It’s been a big year out on the plains. In the past 12 months more new safari lodges have opened than ever before. Liz Bird introduces you to the very best bases in which to luxuriate amid the wildlife, from Africa to Asia…
MEGHAULI SERAI LODGE Nepal
This chic Taj-run lodge on the edge of Chitwan National Park is ideal for wildlife lovers who don’t want to scrimp on creature comforts. Taking its design cue from local Tharu tribal homes, the main lodge has thatched roofs and mud walls, while the bar and restaurant are decked out with dark wood furniture, woven baskets and tribal masks. There’s a gentle rhythm to each day: swimming, sunbathing and relaxing are sandwiched between dawn and dusk game drives (including tiger, rhino and sloth bear spotting) with skilled park rangers who share their passion for the local wildlife. Retire to one of 16 rustic villas overlooking the Rapti River with plunge pools, pastel-hued furnishings, claw-foot baths and an outdoor shower. There are also 13 smaller rooms. Eat under the stars on a riverside deck and listen to the call of rhesus monkeys through the darkness.
The lodge is a 45-minute drive from Bharatpur airport, which is a short 20-minute flight from Kathmandu. Doubles from £145 per night. Villas from £215 per night. Prices do not include any safari excursions. The best time of year to visit is between November and March. 00 977 180 011 825, http://tajsafaris.com
FELINE FIELDS, KALAHARI BOTSWANA
Watch elephants drinking from the watering hole as you take a dip in the 25m communal pool at this remote lodge in the Okavango Delta. Each of the two-storey wooden ‘suites’ are open to the elements and have a super-size bed draped with mosquito nets, plus a standalone bath, shower and twin sinks. A fridge ensures a cooling drink is always at hand. Head up the external stairs to the upper deck and lounge on the chic woven day bed after a morning’s game drive where you may spot leopards, hyenas, aardvarks, meerkats and wild dogs. Use the guest mountain bikes to cycle to the restaurant and pool at the lodge, or explore the surrounding countryside. As well as going on game drives, visit the nearby Gcwihaba Caves, a proposed World Heritage Site dating back more than three million years, with its labyrinth of mysterious caverns filled with stalactites and stalagmites. Take a walk with a Kalahari Bushman and hear about natural medicines and folklore, or even stay overnight at a fly camp to witness the famous Bushmen trance dance. Part religious ceremony, part celebration, participants believe they enter a spiritual realm where they fight evil spirits, gain healing powers and have visions. Return to camp to relax by the pool or make use of the tennis court, open-air gym and spa.
Tented suites from £617pp per night. Pool suites from £765pp per night. Rates include most game drives, food
and land transfers to the lodge. Helicopter transfers are included one-way for stays of six nights. The best time to go is September to May. 00 267 686 5756, http://felinefields.com
Until now, this island country has been renowned for its wildlife and natural beauty, not its luxury resorts. Miavana, on the island of Nosy Ankao, is set to change all that. Opening this month, it has 14 beachfront villas ranging from one to three bedrooms. Nestled among verdant vegetation, the main lodge is home to indoor and outdoor dining areas, a French garden, pool, bar and spa. Here it’s all about ‘blue safaris’ that include whale diving, kitesurfing, deep-sea fishing and scuba diving. Snorkel off the beach and marvel at colourful fish in the shallow coral reefs. Humpback whales migrate off the coast from June to November and there are numerous turtle nesting sites near the lodge. The island hosts one of the world’s largest nesting tern colonies between May and October. If you tire of island life, head to the mainland to jet-ski along the mangrove waterways or take a lemur trek in the rainforest.
Villas from £3,290 per night, based on two sharing. The price includes accommodation, all meals, standard drinks, laundry, two game viewings per day, park fees, local airport transfers and inter-camp transfers. The best time to visit is March to October. 00 260 216 246 025, http://timeandtideafrica.com
THE HIGHLANDS, NGORONGORO TANZANIA
It’s hard to beat the location of the eight canvas and glass domes perched high on the slopes of the Olmoti volcano. Wake up in your king-size bed and drink in the magnificent views towards the Serengeti through the bay windows. En suite bathrooms come with hot running showers and flushing toilets, while a wood-burning stove will keep you cosy after the sun sinks below the horizon. Descend into the vast Ngorongoro Crater, a natural zoo where the Big Five roam freely, and don’t miss the ranger-escorted half-day hike to nearby Empakaai Crater, where thousands of pink flamingo line the shores of the soda lake. Other excursions include climbing the Olmoti volcano, where you can spot a tremendous array of bird, butterfly and fern species, and meet local Maasai from neighbouring villages.
