Whether it’s your first or fiftieth safari, you’ll want to check out our comprehensive list of the 11 most beautiful lodges to stay in, from colonial-style cabins to boutique-inspired bomas. If these incredible lodges don’t have you reaching for your binoculars, walking boots and passport, and make you want to experience a game drive in the African bush for yourself, then nothing will.
Built on the shores of the Zambezi River on Katambora Island, after which it is named, Island Lodge is a collection of four private suites with uninterrupted views overlooking the water. Surrounded by millennia-old jackalberry trees and iconic baobabs, the second and more exclusive of Royal Chundu’s properties is the perfect place to see Africa’s river dwellers in their natural habitat, not least during a daily sunset cruise. A shared living area and dining boma are perfect for relaxing after a long day exploring Zambia’s incredible wildlife.
This Brutalist monolith is the last thing you’d expect to find hidden in the Bushveld, but clever design and use of materials means it blends perfectly into its surroundings. The inside is just as impressive and ecologically-conscious, with bespoke furniture commissioned by the well-regarded local artist Geoffrey Armstrong, made from trees washed up in local floods. Home to 13 private suites each with their own plunge pool, Earth Lodge shows how modern design and traditional safari can come together to create something totally unique.
Another stunning example of what can happen when architecture takes inspiration from its surroundings. Made from the same material as the river basin below and decorated using earthy tones, the emphasis is on blending the boundaries between inside and outside. Out of the five Londolozi camps, the Granite Suites are undoubtedly the most impressive, each coming with its own private, heated pool from which to spot the animals enjoying a drink in the watering hole just metres away.
Suspended high above the N’wanetsi River, Lebombo offers incredible views of eastern Kruger National Park. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls and a unique vantage point give these lofty open-plan suites a bright and airy feel. Wherever possible the design looks to connect guests with their incredible surroundings. Amid the indigenous euphorbia trees, each of the 13 suites comes with an outdoor shower for a morning routine with a difference and an outdoor bed – perfect for stargazing.
The Skeleton Coast, nicknamed ‘the land God made in anger’ was feared and revered in equal measure by sailors. Hidden away in this stark-yet-beautiful 300,000-hectare (740,000-acre) concession, Haonib Skeleton Coast Camp is a modern take on a traditional nomadic settlement and one of the few places to enjoy a coastal safari in style – where you’re just as likely to see whales as you are elephants or any of the other ‘big five’. Set on an island in a dry river bed and only accessible by plane, this is one of the remotest lodges on the planet and perfect for anyone looking for an authentic safari experience.
Chitwa House isn’t the most innovate or interesting design on the list, but ticks all the boxes when it comes to luxury and location. Perfectly positioned beside a popular watering hole, guests can wait and watch wildlife come to them while enjoying all the amenities you’d expect from a 5* lodge. Exclusivity is what you’re paying for here – it was originally a private retreat for the Brink family. This small lodge (only two private suites) shows how big things can come in small packages.
The pièce de résistance of this ecological lodge is undoubtedly its stunning shared living area, which evokes a modern boma. Made entirely from wood, the design blends perfectly into its surroundings on the borders of the wetlands and lush savannah of the Okavango Delta. Each of &Beyond Sandibe Okavango’s eight private suites comes with its own plunge pool looking out onto the expansive terrain below.
With boat cruises along the Kariega River or paddle cruises down the Bushman’s River on offer, it will be hard to spend any time at the lodge. But for those who do, the luxurious, contemporary interior will make the hours spent between game drives that bit easier. An ornithologist’s paradise, Settler’s Drift – one of five Kariega lodges – is the perfect place to spot African fish eagles and Goliath herons; they love nothing more than hunting in these waterways.
The Great Fish River Lodge overlooks the winding body of water after which it is named. One of five lodges in the Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, its colonial-style decor transports you back to a time when guests would travel the shrublands via horse-drawn carts. Each of its nine private suites comes with its own plunge pool and uninterrupted views of the reserve. Don’t be surprised if you spot hippos drifting past on the river, or baboons playing in the trees. A shared living area, warmed by an enormous central fireplace is perfect for unwinding with a drink after an enthralling day spotting big game.
The Grumeti reserve was created by the Tanzanian government in 1994 to protect the path of the annual wildebeest migration and indigenous biodiversity. Serengeti House is one of the finest lodges on offer in the expansive 350,000-hectare (865,000-acre) wilderness, with a pool within touching distance of the shrubland in which big game roam and views of a watering hole from all of its four private suites. An informal, relaxed vibe is perfect for families looking to enjoy their first safari.
The name Kapama Karula translates as ‘the place of peace’. For the most tranquil of experiences, stay in one of the lodge’s twelve spacious Superior Suites that offer unparalleled privacy and the feeling of camping out under the stars. Set on the banks of the Klaserie River this is also a place to spot birds as well as the ‘big five’ that roam one of South Africa’s largest private game reserves.
You can find many of the lodges mentioned above at Rhino Africa, where you can also create tailor-made African travel experiences.