bed with a navy cover and brown stripe and woven decor
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Phinda Private Game Reserve

andBeyond Phinda Homestead is ideal for families or a circle of friends looking for their own space and experience in a safari destination.

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bed and chairs in bright bedroom with open windows
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Royal Malewane

Rolal Malewane is an uber-stylish, privately owned bush camp that closer resembles a luxurious six-star hotel than a safari lodge.

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open-air sitting area with lounge chairs in African traditional style
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Singita Boulders Lodge

Read our review of Singita Boulders, an earthy, contemporary look and a game-rich riverside locationn Sabi Sabi Game Reserve.
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bedroom with a four posted bed with white curtains and a bare wood framing
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Singita Ebony

Singita’s original riverside camp in the heart of South Africa’s Sabi Sand Reserve, offers just 12 suites, colonial-style digs and a family-friendly vibe.
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A bed on a balcony at daytime overlooking river
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Singita Lebombo Lodge

Singita Lebombo is a hilltop lodge in the Kruger National Park with 15 nest-like suites and a modern-organic look, that is a favorite for honeymooners.

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infinity pool set in a patio along a rvier

andBeyond Tengile River Lodge

In the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, adjacent to the world-renowned Kruger National Park, Tengile River Lodge is a haven that seamlessly combines luxury and untamed wilderness.

modern villa by the water at sunset with pink and orange clouds

Cheetah Plains

In the Sabi Sand Nature Reserve, Cheetah Plains comprises three private, exclusive villas and is ultra-luxury safari on your own terms.
Pool Lounge at  Dulini Lodge, Safari, South Africa

Dulini Lodge

The first thing you’ll notice upon arriving at Dulini is how shaded it is. Ebony and leadwood trees create a canvas over the thatch-roof structures of this small and intimate lodge on the riverbanks. Iain Garratt, the proprietor, greets every arrival with a warm smile and a cold drink. In fact, he is on hand and on property almost all the time, sometimes with his wife and kids. This attention comes through in the care and detail in which this six-suite lodge is run. With a maximum of twelve guests at one time, Iain gets to know the travelers who come to Dulini, and usually it is a self-selecting group of people who value the intimacy and personal touch offered here.

The owners’ warmth extends to the staff, and it’s clear there is a close and respectful relationship with their employers. Overall, it creates an atmosphere where you truly feel like a guest in someone’s home. The chef meets you upon arrival not only to inquire about dietary requirements, but what food in particular you want to eat and how you want to dine – in such a small property, it’s possible to set up private table settings wherever possible. There is no restaurant here, just options for dining venues. Dulini achieves what other lodges strive for: a bespoke experience.

Instead of building more rooms, Dulini wisely used its space to build large, luxurious suites. Each suite is 1,500 square feet, with a plunge pool and a direct view of the riverbed, an artery to the main river that attracts a high density of wildlife. While there is an electric fence to keep out elephants, smaller animals like antelope and leopards still get through, and it’s not unusual to see them in the grassy courtyard between the main lodge and the rooms.

As with many small lodges in the area, Dulini shares the land with neighboring lodges for game drives. Collectively, Dulini traverses 10,000 hectares (roughly 25,000 acres) of bush, and information on sightings is shared by rangers from the various lodges. Iain was a ranger himself before opening Dulini in 2013, and he prides himself in selecting and training some of the best guides in the area. Dulini also shares the airstrip at Ulusaba. 

Aerial View -  Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, Safari, South Africa

Kwandwe Private Game Reserve

Occupying some 54,000 private acres, Kwandwe has an impressive line-up of wildlife, though in sheer numbers, it, of course, can’t compete with such national parks as Kruger or Serengeti (in comparison, Kruger spans 6.2 million acres). Split by the Great Fish River (“We have our own Left and Right Banks,” joked one of the rangers), the pristine, varied terrain moves swiftly from expansive, aloe-studded desert landscapes and tangles of euphorbia bushland to dense forests of majestic trees and steep cliffs rising from the riverbed.

Of South Africa’s seven biospheres, six converge in the Eastern Cape, making for stunning, varied terrain. Incidentally, the one missing is the low-grown savannah most first-time visitors associate with an African safari (blame it on Out of Africa). The habitat houses thousands of animals, including elephant, cheetah, leopard, lion, giraffe, buffalo, black and white rhino, and the usual Africa antelope suspects (kudu, springbuck, eland, wildebeest etc.)

