Top Luxury Safari lodges to see the Big Five in South Africa

Top Luxury Safari lodges to see the Big Five in South Africa

Top Luxury Safari lodges to see the Big Five in South Africa

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1.Earth Lodge Sabi Sabi  

Earth Lodge is part of the Sabi Sabi Game Reserve neighboring the Kruger National Park, this conservation area is very well known for the big 5, the lodge is not only beautifully designed to get lost in the geography of the terrain. But it is also one of the most beautiful lodges in the area. The service and generosity of their staff is overwhelming. You don’t realize you have arrived at the lodge until you see someone standing at the end of what looks like a walkway into a tunnel. After greeting you they walk you through this tunnel-like walkway to come out to a spectacular setting with incredible views. If you are lucky you will get some elephants near your room with a private pool or even a lion or a leopard. I was told that more than once guests have to call receptions for a little help with the leopard using their poolside day bed. 

Recently my honeymoon clients experienced an elephant walking by their outdoor shower and coming to the front to see if it could get some water from the pool. 

In Sabi Sabi you will be able to see the big 5, this area has become more and more known for spotting leopards which are generally very hard to find. 

2. Saseka Thornybush

Saseka Tented Camp was a very nice surprise for me, actually an incredible surprise, the rooms are so different from any other lodge I’ve been to and it is so well designed and finely done, it is the epitome of taste and style. The common area is fantastic and it makes you feel like there’s a show about to start and you need to choose one of the very comfortable seats and wait for it to happen, it’s just fantastic. 

When I visited it the river was a bit dry. I was told that when the river flows it’s so relaxing just to sit there and enjoy the However, remember that when the river is dry there are waterholes near and the animals come to drink so that is a plus. 

Also being situated next to Kruger Park, this means that the animals roam freely between the park and the Thornybush game reserve. 

When you start a game drive, the ranger usually asks “what would you like to see” (make sure you tell them what you want to see), so I very quickly replied and said I wanted to see a leopard on a tree (I’d seen leopards before, but never on a tree). Well within 15 minutes they spotted one, and voila! we were done with the most difficult of the big 5. So now all we needed to do is find the other 4 which, well if lucky enough, is not that difficult. 

3. Lebombo Singita

Lebombo is one of the 5 lodges that Singita has in the Kruger area. Although it is a bit more difficult to reach than the ones in the Sabi Sands area of Kruger, it is a beautiful lodge nestled on the side of the hill next to the N’wanetsi River, near the South African border with Mozambique. Our trip there was a bit long but very much worth it. One flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Then a charter flight, directly into the Satara Airstrip. From there it’s a 30 – 45 minutes drive to the lodge through the Kruger National Park (if you are lucky you will start your game viewing on the way already).

I always tell my clients to make sure they go to a private game reserve for the simple reason that there the vehicles are allowed off-road, making the wildlife sighting a lot more exciting and special. You might say, “wait a minute, Lebombo is inside the Kruger National Park?” Yes, it is, but it is a concession so Singita is allowed to do what they want as long as they make sure they take good care of the area and protect it. Let’s be honest, all game reserve lodges have the same goal, to protect and take care of the wildlife. 

I was lucky enough to travel there with a client of mine who was traveling alone. Our experience didn’t start too well because on our first game drive we didn’t see many animals – Least of all any of the big 5. However on day 2 during one game drive, the afternoon one, we saw all of them (the big 5) at one point in a big open space. We saw Elephants, Rhinos, Buffalo, and Lions. Then later that afternoon we saw a big pride of lions and on our way back to the lodge we saw 2 leopards. Now that is what we call luck, and it was incredibly fabulous. Both my client and I were super happy and excited about it. 

4. Karula Kapama

 

Kapama Karula located in the Kapama Game Reserve is their flagship lodge. Impeccable elegance and style, it is a world of its own. Kapama Game Reserve is located near the Kruger National Park as well, but this reserve does not share borders with it. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to be able to see the big 5. Au contraire, I sometimes think it’s even easier to see them here. Keep in mind that it all comes down to luck, and being at the right place at the right time. But whenever I’ve been there I have seen the big 5 and even Cheetahs which are very hard to find in this area. 

My clients love this game reserve because it is actually the closest reserve to the Hoedspruit airport, one of the three airports you can fly to when visiting the Kruger National Park area. It is probably the shortest land transfer from any of the Airports to the lodge. 

