The fundamental perception of what a safari trip entails has been entrenched for decades. Most people immediately conjure up visions of wild African bush walks, exotic wildlife encounters, and, if they’re of a more romantic persuasion, spiralling sunsets (too many rewatches of the Lion King).
However, over the last few years those perceptions have been challenged, if not obliterated, thanks in large part to the rise in popularity of luxury travel. Gone are the days of primitive-style safari tents; in its place are dazzling 5-star camps, literally fit for royalty in the case of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Gone are the days of masticating rice around an open campfire, in its place sits world-class lodge restaurants serving up an eclectic mix of refined cuisine. Yes, the humble safari trip, once the reserve of eager British explorers, has now found a new audience, one with more of a penchant for creature comforts.
From Kenya to Botswana, South Africa to Namibia, the list of luxury safari destinations is ever growing. However, in this article we’re going to cover the fab four:
As one of the wealthiest countries in sub-Saharan Africa we kickstart our list with Botswana. Here the landscapes are extraordinary and the wildlife prolific. In fact, Botswana is home to 170 species of known mammals, including all of Africa’s iconic ‘Big 5’.
With one of the lowest population densities on the planet, diamond-rich Botswana is a haven for luxury safari travellers. A strict low-impact tourism policy means that there are relatively few lodges inside the conservation areas which promotes a private and exclusive wildlife viewing experience.
Amongst the nation’s most popular attractions is the stunning Okavango Delta, the planet’s largest inland Delta and a Unesco World Heritage site. Here you will find the most prestigious safari accommodation options, such as Jao Camp, a luxurious abode situated on a private island within the Jao Reserve. Deluxe lounges, a gym, spa, and private swimming pools are the order of the day here; luxury excursions include star bed sleep outs and scenic helicopter trips.
Otherwise known as the ‘Soul of Africa, Namibia is a remarkable nation that’s blessed with some of the world’s most striking natural wonders. This Southwest African country, which was once under German colonial rule, houses the planet’s oldest desert (The Namib) as well as the world’s second biggest canyon, The Fish River.
As well as breath-taking natural wonders, the country is renowned for its abundant wildlife. Large populations of mammals and birds roam the stunning Etosha National Park whilst the epic sight of over 200,000 Cape Fur seals can be witnessed at Cape Cross on the Skeleton Coast.
Owing to its impressive selection of opulent lodges, Namibia luxury safaris are in high demand. Luxury safari specialists are offering travellers the opportunity to stay in glorious-tree top chalets, extravagant shipwreck-inspired dwellings, and magnificent dessert hideaways.
Laying claim to being the crème de la crème is Sosussvlei Desert Lodge, which is nestled in the stark yet enchanting Namib Desert. The lodge boasts a fire-lit bar, grand sitting room, wraparound veranda and 10 luxury villas. There’s even a walk-in wine cellar and a sparkling pool fed by underground springs. Another strong contender is Onguma Camp Kala, an ultra-exclusive lodge located on the fringe of Etosha National Park.
Luxury activities and excursions that can be enjoyed from the lodge, as well in Namibia more widely, are champagne-ladened hot air balloon rides, scenic flights, and boating.
Away from its large urban hubs, South Africa’s landscapes are characterized by sprawling grassy plains, stony plateaus, and a majestic coastline; features that provide an epic backdrop to any luxury safari adventure.
That’s before we even mention the world-famous Kruger national park and the intriguing lagoons synonymous with iMfolozi Park and iSimangaliso Wetlands. If wildlife viewing is high on your agenda, here you won’t be disappointed. All the Big 5 can be spotted with relative ease whilst birding enthusiasts will no doubt be eager to catch a glimpse of The Blue Crane, South Africa’s national bird.
Although you may not get that same sense of exclusivity in comparison to destinations like Namibia or Botswana, South Africa’s safari camps are just as opulent and no less impressive. Ranking as one of the most popular luxury options is Madikwe Lodge, set in a private reserve in the Northwest province.
Each suite here has been meticulously designed and fitted with glass panels to maximise views of the surrounding landscapes. The lodge can accommodate up to 24 guests who are each invited to cross the wooden walkways, lit by lamps, to reach the central open-plan lounge area where you’ll find a bar, stunning dining room and there’s even a TV room. Popular with couples on honeymoon, the cuisine and hospitality here is unrivalled; expect to enjoy first-class modern European dishes as well as South African favourites.
South Africa also has many amazing places to visit if you want to combine luxury with adventure. Romantic sunset drives and starry sleep outs can be complemented by horse back rides and daring mountain bike excursions.
If it’s been earmarked as a worthy proposal spot by the future king of Britain, it would be remiss of us to exclude Kenya in our list of luxury safari destinations.
The land of sweeping savanna grasslands supplies ample wildlife viewing opportunities, particularly for those hoping to get up close with Big Cats and the extraordinary African Elephant. Kenya’s typography is defined by soul stirring deserts in the north and dense forests in the west. The dreamy Rift Valley lakes take pride of place in the centre of the country whilst out east tourists will encounter a tropical coast.
Typifying its well-deserved reputation as a luxury safari destination is Mara Plains Camp, a one-of-a-kind safari camp nestled in the heart of the private Olare Motorogi Conservancy, just north of the incredible Masai Mara National Reserve. Mara Plains guests can enjoy a range of high-end amenities including king-sized beds, a private lounge area, a veranda, and there’s even a large copper bathtub that’s ideal for a relaxing soak.
If you manage to prize yourself away from your majestic suite you’ll be able to gorge on world-class cuisine, whilst a sommelier will offer you a glass or two of some incredible vintages. In keeping with the camp’s aim to give all guests the royal treatment, you’ll have exclusive use of a game-drive vehicle so you can explore the reserve whilst hot air balloon rides can be arranged, provided you back in advance.
The camp can even organise Masai cultural trips, offering you the opportunity to meet and engage with a nomadic tribe.