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Africa’s best luxury safari holidays

Angama Amboseli
Angama Amboseli is set in the heart of Kenya's wildlife-rich Kimana Sanctuary

I never used to understand what all the fuss was about when it came to safari. Then I went to Londolozi, five intimate luxury camps in South Africa’s Sabi Sands Game Reserve, and that changed forever. I discovered that it really is one of the best – and most magical – travel experiences on Earth.

Yet there is a lot that goes into planning a safari holiday. First you have to choose the destination, which is no mean feat. Every country and region is completely unique and not just culturally (there are more than 3,000 different tribes on the African continent) but physically; from the towering, terracotta dunes of Namibia, teeming with aardvarks, springboks and wild horses, to the lush, lemur and chameleon-filled rainforests of Madagascar. There’s a current wealth of innovation in the safari experience, with the luxury market carving the way. Now you can track gorillas on foot in Rwanda, try sound therapy in the South African bush and do your game viewing from a private island in Botswana by dugout canoe.

Then there are the reserves, camps and lodges to whittle down, both private and community-run, championing the conservation of wildlife and a positive working relationship between people and animals. The low impact design of many of these camps and lodges is focussed around the concept of the ‘lighter footprint’ with even the most luxurious lodges knowing they have a responsibility to tread softly; to blend thoughtfully into their setting and to implement the latest practices and technology to ensure they preserve their natural treasures for many generations to come.

So if you’re looking for inspiration, or just an escape from the everyday, here are 10 of the best luxury African safaris.

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South Africa

Londolozi Game Reserve in Great Kruger National Park is one of the best places in Africa to see leopards, lions and elephants. There is always something new and exciting going on here, from its creation of digital learning centres that aim to bring world class education to children in remote rural villages to the launch of its Healing House, a progressive, nature-based spa which offers therapeutic animal tracking on foot in the wild.

A mother leopard and her cub
Londolozi Game Reserve is one of the best places in Africa to see leopards - Shutterstock

It regularly upgrades its luxurious accommodation, including the recently revamped Founder’s Camp, which sits in the shade of ancient ebony trees and feels like a stylish, modern African home. It’s also just two minutes from The Healing House. The camp has a beautiful communal drawing room, dining terrace and bar overlooking the river. There are just 10 spacious, restful chalets (four designed with families in mind), all with plunge pools, while the contemporary African food is as good as it gets.

Book it: Cazenove+loyd (020 7384 2332; cazloyd.com) offers a six-night trip to Londolozi Founders Camp from £9,600pp, including everything except international flights to Johannesburg, which cost from £700.

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Rwanda

Since 2018, luxury hotel group One&Only has opened two of the best properties in Rwanda, each offering its own unique experience of the country’s exceptional wildlife. As its name suggests, One&Only Gorilla’s Nest, which is located in the foothills of the Virunga Volcano Range, is a fantastic base from which to track gorillas. Then there’s One&Only Nyungwe House, which sits on a working tea plantation, has the most beautiful suites and is the perfect base from which to watch chimpanzees.

One&Only Gorilla's Nest, Rwanda
The luxurious One&Only Gorilla’s Nest is a fantastic base from which to track gorillas

Last year, the hotel group launched an exclusive six-night package, OneEscape, combining both properties via a scenic helicopter transfer (as opposed to a five-hour drive). The trip promises the best ultra-luxury accommodation Rwanda has to offer, and also includes the option to participate in community projects such as tree planting and school building.

Book it: The six-night OneEscape package (oneandonlyresorts.com) costs £12,040pp, including everything except international flights, which cost from £720 return with RwandaAir. Gorilla and chimpanzees trekking can be arranged at additional cost.

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Madagascar

Family adventure specialist Stubborn Mule Travel is really good at getting the measure of the families they work with, taking into account the age of the children travelling, family interests and budgets before coming up with the perfect trip. It recently launched a new Madagascar programme, featuring two itineraries.

Black and white ruffed lemur, endemic to Madagascar
Spot wildlife endemic to Madagascar such as the black and white ruffed lemur - Alamy

Natural Madagascar focuses on the east of the country, starting in Tana’s Andasibe National Park, and includes rainforest hikes and night walks to find chameleons and Aye-Ayes (the endangered, long-toothed lemur made famous by Gerald Durrell). There are also opportunities to meet locals and for your children to interact with theirs. The trip ends on a spectacular beach where you can snorkel with the local marine life and enjoy other ocean activities. Families will enjoy staying in the lovely new Mantadia Lodge in Andasibe and the dreamy Princesse Bora resort.

