While you can camp (or “glamp”) on a safari or stay in a more hotel-like lodge, there are plenty of luxury lodges throughout all of Africa. For my first safari (and being that it was our honeymoon) we chose to stay in a luxury lodge.
On the southwest edge of Kruger National Park, along the Sand River, is the more exclusive area of Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, which is further divided into numerous private properties, one of them being Londolozi. Several of the neighboring lodges have a partnership, so that they can travel onto each other’s land to follow animals for game viewing.
Founded in 1926 as a hunting lodge, Londolozi Private Game Reserve since transformed into one of the most highly-rated luxury safari lodges for prime game viewing. Londolozi is a Relais and Châteaux property and was recently named #35 on Travel + Leisure’s top hotels in the world. This was a luxury safari lodge at its finest.
Our Stay: Londolozi Varty Camp
Our ranger and tracker picked us up right off the plane in the Range Rover. This was our team for the entirety of our stay: the ranger took us on our morning and night drives and served as our tour guide, while the tracker is an expert in exactly that – tracking the animals based on sight, sound, paw prints, and has a sort of sixth sense with the animals. Trackers are truly incredible in action, and while some lodges don’t always have both a ranger and tracker, I later realized how grateful we were to have both.
We drove through the bush for a few minutes (a mini game drive right of the plane!) and upon arriving at Londolozi we were met by our camp counselor and our butler (who was our waiter at every meal for the whole three days). We had lunch in the main eating area which had a deck that looked out over the bush, and at that time was filled with a herd of elephants. My jetlag disappeared at the first sight of these incredible creatures who were just walking by as we ate lunch!
Londolozi has five different camps connected via walkway and we stayed in the main one, Varty Camp. Our room was complete with a small private swimming pool (which was a bit cold in Africa’s winter months) and an adorably decorated room complete with a jetted tub, spa toiletries, and complimentary laundry service.
In between game drives we anticipated having tons of downtime to use the photo studio, pool, gym, or spa, but we kept busy with a walk of the local village where the employees live, a special talk from one of the employees about his harrowing escape from Mozambique as a child, and afternoon yoga overlooking the bush. The staff not only had incredible stories to tell, but were also the most attentive I’ve ever experienced. Everyone at our camp knew our names and even our preferences, and went above and beyond to accommodate our every need – and even send us some honeymoon surprises throughout our stay.
Of course worth mentioning is the incredible cuisine. Alcohol and meals were all included with our stay and everything I ate was absolutely amazing. From delicious eggs benedict for breakfast to a buffet of roasted meats and vegetables to a chocolate sea salt tarte for dessert – every meal was expertly prepared with the freshest ingredients. We were even surprised one morning upon returning from our morning game drive with breakfast in the bush, where the staff transported a buffet of eggs, breads, fruits, and even a champagne bar into the wild – tablecloths and bathrooms included.
A Typical Safari Day
Our wakeup call began at 5:30 a.m. with a tap on our window. Being winter in May in Africa, it was still a little dark when we trudged down to the main lounge for our morning coffee and snack. Shortly after 6 a.m. we hopped into the Land Rover with our tracker and guide, and some other guests depending on the day, and headed out to search for some animals as the sun rose over the landscape.
Throughout the five days, we were able to see “The Big Five” – lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. One morning, as we watched a buffalo having his breakfast, we heard some roars in the distance – several lions were fighting not far away. Our ranger and tracker led us to the source and we found several of the lions who had been fighting with another pride, looking to overtake the territory. We were able to drive through the brush and over small trees to get up close and personal with the animals, one of the many advantages to being at a private reserve.
After seeing some animals, we would find an open area to stop for a bathroom break (yes, in the bush) and a cup of coffee served out of the Land Rover. I preferred to have mine spiked with a bit of Amarula, a local liqueur. We then headed back to camp for some breakfast on the deck.
After a brief rest or a midday activity within the camp, we had lunch. Time seemed to fly because soon it was time for the night drive. We continued to see an amazing variety of animals. Leopards were surprisingly common during our drives. We even witnessed a mother and her two cubs feeding on an impala carcass. Other leopards were protecting their own kills up in a tree, where they had hoisted their meal. Herds of elephants, a pack of hyena, a rare cheetah, some dangerous hippo, and even an endangered rhinoceros were happy to let us observe them and snap pictures.
As the sun began to set we would find an open area for a cocktail and snack (or in one case enjoying a glass of champagne while watching a pair of lions sleeping with the help of a spotlight). As It grew dark we would head back to camp, looking for any additional animals along our path as we drove.
Dinner was served either in the main dining room or around the fire pit, where some of the locals entertained us with songs and dances from their culture. The wine seemed to never stop pouring and the conversations with both staff and other visitors were always plentiful. Everyone is just so happy to be in Africa on a safari, enjoying the beauty of nature.
We stayed three nights at Londolozi – although some people prefer to lodge hop and spend one night each at neighboring lodges. For us, three nights in one of the world’s top hotels was the perfect way to spend our first safari.
We will definitely be back!
Check out the video of our safari!