News & Reviews Africa Best luxury safari trip – no budget style

Africa is the best; it unequivocally stands peerless.  I love the people, the landscapes, the nature, the luxury, the diversity, the adventure, the sunrises, the culture, even those prawn-looking aliens in District 9.  Africa’s best lodges rank amongst the most luxurious properties anywhere in the world.  They nestle seamlessly into the environment and focus heavily on sustainability whilst affording an experience of opulence and comfort, but most importantly, unique adventures.

I make my pilgrimage to Africa at least bi-annually, and were it not for the pint-sized, uncanny mini-me creatures back home – who demand sustenance, sporadically offer snuggles, and have mastered the art of bellowing “Dad!” – I’d likely set up camp there more frequently.

My regular African propaganda and frequent “my favourite continent could beat up your continent” means we regularly book customer trips there.  Having stayed in almost every exclusive-use luxury lodge on the continent, I finally achieved my high school prediction of “most likely to visit every exclusive-use luxury lodge in Africa”.  Eerie.  So when asked to arrange a trip for a family’s African debut with no budgetary constraints, I knew one thing for certain: this deserved a blog post.

Limiting factors

Naturally, the “best” is extremely subjective.  Even when the budget is not limited, something else is yanking at your freedom.  But this is my blog, and I have yet to write something that is not subjective, as science hasn’t figured out body-swap tech yet.

In this case, time was a limiting factor, not only when it was, but how long it could be.  That is going to radically change from person to person.  It could last another six months, or you fly in for the day, get your selfie with a baboon’s arse and get back on your space shuttle to be home in time to dock your housekeeper’s wages for the lulz.

Logistics also play a big part.  How much are you prepared to travel?  For most people, it’s very little.  Even those lunatics who want to tell you they’ve been to nine hundred countries must dread the stony glare of immigration officers, so you want to try and avoid endless country hopping.

Availability also plays a big part.  All the lodges are sole use, so if they have one reservation, it blocks further bookings.  African lodges are often booked a year, sometimes two years in advance.

What’s the best?

The best starts with the top priority: luxury.  I want the same as our clients: the best lodges.  With the best lodge, you often get the best experience – not just in the lodge, but what it offers outside too.  That money does go towards more than just golden toilets.  Namibia and Botswana do not have ultra-luxury exclusive-use lodges, so the options there would be limited to a property buyout, which actually would not be as luxurious whilst being even more expensive.  Just because someone does not have a budget does not mean they want to spend frivolously.

South Africa has some ultra-luxury options, but East Africa currently dominates this part of the market due to the abundance of exclusive-use lodges.  Focusing on East Africa also reduces the amount of travel – going from South Africa to Kenya is the good part of a day, whereas Tanzania to Kenya can be achieved in a few hours.

Next up: the adventure, animals and activities.  Most people are going to want to see the Big 5 during their first safari.  Whilst I’m happy to spend eight hours a day in a vehicle looking for a single animal, I appreciate that’s not for everyone.  Sometimes you want to mix it up with other activities, such as helicopter excursions, hot air balloons, horse riding or looking for the Ugly Five.

For me, Kenya and Tanzania offer the best experience – the landscape is relatively flat, so for families on their first safari, it can offer the best bang for buck as there’s no need to spend hours looking for something with a tracker.  Furthermore, both the lodges I suggested own the land, which removes a lot of the restrictions that hinder a great safari experience.  Not having to be in at certain times or not being able to offroad or negotiating traversing rights with neighbour properties or limits on how long you can spend at a sighting.

Yes, the best is about what you want to see, when you can go, how many people there are and all other kinds of factors. In this case, the requirement was no more than three lodges over a period of no more than 15 nights, with minimal travel between properties and needing to end on a beach.  As luck would have it, I would consider that criteria the best way to experience Africa.

Here it is.

Ol Jogi

Restrictions: Minimum 3-5 nights depending on time of year; Average price per night: $33,500; Bedrooms: 11; Location: Kenya

One of my favourite properties.  Ol Jogi is absolutely bonkers.  You are here for the safari experience, but it’s much more than a safari lodge.  It’s an art gallery, a conservation project, a wildlife sanctuary, a midlife crisis that never ended.  Imagine Cinderella’s Castle with Gene Simmons in charge.