Book it: Stubborn Mule (01728 752751; stubbornmuletravel.com) offers a two-week itinerary from £14,500 for a family of four, staying at Mantadia Lodge and Princesse Bora. Includes international flights.

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Botswana

Named after the rare aquatic antelope you can see in the area, Sitatunga Private Island Camp opened in July 2023 in the upper reaches of the Botswana’s Okavango Delta and is heaven for birders. It’s also an excellent base from which to view elephants, crocodiles and hippos.

Botswana in Africa
Botswana’s Okavango Delta is an excellent base from which to view elephants - Digital Vision/Getty

Almost entirely surrounded by water, the camp is the brainchild of Dereck Joubert, the CEO of Great Plains Conservation, which funds the protection and restoration of threatened environments in Botswana, Kenya and Zimbabwe through low-volume, low-impact tourism. It is made entirely of recycled materials, with private decks made from recycled railway sleepers. There are just three stilted suites (one with two bedrooms), so there will never be more than eight guests on site, making it perfect for a small group of friends or a multi-generational group. Days combine game drives, boat safaris, mokoro (dugout canoe) excursions, guided walks, fishing and scenic helicopter rides. It’s the ultimate fully-immersive, slow safari experience.

Book it: Natural World Safaris (01273 691642; naturalworldsafaris.com) offers a seven-day all-inclusive tailor made journey to Botswana including three nights at Sitatunga Private Island Camp from £13,000pp. Excludes international flights.

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Namibia

Huddled below a terracotta red escarpment in the otherworldly sand dunes of Namibia’s north-west corner, Okahirongo Elephant Lodge in the Purros conservancy is one of the country’s most remote camps. An exquisite revamp of an existing property, relaunched last April by Abercrombie and Kent’s Sanctuary Retreats, it is now powered by solar energy, with the swimming pool filled by water pumped from a borehole.

Okahirongo Elephant Lodge, Namibia
Okahirongo Elephant Lodge is one of Namibia's most remote camps

The lodge, which has a white domed central area, has seven self-contained low-rise suites and one two-bedroom family suite, all stylishly furnished in serene, calming tones. Most of the staff are local Himba tribespeople, including the expert guides that lead morning treks and afternoon game drives, during which you should be lucky enough to see prized desert elephants, lions, giraffes, mountain zebras and antelope.

Book it: Abercrombie & Kent (03301 734 712; abercrombiekent.co.uk) offers a five-night, all-inclusive trip to Elephant Okahirongo Lodge from £8,450pp including international economy flights.

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Zambia

Safari holidays can so often be about rushing from one camp or lodge to the next that it’s refreshing to find a 10-day small group wildlife safari in South Luangwa National Park. Spend seven nights at Chikunto Safari Lodge, an exclusive, intimate bush camp, overlooking the Luangwa River, which provides a year-round water source and abundant game.

Chikunto Lodge, Africa
Chikunto Safari Lodge is an exclusive, intimate bush camp overlooking the Luangwa River

The park lies in the south-eastern corner of the country and is home to many of the classic large African mammals including Thornicroft’s giraffe and big herds of elephants, lions, wild dogs and one of the largest populations of leopards on the continent. With one base for the whole trip and no more than 10 people per group, you can really immerse yourself in the setting and get to know your fellow travellers, with plenty to see and do, without the stress of having to pack and re-pack at each new place.

Book it: Naturetrek (01962 733051; naturetrek.co.uk) offers a 10-day trip, including international economy flights, from £6,695pp.

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Kenya

Recently opened, the intimate Angama Amboseli is set in the heart of the wildlife-rich 5,700-acre private Kimana Sanctuary, the country’s first community-owned conservancy. It has been built in partnership with registered charity, Big Life Foundation, which supports conservation programmes in East Africa.

Angama Amboseli
Angama Amboseli has 10 tented suites designed in a contemporary African style

The lodge, which looks across to snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, has 10 tented suites designed in a contemporary African style, including two sets of interconnecting family units. All have screen doors leading out to a private deck with a lounge area, outdoor shower and rocking chair. A highlight is the raised infinity swimming pool overlooking an elephant drinking trough. The lodge also has exclusive traversing rights and unrestricted game viewing meaning gently-paced game drives serve up sightings of lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, giraffes and more.

