Unspoiled natural beauty, unforgettable safaris, and other adventures await at Southern Africa’s most sought-after luxury lodges
by Nubia DuVall Wilson
Belmond Eagle Island Lodge
Okavango Delta, Botswana, $$
Big game on nature preserves, bright orange desert landscapes, pristine beaches, and mountains—they’re all within reach when visiting Southern Africa. The year-round destination is typically drier in the winter months (April to October), which is also the best time for viewing wildlife because the absence of water forces game to concentrate around sources of water. From Namibia and Botswana to South Africa, an array of amenity-rich lodges and other accommodations are matched with world-class services for adventurer seekers and luxe life aficionados alike.
Botswana’s lush Okavango Delta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s largest inland water systems. The delta stretches over 9,000 miles and supports a variety of plant, fish, bird, and other widlife. The area consists of changing channels, tributaries, and lagoons, as well as floodplains, islands, and mainland areas. Getting here is a bit of a trek, but worth it for the seclusion alone. Choose a 20-minute plane ride from Maun Airport in Botswana, or jet from Johannesburg or Tambo Airports in South Africa.
The Belmond Eagle Island Lodge, a luxury safari nestled along the delta, has recently reopened after an almost total rebuild. There is a private airstrip and helipad, where flights arrive from Maun, Livingston, Zambia, and Northern Botswana. Each of the lodge’s spacious new Deluxe Tented Rooms boasts its own plunge pool, private deck, and an oversized bed with views of the delta. The handcrafted copper-finish headboards reference Botswana’s mining tradition. In-room amenities include a deep day bed, fully stocked mini bar, air conditioning, and a walk-in wardrobe.
The Belmond Eagle Island is the only lodge in Africa that offers water-focused water safari experiences, with activities including motorboat safaris, barge cruises, and mekoro (canoe) safaris. New activities for guests include learning how the local tribes used the stars to direct them, plus horseback safaris and helicopter safaris that provide a birds-eye view of the landscape. Rates start at $710 per person per night.
Phinda Rock Lodge
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, andbeyond.com, $$
A paradise for adventure seekers and beach lovers, KwaZulu-Natal (also known as the Zulu Kingdom) is steeped in history and offers a bustling synergy of ports, fine dining, and first-class shopping outlets. Touristy points of interest include historic battlefields where Zulu leader Shaka and Winston Churchill fought, along with two UNESCO World Heritage sites: the iSimangaliso/Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park and the mountainous region of the uKhahlamba-Drakensburg Park. The latter showcases exceptional San rock paintings and is perfect for avid hikers.
Phinda Rock Lodge is dramatically set into a cliff face overlooking spectacular Leopard Rock, and just re-opened after a renovation in May 2017. Its architecture and design combines Malian influences with pueblo panache. There are six suites that looks as if they are suspended over the deep valley below, providing stunning views. Perfect for couples, each romantic suite is constructed from contoured stone and adobe and features a private plunge pool, viewing deck, and outdoor showers.
The Lodge’s guest areas offer ideal vantage points for viewing the reserve’s abundant birdlife in the surrounding trees and the wildlife roaming the bush below. Meals are served al fresco on an outdoor veranda or on the rooftop under the stars, and fiery sunsets are the backdrop for “bush banquets.” Additional activities include twice-daily game drives on a 70,560-acre private reserve, bush walks, Zulu village tours, scuba and ocean safaris, black rhino tracking on foot, and customized conservation experiences. Rates start at $710 per person per night.
Soss usvlei Desert Lodge
Sossusvlei, Namib-Naukluft Park, Namibia, andbeyond.com, $
In Namibia, travelers can climb the highest sand dunes in the world and descend to the floor of the deepest canyon in Africa. It’s home to vibrant cities and rich history, with an infrastructure that allows guests to move confidently off the beaten path.
Experience this extraordinary wilderness at the Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, which is surrounded by mountains and sand dunes of the Namib Dessert and has southern Africa’s biggest private nature reserve, the NamibRand. Suites feature outdoor showers and over-bed skylights for late night star gazing. Adrenaline-seekers can go on quad bike adventures or hot air balloons. Additional activities include nature drives on 4-wheel all-terrain vehicles, San rock painting excursions, dune dining, and exploring the night sky from the observatory (accompanied by the resident astronomer). Wildlife includes oryx, springbok, Hartmann’s mountain zebra, and bat eared foxes.
Accommodations include ten stone and glass suites. Each is furnished with a private veranda, split-level bedroom and living room with fireplace, an ensuite glass-enclosed bathroom, and outdoor shower. Suites are also equipped with a star-viewing skylight and a custom-stocked bar. The guest
area, where walls become windows that fold away completely, boasts unimpeded desert vistas. The split-level public lodge presents a fire-lit bar, sitting room, wraparound veranda, and Safari Shop. Rates start at $487 per person per night.
Singita Sabi Sand
Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa, singita.com, $$
Singita Sabi Sand is a privately owned game reserve adjacent to the Kruger National Park in South
Africa. The property spans more than 45,000 acres and is renowned for high concentrations of big game (you’ll see leopards and lions quite often here). There are three lodges: Boulders Lodge, Ebony Lodge, and Castleton. Activities at all locations include stargazing, biking, game drives, community visits, guided safari walks, and nature programs for children.
Castleton was formerly the home of Singita founder Luke Baile’s grandfather, Singita Castleton. It consists of a rustic main house with communal living spaces and six individual cottages around the grounds that accommodate up to 12 guests. High-end facilities include a vast garden, swimming pool, wine cellar, gym, tennis court, and spa treatment room. Visitors can relax together in the courtyard, gather around the traditional “boma” enclosure, or meet in the country-style kitchen, yet individual cottages allow guests to retreat to the privacy of their own space. All of this is overlooking a waterhole where animals regularly gather.
Inspired by a boulder buttress in the area, Boulders Lodge offers walls of glass and open-air areas, enabling guests to view the surrounding landscape and animals from every angle. Its 12 suites are positioned on the banks of the Sand River, each with an en suite bedroom, private sitting room, and game viewing deck with private plunge pool overlooking the untouched wilderness. Rustic, handmade furnishings crafted from fossilized tree stumps, slabs of solid stone, and wrought-iron and leather pieces are balanced with soft sheep-skin rugs and natural flax bed linen. There is a swimming pool in the main lodge area, too, and spa and gym facilities are also on hand. Rates vary.