When it comes to high-end lodgings, the best safari lodges in South Africa are a trifecta of luxury: outstanding architectural design, lavish amenities, and attentive, personalized service. When you arrive at any of our best lodges top picks, “exceptional” is the standard. Think: exclusive access to private tracts of unspoiled wilderness teeming with game, outstanding guides, gourmet fine dining, and wine cellars stocked with rare vintages. Ranging from three to 12 suites, each of these intimate properties offer joyfully secluded retreats into the South African veld. The only challenge is deciding where to lay your head.
The best safari lodges in The Greater Kruger
Kruger National Park is the largest national park in South Africa, spanning 7,523 square miles (roughly the size of Israel), but it’s just one part of The Greater Kruger, which includes outstanding private game reserves like Sabi Sand, Timbavati, and Thornybush, where you’ll find some of the best safari lodges in South Africa.
Singita Boulders Lodge, Sabi Sand Game Reserve
At the ultra-luxurious Singita Boulders Lodge, guests are surrounded by the wild beauty of South Africa. There are just 12 exquisitely designed suites boasting glass walls, heated plunge pools, and private decks. Located along the Sand River’s boulder-strewn banks, the lodge offers guests the exclusive opportunity to explore Singita Sabi Sand Reserve and its 45,000 acres. In this untouched wilderness, you can encounter species like the Big Five, hyena, African wild dog, nyala, and reedbuck. After an exhilarating walking safari or game drive, mingle among fellow travelers at the Copper Bar, enjoy a personalized wine tasting in the cellar, or stay active in the fully equipped fitness center with its gorgeous bush views.
- Boulders is known for frequent sightings of elusive leopards.
- Secluded, glass-fronted suites offering river or bush views.
- Visit the anti-poaching Sabi Sand Canine Unit for an interactive session.
Who it’s best for: Solo travelers, couples, and families with kids who want a private setting and many activities to choose from.
Dulini Leadwood Lodge, Sabi Sand Game Reserve
Dulini Leadwood Lodge is situated within the 160,000-acre private Sabi Sand Game Reserve. Shrouded by the canopy of a riverine forest at the confluence of the Sand and Mabrak rivers, it features just four lavish suites. Take in views of the pristine bushveld and granite boulders while relaxing in a modern suite where you can book a restorative massage. Spend your days exploring the awe-inspiring wilderness on bush walks and game drives, during which you can see the Big Five, antelope, African wild dog, and hyena. Relax beneath the stars while dining in the Boma or on the Jackalberry-shaded Treehouse Deck.
- Ultra private, exquisitely designed suites feature floor-to-ceiling windows and open-plan bathrooms.
- Shares a 31-mile unfenced boundary with Kruger National Park and maintains traversing rights with the western sector of Sabi Sand Game Reserve.
- Photo safaris: A partnership with Africa Photographic Services provides equipment rentals for Photographic Safaris in open-top vehicles with camera mounts and storage boxes. (Arrange in advance.)
Who it’s best for: Couples, honeymooners, and multi-generational exclusive-use.
Lion Sands Ivory Lodge, Sabi Sand Reserve
Constructed with natural materials and boasting an open design, you can immerse yourself in the untouched bush that surrounds you at the secluded Lion Sands Ivory Lodge. Featuring eight villas within the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, service is attentive, accommodating and detailed-focused, right down to the Champagne you prefer. From your private plunge pool, deck or lounge, soak in stunning views of the Sabie River. Enjoy guided bush walks and game drives to spot breathtaking wildlife from big cats to small birds.
- Private reserve spans 30,600 acres and is home to diverse and abundant wildlife, including endangered species like pangolin, African civet, and African wild dogs.
- Safaris have a six-guest limit per vehicle, enjoy traversing rights and make surprise stops at beautiful spots.
- A Signature Treehouse Experience lets you sleep under starlit skies.
Who it’s best for: Nature lovers, honeymooners, couples, and families who are looking for a luxurious adventure.
Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, Sabi Sand Game Reserve
The award-winning and family-owned Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge is tucked into the surrounding landscape, making it one of the best safari lodges in South Africa to feel grounded in nature. Expect the unexpected on a walking safari or game drive to view wildlife like giraffe, hyena, and the Big Five, or go on a community tour to learn about the local people and their culture. When you aren’t exploring, take a refreshing swim in your private pool, dine in the subterranean wine cellar or feel stress melt away at Amani Spa, which features a Pango Cave and Zen meditation garden.
