Where to Stay on Safari
Where to stay on safari is one of Africa’s ultimate highlights. And the best safari lodges in Africa are beyond what you can imagine.
Through the canvas comes a harmony of trumpets. Elephants, hooting in the distance, their approach to the river waking you from slumber. Birds add treble to the soundtrack and there’s the soft scurrying sound of something much closer, a grazer perhaps. Rising from the bed you take a peek outside. Four zebra on the grass, a troop of colobus monkeys high in the trees, and the rumbling approach of those noisy elephants.
Accommodation is an unexpected highlight of a safari. It’s never just a place to sleep. It’s a chance to be fully immersed in the wildlife and wilderness experience, especially at Africa’s best camps and lodges.
This article explains where to stay on safari and why the accommodation is so important to your experience. It then has an overview of camps, mobile camps and lodges, as well as important information about safety. You can then read our guide to choosing the camp or lodge that is best for you, along with our recommendations for where to stay on safari.
Where to Stay on Safari So Wildlife Continues 24-7
Every morning you wake there’s something saying hello, something to get you excited for the day to come. Every evening you drift off to nature’s lullaby, canvas walls meaning ears become eyes after dark. One day you return from a drive to find buffalo and antelope grazing all around your room. On another you’re snoozing besides the swimming pool with a bushbuck grazing barely meters away.
On most vacations you have a hotel to stay in and destinations to visit during the day. With the best lodges and camps in Africa the safari continues 24 hours a day. There is no start and stop; no distinction between where to stay on safari and the places you want to explore; no interruption to your connection with the land and its four-legged inhabitants.
Everyone is expecting to see animals on a game drive. But few anticipate the sense of intimacy that emanates from sleeping in the wild. And wildlife sightings from the lodge or camp have a wonderful tranquility. You’re not looking for anything. You’re just relaxing, escaping the rest of the world, just a few meters away from the animals you came to see.
Each of the places you chose for us were surpassingly lovely – the best we have ever had. And somehow there was a bottle of champagne waiting in each of our rooms. Hmm?
Africa’s Top Lodges and Camps Have the Best Locations
Watch wildlife from the camp and it’s unlikely a guide will be with you. Perhaps it’s just you and your partner, gazing out on the world. Maybe it’s a personal moment with your teenager, who you had just convinced to put the iPad away. It’s unlikely to be a moment or experience you share with other guests. Instead, there’s a good chance it’s just you on the verandah, personal time made special by the wildlife that wanders past.
But this heightened experience is not available everywhere and that’s key to picking where to stay on safari. We believe that luxury is the wildlife experience and that’s reflected in our choice of recommended lodges. They offer the service and space expected from five-star establishments, but our premier consideration is always location. It could be the most beautiful lodge in the world but it’s not the same without animals.
Where to Stay on Safari – Wildlife Rich Locations
For us, the best places to stay in Africa have the ultimate positions within wildlife-rich areas. Often they are perched above a popular waterhole or waterway, so animals aren’t just passing through, they are coming to visit. Wildlife comes to you, a procession of animals wandering past throughout the day and night.
Choosing where to stay on safari leads to recognizing a certain elephant or buffalo herd that comes to drink every evening. Spend a single evening and you watch the giants turn to silhouettes against the African sunset. Safari activities may last five to six hours a day, but the safari never ends and you build a more complex impression of life in the wild. Gathering such first-hand knowledge of rare landscapes and creatures is what inspires you to come back and discover more. You watch animals for hours, searching different emotions and expressions, picking up on subtle behaviors and nuanced family structures.
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Expect Space at Africa’s Best Lodges and Camps
Africa and its safari wilderness is enormous, with some of the ecosystems larger than US states and European countries. In such gargantuan landscapes you can always find space. Camps and lodges are carefully spread so they don’t interrupt each other, seclusion and solitude all part of their appeal. Rooms are kept separate, providing privacy and an uninterrupted view over an animal-rich landscape. Roaring lions and cackling hyena may break the tranquility, but other guests will not.
This sense of space extends to guest rooms. By blending into their surroundings and looking out towards an unfenced wilderness, rooms tend to feel more spacious than their dimensions suggest. Not that they are small. Especially when staying under canvas, we find that visitors are pleasantly surprised by the capacious qualities of everywhere they stay. Beyond the sleeping quarters there’s usually a private verandah (sometimes with a plunge pool visited by elephants), an indoor or outdoor bathroom (or both), along with a comfortable seating area for watching the animals wander by.
