A Guide to the Best Safari Reserves in and Around Kruger National Park
If you’re heading off on safari in South Africa’s renowned Kruger National Park, no doubt you'll be wondering where the best places to stay are! Well, look no further. Here at Flight Centre, we’ve a number of incredible hand-picked game lodges for you to choose from, each offering a unique experience. And, luckily for you, on a recent trip to South Africa, the team got the chance to try them out. Trust us, you won’t be disappointed. Think infinity pools overlooking watering holes, outdoor rain showers and private plunge pools, indulgent three-course dinners, relaxing afternoon massages, and views of elephants and monkeys from your bedroom balcony! Whether it’s a honeymoon, family holiday, or couples adventure, you’ll make memories to last a lifetime on safari in South Africa. Check out some of our top safari-inclusive itineraries like Cape, Kruger & Falls and Peaks & Wildlife Explorer, and let us help you plan that dream trip.
Read on to discover the highlights of our four favourite safari reserves in and around Kruger National Park…
Luxury safari lodge - Image: Rich Donaldson
Luxury safari lodgeImage: Rich Donaldson
For our first safari experience, we stayed at Thornybush Game Lodge, in the largest of its 12 lodges. Nestled in the vast wilderness areas of Sabi Sand and Thornybush Nature Reserve, in the greater Kruger Park area, here, you’re highly likely to see the Big 5, as well as an abundance of other animals too. In fact, within 30 minutes of our very first drive, we spotted two large hyenas with their kill and even a majestic leopard. It's incredible to see the animals in their natural habitat doing their own thing, and yet completely at ease with the safari vehicles. Our guide, Sean, led us across the park with such expertise and fine-tuned intuition, always aware of where we might spot the next animal while regaling us with stories and facts that made the experience both educational and spectacular.
Thornybush Game Reserve - Image: Emily Cater
Thornybush Game ReserveImage: Emily Cater
Upon returning from our evening game drive, we were greeted with a hot towel and a small glass of Amarula (a creamy liquor you’ll find everywhere in South Africa) before freshening up for dinner. The rooms here are breathtaking, boasting a huge four-poster bed, sofa and dressing table, large private patio with views across the river, and a super spacious bathroom. You could savour a glass of wine as you sink into a deep claw-foot bath with views across the parkland, or enjoy a refreshing rainforest shower outside close to nature! What really impressed us, though, was the friendly and personalised service from not only the guides and manager, but the waiting staff too. Every morning and evening they’d address every guest by first name and would remember all of our dietary requirements without so much as a mention of it, so it really feels as though no detail is too small during your stay here. Food-wise, you can choose from an extensive daily-changing buffet featuring all manner of tasty meats, fish, and veggie dishes, as well as salads and desserts. Or if there’s nothing you fancy, they’ll cook up something to your liking. The open-plan lobby, lounge and dining areas are large and spacious and filled with cosy seating, an indoor fire and beautiful décor, making it a relaxed and homely place to chill out, day or night.
Thornybush Game Reserve bathroom - Image: Emily Cater
Thornybush Game Reserve bathroomImage: Emily Cater
Hamilton’s Tented Camp
If you’re looking to really go off-grid in the heart of Kruger, this minimal yet luxurious camp is just the ticket. There’s no signal or Wi-Fi at Hamilton’s Tented Camp, so if you need to be connected, it’s probably not for you, but why not take a couple days to relax, switch off and truly appreciate the incredible wildlife and scenery around you? Perched right above a river and watering hole, not a day went by where we didn’t see all manner of incredible animals right outside our room and the main lobby – so be sure to keep your camera on you at all times. Some particularly memorable sightings included spotting a small family of elephants (including tiny babies) making their way across the river right in front of us, as well as a throng of baboons shrieking and squawking as they chased each other around the watering hole.
Hamilton's Tented Camp - Image: Emily Cater
Hamilton's Tented CampImage: Emily Cater
The food and service at Hamilton’s is impeccable. Some of the dishes we tried included local fish in a butter sauce, deliciously succulent steak and a creamy coconut sorbet, while the generous breakfast spread set you up well for the day. The rooms were (as indicated by the lodge name) giant tents, complete with four-poster bed, writing desk and seating, as well as a claw-foot bath and outdoor shower. Decorated in traditional, colonial safari style, it was different to everywhere else we stayed from a design point of view, making for a quirky experience. As with other lodges, in-between game drives you have the opportunity to go for a nature walk, relax by the outdoor pool, or book yourself a massage to really make the most of your downtime.
Breakfast at Hamilton's - Image: Stu Wakefield
Breakfast at Hamilton'sImage: Stu Wakefield
Mala Mala Game Reserve
As one of the biggest game reserves in South Africa, Mala Mala was established in 1927 and covers over 33,000 acres, sharing a 12-mile unfenced boundary with Kruger National Park, also not far from the Sabi Sand Reserve. Whilst you are likely to see the Big Five at all of the reserves, at Mala Mala we found we witnessed the most game. On one drive alone we found a pride of lions (around six cubs and seven adults), a young family of rhino, several buffalo, impala, giraffe, elephants and, most excitingly, a leopard and her cub. What’s more, we enjoyed our first sunset drive and were treated to beers and Moscow mules as we watched the colours of the sky change across the plain – a beautiful experience.
Mala Mala Game Reserve suite bathroom - Image: Rich Donaldson
Mala Mala Game Reserve suite bathroomImage: Rich Donaldson
When it comes to the accommodation, if you’re looking for pure, unadulterated luxury – you’ll find it here. We stayed at Mala Mala Main Camp, and the suites were phenomenal. Expect beautiful, contemporary furnishings with patterned throws and cushions, luxury toiletries and the most sumptuous of linens. You’ll have huge amounts of space, with the room fitted out with a king-size bed, lounge area, large indoor bathroom with free-standing tub, as well as an outdoor rainforest shower overlooking the reserve. What more of an excuse do you need to just crash out in your room after a game drive? The dinner service is also a real highlight. As the weather had been good, we were treated to a traditional South African Braii – or barbecue – around the fire pit. We feasted on Eland deer in a red wine jus, alongside potatoes and vegetables and a large glass of red, as the staff danced and sang all around us. It was incredibly atmospheric and something I won’t forget in a hurry.
Mala Mala Game Reserve - Image: Emily Cater
Mala Mala Game ReserveImage: Emily Cater
Jock Safari Lodge
A safari stay at Jock comes highly recommended by the group and was the last of the game lodges we stayed at during our trip. Although it’s within Kruger National Park, rather than being a private game reserve, Jock Safari Lodge actually rents out its land, making it less busy when viewing game. The guides also have the flexibility to go in and out of their land into the main national park, giving you greater opportunities to spot animals. Another highlight is that a large proportion of the lodge's profits go back into conservation and supporting the local community, making it a sustainable choice.
Jock Safari Lodge - Image: Rich Donaldson
Jock Safari LodgeImage: Rich Donaldson
Whilst the staff and the game drives were phenomenal, what we were really impressed with was the rooms. Inside they are hugely spacious with a four-poster bed, but it's the outside space that really makes them stand out. The private terraces off the suites feature your very own plunge pool, as well as an outdoor bath and even a bed with a mosquito net, so you can sleep outside under the stars if you wish. This made the experience feel unique, allowing you to get totally immersed in nature. Another perk? At Jock, they serve sparkling wine with breakfast!
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