The 20 Best Safari Camps and Lodges in Africa - AFAR

Six private safari homes are available in Tswalu's Loapi Tented Camp.

Courtesy of Tswalu/Andrew Morgan Tipi Tent

The 20 Best Safari Camps and Lodges in Africa -  AFAR

With their sublime locations, striking design, exclusivity, and extraordinary guest experiences, Africa’s finest safari camps and lodges are standard setters in luxury travel. But the very best of them all strive to leave a meaningful impact on the communities and landscapes surrounding them. And impact is the lens we’ve used for the 20 retreats we’ve hand selected for our 2023 Hotels We Love series.

With each passing year, these safari camps and lodges are finding new ways to make a bigger difference, whether that means helping to secure and protect more land, leveraging tourism to enable more community support, or finding more sustainable ways to operate. From a minimalist tented camp in Tanzania to a retreat in South Africa famed for its flower safaris, read on for the African safari camps and lodges that will lead you to life-changing experiences in the wilderness—and will also make you feel good about staying there.

In no particular order, here are our picks for the 20 best safari camps and lodges in Africa.

The pool at Matetsi Victoria Falls

Courtesy of Matetsi Victoria Falls

The family-owned Matetsi Victoria Falls took its neutral palette of browns, blues, and beiges from the Great Zimbabwe Ruins and its Zambezi River setting, 25 miles upstream from the World Heritage Site–famous falls. Checking into the lodge’s four-bedroom River House villa or one of 18 suites, all with private pools along nine miles of private riverbank, helps fund the protection of the 136,000-acre Matetsi concession that forms part of the world’s largest transfrontier conservation area.

Passionate guides spanning two generations, all brimming with local lore, lead boat cruises, drives, and immersive walks through diverse ecosystems, taking you safely within a few yards of buffalo herds kicking up dust, elephants feeding, and basking hippos and crocodiles. The presence of Matetsi’s anti-poaching scouts has visibly boosted conservation efforts and radically reduced incursions, while solar-pumped waterholes attract animal concentrations, especially during the dry winter months.

From the chefs and waiters serving dishes with locally sourced ingredients to tables by the water’s edge, to the dedicated housekeepers, spa therapists, and gardeners, the true magic of Matetsi lies in its people, who make you fall in love with their country.

The guest accommodations at Singita Pamushana in Zimbabwe

With stupendous views from a kopje (Afrikaans for hill) densely wooded with msasa trees, Singita Pamushana offers visitors private access to Zimbabwe’s 130,000-acre Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve, which borders Gonarezhou National Park. The area encompasses contrasting types of terrain, from colossal boulders and sandstone outcrops to ancient baobab forests and dozens of documented rock art sites.

Showcasing ancient tribal crafts, the eight light, airy suites and private villa that make up Pamushana are the height of safari chic; each has an outdoor shower on an elevated pool deck with Malilangwe Dam views. The lodge has a secret weapon to add to its formidable reputation for food, wine, and service: its 100 percent local team, who set a high bar for hospitality in the bush. Wilderness adventures here also come with in-camp luxuries like spa treatments.

Days are filled with tag-and-release fishing, birding, and sunset cruises on the dam, ecology-focused walks with the seasoned guides, and game drives that yield large herds of elephant and buffalo, along with regular wild dog and big cat sightings. A hands-on cultural tour of Kambako, a nearby Shangaan village, crowns a stay that positively impacts a raft of community and conservation initiatives, from farming and school-feeding schemes to antipoaching patrols.

The pool at Duma Tau sits next to the Okavango Delta’s network of waterways.

DumaTau, from the respected safari lodge company Wilderness, is bang in the middle of the hunting grounds of lion and endangered wild dog in the private 300,000-odd acre Linyanti Wildlife Reserve, which borders the western boundary of Chobe National Park. During the dry winter season, the Linyanti comes into its own when animals migrate to the wetlands from the woodlands. In this wild part of northern Botswana, game drives, walks, birding, boating, sunset cruises, and catch-and-release fishing make for action-packed days.

