5 bespoke safari experiences where you can spot the Big Five this winter

Luxury suite at the Makweti Safari Lodge, Welgevonden Private Game Reserve. Picture: Karen Sandison/ANA Pics

Luxury suite at the Makweti Safari Lodge, Welgevonden Private Game Reserve. Picture: Karen Sandison/ANA Pics

Published Jul 16, 2022


Now is the right time for a luxury safari experience. Winter is the best time to go on a safari as it is the dry season and animals are out and about in search of water. It is also cooler.

Animals such as the Big Five will gravitate towards the remaining water sources and since trees are bare and the vegetation is sparse, it becomes much easier to see these animals.

A lioness gives her cub some TLC. Picture: Royal Malewane Instagram

South Africa is home to the Big Five, we see them every day on our banknotes. You can see lions, buffalo, leopards, elephants and rhino in the flesh in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.

South Africa has been proactive in keeping wildlife areas protected and we have several game reserves to choose from, including Pilanesberg National Park, Kruger National Park, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park and Addo Elephant National Park.

A young family is all smiles as they take a selfie with elephants on an African safari. Picture: Royal Malewane Instagram

When it comes to bespoke travel, South Africa has some gems.

Here is a list of the top five bespoke safari experiences where you can spot the Big Five this winter.

Royal Malewane

Majestic elephants pay a guest as visit as she relaxes by the pool. Picture: Royal Malewane Instagram

Royal Malewane is in the Kruger National Park. The Kruger is the largest game reserve in South Africa and one of the world’s biggest wildlife sanctuaries.

It is also the ultimate place to go on safari in search of the Big Five. Royal Malewane is one of the most private safari destinations in southern Africa and boasts an experienced and qualified team of guides.

According to Royal Malewane, their private safari villa offers the best of both worlds, the privacy and comfort of a luxury home coupled with the services and facilities of a 5-star lodge.

Royal Malewane offers three villa options and spa treatments can be arranged in the privacy of your villa.

Their luxury suite starts from R 33 500 per person per night and their Royal suite costs from R 157 000 per unit, per night.

Marataba Luxury Lodges

A beautiful view of the Marataba Mountains in Waterberg at Marekele Park. Picture: Instagram

Marataba is in the Marakele National Park, whose name means ‘place of sanctuary’ in Setswana. Marataba’s Safari Lodge is on a plain at the foot of the mountains, while Mountain Lodge is a remote retreat on a hillside overlooking the Waterfall Valley.

According to their Instagram page, Marataba is a place where busy people come to reconnect with life, and to truly live through nature. It has four lodges and is also family friendly.

Thanks to the overlapping of habitats here, Big Five encounters are common. Marataba also offer pop-up bush dinners. Their rates start at R 11 130 per person sharing per night.

Madikwe Hills Private Game Lodge

A luxury suite with a private pool at Madikwe Hills Private Game Lodge. Picture: Instagram

Madikwe Hills is near the Botswana border in the North West Province of South Africa. It is located in the middle of the Madikwe Game Reserve, which is the fifth largest game reserve in South Africa. The reserve is a malaria-free area.

The over 75 000 hectares of Madikwe are teeming with wildlife and biodiversity with 86 types of mammals, 420 bird species and 104 tree species. Madikwe Hills Main Lodge boasts 10 spacious and luxurious suites.

Some suites have spectacular views where you can see herds of wandering animals make their way to the watering hole. Some have private outdoor bathrooms and plunge pools.

At the main camp, rates start at R13 650 per person per night and the Little Madikwe Villa is available for R 59 000 per night.

Mfulawozi Wilderness Biyela Lodge

The suite at Biyela Lodge boasts modern features with colours inspired by nature. Picture: Instagram

Mfulawozi Wilderness Biyela Lodge is a 5-star private game lodge in the heart of Zululand in KwaZulu-Natal. It is situated in the Hluhluwe Game Reserve near the Mfolozi River.

The conservation area is home to the Big Five and lodge offers game drives, wilderness walks and wellness treatments. Mfulawozi is also rich in Zulu culture and heritage as King Shaka Zulu established his royal hunting grounds in this area during his reign from 1818 and 1828.

The ‘Valley of the Kings’, the burial ground of a number of early Zulu kings is nearby and Dingiswayo Godongwane kaJobe’s grave site lies about 10km from mFulaWozi in the Mthethwa area.

The area is touted as the place where most of the Zulu nation’s history began. Biyela Lodge consists of 12 luxury standalone suites.

Each suite has views of the wildlife that make their way down to the river daily. Accommodation at the lodge starts from R 12 575 per person per night.

Lion Sands Game Reserve

Lion Sands boasts beautiful and exclusive accommodation suitable for the whole family. Picture: Instgram

Lion Sands Game Reserve is situated where the private Sabi Sand Game Reserve meets the Kruger National Park. The More Family has a collection of four luxury lodges and two bespoke villas between the Sand River and the Sabie River.

The lodges include The River Lodge, Tinga Lodge, Narina Lodge, Ivory Lodge, Hi’Nkwenu Villa and Fish Eagle Villa. Since the lodges are close to rivers, the probability of encountering the Big Five of Africa is higher.

Lion Sands Game Reserve was named one of the Top 100 Hotels in the World at the 2021 Travel and Leisure World’s Best Awards. All the lodges and villas have private pools. The luxury accommodation is family friendly and offers private spa treatments.

Lion Sands conserves 12 400ha of habitat that is home to the highest and most diverse concentration of wildlife in the southern hemisphere.

There are also 137 mammal species and more than 450 varieties of bird. A stay at Narina Lodge costs from R20 145 per person per night and the Fish Eagle Villa starts from R183 160.