What to Expect at Upscale Safari Camps
Imagining an African safari evokes images of canvas tents and drinking from canteens around an open fire. Very romantic, but also a bit intimidating for those used to upscale travel. In reality, modern safaris are far more civilized. In fact, the safaris we’ve enjoyed would rank as the most luxurious trips we’ve ever taken. In a high-end safari camp you will be spoiled with extraordinary service, food, and accommodations.
TravelingTulls was not compensated for any part of this post. Our stays at the properties reviewed were at our own expense. Our views are our own. Read our DISCLOSURE for more information.
Our guide to the 10 best safari camps in Africa
We have enjoyed two photographic African safaris and have stayed at six very different luxury safari camps. And though they were all sumptuous, the level of comfort does vary depending on the type of camp.
- luxury lodges- permanent, fully enclosed buildings with every comfort supplied
- rustic lodging – simpler in style, these are often on stilts with raised walkways to access other areas of camp.
- tented camps – canvas tents, but with surprising luxury
Below you’ll find descriptions of the most common types of safari camps, and our picks of the best of the best.
We have chosen these 10 exceptional game lodges based on our experience, friends’ experience, and reputation. We haven’t stayed at all of these, but where we have, our impressions are included in the description.
Luxury Safari Lodges: 5 star accommodations
Starting at the top. The most comfortable option for your safari is a luxury safari lodge. These are permanent structures with all the comforts you’d find in an upscale hotel – lavish bathrooms, air-conditioning, door locks, and lots of spots to store your clothing and gear.
The lodges we’ve stayed in are laid out as separate buildings, thus giving you privacy and a sense of being at home. (Note: there are safari lodges that are multi-unit buildings.These might appeal to you if you are nervous about walking between buildings at night, even accompanied by a guide as is required at all camps.)
Londolozi Private Game Reserve, South Africa
✔ visited 2014 | *Travel & Leisure Safari Lodges: World’s Best
Londolozi is one of the longest operating safari reserves in South Africa. It is known for its exemplary service, its commitment to the environment, and its leopards. You are almost guaranteed seeing at least one leopard when you visit Londolozi. (we saw three!) In addition to the twice daily game drives with a guide and tracker, Londolozi offers photography workshops, tours of their staff village, yoga sessions, and a wellness center.
There are five camps in the Londolozi community. We stayed at the Varty Camp, one of the less expensive camps, and enjoyed a large room with a well-appointed bathroom, an extensive deck and plunge pool. All the suites overlook the Sand River.
The public areas of Londolozi are lovely. Each camp feature a large building on the river for meals and socializing. There is a well stocked gift shop and a nice pool area.
🌿 Sustainability practices at Londolozi–
- Londolozi is the founding donor of the Good Work Foundation – delivers world class digital learning opportunities in villages near the reserve.
- Operates the Tracker Academy- young people from the region are trained in the art of wildlife tracking, giving them career opportunities.
What sets Londolozi apart? The property is gorgeous, the food extraordinary, and the history of the camp fascinating. In our experience, the guides at Londolozi were the best we’ve encountered. The benefit of having a designated tracker was that the guides can focus on the guests interests.
Any downside with staying at Londolozi? The price…
Read more about our experience at Londolozi: A Day on Safari at Londolozi
Mfuwe Lodge, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
*Travel & Leisure Safari Lodges: World’s Best
National Geographic lists Mfuwe Lodge is listed as one of the Unique Lodges of the World. It consists of eighteen air-conditioned chalets, each set for ideal viewing of the wildlife that gather around two lagoons. The camp, a part of the Bushcamp company, also offers a pool and a enticing spa.
Walking safaris in the South Luangwa National Park are an option as a different way to enjoy the environment, though the twice daily game drives are the usual means of exploration.
What sets Mfuwe Lodge apart? In November the lodge ‘hosts’ a large group of elephants who walk calmly through reception to feast on the wild mangos within the grounds. This is a sight we would love to see!!
Sanctuary Olonana, Masai Mara, Kenya
✔ visited 2019
Sanctuary Olonana is the original Sanctuary Retreats safari lodge but, with a recent renovation, the most luxurious of all the Sanctuary Retreats we’ve visited.
Olonana sits on a branch of the Mara River. There are fourteen suites each with full windows overlooking the river. We were literally left speechless when we entered our suite. The view, the sunken living area, the modern bathroom with an extraordinary triple rain shower – all surrounded by glass and a wrap around porch. I could have moved in!
The public rooms are similarly beautiful. All open to the river, there is a lounge, library, dining area, outdoor bar, and firepit. There was also a pool and play area for children.
The camp is about 30 minutes outside of the entrance to the Masai Mara National Park, and shares the area with many Masai villages. Visits to the villages are welcome if you have time and interest. We did, and highly recommend it.
Not surprisingly, the food was of gourmet quality. Fresh and beautifully presented.
🌿 Sustainability practices at Olonana-
- All guests given reusable water bottles upon check-in
- Founded the Safe Water for Schools Initiative
- More recently, Sanctuary Olonana has provided emergency food relief during Covid-19
What sets Olonana apart? Everything! The camp is the definition of luxury. Beauty, comfort, simplicity and service. We loved the staff, our guide Anthony, and of course, our beautiful room.
