Londolozi vs Royal Malewane vs Singita vs Mala Mala vs Sabi Sabi vs Phinda
Compare Best of the Best South Africa Safari Lodges
At Heritage Africa we celebrate the very best Africa has to offer. Accommodation is central to every safari experience. We don’t own any camps or lodges, so we can provide unbiased advice on the best South Africa safari lodges, rather than push visitors towards our own properties. Mala Mala versus Londolozi versus Singita versus Mala Mala versus Royal Malewane versus Sabi Sabi versus Phinda…our selection of South Africa’s best lodges are chosen for the quality of the safari experience, incorporating wildlife viewing, guiding, intimacy of activity and pureness of wild Africa.
The best safari camp for you may be different to what’s best for the next person. Rhinos roaming, elephants hooting, leopards stalking and a family picnic besides the zebra. Lions prowling, hippos splashing, buffalo charging and watching the wildlife world from a private plunge pool. Luxury is in the experience. Not just in the wine selection and opulent interior.
Naturally, the best safari lodges are located in private concessions, affording space and privacy to make your own stories on this magical continent.
At a Glance: The Best Safari Lodges in South Africa
A string of well-known names make up our South African favorites, almost all of them located in the country’s ultimate wilderness area: the Greater Kruger. Each has its own style. All offer superb wildlife encounters. At Heritage Africa we’ve spent 25 years crafting the ultimate safari experiences; which is why we don’t review every lodge in South Africa, just the best of the best safari lodges in South Africa. For us, luxury is about your experience with wildlife and wild Africa.
NEED TO KNOW: BEST SAFARI LODGES IN SOUTH AFRICA
We love all the lodges we feature. If we didn’t we wouldn’t write about them. Safari is your own journey of discovery and we’d encourage you to look beyond Londolozi vs Singita, Mala Mala versus Sabi Sabi, or any other direct comparisons. The best safaris visit multiple destinations, placing experiences upon experiences and revealing wildlife subtleties. Safari isn’t just one destination so think about the bigger picture and how two or three of the best South African safari lodges will complement each other.
We’d recommend diversifying the experience by choosing properties in different Greater Kruger regions, rather than two properties sharing the same habitat. For example, it doesn’t make sense to visit Londolozi and Mala Mala, because the safari takes place in the same style of habitat. Rather combine Londolozi with Royal Malewane or Phinda, or think Singita Lebombo and Londolozi rather than Lebombo vs Londolozi.
Other Lodges To Consider
South Africa has many hundreds more lodges to consider. We are specific about our favorites because we believe in the best of the best South Africa has to offer. A safari is a trip of many lifetimes and that luxurious wildlife experience is difficult to quantify. Phinda is a good choice if you’re looking for affordably luxury. If that term resonates with you then we would guide you towards Madikwe as well, a large private reserve on the Botswana border that excels in terms of authenticity and intimacy. While the wildlife isn’t as plentiful as in the Greater Kruger or elsewhere in Botswana, you can get incredibly close for a good price, something which defines our thinking on affordable luxury.
You might also consider other Sabi Sands lodges, those that we categorize as the second tier in terms of wildlife experience. Lion Sands and Chitwa Chitwa are both located in the Sabi Sands. They don’t have premier positions for wildlife, but will still offer a rounded safari experience that features a lot of wildlife. Lion Sands Ivory Lodge and Lion Sands Tinga Lodge are plush properties providing all the five-star treatments. Chitwa Chitwa is also very upmarket and really makes safari easy. We prefer Mala Mala over Chitwa Chitwa and Lion Sands; for a similar price it is less luxurious but better in terms of wildlife.
7 HIGHLIGHTS OF THE BEST SOUTH AFRICAN SAFARI LODGES
These premium South Africa safari lodges come with a premium budget. They are not affordable to all. But no experience in the world is like an African wildlife safari and we recommend the best safari your money can allow. To save on costs we’d suggest cutting down on the quality of accommodation when at different South African destinations. Whether a four-star hotel, five-star hotel or Airbnb in Cape Town, it’s still the same city and city experience. But the best safari lodges in South Africa offer the best safari experiences: intimate, exclusive, full of surprise and defined by detail.
