Luxury Safari Camps
By Lisa Loverro
It’s midnight at the Ulusaba Private Game Reserve (www.ulusaba.com) in Sabi Sands, Sir Richard Branson’s uber-luxe lodge consisting of multiple grand tree houses perched on the slope of a koppie; a rocky hill typical in the African veld. After a long dinner of wildebeest and some of South African’s finest wines, sleep comes easily—but not for long. Within an hour of laying my head on the pillow I bolt upright from the loud thumping on my roof. One, two, three and more followed. What’s happening? Then I see them outside my bedroom’s glass doors, 20 to 30 baboons peering in at me. Once my breathing returns to normal I am able grasp the awesomeness of my surroundings and lay back down thinking, Welcome to safari.
You never know what awaits you on an African safari and with more and more luxury safari lodges popping up all over Africa, the choices are endless. From luxury-tented camps, plunge pools, spa treatments, to exotic food and spiritual ceremonies, there are options to fit all your clients’ needs and we have got you covered with this roundup of some of the best choices out there.
In Kenya, the Masai Mara National Reserve would be the natural place to send clients, especially during the Migration period, which changes somewhat year-to-year. One of the more high-end camps, Governors’ Camp (www.governorscamp.com), is a cluster of exclusive tented camps in one of the Mara's best regions for game viewing. All camps within this group are top-notch, from their cuisine, to service, and guides, the camp will not disappoint your more discerning clients.
The Safari Collection (www.thesafaricollection.com) provides a number of options. One of the most exclusive, Leleshwa Camp (www.leleshwacamp.com), accommodates 14 people in 7 luxury tents sitting in the Siana Community Conservation Area on the North-Eastern edge of the Masai Mara. With picturesque hills and plains, the camp offers a truly authentic African experience, and is about as exclusive as you can get, as it is the only camp in the Conservation Area that stretches over 20,000 acres.
The untapped region of Zambia is home to The South Luangwa National Park, one of Zambia’s premier wildlife reserves. A lush, unspoiled park with one of Africa’s major river systems, the Luangwa River, it is home to the largest concentration of hippos in the world—over 5,000 of them. In fact, the park itself is the playground for over 60 different animal species including lion, leopard and elephant, as well as 450 different types of birds. Within this region there are numerous high-end lodges and Robin Pope Safaris (www.robinpopesafaris.net) offers one of the best set ups, with private walking safaris being a major part of their success. Their three intimate safari camps: Nsefu, Nkwali & Tena Tena, offer a true luxury wilderness experience with stylish accommodation, attentive service, fine dining and some of the best private guides in Africa. Their Luangwa Safari House, near the Nkwali Camp is a luxury, 4-bedroom house built on the edge of a lagoon. With a private plunge pool, quartz-tiled terrace, and individually styled bedrooms, it is the perfect spot for a family or group of friends.
In the lower Zambezi Valley of Zambia, Baines’ River Camp, part of the Mantis collection (www.mantiscollection.com) comprises eight very luxurious, colonial-style suites, each named after an African explorer. With commanding views of the Zambezi River, wildlife abounds here, and it’s not unlikely to be lulled to sleep by the sounds of hippos and elephants. The main camp features a boardroom and library with seating for 20, open-plan dining and lounge area, a bar, guest restrooms, reception with wireless internet facilities, warm fireplaces for cool winter nights and a refreshing pool for hot summer days. The boardroom and library are ideal for corporate functions and can be converted into a studio suitable for photographic workshops and incentive groups.
The latest and greatest news coming out of the above-mentioned Robin Pope Safaris, one of the leaders in walking safaris, is Mkulumadzi, a luxury lodge scheduled to open July 15, 2011 set in the Wildlife Reserve of Southern Malawi. Deep in the African bush on a lush riverbank, Mkulumadzi will offer eight chalets with luxury bathrooms, an eco-friendly cooling system and, of course, breathtaking views of the savannah. Robin Pope Safaris was awarded an exclusive private concession within the Majete Wildlife Reserve to build Mkulumadzi and should be on your radar for this year.
In the Serengeti, the Bilila Kempinski Lodge (www.kempinski.com) combines the intimacy of a lodge and the indulgence expected of a luxury hotel. With spectacular views of the endless plains of the Serengeti, there are a variety of rooms and suites from which to choose along with a wellness spa, lounge, wine cellar and exotic cuisine.
