Our top 10 luxury safari vacations add spectacular new dimensions to what is already one of the world’s most sought-after travel experiences. ‘Luxury’ is often associated with super stylish lodges and tented camps, and certainly you can find that. But a truly special African safari is less about having the softest pillows and more about where you are, what you do and who you meet.
As you’ll see from our top 10 luxury safari vacations, spending that little extra can take you to parks, reserves and conservancies that are much quieter, employing staff from local communities and supporting vital conservation initiatives. They complement your game drives with memorable activities such as hot air balloon flights over herds of elephants, champagne breakfasts in the bush, and opportunities to contribute to working wildlife projects.
Exploring some of Africa’s most spectacular landscapes, from the majestic sand dunes of Sossusvlei to the Sesriem Canyon, a luxury safari in Namibia doesn’t skimp on the scenery. Naturally, the small lodges you’re based in prioritise the views, perfectly poised to offer insights into tribal culture and wildlife habitats courtesy of local guides as passionate about the natural world as they are knowledgeable.
If you want to get up-close with the wildlife of the Serengeti, there are few better options than a private and luxurious tented camp right in the heart of this legendary national park. Immense herds of zebra, gazelles and wildebeest graze here – a fact not unknown to the lions, leopards and cheetahs that reliably provide some big thrills. You can also enjoy a stay at a handsome lodge perched on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, the vast volcanic caldera known as the ‘cradle of civilisation’ and home to Africa’s largest concentration of lions.
Luxury comes as standard on safaris in Botswana, but it’s the experiences that really set them apart. Sitting down with a G&T beside a waterhole at sunset while elephants, gazelles and jackals get their own refreshment; sweeping low over herds of animals for astonishing views on a flight to the Okavango Delta; canoeing on the Khwai River at dusk, a beacon for wildlife that can involve sightings of lions, leopards and crocodiles.
South Africa and Mozambique are an ideal combination for luxury family safaris. Malaria-free, kid-friendly reserves provide a relaxed and engaging introduction to Africa for younger children, with carefully stewarded bush craft itineraries and lessons in making bows and arrows (uh oh) for them while their parents head out on game drives. After a few days, you can fly on to Mozambique or Mauritius, where stylish beach chalets await for scuba diving, snorkelling and a wealth of other activities in warm blue waters.
Kingfishers flit by your dinner table, as you sit out, waterside, at your luxury camp on the bank of the Luangwa River. Tomorrow you might take a micro-light flight over the park, or a canoe trip. Zambia might not come so readily to mind for safari as Tanzania or Kenya. But, for those in the know, its reputation for exceptional guides and their ability to show you exceptional wildlife marks it out as one of the most exciting safari destinations in Africa.
Luxury safaris in Tanzania can take you to some of the country’s quietest reserves, staying in carefully chosen lodges that support local communities as well as vital conservation initiatives. Or opt for a deluxe tent with a plunge pool just outside. On top of a fabulous selection of safaris by jeep, boat and on foot, you can lend a hand on a research project helping endangered African wild dogs. Afterwards, you can top your adventure off with a few days sunning yourself on a Zanzibar beach.
The beauty of a self drive luxury safari in Namibia is that you can travel at a pace that suits you, following an expertly crafted, tailor made itinerary that ensures you don’t miss a thing. Traffic-free, tarmac roads lead you through the Namib Desert in the south and the rich landscapes of the north where you’ll explore Etosha National Park, one of the largest parks in Africa. Staying in handpicked lodges offers the opportunity to overnight in the prestigious, private Ongava Game Reserve neighbouring Etosha, where the lion and rhino populations are absolutely superb.
8. Self drive Garden route and safari in South Africa
South Africa offers some of the most accessible safaris, but there is plenty of scope for those looking for a more ‘exclusive’ feel. A self drive vacation along the iconic Garden Route gives you plenty of freedom on where to go, when, but also offers some pretty sumptuous accommodations. Stay in a succession of boutique hotels in the Winelands, the Eastern Cape, on the coast at Hermanus and the Cedarburg Mountains before a safari in a prestigious game reserve.
Botswana offers some of Africa’s finest luxury safaris, with strict visitor numbers ensuring that it never feels like a theme park. A tailor made trip allows you to take in three of the country’s most wildlife-packed places: Chobe National Park, Makgadikgadi National Park and the spectacular Okavango Delta, where mokoro dugout canoes allow wildlife watching from the river. You can even tie on a few days at adrenaline capital Victoria Falls if you’re thirsty for yet more adventure.
Luxury safaris in Kenya ensure you stay in some of the country’s most elegant and comfortable lodges while maximising your positive impacts on communities and the environment. So as well as game drives in search of the Big Five, along with many other wow-worthy animals, you’ll enjoy visits to nearby villages and accommodations that employ people from the surrounding area. Guided bush walks, horse riding, champagne breakfasts and even hot air balloon flights give safaris in Kenya a further dusting of magic.