One of the most famous safaris occurred in the spring of 1909, when President Roosevelt and his son, Kermit, arrived in Mombasa, Kenya. They were accompanied by a British “white hunter”, as they were known, along with 250 African porters and guides. Along their trek they shot 17 lions, 11 elephants and 20 rhinos. More than 500 animals were killed during their safari.
Much has changed since then. Today’s African safari-goers carry cameras rather than rifles. They observe nature and shoot photos of animals roaming freely in their natural habitat.
Safaris are a great source of income for African countries, and strict laws have been imposed to protect dwindling animal populations. This ensures future generations will continue to enjoy Africa’s exotic and wild animals, while protecting some of the world’s most endangered species.
Africa is a rich, vast continent with much to offer its visitors, but the best opportunities to experience wildlife are in the south and the east. Kenya is the most developed in terms of infrastructure for tourists, and the most famous African country for safaris. Both Masai Mara National Preserve and Amboseli National Park offer opportunities to come face to face with spectacular animal life. Other countries also offer wonderful safari opportunities.
Tanzania, the setting for Ernest Hemingway’s famous safari story, Snows of Kilimanjaro, is home to the awe-inspiring Serengeti National Park. South Africa has Kruger National Park. Both locations provide great opportunity to see lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo and rhinoceros, often referred to as the Big-Five. Uganda offers gorilla-tracking trips, and Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia are rich in animals and birds.
Safari accommodations, along with expeditions, vary as much as Africa’s animal life. Tours range from tracking gorillas to bird watching. With such a wide selection, here are seven luxurious options to consider in each of the most active safari African countries.
7. Elsa’s Kopje, Kenya: $860 per night
In the rugged and remote Meru National Park, 350 kms (217 miles) outside Nairobi, sits this environment award-winning boutique lodge, considered to be one of the most elegant and romantic lodges in Africa. On its 215,000 acres discover a rhino sanctuary; large elephant herds also await you. Bush walks with local guides and line fishing in spring-fed streams are just some of the other options available to Elsa’s guests.
Elsa’s Kopje was designed by Stefano Cheli, co-owner of safari outfit, Cheli and Peacock. It was opened in 1999 by Dr. Richard Leakey and Virginia McKenna, the star of the 1960’s film, Born Free. Stefano’s passion for the environment, led him to design a lodge that is not only elegant, but deliberately hard to see, uses minimal power and received the first Eco-rating in Kenya in 2003. Elsa’s Kopje boasts 9 open plan cottages, a honeymoon suite with a private sitting room and deck, and an infinity pool overlooking some of the most spectacular scenery in East Africa.
Renowned for its cuisine, Elsa’s guests feast on fabulous meals created by using fresh salads and herbs from its own garden, homemade bread baked in the camp’s own traditional outdoor pizza oven. Dinner is always outside, with candlelit tables laid out under the stars. Afternoon tea is also available and canapés are served every day in the bar before dinner. Prices start at $860 per night. Spectacular views of Mount Kenya and Nyambeni Hills to the eastern plains are included for free.
6. Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana: $880 per night
Mashatu is known as Land of the Giants, as it has no less than seven of Africa’s “giants”, which include animals, birds and trees. They are: the African Elephant, Lion, Giraffe, the Baobab Tree, the Eland, Ostrich and the Kori Bustard. Here you can go bushwhacking on foot, horseback riding through the plains, or mountain biking through challenging terrain. Do it all, or do as little as you like.
The reserve is located in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve of Botswana and consists of 14 luxury suites. Each suite comes with a double bed and an extra-large single bed, plus a seating area with another single day bed, comfortably accommodating younger children, making it an ideal camp for families.
Meals are a sumptuous celebration of traditional African Cuisine. Fresh fruits, vegetables, home-made breads and pies, succulent meat dishes and delicious desserts are served. Rates start at $880 per night.
5. Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Uganda: $950 per night
Uganda can lay claim to more than 1,000 species of birds, with wildlife found everywhere. With half of the world’s mountain gorillas in its Bwindi forest, a World Heritage site, gorilla tracking has allowed Uganda to carve out its own niche within the safari market. Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge offers some of the most lavish accommodations from which to track these fascinating beasts.
Built on a ridge, 2,000 meters above sea level, you feel as if you are above the clouds. The lodge looks across the Virunga volcanoes, with the mysterious Bwindi forest behind. With rates starting at $950, guests at Clouds, stay in their own cottage, featuring a spacious bedroom, large sitting room with fireplace, overstuffed armchairs and hand woven carpets. After a long day tracking wildlife, your personal butler will light the fire in your cottage, while you kick back and enjoy a fabulous dinner perfectly paired with equally fabulous wine.
4. Serengeti Pioneer Camp, Tanzania: $1,000 per night
The Serengeti is one of the most famous national parks on earth, and one of the first United Nations World Heritage sites. Pioneer Camp is located in South Central Serengeti, in an area that offers fantastic viewing access to the annual migration across the Serengeti plains. Opportunity to see the Big-Five is also available, along with sweeping views over the endless plains of the Serengeti. It’s a natural habitat for some of Africa’s most famed wildlife.
Accommodations here are made up of 10 luxury tents, all of which have en-suite facilities, queen size mattresses and hot water via solar heating. Serengeti Pioneer Camp was designed to evoke images of an era long-gone, but certainly not forgotten. Rates here start at $1000 per night, for which you also receive private butler service. An elegant dining tent serves breakfast and dinner, while lunch is taken either at camp or in the bush.
3. Tongabezi, Zambia: $1,180 per night
Located near famous Victoria Falls on the banks of the Zambezi River, this luxury lodge has been in operation since 1990. Activities here include canoeing on the Zambezi, sunrise and sunset boating, visits to Victoria Falls, guided bush walks, fishing, and game drives. The list goes one.
Tongabezi is comprised of a mix of houses and cottages, each beautifully decorated with furniture from all over Africa. Guests have their own valet, who also acts as a private concierge throughout their stay. The dining experience is outstanding at Tongabezi. Dine on the property, or if you prefer dinner by the river, that too can be arranged. Just ask. Starting at $1180 per night, dining wherever you like is not a problem.
2. Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, South Africa: $1,400 per night
Set off on foot after breakfast on one of Sabi Sabi’s early morning guided bush walks to learn and discover Africa’s creatures. Sabi Sabi has over 350 different species of birds, making it a paradise for birdwatchers.
Sculpted into a slope, almost invisible in the landscape, Earth Lodge provides ultimate luxury. It has also been described as the most environmentally sensitive lodge in Africa. There are 13 ultra-luxurious suites, starting at $1400 per night. Each suite features individually designed furniture, and a private plunge pool. The Amani Spa at Earth Lodge is available to guests. Indulge in holistic body, skin and beauty rituals, treatments and massages.
An underground wine cellar with a collection of over 6,000 bottles of rare wines rounds out the opulent choices available to Earth Lodge’s guests. Now that’s what I call selection.
1. Singita Pamushana Lodge, Zimbabwe: $2,100 per night
Located high on the hills of Malilangwe, next to Gonarezhou National Park in southeastern Zimbabwe, is this luxury resort. It’s in an area that remains virtually untouched and is home to hundreds of baobab trees, where more than 500 species of birds gather. This is one of Africa’s most exclusive and remote hideaways. It’s a family friendly lodge with activities such as fishing, bush walks around the camp and stargazing available to introduce children to the best of Africa. Other activities include daily game drives, and mountain biking.
Consisting of only 6 suites, each with its own plunge pool, and a private villa with its own infinity pool, service here is personal and exceptional. Rates start at $2100 per night.