the night sky and listening to the sounds of the bush. Your guide will pick you up the following morning and you will head back to your room after your game drive. A simple but very beautiful experience and one you must do.

Ivory Lodge Lion Sands Sleepout deck South Africa 1
Ivory Lodge Lion Sands Sleepout deck

These three lodges offer the best in contemporary luxury and there is really very little to choose between them – food, service, guiding, wildlife experience, conservation and sustainability in what is probably the most sought-after safari destination in South Africa – The Sabi Sands.

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Londolozi Private Granite Suites
Londolozi Private Granite Suites
Singita Boulders Lodge Pool
Pool at Singita Boulders
Bedroom view Lion Sands Ivory Lodge Sabi Sands South Africa
View from the bed, Ivory Lodge

Best lodges for pure game viewing


MalaMala

MalaMala Game Reserve, situated in the renowned Sabi Sands region within the Kruger National Park, is celebrated for its exceptional location and abundant wildlife. Within this remarkable reserve, there are three exceptional camps to choose from: Rattray's on MalaMala, MalaMala Main Camp, and Sable Camp. My personal favourite among them is Sable Camp, which is a gem within the larger MalaMala Camp. It offers an intimate VIP experience with its private pool and exclusive dining facilities, making it a top choice for those seeking a luxurious and secluded retreat in the heart of the wild.

Mala Mala is located on a large area of land wedged in between the Sabi Sands concession and the Kruger National Park. One of the original lodges it is proud to own the largest tract of land on which to game view with more river frontage than any of the others (they like to remind you of this!) and due to this tremendous position, it doesn’t feel the need to share traversing rights with any neighbours making your game viewing experience superbly private.

Mala Mala
MalaMala lodge

Mala Mala also has a long and distinguished history moving from hunting to sustainable photographic safaris. A great example of this evolution is that today many of the rangers are female, a concept which was unthought of even ten years ago. From a purely game-viewing experience, it is hard to argue with Mala Mala’s position and exclusive game-viewing area for any of its lodges. The reserve permits off-road game drives where there will be little or no ecological impact, which means that guides can get closer to the animals for better viewing and photography opportunities. They do not have time restrictions for game drives, allowing guides and guests to spend as much time as needed observing wildlife behaviour and they keep detailed records of wildlife sightings, helping guides predict animal movements and increasing the chances of successful game drives.

If you are looking for a more upmarket stay then consider Rattrays at Mala Mala which is a notch up with huge rooms and pretty glitzy décor – not for everyone but certainly unique!

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Mala Mala Bedroom
Bedroom at Mala Mala
Mala Mala  Kids  Program
Mala Mala kids program

Best for kids


Established officially in 1991, Madikwe Game Reserve stands as a testament to an ambitious and triumphant conservation initiative. It involved the remarkable transformation of former farmland into a protected wildlife haven. Thanks to its remarkable diversity of ecosystems, malaria-free status, Big 5 wildlife, and its convenient proximity to Johannesburg, Madikwe has long been a favored destination for young families.

Madikwe Safari Lodge

At the forefront of hosting young families in this reserve is the Madikwe Safari Lodge, setting a high standard for family-friendly accommodation. At Madikwe Safari Lodge special activities are laid on for kids, providing special programs and activities for children, including educational and fun game drives tailored to their interests. These may involve tracking animal prints, learning about wildlife, and even assisting with bush survival skills and Junior Ranger Programmes, where kids can earn certificates and badges for their wildlife knowledge and participation in conservation activities. These programs are both educational and entertaining. If the children are too young to go on a drive, then the offer of childcare and babysitting services gives parents some time to relax and enjoy their safari experience without worrying about their children's safety and entertainment. The lodge also provides child-friendly meal options as well as flexible game drive times ensuring that children are well-fed and accommodated.

Pool with a view Rockfig Madikwe Safari Lodge
Pool at Madikwe Safari Lodge
Madikwe Children On Safari
Madikwe kids on safari

Jaci's Safari Lodge

Jaci's Safari Lodge offers exceptionally family-friendly features, often providing spacious and comfortable family suites or interconnected rooms. This accommodation allows families to stay together while still enjoying privacy and a relaxed atmosphere.