Ol Jogi owns 30,000 acres of land, and they are the only lodge on it.  You have to book the full lodge, so you are the only guests.  It is quite magnificent what they have achieved here, but conservation really is the key thing they’re keen to talk about.  There’s not many places you get to hang around with wild baboons, elephants, rhinos and even wild cats.  Ol Jogi rehabilitates animals from across the continent and helps release them back into the wild.  It offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience you were not aware you needed.  There is so much more on offer than just the traditional safari experience.

Even if you don’t fancy leaving the comforts of the batshit crazy property, which has an absurd 11 bedrooms, tennis courts, sauna, Hamman, pilates and yoga studio and hidden rooms, you can see a plethora of animals on a regular basis.  Their underground hide allows you to get within metres of wildlife. I had the fortune of being within near touching distance of elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and hippos for several hours.

While the accommodation is hideous and homes an aesthetics that only a mother could love, my unwavering mission is to champion its virtues in every conceivable domain: facilities, food, service, character, and setting, but it’s the wildlife and uniqueness of the place that stands out.

Alternative:  Arijiju is barely a 10-minute flight away.  Their lack of availability is often the biggest issue.  Arijiju excels with tranquillity and wellness, whilst Ol Jogi is more focused on wildlife and being a little bit insane.

Singita Milele

Restrictions: Minimum 3 nights; Average price per night: $35,000; Bedrooms: 5; Location: Tanzania

Singita are the best safari company on the planet.  So good, in fact, that whilst Singita Milele does not even open until May next year, and they’re incredibly secretive with their renderings of what it will actually look like, there is no doubt it will be magnificent.  You’d kinda hope so, as it will be their most expensive property.

Adding to the already incredible offering that Singita offer in the Grumeti, which includes their sole use Serengeti House, Milele is closer to the existing Singita Sasakwa lodge, which is perched on the hill with uninterrupted views of the Grumeti.  With three jacuzzis, a gym, a cinema room, a huge infinity pool and hopefully a magic lamp that grants you three wishes.  All that is clear is that it’s going to be incredible, and it’s already mostly booked for 2024.

A lot of people choose the Mara, where the viewings are incredible, as they are at the neighbouring Grumeti, where the migration also takes place, but you don’t have the same restrictions and crowds as you find in the Mara.  Grumeti is one of my favourite safari spots, and it’s just about to get better.

Alternative:  Singita Serengeti House or Singita Sasakwa four-bedroom cottages would not have offered enough rooms but could be considered for smaller families or groups.

Thanda Island

Restrictions: Minimum 5 nights; Average price per night: $35,000; Bedrooms: 5; Location: Tanzania

Safari is tiring.  Yes, you can get pampered endlessly, and when it’s a sole-use property, you’re not having to wake up at the same time as everyone else, nor stick to any schedule.  Well, except for the animal’s schedule.  It’s still best to stick to the early mornings.

So there’s few better places to finish a safari trip than at a beach, and nowhere better than Thanda Island, a private island off the coast of Tanzania.  As with the other properties on this list, it’s sole use, so it will just be you, your friends, family and a team of people dedicated to making you feel like a Hollywood writer who can finally afford to eat again after five months on strike.

Our client feedback here is always incredible, particularly around the beautiful, pristine white beach and the opportunity to swim with whale sharks.

Alternative:  If you have a private jet, then more options open up, such as Kisawa or Miavana.  Otherwise, there are direct flights from Nairobi to Seychelles or finish at Sirai (not actually on a beach) Beach.

Conclusion

This is one of the best trips I’ve ever been involved in planning.  The accommodation and experiences provided are, to put it mildly, pretty good.   Like going to England for the first time, then being invited to Buckingham Palace and seeing the Royal Family mauled by a lion.  Sublime.  With private charters reducing the time spent between the properties, the logistics are relatively simple.  With all the other factors accounted for, my maths says it is the best safari experience.  Maths does not lie.

Now, were it my trip, I would also include gorilla trekking – it is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.  Next year I’m returning to Arijiju and doing the once-in-a-lifetime gorilla trekking, for the third and fourth time, at Singita Kataza House, for my Dad’s 70th.  Now I just need someone to take me to Singita Milele.  My inbox awaits the invite.

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 3rd Oct '23

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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