Within the reserve there’s a lodge called Jabulani, they have an amazing elephant interaction experience. If you love elephants this is the best interaction with them that you will have in South Africa. They have an Elephant Orphanage – these rescued elephants will spend the rest of their lives there and will be taken care of by the people that run it, it’s a true labor of love.

5. Royal Malewane

Also located in the Thornybush game reserve this is part of the Royal Portfolio hotels, it has been recognized as the top luxury lodge in South Africa, one of the best lodges in the world, as well as some of the other hotels that belong to this group. 

Being in the Thornybush Game Reserve, it is a sure thing that we will be able to see the big 5. But it all depends on our luck and how long we are there. 

The game drive experiences here are fantastic! Their game rangers are very knowledgeable and good at finding the one big 5 animal you need to see. The area, being next to Kruger Park, has plenty of animals that roam freely between the game reserve and the national park. So all we need is patience and luck and we will definitely have a great chance to see all of the big 5. Leopards are always being the cheeky ones to find – but as a piece of good advice, and this goes for most of the lodges in the Kruger area, always ask to see if they can find African Wild dogs. I find them adorable and beautiful. But they are vicious and very difficult to find because they are always on the move,. They are very good hunters and to watch them work as a group is mind-blowing. I would say that here is where my clients have seen them the most. 

Royal Malewane just opened a new lodge nearby, called Waterside, it opened last July, and I can’t wait to go visit it.

6. Bayethe Shamwari

Shamwari Game Reserve was my second safari ever, I will never forget how we chased two cheetahs that were on the hunt for a couple of reedbuck, or was it wildebeests? Anyway, we followed them for a while until they gave up, but the amazing thing that I remember from this, was the sound these animals make. They literally sound like kittens, like a house cat. 

Bayethe Lodge is one of the top lodges in the Shamwari Private Game Reserve located in the Eastern Cape province. The name means “I salute you” which is a very warm welcome in the African culture of this area of the country. As you can see, you don’t need to be in the Kruger National Park to see the big 5. Depending on your trip you can have your safari experience here at the end of the garden route, or the beginning, (depending on which way you do the Garden route). 

When I did my first Safari I was under the impression that giraffes were lonely animals (now I know they are not). But when I came here for the first time there were so many Giraffes I could not believe what I was seeing. All of them together and walking so graciously on the big plains of the reserve. Leopards are very hard to find here, but they do have them so if you see one here, consider yourself Lucky. Elephants, rhinos, and buffalo are plenty. However that doesn’t mean that sometimes you will struggle to find them – once we spent almost 3 hours looking for elephants and just as we were about to give up they surprised us by walking out of the bush right next to us, quite a few of them.

6Phinda Vlei

Considered one of the most beautiful lodges in the Phinda Game Reserve. Here you can also see the big 5 even though it is not near Kruger. This reserve is only 4 hours drive from Durban, or 2 hours drive from Richard’s Bay. It’s also very near Sodwana Bay in the Isimangaliso Wetland Park, which is a great spot for Scuba Diving. This means you can do an early morning dive and an afternoon game drive – and with some luck, you will see the big 5 and the big ocean 5 (Whales, Dolphins, Sharks, Seals, Penguins).

Phinda was the first game reserve I ever visited, my first ever safari back in 2001. I can say that my passion for South Africa, its wildlife, and this beautiful continent started here. I was very impressed by what I saw and I know that still to this day it impresses me every time. 

This &Beyond properties lodge in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province of South Africa, has a a world renowned standard of luxury. Their staff are incredibly friendly and gracious, you will feel like you belong here. One thing that I will always remember from my first visit was the encounter we had with a family of Cheetahs and thier cubs. It was quite incredible, keep in mind Cheetahs are hard to find, and also, not every private game reserve has cheetahs. So on top of the big 5 you can also see them here. 