Located close to the source of the Savute Channel, the camp lies between two elephant corridors. A highlight is up-close sightings of breeding herds of elephants crossing between the mainland and the grassy islands in the swamps to munch on waterlilies. At night, hippos waddle between the 8 suites, which include private pools and outdoor showers overlooking Osprey Lagoon. Elevated walkways link the main camp’s spa, exercise pool, all-day deli, and relaxation decks beneath mature mangosteen trees to sister camp Little DumaTau. Just by choosing this property, guests are helping to fund the conservation of a crucial wildlife corridor in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. The camp also helps support targeted research on IUCN Red List species, like roan antelope, elephants, and wild dogs.

Jack’s Camp is in the Kalahari Desert of Botswana.

Courtesy of Jack’s Camp

In the world of African safaris, Jack’s Camp is nothing short of an icon. The retreat combines under-canvas romance with unique adventures into the ethereal emptiness of the shimmering salt pans. After days filled with game drives, meerkat interactions, and quad-bike adventures, return to the nine capacious suites, individually decorated with four-poster beds and burgundy textiles. Meals are crystal-and-candlelight affairs in the communal tent, which features art and artifacts the Bousfield family have collected through the generations. It’s a safari destination with a deep sense of place and personality.

A guest room at Jabali Ridge in Ruaha National Park, Tanzania

Courtesy of Asilia Jabali Ridge

Forty percent bigger than the bucket-list Serengeti National Park but with a fraction of the visitors, the 7,800 mile Ruaha National Park is the Tanzania that seasoned safarigoers visit for a game dense and relatively car-free experience. The park is known for unparalleled lion sightings (some 10 percent of Africa’s remaining lion population finds sanctuary here) along with thrilling up-close finds like a leopard resting in a tree or a pangolin trundling through the grass. The extremely dry climate, particularly between June and November, forces wildlife to congregate around the pans that remain when the Ruaha River and its tributaries dry up. That’s when cheetahs, wild dogs, and sable, roan, and lesser and greater kudu are frequently seen.

Asilia Africa was among the first safari lodge companies to up the luxury stakes in Ruaha when it opened Jabali Ridge in 2017. Eight breezy suites, designed with a neutral palette and shutters that deflect the sun, sit between enormous boulders above a baobab forest that stretches for miles. Between safari outings there is plenty of space to enjoy the scenery, whether you’re lounging with binoculars on your private deck, dining on plant-based dishes, or taking a post-spa dip in the infinity pool.

A luxury tent at Singita Sabora Tented Camp in Tanzania

Before philanthropist Paul Tudor Jones took over the lease on the 350,000-acre Grumeti Reserve, where Singita Sabora Tented Camp is located, it was a poached-out hunting block. Over the past two decades, the positive impact of Singita’s light-footprint nature-based tourism here, between community land and the unfenced western border of the Serengeti National Park, has contributed to the restoration of a historic animal migration route. Success stories include the reintroduction of eastern black rhino and the return of large elephant and buffalo herds. All of this ensures that game viewing happens year-round, not just when migrating wildebeest arrive in search of fresh grazing.

Of the reserve’s five retreats—each individually tailored to its location on the reserve—Sabora offers hospitality under canvas that feels luxurious yet connected to the landscape. In 2020, Singita rebuilt this longtime favorite, swapping romantic 1920s-era antique furnishings with a chic minimalism that blends into the grassy plains. On closer inspection, interiors reveal layers of handcrafted detail and local provenance. Modern must-haves in the explorer-style camp include a library and media room, winetasting room, fitness center, and spa, all under canvas, and nine self-contained tented suites with fully stocked pantries, private decks big enough to lay down yoga mats, open-plan bathrooms, and canopied beds with localized AC to conserve energy.

The food is often prepared by graduates of Grumeti’s own community culinary school and makes the most of locally sourced produce and East African flavors. Take your pick from full-on Swahili feasts to meal-in-one salads for days out in the bush. Aside from long, immersive game drives without another car in sight, the erudite, passionate guides take guests on nature walks or to visit RISE, an innovative research center on site where scientists are using data to inform conservation solutions.