Singita (www.singita.com) offers private retreats throughout Africa with the Pamushana Lodge in Zimbabwe, the romantic Sweni Lodge in the Kruger National Park, South Africa and the comfortable Castleton Camp in the Sabi Sand Reserve, South Africa. Their flagship, the Singita Sasakwa Lodge in Tanzania overlooks the Singita Grumeti Reserves concession in North-Western Tanzania, situated along the world-famous wildebeest migratory route. Set amidst 340,000 acres of the vast open plains in the Serengeti, it is an exceptional wildlife area with a great diversity of species featuring large herds of game. A private home with 4 bedrooms comes complete with a living room, dining room, a private infinity plunge pool, and a small kitchen and nanny accommodations. Guest activities range from horse riding out on the Serengeti Plains, to daily game drives.
Sanctuary Retreats (www.sanctuaryretreats.com) offers a collection of luxury safari lodges throughout Africa including Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. One exciting program coming from Sanctuary is the “Star Bath and Sky Bed” program at the Sanctuary Baines Camp in Botswana. Outdoor “star baths” offered with hot and cold water taps utilize organic, native Africology products. Additionally, a completely enclosed four-poster “sky bed” perched on a wooden deck offers al-fresco sleeping in comfort. Located on a huge private concession bordering the Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta, where cheetah, crocodile and elephant can all be spotted close to camp, the scene is set in a grove of trees surrounded by papyrus beds. This is the smallest camp they offer with just five ultra luxurious suites. There’s even an elephant whisperer on the premises—now, that is something you don’t hear of very often.
Jack’s Camp in Botswana, part of Uncharted Africa Safari Company (www.unchartedafrica.com) sits in the Kalahari Desert, offering stylish canvas tents with en-suite bathrooms, indoor/outdoor showers, Persian rugs and cotton sheets. The camp will be introducing a Bushmen initiation experience beginning spring 2011 where your clients will spend 8 nights with the Bushmen. They’ll watch as the Ju/’hoasi young men make the transition into manhood by demonstrating their survival skills and animal tracking abilities. During the dry season months of April, May and October, Jack’s Camp offers a 3-for-2 special; stay three nights and one night is on them.
Back in South Africa, Camp Jabulani (www.campjabulani.com), a family-owned and managed private luxury safari lodge in Kapama Game Reserve, is a Relais and Chateaux property most noted for its herd of trained African elephants which were rescued by the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. Visitors can interact personally with these animals on daily elephant rides around the waterhole as they swim and play. The camp has only 6 suites with their exclusive Zindoga Villa best suited for the family traveler. During daily elephant-back safari, your clients sail high above the African veld, feeling one with the environment.
For information by country, contact these tourist boards.
Botswana Tourism Board: www.botswanatourism.co.bw
Kenya Tourist Board: www.magicalkenya.com
Malawi TMC: www.malawitourism.com
South African Tourism: www.southafrica.net
Tanzania Tourist Board: www.tanzaniatouristboard.com
Uganda Tourism Board: www.visituganda.com
Zambia Tourism Board: www.zambiatourism.com
Zimbabwe Tourism: www.zimbabwetourism.net
As the creature lumbered ominously closer to our vehicle, our safari leader remarked, “When an elephant starts flapping its ears and stomping its feet, you better take note.” We could almost reach out and touch the coarse potato skin of dust covering its massive flanks.
“Maybe we’ve seen enough,” I thought, wiping the sweat from my palms, while it deliberated and slowly turned its attention back to the herd.
The thrills and chills of an African safari—whether tracking cheetahs, dodging baboons or sipping sundowners in the glow of an African sunset—are sure to leave deep and lasting imprints in anyone’s memory. Hemingway perhaps said it best: “All I wanted to do now was get back to Africa. We had not left it yet, but when I would wake in the night, I would lie, listening, homesick for it already.” From the leopards of Sabi Sands and the wildebeest migration across the Serengeti, to the herds of impala and water buffalo roaming the lush savannah, every day spent on safari offers a full menu of unique experiences. Given the enormous diversity of wildlife, habitats and lodging options available, there is no one-size-fits-all safari package. Luckily, there is an equally abundant range of experiences to choose from, so you should have no difficulty working with your clients to find the perfect itinerary to catch the eye of even the most discerning travelers—provided you know where to look.
If your clients’ sole consideration is getting a chance to see the “Big Five” up close or witnessing the sheer magnitude of the wildebeest migration, they may want to head for the Masai Mara Game Reserve–Kenya’s northern extension of the Greater Serengeti ecosystem–between July and October. Birdwatchers may want to make a beeline for the lakes of the Great Rift Valley. Adventure seekers can raft the Zambezi River in Victoria Falls or explore the bush from a private plane or hot air balloon. Others might opt for the excitement of getting off the beaten path on their own, or choose to trade a little autonomy for an all-inclusive luxury package. Choose from luxurious tented camps a stone’s throw away from busy watering holes, magnificent lodges perched high atop the open plain and even riverboats fully equipped with plunge pools and spa facilities. Whether your clients wish to go on foot or by riverboat or Land Cruiser, we hope this roundup will help you to connect them with an unforgettable experience.
