Escape the relentless throng of city life for a laid-back retreat in nature. Here’re 10 of our favourite exclusive-use African safari lodges and experiences.
1. Morukuru Ocean house
De Hoop Nature Reserve, Western Cape, South Africa
This nature reserve near the southernmost tip of Africa offers a different kind of game viewing: you can lie in your bed while watching whales frolicking in the ocean, with a deserted beach located just over the fynbos-fringed dunes. It’s wild here, with nature being the all-encompassing theme of your stay at this eco-friendly – and family friendly – villa. With four double suites, all sea-facing, and plenty of stylish and comfortable communal spaces, there’s room enough for quiet time and big gatherings. Accommodating staff will set up a private beach picnic for you at the drop of a hat (and then clear up everything after), and arrange stargazing sessions at night.
2. Ulubisi House
Gondwana Game Reserve, Garden Route, Western Cape, South Africa
It doesn’t get closer to an authentic bush experience than Gondwana Game Reserve, yet this vast grasslands tract (complete with the Big Five) is virtually a stone’s throw from the sea, and just a four-hour drive from Cape Town. Ulubisi House is its new and super stylish private lodge, noteworthy for its design details and glamorous – but impeccably understated – touches. Sleeping six adults, Ulubisi House comes complete with a private chef, butler and field guide.
3. The River Lodge
Thornybush Private Nature Reserve, Limpopo, South Africa
Sumptuous dinners by candlelight to the sounds of hyena cackles and lion roars are par for the course at this elegant, yet homely, lodge on the banks of the Monwana River. Up to eight guests can be accommodated in standalone suites, each boasting a plunge pool and views of the surrounding bush.
4. Thanda Island
Shungi Mbili Island District of Mafia Island, Tanzania
James Bond 007 film location scouts would be wise to take note – Thanda Island offers the ultimate by way of an intimately private, and luxuriously indulgent travel experience. Fit for a secret agent, the exclusive-use island is equally suited for those planning a small celebration, be it a wedding or a milestone birthday. Located between Dar Es Salaam, on mainland Tanzania, and Mafia Island a mere ‘sky rickshaw’ ride away, the diminutive getaway (only a kilometre in circumference) is part of the Shungi Mbili Island Marine Reserve – and once immersed in its surroundings, only metres above sea level, its owners’ determination towards marine-life preservation and self-sustainable living are immediately apparent. Architecturally, the island’s five-bedroom villa treads delicately on the land, seemingly scuttling across the soft white sands as dusty pink crabs do along its shoreline. If that alone isn’t indication of Thanda’s eco endeavours, two traditional Banda-style huts also grace the island. They offer both the indoor-is-outdoor rustic charm of a Dr. No beach bungalow and the off-grid necessities of solar-powered electricity and harvested rainwater that come standard with any contemporary Bond retreat. All encounters with the staff include a warm Swahili smile, whether it’s in response to a request for a late-night chocolate bar, or an offer from the general manager to pry fresh oysters off the rocks and shuck them on the beach. Keen for a swim with turtles and whale sharks? Or rather up the octane and jet-ski instead? All included, of course. This same desire to personalise one’s stay extends to the interiors too, where nautical decor, with a distinctive global feel, and in tropical tones, decorates the rooms. Hence, it’s not unusual to find an oversized shell, spotted on a sunrise stroll, alongside one’s outdoor bath come turn-down. Attention to detail knows no bounds on Thanda Island.
5. Private Granite Suites
Londolozi, Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve, Mpumalanga, South Africa
Built on the banks of the Sand River, the ultra luxurious suites oversized doors and window allow visitors to be completely immersed in the tranquil surrounds. The ultra luxurious suites in shades of grey – from river boulder to elephant hide – and silver has a private, heated swimming pool exclusive use for up to six guests.
With interiors that riff on the raw texture and colour of the landscape, the Private Granite Suites at Londolozi reflect Africa’s wild essence. Dressed in shades of grey – from river boulder to elephant hide – the luxurious interiors of each suite spill out onto a private sala, complete with a heated swimming pool and bath set on the riverbank. The three suites accommodate a maximum of six guests.
6. Royal Beach Villas
Azura, Benguerra Island, Mozambique
Everything about this eco boutique retreat on Bazaruto Archipelago’s second largest island exudes a blissful hippie-chic vibe. Will you want to dress up for dinner? Perhaps not, when it’s with your toes lapped by lukewarm wavelets while supping on the beach (the set-ups for meals and sundowners are legendary). If there was a place that defined barefoot luxury, the two brand-new Royal Beach Villas are it. Set apart from the 18 existing villas on the property’s northern end, they’re the perfect private and romantic escape for couples.
7. Founders Lodge
Mantis Owners Collection, Eastern Cape, South Africa
Adrian Gardiner, founder and visionary of Mantis Collection, has converted his personal residence into a five-star private game lodge. Founders Lodge is situated on a 400 hectare reserve adjacent to and with direct access to the Big 5 Shamwari Game Reserve, only 75km from Port Elizabeth. The lodge offers six exemplary bedrooms and communal facilities, including lounges, gym and bar area. Each experience is tailored to your needs, from private game drives to sundowners in the bush.
8. Serengeti House
Grumeti Reserve, Grumeti, Tanzania
Overlooking expansive African plains bustling with lion, wildebeest and elephant, the laid-back, exclusive-use Serengeti House is where you’ll want to settle down at sundown, G&T in hand. Ideal for families, two breezy suites in the main house along with two separate garden suites provide ample room and privacy for everyone, while an assortment of facilities (including a pool, tennis court and at-home spa treatments) and tailor-made activities cater for all ages.
Nosy Ankao, Madagascar
Located on one of five tiny islands that make up a private archipelago off the coast of Madagascar, the focus at newly opened Miavana is squarely on the unspoilt natural beauty of the area. And why not, with snorkelling, rainforest treks and lemur safaris on offer. Not that the 14 villas, perfectly designed by power duo Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, are to be frowned at. Strung along the shore for discreet privacy, guests can step directly onto the beach from their decks.
10. Bailey’s Banda
Beho Beho, Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania
If an exclusive safari experience is what you are after, book Bailey’s Banda. Overlooking the valley and hippo pools, guests can listen to the call of the wild here without interruption. The house is kitted out with the standard luxury frills: beautiful interiors, a private sun deck and pool with Instagram-worthy views, plus a house chef, but also comes with some special extras such as your very own guide, safari vehicle and private boat for water-based game viewing on nearby Lake Tagalala.