A tented suite at Mwiba Lodge

Lying south of the Serengeti National Park, Mwiba Lodge is the flagship property of Legendary Expeditions, which offers private vehicles as standard in all its light-footprint tented camps in the Serengeti. The lodge has exclusive access to the Mwiba concession, 125,000 acres of private wilderness. The concession forms part of an ambitious, 6 million–acre lease protected by the Friedkin Trust to secure a vital wildlife migration corridor between the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti National Park.

The lodge’s 10 glass and canvas suites sit between boulders, euphorbias, and fever and coral trees high above the open plains. There’s a spa, gym, extensive wine cellar, and infinity pool where lunch is often served. From December through March, the wildebeest herds drop their calves in the south, ensuring even greater predator activity. Privately guided drives, elevated animal hides for game viewing, helicopter tours, sundowners on the edge of the escarpment, fly camping under the stars, and bush walks with Hadza hunter-gatherers are year-round activities.

Angama Mara sits high on an escarpment overlooking Kenya’s Masai Mara.

With a foundation dedicated to raising funds to support conservation, education, healthcare, and small businesses, Angama Mara is an enduring example of partnering successfully with community land owners. Set 1,000 feet above the Rift Valley’s sought-after Mara triangle—a less crowded corner of the greater Maasai Mara National Reserve—this unconventional, thoroughly modern camp has raised the bar when it comes to intuitive service and eye-catching functional design. Angama draws on the collective experience of founders and safari icons Nicky and the late Steve Fitzgerald and, more recently, their daughter, Kate.

Strung along hills made famous in Out of Africa, Angama is divided into two small camps, each with 15 glass-fronted suites in bold Maasai colors, with everything you didn’t even know you needed on safari. The landscape panoramas from the accommodations are cinematic (even the loo has a view). Outdoors on cantilevered decks, stylish red recliners are arranged for watching hot-air balloons drift across the Mara at eye level.

It’s easy to laze away the day in camp with its beading studio, gallery, map room, photographic studio, fitness room, and huge pool with mesmerizing Mara views. Or to linger over deceptively simple, feel-good food, including the “best burger in the Mara” as its called on the menu. Many dishes celebrate the bounty of the shamba (Kiswahili for vegetable garden), where you can view before sitting down to a plant-based lunch. Even so, well-versed guides are waiting to whisk you down the hill to explore the vast grassy plains dotted with thorn trees where zebras, giraffes, topi, and Thomson’s gazelle graze. Here, large herds of elephants congregate on the banks of the Mara River and big cats, especially lions, appear. Angama’s mobile safari camp, four tents for up to eight guests, is a light-footprint alternative to the main camp. Delivering the same attention to detail when it comes to style and service, it can be packed up and repositioned to move with the herds and predator action.

The Greenhouse accommodation at Segera has ample glass windows to maximize views of the surrounding garden.

Situated on the grassy Laikipia plateau, Segera feels more like a luxurious, off-grid eco-resort than a safari lodge. Looking onto Mount Kenya, the private retreat has established a reputation as the ultimate mid-safari circuit pause, a luxury base from which to take leisurely walks or guided game drives on 50,000 acres to view large elephant populations and one of the last strongholds of the endangered black rhino.

Some guests continue on from here by helicopter deep into Kenya’s northern frontier, while others enjoy the holistic spa and practice yoga. The six one-bedroom villas are decorated with sculptures from owner and former Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz’s extensive art collection. Families usually check into Segera House or Villa Segera with their multiple bedrooms and private staff. For those who want to feel closer to nature, the Daniel Pouzet–designed Nay Palad Bird Nest is a solar-powered circular sleep-out platform on two levels with 360-degree views.

