South Africa’s Best Safari Parks and Camps

At a safari lodge on a private reserve, you’ll find hotel amenities like pools, spas, and gyms in the middle of the wilderness. You’ll also indulge in gourmet meals and go on game drives with professionally trained guides. Located mostly on the western outskirts of Kruger National Park, these private camps don’t have fences, so you’ll see the same wildlife here that you would in the greater park. Many have airstrips for charter flights, but are also accessible by ground transfers from regional airports should private planes not be in your budget. If you’re traveling with young kids, be sure to check whether your lodge has a minimum age policy—some properties don’t allow children under six years old.

Londolozi Game Reserve Sparta Farms, Skukuza, 1350, South Africa
Zulu for “protector of all living things,” Londolozi was established on the banks of the Sand River in the late 1920s. The founding owners were some of the first to promote photographic safaris, a theme that continues to this day since the property is still in family hands. Guests can even rent professional cameras and lens kits on-site, then visit the Londolozi Creative Studio, where they can work on their photos using Lightroom and Photoshop software with the assistance of a creative team. If you get a really great shot, have Londolozi print it on canvas and package it for your journey home.

The property features five riverfront lodges, each with its own distinct style and all within walking distance of one another. Tree Camp, Private Granite Suites, and Pioneer Camp are Relais & Châteaux properties, while Varty Camp and Founders Camp are better suited to families with children between the ages of six and 16. Besides the photography resources, guests are primarily drawn to Londolozi for its reputation as an excellent place to spot leopards—arguably the most elusive of the Big Five animals. To get here, fly into Skukuza or Nelspruit and then arrange for a car to your lodge.
Sabi Sands Game Reserve, Kruger National Park, Hazyview, 1242, South Africa
An award-winning hotel company, Singita is lauded not only for its luxurious properties but also for its dedication to the environment and uplifting communities. To reach Singita Boulders Lodge, guests can fly direct from Johannesburg to Sabi Sand Game Reserve on Federal Airlines’ daily jet service. Once there, they can expect open-air common spaces that provide a continuous connection to the outdoors, as well as spacious suites with game-viewing decks and private plunge pools. Also on-site is a swimming pool in the main lodge area, spa and gym facilities, and a wine boutique selling premier South African vintages. In addition to daily game drives, guests can indulge in activities like guided safari walks, photography lessons, stargazing, and archery, making for the stay of a lifetime.
Ehlanzeni, 1260, South Africa
If you have your sights set on seeing the Big Five, then MalaMala Game Reserve is the place to be—it’s said that 98 percent of guests spot these illustrious animals over a two-night stay. One of the largest private game reserves in South Africa, MalaMala shares fenceless, uninhabited borders with both Kruger National Park and Londolozi Game Reserve. Its location, along with its team of highly skilled rangers (including members of local tribes), has helped the reserve gain a reputation as one of the best places in Africa for wildlife viewing, especially if you’re hoping to spot leopards. Additionally, MalaMala only allows shared traversing on 30 percent of its land and a maximum of three vehicles at any sighting, ensuring that guests enjoy an exclusive experience.

There are three camps on the property—MalaMala Camp and Sable Camp are to the north of the private airstrip, while the luxurious Rattray’s Camp is to the south. MalaMala Camp is unfenced, so it’s not uncommon to see a nyala or elephant wander past your air-conditioned room. It’s also the best option for families with young children, as it offers babysitting services for an additional fee. Sable Camp features six private suites and a common pool area overlooking the floodplain, while Rattray’s includes eight luxurious villas, complete with private plunge pools and verandas over the river.
Avoca Road, Thornybush Private Game Reserve, Hoedspruit, 1380, South Africa
Royal Malewane is a five-star lodge located on the 34,594-acre Thornybush Private Game Reserve within the Greater Kruger National Park region. Already quite glamorous, it underwent a refurbishment in 2018 and, in addition to several structural upgrades, now features a kosher kitchen and a gin-and-whiskey bar dedicated to the late Wilson Masiya, one of the lodge’s original trackers. All of the guides at Royal Malewane are certified by the Field Guide Association of South Africa, and most have been working in the Greater Kruger National Park area since the early 1990s. Two are Master Trackers, a qualification currently held by only seven rangers in the world. Royal Malewane is so focused on quality guiding that it even started an apprenticeship program in 2008. Students work for two years under the tutelage of the lodge’s senior team, then graduate and move on to jobs at safari lodges in the region.

