South Africa has some of the most beautiful and exquisite luxury safari camps in Africa, if not the world. Safari lodges are located on private game reserves or bordering national safari parks and offer the height of luxury and indulgence. Decor, comfort and service fused with safari chic offer a stay in the heart of the African bush that is hard to beat.
Daily game drives give guests the chance of viewing the incredible South African wildlife, including the Big 5. Lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and buffalos can be seen in a natural wilderness setting alongside the region’s varied birdlife and flora.
After a day on safari, return to your luxury camp and enjoy mouthwatering gourmet meals and first-class service before retiring to your sumptuous safari lodge accommodation.
You will never forget the experience of staying in a luxury African safari lodge in South Africa!
I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy.Ernest Hemingway
Thank you to fellow travel bloggers who have stayed in some of the top luxury safari lodges in South Africa and have contributed to this post.
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The Big 5 can be spotted during a stay at one of South Africa’s luxury safari camps.
Rhino – Leopard – Elephant – Buffalo – Lion
What is the difference between a Safari Park and a Safari Reserve?
The difference between these is quite straightforward. A national park is government-owned and managed and is usually a vast expanse of unfenced wilderness. A private game reserve is privately owned and managed with the land being fenced off.
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is Africa’s most popular wildlife safari destination and is in the northeast of South Africa bordering Mozambique. It is home to more animal species than any other African safari destination including over 140 species of large mammal species and over 500 different bird species.
On the outskirts of Kruger National Park are some of the most luxurious safari lodges in the world. Luxury safari camps such as Sabi Sands and Klaserie Drift await your arrival!
#1 Klaserie Drift, Misava Safari Camp – 5 Star Luxury
Contributed by Shelley from LifeJourney4Two
Stepping into Klaserie Drift Misava Safari Camp, we felt any tension melt away as its restful and easy atmosphere welcomed us to a return to nature. With a five-star rating, this camp offers casual luxury, a place to feel at home with nature.
Perched on a rise overlooking the meandering Klaserie River, with panoramic views across the South African bushveld, it is no wonder Misava Safari Camp won TripAdvisor’s Traveller’s Choice Award 2020. The safari lodge sits to the west of Kruger National Park, with no fences separating the two, so the animals of Kruger are free to roam as they please.
Misava’s tastefully appointed rooms, reflect their natural surroundings and make the most of the breath-taking vistas across the African wilds. Misava’s staff were warm and welcoming, and the safari guides were extremely knowledgeable, with nothing being too much trouble for one of South Africa’s best luxury safari camps.
Two daily safari drives immerse you into the heart of mother nature, each lasting around three hours. We saw giraffes, elephants, hippos, zebra, hyena, kudu, and our favourite sighting of the afternoon, a herd of impala barking their warning at a female leopard as she strolled by.
After an invigorating safari, what better way to relax than to take a dip in Misava’s incredible infinity pool overlooking the river. There are a bar and dining area beside the pool – a perfect place to chill.
Beautifully presented food is a thrill to the tastebuds and is prepared by the resident chef with locally sourced products. As we sat eating a delicious lunch beside the shimmering pool and looking out across the bush, we couldn’t think of a more pleasurable and relaxing place to be.
#2 Ulusaba Safari Lodge, Sabi Sand Reserve – 5-Star Luxury
Contributed by Heather from Conversant Traveller
Ulusaba in Sabi Sand is the place to go for an indulgent safari on all levels. This 5* Virgin-owned safari camp is easy to get to from Johannesburg and borders Kruger National Park. There aren’t any fences here, so wildlife is free to roam, meaning you get Kruger’s diversity with a private reserve’s exclusivity.
There are two luxury safari camps at Ulusaba – Safari Lodge and Rock Lodge. I spent a few nights at the former, in an opulent suite right in the heart of the bush, where animals could wander past at any time of day. I loved watching vervet monkeys scampering about on the deck as I enjoyed a soak in the tub!
