Spot Cool Stuff loves a good safari lodge, one that’s inviting and is in tune with its natural surroundings. Somehow candlelit dinners are more romantic when they are on a wood deck overlooking a river with crocodiles and hippos. Cold drinks taste better when drunk while gazing out at lions and giraffes in the heat of the day. Beds are more comfortable when they double as a refuge in the middle of an animal-filled wilderness.
Spot Cool Stuff also loves South Africa, a wondrous country that has more diversity of culture and landscape than most people imagine.
So it was an easy decision to write up two posts that combine our twin passions for South Africa and safari lodges.
In this, the first of our two-part series, we check out seven luxurious safari lodges. If you’re looking for a resort to celebrate a special occasion (or if you have access to an expense account) consider a stay at one of these WOW-inducing digs that combine luxury with some of the best game viewing in Africa. In our next South Africa post we’ll focus on our favorite budget safari lodges. To stay updated on that (and all the other travel goings at Spot Cool Stuff), and get our travel posts delivered to you directly.
And with that, here’s to luxury in the middle of South African wilderness:
Makanyane Safari Lodge
Madikwe Game Reserve
Most safari lodges in Africa, almost by definition, are walled off compounds in the middle of an animal-filled area. (In this way they are wonderfully opposite of zoos — the animals roam free while the people are the ones confined). What’s special about Makanyane is that the animals rub noses, literally sometimes, with the lodge. Wake up in the morning and you might see an elephant walking by your wall-to-ceiling window (see photo, above). Work out at the lodge’s gym and a zebra might happen by your view while you are on the exercise bike. Coolest of all, we think, is the bed that the Makanyane has out on a special platform hide (first photo, below) with a 360 degree view of nothing but nature. There may be no bed in South Africa better to wake up in.
There’s no need to imagine what the accommodations might be like at a private game reserve owned by billionaire Sir Richard Branson — Ulusaba exists in reality. Technically, there are two lodges here (though they are only a 10~15 minute walk from each other). The Rock Lodge has 10 rooms and suits in a wood and glass castle-like compound atop a hill in the African bushveld. The Safari Lodge is in a relatively green area at the bottom of that same hill; swing bridges (see photo, below) link the lodge’s 11 treehouse-esque rooms. We prefer the dramatic views offered by the former lodge though both have a cool luxurious Swiss Family Robinson vibe. There’s not much game viewing from the lodge itself but twice per day Ulusaba organizes game drives through the reserve that arguably offers some of the best lion viewing in all of South Africa.
Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve
If you are looking for a luxurious lodge that’s blends into it’s natural surroundings to the extreme look no further than the Earth Lodge. This special property is literally sculpted into the slope of a hill; local rocks and materials were extensively used in the lodge’s construction. Each of the 13 suites here come with their own private plunge pool, indoor/outdoor shower and individual furnishings. But the zenith of luxury is found in the Amber Presidential Suite where a tree serves as the bed’s headboard (see photo, below) and guests have their own study, steam room and kitchen. Also on the grounds of the Earth Lodge: an indoor/outdoor dining area, library, art gallery, meditation garden, underground wine cellar and wonderful spa.
Madikwe Game Reserve
The Etali Lodge is in the middle of the marvelous Madikwe Game Reserve. There’s plenty of animal viewing all around including, potentially, from your bedroom window. Our favorite rooms at the Etali are the ones by one of the lodge’s watering holes—you can sit out on your deck and literally have elephants come up to within a few meters of you to take a drink (see photo below, right). Much of the emphasis at Etali, though, is not on the animals but on wellness. The lodge prides itself on its cuisine and spa, making it the perfect choice for foodie, health-seeking, safari travelers.
Western Limpopo Province
Marataba is located on the edge of the Waterberg Mountains that shoot up from the dry yet green landscape of northeastern South Africa, giving this safari lodge one of the most dramatic settings of any in this review. Happily, Marataba also has some of the best outdoor hangout areas of the safari lodges in this review. That combination makes Marataba perfect for simply being and not doing much of anything at all. Get one of the suites with a private deck overlooking the river and you might never leave your room.
Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Retreat
Most every reputable list of the world’s best hotels includes Bushmans Kloof either near or atthe top. This ranking is based largely on the hotel’s service, which is truly unbelievable. The staff makes every guest here feel at the center and the world and that, for that one guest, the hotel will endeavor to make anything possible. The range of activities available at Bushmans Kloof is impressive too—not only does this resort provide game drives and area excursions but also nature walks, fly-fishing, mountain biking, archery lessons and a guided tour of ancient cave paintings.
Bushmans is only 3 ½ hours from Cape Town by car, and a hour by charter flight, so if you are in South Africa’s most spectacular city and want a rural, high-service, animal-tinged getaway Bushmans Kloof is perfect. That said, Bushmans might have the least impressive game viewing of the lodges on this review. If you are looking for a superlative safari experience consider another option.
Kruger National Park
The Lebombo is best value option of the lodges in this review. It is the least expensive. And the lodge’s (relatively) low nightly rate includes game drives, walking safaris and all meals! Lebomo’s reserve wine; you’ll also get a complimentary African craftwork gift. Staying at the Lebombo, however, won’t feel like a compromise—each of the 15 loft-style rooms here have air conditioning, a fireplace, an open minibar, an outdoorand indoor shower and, best of all, a private viewing deck with panoramic views over the Kruger National Park area.