Over the last couple of decades, the concept of going on safari has undergone a revolution. Gone are the days of sleeping rough under tarpaulin, and now many of the finest names in luxury hospitality have opened lodges around the world – providing safaris but in extremely comfortable surroundings.
Without exception, the lodges are sympathetic to their environments and are a source of great income in the protection of wildlife and the local economy. Appreciating animals, land or water-based, in their natural habitat is truly remarkable. Safari is one of the greatest experiences in travel – it stimulates all the senses like no other.
The BusinessClass.com guide to the finest modern safari experiences in the world:
Royal Malewane, Thornybush Private Nature Reserve – South Africa - 10/10
When it opened in 1999, the Royal Malewane attracted immediate international critical acclaim. It had brought a new level of true luxury to the safari experience in the fence-free Kruger National Park. The accommodation, the cuisine, the service and most importantly the safari experience is in a class of its own. It is a 45-minute road journey from Hoedspruit Airport – although the lodge boasts its own airstrip for small charter aircraft.
In the Main Lodge, there are 6 suites, two Royal Villas with 2 bedrooms and Africa House, a villa which has six bedrooms. A dozen minutes from the Main Lodge is The Farmstead at Royal Malewane which has another 3 suites and The Farmhouse – a 3-bedroom villa. Each suite/villa has a swimming/plunge pool, four-poster beds, air conditioning, and every facility & amenity that you would expect from a top city hotel. There is one main restaurant in the property where guests partake breakfast, lunch and dinner cooked with only the finest ingredients, created by superb chefs. The property offers treatments at The Waters of Royal Malewane Bush Spa.
The Royal Malewane boasts three of only seven Master Trackers in the world. Along expert guides, every game drive is magical. Of course, you will – hopefully – get to see lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, leopard … but one must not forget the hyena, wild-dog, zebra, giraffe … over five hundred species of birds, crocodiles, dung beetles … the list is endless. Additionally, the experience changes by the season so expect to revisit at another time of year. The spectacular Drakensberg Mountains are ever present and hot air balloon trips can be arranged and a visit to the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre is a must. The service at the Royal Malewane is flawless and the property is truly one of Africa’s great safari experiences.
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Sonora Resort – Canada - 10/10
This island eco-resort is one of the finest in the world. Located in British Columbia – on the west coast of Canada – Sonora Island is a 50-minute scenic flight by seaplane or helicopter from Vancouver in a north-westerly direction. From the moment of arrival to the sad moment of departure, guests are swaddled in love, attention, incredible views, sumptuous dining, comfortable accommodation, and amazing excursions – all leading to a truly luxurious Canadian safari experience. The resort offers just 88 bedrooms – all beautifully appointed. There are of course, suites and private villas available for families and those looking for privacy.
Facilities in the resort include a 9-hole putting course, rooftop hot tubs, mineral pools, movie theatre, saunas, fitness centre, and an outdoor heated swimming pool which is particularly inviting in the chilly winter months. The resort is understandably proud of its culinary experiences – with the Tyee Dining Room being the focus. The meals served here from an easy breakfast to a tasting-menu at dinner are delightful – using as much local produce as possible especially from the waters surrounding the resort. The Island Currents Spa is a peaceful and calming space for massages, facials and other beauty and relaxing treatments.
The waters and islands surrounding Sonora offer some of the finest safari experiences in the world. The resort organises trips by boat, kayak or even helicopter to see: the grizzly – North American brown - bear and black bears, bald eagles, killer whales - orcas, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Dall’s porpoises, minke whales, humpback whales, Steller sealions, and seals – to name a few characters! All excursions are accompanied by the very best and knowledgeable guides. As with all safaris, a good camera and binoculars are a necessity. If this is not enough, guests can enjoy a jolly good hike on a Phillips River Tour – hopefully to spot cougars and wolves. Sonora has something to offer anyone who loves nature & adventure and indeed for those who just want to relax, recharge, and watch the beauty of nature pass them by.
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One Nature Nyaruswiga, Tanzania - 9.5/10
For the very best of safari adventures, where better to head for than Tanzania and the Serengeti National Park, home to the Great Migration and nature at its wildest? Centrally situated at the heart of the Serengeti, you will find the 32 square kilometre boutique safari camp of One Nature Nyaruswiga, offering just 14 tented suites of cossetted indulgence – 12 luxury and two luxury family – and featuring unobstructed views over the Nyaruswiga plains for as far as the eye can see.
