I want to go on safari next year, but how do I know where to go?
Where are the best safari camps in Tanzania, for example, or Kenya? I know guiding is important, but who are the best guides? Where do I find great guiding teams? Can anyone tell me if there is a ‘best safari lodge in Africa 2017’?
We all want to know that we’re going to somewhere really fantastic when we go on safari, to somewhere with fab food, with a knock-you-sideways view, with relentless wildlife action. But it’s hard to get a handle on it because there are just so many contenders. And you think you know a place and then it goes and changes.
That’s where the Safari Awards come in, and just in the nick of time we have the results for 2017.
The Safari Awards Best Safari Lodges in Africa 2017
Here’s the Good Safari Guide low-down on the best safari lodges in Africa 2017 in a categories such as best design, best cuisine, best community-focus, and of course the overall best safari experience in Africa 2017.
Best Design Safari Lodge 2017
This category has gone nuts in recent years, with unfathomable designs out of natural materials. The safari lodge which has bowled everyone over is Zarafa Camp, taking eco-friendly principles to new levels of excellence: repurposed teak railroad sleepers for flooring and furniture made from mahogany washed up in the 2005 tsunami.
Leobo Private Reserve, by Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, ignites your aesthetic experience upon entering the house with a hippo skeleton chandelier dangling over the dining table, and continues the morbid theme with its ‘Bones Bar’ where they gave up trying to piece together the skeleton and hung the bones about eerily instead.
Nomad’s remote Lamai Serengeti is Tanzania’s answer to ‘what is quirky’, with its clever blend of canvas, plaster and natural poles. Although many a safari camp will claim to be ‘blended into nature’, few are as tucked away into rock and bush as Lamai Serengeti.
Best Community Safari Lodge 2017
The Best Community Safari Lodge is a well-represented category which is music to the ears of those with a social conscience. The wonderful Craig family’s Lewa Wilderness in Kenya with its 400 staff and multitude of schools and community projects has fared particularly well as one would have expected, along with Tongole Wilderness Lodge in Malawi which supports 3 local schools, amongst other worthwhile community projects.
But the overall winner for the best community safari lodge 2017 is Singita’s Pamushana Lodge in Zimbabwe, which provides a fortified meal of corn-soya porridge to 19 000 children each school day. Yes, you heard us, 19,000 daily!
Best Safari Lodge Cuisine 2017
The Best Cuisine in a Safari Lodge had a runaway winner this year in Royal Malewane. The thing that makes Malewane so fabulous is the time they invest in imagining, creating, presenting and delivering their food. The staff members are expertly-trained and highly knowledgeable in cuisine and accompanying fine wines, and all this in the middle of the bush. Every time we’ve visited, expert guide Juan has had trouble prizing us away from the table to go game-viewing.
For foodies who want to go on safari, don’t overlook Jamala Madikwe in South Africa which comes highly recommended by 30,000 voters this year, or pretty much any of the Singita properties, most notably Pamushana again. The Singita group is quite secretive about what goes on in its kitchens because they know they have one of the best chef-training programs in the safari world, but we pledge to get you an interview and some behind the scenes photos one day!
The Best Family Safari Lodge 2017
The lovely Grant Cumings’ Chiawa Camp has risen again as one of the best family offerings in Africa. We are big fans of Grant and his authentic operation, and it’s no surprise that he is one of the best destinations for families because Grant has brought up his own family in the Lower Zambezi; he has years’ of experience of making sure kids are enthralled, enthused and enlightened.
Kaya Mawa in Malawi is proving to be one of the go-to beach spots for a family, with its lucent fresh-water lake and water-based activities (have you snorkeled in a fresh-water lake?).
Andbeyond’s Vamizi Island in Mozambique is also a top-choice for families looking for some beach r&r after a dusty ‘African massage’ in the back of a 4×4 on safari. Vamizi suggests you ‘tuck into a mouth-watering castaway picnic, toast the sunset from a traditional dhow, try your hand at deep-sea fishing and welcome the seasonal arrival of baby green turtles as they hatch from protected sites along the island.’