Kwandwe has two lodges, Great Fish River and Ecca Lodge, as well as two sole-use safari villas at Kwandwe. Modern and sleek, with eye-popping colors and six rooms (all of which come with private plunge pools), Ecca is folded into dense bush, overlooking a valley. It’s a popular choice for families traveling with kids thanks to the relaxed design scheme, pool framed by a wooden deck, a game room and baby-sitting service. Sitting on a towering cliff overlooking the river, Great Fish River Lodge is the more luxurious of the two, with glorious views and a vast sense of space thanks to wooden terraces and patios that look towards the other side of the river, where you can watch monkeys playing in the treetops and herds of kudu grazing while you lunch.

Comfortable and spacious, the Kwandwe suites make a great base to relax mid-day between game drives, but the history-rich location also makes it a great place to explore. Guests can visit a local community, learn how to bead traditional jewelry, cook local food or volunteer in a variety of activities.

Bedroom View: Leopard Hills Lodge, Safari, South Africa

Leopard Hills Lodge

Leopard Hills appeals to a specific type of couple on safari: the kind that wants the bells and whistles of a stylish suite to hole up in, but also the opportunity to engage with travelers from around the world. The Leopard Hills model works brilliantly for this exact set up, as there are only 8 suites—a maximum of 16 guests at one time—and the cozy common spaces encourage fraternity amongst its guests. Guides join guests for communal dinners and are often present and engaging over tea or drinks.

The rooms, though, are the main draw. Set on an elevation, the glass-fronted bedrooms feature expansive views of the savannah below, with unobstructed views of a watering hole. A deck with a plunge pool extends from the bedroom, with no walls or barriers, adding to the drama of the view. The bedroom and sitting area are lushly appointed with fine linens, plush furniture and stylish lighting fixtures made from natural materials. Leopard Hills has been open since 1998, and the rooms were refurbished in 2012; the upkeep of the furnishings is a testament to the quality of the materials used.

As with many small lodges in the area, Leopard Hills shares the land with neighboring lodges for game drives. Collectively, Leopard Hills traverses 10,000 hectares (roughly 25,000 acres) of bush, and information on sightings is shared by rangers from the various lodges. Leopard Hills also shares the airstrip at Ulusaba.

Suite Bathroom exterior at Lion Sands Game Reserve, Safari, South Africa

Lion Sands Game Reserve

A family-run operation since 1933, Lion Sands Private Game Reserve has expanded over four generations and today includes five lodges and three treehouses in both the Sabi Sand Game Reserve and neighboring Kruger National Park.

In Sabi Sands, sprawling River Lodge is largest of the properties, comprising 20 thatch-roof suites with private decks (no plunge pools) and outdoor showers, plus a gym, spa and communal pool. More intimate and luxurious Ivory Lodge has just six villa-size suites done up in a sleek black and white, all with private infinity pools overlooking the Sabi River. For small groups and families, 1933 Lodge is Lion Sands’ exclusive-use option, designed with a kid-favorite eight-bunk dorm room, four further suites and Sabi River views.

Crossing Sabi Sand’s southwestern border into the sprawling Kruger National Park, Tinga Lodge conceals nine open-plan suites within its own 12,000-acre concession, while Narina Lodge is a nature-focused hideaway of just nine suites built on stilts beneath 100-year-old trees.

Wherever you sleep, days at Lion Sands include the primetime game viewing morning and evening drives (bird lovers should visit between October and April), group meals and high tea and spa treatments on request.

Bedroom at Londolozi Private Game Reserve, Safari, South Africa

Londolozi Private Game Reserve

Family owned and run since the 1920s, Londolozi means “protecting it” in Zulu, a name adopted when the original families made a pioneering shift from hunting to conservation in the ‘70s. Today, the five-lodge reserve is world-renowned for these progressive environmental policies that go hand in hand with designer interiors and world-class service.

The five individually designed lodges are spread along a mile of the Sand River bank, a petite portion of the concession’s 42,000 acres in the heart of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. All five face north overlooking the game-filled river, with luxurious three-suite Pioneer Camp in a honeymooner or family-friendly secluded position farthest west, flanked by the ten chalets and airy central lounge of family-friendly Founders Camp. Square in the middle, Private Granite Suites have the most contemporary look, with three suites in elephant-gray shades, indoor/outdoor bath tubs and a no-under-16s policy. Neighboring ten-suite Varty Camp is the hub of the estate and the Varty family’s original home, where all Londolozi guests make use of the large pool, tree shaded decks, small boutique, massage room, yoga deck and library. For greater privacy and a master class in modern African design, the six-suite and adult's-only Tree Camp is a lantern-lit beauty queen, styled in a mix of Ralph Lauren prep, animal print and contemporary muted shades.

