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, babysitters 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 5 safari villas do that and more.
#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 most 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.
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 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 8-sleeper villa. 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.
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 Sanctuary Chuma House - personalised & private
This exceptional safari villa was named after one of David Livingstone's travelling companions, and is situated on the banks of the Zambezi River, just a few kilometers from thundering Victoria Falls. Perfect for families with children of all ages, it opens up the safari experience for everyone. Children will love the open-plan living areas, spacious deck and swimming pool, while the luxurious touches will delight mom, dad and grandparents too.
Explore surrounding Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, or head directly for the Falls where you'll come across a statue of David Livingstone himself. There's plenty to do for the adventurous: micro-lighting, white-water rafting and bungee jumping will tempt the adrenalin-hungry, but if you want to simply relax and unwind, then a peaceful river cruise as the sun sets will do the trick.
#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 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.
This Relais & 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 the island paradise of Mauritius by supper time – what a dreamy thought…
#5 The Mara Houses – into the wild
The Masai Mara is rightfully one of the most famous safari areas in the world. Not only is it home to the drama of the Wildebeest Migration but its wide, open plains make for easy game spotting – in short, it’s the real deal.
So if its your first visit to Africa or you have limited time, it makes sense to head to a safari epicentre. All three of the Mara Bush houses are located in private conservancies: two in the Mara North Conservancy and one in Olare Orok. Conservancies mean much lower visitor numbers, which makes for totally uncrowded sightings and far fewer vehicles (click here to read more about the benefits of staying in a conservancy.
The Acacia Mara Bush House overlooks the popular Ol Chorno waterhole while guests at the Topi Mara Bush House (named after the iconic East African antelope) can spend a night fly-camping (staying a dome tent in a very remote location) in Olare Orok. The Mara Bush House fuses old-school charm with bright Maasai fabrics, reminding you of the Masai Mara's storied history.
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 swapping tales about the day’s adventures, you’ll be hard-pushed to disagree.