Amazing wildlife experiences aside, what makes Royal Malewane unique is its sense of style. Owners Liz and Phil Biden have seamlessly melded contemporary furniture with colonial-style accommodations, all at their family-home-turned-safari-lodge in the middle of the South African bush. In 2019, they plan to open a new lodge on the property called the Farmstead at Royal Malewane, giving guests even more reason to book a stay.
andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve, 3936, South Africa
The landscape surrounding Phinda Private Game Reserve is totally different from what you’ll experience in Kruger, Madikwe, or the Kalahari. Here, moisture from the Indian Ocean breathes life into gently rolling hills; flat, grassy wetlands attract hippos, antelope, and far too many bird species to list; and dense forests house the Big Five and even cheetahs. The 25 rooms at &Beyond’s Phinda Rock Lodge sit atop a granite outcropping, overlooking these lush surroundings. No matter which one you’re in, you’ll feel as if you’re hovering high above the treetops and the valley below.

A stay at Phinda Rock Lodge is all-inclusive, complete with twice-daily safari drives, a Zulu village tour, bush walks, and other conservation experiences. Since the lodge is so close to the Indian Ocean, guests also have the unique opportunity to explore South Africa’s marine life. In the summer, you can join a nighttime excursion to watch leatherback and loggerhead turtles lay their eggs on the beach, or go snorkeling or scuba diving to explore the coral reefs near Sodwana Bay. While Phinda is approximately a two-hour drive from Richards Bay Airport, Airlink flies direct from Nelspruit to the lodge’s private airstrip, making it easy to connect a safari in the Greater Kruger National Park with a visit to Phinda.
Ottos Bluff Rd, Chase Valley, Pietermaritzburg, 3231, South Africa
Karkloof Safari Villas is the kind of luxury lodge you only find out about through word-of-mouth. A 45-minute drive from Pietermaritzburg airport, it’s tucked in the heart of KwaZulu-Natal Province, surrounded by rugged terrain, a wide variety of plants and animals (the Karkloof blue butterfly is endemic to the area), and awe-inspiring waterfalls (the highest of which plunges some 288 feet into the ravine below). Perched on a hillside, its 16 villas are connected by floating wooden walkways that wind their way above 74,000 acres of lush, misty forest.

Since there are no apex predators in this reserve, safaris—available as game drives or walking excursions—afford travelers the opportunity to learn more about Karkloof’s unique white rhinoceros breeding program. When not exploring, guests can take advantage of the lodge’s spa (considered one of the best in the country) and gourmet meals (which can be tweaked to accommodate all kinds of dietary restrictions, including detox plans).
Agert Pakhuis Pass, Clanwilliam, 8135, South Africa
Bushmans Kloof is a boutique wellness resort located in South Africa’s Cederberg Mountains. Just three hours north of Cape Town, the lodge sits on one of eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Cape Floral plant kingdom, surrounded by open plains, sandstone formations, and scrubby fynbos. Beyond its natural appeal, the land also has incredible cultural significance—guests can find more than 130 Bushman rock paintings, thought to be over 10,000 years old, across the property.

The all-inclusive lodge can accommodate up to 34 guests at a time in a combination of rooms, suites, and a private villa with a pool. Activities include biking, hiking, fishing, canoeing, and nature drives in a safari vehicle. There’s also a gym, pool, organic vegetable garden, and award-winning spa on premises.
andBeyond Ngala Private Game Reserve, Timbavati, 1380, South Africa
The &Beyond Ngala Safari Lodge is located on the Ngala Private Game Reserve, an unfenced private concession wedged between the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve and Kruger National Park. &Beyond leases the land from World Wildlife Fund South Africa and donates a portion of its profits to the South African National Parks Trust. As a result, the trust has been able to fund special projects and maintain West Coast National Park, located just an hour north of Cape Town.

Conservation efforts aside, &Beyond Nagala Safari Lodge is most known for offering a luxury safari experience. Guests can spot wildlife from the lounge, then be completely surrounded by the bush in their air-conditioned rooms. Have breakfast under the shade of an enormous weeping boer bean tree, while away hours at the pool with a book and your favorite drink, and indulge in a fireside dinner, surrounded by lanterns and candles. During their stay, guests even enjoy a dedicated vehicle and tracker team to guide them on twice-daily drives, bush strolls, and walking safaris. The lodge is about an hour’s drive from Hoedspruit Airport, but Airlink also operates daily direct flights from Johannesburg and Nelspruit to Ngala’s private airstrip.
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