- 12 architecturally stunning and impeccably decorated suites offer bushveld views and boast panoramic windows, each with a private deck and an outdoor lounge.
- Day Bar offers a refreshing dining experience in ankle-deep water.
- Some of the finest guides and trackers in South Africa
Who it’s best for: Couples, honeymooners, and anyone who wants to support eco-tourism.
Cheetah Plains, Sabi Sand Game Reserve
Cheetah Plains Private Game Reserve offers an eco-luxury safari experience, with a focus on clean energy and conservation—ideal for travelers in search of the best luxury safaris in South Africa operating in an environmentally-friendly way. Located in the northeast portion of Sabi Sand Game Reserve, you won’t have to sacrifice comfort for sustainability. Here, you’ll find modern off-grid accommodation and electric Land Cruisers. Each of the three exclusive-use villas can accommodate up to eight people across four suites and feature shared living spaces. A hospitality team consisting of a host, spa therapist, field guide, culinary team, and tracker team will take care of everything from massages to bushveld dining.
- Just three exclusive villas, each with a chef’s kitchen, custom-designed wine gallery, and an outdoor boma area for dining.
- Safari sightings include the Big Five, hyena, antelope, giraffe, and zebra, as well as endangered species like the honey badger, African wild dog, and ground hornbill.
- Village visits are designed to teach you about the local Shangaan culture and its traditions.
Who it’s best for: Families with kids, groups of friends, couples, and eco-conscious travelers.
Saseka Tented Camp, Thornybush Reserve
Saseka Tented Camp is located in Thornybush Nature Reserve, which spans 37,000 acres. It’s also near the seasonal Monwana River, which attracts wildlife like waterbuck, kudu, blue wildebeest, impala, spotted genet, giraffe, and leopard. Guests stay in a luxurious tented suite that harkens back to those used by nineteenth-century safari-goers. Luxuriate in your own outdoor shower, pool or on a deck lounger while taking in the sights and sounds of the bush and riverbed. When you’re ready to emerge from your private retreat, head to the dining area and social lounge spaces to chat with fellow travelers.
- Nine spacious tented suites can accommodate two guests and feature glass doors and elevated views.
- Thornybush Reserve is home to diverse wildlife, including the Big Five, hippo, zebra, warthog, and hyena.
- Unique excursions include a personalized private vehicle safari, a three-hour walk along Immersive Guided Trails, and a visit to the Tango K9 Anti-Poaching Unit.
Who it’s best for: Friends traveling together, honeymooners, and families in search of thrilling safari experiences.
Royal Malewane, Thornybush Reserve
At Royal Malewane in the Thornybush Reserve, you can choose from three safari lodges (Malewane Lodge, The Farmstead, and Waterside), each offering luxurious suites and villas. Main dining areas off all three overlook bustling waterholes so you can view wildlife while enjoying personalized menus serving gourmet cuisine and fine wine. We recommend feasting on savory meals under the stars at the Bush Tent. Explore the wilderness by land, water, and air alongside knowledgeable guides. In addition to game drives and walking trails, visitors can take a cruise on Blyde Dam or a helicopter ride to view Kruger from above. You can even participate in conservation activities to experience some of the ways experts help endangered species and habitats.
- Specialized vehicles are spacious enough for photography equipment so you can capture awe-inspiring wildlife moments.
- Join conservationists for elephant tracking and rhino dehorning or support the APNR Ground-Hornbill Project and EWT Wild Dog Project.
- Tee off at Leopard Creek Country Club, considered one of the top golf courses in the country.
Who it’s best for: Couples, families, and travelers who want a lot of options when it comes to outdoor activities beyond game drives.
Tanda Tula Safari Camp, Timbavati Reserve
Located in the 131,000-acre Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, Tanda Tula Safari Camp overlooks the Nlharalumi riverbed. With a focus on responsible tourism, this camp supports community development programs like the Tanda Tula Adult Literacy Class and conservation projects like rhino protection. Collaborating with architect Nick Plewman, the property reopened in mid-2023 with improved infrastructure that creates a lighter footprint. Accommodations boast a plunge pool, outdoor shower and outdoor seating.
- Ecologically sensitive, modern safari camp with nine hybrid canvas and glass suites in a bushveld setting. (Two family suites and seven one-bedroom suites.)
- Timbavati Reserve is home to a myriad of species that include the Big Five, wildebeest, impala, and giraffe.
- Each guest stay makes a foundation contribution, directly impacting conservation projects and a scholarship program.
