There’s nothing quite like observing wild animals in their natural habitat, especially in Africa where you can witness some of the world’s most exceptional wildlife scenes. On an African safari, you might catch baby elephants playfully bathing themselves at the watering hole, spot the thrilling chase of a lion after his prey or come face to face with a giant gorilla in the misty mountains. These are memories to last a lifetime which can be made all the more special by staying at one of these top luxury safari lodges across the continent, recommended by our experts at cazenove+loyd and Volcanoes Safaris.
Leobo Private Reserve – The Waterberg, South Africa
Leobo Private Reserve is an entirely private 20,000-acre estate nestled in the beautiful Waterberg mountains and overlooking the Palala Valley, a three-hour drive north of Johannesburg. It’s home to the award winning ‘Observatory Bush Villa,’ possibly the most spectacular safari house in Africa not only from an architectural and stylistic perspective but also as the perfect home for families and small groups.
This luxury bush retreat, which sleeps up to 27, is owned by an English family as their private home and has only recently become available on a limited commercial basis. The reserve can only be rented exclusively, therefore, you won’t have to share it with any other guests, making it your personal playground for the duration of your stay. An excellent option for families, the main house has two main bedrooms facing out over the amazing view, and then at the back there is a bunk room for children and a nanny’s room right next to it. There is also a further eight bedrooms about three-minute drive from the house.
Guests are not confined to timetabled game drives, strict programs or meals at set times. Instead, they can go on game drives whenever they like, day or night. Activities include quad biking, riding safaris, clay pigeon shooting, fly fishing, helicopter safaris, fresh water swimming and – for the extra adventurous – skydiving from 20,000 feet above the reserve. At the end of a long day, relax in the heated infinity pool and rooftop Jacuzzi. Leobo Reserve is ideal for those seeking more than the picture perfect holiday moment, rather those in pursuit of an authentic natural experience.
Singita Castleton – Sabi Sands, South Africa
The former family home of Singita founder Luke Bailes’ grandfather, the Singita Castleton is an exclusive-use lodge set within 45,000 acres of private reserve. It is comprised of the main house with communal living spaces, and accommodation located in six individual cottages within the grounds, catering for up to 12 people.
Steeped in history, the spirit of the original Castleton house is still captured in today’s lodge which blends the best elements of a private safari lodge with the rustic charms of a country farmhouse. This is accentuated by the extensive high-end facilities, including a vast garden, swimming pool, wine cellar, gym, tennis court and spa room.
Guests can relax together in the courtyard, gather around the traditional ‘boma’ or meet in the country-style kitchen then enjoy their own privacy at the individual cottages; all this overlooking a waterhole where wild animals casually meander for a drink.
Virunga Lodge – Rwanda
It’s hard to beat the phenomenal views from the Virunga Lodge in Rwanda, perched on a ridge and overlooking the Virunga Volcanoes and the twin lakes Bulera and Ruhonda. This is a premier luxury base for Rwanda gorilla safari tours and tracking the endangered mountain gorillas.
The organic, ‘bush-chic’ design of the lodge reflects the local building style while offering luxurious modern comfort. The complex includes 10 stone guesthouse “bandas” with tile roofs (two deluxe, four doubles and four twins) and en-suite bathrooms with flushing toilets, double vanity sinks, and showers with hot and cold running water. Each “banda” has its own terrace with stunning views of the Virunga volcanoes or twin lakes. The lodges incorporate eco-friendliness with low-flush toilets and solar power energy.
There is a wide array of activities to throw yourself into, such as gorilla trekking, golden monkey trekking, volcano hiking, visiting local schools and communities, Dian Fossey’s grave, and massages.
Mount Gahinga Lodge – Uganda
On the Ugandan side of the Virunga Volcanoes is this exclusive Uganda adventure lodge. With the spectacular backdrop of three of the volcanoes, the lodge exudes rustic charm within a tranquil and historic atmosphere.
Each of the luxury safari lodges were built by employing local techniques and design. The main building brings guests together in its large living space with a cozy central fire and its adjoining exterior terrace and spacious sunroom. Each of the guesthouse “bandas” is reached by taking a short stroll through the large gardens and all have been renovated to offer unparalleled luxury in the region. They have all have their own fireplace and ensuite bathroom with showers and flush toilets.
In addition to guided hiking and trekking, the Gahinga Lodge has partnered with the Batwa Tribe, one of Africa’s oldest tribes, to offer interactive tours through their community.
Cottars Private House – Masai Mara, Kenya
Kenya has some of the top safari lodges in Africa, and the newly built ‘Cottar’s Bush Villa’ is among the best. Situated on the Olderikesi conservancy, the award-winning Cottar’s 1920’s Safari Camp, it borders the amazing Maasai Mara National Reserve and is just one kilometer from the world famous Tanzania Serengeti game reserve.
Designed by Calvin and Louise Cottar, it was built using indigenous and eco-friendly materials. The villa is managed by the Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp, as such guests can enjoy the same levels of service and standard for which the camp is known while maintaining a completely private, luxury experience. The villa is over 10,000 square feet which includes a large living room, dining room, viewing deck, and five en-suite bedrooms. There is also a private 25-meter pool and guests have access to the Cottar’s 1920s Camp swimming pool, shop and other facilities.
The villa has exceptional views over the plains and rolling Olderikesi Hills. Many private activities can be arranged, including guided game drives (day or night), bush walks, swimming, and fishing. Cottar’s Bush Villa is rented on an exclusive basis only, and comes with a dedicated staff of eight as well as drive vehicles and guides provided to guests during their stay.
For information and booking, contact Cottar’s 1920s Bush Camp here.
Luangwa Safari House, Zambia
To experience true unspoiled African wilderness, reserve your stay at the Luangwa House, one of the most beautiful wildlife sanctuaries on the continent. This private estate is on the edge of Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, accompanied by stunning natural setting rivers, lagoons, woodlands and large plains which are home to a vast variety of game such as elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, giraffe, hippo and over 450 species of birds.
The unique and luxurious house was designed by Neil Rocher and fits perfectly into its natural surroundings. You can sit on the terrace to observe herds of elephants, impalas, giraffes and many other species passing by right in front on their way to the lagoon. The stylish design offers contemporary comforts with local design elements like its impressive thatched roof.
Inside is a large living room a vaulted ceiling, a marble dining table and plush sofas, four ensuite bedrooms and access to the viewing balcony. In addition to several sitting areas, the grounds also feature a plunge pool which you can cool down in at the end of a hot day on safari. The house has its own dedicated team of chefs, waiters and safari guides. They can also arrange private vehicles and an armed scout for walking safaris. This is an ideal safari lodge for families with children over seven.
Chongwe River House, The Lower Zambezi, Zambia
One of the most unique African safari lodges available on the rental market is this gorgeous private home designed by renowned architect Neil Rocher and located one kilometer from the Chongwe River Camp, in the South Luangwa National Park like the Luangwa House mentioned above.
The design of the house was inspired by the spires of termitarium abundantly found in the area. The organic forms of the building flow naturally through the exterior common spaces and to the pool, incorporating indigenous vegetation. Nature streams into the house through details like the furniture in the sitting room, carved from a single fallen winter thorn tree and the colored pebbles from the Chongwe river embedded into the ceiling.
The house sleeps eight guests in four, large ensuite bedrooms which feature king size or twin beds as well as bathtubs or waterfall showers and private viewing decks in each room. From various vantage points in and outside the house, you can observe the slowly passing herds of elephants and other game as they stop to drink or play in the river. The house has its own safari guide and safari vehicle for private activities and tours for the guests. There is also a dedicated house manager, a team of chefs and a full complement of support staff.