With sustainability at its core, One Nature Nyaruswiga has been designed to offer the utmost in modern luxury whilst using only eco-friendly materials and hardwoods, treading lightly on the planet whilst offering that quintessential safari experience. As well as the accommodation, there is a Main Guest Lounge & Bar to greet new arrivals and for relaxation; a Dining Area serving gastronomic menus to perfection with a blend of African and international favourites; a split-level infinity pool and Jacuzzi with poolside bar overlooking the tundra; an Astral Observation Deck for enjoying those clear night-time skies and a Trading Post for souvenirs and basic items. Outdoor games such as badminton, horseshoe, molkky and bocce can be arranged should the inclination take hold. The camp even offers relaxing spa treatments undertaken within the privacy of your own tent. Families are welcome here too with mini adventurers from the age of two joining the Oneder Kids Programme designed to instil a lifetime’s love of nature.
For activities, it is all about going on safari and being as close to untouched Africa as you can be, from catching glimpses of ungulates, wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, lion, leopard, cheetah, and elephants to interacting with the welcoming Maasai locals. Photo safaris are very popular and all the camp’s safari vehicles are primed for amateur and professional photographers alike.
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Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti – Tanzania - 8.5/10
The Four Seasons is in the elite group of the world’s top luxury hospitality providers. However, eyebrows were raised in 2012 when it was announced that the Four Seasons would be managing a safari lodge in Africa. However, a decade later and the Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti has proved a huge success. There are 77 rooms – including 12 suites and 5 villas – on property. There are four restaurants and bars – from Kula’s that serves African-inspired and international dishes to the Sundowner Bar – an ideal place to quaff Champagne while reminiscing over the days visual experiences. The Serengeti Kani Spa – complete with six treatment rooms – offers locally-inspired massages and facials.
The Serengeti National Park - in northern Tanzania - is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to The Greatest Show on Earth – the migration. Every year around two million animals – mainly wildebeest, zebra, and Thompson gazelle migrate through the Serengeti in search of food. It is a truly magnificent, frequently unbelievable experience. The sheer number of animals on the move is breath-taking and the Four Seasons ensures that you can be part of it either on foot or watching it from a 4x4. Although the weather is the main factor behind the Great Migration – generally between January and March, the herds converge on the southern plains, and in February, the wildebeest start calving.
In April and May, the herds start their mass migration towards the northwest and central Serengeti in search of new food. The wildebeest mating season also starts. June to August, dense masses of wildebeest prepare to cross the Grumeti River as the migration heads to the very north of the Park. September and October are the driest months in the Serengeti and herds must cross the Mara River to reach Kenya’s Masai Mara, where water is available, and more food. In November and December, the herds start to reform and head back southwards into the Serengeti. Of course, along the way, predators including lions, cheetah and crocodiles are ever-present looking for meals of their own. The Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti ensures that their guests see the best of the migration, while enjoying the finest service and facilities when they return to their luxury accommodation.
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Saruni Mara – Kenya – 9/10
The Great Migration spectacle moves from Tanzania to Kenya in early Autumn and it is here where we head next. Saruni – which translates as sanctuary in Maasai – is located in the Mara North Conservancy. There are only 11 bijou camps in this 74,000-acre wilderness – and Saruni Mara is the smallest, permanent lodge. It has just five cottages and two villas – a total of just 18 guests can be accommodated at one time.
It is a 5-hour drive from Nairobi but only 50 minutes from local airstrips. Saruni employs mainly from the Maasai people who have lived in Kenya and Tanzania for centuries. The staff is cultured, polite, conscientious, knowledgeable, fiercely brave, and incredibly humorous – which makes any stay at Saruni a delight.
The Warriors Academy is a unique experience in which the Maasai teach guests the basics of tracking and survival skills. The camp offers guided bush walks, trips to Kilileoni, the highest mountain in the Serengeti-Masai Mara ecosystem, hot air balloon rides and of course, day and night game drives. The Great Migration aside – the drives are superb. Of course, you get to see the Big Five but with so few vehicles allowed in the Mara North Conservancy, guests feel like they are the only ones in this vast expanse of land. Being of Italian heritage, Saruni Mara loves to see its guests fed well and the cuisine is superb. One of the most incredible aspects of a Saruni safari occurs at night when the sky lights up with millions & millions of stars and planets.
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Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp – Uganda – 9/10
There are few animal encounters in the world greater than coming face to face with a gorilla in the wild and the Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp in Uganda offers this opportunity. It is a 3-hour flight and drive from Entebbe to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The lodge is the only one that offers accommodation actually inside the national park. There are just 8 fixed tents available but each with deep soak bathtubs complete with amazing views of the Forest.
