We’ve spent countless nights in Africa enjoying its magic, hospitality and beautiful accommodations. We’re often asked about our favorite camps, or if we had to narrow down the list to a manageable length, what it would look like. It’s been a few years since we brainstormed our original list, and we decided it was time to revisit the subject. We reflected on our travels over the last few years as well as feedback from our guests and put it all together to come up with our 2023 list of ’10 safari camps to visit before you die’ – an (achievable) wish list for passionate travelers! This is not a ranked list – every one of these camps deserves consideration on your safari. Keep in mind that we had to leave off some truly amazing places like Mala Mala, Gibb’s Farm, Jack’s Camp and more. What we present to you here are some of today’s top camps in Africa in terms of luxury, food and service, but also for their excellent locations, access to great game viewing and uniqueness.
We invite you to explore the list and see where you’d like to go!
Set on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in remote Western Tanzania, Greystoke Mahale Camp is something out of a daydream. With Robinson Crusoe-style bandas tucked into the edge of the forest line with views out to the crystalline water, it’s a place where visitors can drop off the edge of the map. Once you arrive, you might never want to leave.
With water lapping at your toes and towering mountains at your back, the setting is beyond idyllic. You can spend days lazing on the beach, snorkeling, cruising the lake’s waters on a traditional dhow or hiking to waterfalls and icy rock pools. The focus at Greystoke is chimp trekking. Just a stone’s throw from where Jane Goodall performed her ground-breaking research at Gombe, we consider Mahale Mountains National Park the ultimate place to trek chimpanzees in the whole of Africa. A visit here combined with the mountain gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda would be a primate-lovers dream!
Situated in the largest private game reserve in South Africa, Tswalu Kalahari offers an exclusive experience in a unique ecosystem. No more than 40 guests spread out over three camps can explore over 270,000 acres at any given time, and travelers have the chance to seek out lesser known and harder to find animals such as brown hyena, aardwolf, pangolin and porcupine, along with wild dog and black-maned lions. Visiting with habituated meerkats is another highlight of a visit to Tswalu. And did we mention private vehicles? You will be allocated your own game drive vehicle, guide and tracker so that you can enjoy a completely flexible itinerary. Accommodations include an intimate tented safari camp, sumptuous suites, a private villa and a starlit sleep out deck.
In addition to unique and incredible wildlife experiences and breathtaking scenery, food is a focus at Tswalu. Seasonal dishes are made from scratch and are ethically and regionally sourced from dedicated farmers and producers. The award-winning restaurant Klein JAN, headed by Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, the first South African chef to achieve a Michelin star for his namesake restaurant in Nice, France, is also found on the reserve. Its seasonal tasting menus make the cuisine and ingredients of South Africa’s Northern Cape shine. Guests at Tswalu staying two or more nights are invited to experience one memorable meal at Klein JAN during their stay – don’t miss it!
One of the original bush homes in the incredibly scenic Laikipia region of Kenya, owner-run Ol Malo is an AAC favorite. Its style embodies both traditional Kenyan safari style, as well as the arts of the surrounding Samburu community and you can feel (and see!) the multi-generational family history throughout the lodge.
One of the things we love the most about Ol Malo is that there is no set schedule. With all of the activities on offer – from helicopter adventures and game drives to mountain biking, horse and camelback rides – you can make your days as full or as relaxed as you want. There is also the chance to become immersed in Samburu culture, hike the surrounding peaks, sleep in a treehouse or a leopard hide and much more. A stay at Ol Malo takes full advantage of everything this incredible region of Kenya has to offer.
Gorilla trekking is a must do bucket list experience in our minds, so why not make it even more unforgettable with a stay in one of our ’10 Safari Camps to Visit Before You Die?’ Singita Kwitonda Lodge is set right on the edge of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and offers incredible, understated luxury with beautiful design elements handcrafted by local artists. It is a true sanctuary, offering serenely beautiful scenery out every window and tranquil spaces to contemplate and reflect on one of the most transformative wildlife encounters on earth.
In addition to gorilla trekking, guests can trek to see golden monkeys, take hikes, practice yoga, cycle, visit the local community and much more. We also highly recommend taking advantage of wellness treatments, feasting on the healthy farm-to-table cuisine and exploring Singita Kwitonda’s vast wine cellar. It’s our top choice for gorilla trekking in Rwanda, but books up well in advance, so plan early!
In the heart of the Okavango Delta, Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge sits on the edge of a waterway in a private wilderness concession bordering Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve. One of the things we love about the lodge is its organic design that blends with its environment. Elements throughout the lodge celebrate the craftsmanship of Botswana’s artists, helping to cement a sense of place. The suites are total luxury – completely private with gorgeous views, private plunge pools and cozy fireplaces. We also highly recommend booking a massage when you visit!