Mala Mala Review
5 MAJOR HIGHLIGHTS OF A SAFARI IN MALA MALA
Spots moves in the still dawn air. A leopard. That’s all you know for now. It moves silently under a cloak of camouflage, occasionally glimpsed where the grass thins. Impala are up ahead, a sense of trepidation amid their pricked ears and nervous grazing. As sunrise paints the horizon the hunt unfolds. And there is no predicting what will happen next. African safari is all about these serendipitous encounters; guests at Mala Mala have more good fortune than most.
About Mala Mala Game Reserve
An abnormally dense leopard population isn’t the only specialism in this vast private concession. Many species thrive in an unfenced ecosystem that’s centered on the Sand River, within the Greater Kruger region. Mala Mala is the largest of the Sabi Sands concessions and places considerable value on space. Lions on the prowl, elephants by the camp, buffalo and rhino kicking up dust…it all feels that extra bit special when there are almost no other safari vehicles. Animals have always found haven here, creating a microcosm of what makes the Greater Kruger so special. Families also find haven as access is carefully restricted to guests at three distinctive camps (a maximum of 65 guests in more than 60 square miles).
Mala Mala Africa – Comparing Camps
Mala Mala respects its position as one of Southern Africa’s premium destinations. The service, food, hospitality and amenities are up there with the best on the continent, even if they initially impress a casual, laid-back feel. All suites overlook an animal-rich river, with the Sable Camp an intimate option for exclusive family use. A children’s program welcomes all ages over four, although the camps themselves are very relaxed and adult in feel. Mala Mala has its own airstrip receiving shuttle flights from OR Tambo International (Johannesburg) and private charters from other South African destinations.
For all the facilities it’s the guiding and wildlife experience that always stands out. Mala Mala is where you really feel the raw brilliance of African safari, something that is quick to bring a family together, however large or small: you’ll share the adventure and authenticity of Africa, without having to jump far from your comfort zone. Safari activities tend to be a relaxed two to three hours, at dawn, then before sunset, with the option of a nighttime drive as well. Other lodges in the Greater Kruger area offer a little more swank and modern opulence (Royal Malewane should be a consideration here). Yet for the abundance of life this destination is always a winner; compare Mala Mala versus Sabi Sabi on the basis of animal experience and the former is head and shoulders above the latter.
Recommendations for a Stay at Mala Mala
Children under 12 are permitted at the Mala Mala Main Camp, making this an obvious yes or no dependent on your family. Sable Camp is smaller and more intimate while Rattray’s on Mala Mala (no under 16’s) has a more exclusive, almost honeymoon type feel. Sable Camp can be booked exclusively for 10 to 18 guests and it’s one of the best in Africa for this purpose.
It never gets crowded in Mala Mala and the safari experience is superb throughout the year. As with all the Sabi Sands concessions, three nights is adequate at Mala Mala. From here you can travel in many directions. For a diverse safari we’d recommend flying from Mala Mala to Botswana, visiting the Okavango Delta and Chobe areas before hopping across the border to Victoria Falls.
Londolozi Safari Review
5 MAJOR HIGHLIGHTS OF A LONDOLOZI SAFARI
Strange sounds echo into the room, sharp and resonant, like a baritone sax struggling to find the space between bass and tenor. How long have they been playing? It’s hard to tell when nature’s soundtrack continues uninterrupted. One elephant appears. From a private plunge pool you watch the rest of the herd emerge. Fresh coffee and croissants adorn the verandah and you watch the show, a matriarch coercing two young bulls into restrained silence. Down at the river the calves splash around as the rest of the herd takes a drink. And then they are gone.
Now you go to the restaurant area, brimming with this enthusiastic narrative. Everyone else in your family has the same story. They were also watching from their private verandah and plunge pool. It’s not just elephants. Londolozi is one of those special places where safari comes to you. At times it feels like a classic luxury getaway; lounging around the pool, escaping the rest of the world, indulging at a Relais & Chateaux property. But then there are the animals. Londolozi is a private concession located in the Sabi Sands, offering exclusivity in one of Africa’s densest wildlife destinations. It’s great as a first stop in Africa, particularly for anyone who isn’t 100% sure about safari as a vacation. If you’re comparing Malewane vs Londolozi they have similar levels of opulence, but Londolozi is in a more wildlife-dense area.