The closest airstrip is Lake Manyara, which is around 2.5hrs drive across the plains to the lodge. You can fly to it from Kilimanjaro International Airport. Rooms from £345pp per night. This includes full-board accommodation, scheduled game drives, hikes and cultural visits as well as transfers to and from the airstrip. The best time to visit is between January and April or June and August. http://asiliaafrica.com
LITTLE RUCKOMECHI, MANA POOLS ZIMBABWE
It’s all about getting close to nature at this intimate camp, which has recently sprung up on the banks of the Zambezi. There are only three tents with wooden decks, bathrooms and a veranda, all decorated in natural hues. A central lodge has a plunge pool, dining area and lounge overlooking the floodplains where mighty elephant roam. Take a canoe safari along the Zambezi to see birdlife including the black heron and the coloured southern carmine bee-eaters that nest on the banks. More gentle cruises are also on offer. The camp is in Mana Pools National Park, where professional rangers will take you on game walks or opentop Land Rover safaris to spot grunting hippos, kudu, zebra, and giraffe. Not to mention the big cats. Though you don’t have to go too far, elephants have even been known to appear in the camp.
Tents from £637pp per night. This is a fully inclusive rate. The best time to go is July to September. 00 27 11 807 1800, http://wilderness-safaris.com
CHOBE WATER VILLAS NAMIBIA
The only way to reach this new boutique lodge on the banks of the Chobe River is by boat. Spot hippos, buffalo and crocodile from the riverside terrace of your elevated thatched villa, one of 16 with floor-to-ceiling folding glass doors and sleek bathrooms. A further rear terrace overlooking the bush is the perfect place to enjoy sundowners. The main lodge has an infinity pool with equally magnificent river views. There’s also a restaurant, bar and library lounge decked out with contemporary pieces of African art, including a ceiling-hung skeletal structure evoking the country’s famed Skeleton Coast and a light installation in the form of a giant weaver bird’s nest. It’s all very sociable at the fire pits, where you can meet fellow guests and share all your wildlife-spotting stories. Take a morning game drive in Chobe National Park, home to one of the highest concentrations of game in Africa, including lion, zebra, giraffe and antelope, or join a sunset cruise along the Chobe or Zambezi rivers. It will take you past the historic Kasai Channel and renowned Impalila Island. Half-day excursions to see the dramatic Victoria Falls, some 90km away, can also be arranged.
There are four airports close by – Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe is around a two-hour drive. Luxury water villa from £366pp per night. This is a fully inclusive rate, though airport transfers are extra. The best time to visit is April to October. 00 264 614 318 002, http://chobewatervillas.com
SAFARI LODGES, NEW LOOK It's not just new-builds gracing the plains. Plenty have undergone refurbishments with lodges that offer outstanding interiors and even better access to game.
&BEYOND OKAVANGO TENTED CAMP, BOTSWANA
This tented camp emerged from a complete overhaul in August. It’s the perfect blend of water and wildlife as the lagoons and channels of the Okavango Delta floodplains overflow with animals including sitatungas and red lechwes. From £849pp per night. http://andbeyond.com
SABI SABI LITTLE BUSH CAMP, SOUTH AFRICA
Colonial safari chic best sums up the interior of this newly refurbished camp, which is marking its ten-year anniversary in the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve. The six thatched suites have heated spa baths, a sleek indoor and outdoor shower and private decks. From £597pp per night. http://sabisabi.com
SALA’S CAMP, MAASAI MARA, KENYA
Witness the annual wildebeest migration at this completely revamped eco camp in the Maasai Mara. Every year between June and September, more than a million storm its lush grasslands from the Serengeti. The stylish interiors are just as spectacular as the wildlife: seven luxury tents feature roll-top copper baths, hot showers and campaign-style furniture and local art. From £455pp per night. http://thesafaricollection.com
SHER BAGH, RAJASTHAN, INDIA
Spot tigers in the wild from the 12 new canvas tents at this camp which sits on a ridge offering superb views of Ranthambore National Park. The accommodation is furnished in Edwardian style. From £491 per night, based on two sharing. http://sujanluxury.com
SINGITA LEBOMBO LODGE, SOUTH AFRICA
One of Kruger National Park’s top game-spotting options has been given a contemporary look, with new villas, a huge pool, gym and spa. The open-plan glass suites are beautifully suspended over the N’Wanetsi River. From £1,260pp per night. http://singita.com
This article was published on 16th December 2016 so certain details may not be up to date.