Who it’s best for: Couples, and families who want to support safari lodges that care about communities and conservation.
Makanyi Private Game Lodge, Timbavati Reserve
Family-owned Makanyi Private Game Lodge in Timbavati Reserve is to the west of Kruger National Park, so it’s a fantastic destination for viewing wildlife, including the Big Five. Spacious suites boast panoramic views of the dam and surrounding bush. The Marula Suite has two bedrooms and roughly 4,000 square feet of space. Daily activities include game drives, bush walks, and stargazing, and you can also book off-property activities, such as hot air ballooning and helicopter rides to view the Lowveld from another perspective. Between all of the action, reinvigorate body and mind at the spa or book a private massage in your room.
- Just seven large suites, including two luxury pool suites and one family suite that sleeps up to four guests.
- Sharpen your wildlife photography skills with the guidance of a tutor on a photographic safari or hire a professional photographer to capture the moments you won’t want to forget.
- Participate in conservation efforts like rhino notching and anti-poaching surveillance flights in Timbavati Reserve.
Who it’s best for: Families, couples, and conservation enthusiasts.
The best safari lodges in the southern Kalahari
Spanning some 360,000 square miles, the Kalahari is the second-largest desert in Africa. The southern Kalahari, which falls within South Africa’s Northern Cape province, is an arid, sandy savannah home to a myriad of birds, mammals, reptiles, and plants. While on safari, you may see giraffes, big cats, hyenas, warthogs, and meerkats.
Tswalu Kalahari, Southern Kalahari
Tswalu is the largest private game reserve in South Africa (measuring nearly a quarter million acres), known for remarkable ochre dunes and the striking Korannaberg mountains. Driven by sustainability, ecotourism, and conservation, it’s perfect for travelers interested in rewilding, biodiversity, and local communities. Tarkuni Homestead holds a maximum of 10 guests in five suites—great for families or small groups who want a home to themselves. Motse Camp accommodates up to 18 guests in nine suites, and there is a communal area at the main camp. Newer Loapi Tented Camp features six large “safari homes” designed as glass and steel pavilions, and distanced 165 feet apart for privacy; each comes with a butler and private chef. Southern Kalahari safaris provide opportunities to see rare, endangered and elusive wildlife like the black-maned Kalahari lion, cheetah, brown hyena, desert black rhino, ground pangolin, and aardvark.
- Three luxury safari camps are the only ones on the reserve. With no more than 40 guests at a time, its low guest-to-acreage ratio translates to elusively and privacy.
- Enjoy a sumptuous multi-course meal at Klein Jan, where the seasonally shifting menu is stewarded by Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, the first South African chef to achieve a Michelin star.
- Explore the Tswalu Game Reserve at your own pace in a private safari vehicle with the help of a tracker and guide; horseback riding over the dunes, and visit groups of adorable, habituated meerkats.
Who it’s best for: Couples, families, friends, those wanting a malaria-free safari, and eco-conscious travelers who want to experience the inspiring beauty of the Kalahari.
The best safari lodges in the Eastern Cape
The Eastern Cape has several private reserves offering superb game-viewing, some of which represent rehabilitated farm and ranchland conservation come-back stories. Located between Durban and Cape Town, a variety of species are found here, such as the Big Five, wildebeest, zebra, cheetah, and giraffe. Travelers who want to get their toes in the sand can get their fix on the Eastern Cape’s impressive beaches.
Shamwari Sindile, Shamwari Private Game Reserve
The Shamwari Private Game Reserve is a conservation effort that supports the biodiversity of the Eastern Cape, and Shamwari Sindile provides an escape that will invigorate and inspire even the most seasoned safari-goers. Set above the bush and plains in the African veld, guests stay in large luxury tents that provide unobstructed views of the environment and the wildlife that moves through it. Between game drives, dive into your private, heated plunge pool on your deck, book a soothing spa treatment, or relax by the fire pit. At night, there isn’t any light pollution, so it’s perfect for stargazing after dinner.
- Nine secluded luxury tents offer enchanting views of the unspoiled surrounds, including Bushman’s River.
- Bush walks and game drives in open vehicles allow you to view wildlife like the Big Five, kudu, bushbuck, and monkey.
- In the summer, guests can add a walking safari to Sindile’s sister property, Explorer Camp. You’ll move through Shamwari on foot and sleep in a bush tent at night to experience a different type of safari that brings you even closer to nature.
Who it’s best for: Families, friends, couples, travelers looking for a malaria-free safari, and adventurers who cherish the environment.