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Maria Isabel Armejo
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2022-11-29
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Paola Izaguirre
Paola Izaguirre
2022-10-23
100% recomendado. Germán planeo con nosotros nuestro viaje a africa. Estuvo literal 24/7 durante todo el viaje, haciéndonos sentir seguros durante las 3 semanas que estuvimos en Africa. Los hoteles donde nos quedamos súper bonitos y súper bien ubicados, sus recomendaciones también súper! Definitivamente entendió lo que queríamos en este viaje. Los guías que nos puso todos con bastante conocimiento, muy buen inglés y amigables. Y en Capetown definitivamente Germán nos hizo sentir como locales y en casa! Ahora a planear africa parte 2 y con muchas ganas de volver a Cape Town! Thanks German!
Rachel Konforti
Rachel Konforti
2022-10-21
German from Nanan Travel was amazing to work with! I found Nanan Travel on instagram when I was researching places to do our safari at. I had some questions before booking but he actually helped take over that process for me which was so helpful! Also, I never thought to work with a travel agent because I wouldve thought they charge us but turns out they dont and even more….they have discounted pricing to hotels I wouldve already booked at myself. So truly it is a win win situation for a traveler to work with Nanan Travel & I will definitely be using Nanan again. 🙂
Betina Menahem
Betina Menahem
2022-10-04
Gracias Germán por tu búsqueda, tu buena onda, tu paciencia y tu predisposición. Gracias a tus recomendaciones pasamos un hermoso fin de semana en un safari cerca de Port Elizabeth y tuvimos nuestra primera experiencia en un safari como familia. 100x100% recomendado!
Ernesta Swanepoel
Ernesta Swanepoel
2022-09-26
This was the second time that German from Nanan Travel arranged accommodation for us during our holidays. And every time he delivers ! German understands what it is that you are looking for in accommodation and he makes sure that you gets what you want. He is quick to respond and happy to answer all questions. We recently travelled to the Maldives and he patiently guided us through the 1000+ options until we found what we were looking for. The accommodation that he suggested exceeded our expectations. Everything went smoothly and all our transfers were arranged. Nanan Travel is the company to use when you want to have a picture perfect holiday !
Pablo Tapia
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2022-08-29
Una experiencia alucinante todo el viaje a Sudafrica! Gracias German y a todo el equipo de Nanan Travel! El lodge de Kapama y los safaris fotográficos un éxito! Vimos a los big 5 y muchos más muy cerca! CapeTown también de maravilla! Una ciudad espectacular, el hotel 👍🏻👍🏻! La zona de viñedos también espectacular, un viaje recomendable para los amantes del vino! Clouds estate donde nos alojamos estuvo excelente! Y la Garden Route (si bien manejamos mucho por los pocos días) fue muy interesante, paisajes preciosos, actividades súper divertidas (caminatas, avistamiento de tiburones y ballenas, kayak en stormriver!…) Gracias por todo!
Paola Protzel
Paola Protzel
2022-08-27
This is our second time traveling with Nanan Travel and it just keeps getting better and better !!! We are already dreaming , saving and planning for our third trip to Eastern Africa with German. . If you want to visit Africa please look no further and do it with Nanan Travel . German is super experienced , knowledgeable and caring and thanks to him we have fallen in love with this amazing continent . Can’t wait to be back and discover new places. Thanks German . You are the best !!!
Daniela Abugattas
Daniela Abugattas
2022-08-25
We had the most amazing trip of our lives… the perfect honeymoon package: Safari + Zanzibar! German thought of every detail for our trip and his recommendations were spot on! The hospitality we experienced in every place went above our expectations in every sense!

The Sardine Run

The Sardine Run

The Sardine Run

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Two years and 1 month, lots of emails, and lots of back and forward arrangements, were what it took us to finally be able to do the Sardine run.

It all started with an email from a friend saying that his uncle was doing the Sardine run and had invited him, he asked if I wanted to join then all of a sudden we were 8 people, all super excited and happy. Then Covid came along and put everything on hold. After covid, a few people had to cancel, and we were only 4, and later on, at the venue, we were joined by two more travelers from Italy and now we can call them friends. 

Let me start by explaining what is the Sardine run and what makes it so special. The Sardine run is a seasonal movement of fish and predators along the Eastern Cape coastline to the South Coast of KwaZulu Natal, in South Africa. The biggest natural event on Earth, and the only animal event that can be seen from space.

The sardine run of southern Africa occurs from May through July when billions of sardines spawn in the cool waters of the Agulhas Bank and move northward along the east coast of South Africa. Their sheer numbers create a feeding frenzy along the coastline. The run, containing millions of individual sardines, occurs when a current of cold water heads north from the Agulhas Bank up to Mozambique where it then leaves the coastline and goes further east into the Indian Ocean.