The Londolozi Safari Program
The safari program revolves around twice daily game drives with optional activities during the middle part of the day. The excellent Londolozi Cubs program keeps children aged six to teenagers entertained, giving you quiet time to enjoy the facilities as the kids enjoy their own piece of Africa. Elephants, buffalo, hippos, zebra, all manner of antelope…impressions of rustic Africa often come flooding past the suites. You can sit back and do nothing here – well, perhaps other than a massage – and still soak up the charms of wild Africa.
You get even closer during the game drives although Londolozi wouldn’t be our first choice for the safari purest; for wilder, more intensive safaris consider Mala Mala or Singita Lebombo. Londolozi is modern luxury, with accommodation spread across five spacious and individually styled camps. All have revered locations and very limited numbers of guests (the maximum at any one camp varies from 6 to 20). All can be taken for exclusive use as well, meaning there will be somewhere to accommodate the size of your group.
Recommendations For a Stay at Londolozi
Salubrious and spacious, Pioneer Camp is a particularly family favorite of ours, along with the Founders Camp, lesser so Varty Camp. Tree Camp and the Private Granite Suites are more suited to couples, although they can be booked on an exclusive-use basis.
Luxury and tranquility makes Londolozi a good safari starting point, especially when you’re fighting jet lag or convincing a family member about what Africa could offer. We’d recommend moving on to a different safari destination so you can garner a greater feel for Africa’s wildlife diversity.
Two nights would be fine to get a feel for the landscape, but such hidden luxury could accommodate some people indefinitely. The dry season of May to October is best for spotting wildlife from the lodge as animals cluster around the river, however Londolozi is a good year-round destination. After two nights in Londolozi consider flying to Botswana, where the Okavango Delta and Chobe provide a vastly contrasting safari experience. Our ultimate recommendation: Londolozi combined with Linyanti is northern Botswana.
Royal Malewane South Africa Safari Review
HIGHLIGHTS OF A ROYAL MALEWANE SAFARI
As a lion pride rips into a zebra carcass you want to look away. But you’re transfixed, close enough to hear the resounding crack of bone. You didn’t see the actual kill but you’ve arrived in plenty of time to appreciate ravenous appetites. The alpha male rises, mane fluttering on the breeze, blood still smattered around his whiskers. And he roars. Not at you. At the pride’s two younger males who have been forced away from the scene. Safari moments like this are always special. They are even better when they are shared with those closest to you.
Royal Malewane Private Game Reserve
Royal Malewane is located in Thornybush Private Reserve, part of the Timbavati, a distinctive part of the Greater Kruger, different to the better known Sabi Sands area. There’s an impressive diversity of resident wildlife as the animals here are active in protecting their home territory. You won’t quite encounter the same dense quantity of life that other Greater Kruger concessions can offer, notably Mala Mala. Nor is there the space to keep up your interest beyond three days, even if different activities help reveal the wilderness from different angles. For this reason many people consider Malewane and Singita, rather than Malewane vs Singita. However, the guides are amongst the best in Africa; their intimate knowledge of the landscape is crucial in revealing raw and untamed animal scenes, such as resident predators on a hunt.
The Royal Malewane Safari Experience
Royal Malewane is in the old-school style of safari lodges. It’s got glamor and a certain colonial charm, even if it only opened in 1999. Like the expeditions of old, this is a destination for private experiences, with every group having their own guide and program. You can be very active here, with bush walks, nighttime drives, and game drives that are extendable dependent on the savannah’s drama. All activities are flexible, as are the meal times, allowing the family experience to evolve around energy levels and mood.
This is a destination that suits older families. Children aged over ten are welcomed but Royal Malewane has a very adult feel, personified by its recently awarded “best spa in South Africa.” A six-bedroom manor house can be booked exclusively while a smaller family nucleus will still enjoy almost complete privacy by booking accommodation in the main eight-roomed lodge. Royal Malewane is a delightful stepping stone into South Africa’s undeveloped wilderness, full of excitement during the day then tranquility after dark. You’ll have a chance to share something new as a family here, something that feels wonderfully authentic.
Recommendations For a Stay at Royal Malewane
Two to three days would be enough for a stay here and we encourage you to be active in the exploration, particularly the opportunity for private bush walks and nighttime game drives.
Like most private concessions, a stay at Royal Malewane shouldn’t be dependent on when you go. It feels private and offers excellent game viewing throughout the year. We’d really encourage moving on from here to a wilder safari destination, like those in Botswana.