Ulusaba at Sabi Sands is famed for its leopard sightings, and I was lucky to encounter two on daily game drives during my stay. The daily safaris here are superb, with abundant animals, knowledgeable and friendly guides, and plenty of new places to explore every day. Yet, it was the accommodation that made me choose to come to Ulusaba.
Ultimate Luxury at Ulusaba
The lodge ticks all the boxes for high-end luxury yet has a chilled vibe that makes everyone feel welcome. The tastefully furnished rooms are all very private, with fun bridge walkways between them. There’s also a pool and gym and a well-stocked bar that caters for international tastes.
The highlight was perhaps the food, which was locally sourced and somewhat creative, with an African touch. I tucked into bush breakfasts, which included chocolate pancakes rustled up by a chef who had set up shop on a rocky outcrop and enjoyed leisurely lunches overlooking the dry riverbed. Boma braai dinners were taken beside the campfire under the stars whilst guests were serenaded by musicians and dancers. It is a wonderful place, both a relaxing and enchanting experience with fantastic staff and first-class service, and I can’t wait to return.
#3 Lion Sands Safari Lodge, Sabi Sand Reserve – 5-Star Luxury
Contributed by Pamela from Directionally Challenged Traveler
One of the best luxury safari camps in South Africa is Lion Sands in Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve. Located next to Kruger National Park, the safari camp’s location makes it ideal for spotting the big five safari animals. Twice daily game drives or bushwalking safaris with an expert field guide allows close observation of Kruger’s wildlife.
For my first safari in South Africa, Lion Sands set the bar incredibly high for other luxury safari accommodations. Lion Sands Game Reserve has four safari lodges, each with a different style. When I entered my safari suite, River Lodge, to say I was in awe would be an understatement.
A patio separated the room with two loungers overlooking an infinity pool. On one side of the patio deck was a living room with two comfortable couches for reading or just relaxing. The other side had the bedroom, another living room, a toilet room, a bathtub room, and an outdoor shower. They even put my name in leaves across the bed to welcome me to my home away from home!
The lodge restaurant overlooked the river where water buffalo, hippopotamuses, and even elephants like to wander past. The friendly staff members all learned my name and even my preferences for tea or coffee in the morning. As a picky eater, I was concerned about the meal choices during my safari stay, but my anxiety was unfounded. The menu had an international variety. From peanut butter stuffed french toast (which I still think about) to grilled kudu – each meal left me delightfully full. The Lion Sands Ivory Lodge offers three sumptuous meals per day plus snacks. And the bush dinners in the wilderness are a one-of-a-kind experience!
Whenever someone tells me that they are visiting South Africa to experience a safari, I cannot recommend the five-star luxury of Lion Sands Sabi Sands enough. The camp had such amazing amenities to make it feel more like glamping than anything else.
KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) is one of South Africa’s most popular holiday destinations, with magnificent scenery including the Drakensberg Mountains to the west, the Lebombo Mountains to the north and sensational Big 5 Safari Experiences.
#4 Thanda Safari Game Reserve – 5-Star Luxury
Contributed by Dani from No Hurry To Get Home
Set in the heart of northern KwaZulu-Natal, Thanda Safari Camp is situated in one of the best game reserves in KZN if luxury and unparalleled wildlife viewings are what you’re after during your trip to South Africa.
Thanda Luxury Safari Camp boasts three different properties: Thanda Safari Lodge, Villa iZulu, and Thanda Tented Camp. I stayed at Thanda Tented Camp, which offers 15 luxury safari tents right in the heart of the bush, each with a private sun deck. Every tent offers a ton of space from the one next to it, so you’ll get to feel as though you’re the only guest at the camp!
I chose Thanda for several reasons: One of them being their deep commitment to wildlife conservation and the fact that the entire camp is a privately-owned 14000-hectare reserve. The latter means that you won’t have to share any wildlife viewings with dozens of other people. Moreover, I loved how my experience was a combination of unparalleled luxury, cultural immersion, and mouthwatering food.