However it’s South Africa’s Leobo Private Reserve which tops the bill for families, and we have to say we wholeheartedly agree (we visit Leobo as much as we possibly can!). You can’t beat it for the breadth of experiences on offer for young and old, from quad biking to manicures with choppers, canoes and paintballing in between. Little kids will love the triple-decker bunk bed and ‘secret’ suspended snug.
Best Safari Guiding Team in Africa 2017
This is the one that really matters. If you don’t have a great guiding team, you may as well give up on an African safari and take yourself off to the nearest zoo.
Chiawa Camp in Zambia has consistently topped the charts since the Safari Awards inception over ten years ago. Grant’s guiding team is second to none, and it is no surprise that Chiawa has been recognized again this year as the Best Guiding Team in Africa 2017. Yes, we know, we do bang on about Chiawa, but believe us, there is a reason for that.
Lamai Serengeti is the place to go for incredible guiding if you are heading to Tanzania, and you simply cannot go wrong if you stay at any of Norman Carr’s safari camps either. Norman Carr pioneered walking safaris, and Norman Carr Safaris has been a leading light in guiding excellence ever since. Norman is safari royalty and every inch of the Norman Carr operation is genuine and excellent.
Best Beach Safari 2017
If you head to Africa on a safari, it is likely that you’ll end up at the coast for some R&R once you’ve finished with your bumpy vehicle ‘African massage’ on a game drive at 6am every morning for a week. But with an extensive coastline on not only mainland Africa, but on the islands in the Indian Ocean, where do you choose?
The 2017 best beach safari accommodation has been won by Kenya’s Alfajiri Villas. This is your ultimate Diani Beach destination, where you can stay completely secluded in one of the three villas, but with a 5 mile beach spreading to the north, a 5 mile beach to the south, and a coral reef on your doorstep. It’s light, fresh, luxurious and manages to fuse a Mediterranean feel with a touch of Zanzibar and Italy.
South Africa’s Grootbos has taken the number 2 spot for the best beach lodge which is a coup considering the Indian Ocean competition. The ocean-facing Grootbos is not about wafting about in a sarong and waiting for cocktail hour. Owner Michael Lutzeyer’s vision is ‘to immerse you in all the abundant treasures that the southern tip of Africa has to offer.. from the mighty and majestic Southern Right Whales of Walker Bay to the blossoming brilliance of the Cape Floral Kingdom’ . Get out on a horse, on a 4×4, in a plane or a boat and explore.
Up there with the best as we would expect, is Kaya Mawa in Malawi. We particularly love Kaya because it is the answer to the question of how to ‘safari and beach’ if in Zambia or Zimbabwe, or even South Africa if the Atlantic is not your idea of a beach holiday. Kaya’s warm shores offer everything you’d expect of an ocean beach, without the menacing riptides and seaweed.
The Best Safari Lodge in Africa 2017
But this is what we’ve been waiting for – the best safari lodge in Africa 2017. And the winner is, as voted by 15,000 tour operators and travellers: Uncharted Africa. And we absolutely agree with the result.
Uncharted is in fact a group of wild experiences, or rather a movement. Led by the famous Ralph Bousfield, Uncharted shuns the commercialization of the safari experience epitomized by the faced paced development of bush hotels, and aims to bring ‘real adventure’ to each guest, with ‘unreal style’.
Uncharted has 4 camps: Jack’s, San, Kalahari & Planet Baobab, in Botswana’s bleak Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, and an adventurous mobile guiding operation. Uncharted remains true to the authentic safari experience: showers under the stars, no electricity and steaming water brought to one’s tent in a gleaming copper jug.
With a leader committed to conservation, who wears a vial of snake-bite antidote around his neck, and who once jumped back into a crashed and burning plane to rescue his father, Uncharted Africa is the obvious choice for anyone looking for the best safari experience in Africa 2017.