For an even more exclusive family experience, look at Jaci's Nari Suite. This unique offering includes private accommodations with a dedicated pool, personal chef, guide, and vehicle. It provides a tranquil and private environment where kids of all ages can enjoy a memorable safari experience.

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Jacis Safari Lodge Nare Suite
Jaci's Safari Nari Suite
Jacis Safari Lodge Safari Vehicle
Game drive at Jaci's Safari

Best for being completely different


Tswalu Kalahari Reserve

Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, located in the Northern Cape of South Africa, is a unique and exclusive safari destination that offers a remarkable and immersive experience in the heart of the Kalahari Desert. Tswalu is South Africa's largest privately owned game reserve, ensuring that your safari experience is intimate and unspoiled. Its vast and diverse landscape features red dunes, arid savannah, grasslands, and dry riverbeds, creating a striking contrast to traditional safari destinations.

The reserve is home to a variety of wildlife, including iconic species like lions, cheetahs, and black rhinos, as well as unique desert-adapted creatures like meerkats and pangolins. The rarity and exclusivity of the animal encounters make it a sought-after destination for wildlife enthusiasts.

Tswalu is known for its commitment to conservation and sustainability, as well as its dedication to protecting endangered species. Guests can engage with the reserve's conservation initiatives, which adds depth and meaning to the safari experience.

Baby meerkats Tswalu Safari lodge South Africa
Baby meerkats at Tswalu

The reserve offers a range of activities beyond traditional game drives, such as horseback safaris, walking safaris, and star-gazing experiences. This diversity of activities allows you to connect with the environment in different ways and gain a deeper understanding of the Kalahari's unique ecosystem.

Accommodations at Tswalu are luxurious and blend seamlessly with the natural surroundings. They provide comfort and privacy, with each suite featuring a private plunge pool and expansive views of the vast landscape.

Traveling to Tswalu is an opportunity to explore a distinct and less-visited part of South Africa, away from the more popular safari destinations. The remoteness and exclusivity of Tswalu create a sense of solitude and tranquillity that allows you to immerse yourself in the beauty of the Kalahari.

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Loapi firepit at dusk Tswalu Safari lodge South Africa
Loapi camp Tswalu Kalahari Reserve
Motse Tswalu Safari lodge South Africa
Motse Tswalu Lodge

Best for scenery


Samara Private Game Reserve, located in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, offers a captivating and distinctive safari experience that stands out for several compelling reasons.

For wildlife enthusiasts, Samara offers exciting opportunities to encounter the Big Five in their natural habitat, albeit in lesser numbers than its more well-known contemporaries. Game drives and guided walks are expertly crafted to maximize your chances of witnessing these iconic animals. The reserve is also a birdwatcher's paradise, home to a diverse avian population. Bird enthusiasts will appreciate the opportunity for birdwatching and photography.

What sets Samara apart is the scenery at Samara Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Africa is truly awe-inspiring, defined by its varied and distinctive landscapes. Here, you'll find a rich tapestry of natural beauty that enchants visitors with its diversity. One of the most notable features of Samara is its location within the Great Karoo, a vast semi-arid plateau renowned for its rugged and unique charm. The semi-desert environment is a striking blend of vast plains, imposing mountain ranges, and deep valleys.

Karoo lodge Samara Reserve min
Karoo Lodge at Samara

The expansive open plains at Samara offer sweeping vistas where you can witness an array of wildlife. Rolling hills add depth and character to the landscape, creating undulating terrain that provides elevated vantage points for panoramic views and the opportunity to spot wildlife from afar. The network of river valleys within the reserve is a hidden gem, brimming with lush vegetation and serving as a haven for a diverse array of wildlife, from colourful birds to larger mammals. These valleys offer a beautiful contrast to the surrounding plains and hills. And not to forget the dramatic mountain ranges at Samara provide a stunning backdrop to the scenery. Towering peaks not only add to the visual allure but also play a crucial role in the ecology of the region, influencing weather patterns and water sources.