Guests all have access to the art-filled main lodge with a bar and dining room. Here, a daily changing menu with sustainably sourced, organically grown ingredients is paired with bottles from the retreat’s well-stocked wine gallery. Working closely with Maasai communities, the privately owned ranch runs several successful community projects, from a female antipoaching ranger academy to solar farms, schools, and beading co-operatives. The planting of 2 million indigenous trees is the resort’s ambitious reforestation project to restore fertile topsoil, reduce erosion, and offset carbon emissions.

The bathroom of a guest room at ol Donyo Lodge

Courtesy of ol Donyo Lodge

Set on 270,000 acres of Maasai-owned land bordering the Chyulu Hills National Park, ol Donyo Lodge is a perfect counterpoint to the more famous plains of Kenya’s Maasai Mara. Part of the Great Plains Conservation safari lodge collection, this intimate lodge offers nine understated suites, each with a private plunge pool and an outdoor star bed so guests can take in the sounds of hyenas and lions under a blanket of stars.

But it’s the array of outdoor activities that draws most travelers to ol Donyo: saddle up on rides, lace up your hiking boots, or take a two-wheeled mountain-bike safari. Throw in memorable views of Mount Kilimanjaro and you have one of the best lesser-known luxury safari camps in Kenya.

The exterior of andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge

Courtesy of andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge

The sustainably designed andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge on the edge of the NamibRand Nature Reserve captures the raw beauty of the world’s oldest living desert. The otherworldliness of the environment has been consciously translated into every aspect of the experience. The off-grid design factors in the extreme climate and harsh elements, and the desert’s forms, colors and textures are reflected in sculptural stone and steel lines that give way to soft, organic shapes. Throughout, glass walls slide away to amplify the big-sky views. The 10 guest suites are self-sufficient, solar-powered private retreats, each generating ample energy to run on photovoltaic power for everything from the AC and the deep swimming pools to the water harvesting and recycling systems.

Activities at the lodge include climbing the world’s highest dunes at Sossusvlei or e-biking along gravel trails to caves with rock art by the desert’s earliest inhabitants. Back at the lodge, dishes that reflect Namibia’s cultural history include venison and Kalahari truffles and fresh seafood from the Atlantic Ocean. With close to zero light pollution, the Namib is one of the best dark sky locations in the Southern Hemisphere. The best way to end any evening is in the lodge’s observatory. You can also fall asleep counting stars, thanks to a skylight above your bed.

Shipwreck Lodge is located on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast.

Taking its cue from the broken hulls of ships run aground on this coast, Shipwreck Lodge offers 10 freestanding suites of wood and glass seemingly washed up on this lonely shore. Part of the Natural Selection safari lodge collection, it’s the only luxury retreat along 300 miles of beach, with nature drives, dune walks, and quad-bike excursions. Shipwreck Lodge also offers unrivaled access to a coastal ecosystem home to raucous (and malodorous) seal colonies, endemic flora and uniquely desert-adapted wildlife.

The deck of a suite at Waterside at Royal Malewane.

Courtesy of Waterside at Royal Malewane

The South African Biden family launched its benchmark-setting Royal Portfolio collection with the launch of Royal Malewane Lodge in 1999, and helped elevate Thornybush Private Reserve’s status in the Greater Kruger conservation area. Its recently debuted sister property, Waterside, captures the same private residence ambience. The color-saturated style for which Liz Biden has become well known doesn’t disappoint in seven extravagantly sized suites (some with two bedrooms) and a four-bedroom family villa. No beige here. In-camp amenities ideal for groups include a lap pool, gym, yoga studio, spa, and a games room.

Greater animal diversity, from huge lion prides to 400-strong buffalo herds, means a richer game-viewing experience in this reserve since fences were dropped on the eastern boundary with the Timbavati in 2017, opening it up to the Greater Kruger area. Game drives and walks are led by one of the most qualified guiding teams in Africa. A research and conservation center has recently opened, and you can also spend a morning with the dog antipoaching team.

