The weather may be cooling in the Western Cape with us tucked up in jackets, boots and comfy socks – Buy Now, but it’s not all bad in the bush. These winter months are renowned as the best time to take a Safari, specifically in Southern and East Africa – and ideally at a lodge that adheres to sustainable practices.
Ecotourism plays a vital role in the recovery of the industry, needed now more than ever. By going on a sustainable safari, you are directly supporting positive impact travel, one of the most effective and immediate ways to support wildlife conservation and community development. Here you’ll find solar installations providing energy and heat, recycled and captured rainwater feeding verdant food gardens, game fences removed to re-open migratory corridors, conservation projects protecting endangered wildlife and innovative initiatives improving the lives of the communities. Other models see lodges on tribal land partnering with the community trust, which in turn benefits. Human-wildlife conflict, employment and education are key focus points. But so is the need to step into the wild, observe magnificent land and ocean animals in their natural environment, and be pampered by a team of professionals who speak the same language as a conscious traveller.
I bring you my list of recommended eco-lodges to guide the way.
1. Sanctuary Chief’s Camp, Botswana
Sanctuary Chief’s Camp in Botswana is where wildlife and wilderness are as abundant as service and refinement. In an extraordinary setting with exceptional game viewing and enthusiastic guides, strong environmental and philanthropic credentials abide. Overlooking the seasonal Piajio Channel, the guest area is under the shade of thatch and consists of a dining room, welcoming bar area, orientation room, fitness centre, children’s retreats, reference library, indoor and outdoor dining areas, swimming pool and sundeck. All the main areas of the camp have been extensively refurbished in a ‘safari chic’ style. Surrounded by pristine wildlife, Sanctuary Chief’s Camp has enchanting bush pavilions with beautiful bathrooms, indoor and outdoor showers, large bathtubs and floor-to-ceiling windows. They have plunge pools, spacious sitting areas, air-conditioning, personal bars and private verandas. Ideal for those looking for the utmost privacy and comfort, the Geoffrey Kent Luxury Suite offers a private kitchen, personal chef, indoor lounge, private boma with fire pit, secluded deck area, and dedicated vehicle with its own guide. Early morning and afternoon game drives offer an excellent chance of viewing elephants, hippos, buffalo, lions, leopards and wild dogs – as well as hippo. Tamer adventures include birdwatching, seasonal mokoro excursions and, for the romantic at heart, private bush dinners under starlit skies.
2. Azura Benguerra, Mozambique
A favourite of mine is Azura Benguerra, the first eco-friendly resort in Mozambique which was hand-built and is operated in partnership with the local community. Set on a pristine island within an established Marine National Park, there are deserted beaches of pure white sand that extend for miles, sparkling turquoise seas crisscrossed by local dhows, sunny days and star-studded nights. Just 20 villas line the stretch of beach, with all the creature comforts you could wish for, sparkling private pools, Mozambican butler-hosts to look after your every need, fish and seafood fresh from the ocean, and a wide range of activities and experiences. There’s also an African spa to relax in. Azura Benguerra has created several different area zones for your enjoyment and relaxation, from the comfortable lounge area to the Star Bar, and their fabulous wine cellar that offers a selection of the owner’s wines, specially flown in from their Chateau in France. The Jellyfish Restaurant offers breakfast and more formal dining. Should you wish, there is a Padi 5 Star dive centre, excellent snorkelling at the Two Mile Beach, island picnics and dhow excursions. An island tour is an absolute must, as is climbing the tallest sand dune for miles.
3. Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, South Africa
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve is a luxury five-star eco-reserve set between mountain and sea in the Overberg region just 2 hours from Cape Town. Living by an ethos of sustainability, harmony and immersion in nature, it’s an ideal place for a healthy dose of soulful regeneration, with an array of aptly themed land and ocean-based activities to choose from. Accommodation is offered at the five-star luxury Garden Lodge, Forest Lodge and in the two private use villas. The recently rebuilt Garden Lodge has one- and two-bedroom freestanding suites down a pathway of milkwood trees and opening onto wooden decks that offer uninterrupted views towards Walker Bay.
High on a hill with 180-degree views across the fields of fynbos, Forest Lodge has 16 luxurious free-standing suites reached by magical paths that lead through an enchanted forest. Their contemporary design and décor speak of sophistication and serenity, with outdoor showers, baths for two and cosy fireplaces made for romance. A collection of carefully curated activities include their unique 4×4 open-air flower safaris and a visit to the Klipgat caves in De Kelder. If you’re feeling more adventurous, horse riding through the reserve offers a different and welcome perspective. Beyond the shoreline, whale watching is a treat as hundreds of Southern Right Whales base themselves in the bay each year. The Grootbos Foundation extends the magic to education and enhancement of the adjacent community, as well as the preservation of its fauna and flora. It’s all goodness. I LOVE this place, and have been lucky enough to stay here often!
4. Tswalu Kalahari, South Africa
Conservation and research in an incomparable safari experience are what the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve offers. South Africa’s largest private wildlife reserve, covers an area of over 114,000 hectares of open plains, savannahs and classic Kalahari red dunes at the foot of the Korannaberg Mountains. An eco-tourism success story, Tswalu has recorded 240 birds and over 80 mammal species, including Hartmann’s mountain zebra and wild dog. Also thriving here are zebras, buffaloes, giraffes, white rhinos and multiple species of antelope. Cheetahs, hyenas, and black-maned Kalahari lions can also be spotted. Guests are invited to enjoy their safaris from 4×4 vehicles, on bush walks or by horseback. Beyond the excellent game viewing, it’s a sighting of the elusive and endangered pangolin that is likely to steal your heart.
