The Sabi Sands' Best Lodges

By Julian 05 July 2015

The Sabi Sands' Best Lodges

The Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve has quite rightly earned its reputation as South Africa’s premier game viewing destination. Nowhere else in Africa can produce sightings of the ‘Big Five’ quite as consistently or as spectacularly. 

The area has become particularly famous for its brilliant leopard sightings and it is not uncommon to see three or four of these beautiful cats over the course of a single day. Perhaps the most special thing about these sightings, though, is how completely unfazed most of the animals seem to be here. The professionalism of the guides has ensured that they do not feel threatened by the vehicles at all and they will often pass by within a few feet.

To match this incredible game viewing, a number of wonderfully luxurious lodges have made a name for themselves here. They are not cheap, but you certainly get what you pay for. The levels of service and hospitality comfortably match the rest of the experience on offer. But with so many fantastic lodges in one place, how do you choose the right one?

I believe that the answer lies with the rivers – the mighty Sabie and the gentle Sand Rivers, which give the reserve its name. These two life-giving ribbons of water quench the thirst of all their inhabitants and pull in huge amounts of game, especially during the dry season. Their power and influence over the experience here cannot be denied.

Let’s start looking at the lodges. There are a couple of more affordable options. The first is a little gem called Notten’s Bush Camp, which falls into our ‘Adventure’ category. This lodge just cannot be beaten for sheer value for money. It is by far the most personal and authentic of the more affordable properties in the area – and because it is owner run, you can feel how lovingly it has been built. As it is situated between the two rivers, it doesn’t have any water frontage, but it shares traversing rights with the much larger Sabi Sabi, so the game viewing is still excellent. There are no electric lights here, allowing the lanterns to create more of an atmosphere at night, so it is definitely for the more adventurous traveller.

The other affordable option is Chitwa Chitwa, located up in the reserve’s northern sector. This is one of the busier areas in terms of vehicle traffic, but this lodge must get a mention for the sheer audacity of its design. It could be mistaken for an eclectic art gallery in the form of a safari lodge and the entire place is beautifully accentuated with statement pieces. This is also one of the only lodges in the area to offer a “stay 4 – pay 3” or even a “stay 3 – pay 2” special for next year. This equates to some fantastic value and should put this lodge on anyone’s shortlist.

Now we come back to the properties on the rivers. Farthest south, we have Lion Sands and Kirkman’s Kamp, which share traversing rights. Kirkman’s Kamp is the more traditional in style. It was originally the campsite of the park’s first warden and is therefore steeped in rich history. As it is run by &Beyond, the levels of service and hospitality are very consistent and it can also be combined with their other properties in the Timbavati and Phinda for some much-reduced rates. Lion Sands is one of the newer properties in the reserve and consists of two beautiful lodges – River Lodge, the larger and more social of the two, and Ivory Lodge, which is stunning and could compete with anything else in terms of sheer luxury and exclusivity. I have a particular soft spot for Lion Sands, because this is where I guided my first safari!

Moving north up the Sand River, we reach Mala Mala. Now this is a place that splits opinions! The motto is, “It’s all about the wildlife”… and it really is! There is no doubt that Main Camp is very dated and old-fashioned, although the rooms are very spacious. Rattray’s Camp is much more refined, although still old-fashioned and suitable for older clients. The reserve, however, is where this place comes into its own. The camps enjoy by far the largest tract of exclusive traversing, the longest stretch of Sand River and the longest unfenced boundary with the Kruger National Park. The wildlife sightings here are simply the best in the entire country – and if you are focussed on the safari experience above all else, this is the place for you.

In the western sector, we find another couple of Dulini properties – Dulini River Lodge and Dulini Leadwood Lodge. This is another busy area in terms of vehicle traffic, but the quality of the Dulini brand cannot be denied. The Leadwood suites are lavish and completely magnificent, tucked away amongst a dense stand of trees on the Sand River. It is one of the most secluded and peaceful places I have ever stayed. Exeter is located very near by, on a slightly more open tract of the river. The lodge is slightly larger, more social and more affordable. 

Now we come to the most expensive properties here, in the form of Singita Boulders and Singita Ebony. No expense has been spared with these two icons. Everything is of the best, from the size of the suites, the quality of the fittings and furnishings, the fine wine and cuisine and even down to the vehicles, the guides and the reserve itself. Is it worth it? We certainly think so, but not everyone always agrees. You see, you can either afford to stay at Singita or you can’t!

My personal favourite, however, must be Londolozi. This very, very special place simply oozes positive energy and seems to attract really high quality human beings! It comprises five different lodges, each sprawling out next to each other along the Sand River and each with its own signature. The three more expensive properties (Tree, Pioneer and Granite) easily compete with the likes of Singita for top spot, but I believe the two more affordable properties (Varty and Founders) are what this place is all about. You see, they share the same traversing area as well as the same vehicles and guides, so the safari experience is identical at all of them. A very moving and emotional “village walk” as well as a fully kitted-out photography studio are just two more reasons why this place is so unique. 

So there we have it - the best lodges Sabi Sands has to offer. If you would like to see the many other lodges Sabi Sands offers, check out our site