The continent is too large to describe. It is a veritable ocean, a separate planet, a varied, immensely rich cosmos. Only with the greatest simplification, for the sake of convenience, can we say 'Africa'. – Ryszard Kapuscinski
Picture this: You're in a Land Cruiser roaming the open plains among dazzles of zebra and towers of giraffes. You're in a hot air balloon at sunrise taking in the thunderous migration of a million wildebeests. You're hiking on foot through dense forests in search of a shy Silverback gorilla. You are in Africa. On safari. And you'll need a place to call home for awhile.
With that in mind, we've put together a (growing) list of our favorite safari lodges in Southern and Eastern Africa. There's something for every kind of traveler, from the honeymooner to the lone adventurer to the posse of budding ornithologists. Start planning.
Elephant silhouette. Photo courtesy of Abu Camp.
Lay of the land: Seventy percent of the country is Kalahari Desert; it's no surprise that Botswana is one of the most sparsely populated nations in the world. It is also home to one of the largest inland deltas, the Okavango. The Chobe feeds into the mighty Zambezi river.
Known for: The semi-arid savannah of the Kalahari, the Okavango Delta oasis.
Best time to go: Excellent from June-October. Good in May and November.
Expect to see: Red lechwe, zebra, giraffe, and impala as well as larger game such as lions, leopards, white rhino, and wildebeest.
Best for: Vintage safari aesthetes.
What's to love: Jack knows desert glamping. Tents are impeccably furnished with a nod to the 1940s. Small groups of Zu/'hoasi Bushmen accompany guests on walks and game drives. There's a small national museum as well as a library, pool pavilion, and plunge pool.
Good to know: Ralph Bousfield, Jack's son, runs the place through Uncharted Africa Safari Co.
Best for: Cat lovers.
What's to love: The Mombo Concession is known as the "place of plenty," highlighted by the massive concentrations of plains game and predator cats. As for the camp itself, Little Mombo is more intimate than its adjacent sister camp, with three suites, private pools, and views of the Okavango Delta floodplains.
Good to know: Go with a group and have the hree suite-lodge to yourselves.
Best for: Elephant fiends.
What's to love: This camp was built for elephant lovers. Guests have the opportunity to walk with, ride, and experience the inner-workings of the herd.
Good to know: Emphasis is on wildlife, not amenities. They don't have an expansive spa or gym, but the rooms are lovely and the experience is worth the price of admission.
Xaranna Okavango Delta Camp
Best for: Nautical types.
What's to love: The only way to access this lodge is by motor boat or makoro (a tree trunk canoe). Unlike most other safari experiences, you'll be able to spot wildlife (hello, hippos!) from beneath the reeds and among the lily pads and dragonflies.
Good to know: "Tents" are luxe — soaking tubs, blonde wood floors, four-poster beds, air-conditioning — a slice of modern lagoon life.
Best for: Hopeless romantics.
What's to love: Run on solar power, the greenest camp is also the most luxurious in Botswana. Four tented suites are stocked with campaign furnishings and fireplaces. Communal spaces are layered with Persian rugs and leather sofas. There's also a lagoon-side dining terrace.
Good to know: The lodge is owned by the Great Plains Foundation, which is primarily a conservation initiative, not a tourism company, underscoring the camp's dedication to low-impact tourism.
Lay of the land: The romantic safari destination has seen its share of overcrowding, but a new emphasis on preservation can be felt from the Serengeti plains to the tropical coastline. Nairobi, the most populous city in East Africa, has the precious Samburu National Reserve to the north.
Known for: The Great Migration of wildebeests in the Serengeti; Masai Mara.
Best time to go: Excellent Jan, February, and July-October. Good March, June, and December.
Expect to see: Cheetah, elephant, fringe-eared oryx, gerenuk, giraffe, and world-famous wildebeest migration.
Ol Donyo Lodge
Best for: Would-be equestrians.
What's to love: Ten rooms are perched on a hillside in southeast Kenya, where there are expansive views of Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance. Roof top "star beds" make for cozy gazing under the night sky.
Good to know: You can sub game drives for horseback riding safaris through the dry lakebeds of the Amboseli and the rolling Chyulu Hills.
Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp
Best For: Night owls and foodie families.
What we love: They are all about originality! This is the only lodge in Kenya that offers nighttime game drives for spotting nocturnal animals. Guests pick garden vegetables for al fresco cooking lessons with the resident chef. As part of the WILDchild program, kids learn to track animals, make local crafts, and cook.
Good to know: A resident warthog clan that roams the grounds provides for constant game viewing. It's also a (shockingly) affordable option among top family lodges.
Cottar's 1920's Camp
Best for: Adventurous groups.
What's to love: The Cottars have been scratching their adventure itch since the early 1900s (the original Cottar moved to Kenya after reading Roosevelt's safari account in 1906). Local expertise, top-notch service, and low-impact tourism is important; the family partners with the Massai community and manages the land on their behalf.
Good to know: Be the king of your own jungle and book the private Cottar's Homestead — it has five bedrooms, eight staff members, and a private game driver at the ready.
Lay of the land: The Rainbow Nation is diverse in people, climate, and landscape. At the southern point of the coastal strip lies Cape Town and the greater Cape Peninsula, known for its vineyards, beaches, and overall natural splendor. Keep heading north and you'll hit Johannesburg and Pretoria. All the way up and east is Kruger National Park, the most popular safari destination.
Known for: Being the safest place to go on safari thanks to a well-developed infrastructure and established tourism arm. It's often recommended for first timers.
Best time to go: November-April is good, May-October is excellent.
Expect to see: The Big Five (lions, elephants, rhinos, buffalos, leopards), baboons, botanicals, bushbabies, and a whole lot of birds.
Best for: Cozy couples and honeymooners.
What's to love: In the middle of the Kalahari Desert (near Nelspruit), there's a holistic spa, red sand everywhere, and wide open grasslands. It feels incredibly safe (hence the popularity of walking and horseback safaris). This is the land of the meerkat and the gazelle. The food and wine are incredible — it's got an elegant, minimalist, house-party-in-an-adobe-manse vibe. The camp is very focused on protecting endangered rhinos and educating kids.
Good to know: Thunderously expensive but absolutely top-notch. And very low key despite being the site of the famous Bono/Louis Vuitton campaign.
Read more on Fathom: Wildlife and Low-Key Luxury in Tswalu
Londolozi Tree Camp
Best For: Families who like their privacy; experienced safari-goers on a mission.
What's to love: Londolozi has the multi-generational thing totally figured out and caters to groups of all ages based on personal needs, desires, and interests. Are you an ambitious birder? A budding botanist? Guides provide private vehicles and laser-focused outings.
Good to know: Londolozi is a private reserve with multiple lodges.
Singita Boulders Lodge
Best for: The creature-comforted.
What's to love: The lodge is nothing short of luxurious, equipped with a pool, spa, gym, boutique, and babysitting service. Singita Boulders is "glamping" at its finest.
Good to know: Singita has a number of lodges in South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe; if you like the looks of the place but want different wildlife, check out their other locations.
Lion Sands Ivory Lodge
Best For: Casual house guests.
What's to love: The family owned and operated lodge welcomes you in like one of their own. You won't feel like a camper, but more like a house guest where accommodations are incredibly plush.
Good to know: A nearby airport offers morning and afternoon flights, making this reserve easily accessible.
Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Wellness Retreat
Best for: Go-getters (with no intention of relaxing).
What's to love: An unusual numbers of activities are offered. Beyond the typical game walk and drive (to see bontebok, bat-eared fox, lynx, aardwolf), they offer garden tours, bird-watching, fishing, canoeing, hiking, wine tasting, and tours of the Bushmans Kloof ancient rock art.
Good to know: It's a Malaria-free reserve.
Best for: Queen bees and wannabes.
What's to love: The spa. The lodge is known for its impeccable treatments and facilities, including a gym, steam room, jacuzzi, heated lap pool, hot and cold African baths, and private casitas.
Good to know: Safaris are tailored to your personal interests, so do your research and feel free to make requests.
Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge
Best for: High-end hippies.
What's to love: Considered one of the most environmentally sensitive in Africa, the suites and main lodge are sculpted into the slope of the earth, using texture, light, and natural elements to create a sustainable-chic vibe.