Conservation at Thanda
Aside from the game drives (which were the best I’ve experienced in my life both due to the passionate guides and the fact that I pretty much got them all to myself), Thanda Safari offers many activities and facilities to keep you entertained in-between viewings.
Think wellness activities, an infinity pool, and a cosy deck overviewing a water hole where tons of animals will pop by for a drink. You can also book different experiences around the reserve if you’re keen to experience their conservation efforts. Cheetah and rhino tracking, rhino darting, and private bushwalks to get up close with the wildlife that calls Thanda their home are all available to guests.
MALARIA-FREE LUXURY SAFARI CAMPS
Pilanesberg National Park
Pilanesberg National Park is located in the North West Province of South Africa. Set in a volcanic crater, it is home to the Big Five and some rare African mammal species. Mankwe Dam, an artificial lake, attracts the animals to drink and concealed wildlife-viewing shelters scattered throughout the park allow visitors to observe the animal’s natural behaviour. Birdlife includes eagles and ostriches.
#5 Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge – 4-Star Luxury
Contributed by Tracy from Tracy’s Travels in Time
Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge is 170 km from Johannesburg in the Pilanesberg National Park in the North West Province of South Africa. I have been visiting since the early 1980s – with my parents and then as a parent myself. One of my most memorable times at the safari lodge was when I took my 13-year daughter on a safari.
Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge offers guests a luxury African safari experience in the heart of a malaria-free national park. A real deal-breaker if you don’t want to take anti-malarial medication but want to experience a South African safari.
Kwa Maritane, meaning “place of the rock“, offers a number of tastefully decorated accommodation options, including standard twin rooms, executive twin rooms and executive king rooms. All rooms have sliding doors with access to a balcony or patio and great views of the park. Often animals can be seen walking to the watering hole located near the hotel. There is a hide near the waterhole, which is accessible from the hotel via an underground tunnel. Live webcam footage is shown on the TV in your bedroom, so you know when to hotfoot it down to the hide to see an elephant or other African wildlife stopping off at the watering hole for a drink!
Kwa Maritane is one of Pilansburg’s premier luxury safari camps, and so naturally, amenities are superb. They include a spa set in the bushveld, a swimming pool set under the shade of palm trees, tennis courts, putt-putt, free WiFi, a children’s playground and a wildlife centre and a museum.
Leisure Time at Kwa Maritane
There are several dining options at Kwa Maritane, including two bars – the Kwa Maziout bar and lounge and a relaxing and cosy cocktail lounge and bar. For dinner, head to Kwa Lefikeng restaurant and enjoy traditional South African dishes while enjoying the wonderful views over the park. Themed buffet evenings are held throughout the week, and on Sunday, don’t miss the Lamb on a Spit. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, Kwa Maritane offers a bush boma dinner in the outside braai area.
Daily game drives, as well as guided walks in the park, are available. The sundowner game drive is excellent, with a chance to stop and learn about the night sky and stars with your guides. Kwa Maritane is home to Africa’s Big 5, so be prepared for your game drive and don’t forget your camera and binoculars!
If you want to explore outside of the national park, then the world-famous Sun City is a mere 10-minute drive. Kwa Maritane lay on a transfer bus and afternoon tea at the Lost Palace is a fantastic experience.
South Africa’s Western Cape
The Western Cape is a wonderful destination for a safari holiday. You can combine Big Five game viewing with the beauty of Cape Town, the Cape Winelands and the Garden Route’s diverse flora.
#6 Kwena Lodge, Gondwana Game Reserve – 5-Star Luxury
A four-hour journey from Cape Town along the scenic Garden Route is Gondwana Safari Game Reserve. Nestled in 26,000 acres of natural wildlife habitat this malarial-free luxury safari camp offers sweeping views of the Outeniqua and Langeberg Mountains. Once these mountains formed part of the supercontinent known as Gondwanaland.