Meals are served in individual lodges, or fireside in the bush by special request, using largely homegrown and organic ingredients to show off Varty family recipes or inventive regional dishes - three of the five lodges have received Relais & Chateaux status. Small-group game drives are taken at dawn and dusk in Londolozi’s open-top jeeps and could include chance sightings of the reserve’s big elephant and buffalo herds, or its famous leopards. Londolozi also boasts a number of on- and off-property activities including a full-service kid's club called the "Cub's Den," a photo studio where guests can edit and print photos on canvas. They also offer a safari vehicle equipped with the latest technology (professional tutors are available for hire) and village community enrichment programs. The majority of the staff lives in a village a few minutes' walk from the lodge which runs largely on solar power, has its own water recycling plant and includes a day care and clinic where guests are invited to visit.

Pool Lounge at  Madikwe Hills Private Game Lodge, Safari, South Africa

Madikwe Hills Private Game Lodge

There are only a handful of luxury lodges in Madikwe, and Madikwe Hills offers a value option popular with couples and honeymooners who appreciate the social element to safari. Unlike Mateya and Molori, which only have five rooms each, Madikwe Hills has 12 rooms. While still small, it is significantly larger, with up to 24 guests at one time. As per the luxury standard, only up to six guests share a game drive vehicle.

The lodge is built into a rocky outcrop, with rooms strategically situated between boulders and positioned to have views of the plains below. Elevated wooden walkways connect the rooms to the main lodge, and often you’ll encounter small wildlife on your walks.

Many safari lodges seem built exclusively for couples, and none more so than the bedrooms at Madikwe Hills. The open-plan layout of the bedroom and bathroom is not uncommon for lodges, but at Madikwe Hills, the shower is essentially a tiny stage with no walls. There is also an outdoor shower, hidden (hopefully) from view of passers-by. A four-poster bed sits behind glass windows that open out to a deck and plunge pool; the views are incredible (so long as it’s only wildlife with a view in).

Everything else outside the bedroom is a social affair: dinners are communal, with the guides at the table each night. Afternoon tea and pre-dinner drinks are lively, as guests are encouraged to interact with each other. The guides are also more affable than most, and the two dogs that live on property sometimes serve as an adorable ice-breaker.

As of October 2015, WiFi was only available in the lodge’s living room, but there are plans underway to outfit all bedrooms with WiFi.

Good to Know: Little Madikwe

The lodge has a two-bedroom unit that accepts children of all ages, so families have an option to stay here. Little Madikwe has its own kitchen, living room, pool and own entrance. Kids are not allowed in the main lodge, except for pre-arranged meals like early dinners while other guests are out on an evening game drive.

Note: Madikwe Hills only takes children ten years old and up. The lodge is often booked in conjunction with its sister property Leopard Hills in the Sabi Sands.

Lounge Bar at Mateya, Safari, South Africa


The Out of Africa experience is a trope that safari-goers often seek in lodges, and in the dusty, semi-arid plains of Madikwe, Mateya is the closest you’ll come to that cinematographic fantasy. Still, it’s a disservice to its unique character to reduce it to a movie cliché. Mateya is a singular lodge in that it answers the question, “What if you had an eccentric relative who moved to the bush, built a home and filled it with tribal African art, and who then invited you to stay in one of the guest rooms?”

Mateya is a gem, not just because it was formerly a private home with five large, well-appointed rooms, but because it features the owners’ impressive (and continually growing) collection of sculptures sourced from all over the continent. Every room features intricately carved wooden doors, exquisite bronze statues of animals and tribal figures, hand-painted pottery and oil paintings of large cats. The library is filled with a rare collection of African literature. In fact, it seems as if every piece of furniture, china and silverware is a piece of art in this remarkable lodge.

The bedrooms are spacious and comfortable, with marble bathrooms, four-poster beds, and large plunge pools with views of a waterhole. Despite its abundance of art, the overall aesthetic is subdued, with earth tones and a timeless elegance. The rooms are all spread out, providing a sense of privacy and offering lovely views out into the bush.

Light pours into the main house from its floor-to-ceiling windows that open out to a large, wooden deck. At the far end of the deck there is a sunken fire-pit, a great gathering place for an aperitif at sunset, if you choose to interact with other guests. At Mateya, privacy is assumed rather than treated as a special request (and sometimes an imposition) and it’s possible not to dine with or meet other people during the course of your stay.