A bedroom at Loapi Tented Camp at Tswalu in South Africa

Courtesy of Tswalu/Andrew Morgan

Tswalu Kalahari, South Africa’s largest privately protected conservation area, comprises 281,000 acres of the semi-arid Kalahari region in the north of the country. Each of the six private villas at Loapi is a stand-alone camp and comes with a private safari vehicle, guide, and tracker. The neutral decor is a contemporary contrast to the more traditional look of the reserve’s main lodge, Motse.

Loapi is all about ensuring highly personalized experience, making it ideal for families and multi-gen travelers looking to shape their safari escape. Each villa also includes a private chef and butler, allowing you to set the pace and focus of meals each day. Lazy breakfast or locally inspired sundowner snacks? All you have to do is ask. Vacations are precious, and at Loapi you get to call the shots.

andBeyond Phinda Forest Lodge will reopen in December 2023 following a complete renovation.

When it first opened with a clutch of light-footprint, glass-walled hideaways, andBeyond Phinda Forest Lodge was considered revolutionary in its design. It also drew attention to a tract of critically endangered ancient sand forest within the reserve, home to two rare antelope, the suni and red duiker. Currently undergoing a reinvention, the new-look Forest Lodge has bigger, airier suites, including a new family suite, and modern safari must-haves like a state-of-the-art gym. Highlights of guided drives and walks, led by graduates of the renowned on-site ranger training school, include reliable cheetah and rhino sightings along with large elephant and buffalo herds migrating across the reserve.

Few reserves in Africa have the biodiversity and habitat diversity Phinda Private Game Reserve offers or its long list of conservation successes and commitment to working closely with neighboring communities through the Africa Foundation. A bold restoration project on community-owned land in the heart of Zululand, this is where andBeyond’s visionary “care of the land, wildlife and people” impact model was born. Some 74,000 acres of farming land have been reclaimed for wildlife, including endangered black and white rhinos, elephants, cheetahs, lions, and elusive creatures like Temminck’s pangolins. Guests can sponsor and experience conservation in action, from rhino notching to elephant collaring, or visit a Zulu village for an immersive cultural experience.

The guest rooms at the Garden Lodge at Grootbos have large private verandas.

Courtesy of Grootbos Private Nature Reserve

The equally lovely Garden and Forest lodges of Grootbos Private Nature Reserve overlook Indigenous flowering plant–clad hills, which roll down to a bay where southern right whales calve in season. This singular retreat, carbon negative since 2018, protects a botanical treasure trove—around 6,000 acres—known as the Cape Floral Kingdom. This includes a 2,000-year old milkwood tree forest, where lantern-lit dinners are held. Guided drives, hikes, horseback riding, and wandering through ancient sea caves down on the Walker Bay coast are some of the activities on offer. Staying active is necessary, given how delicious the seasonal, locally sourced, provenance-led menus are, paired to cool-climate wines from the local Overberg region from the owner’s excellent cellar.

More than 900 plant species have been identified on the biodiverse reserve, and many are depicted in a growing collection of botanical art housed in Africa’s first florilegium set below Garden Lodge. While most luxury lodges in South Africa support the conservation of big game and their habitat, through its foundation Grootbos sponsors entomology and botany projects that inform conservation and fund more than 50 community empowerment programs in the area.

The large bathroom of a suite at Singita Kwitonda Lodge

Singita’s Rwandan outpost, strategically positioned on the eastern boundary of Volcanoes National Park to expand vital habitat for mountain gorillas, has been designed to soothe and embrace, providing every conceivable pre- and post-trek comfort. Preparing a pot of local-label ginger tea for you is as thoughtful and considered as the selection of a perfect glass of red from the vintage wine-stocked cellar.

Local building know-how and sustainably sourced materials, like volcanic rock, bamboo, river stones, and handmade clay bricks, ground Singita Kwitonda Lodge’s grand architecture firmly in Rwandan tradition and culture. The interiors of the lodge’s eight suites and private villa, Kataza, are cozy and cocooning, with indoor and outdoor fireplaces and private heated pools. The bathrooms double as spas with massage beds, while yoga mats, art supplies, board games, informative books, and binoculars add to the residential feel.