Where to Stay on Safari – Classic Luxury at a Lodge and Camp
There is no blueprint for safari lodges to copy. Everything is individualized, the styles as unique as the landscapes you explore. But while the soundtrack is wild don’t think that where to stay on safari means roughing it. As the photos and prices suggest, luxury is integral to Africa’s best safari accommodation. Many lodges are opulent and extravagant, comparable to the finest five-star accommodation anywhere else in the world. And from the service to the little touches, we’re confident you’ll be impressed with where you get to stay.
Safari accommodation is also the complement to a day of exploring, helping preserve your immersion in the wild. It’s also a corrective remedy, providing contemporary comfort to bring you around after a day’s adventure. After a game drive you may be dusty, sweaty, tired, exhilarated, ready for calm or ready to recollect what’s just happened. Where you stay on safari is a sanctuary within the wild, providing a luxury that helps you reset and revitalize before the next piece of the adventure.
The High Quality of Amenities and Cleanliness
Apprehensions about cleanliness and amenities are common when people think of where to stay on safari. This is a foreign continent and people are never sure what to expect. You may have already encountered these anxieties when speaking with friends or family about visiting Africa. It can be hard to look beyond the negative stereotypes, because these are what the media continue to push. However, apprehensions about substandard cleanliness or impoverished amenities evaporate within an hour of arriving.
Safari tourism is a well established industry, evolving from the very first safari explorers, 19th and 20th-century colonialists traveling with enormous support teams. Fast forward to the 21st century and it’s in the wild where you find Africa’s very best places to stay. Just consider the logistical costs involved with building anything in a vast, animal-rich land. Simply transporting materials past lions and elephants is a huge expense, never mind conservation licenses and weather proofing. Camps and lodges have big overheads. They ensure that simple details such as cleanliness don’t impact their reputation.
Sometimes you must be open to a few quirks. Remember, you’re staying in the heart of the wilderness, enjoying a landscape that’s home to thousands of animals rather than people. Ingenious and ecological solutions have been found to provide electricity and hot water, but don’t expect a consistent Wi-Fi signal; safari is your chance to escape the world and this disconnection is part of the experience.
What’s the Difference Between a Safari Camp and a Safari Lodge?
Every camp and lodge is different. Definitions blur across East and Southern Africa, so it’s not always easy to distinguish where you will stay from the name. We’d prefer not to generalize too much. Distinctive and inimitable accommodation deserves to be celebrated and we’d like to talk you through where to stay on safari. Then you can make an informed decision about the safari accommodation that is best for you.
What is a Safari Lodge?
Lodges are permanent structures, the wilderness’s localized version of an upmarket hotel. They are usually larger than camps and have facilities only possible because the structures are permanent, such as swimming pools and spas. They mix Western hotel luxuries with a gentle immersion in your surroundings. Think contemporary bathrooms, consistent electricity, plus an abundance of communal areas such as restaurant decks, library and bar. Lodges are typically built from locally sourced materials, mostly crafted from wood, stone and glass.
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Where to Stay on Safari – A Safari Camp
Forget any ideas or encounters you have had with camping. And ignore the new buzzword, glamping. A luxury camp is a completely new experience. Canvas walls are a wonderful feature, allowing nature’s soundtrack to accompany you at every moment. Canvas also allows camps to be erected in even wilder areas, sometimes even moving with the seasons. Camps are small and rarely have more than 12 spacious guest tents. As they are erected from wood and canvas they can harmoniously blend into their surroundings, creating an experience that always feels like an adventure without discounting creature comforts.
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What is a Mobile Camp?
The ultimate immersion in wildlife-rich environments, mobile camps move with the seasons and their guests. In many cases they are exclusive use and are pitched in the ultimate settings. This is not traditional camping and there’s a real sense of space and comfort, with proper beds and warm showers in a land inhabited by endangered animals. The furnished canvas rooms can be packed up, so they can follow wildlife movements or your own journey. For example, mobile camps can be used on a multi-day walking or riding safari. But they also provide highly exclusive experiences in areas other people don’t get to see. And while they may only be elegantly rustic, rather than classically luxurious, mobile camps are among the ultimate answers to where to stay on safari.
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Where to Stay on Safari for Families – Special Considerations
Watching elephants through floor-to-ceiling windows, dining beneath the starry sky, and sharing a day on the African plains…few experiences create togetherness like an African safari. Where you stay is integral to everything. You should have space to be a family, freedom to pursue individual interests, and accommodation that allows the experience to be shared.
Choosing a Camp for Your Family
From a family perspective there are three categories of camp and lodge.
1) Those that don’t permit children under 16 unless the camp or lodge is booked on an exclusive-use basis.
2) Those that allow children and have some facilities for families. There may be age limits; i.e. children over 12 or over 8.
