Serenity in South Africa: 3 of the Best Luxury Safari Lodges & Resorts

May 27, 2024
Jamala Madikwe Lodge

If you seek the perfect mix of serenity, discovery and adventure on your next luxury safari in South Africa, finding top-tier accommodations run by thoughtful, conservation-forward partners we trust is the perfect place to start.

A luxury safari lodge in South Africa is so much more than a simple place to rest. It’s your home away from home, your refuge in the vast wilderness and a place to make treasured memories with your chosen companions.

Join us as we highlight the best safari lodges in South Africa, as selected by ROAR AFRICA’s team based on their generations of lived experience on the continent. With exquisite lodgings secured, you’re one essential step closer to embarking on the adventure of a lifetime.

Cheetah Plains Aerial Sabi Sands Game Reserve South Africa

The allure of South Africa

It is immediately evident to anyone who visits South Africa why it is known as “the world in one country.” Home to lush winelands, world-class cities and spectacular wilderness areas spanning statuesque mountain ranges, vast deserts and savannahs and pristine coastal reserves, its offerings are thrillingly diverse. You’ll quickly discover that one safari visit is never enough, and the lure of South Africa endures for a lifetime.

Is South Africa a good safari destination?

Yes, South Africa is one of Africa’s most popular safari destinations—and for good reason. A luxury South African safari is a particularly good choice for first-time visitors to Africa, as its sheer geographical, cultural and experiential diversity means there is something for everyone. It’s also a straightforward direct flight from New York, Washington and Atlanta and English is widely spoken.

A South African safari ensures unforgettable wildlife encounters by both land and sea. Kruger National Park and Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve are two of the most iconic, totally unspoiled destinations to see the Big Five: lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and African buffalo. Just off the coast of Cape Town, one finds an incredible array of marine life, from dolphins and sharks to Cape fur seals and one of Africa’s only colonies of penguins—not to mention the wild ostriches known to roam the area’s windswept beaches. Below the white-capped waves, you’ll find the Great African Seaforest - the subject of 202’s Oscar-winning documentary, My Octopus Teacher. (You can explore this seaforest easily, guided by ROAR AFRICA experts.) Naturally, there are countless ways to go about wildlife viewing in South Africa, such as by boat, car, helicopter, horseback, hot air balloon or on foot.

What is there to see and do in South Africa?

From Cape Town to Johannesburg and the beach to the bush, there is always more to discover in breathtaking South Africa. In addition to the country’s natural wonders and wilderness adventures are fascinating cultural experiences. Taste inimitable wines with our hand-picked sommeliers like award-winning Joseph Dhafana and enjoy fine cuisine in the Cape Winelands. Find inspiration at the country’s world-class contemporary art galleries like Zeitz MOCAA and the beautiful Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden. Consider the human condition at eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Robben Island and the Cradle of Humankind. Add groundbreaking architecture and stunning botanical gardens rich in rare fynbos and indigenous traditions to the list—South Africa’s sheer wealth of experiences cannot be overstated.

Find serenity at South Africa’s luxury safari lodges

What is a safari lodge?

Unlike a hotel in Cape Town or a private villa in the Winelands, a safari lodge is located in or just on the outskirts of a national park or game reserve. This means you can quite literally live on safari, waking with the dawn chorus of birds and falling asleep as lions roar in the distance.

Similarly to safari lodges, tented safari camps offer an incredibly immersive wilderness experience. However, safari lodges are often the more luxurious of the two, with amenities including pools, spas and fine dining on-site, alongside exquisitely decorated suites with stargazing beds and towering treehouses. (Though some of our hand-picked tented camps also offer these amenities)

Are luxury safari lodges in South Africa worth it?

Without question, booking a luxury safari lodge is one of the best decisions you can make on safari in South Africa. While you will spend most of your time out on exhilarating game drives, walking safaris, or even helicopter and hot air balloon trips, spotting leopards at Sabi Sands or South Africa’s last rhinos at Kruger National Park, some of your most memorable moments on safari will happen at your lodge. Imagine sitting on your deck, sundowner in hand and binoculars nearby while elephants amble across the horizon and impalas dart between the bushes before you. This kind of access to untamed, untouched nature can only be found at luxury safari lodges dedicated to the conservation of the world’s last truly wild spaces.

Top 3 luxury safari lodges in South Africa

While this is by no means a comprehensive list of all the luxury African villas, lodges and tented camps you’ll find when planning your safari, these South Africa lodges have won the hearts of ROAR AFRICA travelers for their thoughtful design and awe-inspiring wilderness access.

Loapi Luxury Lodge - Northern Cape

Loapi Tented Camp at Tswalu - Northern Cape

Tswalu, South Africa’s largest private game reserve, sits at the southernmost edge of the Kalahari Desert. It affords views of the stunning Korannaberg mountains and endless amber earth beneath electric blue skies.

Loapi Tented Camp is a collection of six private homes under the Tswalu umbrella that also includes Tarkuni and Motse, owned by the Oppenheimer family. These contemporary, thoroughly eco, glass and steel structures meld into the arid landscape, with canvas roof coverings that act as a cocoon against the elements while inviting the sounds of nature in. Loapi means “the space below the clouds” in Setswana, and this ultra-luxe camp indeed seems to connect heaven and earth in the heart of Tswalu’s pristine wilderness.