Singita Lebombo and Singita Sabi Sand Review
5 MAJOR HIGHLIGHTS OF SINGITA SABI SAND AND SINGITA LEBOMBO
Step, step, step, you walk past the zebra. Silence. Elephants loom in the distance and you’ve just ambled past a buffalo herd. Lions and leopards live here but walking on the savannah is safe when you’re led by expert guides indigenous to the area. Keep walking to a picnic spot overlooking a pool of hippos, drinks enjoyed as one hippo yawns for the iconic photograph. Return to the lodge and you meet up with the others, who have their own tales from a morning game drive. Singita really celebrates wild Africa and everyone is able to find their own angle, whether it’s by the pool or deep in the bush, on foot or on a drive.
Singita Boulders versus Singita Lebombo
Singita is one of Africa’s most revered safari brands and unique in offering two very different experiences in the Greater Kruger area. Each of their five lodges blend inspiring wildlife experiences with comforting modern luxury. Singita Sweni and Singita Lebombo immerse you in the bushveld of eastern Kruger, mostly open savanna grassland and low arid hills.
Thorn and marula woodlands dominate the landscape in Singita’s private Sabi Sands concession, with a life-giving river attracting wildlife from far and wide. It’s here you will find can Singita Ebony and Singita Boulders, two famous properties offering modern opulence in the wild. If it’s Singita Boulders vs Singita Lebombo there is only one winner for us. Singita’s best South African safari experiences are at Sweni and Lebombo. The concession here is within Kruger National Park. Singita’s Sabi Sands concession only has an okay location and doesn’t border the national park.
We’ve always enjoyed the small scale of each Singita Lodge, how it keeps the experience personal for every guest and injects real inimitability to the safari. All the Singita lodges are adept at entertaining contrasting moods, expectations and demands. And all have prime locations that celebrate both the diversity and abundance of big game. With their bold, mostly contemporary designs, Singita’s lodges offer a distinctive style of safari experience that makes them perennial favorites with return visitors.
The Singita Safari Program
The calm pace and flexible program tends to suit multi-generational families, particularly if there’s a large disparity in age and interest. You can spend time with family members you don’t often see; or you can bump off into the bush, searching for big cats with your partner. Those with less time may prefer the more action-packed experience in the Sabi Sands, with Lebombo and Sweni better for settling into a remote landscape and fully unwinding. Expect luxurious facilities and everything you would picture from a five-star establishment outside of Africa. Then add the wildlife for charm and thrills.
Recommendations For a Stay at Singita
Singita’s three lodges in the Sabi Sands fulfill many preconceptions of a first-time luxury safari. They are good for spotting the big five in their natural habitat, with prowling leopards and lions a major highlight. Stay for two or three days and you’ll soak up all manner of impressions. Just note that Londolozi and Mala Mala both have better locations in the Sabi Sands.
Singita Lebombo is a real getaway, within a private concession in an under-visited area of Kruger National Park, excellent for a longer escape and a real mix of activities.
Singita Sweni, another small yet glamorous and colorful lodge, shares the same exclusive location with Lemombo, offering safari activities in both the concession and the national park; like Lebombo, three days is more than enough time here.
Local airstrips drastically reduce travel time and make Singita’s properties highly accessible; there is potential to combine them with destinations across Southern Africa.
Sabi Sabi Safari Review
MAJOR HIGHLIGHTS OF A SABI SABI SAFARI
In the pool a hippo, already wallowing in the mud as dawn breaks. On the grass an elephant, tusks and trunk moving towards a drink. In the distance a giraffe and lying on the grass a cheetah. But that’s just one morning. Come back to the same place tomorrow and the encounters are different. Come back at evening time and again it’s different, the daily nighttime game drives meaning you get to experience a very different bushveld, a specially designed spotlight illuminating nocturnal wanderers.
Safari in Sabi Sabi
Sabi Sabi is situated in the far south of the Sabi Sands Game Reserve. It’s part of the vast and unfenced Greater Kruger ecosystem, so you can never quite predict the wildlife that will be spotted. Other concessions like Londolozi and Mala Mala have a more central location, meaning a greater concentration of wildlife as they directly border Kruger National Park (Sabi Sabi does not). However, by being out of the way Sabi Sabi does attract animals seeking the quiet life. Which is why you shouldn’t be surprised to see mothering cheetahs or small nocturnal cats. The remote location also serves to keep Sabi Sabi quiet of other visitors, so every encounter feels exclusive, something you won’t get in some of the Sabi Sands concessions (Mala Mala and Londolozi are exceptions to this and are kept private).