3) Those that offer specific activities and amenities for families.
Camps and Lodges Permitting Children
Interconnected suites, large family rooms, extra beds, private verandahs…the facilities will vary and we don’t like to generalize. One of the highlights of where to stay on safari is how every lodge and camp is unique. All private concessions we recommend have at least one property that is suitable for families traveling with children. They will also have a property that can be booked out on an exclusive-use basis, for families of all ages and make-ups.
Specific Activities and Programs for Children
Children’s clubs add possibility to a safari program. Activities run throughout the day, creating a new impression and understanding of the wilderness. Practical lessons in conservation and staying safe runs through all these children’s programs. Think learning how to identify spoor and track animals through the bush; understanding what an elephant is doing and why; building shelters, making fire, analyzing dung, walking, driving and exploring an environment that feels like an adventure playground.
Children’s activities can run throughout the day and the programs are designed flexibility, based on guests staying at the camp. In the early-afternoon – post lunch but before the afternoon game drive – these activities help satisfy your children’s energy and curiosity, giving you some quiet hours before family exploration later on. Some more tailored programs develop children as rangers or guides, so they can lead your discovery on a drive. The focus is always two-fold: provide new and educational experiences for the children while ensuring you get some quiet time on vacation.
Is it Safe at a Safari Camp?
If you’ve never been to Africa a safari camp doesn’t sound safe. Just picture how it feels. Lions were roaring through the night, a low resonant growl that’s haunting to the ear. Rapid high-pitched trombones suggested an angry elephant bull was also nearby. You wake to a new sound, the distinctive hissing made by a buffalo’s exhaled breath. Listening closer you hear them grazing. Chomp, hiss, chomp, hiss, how is it safe to go outside when buffalo are next to my suite? What if the lions are hiding behind the canvas? Apprehension is understandable. You’re guests in the land of the giants and the camp doesn’t have any fences.
Of course it could be dangerous. Just remember, local people have coexisted with all these animals since the dawn of man and you’re not the first to wake up next to buffalo or elephants. Warrior guards use ancestral knowledge to understand animal behavior and keep the camp clear of danger; with a single glance they can see that the camp is filled by a harem of female buffalo with calves, who are non-confrontational in comparison to a herd of bachelor males. Throughout day and night a team is keeping guard, tracking all the wildlife and managing any potential threat.
The variety of five safari camps in South Africa and Botswana were each different and overwhelmingly beautiful.
Joan Garland and Dr. Leslie Garland,
Manhattan Beach, California
Discreet Fences and Other Security Measures
Guards usually accompany you around the property as well, so you never have to walk alone in the wilderness. You may be thinking where to stay on safari and stay safe. We wouldn’t recommend anywhere that was remotely unsafe. There may be a bell or device so you can attract a guard’s attention. You’ll always receive a safety briefing and know what to do if you feel uneasy in your suite. Evening fires are for safety as well as keeping you warm, highly effective in warding off hyena. Discreet electric fences are used in areas where there is too much large wildlife to track, most often to keep hippos away without interrupting the safari experience.
In most cases, the animals are much further away than they sound. These impressive wild animals know how to announce themselves and the lack of artificial noise means calls carry far on the wind – lions and elephant can be heard five miles away. Furthermore, the mammals have no desire to come into contact with other mammals (i.e. you) – they seek space not conflict.
But perhaps think of where to stay on safari another way. If animals were endangering guests the camp or lodge couldn’t exist. A single incident could result in a multi-million dollar property shutting down overnight. So they make sure it never happens, with minimal impact on your safari experience.
Safety Considerations on a Family Safari
The African wilderness can be a dangerous place and it’s not safe if children are going to run off into the bush. Unfenced camps and lodges often have clear age restrictions, either no under 16s or no under 12s. Most that take younger ages have discreet fences or other measures to negate the naturally curiosity of developing children. It’s not relaxing when you worry every time your son goes to the toilet, thinking that he’s disappeared onto a buffalo-filled grassland. We can advise you about specific camps and lodges, including how they ensure peace of mind as well as safety.
Choosing Your Safari Accommodation in Africa
At Heritage Africa we believe that luxury is the wildlife experience. We promote Africa’s best safari destinations, private concessions offering an authentic and often unfathomable safari. We’re also unapologetic in promoting the very best lodges and camps the continent has to offer. These are not necessarily the most luxurious places to stay, but those where luxury is created by the wildlife experience.
All the best places to stay in Africa are different. We can talk you through the options, recommending properties based on your interests and budget. You can also read our expert reviews on the best safari lodges in South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania and Kenya.