African Safari: The 7 Best Luxury Lodge Experiences for Your Money

Posted by Fodor's Editors on July 21, 2009 at 2:35:08 PM EDT | Post a Comment

So you want to see Africa's legendary wildlife but don't want to rough it? No problem. Our favorite lodges will tempt you to defect from the real world forever to live like kings and queens.

Rattray's on Mala Mala

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Mala Mala Game Reserve, South Africa

What You'll See

Part of the greater Sabi Sands Reserve, Mala Mala Game Reserve constitutes the largest privately owned Big Five game area in South Africa. The reserve's unfenced 19 mile boundary with Kruger National Park serves as crossing point for a continuous stream of game.

Lodge Review

The breathtakingly beautiful Rattray's merges original bushveld style with daring ideas that run the risk of seeming out of place, but instead work surprisingly well. Eight opulent khayas (think Tuscan villas) with spacious his-and-her bathrooms, dressing rooms, and private heated plunge pools blend well with the surrounding bush. Each villa's entrance hall decorated, with art by distinguished African wildlife artists such as Keith Joubert, leads to a huge bedroom with wooden four-poster bed, and beyond, a lounge scattered with deep sofas, comfy armchairs, padded ottomans, writing desks (for those crucial nightly journal entries), antique Persian rugs, and a dining nook. Bird and botanical prints grace the walls. Floor-to-ceiling windows with insect-proof sliding doors face the Sand River and lead to massive wooden decks where you can view the passing wildlife.

The main lodge includes viewing and dining decks, an infinity pool, lounge areas, and tantalizing views over the river. In the paneled library, with plush sofas, inviting leather chairs, old prints and photographs, and battered leather suitcases, the complete works of Kipling, Dickens, and Thackeray rub leather shoulders with contemporary classics and 100-year-old bound copies of England's classic humorous magazine Punch. After browsing the Cellar's impressive fine wines, have a drink in the bar with its huge fireplace, antique card table, and polished cherrywood bar.

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Mombo Camp

Moremi Wildlife Reserve, Botswana

What You'll See

The Moremi Game Reserve, which is bordered by Chobe National Park in the northeast, covers much of the Okavango Delta's eastern side. Sometimes it seems as if a large proportion of Botswana's 70,000 elephants have made their way here, particularly in the dry winter season.

Lodge Review

On Mombo Island, off the northwest tip of Chief's Island, this legendary camp is surrounded by wall-to-wall game. Although there is plenty of surface water in the area (marshes and floodplains), it's strictly a land-activity camp. The camp has exclusive use of a large area of Moremi, so privacy is assured. Its great wildlife, including all of the large predators, has made this area one of Botswana's top wildlife documentary locations—National Geographic and the BBC have both filmed here.

The stunning camp has identical guest rooms divided into two distinct camps: Mombo has nine rooms, Little Mombo only three. These camps are among the best known, most expensive, and most sought after in Botswana, so be sure to book months in advance. Each spacious room is built on a raised wooden platform with wonderful views over the open plains (you're almost guaranteed to see game as you sit there), and although the en-suite rooms have a tented feel, they are ultra luxurious. The dining room, lounge, and bar are also built on big wooden decks overlooking the magnificent animal-dotted savanna. The atmosphere is friendly, and the personal attention, food, and guides all excellent.

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Ngorongoro Crater Lodge

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

What You'll See

One of only three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Tanzania (the other two are the Serengeti and Selous Game Reserve), Ngorongoro Crater is often called the eighth wonder of the world. It lies in the Biosphere Reserve of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which covers 3,204 square miles in northern Tanzania.

Lodge Review

Imagine walking into a Hollywood film set where the spectacular setting is literally "Great Zimbabwe ruins meets SS Titanic baroque." Clusters of stilted rooms with woven conical banana-leaf domes and fancifully carved stone chimneys cling to the crater's rim and somehow blend in with the natural surroundings. Your palatial abode has polished wooden floors, leather armchairs, and a dramatic mix of furniture and styles including crystal chandeliers and hand-wrought local lamps. Ceiling-high swaths of silk taffeta drapes frame a small veranda with some of the world's most awesome views. Hand-carved doors lead to a massive bathroom with fresh cut roses, a freestanding tub, and a tessellated tile shower straight out of a Roman villa. The main dining room has a 1920s ocean liner stateroom feel, but the adjacent lounge comes straight from an old English country house. It's a daring glamorous mix of competing styles and themes that somehow works. However, the standards of food and service don't quite match the boldness of the architecture and opulence of the interiors.

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Thanda Main Lodge

Thanda Private Game Reserve, South Africa

What You'll See

Located in the wildly beautiful part of northern Zululand, Thanda is one of KwaZulu Natal's newer game reserves. Rangers often have to work hard to find game on this 37,000-acre reserve, but the rewards are great.

Lodge Review

There's a palpable feeling of earth energy in this magical and exquisite lodge that blends elements of royal Zulu with an eclectic pan-African feel. Beautiful beehive-shaped dwellings perch on the side of rolling hills and overlook mountains and bushveld. Inside, contemporary Scandinavian touches meet African chic—from the "eyelashes" of slatted poles that peep out under the thatch roofs, to the embedded mosaics in royal Zulu red and blue that decorate the polished, honey-color stone floors. Creative light fixtures include chandeliers made of handcrafted Zulu beads and lamps of straw or filmy cotton mesh. A huge stone fireplace divides the bedroom area from the comfortable and roomy lounge. Each chalet has a different color scheme and is decorated with beaded, hand-embroidered cushions and throws. Dip in your personal plunge pool after an exciting game drive, sunbathe on your private deck, or commune with the surrounding bushveld in your cool, cushioned sala (outdoor covered deck).