Any downside to staying at Sanctuary Olonana? Nope! As stated above, it’s a bit of a ride to the park gates, but the drive is lovely.
Suites on Stilts
This is probably the most common type of luxury safari camp, especially in Southern Africa. It consists of a string of cabins along a raised walkway. The structures are simpler than the lodge-type camps, but still offer an enclosed, luxurious accommodation. Bathrooms are simpler, often separated from the sleeping area with a divider, though there’s often a lovely big soaking tub situated to look over the scenery.
Our photos and experiences of the two Sanctuary camps below are from a 2014 trip. Since that time both camps have been updated. Read more about this incredible adventure:
What to Expect on an African Safari: a First Timer’s Experience.
Bisate Lodge, Virunga Mountains, Rwanda
**Conde Nast Gold List 2020
Travelers in search of the Mountain Gorilla head to Rwanda. And in Rwanda, one of the most unique lodges is Bisate, a property of Wilderness Safaris. We can’t beat the description from Conde Nast: “Arranged like giant birds’ nests around the natural amphitheater of an eroded volcanic cone, its six thatched pods are inspired by the former royal palace in the southern city of Nyanza.”
What sets Bisate Lodge apart? This camp blends seamlessly into the mountainous region adjacent to Volcanoes National Park. This is the place to go if you’re looking for a luxury gorilla trekking experience.
Mombo Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana
*Conde Nast Gold List 2020
Not exactly rustic, Mombo Camp is one of Wilderness Safari’s top camps. The Mombo concession, on Chiefs Island in the Moremi Game Reserve, includes the signature Mombo Camp, as well as Little Mombo.
Nine suites at Mombo, and three more at Little Mombo, overlook the delta with terraces for watching the incredible birdlife of the area. Each suite includes a sitting area, bedroom, bath, inside and outside showers.
What sets Mombo Camp apart? Conservation is paramount at Mombo Camp, with the reintroduction of black and white rhinos into Botswana a point of pride. An evening presentation into this work is a must-see.
Sanctuary Baines, Okavango Delta, Botswana
✔ visited 2014
Arrival at Sanctuary Baines is by boat. As you approach the camp through the lush delta you will hear the camp chorus singing welcoming songs. This is the magic of Baines. One of Sanctuary Retreat’s smallest camps, Baines is located on a private concession bordering the famed Moremi Game Reserve.
The six suites are lovely, peaceful and serene (unless an elephant stops by your room as one did on our visit). There is a king size bed, plenty of storage, and a full bath. The staff was great, always smiling and making sure we had a small carafe of sherry in our room every night.
Food is excellent. We greatly enjoyed the camp barbecue on our last night where we sampled impala and crocodile, before gathering around the fire to hear stories from our incredible guides.
🌿 Sustainability practices at Sanctuary Baines
- Common area lodge is constructed of commercially grown wood with aluminum cans as insulation.
- Rated as a camp with low environment impact
What sets Baines apart? The scenery. The delta is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The thick vegetation makes wildlife viewing more difficult but despite that, we saw some incredible animals and beautiful birds. We would love to go back there someday to concentrate on the bird life.
Oh yes! And in no other camp have we enjoyed star baths. Coming home from a game drive to find bubble baths on our porch was a truly magical experience!
Any downside to staying at Sanctuary Baines? Not for us, and if there were, the camp has been recently updated so any drawbacks are likely gone!
Read more: Okavango Delta Safari
Sanctuary Sussi and Chuma, Zambia
✔ visited 2014
We chose Sussi & Chuma for its proximity to Victoria Falls. We wanted to be able to visit the falls but get away from the tourists. This camp was ideal for our needs.
Sussi & Chuma sits on the Zambezi River. There are 12 stand alone suites and 2 larger family sized suites.The rooms were similar to Baines – kind sized bed, big porch and a bath area.
As this is a bigger safari lodge, there were larger public areas. A lovely dining patio and full bar offered great views of the area, but the prettiest spot was the overwater deck where we gathered for sundowners and chat. Just beautiful! Food was excellent and the staff, beyond excellent!
Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma borders the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, where you can enjoy a morning game drive. But the evening boat excursions are a greater draw. We loved seeing elephants gathered at the side of the river, and we felt quite spoiled when the large tourist boats passed us in our private craft.
🌿 Sustainability practices at Sussi and Chuma
- Visitors can support the Nakatindi village school (listed with Pack for a Purpose when we visited in 2014) and the Chipego bike shop.
What sets Sussi & Chuma apart? The staff. Loved being on the river, but it was definitely the staff that make Sussi & Chuma unique. Their kindness, enthusiasm, and knowledge made us feel at home the moment we arrived. Tears came to my eyes when we had to say good bye.
Any downside to staying at Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma? The location of this camp is ideal for visiting Victoria Falls and enjoying the Zambezi river, but the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, with no predators, isn’t as exciting as many game parks.