The best safari lodges in KwaZulu-Natal
In addition to safari, the coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal offers travelers the chance to swim, dive and snorkel in a majestic marine environment. Imagine: vibrant coral teeming with tropical fish, and turtles and dolphins surfing the currents. On land, “the garden province’s” pleasant year-round climate begs travelers to explore diverse landscapes like palm savannah and wetlands.
Phinda Vlei Lodge, Phinda Private Game
The Phinda Private Game Reserve spans 73,800 protected acres and includes seven habitats where you can find wildlife like the Big Five, cheetah, black rhino, and 436 bird species. Phinda Vlei Lodge, which is located on the edge of a sand forest that’s home to red duiker and suni antelope species, is designed to provide luxurious comfort—that is, when you aren’t on adventurous day trips like game drives and marine safaris. You can also participate in conservation experiences with pangolins, rhinos, and elephants, as well as cultural experiences like a Zulu village tour. During the summer, witness loggerhead and leatherback turtles lay their eggs on the beaches of Sodwana Bay.
- Six peaceful suites located snug between grassland and forest feature a private lap pool, outdoor shower, and deck.
- Book a “Sleepout Under the Stars” experience, during which you’ll imbibe sundowners and a sumptuous meal, and relax next to a campfire before tucking into a starlit bush bed.
- Explore Maputaland above and beneath the waves on a day trip to the beach or on an ocean safari. Go scuba diving in Sodwana Bay to enjoy one of the best dive spots on the planet.
Who it’s best for: Families, friends, couples, and travelers who want to explore beaches and underwater environments as much as they want to pursue adventures on land.
The best safari lodges in Madikwe Game Reserve
Thanks to conservation efforts, 27 major species have been reintroduced to Madikwe Game Reserve. Among them, live the highest concentration of rhino in Africa. Spanning roughly 185,000 acres, Madikwe is the country’s fifth-largest reserve. South Africa luxury safari lodges in this area offer an array of incredible wildlife, such as the “Super Seven” (Big Five plus cheetah and African wild dog), impala, antelope, hippo, spotted hyena, serval and warthog.
Molori Safari Lodge, Madikwe Game Reserve
The exclusive Molori Safari Lodge has just five suites, guaranteeing a peaceful and relaxing stay during which you’ll receive personalized attention. The elegant main lodge features a living room, infinity pools, spa baths, decks, dining areas, a bar, and a library. Mouthwatering meals are prepared by gourmet chefs and served with top-shelf liquor and fine wine. Overlooking a water hole that attracts frequent visitors, the viewing deck is a relaxing spot for watching wildlife.
- Five private, open-air suites boast a pool, deck and retractable glass walls that frame the picture-perfect surroundings, including Madikwe Valley and Dwarsberg Mountains.
- Guests can go on night game drives, outfitted with hi-tech torches to look for the “Super Seven” and other intriguing nocturnal wildlife.
- Participate in rhino tagging and an African wild dog expedition for a hands-on conservation experience.
Who it’s best for: Travelers seeking ultimate privacy for a family vacation or romantic getaway; those looking for a malaria-free safari.
Tips for choosing the best South Africa safari lodges
Travelers typically spend 10 to 14 days in South Africa, enjoying time in their arrival city (Cape Town or Johannesburg) before flying or driving to their first safari destination. On a single itinerary, most people will visit two or three camps in a few different provinces. South Africa is popularly paired with a beach getaway in Mozambique, a visit to Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe/Zambia) or onward safari travel to Botswana and Namibia. Point being—you don’t need to restrict yourself to one lodge or a single reserve—in fact, far from it.
With so many phenomenal accommodations and reserves, here are some tips for making the best choice for you:
- Extraordinary Journeys safari specialists feel the best luxury safaris in South Africa are located within private game reserves and conservancies—especially when it comes to Greater Kruger. Exclusive by design, you won’t have to share your wildlife sightings with the crowds, especially in peak season.
- Be mindful of whether a camp or lodge has traversing rights with adjacent reserve or parklands. Where rights have been secured, you have a much broader range within which to experience game drives.
- South Africa is a year-round safari destination, but winters can be cold. It might not be worth splurging for amenities like a private plunge pool if you won’t be making good use of it.
- You’ll be spending a lot of time on game drives. Our best advice is to invest in the highest caliber of guiding your budget will allow.
- In South Africa, Kruger especially, some safari vehicles are nine-seaters (rather than six.) Consider that when full, at any time, two guests will be watching wildlife over the shoulders of others.