Book it: Journeysmiths (01604 628979; journeysmiths.co.uk) offers a four-night stay at Angama Amboseli, including light aircraft flights within Kenya and international economy flights, from £5,650pp.

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Tanzania

Conservation safari specialist Wilderness’s first foray into Tanzania saw the intimate mobile Wilderness Usawa Serengeti open in July 2023 in the Serengeti National Park, making it one of the best ways to experience the Great Migration. Sleeping up to 12 in six en-suite solar-powered safari tents, this is a stripped-back version of the usual Wilderness camp and entirely off grid. It moves with the herds to nine different locations as the animals (primarily wildebeest and zebra) travel the length and breadth of the national park en masse.

Great Wildebeest Migration in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
A safari in the Serengeti National Park is one of the best ways to experience the Great Migration - Alamy

While it may be stripped-back, there’s not much skimping going on, with tents promising crisp white linens, king sized beds and well-stocked mini bars. The camp itself is furnished with local artwork and artisan blankets, baskets and beaded chandeliers. Each is located within the Serengeti’s designated walking zones, allowing guided walks directly from camp. There are also game drives, birding and star-gazing sessions on offer.

Book it: Wilderness Destinations (wildernessdestinations.com) offers a six-night trip to Tanzania, including four nights at Wilderness Usawa Serengeti and two nights at Entamanu Ngorongoro from £7,115pp. Includes international economy flights, internal flights and transfers, accommodation on a fully-inclusive basis and scheduled camp activities.

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Zimbabwe

Another special offering from Great Plains Conservation is the relatively new Young Explorer’s programme, which will feature in all three countries where they have camps. The initiative combines immersive, educational and fun-filled activities for young safari guests aged six to 15 as well as the children of the local community and is part of Great Plains’ ongoing commitment to nurture the conservationist-explorers of tomorrow.

Great Plains Tembo Plains Camp
Tembo Plains Camp is tucked away into a thick riverine forest on the edge of the Zambezi River - Andrew Howard Photo

In Zimbabwe, young explorers and their families will stay at Tembo Plains Camp, which is tucked away into a thick riverine forest on the edge of the Zambezi River and has a spacious two-bedroom family suite. Upon arriving at camp, each child will receive a young explorer’s pack and diary. Activities will be tailored to the ages of the children and include guided bushwalks, canoeing down the Zambezi, bush cricket and more. Back at camp, there are manicures and pedicures, traditional bracelet making, mocktails and movie nights.

Book it: Mahlatini Luxury Travel (028 9073 6050; mahlatini.com) offers a five-night Great Plains Young Explorers Safari including three nights at Tembo Plains and two nights at Mpala Jena for a family of four from £27,000 (£6,800pp). Includes international and internal flights, transfers, and five nights on an all-inclusive basis with all daily camp activities, private safari vehicle at Tembo Plains, meals and drinks.

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Mozambique

Natural World Safaris has announced it will run a specialist-led safari to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique this year (September 2-9). Part of the tour operator’s Expeditions for Change programme, it will take guests into the park to see firsthand how it has recovered from the devastation of the country’s civil war and the important role conservation tourism has played.

Sunset over the National Park Gorongosa in the center of Mozambique
There's much to discover in Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park - Getty/iStock

The park has a remarkable number of different ecosystems and the itinerary will take in three different locations with accommodation including Bedouin-style tented rooms at Muzimu Lodge. It will also give guests a behind-the-scenes look at some of the key restoration projects, including the Wildlife Vets, Carnivore and Wild Dog Project, the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Laboratory and the Gorongosa Pangolin Project. Joining the trip is a great way to see how successful conservation and biodiversity restoration can be, while also getting the chance to see elephants, buffalo, zebras and waterbuck – all of which were almost wiped out.

Book it: Natural World Safaris (01273 691642; naturalworldsafaris.com) offers the seven-night Wildlife and Wilderness safari to Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique (September 2-9 2024) from £9,930pp. Includes all accommodation, meals and house drinks, internal flights, transfers, landing fees, safari activities and park fees. Excludes international flights.

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