Its only drawback, if any, is its insistence that WiFi be limited to a small business center. This in keeping with the sense of repose that the lodge promotes, but in reality, it is impractical and inconvenient as guests still end up congregating in that tiny room for a connection to the world.

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Suite at Molori Safari Lodge, South Africa

Molori Safari Lodge

If judging the quality of a lodge were a matter of hardware alone, Molori wins, hands-down, at least in the remote reaches of Madikwe. For a tiny lodge with just five bedrooms, Molori has a lot of facilities. The main house features a very large infinity pool that wraps around the front part of the house; there is a proper spa with a sauna, steam room, a heated/chilled spa bath, and a yoga deck; plus, there is an observatory with a retractable roof, housing a powerful telescope for stargazing. The lodge also has its own helipad on property, for guests who prefer to fly direct from Johannesburg.

Formerly a private lodge, Molori is still run like a home. Guests are greeted warmly upon arrival with the entire staff gathered for a song and dance, and the chef comes by to ask if you’re craving anything, and if he can, he’ll whip it up for you. There are only five bedrooms attached to the main building, and it’s a cozy, intimate setting –so much so that the bedrooms do not come with keys; doors are meant to be unlocked here, which is idealistic but impractical.

Rooms are luxurious: there is a hearth at the center of the room, a copper tub in the bathroom, and the entire bedroom is encased in floor-to-ceiling glass windows that open up to a large wooden deck and an even larger swimming pool. No bathtub-sized plunge pools here – you can swim short laps when not lounging in the day bed or looking for animals through the telescope on the deck.

The staff at the lodge also works hard to provide memorable experiences for its guests, such as organizing a special breakfast setting and always gathering upfront to greet guests returning from a game drive.

Suite at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, South Africa: Safari, South Africa

Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge

One of the oldest private game reserves in the Sabi Sands, Sabi Sabi encompasses four lodges in the southwestern section of the park. Earth Lodge is the brand’s most exclusive property and its most visually striking. Arriving at the lodge is a memorable experience – there is no discernible structure, no thatch-roof house with high ceilings and an open entryway, as is common in the area. Instead, the entrance looks like a rocky outcrop, and you walk through a tunnel to emerge in an airy lobby. There are no outer walls, just a concrete roof and pillars that extend from the rocks, blending into the landscape. It’s reminiscent of Tadao Ando’s structures on Naoshima Island in Japan, albeit with less minimalism and more wilderness.

The lobby is impressive, with its large driftwood furniture, a sunken wading pool and a rough-hewn rock garden as its focal point. It photographs beautifully, as these stark/wild vistas often do, but it also depicts a sense drastically different from what most lodges aim for: Earth Lodge feels spare, empty and remote. There is no lushness here, no plush furnishings, evocative animal hides or colorful curios that convey the sense of a luxury safari. Sabi Sabi’s theme for this lodge is “tomorrow” (the other Sabi Sabi lodges being “yesterday” and “today”) but their version of it is one where we eschew superfluous details and go back to the basics – where we live within mud-packed walls but with modern comforts like wifi and air-conditioning.

Earth lodge has 13 suites, including a Presidential Suite, and each is a standalone concrete building with a spacious bedroom, terrace with a plunge pool and a bathroom finished in stone and cement. All the décor is in earth tones, naturally, and the mud-packed walls keep the room dark and cool even when the African sun blazes outside.

Besides the design, the other element that made Earth Lodge so memorable to me were the guides. Guides make or break the experience of safari, and here, the ones I met seemed to truly love their job and believe in sharing the best possible safari experience with guests. Like the building they work in, the guides at Earth Lodge convey a characteristic missing from other places: going back to basics and an earnest attempt at being one with nature.

Note that Sabi Sabi has its own landing strip, an advantage for travelers who want to fly directly to or from their lodge. Other properties in Sabi Sands either share a landing strip or have none, requiring a 2.5 hour drive to Mpumalanga Airport.

patio with a plunge pool and lounge chairs in the wildnerness

Saseka Tented Camp

Set in the game rich Thornybush Nature Reserve, the intimate nine-tent camp’s blend of the contemporary and traditional is a breath of fresh air to both first time safari goers and hardened safari veterans.

outdoor deck with a long bench with pillows and a firepit

Singita Sweni

Tucked into the hills of Kruger National Park, Singita Sweni is the younger sister to its neighbor Lebombo, perched over the Sweni River.
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Safari camp in the Kalahari at dusk

Tswalu: Loapi Tented Camp

Opened in a private reserve in the Kalahari Desert in July 2023, Loapi Tented Camp is the swankiest of the Tswalu's three properties, which includes Motse Camp and Tarkuni Homestead. All three camps offer a South African safari experience that is completely different from the more conventional Kruger or Sabi Sands safari. The landscape is not just dramatic—it's a spectacle of remoteness, akin to stepping onto the surface of Mars. At the heart of this reserve, Loapi Tented Camp is a haven of luxury nestled within the natural contours of a valley in the Korannaberg Mountains.

