Travel 4 minutes 21 February 2024

The Safari Hotels of South Africa

South Africa’s parks and private game reserves are not only filled with the country’s “Big Five” wild animals, they also boast some of the world’s most respected and remarkable safari hotels.

The hotels below are part of the MICHELIN Guide hotel selection. Each of the 5,000+ hotels in the selection has been chosen by our experts for its extraordinary style, service, and personality — and each can be booked on the MICHELIN Guide website and app.

The safari as we know it today was developed in Africa throughout the 1900s. But it was only toward the end of the century, on the land in and around South Africa’s famed Kruger National Park, that the modern luxury safari began to take shape. That area, along with other game reserves in the country, are a haven for Africa’s Big Five — elephant, lion, rhino, leopard, buffalo — and a breeding ground for the types of hotels we like to see protected and cherished nearly as much as those amazing animals: unique, purpose-built, slightly indulgent accommodations that exist best in the place they were born.

On a safari, you get up close and personal with exotic wildlife. How much you’d like to maintain that intimacy back at your safari hotel is entirely up to you. Intrepid travelers might relish being roused in the middle of the night by a rustling of leaves and scraping of canvas as an unknown creature saunters by. Others might opt for taking a few steps back from all that realness, preferring to slumber a little higher off the ground. You know what we’re going to say next: the MICHELIN Guide has options to meet either taste.

Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge

Ladysmith, South Africa

The safari experience has changed in many ways since Hemingway’s day. For one thing, you’re here to photograph the wildlife, not bring it home. Perhaps most important, from the perspective of a lover of high-end hospitality, is that safari lodges are only getting more and more luxurious. Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge is a case in point. Its setting, in the Nambiti private game reserve, is stunning, varied, wild, and chock full of animals. And back at the lodge, the living is easy indeed.

Book Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge on MICHELIN Guide →

Shamwari Sindile

Paterson, South Africa

Shamwari Sindile’s nine freestanding tents are slightly elevated above the veld along the side of the Bushman’s River, each one minimizing its environmental footprint while also paying tribute to the habitat of the solitary leopard. Tents or not, these are luxe accommodations, with Nespresso machines and indoor fireplaces as well as plunge pools and outdoor showers. From here you’ve got a front-row view of the Eastern Cape wildlife in the Shamwari Private Game Reserve.

Book Shamwari Sindile on MICHELIN Guide →

Shamwari Bayethe

Paterson, South Africa

Another lodge that falls under the Shamwari umbrella, within the private game reserve of the same name, Shamwari Bayethe’s twelve tents aim to provide top-flight luxury alongside total immersion in the landscape of the Eastern Cape. It’s a classic luxury-safari experience, with ample opportunity for viewing the so-called Big Five, and accommodations that expand what you thought possible from a mere tent, including outdoor showers, plunge pools, and living rooms warmed by fireplaces.

Book Shamwari Bayethe on MICHELIN Guide →

Kwandwe Ecca Lodge

Grahamstown, South Africa

The six suites at Kwandwe Ecca Lodge offer an unforgettable view over a private reserve of thick vegetation and steep shale cliffs in southern South Africa. The suites are constructed in order to feel as close as possible to nature; natural light is plentiful, views expansive, and showers open-air, facing the lush foliage beyond. Game rides, fishing trips, walking tours, and other safari activities are available for reservation. And a South African barbecue class/meal offers a grounding in the traditional braai style.

Book Kwandwe Ecca Lodge on MICHELIN Guide →

Lion Sands River Lodge

Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa

Lion Sands is in the top tier of South African experiences. Four unique modern lodges and two private villas serve as guests’ home base for unforgettable safaris along the Sabie River. This region is rich in biodiversity, and it’s all for the benefit of those staying at Lion Sands — this is the only sanctuary located between the Sabi Sand Game Preserve and Kruger National Park. In addition to guided tours, where minimal human contact is promised, lodge treehouses — seemingly floating above an expanse of grassland — are reservable.

Book Lion Sands River Lodge on MICHELIN Guide →

Honeyguide Tented Safari Camps

Kruger National Park, South Africa

The Manyeleti Game Reserve encompasses nearly a hundred square miles of wild bush bordering Kruger National Park, and is populated by all manner of game, including the Big Five. It’s home to some humans as well, namely the Mnisi tribe, who own and manage the lands, and guests of the Honeyguide Tented Safari Camps. The park is private, but within the camps there’s a refreshingly egalitarian, community-oriented vibe — meals are taken communally, and there’s every opportunity to indulge in a bit of camaraderie.

Book Honeyguide Tented Safari Camps on MICHELIN Guide →

Makalali River Lodge

Hoedspruit, South Africa

Bordered by the Makhustwi River and opening out onto more than 60,000 acres of grassland and savanna, Makalali River Lodge is an immersive setting that puts guests in close contact with the continent’s most unique wildlife. The lodge’s private suites have raised viewing decks and thatched roofs, but rough and rugged they’re not — sumptuous bedding, picture windows, and rich woods accent each suite, putting a spin on the safari aesthetic that is modernizing without being sanitizing.

Book Makalali River Lodge on MICHELIN Guide →

Royal Malewane

Kruger National Park, South Africa

Some modern luxury safari lodges differentiate themselves by pushing against the boundaries of tradition. Others set themselves apart by pursuing the traditional concept of the safari camp to its logical conclusion. The sublime Royal Malewane, in Kruger National Park, falls squarely into the latter category: eight palatial thatched-roof suites, decked out in elegant colonial style, stand on stilts above the bush of the nature reserve, connected by walkways offering an elevated view of the surrounding landscape.

Book Royal Malewane on MICHELIN Guide →


Barrydale, South Africa

Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, in South Africa’s Western Cape, is not one luxury lodge, but four. Tilney Manor is built around the estate’s original manor house, while Dwyka Tented Lodge offers a futuristic vision of safari-camp life; Explorer Camp’s tents are closer to roughing it, though each still comes with a private deck and a heated Jacuzzi; and at Gondwana Family Lodge, a large swimming pool awaits and wildlife experiences are specifically designed with children in mind.

Book Sanbona on MICHELIN Guide →

Kruger Shalati - the Train on the Bridge

Skukuza, South Africa

They mean it quite literally: Kruger Shalati - the Train on the Bridge is very much a train on a bridge, now immobilized and transformed into a truly one-of-a-kind luxury boutique hotel. The setting is South Africa’s Kruger National Park, and the train is, it must be said, a welcome departure from the tented-camp concept and aesthetic. It’s as luxurious as any of them, of course, but with the added inducement of a truly unique vantage point, on a bridge straddling the Sabie River, whose waters are full of crocodiles, hippos, elephants, and other wildlife.

Book Kruger Shalati on MICHELIN Guide →

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Top image: Kwandwe Ecca Lodge — Grahamstown, South Africa


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