Though the lodge is wonderful, you’re here for the game viewing and at Sandibe it is exceptional. It is located in one of the most wildlife-rich areas of the Delta, and whether you’re in a vehicle, on foot or in a helicopter, you’ll see the wildlife and landscapes that have made the Delta famous.
Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe is a place of extraordinary beauty and incredible wildlife experiences. From elephants standing on their hind legs to reach up into trees to pluck winterthorn pods to the large concentration of hippos and crocs in the Zambezi River, you’ll be awestruck by your safari! Our top pick for a stay is Nyamatusi Camp, an intimate, six-tent luxury camp perched on the banks of the Zambezi with views for miles. The tents are fantastic and have everything you need and then some, including indoor and outdoor showers, a plunge pool and even air-conditioning for the hottest months.
Mana Pools and Nyamatusi are made for adventure – you can enjoy wildlife viewing on game drives, bush walks or thrilling canoe safaris, cast a line on the Zambezi (catch and release) and enjoy incredible birdwatching! While kids aged 12 and up are welcome, walking and canoeing safaris are for those 16 and over.
This is the must-stay lodge at a must-see destination. Royal Chundu is Zambia’s first and only Relais & Châteaux property and whether you choose River Lodge (10 rooms) or Island Lodge (4 rooms), your stay is sure to be unforgettable. We love both lodges and the way they take advantage of being situated on the Zambezi, but the exclusivity of Island Lodge might just bump it a bit higher for us. Wherever you are, the cuisine is exceptional and the service top notch.
The Vic Falls area has endless options of things to do, but we love the sunset cruise from Royal Chundu, where the lodge has nine miles of private river access. Another favorite is their canoe and picnic excursion. This is no brown bag affair – picture Persian carpets, hammocks, refreshments upon arrival, picnic tables laden with sumptuous tapas lunches, a gin bar and cocktails on demand – it’s quite a luxurious experience!
Shipwreck Lodge is an incredibly remote lodge which sits on the windswept Skeleton Coast in Namibia. The harsh desert scenery is breathtaking and the lodge’s shipwreck-shaped cabins give a nod to the treacherous waters along this coastline. Views from the cabins are stunning and we love using the wood-burning stove on cold desert nights.
Gusts can expect to explore the coast – viewing shipwrecks and visiting seal colonies while hearing the roar of the Atlantic. You’ll explore the region’s geology and perhaps spot desert-adapted elephants, brown hyenas or lions. Quad biking (ATV) through the dunes is exhilarating, or you can try dune boarding, where you can reach speeds of up to 45 mph! If the weather cooperates, don’t miss the chance for a beach picnic – a delicious treat enjoyed in an otherworldly location.
There are a lot of lodges to choose from when gorilla trekking in Uganda, but our top pick is Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge. Located in a remote area of Bwindi, Clouds is set high above the clouds overlooking the mountainous forest. The stone guest chalets are cozy with overstuffed furniture, wonderful local art and a fireplace for cool nights. The main lodge almost feels like a ski chalet. The food is sumptuous, and the staff warm and welcoming. Your stay also includes the services of a private butler who will ensure you have everything you need, all the time.
Gorilla trekking is the main activity at Clouds (followed by a foot massage), though you can also take a guided hike through the forest, enjoy community activities or indulge in a spa treatment.
You might not think of Malawi as a beach retreat, but Lake Malawi is more than 350 miles long and offers all the fun and relaxation of a traditional beach destination. Our top choice in the area is Kaya Mawa, a boutique lodge hidden away on Likoma Island about halfway down the lake. Malawi is known as the ‘warm heart of Africa’ and you will feel that warmth from the incredible staff at Kaya Mawa.
With just 11 rooms and one private villa, the lodge offers secret decks for sunbathing or romantic dinners under the stars and unique, secluded lakeside chalets with private lounges (and some with private pools). If all of the relaxation is too much for you, you can choose from activities like stand-up-paddle boarding, kayaking, snorkeling (every room has its own gear), sailing and quad-biking. Kaya Mawa also has a full PADI dive school to take advantage of what is underwater. Lake Malawi is essentially a giant freshwater aquarium, boasting more species of colorful cichlid fish than any other lake in the world!
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Photos courtesy Greystoke Mahale, Tswalu Kalahari, Ol Malo, Singita Kwitonda Lodge, Sandibe Safari Lodge, Nyamatusi Camp, Royal Chundu, Shipwreck Lodge, Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge and Kaya Mawa