Every few days, a troop of gorillas wanders through the camp – what a remarkable experience it would be to witness that. The lodge offers a host of excursions. The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest boasts 350 kinds of birds – and Uganda hosts half the entire species of birds in the whole of the continent. A guide will take you on a 3-hour trip around this UNESCO World Heritage Site to spot the likes of the African Green Broadbill and Shelley’s Crimsonwing. The Munyaga and Buhoma Waterfalls on this tour are spectacular. The endangered Batwa pygmy tribe have been the keepers of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest for generations. It is a hike from the Camp to the Batwa village where guests can see how they live. Inherently hunter-gatherers, the Batwa is a very hospitable race which will share traditional meals – some banana beer - and stories of the Forest.
Finally, the gorilla trekking. Around half the world’s gorillas live in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. It is easier to trek gorillas during the dry season – June to August – but a certain level of fitness is required on any such expedition. With guides and trackers, guests are taken through amazing rainforest in search of the silverback. If you are lucky enough to come across the gorillas, you are taken to within six metres of these amazing creatures. You then can spend an hour in their company before the trek home begins. There are three hundred gorillas in the park so the chances of meeting some are high. Back at the Camp, welcome foot massages are on offer in the Spa to those who have trekked for the silverbacks.
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The Oberoi Vanyavilas, Ranthambore National Park – India – 9/10
For too many years the Royal Bengal Tiger was mercilessly hunted until their numbers dwindled to extinction levels. Thankfully, hunters have been replaced by naturalists and conservationists and now the tiger population is slowly increasing. Along with the tiger, India is famous for her elephants, leopard, rhinoceros, crocodile, dhole – wild dog and Asiatic lion – although this species can only be found in Gujarat State. Ranthambore is the most famous of India’s tiger sanctuaries – and its National Park – at 392 square kilometres - is home to around 80 of these majestic big cats.
The Oberoi Vanyavilas Wildlife Resort, Ranthambore – in the state of Rajasthan - is one of the finest lodges in India. Its service and facilities are of the highest quality. It is a tiring seven-hour drive from New Delhi, a three-and-a-half drive from Jaipur Airport but just 15 minutes from Sawai Train Station. There are just twenty-five luxury fixed Swiss tents – over 100 square metres in area on this 20-acre secluded compound just 10 minutes-drive from the Park entrance. The Oberoi Spa offers a plethora of treatments from massages to facials. Most meals are consumed in The Dining Room which offers dishes from Rajasthan as well as international fare. The Bar is an atmospheric room where a cocktail, mocktail or stiff whisky can be enjoyed. The lodge has built a 16 metre (52 feet) Observation Tower – an ideal location for a sundowner or to take in the magnificence of the area.
The Oberoi Vanyavilas Wildlife Resort, Ranthambore offers its guests a range of activities from private yoga lessons, cooking classes, out of the restaurant dining experiences, stargazing sessions, trips to Ranthambore Fort – complete with its 13th century Ganesh Temple and birdwatching excursions. The Chambal River safari trip introduces guests to the Gharial crocodiles – which can grow to an incredible 6 metres in length. However, the tiger safaris are the lodge’s main draw. Four guests go out on specially adapted 4x4s into the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Ranthambore National Park - in search of the Royal Bengal Tiger. Your guide and tracker will not promise that you will see one immediately … but when you do, your life will change forever.
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One&Only Nyungwe House – Rwanda – 9/10
Nyungwe House joined the One&Only family in 2017. While its Rwandan sister property Gorilla’s Nest revolves around the larger primate, Nyungwe centres on chimpanzees and many species of monkey. The lodge which features just 22 suites sits within the working tea plantations of Gisakura. It is a 3.5-hour drive from Kigali to Nyungwe Forest National Park followed by a further amazing and scenic 90-minutes to the property itself. The nearby regional Kamembe Airport is a short drive away and those feeling flush can fly in by helicopter.
The Forest itself is around 1,000 square kilometres in area – making it the largest mountain rainforest in Africa. Twenty percent of all apes on this vast continent – 13 species - are living in this Forest. Additionally, there are 200 species of trees, 275 recorded bird species, butterflies, moths, and a plethora of other creepy-crawlies.
Being a One&Only property, guests can expect only the finest cuisine, in-room facilities and the Spa is a scenic & superb space for rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. The Spa would be particularly welcome after the trekking which can be arduous. Some of the country’s top guides skilfully lead guests through the rainforest – over the only Canopy Walk in East Africa – 60 metres off the ground – into the deep undergrowth where the delightful chimpanzees and Mangabey and Colobus monkeys play. Another activity that should not be overlooked is a turn in the tea plantation itself, picking leaves and learning about the history of tea production in Rwanda. You never know, a chimpanzee could come and help you out!
