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Africa's Top 5 Safari Villas

Like a cardsharp with an ace up both sleeves, a safari villa is hard to beat. Not only are they tucked away in beautiful private reserves, but they are the best way to enjoy a completely individualized safari. And for the larger-than-usual group, they are exactly what's needed.

Most often sleeping up to eight travellers, safari villas are designed with extended families and groups of friends in mind. No more separate tents, one-size-fits-all buffets and split-up game drives; today’s safari villas are all about luxurious home from home living with private pools and interactive kitchens. Dedicated guides and exclusive-use vehicles means tailor-made game viewing; personal chefs, baby sitters and housekeepers make it a hassle-free holiday.

And what a vacation! From the drama of the wildebeest migration to the convenience of malaria-free game viewing, there’s a villa-based safari for all tastes. Of course, there are villas and then there are villas. We think that a villa of any description should make you go ‘wow’ before you’ve even stepped inside: Africa’s top five safari villas do that and more.

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Serengeti Singita House - the quintessential safari villa: private, luxurious, and superbly located in a wildlife-rich region of the Grumeti.

#1 Singita Serengeti House – grandstand seats to the migration

You might be speechless when you arrive at this superb safari villa on the banks of a crocodile-filled river. During the migration season hundreds, if not thousands, of wildebeest dodge the snapping jaws of crocs as they fight their way across the turbulent waters in a life-and-death spectacle that you'll witness from frontrow seats.

The Serengeti wildebeest migration – nature’s unforgettable display of hoof, tooth and claw - deserves an equally memorable safari villa, guaranteed at Tanzania’s morst admired residence: Singita Serengeti House: its hillside position offers views to be framed and hung in a gallery, and the famous Singita service rivals that of a 5-star hotel.

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Each room is a subtle yet luxurious play on the classic safari theme.
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Explore the Serengeti Grumeti on guided walks & game drives.

With wildebeest herds milling on the savannah below you, it’s tempting not to leave the comfort of an armchair at this four-bedroom villa, but you’re in the exclusive-use Grumeti Reserve with a list of activities that out-trumps anything else in the area. Children can join a mini ranger course, catching frogs and butterflies while you head out with your personal guide in search of lions, cheetahs and elephants. For a different take on game viewing, sit on a saddle: horseback and mountain bike safaris are just two of the surprises here.

#2 The Homestead at Phinda – showcasing biodiversity

Not many people know about Phinda Private Game Reserve, tucked away in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. But once you’ve enjoyed a stay here, you’ll be happy to keep this gem of a reserve a secret. Phinda is a place of exceptional biodiversity, stunning scenery and absolutely no tourist crowds.

Big smiles greet you at The Homestead at Phinda, an eight-sleeper villa that bears the reassuring &Beyond logo, a reliable sign that you’re in experienced safari hands. Game viewing is the focus here, hardly surprising given the reserve’s reputation for the big stuff: rhino peer out from thorny thickets, hippo laze on the riverbanks and big cats stalk antelope on the grasslands – but you won’t be in a 4X4 all the time. At Phinda you can track animals on foot, paddle a canoe down a meandering river and visit local Zulu communities.

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The Homestead is tucked away in the biodiverse Phinda Reserve.
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It's the perfect space in the bush to relax and unwind.

Families will love The Homestead. The villa chef prepares picnic lunches and fireside suppers to a flexible schedule while a swimming pool and private gym keep energetic bodies busy. And Phinda’s setting close to KwaZulu-Natal’s Indian Ocean coast means easy beach vacation add-ons – what more could you ask for?

#3 Kwandwe Melton Manor – Big 5 & malaria-free

Now there’s a handy combination for families with young children: all the thrills of Big 5 game viewing without the nagging worry of malaria. In South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, the Kwandwe Private Game Reserve provides just that, and there’s no better place to return to after a day under a big African sky than Kwandwe Melton Manor.

A modern, frontier-style farmhouse set around a swimming pool, Melton Manor sleeps eight in suites that even have their own butler hatches for super-discreet service. And superb service is certainly on offer: a personal chef takes care of your meals and a dedicated guide and tracker supplement game drives with activities that’ll become family legends: rhino tracking, walking safaris and river adventures.

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A firm favourite of families, Kwandwe Melton Manor is perfect for larger groups, sleeping up to 8 people in the heart of Kwandwe.

But Melton Manor’s trump card is their attention to children. How can a child not be entertained by pizza making, bug collecting and a ranger training course, complete with a soon-to-be-treasured certificate? And nothing beats the experience at a local village where visiting families take part in community life: parents may find themselves reading a story to a school class, teenagers help out with computers and arts and crafts, and everyone takes part in a game of that ultimate social leveller – soccer!

#4 Morukuru Farmhouse – a family favourite

The owners’ brief was simple: create a villa in which every member of the family can relax. And thanks to its expansive lawns, curl-up-on-a-sofa living spaces and giant bedrooms, this 10-sleeper villa – in 100 fenced-in hectares of the Madikwe Private Game Reserve - delivers just that.

Madikwe is the gem of the Kalahari, a destination that offers the Big 5 with the added bonus of rare desert species in a big blue-sky, malaria-free environment. Morukuru gives you the chance to explore Madikwe in even more exclusivity than usual: set in its own private enclave, it is a place of mountain-top breakfasts, spot-lit night drives and fine wines hand selected from a private cellar.

Morukuru Farmhouse - A game drive at Morukuru in Madikwe
Experience fantastic Big 5 game viewing at Morukuru Farmhouse.
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Offering both comfort and luxury, Morukuru is a home away from home.

This Relais and Chateau property has pulled out all the stops for its youngest guests. Fun and laughter rules the day as children track animals, create a scrap book and make African beaded jewellery under the careful eyes of experienced rangers and child minders. With Johannesburg airport just three hours away, you could leave Morukuru after breakfast and be in Mauritius by supper time – what a dreamy thought…

#5 Luangwa Safari House – into the wild

Safaris don’t come much more authentic than the kind they do in Zambia. Huge sprawling parks full of animals, expert guides and not a zebra-striped mini bus in sight – it’s the real deal.

So, how about walking these Big 5 wild lands on foot? In the South Luangwa National Park they invented the walking safari led with an armed ranger and naturalist guide. Walking immediately immerses you in the detail of Africa’s wild environment; each footstep reveals yet another layer, from the secret world of insects to the medicinal uses of plants and the tell-tale signs of wildlife.  And these Zambians know a thing or two about welcome surprises under a shady tree – is that the tinkling of ice in a glass, I hear?

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This fantastic safari villa has a top-notch position in the South Luangwa, and sports its very own waterhole!

Walking safaris are just part of the suite of activities at Luangwa Safari House: spend the full day out on a game drive or sit in the shade and watch elephants jostle for space at the waterhole right in front of camp. Ideal for safari travellers looking for a balance of relaxation and action in their vacation, and one of the few child-friendly accommodations in the South Luangwa, this eight-sleeper villa also offers visits to nearby markets and schools for a memorable insight into local life.

Safari villas have changed the face of African travel. Balancing comfort and fully-staffed convenience with adventure and flexibility, they are set to become the way to enjoy an independent, on-your-terms safari. And as you sit around a blazing campfire listening to the sound of happily chattering children and friends swopping tales about the day’s adventures, you’ll be hard-pushed to disagree.

 

View all African safari villas.

 Written by Dominic Chadbon. Connect with him on Google+

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