Loapi comprises six standalone safari homes designed by local architects. There are four one-bedroom homes and two two-bedroom homes spanning 3,360 square-feet and 4,660 square-feet, respectively. The decor and layout echo the earthy tones of the surroundings, creating a seamless connection with nature. On the outdoor patio, the dining table is ideal for enjoying breakfast or lunch after a morning drive, while the sunbeds and couches overlooking the desert are primed for relaxation. Inside, the homey ambiance complements the rugged exterior—think cork-lined floors and ceilings, tapestries above the beds and a cozy living room seating area with a fireplace. In the bedrooms, the outdoor shower showcases desert vistas and the indoor daybed is an ideal spot for a nap. The absence of a main lodge elevates the sense of seclusion and privacy. Guests are immersed in the splendor of their private home, which comes with a dedicated chef, butler and tracker/guide, ensuring an intimate and personalized stay. Each home is carefully spaced at least 165 feet apart, allowing guests to relish their outdoor spaces safely within the fenced-in areas.

Tswalu Kalahari Reserve is South Africa's largest private reserve, sprawled across approximately 282,000 acres. What sets Tswalu apart is its commitment to conservation—it has the lowest vehicle density of any reserve in the country. Loapi extends this commitment by guaranteeing a private vehicle for all guest groupings, allowing game drives to be as frequent or infrequent as desired. With a maximum of 40 guests at a time (spread out across the three lodges), there are hardly any other guests to be seen. Tswalu is transparent about the allocation of funds generated by conservation-based tourism and publishes its yearly impact statement on its website.

Beyond the conventional game drives, there are plenty of unique activities exclusive to the Kalahari; whether it's an up-close meerkat experience at sunrise, horseback riding through the vast desert or capturing the beauty of the animals with an in-house photography guide. For the more adventurous, sleeping under the stars is an option.

safari terrace with a woven roof

Tswalu: The Motse

In South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, closer to the border of Botswana than Johannesburg, Motse Camp has six one-bedroom suites and three two-bedroom family suites designed with couples and families in mind. South African designer Boyd Ferguson is behind the successful mix of native architecture and 21st century furnishings in the Motse (“village”) that houses the main lodge and dining areas and the standalone “little houses.” Made from local stone, red clay and Kalahari thatch, each house measures around 1,800 square-feet, with open fireplaces, canopied beds with mosquito netting (though the region is malaria-free), ensuite bathrooms and dreamy outdoor showers with views of the sand dunes.

This corner of the Kalahari Desert is home to black desert rhino, 380,000-year-old cave drawings, precious colonies of meerkat and aardvark and dramatic Korannaberg Mountains. A maximum of 40 guests across the reserve's three camps share some 282,000 acres (this is the largest private game reserve in South Africa), and there are just 17 safari jeeps on the reserve, so a vehicle encounter is almost rarer than a black-maned Kalahari lion or native mountain zebra. The open savannah of the Kalahari Desert also makes a unique habitat for such animals as meerkat, spotted hyenas, desert black rhino and Kalahari lions.

Guests set their own schedule here: a pre-dawn game drive can be swapped for a Champagne breakfast in bed; horseback rides and walking safaris can include stops for picnic lunches prepared by the executive chef; and a relaxing dip in the lodge’s infinity pool could fill the time between a spa treatment or a meeting with the onsite ecologist. Youngsters are encouraged to join bush walks or take the Junior Rangers program, and complimentary babysitting is available 24 hours a day. This classic safari-style camp also has a gym, photographic studio and a small boutique called The Gallery.

Note: This is one of three camps set on this private game reserve and owned by the Oppenheimer family. The other two are Tarkuni, a five-suite, buyout-only homestead for up to 10 guests, and Loapi, the most exclusive and luxurious of the three.

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Aerial View - Ulusaba, Safari, South Africa


Sir Richard Branson’s South Africa lodge, Sabi Sand Reserve, has privileged hilltop and riverside locations and on-tap Big Five game viewing.

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Indagare employees walking up stiars

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