Good to know: Sabi Sabi owns four different lodges. If you don't fancy yourself an earthy type, check out one of their other resorts.
Molori Safari Lodge
Best for: Big egos.
What's to love: A South African tycoon turned his private compound into a large and stunning five-suite lodge with the help of a starchitect and an inventive chef. The staff thinks of every detail before you do, so don't even think of getting off that Dedon daybed.
Good to know: There are programs for children and family-friendly accommodations. There's also a swimming pool, spa, technogym, and enormous telescope in the observatory (which has a retractable roof).
Lay of the land: Besides Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain, there are dormant volcanoes, dense forests, and expansive plains.
Known for: The Great Migration and Mount Kilimanjaro.
Best time to go: Excellent January, February, and July-October. Good March, June, November, December. Almost 400,000 wildebeest calves are born during a six-week period between late January and mid-March.
Expect to see: Big game, including speeding cheetah.
Singita Sabora Tented Camp
Best for: Nostalgists and sentimental types.
What's to love: The old-school, 1920s vibe in the great expanse of Grumeti Reserves in northern Tanzania. Camp decor is inspired by the "utility of overland gear" for an authentic safari experience, but boy, is it chic. Hot air ballooning can be arranged for guests.
Good to know: The camp is positioned near the migratory route of the wildebeest. Kids under ten aren't allowed, so if you're planning a family adventure, check out the other Singita lodges.
Lay of the land: Jungles, snow-capped mountains, marshlands, lakes, rapids, and the River Nile — it's a country of geographic contrasts. The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is renowned for its mountain gorillas.
Known for: The country is home to half of the world's remaining mountain gorilla population. There are only three countries where the endangered great apes live (the other two are Rwanda and DRC).
Best time to go: Excellent January, February, and July-October.
Expect to see: Gorillas. That's what you came here for.
Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge
Best for: Experienced adventurers with good hiking shoes.
What's to love: High up on a ridge in Bwindi National Park, nearly wedged in the clouds, the lodge feels like a ski chalet with spectacular mountain views. Stone villas have fireplaces, exposed ceiling beams, and sheltered verandahs.
Good to know: The hotel is run by an eco-partnership between the country's wildlife authority, the local Nkuringo community, and The Uganda Safari Company.
Lay of the land: This landlocked country in southern Africa borders eight others. The river system that flows through South Luangwa National Park makes for one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world.
Known for: The Smoke That Thunders (a.k.a. Victoria Falls), an overwhelming waterfall and natural wonder of the world. It's also the land of the walking safari (which originated here).
Best time to go: Excellent July-October. Good in June.
Expect to see: Elephants, giraffes, hippos, leopards, lions, hyenas, vultures, elusive wild dogs, and tons of rare and spectacular birds. Do not expect to see rhinos. (The population has been pretty much wiped out by poachers.)
Mfuwe Lodge and Bushcamps
Best for: Nature nerds and novices.
What's to love: The incredibly knowledgeable safari guides from The Bushcamp Company hang out with you for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, giving you the opportunity to go deep into conversation, Planet Earth-style. Amenities (teatime in the bush; daily hand-washed laundry) feel special but not ostentatious.
Good to know: Mfuwe Lodge is a home base with creature comforts (like indoor spa showers) just inside South Luangwa National Park. But three hours deeper into the bush are small camps (for 8 people max) that make for a very special, low-key experience that feels like fancy camping. Our favorites are Bilimungwe (for resident guide Manda Chisanga) and Zungulila (for the colonial stylings and Julius, the excellent camp manager).
Here's the story: A Four-Letter Word for My Zambian Safari? EPIC
Best for: Mind and body healing. Namaste.
What we love: The camp hasaccess to South Luangwa National Park as well as the option of game viewing from the banks of the Luangwa River near the lodge itself. Six villas are beautifully decorated in safari-chic style. There's an emphasis on yoga and healing at the health center.
Good to know: Since Chinzombo is run by Norman Carr Safaris (who created the original walking safari), you will have the chance to track prints and take tea in the great outdoors.
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What's your favorite safari experience? Tell us in the comments below.