From the bedding to the modern art, molten lava shades are a constant reminder of the enigmatic volcanic peaks protruding from the cloud forest beyond tall, double-glazed windows. While in-room dining is done well, most guests gravitate to the convivial main lodge to swap trekking tales over nourishing, plant-centric small plates. Fresh produce comes straight from the kitchen garden or the fertile patchwork of small, family owned farms in the surrounding district.

There are guided garden tours and nature walks that help guests better understand Singita’s purpose here. The company began acquiring and piecing together hundreds of tiny, individually owned agricultural plots with the aim of reestablishing gorilla habitat. An on-site tree nursery provides indigenous saplings to the national park as part of a wide-scale reforestation program to expand the primates’ natural habitat. A visit to the Dian Fossey Research Centre, a shord drive from the lodge, is a must.

A guest room at One&Only Nyungwe House

Courtesy of One&Only Nyungwe House

When it opened in late 2018 on a working tea plantation next to the national park, One&Only Nyungwe House was the only luxury retreat in this part of Rwanda. But that could change, now that African Parks, a Johannesburg-based conservation NGO is taking over the management of the Nyungwe Forest to improve wildlife conservation efforts and develop tourism. The goal is to showcase why Nyungwe—which supplies 70 percent of Rwanda’s water—is also a compelling destination for aficionados of the natural world. The terrain is filled with mahogany and ebony trees, swamps, and waterfalls, and it’s home to 13 species of primates, including the colobus monkey and the gray-cheeked mangabey. There are also some 300 bird species, such as great blue turacos and giant hornbills.

The sprawling One&Only retreat, with its 22 one- and two-bedroom suites, is a destination unto itself. Geometric Imigongo designs cover interior walls with their dramatic, black-white-and-red color scheme; hand-woven decorative plates from local cooperative Indego Africa decorate the rooms; and king-size four-poster beds dominate spacious bedrooms, which face the jungle through floor-to-ceiling windows.

A guest room at Lolebezi

If you thought Zambia was all about rustic under-canvas camps, it’s time to meet Lolebezi. Part of African Bush Camps collection founded by Zimbabwean guide Beks Ndlovu in 2006, Lolebezi is set on a private concession yards from the Zambezi River. With a contemporary design taking its cue from the surrounding Winterthorn acacia, Lolebezi has upped the ante for luxury in the wilderness within Zambia’s youngest national park. Johannesburg-based Fox Browne wove textures and green-dominant themes into the suites and two family units to dazzling effect.

Located on a game-rich inlet dubbed the “Discovery Channel,” Lolebezi offers a complete immersion in the landscape. Beyond the twice-daily drives in an open air vehicle, guests can spot game on silent canoe safaris, walk the forests in search of shy leopards, or take a river cruise to enjoy Africa’s fourth-largest waterway.

The interior of a tent at Lale's Camp in Ethiopia's Omo Valley

Courtesy of Wild Expeditions Africa

To experience the remote Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia, home to numerous tribes with distinct cultural traditions, Wild Expeditions Africa is the go-to safari outfitter. The company not only has the logistical expertise and insider access, but it also takes environmental and social impact seriously.

If fly camping in the Omo Valley sounds too rugged, then its privately guided trips to Lale’s Camp offers an under-canvas base with the luxury of a flushing toilet and a hot shower. Your host is camp owner Lale Biwa, a man with a thousand remarkable stories to tell about this place where he has lived most of his life. Accessible only by boat, his modest camp of seven tents provides access to the Omo River delta—a network of islands, marshes, and croc-infested waterways overhung with dense fig and mahogany forests known for numerous birds, including Pel’s fishing owl, plus black and white colobus, vervet and De Brazza’s monkeys.

Lale’s respectful relationships with the tribes of the Omo Valley make it possible to witness the traditions and daily lives of the Nyangatom, Kara, Hamar, and Mursi people on walks and boat trips.

Richard Holmes and Jennifer Flowers contributed to the reporting of this article.

The 20 Best Safari Camps and Lodges in Africa -  AFAR

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