In terms of biomass, researchers estimate the sardine run could rival East Africa’s great wildebeest migration. However, little is known about the phenomenon. It is believed that the water temperature has to drop below 21 °C in order for the migration to take place. In 2003, the sardines failed to ‘run’ for the third time in 23 years. While 2005 saw a good run, 2006 marked another non-run. 

Thank you, Wikipedia. 

Now, I don’t want to bore you with specific details but I will try to go day by day and explain briefly what we experienced. Oh… We did a 4-day safari in Kariega Game reserve before the sardine run and that was amazing. It was halfway between Port Elizabeth and East London, although you can fly directly into East London. 

DAY 1 – Sunday

 

We arrive midday and had lunch and in the afternoon we had a briefing and went to try on the wetsuits and fins, etc.

DAY 2 – MONDAY

 

Very early morning wake-up call, and we had to be ready to leave for the launching area by 7:45 after a while we arrived at where the boat was, and off we went, the first day was full of excitement for what we might see and we did see thousands of Dolphins, I’m not exaggerating, I have never seen so many dolphins together, but we didn’t see the actual sardines.

DAY 3 – TUESDAY

 

Wasn’t a good day, didn’t see much, maybe a couple of whales on a mission so we didn’t get to spend time with them (keep in mind one day of the week is the rest day), when we came back we were considering taking the rest day on Wednesday, but when we spoke with the organizers they told us that Thursday was going to be a bad weather day so we decided to go out on Wednesday.

DAY 4 – WEDNESDAY

 

We went out very early again and we were quite unlucky but we did see dolphins and some whales, no sardines, our spirits were down and very tired. 

DAY 5 – THURSDAY

 

We didn’t go out to sea, rather we enjoyed a nice chilled day we went to do some quad biking at a nearby reserve which was lots of fun. Although next time I’ll choose the Horse riding experience though.

DAY 6 – FRIDAY

 

we went out with the hope of finally seeing what they call a bait ball, that’s when the dolphins force the sardines into a group and that’s when all the predators around join the feast and go crazy. How do we know when there’s a bait ball and where it is? Well, first of all, we always follow the birds, specifically the gannets, they are the key to finding them, anyway, back to day 6, we saw a couple of whales some Humpbacks and a couple of Bryde’s whales, now, the amazing thing about seeing the Bryde’s whale was that they are usually very fast and sneaky, difficult to see but this one, in particular, was going very slow and decided to hang out with us for a while, it was great, then we ran into a seal and we swam with it. But besides these few amazing encounters, no Sardines, and no Bait ball.

Now, we are back at the beach resort and we are feeling really bad because it is very exhausting to be at sea for so many hours and getting wet and the wind and all that, We had great weather and were super lucky with that, but we weren’t happy, to say the least.

DAY 7 – SATURDAY

 

it’s a windy morning, we’ve changed the boat launching spot, much closer to the resort. We get on the boat, it’s windy, we are getting splashed all over and the sea is a bit rough so after 45 minutes I am ready to quit!  

I tell myself, give it another 15 minutes and then complain, well, 10 minutes later our Sea Biologist and guide, Mark spots lots of Gannets quite far away and we don’t see any dolphins (which is kind of a prerequisite for a bait ball) but as we approached the birds we see it. A WHALE…. Yes!!!! A whale and there were lots of Dolphins and thousands of birds!!! 

YES! FINALLY, we’ve found it, A BAIT BALL! Mark screams, and we all get super excited and jump in the water, now what happened next is indescribable, dolphins, seals, sharks, a whale, and birds all going crazy for the sardines. In the beginning, we just thought it was dolphins and birds and that one whale, but then, we saw the sharks and seals and we were right in the middle of the Bait ball, we had no clue as to where to look at or what to do there was so much action all at once, but we were lucky enough to be there for about 45 minutes. 

Then all of a sudden just like that the birds dissipated and rested on the water and the dolphins started moving away and Voila, it’s over. All I can say is that those 45 minutes were worth all those other days of nothing and bouncing and wind and tiredness and all the complaining we might have done and all the early wake-ups and all that. SO WORTH IT!

I highly recommend it and I am definitely going to organize a group for next year, Who is in? 

Sardine Run 2022 – such an adventure!

 

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