Traveling to Samara Private Game Reserve offers a unique opportunity to connect with nature, contribute to conservation, and immerse yourself in the rugged beauty of the Eastern Cape. Whether you are a seasoned safari enthusiast or a first-time visitor, Samara delivers an authentic and enriching experience that leaves a lasting and meaningful impression.

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Elephant and calf at Karoo lodge Samara Reserve min
Elephant and calf at Karoo Lodge
View from Karoo suite Karoo lodge Samara Reserve min
View from suite Karoo Lodge

Best for channelling your inner Elton John


Royal Malewane is highly regarded for its luxury, exceptional service, and commitment to providing an unforgettable safari experience. Its combination of lavish accommodations, expert guides, and conservation initiatives, all set against the backdrop of the African wilderness, makes it a top choice for celebrities and travellers seeking a truly extraordinary safari adventure. The Royal Suite at Royal Malewane is the pinnacle of luxury accommodation at this celebrated safari lodge in South Africa. It is designed to provide an unparalleled experience for guests seeking the utmost in comfort and decadence.

This expansive suite features a spacious living area, a separate bedroom, and two magnificent en-suite bathrooms, offering generous space for relaxation and rejuvenation. The design is richly adorned with classic African décor, incorporating opulent textures and antique furnishings that harmonize with the natural beauty of the surrounding wilderness. One of the standout features of the Royal Suite is its private wooden deck, which includes a large, heated swimming pool. This deck serves as a tranquil oasis where guests can unwind while enjoying the mesmerizing views of the wilderness.

The interior of the suite exudes elegance, with a luxurious lounge and dining area that is ideal for meals, relaxation, and taking in the breathtaking scenery through expansive windows. Both the bedroom and the living area are adorned with inviting fireplaces, adding to the cozy and romantic atmosphere, especially on cooler evenings.

Royal Malewane Library South Africa
Royal Malewane Library

What makes the Royal Suite truly exceptional is the inclusion of not one, but two sumptuous en-suite bathrooms. Each bathroom is equipped with a generous soaking tub, both indoor and outdoor showers, and double vanities. In a unique touch, one of the bathrooms features an outdoor bathtub, allowing guests to luxuriate while taking in the stunning bush views.

To ensure a seamless and pampered experience, guests in the Royal Suite are provided with a dedicated butler who caters to their every need, enhancing their stay with personalized service. For those seeking a personalised safari adventure, the Royal Suite offers private game drives led by a dedicated guide and tracker. This feature allows guests to tailor their safari experience, including choosing the timing and activities that suit their preferences. For added relaxation and pampering, guests can request in-room spa treatments, in addition to the spa facilities available at the lodge.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Royal Suite is the panoramic views it provides of the surrounding African bush. Its open design and expansive windows allow guests to observe wildlife in their natural habitat from the comfort of their luxurious accommodations.

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Suite Royal Malewane South Africa
Royal Malewane Suite
Royal Malewane Private Pool
Private Pool at Royal Malewane

Best on Eastern Cape


I believe that Shamwari Private Game Reserve is one of the best, if not the best, safari reserve in the Eastern Cape for several reasons.

Shamwari boasts an impressive range of wildlife species, including the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhinoceros), as well as various other mammals, birds, and reptiles. This diversity ensures guests have a chance to see a wide array of wildlife during their stay. The reserve also covers a significant area that encompasses diverse ecosystems, including open plains, savannah, and riverine forests. This diversity provides different habitats for various species, creating a unique safari experience. It's also great for families as its Malaria free and provides activities and programs for children to engage with nature and wildlife, making it a family-friendly destination.

Shamwari is committed to conservation efforts and has made a significant impact in protecting and preserving endangered and threatened species. The Born Free Foundation is also a key partner in the reserve's conservation work. It’s also heavily involved in community outreach and education programs that promote conservation awareness and sustainable practices, enriching the overall experience for visitors.

The Reserve offers a range of award-winning lodges, each with its own distinct character and luxury, its therefore difficult to select one lodge as each accommodation provides guests with the desired comfort and exquisite style they seek. For example, Eagles Crag is renowned for its luxurious and private suites, each with its plunge pool and deck. It is an excellent choice for couples seeking a romantic getaway but if you are looking for good family accommodation then Riverdene is a family-friendly option that caters specifically to families with young children. The lodge provides a range of child-friendly activities and accommodations, ensuring a memorable family safari experience. Ultimately, the "best" lodge in Shamwari Game Reserve depends on your personal preferences and requirements.

