When it comes to safaris, gauging value for money is relative. Sure, a stay at each of these seven upscale, value-crammed, African safari camps includes daily activities on and off the Jeep, the expertise of seasoned guides, and loads of delicious food and drink. But what makes these safari experiences truly stand out for value are elements that can not necessarily be quantified, like space to breathe—and not having to share said space with more than just a handful of other guests. Indeed, each of these properties one-ups the competition with an air of exclusivity via their intimate camps, set within acres of exceptional wilderness; prolific or unusual wildlife encounters; and/or extraordinary guides to help interpret it all.
All listed rates are per person, per night, based on double occupancy, unless otherwise noted. Due to the volatility of the South African rand, note that rates for South African safari camps have not been converted to U.S. dollars.
1. Sable Alley by Natural Selection
Khwai Private Reserve, Botswana
Check into Natural Selection’s Sable Alley, debuted in 2017, to explore the 500,000-acre Khwai Private Reserve’s varied habitats and spot diverse wildlife on guided outings by vehicle, mokoro (a dugout canoe), boat, or on foot. Situated in northern Botswana, Khwai borders the Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park, but it has never enjoyed the same iconic status as its neighbors despite being a wildlife hot spot. Large herds of elephants, buffalo, and zebras converge here in search of water and grazing, while wild dogs, sable antelope, and big cats are also typical sightings. The result is excellent game-viewing, to be enjoyed from a base of bush-chic lodgings in the form of 12 spacious, solar-powered, king-size-bed-outfitted tents that overlook a lagoon with resident hippo and fantastic birdlife. From $560/person/night.
2. Ecca Lodge by Kwandwe
Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, South Africa
Guided bush walks and freshwater fishing are as popular as the twice-daily game drives on offer at this 55,000-acre, family-owned reserve set in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province. The “Big Five” (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo), as well as the elusive cheetah, are regularly sighted here. One of five intimate Kwandwe-run lodges in the Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, Ecca Lodge is named after the dramatic ecca shale cliffs characteristic of the Great Fish River that snakes through the reserve. Six colorful and contemporary suites make for deeply romantic hideaways, with large living rooms and private decks boasting plunge pools, outdoor showers, and views that might include sightings of elephants, kudu, or giraffes. From R8,690/person/night.
3. Matetsi Victoria Falls
Matetsi Private Game Reserve, Zimbabwe
Located 25 miles upstream from Victoria Falls, this earthy-chic lodge, set within the 123,500-acre Matetsi Private Game Reserve, is brimming with activity. Thanks to 17 miles of prime Zambezi River access—a magnet for elephants, antelope, water monitor lizards, and birds—grunting hippos will be the last sound you hear before you drift off to sleep after a busy day of game drives or walking safaris, boating or fishing trips, or canoeing or biking excursions, all led by some of Zimbabwe’s most experienced guides. Further afield, the adrenaline-fueled activities of the famous falls beckon, like taking a scenic helicopter ride over the “smoke that thunders” (as Victoria Falls is known in the local language) or joining a heart-pounding white-water rafting or jetboat outing. Back at the lodge, retreat to alfresco dining spots and one of 18 designer suites, each equipped with a private pool. Doubles from $1,990/night.
4. Phinda Vlei Lodge by andBeyond
Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa
Checking into one of the lodges on andBeyond’s 70,000-acre Phinda Private Game Reserve, in South Africa’s northern KwaZulu-Natal province, guarantees guests game drives and nature walks to track the Big Five and cheetah. It’s worth splurging to join the conservation team on a rhino-notching or elephant-collaring operation or to explore the Indian Ocean on a marine safari. The most elegant of the andBeyond lodges at Phinda is Vlei Lodge, which reopened in April 2018 following a top-to-bottom refurbishment, channeling the century-old plantation homesteads of the region’s sugarcane and pineapple farmers. Nostalgic antiques, collectibles, and tapestries add refined touches to the vintage linen and cotton fabrics, tropical prints, and silver and crystal accents that adorn the six suites. Bonus: Each suite has a private plunge pool overlooking the open grasslands. From R9,845/person/night.
5. Jack’s Camp by Natural Selection
Kalahari Desert, Botswana
Marooned on a grassy island within the vast, inhospitable Kalahari, and surrounded by the salt-encrusted pans of the Makgadikgadi (the remains of an ancient lake), Jack’s is so much more than just another tented safari camp. Touting 10 tents, it’s as well-known for its charming bygone-era ambience—with plenty of mahogany and brass antiques, kerosene lanterns, and Persian carpets—as it is for its activities, some dictated by the dramatic seasonal landscapes. In the harsh dry season of winter, quad biking over the salt flats and sleeping out under the stars are must-dos; in the wet summer months, observe the thousands of migrating zebras and flocks of flamingos as they congregate throughout the undulating grasslands. Year-round activities include hanging out with habituated meerkats, learning about the traditions of a resident San clan, and watching brown hyenas in their natural habitat. From $1,290/person/night.
6. Forest Lodge by Grootbos
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, South Africa
Tucked between ancient milkwood trees, this sophisticated and modern 16-suite retreat is the more grown-up-friendly of the two Grootbos lodges dotting the 6,200-acre, family-owned Grootbos Private Nature Reserve. Overlooking South Africa’s Walker Bay, in the Western Cape, it’s a region known for whale-watching, marine safaris, and exceptional cool-climate wines. An all-inclusive approach at Grootbos means that along with the magnificent views and three delicious meals a day, paired to local wines, guests take their pick of daily guided activities like interpretative nature walks and outings to archeologically rich sea caves, as well as horseback riding, hiking, or mountain biking. Complimentary shuttles whisk guests to nearby Gans Bay for optional marine safaris, like shark cage diving off of Dyer Island or boat-based whale-watching. From R7,950/person/night (from R10,600 for doubles).
7. Somalisa Camp by African Bush Camps
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
A stay at Somalisa Camp, situated in Zimbabwe’s massive 5,650-square-mile Hwange National Park—the country’s largest national park—is synonymous with up-close sightings of elephants (they even drink out of the swimming pool here). On expertly guided game drives during the dry winter months, coming upon large herds of the pachyderms, as well as buffalo and zebras, is almost a guarantee at local water holes. Reopened in 2016 after being rebuilt from scratch, the stylish tented camp, offering just nine suites, pairs the excitement of camping with the comfort of king-size beds, copper-clad tubs, outdoor showers, and wood-burning fireplaces. Best of all, Zimbabwe still offers some of the best value for money in all of southern Africa. From $495/person/night.