As Gondwana is easily accessible from the country’s capital city, it is the perfect Big 5 safari destination. Guests can combine Cape Town’s must-see attractions with the beauty of South Africa’s wilderness. The safari camp has an abundance of wildlife and a choice of several luxurious safari lodge accommodations, from luxury private lodges to family villas and even luxury eco-tents.
Kwena Lodge is a unique and luxurious twist on the traditional Khoi-San African circular dwellings. The open-plan living space is designed to give 180-degree views of the surrounding bush and ceiling skylights for nightly stargazing. The spacious bedroom overlooks two waterholes across the valley, and deep bathtubs and walk-in showers allow total relaxation after a long and dusty game drive.
Kwena Lodge has an infinity pool, open-plan lounge/bar and a gourmet restaurant serving traditional African fayre for guests to enjoy during their stay.
South Africa’s Eastern Cape
You will find several Eastern Cape private game reserves located along the Garden Route – the best being Shamwari and Amakhala. Enjoy discovering this part of South Africa from the ethical wildlife experiences in Plettenburg to the mighty Tsitsikamma Forest, not forgetting the beautiful beaches.
#7 Eagles Crag, Shamwari Game Reserve – 5-Star Luxury
Shamwari Game Reserve, located close to Port Elizabeth, has been synonymous with luxurious accommodation and sensational game viewings since the early 1990s. It is also one of the best malaria-free Eastern Cape Game Reserves. Seven unique lodges offer the discerning guest the choice of low-key luxury to full-blown safari decadence.
Shamwari’s Eagles Crag is perched between lush vegetation and a rocky outcrop. An upper deck observation station gives guests the opportunity to view the eagles soaring in the sky. Exquisite suites fuse the natural African elements with sophisticated interiors. Each has an outdoor shower and a private plunge pool to relax after a safari game drive.
Check Out My Post: The Most Incredible Lion Encounter in Shamwari
Shamwari offers various experiences you can enjoy, such as Safari Drives, Bird-watching, Bush Walks, and Photographic Safaris. Being at the forefront of wildlife conservation, guests can visit the on-site Born Free Big Cat Sanctuary and the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. Guests looking to relax can also enjoy the spa facilities, including a steam room, sauna and treatments.
The food and wine at Shamwari Game Reserve are in abundance from teas and coffee before early morning game drives and buffet breakfasts on your return to gourmet lunch and dinner. And, of course, let’s not forget those sundowners overlooking the African bush – what’s not to like?
#8 Bush Lodge, Amakhala Game Reserve – 5 Star Luxury
Amakhala Game Reserve is a 7,500-hectare protected wilderness and is a malaria-free safari area. It is Shamwari’s next-door neighbour and another private reserve. It is home to the Big 5 as well as zebra, giraffe, cheetah, wildebeest, warthog and jackal, and antelope. Amakhala Game Reserve offers luxury accommodation in both safari lodges and luxury safari tents.
Amakhala Bush Lodge is a luxury tented safari camp. It holds a superior position overlooking the valley and the Bushman’s River that runs through its heartland. But don’t think that by staying in a tent you will be forfeiting a luxurious stay – far from it! The five safari tents in Bush Lodge each have a wooden deck and private plunge pool in addition to top-class in-tent amenities. King-size beds, ultra-luxe fabrics, armchairs and large oval bathtubs and romantic alfresco double showers make this the perfect bush retreat.
Daily activities include safari game drives, birdwatching, star-gazing and bushwalking. River cruises unique to Amakhala, give guests an opportunity to observe the riverside wildlife.
Another truly authentic experience in Amakhala Game Reserve is Quatermain’s Camp. It is a 3-star rustic camp designed to resemble a 1920s expedition camp. Owned by a British vet nurse and her South African ranger husband, it is amazing – I can vouch for that!