Tswalu is one of the best places in the world to spot this rare and unique creature that is covered in an armour of overlapping keratin plates, making it the only known mammal whose body is protected by scales, rather than fur. Tswalu hosts guests in two beautiful locations, namely Motse and Tarkuni Private Homestead. Built from organic materials and outfitted to the highest standards, they are sited to make the most of Tswalu’s dramatic and expansive views, while manifesting the warmth and hospitality of the Kalahari people. The Tarkuni Private Homestead is the Oppenheimer’s personal family retreat and accommodates up to 10 guests. The space provides the height of luxury with 360-degree views, spacious lounge and dining areas, and a private swimming pool. In an increasingly busy world, retreating to a remote private wilderness is the ultimate luxury, especially when the surroundings play home to an array of protected wildlife, and the skies are star-studded.
5. Kulala Desert Lodge, Namibia
Kulala Desert Lodge lies in the 37 000-hectare Kulala Wilderness Reserve at the foot of the majestic Sossusvlei Dunes in Namibia’s Namib Desert, one of the oldest deserts in the world. The rustic, comfortable lodge comprises 23 thatched and canvas rooms, each built on a wooden platform, with a flat rooftop for sleep-outs under the stars. The main area includes living and dining areas, a pool, and a wraparound veranda overlooking the waterhole. On guided nature walks, explore the wonders of an ancient desert – its geological formations and all its desert-adapted creatures. Gemsbok, springbok, Cape and bat-eared foxes, spotted and brown hyaenas, ostriches, aardwolf, black-backed jackals, a myriad of fascinating insects such as buck-spoor spiders and antlions, endemic dune larks, and barking geckos, whose iconic calls signal the end of the day. Climb and scramble down the 300-metre red ochre dunes at Sossusvlei. Hike through Sesriem Canyon, where water carved through the rock over millennia, or take a leisurely stroll near camp on the Tsauchab River Trail. Dash over the plains on an electric ‘fat bike’. Sip sundowners as the sun fires up the sky, or take a hot air balloon safari as a highlight. Once farmland used for subsistence goat farming, the Kulala Wilderness Reserve has been rehabilitated and returned to its former glory. An open-air sleepout is a must.
6. Tembo Plains, Zimbabwe
Tembo, meaning elephant, reflects more than just a name honouring the animals on these protected plains. It speaks to the long and unique relationship and empathy that renowned Great Plains Conservation founders Dereck and Beverly Joubert have with elephants. An intimate conservation-driven camp, Tembo Plains is built by them into the thick riverine forest on the edge of the Zambezi River in the Sapi Private Reserve. This fragile landscape came into the Great Plains Conservation fold in 2016 as land that had been excessively hunted since 1957. They immediately put a stop to all hunting in the area, recognising the 118,000-hectare Sapi Concession as the largest – and most ambitious – wildlife relocation ever carried out in Africa. It demonstrates the regenerative power of nature to restore itself when given the opportunity.
Beyond regular sightings of elephants, wild dogs, lions and leopards around the camp area, buffalo and hippo are often seen up and down the river. The camp is intimate with four double suites, each with its own private indoor lounge area, outdoor swimming pool, exercise bikes on a wide veranda and outdoor dining area. Stunning, handmade baths and indoor and outdoor showers further enhance the experience. In the camp’s central area there’s a wine cellar and interactive 5-star kitchen. The spa and curio shop is tucked behind beautifully weathered Zanzibar doors – which feature throughout. Time at Tembo Plains is spent on day and night game drives, bush walks, canoeing and boat trips on the Zambezi River. The canoe trips are particularly rewarding, bringing you close to the elephants as they come down to the water’s edge to drink. Tembo Plains Camp is a space to breathe and renew your respect for nature.
7. Segera, Kenya
An oasis of luxury set against the foothills of Mount Kenya, Segera Retreat is home to conservation, community and culture. Its thatched villas, eccentric towers and living cactus boma are set within a garden rich with hummingbirds and sculptures. Exploration from Segera Retreat takes you to wide open plains and gradual slopes, into river valleys and to magnificent waterfalls in search of resident birds at the two lush wetlands on the Suguroi and Mutara Rivers. Strategically placed throughout the luxuriant sculpture gardens are six beautifully styled Garden Villas, a large saltwater pool and three homes with private pools: Villa Segera – which is perfect for honeymooners, Segera House and the contemporary family Farmhouse.
Pathways lead to the spa and gym, Rasul steam tower, the Stables and Paddock House where meals are served with views of Mount Kenya. The villas are on stilts with thatched roofs and bleached wood. Sleep like a bird in the Nay Palad Bird Nest – a raised ‘nest’ in the wild with a bed on the rooftop that allows you to sleep under the stars. Offering 360-degree views, arrive just before sunset to lit lanterns, champagne and a picnic-style dinner. A Segera safari shows you a world that will connect you to the land, the people, the wildlife and that magical sense of Kenya through cultural, community and wildlife experiences. A highlight is spending time with their anti-poaching unit and their highly trained bloodhound dogs, performing seek and find missions with them and learning more about their sensitive noses and the huge value they bring to the fight against poaching.
Dedicated to achieving a healthy balance of Conservation, Community, Culture and Ecosystem, these lodges bring us rare and privileged experiences, while demonstrating that luxury can be sustainable.
They remind us that when conscious choices are made, every stay can and does make a difference. By staying at a lodge with the correct ethos and practices – and there are many more than these listed above – you are contributing positively to the area. Here’s to Travelling Better, not less.
And don’t forget to stock up on warm clothes, jackets, hats, and socks before you go. There’s nothing worse than being so cold when out on your game drive, that you can’t enjoy the moment.
** This post is made possible by Superbalist – who understands the needs of travellers. This one in particular.
** All images supplied by the respected lodges.