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Pikaia Lodge, Galápagos Islands – Ecuador - 9/10
The Last Paradise on Earth – The Galápagos Islands are located 1,000 kilometres east of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, straddling the equator. The Pikaia Lodge can be found on the island of Santa Cruz - at the centre of the Galápagos archipelago - and is internationally recognised for its sustainability and comfort. The Galápagos – and its surrounds - is the world’s second largest protected marine reserve – behind the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The Galápagos marine reserve is a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site and one of the seven Underwater Wonders of the World.
The lodge itself features just 12 bedrooms and 2 suites. It is perched on the lip of a volcanic crater, 450 metres above sea level. The 31-acre compound boasts its own wild giant tortoise reserve. The lodge was built to the strictest environmental regulations and is carbon neutral. The Evolution Restaurant serves delicious meals all day and the Homo Sapiens Explorers Lounge – which seats 24 guests – is a multimedia conference centre. The Sumaq Spa offers guests treatments while the lodge’s infinity pool owns some of the greatest views on Earth.
Also nicknamed the Enchanted Islands, Galápagos has adopted the model of land-based tourism which encourages visitors to stick to the attractions on and around the islands – venturing into the ocean only to dive, swim, or snorkel. The numbers wishing to visit the Galápagos outstrips the number allowed by a huge margin. The flora and fauna that make up the Galápagos are worth the visit. To name just a few species that the Lodge can arrange for you to see on an eco-adventure safari: Galápagos blue butterfly, green hawk moth, the introduced little fire ant, scalloped hammerhead shark, whale shark, Darwin’s finches, Nazca booby, Galápagos tortoise, green sea turtle, hoary bat, Galápagos sea lion, Galápagos fur seal and marine iguana. The Galápagos is a truly unique experience and the Pikaia Lodge is the only address to have.
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Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge – Botswana - 9/10
The word safari comes from Swahili – translating as overland journey to hunt. Thankfully, those going on a modern safari shoot with nothing more offensive than a camera! Located in the Chobe National Park, the Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge is a 45-minute flight from Maun Airport. Savute offers just 12 luxury fixed tents that are 55 square metres in area. The whole Lodge runs off solar power. All tents feature private decks, delightful ensuite bathrooms with outdoor showers, four poster beds, air conditioning, and amazing views over the African bush.
The wildlife viewing hide overlooks a waterhole and from here guests can spy on the elephants, cheetah, antelope, hyenas, giraffe, and zebra that swing by for a drink. The hide is best accessed at sunrise and sunset. The Lodge offers a swimming pool, a Spa – a tent in the bush - that uses South African brand TheraNaka and a television lounge/library. Meals are served in the Dining Tent, the Boma – a traditional outdoor grill or on the game drives.
Stargazing and San Bushman paintings – which date back 1,500 years aside - what makes Savute very special are the daily game drives. The early morning and afternoon drives are an incredible experience especially if you love elephants as Africa’s largest pachyderm population is at your door. Of course, you may also encounter lions, hyena, cheetah, zebra … Savute, the ultimate Bots luxury safari experience.
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Wild Coast Tented Lodge – Sri Lanka – 8/10
Sri Lanka may not sound like an obvious safari location but the Yala National Park boasts the highest leopard concentration in the world. Located on the southern tip of the island and on an Indian Ocean beach sits the Wild Coast Tented Lodge. The lodge is made up of 28 luxury tents that collectively form the shape of a leopard paw print.
The accommodations themselves are quite unique – and are designed as pods that are reminiscent of airships. Four of these Cocoon pods come with their own plunge pools, 8 are part of the family cluster, while 16 are set around watering holes that attract birds and amphibians. The lodge prides itself on its cuisine which is served in the Dining Pavilion. Here and at the next door Ten Tuskers Bar, guests can enjoy local dishes and drinks overlooking the Ocean. The lodge is set just by a delightful sandy beach – and is ideal of families to play on.
While the Lodge offers a Spa, cooking classes, cook-your-own lunches, walking tours and visits to local religious sites, it is the game drives to the National Park that creates the most excitement. There are 44 species of mammals to see including elephant, water buffalo and the Sri Lankan sloth bear but the leopard is the highlight. There are reportedly 40 Sri Lankan leopards in the Park but they are so elusive that guests cannot expect to see one on their first drive. The Lodge employs the most knowledgeable and expert guides on the island. One essential trip from the Lodge is at Uda Walawe National Park – around a 2-hour drive – and home to the Elephant Transit Home which looks after orphaned elephants – many of whom are just calves.
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