Walking Safari At Shamwari
Walking safari at Shamwari
Eagles Crag Suite And Pool
Eagles Crag

Best in Kruger National Park


Whilst the Kruger National Park is often overlooked as being over run with tourists, traffic jams and tarred roads there are a couple of options that I think merit a mention. The two that immediately spring to mind in the southern, more accessible part of the park are Jocks Safari Lodge and Rhino Post, both of which operate on private concessions within the park, offering almost the best of both worlds. The benefit of being in the park without the crowds whilst in the private concessions and then having access when the day-trippers depart in the late afternoon.

However, for me, the lodge that stands out in Kruger and is away from the busier parts of the park is another offering from Singita, its Lebombo Lodge. A contemporary and luxurious safari lodge situated in the huge private Lebombo Concession. The lodge is known for its cutting-edge design, characterized by sleek, modern architecture with clean lines, open spaces, and extensive use of glass that allows for uninterrupted views of the surrounding landscape.

The lodge's dramatic location atop a cliff offers guests breathtaking panoramic views of the N'wanetsi River and the expansive wilderness of Kruger National Park, creating a sense of being suspended above the African bush.

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Singita Lebombo Lodge
Lembombo Lodge

Accommodations at Singita Lebombo are spacious and limited in number, comprising elegant suites and a private villa, Singita Lebombo Villa. Each suite features minimalist aesthetics, elegant furnishings, large glass walls, and private decks with plunge pools. The Singita Lebombo Villa provides an even more exclusive and lavish experience.

As stated previously, culinary experiences at Singita Lebombo are exceptional, offering gourmet dining that fuses international and African flavours, all prepared with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. The lodge also features an impressive wine collection, known for its extensive selection of South African wines and international vintages, complemented by a stylish bar for pre-dinner cocktails.

The lodge offers exclusive game viewing experiences in the heart of Kruger National Park, known for its incredible biodiversity and excellent chances of encountering the Big Five and other wildlife. Expert guides and trackers lead game drives and guided walks, providing insightful information about the region's wildlife, flora, and fauna to enhance the safari experience.

Why not do the dream double and spend time at both Singita Boulders followed by time at Lebombo?

Guide at Lebombo Kruger South Africa min
Guide at Lebombo
Room view Lebombo Lodge Kruger South Africa min
Room view at Lebombo

Best for Value


Whilst we would all love to live the life of thousand thread count sheets and silver service a lot of us are looking for somewhere that can offer the absolute best wildlife viewing in comfortable surroundings with good hospitality and guiding without the need to apply for a second mortgage. This is where Siviti Plains comes calling. Located in the Timbavati, for all intents and purposes, apart from the game, this is the Sabi Sands lesser-known relation. Siviti used to be called Thornybush Game Lodge and offers a variety of stylish and well-appointed suites and chalets, each designed with modern amenities and private viewing decks. These accommodations are tailored to ensure a restful and comfortable stay. The lodge prides itself on delivering gourmet dining experiences. Guests can savour a range of delicious dishes prepared with locally sourced ingredients while enjoying their meals in elegant dining areas.

The lodge's location in the Thornybush Private Nature Reserve offers fantastic game-viewing opportunities. The reserve is home to the Big Five, as well as various other wildlife species. Guided game drives and walking safaris are led by expert rangers and trackers who share their knowledge of the environment and wildlife.

Siviti is also family friendly providing activities and programs suitable for families with children and the reserve's remote location and clear night skies make it an excellent place for stargazing, offering a chance to admire the celestial wonders.

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Pool at Siviti with elephant South Africa min
Pool at Siviti
Suite at Siviti Thorberry South Africa min
Suite at Siviti

Looking for some more inspiration? Take a look at our best safari holidays ideas, our favourite family safaris, our big five safari guide or our top African safari honeymoon suggestions.

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  • Alistair

    Alistair

    Africa Specialist

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