Staying in the Eastern Cape
The Eastern Cape Province is relatively undeveloped, malaria-free, and a place of outstanding natural beauty. The diverse landscapes include Eastern Cape thicket (aloes and succulents), rolling grasslands, semi-desert Karroo, fynbos (unique shrublands), and indigenous forests. The best time of year for a safari in South Africa is in winter, when wildlife is more visible, and the weather is cool, but every month has its advantages.
The Addo Elephant National Park is the largest reserve in the province. It extends to the coast, offering viewings of the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and African buffalo) and whales and sharks. Private reserves with the Big Five game animals include the Shamwari Private Game Reserve, and the Amakhala Game Reserve, also situated near the east coast. The Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve is slightly different, as it is located inland in the semi-arid Great Karroo region of the Eastern Cape. Take some time to learn more about the best of the Eastern Cape.
While you can stay in traditional self-catering national park accommodations, the top luxury lodges are usually in private game reserves. Some national parks provide concessions, such as Addo, where private lodges are situated inside a national park. All-inclusive rates at safari lodges cover meals, professional guides, children's entertainment, and luxury accommodation with spas, gyms, pools, private decks, and superb settings. When deciding how many days to spend in South Africa, plan for at least three days on safari, so you also have time to unwind and enjoy your lodge.
Quatermain's 1920s Safari Camp
This is a safari lodge with a difference. Quatermain's 1920s Safari Camp in the private Amakhala Big Five Game Reserve takes you back to safaris of the past. You stay in well-spaced expedition-style tents from an era of colonial pioneers and explorers, but with the convenience of private ensuite outdoor bathrooms.
From your secluded deck, hear the haunting call of the African fish eagle, or see the flash of a shy antelope. Spot the Big Five on a game drive as well as hyena, cheetah, zebra, and giraffe. Focus on the smaller side of life with top-quality guides introducing you to birds, plants, and insects. For the brave: take a Big Five Walk with a qualified guide. For the more cautious, there are birding and geology walks.
At nightfall, gather around the fire in the central thatched boma (traditional enclosure) and enjoy local specialties such as tender stews and seasonal vegetables. Unwind in an older world, gently lit with gas lamps and candles. With a limited number of guests, share your stories with friendly company. Relax under the stars, listening to the game rangers' tales while sipping Amarula liqueur made from the berries of a local marula tree. Back in your tent, fall asleep to the calls of jackals, nightjars, barn owls, and possibly even lions.
Experience the luxury of the Sindile Shamwari tented camp in the 27 square miles (70 sq km) of the Shamwari Private Game Reserve. Enjoy the views of the Bushman's River, savannah, and thicket rolling into the distance. Nine private tents have a deck, heated plunge pool, king-size bed and lounge, and indoor and outdoor showers. The main area has a lounge, dining room, and bar with fireplaces, deck, firepit, boma, spa, and gift shop.
Take sunrise and sunset game drives with knowledgeable guides, or go on a walking, birding, or photographic safari. In addition to spotting the Big Five, the guides will share their intimate knowledge of the birds, insects, and flora as well as the local history. Children can learn and have fun in the "Kids on Safari" program. Together you can visit the Wildlife Rehab Centre and the Born Free Big Cat Rescue and Education Centres, which care for injured animals and rescue large cats from captivity.
Meals come with expansive views, whether in the form of buffet breakfasts and lunches, high tea, or evening meals. These are à la carte or a barbeque around the fire pit.
River Bend Lodge
River Bend Lodge is a private luxury lodge in the Addo Elephant National Park, home to Big Five game animals and more than 300 bird species. Suites are secluded and tranquil, with outside showers and patios opening onto the bush.
Game drives are individualized and experienced guides will take you to the five different biomes in the park. Enjoy an early morning safari with coffee, hot water bottles, and blankets, or a late afternoon drive with drinks and snacks. Take a specialist safari like birding, photography, or star-gazing. Meanwhile, cyclists and hikers might opt for the trails outside the Big Five zone. Be pampered with spa treatments or dip into the outdoor swimming pool. Children are entertained with mobile playrooms and mini-ranger and chef programs. Arrange a game drive to suit the noisy enthusiasm of your children or take advantage of the free babysitting services.
Breakfast or lunch can be a picnic in the bush. Feast on sumptuous meals where nothing is too much trouble. Expand your wine knowledge with River Bend's "Introduction to South African Wines," hosted by the in-house wine connoisseur.
Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve
The Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve comprises 34,600 acres (14,000 ha) in the semi-arid Great Karroo region of the Eastern Cape. This is a landscape of contrasts, where the bright midday sun gives way to a watercolor of pinks and blues at dawn and dusk.
The lodge offers a perfect mix of an African safari and five-star relaxation. Suites in the gabled manor house have garden or mountain views, swimming pools, and a spa. While at the same time, a luxury cottage and a villa are available for larger groups, as well as venues for conferences and weddings. Secluded opulent eco-friendly Pods provide a unique wilderness experience, with panoramic views, a hot tub, and firepits.
This Big Five reserve has many other species such as cheetah, giraffe, endangered Cape mountain zebra, a variety of antelope, and a diversity of birds. On game drives with knowledgeable rangers, you will see a wide range of animals and learn about the local ecology. But, time spent here is about more than game viewing: The changing landscape is so beautiful that you may be distracted from the job of looking for wildlife. And when you are done with the outdoors, take a time-out in the spa to complete your relaxation.
Evenings mean wholesome, traditional meals emphasizing local cuisine with an excellent choice of wines. For those with specific food needs, the chefs are ready to cater to you.