In a country that has much to offer visitors, South Africa’s Kruger National Park tops the list. Spanning an area of 19,633 square kilometres, the park is home to more large mammal species than any other African game reserve. This includes the “Big Five” (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino), as well as huge numbers of giraffe, hippo, buck, hyena, wild dogs, baboons, monkeys and smaller mammals. The park is also home to hundreds of species of birds and reptiles.
For most visitors, a safari in the Kruger National Park is the highlight of a visit to southern Africa. But if you’re planning a visit, how do you choose where to stay? The park itself includes 21 rest camps, 15 private safari lodges and two private lodge concessions – and that’s without even considering the many excellent options in private game reserves that surround the park.
Here we consider five of the best luxury safari camps in and around the Kruger National Park.
Naledi Bushcamp and Enkoveni Lodge
Located within the Kruger at the Balule rest camp, which itself spans 40,000 hectares, the privately owned Naledi Game Lodge has a spectacular location. It includes the exclusive Naledi Bushcamp, consisting of three private suites, and the Enkoveni Lodge, with luxurious suites and rooms overlooking the Olifants River.
The Naledi consistently ranks number one with visitors because of its knowledgeable, attentive staff, and rangers and trackers who excel at finding some of the park’s more elusive wildlife.
Included in any stay are guided walks and two daily game drives – one in the early morning before breakfast and another starting in the evening and lasting until after dark; times when the animal populations are most active. Those returning from evening safaris are greeted by staff offering drinks and hot towels, with wood fires lit at the gates.
The Naledi also ranks very well when it comes to food, with generous, attractively prepared three-course meals, chefs who are happy to cater for specific needs and gourmet picnics for safari drives.
Pondoro Game Lodge
Also in the Kruger’s Balule rest camp is the award-wining Pondoro Game Lodge; providing a small number of thatched chalets along the Olifants River. The chalets feature private viewing decks, gorgeous bathrooms and comfortable beds, and the lodge includes a spa and wellness centre. Generous meals are served on a raised wooden deck overlooking the river and include local specialties like impala and ostrich.
Morning and evening game drives are led by expert rangers, and for those planning longer stays, the lodge offers day trips to the remarkably scenic Blyde River Canyon.
Singita Lebombo Lodge
Singita runs several successful safari lodges in the Kruger National Park, Zimbabwe and Tanzania. Its ultra-luxurious Lebombo Lodge is situated on a private concession that spans 33,000 acres in the southeastern part of the Kruger, near South Africa’s border with Mozambique.
Among the animals you have a good chance of encountering in the area are lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, buffalo, hippo, sable and cheetahs.
The Lebombo Lodge is definitely for those hoping to spoil themselves. It includes just 15 spacious chalets, with a pool, a spa, a gym and a well-stocked boutique and gallery. Guests arrive by flying in to the Satara air strip, about a 45-minute drive away.
Note that the lodge is in a malaria area, so it’s important to take appropriate prophylactics.
Kambaku Safari Lodge
The Kambaku Safari Lodge is situated in the Timbavati private nature reserve, which spans over 50,000 acres on the western edge of the Kruger. No fences separate the reserve from the Kruger, so the animals treat it as a continuation of the national park.
The Kambacku Safari Lodge is set on lovely grounds overlooking a watering hole. Staff are welcoming and highly knowledgeable about the African bush, and the food is excellent. On your return from evening game drives expect to be greeted with staff bearing sherry, warm towels and oil lamps.
The Dulini Lodge is in the popular Sabi Sands game reserve, adjacent to the Kruger National Park. It includes just six impeccably decorated suites, each with its own plunge pool and a viewing deck overlooking the seasonal Mabrak River. Don’t be surprised if an elephant drops by to drink from your pool!
Included in a stay at the Dulini Lodge is an early morning game drive with a highly experienced ranger and tracker, alongside bush walks with an expert ranger during the day. The area is known for leopard sightings.
The Dulini Lodge also makes a good impression with its unobtrusive butler service, romantic candle-lit dinners and delicious home-made baked goods.