The best safari lodges in South Africa aren’t where you bring your tick list. Don’t worry if you don’t see the full big five here, because that’s not what the best South African safari is all about. Coming across prowling lions at night, or fighting hippos beneath the moonlight, more than makes up for missing one off your list. One of the reasons we like a safari in Sabi Sabi is the daily program of activities; with a daytime drive, an evening drive, and a bush walk, you can really understand what the Kruger bushveld is all about. In addition, varied habitats within the concession mean very diverse wildlife encounters.
Sabi Sabi Luxury Safari Lodges
There’s a choice of four lodges from differing eras. There’s not much to choose between them in terms of service and safari, just very contrasting styles. Selati Camp is old-world, all vintage historical features creating a traditional level of luxury. Little Bush Camp is the most intimate and, along with Earth Lodge, the most expensive. It’s here you have private viewing decks and spa baths overlooking the riverbed. Bush Lodge is the largest and best for children, thanks to the EleFun Centre kids program. Earth Lodge is built into the ground, a rustic connection with nature combined with contemporary visions of opulence.
Recommendations For a Sabi Sands Safari at Sabi Sabi
Rather than get too hung up on which of the lodges to choose from, think more about where else to visit. Sabi Sabi works well for 48 hours – two daytime drives, two nighttime drives and two walks. From here we’d recommend continuing the safari in Botswana, with the Okavango Delta and private concessions like Linyanti, finishing up with Victoria Falls. When staying in South Africa look for the best lodges not in the Sabi Sands, so Singita Lebombo or Phinda.
Phinda Private Game Reserve Review
5 MAJOR HIGHLIGHTS OF A SAFARI IN PHINDA
A lion mane reflects the glow of sunset. You’re so occupied by the cat that three white rhino wander behind the safari vehicle – the horned giants are plentiful here and it’s one of very few reserves where both black and white rhinos are resident. The lion moves its head and you see what it sees, a cheetah stalking in the grass, sidestepping away from the scene. Now you follow, enjoying some of Africa’s best close-up experiences with the spotted sprinter. All this is in just ten minutes of a game drive, Phinda one of those places where you see a lot in a relatively small space.
Understanding the Phinda Reserve
Phinda is different to the other top safari lodges in South Africa. Firstly it’s not in the Greater Kruger, instead occupying 230 square kilometers in Kwazulu Natal, very close to the World Heritage iSimangaliso wetlands. Secondly it’s a fenced reserve. While we usually argue against fenced reserves, we believe that the Phinda Reserve has the size that’s necessary to provide a wild experience, with wildlife that roams and lives freely of human intervention. Phinda isn’t part of a larger wilderness and the fences are an unfortunate necessity here, even if they don’t impact too much on the experience.
But as you wonder why we promote a fenced reserve, take a moment to consider the scale. Phinda is almost the same size as the entire Sabi Sands. It’s larger than Singita Sabi Sands, Londolozi, Lion Sands and Sabi Sabi, combined. That’s a lot of wilderness, so while you may see a fence, the wildlife is fully free to roam and thrive.
Phinda sells itself on having seven distinctive ecosystems within the reserve. While each ecosystem is small, over two to three days you’ll start to understand what lives in palm savannah, which species love sand forest, and where you’ll find the rhinos. All this helps support a wide diversity of mammals – regular cheetah and rhino sightings a major highlight – even if you don’t get to encounter the great abundances that are possible within unfenced ecosystems.
Choosing From Three Phinda Lodges
Four lodges are located around the reserve. Forest Lodge and Mountain Lodge are the cheapest of South Africa’s best safari lodges, although they are not particularly intimate. Vlei Lodge and Rock Lodge have just six suites each, with more premium locations overlooking wildlife-rich areas. They would be our recommendations and only cost a little bit more.
Recommendations For the Best Phinda Private Game Reserve Safari
Phinda is not the complete safari experience. Then again, no lodge or destination is. Safari is a journey and that journey is made special by combining different destinations. Phinda makes a lovely contrast to the Sabi Sands and other parts of the Greater Kruger. We’d recommend starting here, then moving on to a different wildlife experience, either in the Greater Kruger but also consider Botswana.