If we’re being totally honest, most of Africa’s flagship wilderness regions are wild, free and unfenced (except for the outermost borders!). Some lodges prefer, or are required by regulation, to fence their living quarters and this is obviously great for families with small children and lodges with larger guest numbers. But, let’s face it, our dreams of wildest Africa include hearing lions roar a stone’s throw from your tented suite and gazing out at a busy waterhole from the camp’s deck.
One of the perks of staying at an unfenced lodge is that animals are free to roam wherever they like so you'll be surprised by animals walking past your suite and have brilliant photographic opportunities! Something to consider is that these lodges have very strict child policies and that guests need to be acompanied by an askari or member of staff when they walk from one part of the lodge to another, especially at night.
So, without getting too technical, these are some of our favourite lodges where the animals roam free and wildlife is known to visit on a regular basis - offering you the ultimate ‘armchair safari'.
Royal Malewane, Kruger National Park, South Africa
Juvenile elephants drink from a plunge pool from one of the lodge’s private suites. Part of the Royal Portfolio, the award-winning Royal Malewane is located on Thornybush Private Game Reserve within the greater Kruger region. The lodge exudes the romance and beauty of a bygone age offering personalised service and sensational game viewing and is known for having one of the best guiding teams in Africa. The staff to guest ratio is four to one so expect personal service catering to your every need.
Hlosi Game Lodge, Eastern Cape, South Africa
A curious cheetah coalition has been seen exploring the Hlosi walkways on numerous occasions. Situated within the Amakhala Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape, this luxurious retreat is located on a hill overlooking a river plain. As with any unfenced lodge in Africa, always stay indoors and request that an askari or member of staff collects you if there are predators or large game in camp.
Sanctuary Makanyane, Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa
This luxury lodge in South Africa’s Madikwe Game Reserve is set on the edge of a ravine and overlooks a riverine forest. The wrap-around glass walls of each suite afford you spectacular views of the Groot Marico River, the surrounding bush and its many inhabitants.
At Sanctuary Makanyane you are also given the unforgettable opportunity to sleep under the African sky - surrounded only by flickering lanterns - on a raised hide hidden deep in the bush.
Mfuwe Lodge, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Mfuwe Lodge is situated in the game-rich South Luangwa National Park, a conservation area famous for its large concentrations of hippo, buffalo, elephants and all the major predators. Cool off in the swiming pool while watching African wildlife graze or drink at the lagoon below.
Each year between late October and mid-December staff and visitors at Mfuwe look forward to a special visit from elephant families that arrive to feast on the fallen fruits of the large wild mango tree within the lodge's grounds. Three generations of a particular elephant family have returned annually to walk through the reception lobby on their quest for their favourite summer fruit. Their unusual dining habits and unique behaviour have been the focus of many a TV documentary, photographic safari and even children's books.
Governors' Camp, Masai Mara, Kenya
Governors’ Camp nestles in the riverine forest along the banks of the Mara River, its waters teeming with birdlife, hippo and crocodile, in the heart of Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. The setting of this camp is so magical that this area was once reserved exclusively for Kenya’s colonial governors. Being located in the action of the annual Wildebeest Migration, this camp offers you spectacular game viewing, from big cats and spotted hyena to hippo and giraffe strolling past your tent on their way to the river. All the tents have verandas, some with views across the sweeping plains of the Masai Mara while others look over the banks of the meandering Mara River.
Also well known for their hot-air balloon safaris, Governors' offers you the opportunity to experience the Kenyan landscape from above, which allows for ample photographic opportunities. After your hour-long journey, in the time-honoured tradition of balloon flights all over the world, you are treated to a champagne breakfast, prepared and cooked wherever you land.
Somalisa Expeditions, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Somalisa Expeditions is nestled among a grove of acacia trees deep in Hwange National Park. Hwange's famously populous elephants meander past the camp at all hours of the day, drinking from the nearby waterholes and having mud baths in front of the raised deck where you are able to photograph and observe them in their natural habitat. Watch how the little ones pick up speed the moment the scent the water, trotting along excitedly while the adults keep watch and bring up the rear.
The Manta Resort, Phemba Island, Zanzibar
Offering Africa’s first underwater hotel room, this Swedish-engineered suite incorporates three levels: the landing deck at sea level with a lounge and bathroom, an upper deck for sunbathing and stargazing and, of course, the lower deck where you can stay up all night gazing into the shimmering abyss through 360-degree windows. Underwater spotlights attract shyer species like squid, octopus and even Spanish dancers.