Later, after a meal that many a fine restaurant would be proud to serve, come back to your chalet to find a bedtime story on your pillow, marshmallows waiting to be toasted over flickering candles, and a glass of Amarula cream. Or dine alone in your private boma by the light of the stars and the leaping flames of a fragrant wood fire. The spacious, uncluttered public areas—dining decks, bomas, library, and lounge—are decorated in restful earth tones accented by royal Zulu colors, beads from Malawi, Ghanaian ceremonial masks, and Indonesian chairs.

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Ivory Lodge

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Lion Sands Private Game Reserve, South Africa

What You'll See

Separated from Kruger National Park by the Sabie River, this family owned and operated reserve, part of the greater Sabi Sands Reserve, has 10,000-acres of undisturbed wildlife that's available only to its guests.

Lodge Review

If you seek the ultimate in luxury, privacy, and relaxation, look no further than this gorgeous lodge. Suites are really more like villas, as each has their own private entrance, separate sitting room, and bedroom that are joined by a breezeway. Superb views overlooking the Sabi River and Kruger beyond are had from every point, especially on the decks, which come equipped with telescopes—you actually never have to leave your suite to catch views of incredible wildlife.

The simple, elegant suites are decorated in contemporary African-European style with wood burning fireplaces, an indoor and outdoor shower, and a free-standing tub in which to relax at the end of the day. You'll also have plunge pool to cool off in and a personal butler to look after your every need, including delivery of your morning tea. Relax with intimate dinners and on-the-spot spa treatments, sample some of South Africa's finest wines in the on-site cellar, or head out on a game drive in a private vehicle with your own personal ranger. You won't even know if Brangelina or Ewan is in the next villa. TIP: If you're looking for something even more special and over the top, inquire about spending the night at the Chalkley Treehouse.

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Ntwala Island Lodge

Caprivi Strip, Namibia

What You'll See

One of Namibia's best-kept secrets, the Strip lies in northeast Namibia (and is sometimes simply referred to as northeast Namibia) at the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe rivers. It serves as a gateway to Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls and Botswana's Chobe National Park.

Lodge Review

East of Susuwe Island Lodge is the breathtaking, daringly beautiful Ntwala Island Lodge. Only 80 km (50 mi) upstream from Victoria Falls, the four art deco–meets-Africa chalets are built on an untouched Namibian cluster of small islands linked by floating wooden walkways. You can fly in from Namibia or Botswana, but there's also a road option. Drive to Kasane in Botswana, then board a small boat that skirts rapids and dodges hippos as it takes you to your very own Treasure Island. A gray, mosaic-edge, kidney-shape pool surrounded by white sand shimmers outside your cream-color, tile-roof chalet, just a couple of yards from the rushing Zambezi. The braying of trumpeter hornbills, the liquid notes of the robins, and the startled calls of francolins greet you.

The chalets are spectacular by any standard, with huge rooms, circular wooden canopies echoing the circular bed platforms, carved half-moon chests, handwrought light fittings of metal feathers, and bathrooms big enough to host a party. Freestanding canvas and wooden screens are topped by metal Prince-of-Wales's feathers, matching the metal curlicued towel rails and bath accessories trolley. Try your hand at tiger-fishing, marvel at the industry of the reed cormorants as they continuously crisscross the sky carrying nesting material to their heronry, or watch the sunset herds of elephants and buffalo. You might also glimpse the unique Chobe bushbuck, or a group of impala, or if you're really lucky (in the dry season) some thirsty lions.

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Kichwa Tembo Tented Safari Camp

Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya

What You'll See

About 171 miles southwest of Nairobi, Masai Mara covers an area of 702 square mi and is demarcated by the Serengeti in the south, the Loita Hills in the east, the Esoit Oloololo escarpment in the west, and the Itong Hills in the north. It's also part of the Serengeti ecosystem that supports one of the largest populations of animal groups on earth.

Lodge Review

Kichwa Tembo, which means head of the elephant in Kiswahili, is one of Kenya's most sought-after camps in Africa. Perched on the edge of a riverine forest below the Oloololo Escarpment, the camp lies directly in the path of the migration. The en-suite tents are spacious and have seemingly never-ending views of the plains from the verandas. You'll be surrounded by the unforgettable sounds of the African night as you drift off to sleep. During the day you can take a dip in the shady pool between activities or just relax on your veranda while you fi ll out your bird and mammal lists. Don't forget to keep an eye out for passing animals: there'll be predators galore, as well as blue- and red-tailed monkeys, the mischievous banded mongoose, and if you're really lucky, the endangered black rhino. The candlelighted dinner on the banks of the Sabaringo River is a must-do for anyone. The staff here is attentive and charming, and the seductively stocked curio shop will have you swiping that credit card in no time.

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Posted in Trip Ideas, Hotels Tagged: Kenya, South Africa, Safari

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