Southern Africa, Desert to Delta
For clients who want to conquer it all, SITA World Tours just rolled out a new package called “Africa’s Ultimate Exploration.” This 15-day tour starts off with a three night stay at Baobab Safari Lodge in Chobe, Botswana, overlooking the Chobe floodplains and Chobe National Park, which is home to the largest concentration of elephants in Africa. After two days of scouring the park for elephant herds, visitors fly to Namibia to spend three nights at Lianshulu Bush Lodge on the banks of the Kwando River, located on a private concession with the Mudumu National Park. A romantic sunset cruise down river might take you past the park’s 430 species of birds and bigger game like elephant, zebra, hippo and crocodile. In the morning it’s back to Botswana for three nights at the Wilderness Tented Camp on the border of the Okavango Delta and Moremi Game Reserve. The Okavango is the largest inland delta in the world, comprised of a maze of lakes and channels that can be explored by boat, 4x4 or foot depending on water levels. The rooms at the Linkwasha Camp in the Hwange National Park are set facing the vast plain that is home to a large number of grazing and predatory animals. Finally, two nights at the intimate Ilala Lodge next to Zambezi National Park grant access to the spectacle of Victoria Falls, nicknamed “the smoke that thunders.” Land prices start from $4,265 double occupancy. Visit www.sitatours.com.
African Travel, Inc. also just launched a special offer on Botswana safaris to attract visitors to witness the influx of wildlife to the Savute Channel, which has recently and inexplicably begun to flow again after almost 30 years of dormancy. The discovery of a new watering hole has brought herds of ungulates and their predators out in droves, and African Travel, Inc. hopes to have the same effect on tourists with their 9 day “Last Refuge” safari, starting at $3,650. Trip highlights include the Okavango Delta, Moremi Reserve, Savute Channel and, of course, a chance to save up to 42 percent on bookings through December. Visit www.africantravelinc.com.
FIT Tours has a handful of safari options in South and Southern Africa, including a very interesting scenic self-drive package starting at $2,999 including round-trip air from JFK, rental car and four open vehicle game drives. Accommodations include a night at the D’Oreale Grand Hotel in Johannesburg, 2 nights at Thulamela Lodge in Kruger National Park, 2 nights at an authentic village B&B and 2 nights in a tented camp in Tuli Block. The 9-day trip begins in Johannesburg and gives travelers the flexibility to explore Kruger and experience Lesheba Venda Village on their own. Kruger National Park, in case you’re not familiar, drew international attention when a YouTube video was posted depicting an incredible clash that took place between a pride of lions, a herd of cape buffalo and two crocodiles. The life and death tug-of-war was caught on film by a member of the tour party, and “Battle at Kruger” has since been viewed by over 50 million people worldwide. To book this special through FIT, visit www.foreign-independent-tours.com/jaxfax2.htm?pid=256
Last February marked the launch of the 135 ft Zambezi Queen on Botswana’s Chobe River. The ship is Africa’s first luxury river safari and a marvel of design, merging ultra chic luxury with eco-friendly design and intimate cultural excursions and wildlife viewing along the river and in Chobe National Park. All fourteen cabins have river views from their private balconies and the ship’s jet propulsion and low emission power systems allow it to be nimble in shallow water and quiet enough not to be a distraction. Trips last 2-3 nights and cover 20 miles of the river. Visit www.zambeziqueen.com.
Rugged East Africa
In East Africa, MyEscapades has put together an incredible 13 day itinerary through Kenya and Tanzania that brings visitors to the Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti National Park, Lake Victoria, Masai Mara, Mt. Kenya and Nairobi. The Ngorongoro Crater is a dry volcanic caldera covering 100 square miles, known for its dense lion population and the presence of endangered black rhinoceros. The price is $5,527 per person, double occupancy for travel dates between Sept. 21-Oct. 3, and includes 12 nights in a variety of fine accommodations, airport and hotel transfers, domestic flights, meals, daily transfers and guides. Visit www.myescapades.com
Abercrombie & Kent is offering discounts on select East African safari. To justify the price tag of $7,910 for the “Kenya Hemingway Safari” one need only imagine a comfortable chair under a tented canopy, a drink in hand with the sun descending behind the vast plateau, friendly banter with a knowledgeable guide. If that doesn’t do it for you, ask about hot-air ballooning over the Masai Mara.
“Wings Over the Migration” is another incredible tour with a price tag that has been slimming down for the coming spring. Witness the massive annual migration from the air and land as you hop between the Samburu Game Reserve, Masai Mara, Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park for 15 days, priced from $11,955. Visit www.abercrombiekent.com