Imagine lying in your bed surrounded by panes of glass and a 360-degree view of the turquoise ocean, watching the exquisite reef fish and other rare visitors at your window, some of them even staying close to your room for protection from predation!
Serengeti Under Canvas, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
This mobile tented camp follows the anual Wildebeest Migration as the vast herds migrate across the plains named 'Siringitu' in the Maa language, which means 'the place where the land moves on forever'. As the camp follows the Migration, you are guaranteed front-row seats to one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in the world. This authentic safari experience is heightened around the evening fire, as you share anecdotes, serenaded by the sounds of the wild and awed by the plethora of stars above you. Expect simple, stylish accommodation in romantic canvas tents, plush couches in the living area and iced drinks served in the heat of the day. Your personal butler ensures that you have everything you need throughout your safari.
Kwetsani Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Kwetsani Camp is located on an island covered with palm, mangosteen and fig trees in the private Jao Concession. The accommodation consists of spacious 'treehouses' raised on stilts beneath a shady canopy of trees and overlooking the wildlife-filled floodplains - keep an eye out for sitatunga, red lechwe and elephants. For an unforgettable Okavango Delta experience, sleepovers can be arranged at one of the game-viewing hides.
Ol Pejeta Bush Camp, Laikipia, Kenya
Ol Pejeta Bush Camp is situated on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River in Kenya's Laikipia region. The camp offers magnificent views of Mount Kenya with wildlife often wandering in and around the camp thanks to a popular salt lick on the opposite bank of the river. The Ol Pejeta private conservancy is home to the last three remaining northern white rhinos in the world - named Sudan, Najin and Fatu - as well as about 40 rescued chimpanzees. It is also home to a mindblowingly rich array of African game and over 200 migrant and resident bird species. In fact, this conservancy boasts one of the greatest game-to-area ratios of any reserve in Kenya.
Set in a private wildlife concession bordering the famous Moremi Game Reserve, this tented camp overlooks the permanent water and green floodplains of the Okavango Delta in an especially game-rich area. Elephant and buffalo herds are often seen in front of camp, and the surrounding woodlands are home to the rare, elusive and beautiful sable antelope after which Sable Alley was named.
Singita Sabora Tented Camp, Serengeti, Tanzania
Singita Sabora Tented Camp is situated in an untouched wilderness area of the Grumeti Game Reserve, which spans 350 000 acres in northern Tanzania and form part of the exciting wildebeest migratory route. When you are not out on exciting game drives, enjoy time on the tennis court surrounded by the African wilderness - perhaps the vervet monkeys will help 'keep score'. This unfenced camp gives you the thrill of knowing there isn't much separating the comforts found inside from the elements and wildlife outside.
Kanga Camp, Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe
Set within a private concession within Mana Pools in Zimbabwe, Kanga Camp offers a truly authentic experience in this untouched wilderness. Home to the armchair safari, the camp overlooks the Kanga Pan that provides a regular watering point for a wide rage of game and birds. Being the only known water source in the area available throughout the year, makes this camp a hub for wildlife and a delight to explore on foot. Expect sightings to include elephants, wild dogs, African fish eagles and storks, all of which can be seen from the comfort of the viewing deck if your luck is in. Kanga works well in collaboration with Zambezi Expeditions to provide you with an overall view of the inland and riverside experiences available in Mana Pools.
Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda
Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp is nestled deep inside the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest which is a World Heritage Site in southwest Uganda. The forest is home to just over half the world’s last surviving mountain gorillas and due to its supurb location it's not unusual for gorilla families to visit the camp itself! The camp serves as the perfect base for gorilla-trekking expeditions and also offers activities such as nature walks to admire the area's volcanoes, jagged valleys, waterfalls, lakes and dramatic mountain ranges.
Bilimungwe Camp, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Located in a little-visited and unspoilt part of Zambia's South Luangwa National Park, Bilimungwe is famous for their resident male hippo named Harry that has made the waterhole in front of the mess tent his personal territory. Harry provides hours of amusement and guests have been known to send him Christmas cards and other greetings!
Intimate and remote, 'Bili' lies on the shaded banks of the Luangwa River and delivers good sightings of Africa's classic big game species such as lion, buffalo, hippo, leopard and elephant as well as rare animals like wild dog plus a huge variety of bird species.