Luxury Tented Camps
Despite how much we loved our safari in 2014, we were a bit hesitant about booking tented camps. We were concerned about safety and comfort. We needn’t have worried. A luxury tented camp is a world away from the camping scenerio we anticipated.
The exterior was indeed canvas but, once inside every comfort was supplied. The primary difference in the tented camps is the bathroom set-up. There is a curtain separating the bath from sleeping area. It is more primitive, but functional.
After dinner at these camps, Maasai guides escort you back to your tent, and zip an extra security flap closed once you’ve settled inside. You are safe inside your tent, though you’ll hear more of the outdoor activity than you would in the permanent structures.
Jack’s Camp, Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, Botswana
Jack’s Camp, an &Beyond property, is one of the most iconic safari destinations in Africa. Renowned for its service, history, and adorable meerkat interactions. There are ten luxurious tents with ensuite baths, and a lovely public area.
Situated on the Kalahari, Jack’s Camp offers a unique adventure activity- quad biking over the Makgadikgadi Pan!
What sets Jack’s Camp apart? A highlight of any visit to Jack’s Camp is the opportunity to meet some of the Zu/’hoasi Bushmen who live on the pans.
Sanctuary Kichakani, Serengeti Migration Camp, Tanzania
✔ visited 2019
Kichakani was the first luxury tented camp we’d ever stayed in. It is a migratory camp in the Serengeti, meaning it is not permanently situated in one spot but moves as the animals migrate. When we visited (at the height of the Great Migration) the camp was in the Northern Serengeti.
Our tent was beautiful and quite secure. We had an over-sized king size bed, with lovely crisp linens. A curtain divided the bath area from the main room. There was plenty of storage, a safe, a (seemingly) modern toilet and sink.
The most unusual difference between this camp and others we’d visited was the ‘talking’ shower. When you’re ready to shower your room steward fills a bucket on the outside of your tent. He lets you know when he’s ready, you step inside the shower, pull a cord and the shower begins. The steward inquires on whether the temperature is OK, all while you’re showering. Unusual the first time, but no problem after that.
The public rooms were large and welcoming, though we were so busy on game drives that we spent little time there. Meals were served buffet style with attentive waiters, and good food.
Staff was extraordinary. Right up there with Sussi & Chuma. I wasn’t feeling well during our stay and the manager was incredibly kind and attentive.
What sets Kichikani apart? The location. Being right in the Serengeti meant we didn’t have to travel far for activity. Wildebeest walked through the camp each night and lions could be heard in the distance. Not great for sleeping, but amazing for animal lovers!
Any downside to staying at Sanctuary Kichakani? Nothing we’d call a downside, but the nature of a migratory camp means that the kitchen facilities were more basic than at permanent camps. Despite that, a delightful soup course started every dinner. Yum!
The Highlands, Ngorongoro National Park, Tanzania
*Travel & Leisure Safari Lodges: World’s Best
A unique take on a tented camp, this Asilia property consists of eight canvas and glass domed suites. The Highlands is perched right on the edge of the caldera, giving every suite a spectacular view of the park. When the weather gets chilly, there’s a wood burning stove in each suite.
The Ngorongoro Crater (actually a caldera…) is definitely worth a visit. The park has a wide range of ecosystems and is packed with wildlife. Because of the popularity of the park, most game drives start early and include a packed lunch.
What sets the Highlands apart? The architecture! And the commitment to the environment. The property includes a full solar power plant. The food served is sourced locally with supply runs only once a month to reduce carbon emissions.
What you can expect staying at any luxury safari camp
Some things are consistent in all the properties. All of the camps..
- are clean and beautifully decorated.
- include twice daily (or all day) game drives
- offer basic wines and beers as part of the package.
- include laundry service.
- encourage tipping (and the staff deserve it!)
Choosing the best African safari camp for you
By selecting your desired location for safari, you will find varying options for accommodations. We wouldn’t advice you allowing your choice of camps to dictate your trip. (though we did design our first safari around Londolozi and don’t regret it!) Some incredible locations don’t offer the luxury lodges. Don’t let that dissuade you!
Several of the properties listed above are out of our financial comfort zone. For those of you like us, we suggest you design your itinerary with a splurge at the most lavish safari lodge at the end of your trip. It’ll be especially nice to be pampered after a week or two of ‘glamping’…
If given a choice of camps, be honest about your budget, the experience you desire, and your ability to handle less than western style accommodations. We loved every one of the camps we visited, but met some travelers who wouldn’t have enjoyed the tented camps. And we met others who would have been disappointed in the pristine suites of Sanctuary Olonana, having been anticipating a more bush experience.
What camp was our favorite? What type of luxury safari accommodation did we prefer? Where would we go next?
Impossible questions! We have wonderful memories of each of these luxury safari lodges. We’d recommend any of these to someone looking for the best safari lodges in Africa!
If forced to pick a spot for a return visit, and considering nature is our top travel motivator, we’d be easily convinced to revisit the Okavango… and the Masai Mara… and Londolozi is always a good choice… But maybe it’s time to try someplace else! As elephant lovers, a trip to Mfuwe Lodge is tempting…
For more information on the lodges listed above visit-