South Africa is home to world-famous national game reserves such as the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park, recognized for rhino conservation, and the Kruger National Park, the largest game reserve in the country. Shamwari in the Eastern Cape and the Tswalu-Kalahari in the Northern Cape are among the biggest and best private game reserves. The best time to visit is during the dry winter season (May to October), when it is cooler, and the animals are more visible in the dry vegetation. 

Staying at Game Reserves

With professional and knowledgeable guides, the safari experience immerses you in nature through game drives, bushveld walks, cycling, birdwatching, and photography. You can intersperse this with fine dining, luxuriant spas, and taking in the view from your deck. 

The wide range of accommodation available within each reserve, as well as on their borders, can make it hard to choose. The best safari lodges described here focus on superb settings and accommodation, top game viewing and guiding, privacy and exclusivity, excellent service, well-organized activities, high-quality meals, and creating memorable experiences. 

The Royal Malewane Lodge

Luxury

The Royal Suite (Photo courtesy of the Royal Malewane Lodge)
The Royal Suite (photo courtesy of the Royal Malewane Lodge)

For luxury and exclusivity, consider the Royal Malewane Lodge, situated in the Thornybush Private Game Reserve—featured in this 10-day wildlife and culture itinerary—on the boundary of the Kruger National Park. This classic lodge evokes the romantic beauty of a past era, with exotic and opulent influences from Mombasa, Persia, and antiquity. The accommodation comprises six luxury suites, two royal suites, and the six-bedroomed Africa House. Each unit has its own deck, pool, and dedicated services. These are deeply private getaways situated in wild bushveld, with magnificent views.

View Big Five game (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and African buffalo) with the assistance of the most qualified guides in Africa. Take a game drive or guided bushwalk and observe the intricacies of the ecosystem, from insects to birds. Take a specialist bird safari or a photographic safari. After the African sunshine, indulge your senses with a treatment using indigenous ingredients or relax around the courtyard pool. Or make use of the fully-equipped gym, heated pool, and steam room.

Being on safari means quality and memorable dining experiences with diverse and contemporary cuisine. Dine under the African sky with a view of the Malewane River, accompanied by the sounds of the bushveld and a local choir. Or perhaps you want a tailored menu for just yourself or a six-course meal for guests. Additionally, you can request meals from the kosher-compliant kitchen. 

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The Motse, Tswalu Kalahari Private Game Reserve

Luxury

Enjoy private accommodations (photo courtesy of the Motse at Tswalu Kalahari Private Game Reserve)

Experience the remote beauty of the Kalahari at the Motse, a small exclusive luxury lodge in the Tswalu-Kalahari Game Reserve, and the largest private game reserve in South Africa. With only 28 guests at a time, there is peace and privacy. The lodge welcomes children and provides childcare. Nine private legae (Tswana for "home") are constructed from natural materials and have their own fireplaces, verandas, and unique décor. The main camp has two pools, a fire pit, spa, photographic study, gift shop, and library.

This reserve is for safari connoisseurs rather than beginners. While not a Big Five reserve (there are no elephants), it is home to critically endangered wild dogs, a large lion population, cheetah, rhino, and the smaller side of life such as bat-eared foxes, Kalahari kangaroo, comical meerkats, and many different antelope. You may encounter a pangolin at dusk or a shy aardvark. In addition to game drives, take a bushwalk, learn to track, ride horses, sleep under the stars, and eat breakfast under a camel thorn. Photography safaris include specialist photographic guides, a fully-equipped photographic safari vehicle, and an editing studio.

Meals reflect contemporary South African cuisine with local, seasonal, ethically sourced, and authentic ingredients. Try out the local boutique wines, craft brandies, and gins. Special dietary needs, including those of babies and children, are catered for. 

The African Rock Lodge 

Standard

(photo courtesy of African Rock Lodge)

The African Rock Lodge is an affordable lodge situated in a wildlife estate near Kruger National Park. The thatched accommodation with its Big Five theme complements the natural environment. The suites all have private decks, opening onto the sounds of the wild. The main building has a pool, terrace, and large barbeque area. 

Take a game drive to see the Big Five in the nearby Kruger National Park or one of the numerous private game reserves. In the estate itself, you can see giraffe, waterbuck, warthog, kudu, wildebeest, zebra, and nyala. A unique feature is walking or cycling on your own among the animals on the estate. Hear the call of the hyena, and see an infinity of stars on a night walk. 

Breakfast is included with accommodation, and dinner is optional. Enjoy lavish cuisine on the patio, in the elegant open dining room, or have a barbeque next to the campfire. 

Sindile Shamwari Lodge

Luxury 

Private tent at Sindile Shamwari Lodge (photo courtesy of Shamwari Game Reserve)

Experience the luxury of the Sindile Shamwari tented camp in the 7,000 ha Shamwari Private Game Reserve. Enjoy the views of the Bushman's River and savannah and thicket rolling into the distance. Nine private tents, each has its own deck, heated plunge pool, king-size bed and lounge as well as indoor and outdoor showers. The main area has a lounge, dining room, and bar with fireplaces, a deck, firepit, boma, spa, and gift shop.

Take sunrise and sunset game drives with knowledgeable guides, or go on a walking, birding, or photography safari. In addition to spotting the Big Five, the guides will share their intimate knowledge of the birds, insects, flora, and local history. Children can learn and have fun in the Kids on Safari Program. Visit the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuaries and Education Centers, which care for injured animals and rescue large cats from captivity.

Meals come with expansive views, whether it's buffet breakfasts and lunches, high tea, or evening meals. These are à la carte or a barbeque around the fire pit. 

Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge

Mid-Range

Relax on your private deck (photo courtesy of Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge)

Stay in the world-famous Hluhluwe-Mfolozi National Park in KwaZulu-Natal at the Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge, the only private lodge in the park. The wilderness is on your doorstep.

The lodge overlooks a watering hole and, beyond that, the rolling hills of Zululand. This 4-star contemporary, chic accommodation consists of Bush Villas, Family Rooms, Safari Rooms, and Honeymoon Villas, all with private decks and glorious views. The Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park has the highest concentration of white rhinos in the world, and game drives are a chance to see the Big Five. Other must-sees are the endangered wild dog. Walk with an experienced guide and get closer to the diversity of birdlife and flowers. Relax at the poolside lounge overlooking the African hills or have a slow, pampering massage in the spa, with a window to the wildlife. 

Take your pick of indoor or outdoor dining on the deck, with quality cuisine and a good range of South African wines, is available. Head for high tea after a game drive, where there will even be carrot cake for the gluten-intolerant!