Ideal for couples, families and friends, each one- or two-bedroom oasis is equipped with a plunge pool, firepit and star beds perfect for gazing up at the Kalahari night sky. A dedicated team, including your own house manager, private chef, and safari guide and tracker will take excellent care of you during your stay. Tswalu guests will also find some of Africa’s oldest rock engravings on site, as well as a fine dining fantasy celebrating native ingredients at Restaurant Klein JAN - easily one of the best dining experiences in Africa if not the world.

Tswalu Private Reserve is home to 85 different mammals and more than 200 bird species, which guarantees Loapi guests some truly amazing wildlife encounters. Sit just a few feet away from the reserve’s habituated meerkats, who are accustomed to human visitors as they playfully pop in and out of their burrows. (This experience is magic for children.) Embark on a near-silent horseback safari for the best chance of seeing giraffes and oryx up close. Your prime position in the Kalahari means you’re also likely to see rare, endangered and elusive species such as the ground pangolin, desert black rhino and African wild dogs, as well as leopards and majestic black-maned lions.

Cheetah Plains, Sabi Sands, South AFrica

Cheetah Plains Lodge - Sabi Sand Nature Reserve

Sabi Sand Nature Reserve shares the northeastern corner of South Africa with Kruger National Park. There are no fences between the two, allowing wildlife to roam freely between both iconic game-viewing destinations. Two rivers flow through the savannahs and rocky outcrops of Sabi Sand, attracting iconic animals in large herds who come to drink from the fresh waters.

Cheetah Plains is perfect for families and large groups of friends, as each private villa has room for eight guests. The design is contemporary, with clean lines, sleek stonework and modern African artwork in perfect harmony with the surrounding landscape. Floor-to-ceiling windows mean you won’t miss any approaching wildlife—especially from the Mapogo Villa, which is set on an active waterhole, or the Karula Villa, where elephants are known to gather by the trees just outside of the living room.

In honor of its surrounding protected wilderness, Cheetah Plains is carbon-negative and runs completely on solar energy. In addition to double rain showers and an outdoor boma for fireside dining, each villa has its own butler, culinary team, spa therapist and tracker team. Aside from safari experiences perfect for every age, additional activities entertain the whole family, from baking and crafts for kids to bespoke, sommelier-led wine tastings for adults.

Sabi Sand is known for leopard sightings in addition to frequent appearances by the other Big Five, and Cheetah Plains offers all manner of ways to see them. Feel completely immersed in the wilderness on a bush walk or silent game drive—you need only follow your expert tracker’s gaze to spot lounging leopards or retreating antelope.

Jamala Madikwe

Jamala Madikwe - Madikwe Game Reserve, NorthWest Province

Jamala Madikwe sits at the eastern edge of Madikwe Game Reserve, a 185,000-acre region with arresting beauty and an unexpected history. Five freestanding villas are backed by dense bushveld and peer out at boundless plains, but the focal point is the watering hole in front of the main pool, where animals frequently drink and splash mere steps from your seat. This area is also malaria-free, an added bonus for those traveling with children.

Jamala Madikwe’s story doesn’t begin like those of other luxury safari lodges. Until 1991, the Madikwe Game Reserve consisted of deteriorating farmland. When a feasibility study declared wildlife tourism as the best use of the land, thus began Operation Phoenix: an ambitious and highly successful project to introduce thousands of animals to the reserve. Now, dozens of species roam the bushveld, enhancing biodiversity and shaping the landscape. It’s a wilderness as it should be.

Co-owned and operated by chef Nico Verster, Jamala Madikwe has won awards for its modern, seasonal South African cuisine served al fresco. The touch of well-traveled co-owner Rodney Steyn, meanwhile, is felt in every aspect of the lodge, from the impeccable service to the luxurious accommodations exuding colonial charm. Each villa opens up to an expansive wooden deck, outfitted with a private rim-flow pool and sala, outdoor shower and uninterrupted views of the waterhole and savannah.

With an active watering hole in view of Jamala Madikwe’s main pool, shared lounge and private villas, the lodge has pioneered the “sofa safari”—perfect for honeymooners looking to sleep in or soak in the pool while still game viewing. Without leaving the lodge, you can have unparalleled, incredibly up-close views of elephants, giraffes, zebras, wild dogs and even lions and leopards as they stop by the waterhole at all hours of the day and night.

The lodge’s field team also takes guests on twice-daily game drives in the broader Madikwe Game Reserve. On safari you’ll be able to not only photograph the Super Seven, but also look up at 300 different bird species and listen for the call of vervet monkeys. There is no travel experience that touches an African safari, and South Africa is a wonderful destination to begin your safari odyssey.

At ROAR AFRICA, we only promote luxury safari lodges that we know and love, where our guests can be assured of a seamless experience in the wildest of terrains. If you’d like us to pick the very best accommodation for your dream adventure, select a region among our luxury safari destinations and let our team handle the rest.


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