My All-Time Favorite Safari: A Review of Singita Lebombo Lodge in South Africa
After spending some time in Cape Town for the annual PeaceJam conference toward the end of last year, I decided I wanted to take my parents on a safari. Although I'd already been on several other safaris, seeing wildlife up close is always an amazing adventure -- and one that you can have over and over again and never grow tired of. Before this one, I'd been on safaris in South Africa, Tanzania (again with my parents) and two in Botswana. Needless to say, I was very excited to see how the experience at the famed Singita Lebombo Lodge would measure up.
I booked this adventure with my parents at the last minute, and it just so happened that it was a holiday in South Africa, so availability was tight and prices were high. Most of the lodge was already booked, but there was a two-bedroom suite open, which I booked for two nights. I used my Centurion card to pay 68,544 South African rand (about $5,000) per night for the two-bedroom suite through the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program with the help of the Amex concierge. It's always nice to have help from Ray and the Centurion team when booking more complicated trips. I also like booking through Amex FHR to take advantage of the great benefits, especially the amenity, which was one complimentary 60-minute massage per room in this case.
My rate included all meals and beverages (except for Champagne, but I survived) for my parents and me, twice-daily open safaris and walking safaris where we were accompanied by experienced guides and trackers -- which turned out to be a highlight -- laundry service and transfers between the nearby airstrip and the lodges.
When booking any travel to South Africa, remember that you must have two blank side-by-side visa pages available in your passport. You could be denied entry into the country if you do not meet this requirement.
Singita Lebombo is on the grounds of Kruger National Park, one of Africa's largest game reserves and home to the Big Five (lions, leopards, elephants, black rhinoceroses and African buffalo). Overlooking 33,000 acres of nature, the luxurious lodge was designed allow the outside to "burst" in. The concept of the lodge, which is in the middle of the African bush, is to be part of the natural environment.
And this concept worked -- the lodge was seamlessly integrated with nature and felt very private. It was even set right next to a watering hole animals frequently visited.
Arrival was easy. I flew from Cape Town (CPT) to the Satara airstrip, which was a 45-minute drive from the lodge. If you plan to fly (you could also drive eight hours from Johannesburg), the safari combines perfectly with a city break in Cape Town before or after. The flight was fun, and we were greeted with a friendly welcome as well as hot towels and drinks upon landing, then whisked away to the lodge.
The suite was absolutely stunning. Singita's motto, “Touching the Earth Lightly,” was executed to perfection. My room, though luxurious, featured sustainable design touches that reminded me I was in rural Africa, using wood and draping to create a relaxing, peaceful space that blended harmoniously with the natural surroundings. Also in the room were pieces of beautiful African art.
Lebombo didn't sacrifice comfort for style. The room had a super comfy king-size bed and massive, floor-to-ceiling windows. The deck actually had a bed, too, which staff made up (don't worry, the mosquito net was included) so I could sleep outdoors one night. After that incredible experience, I woke up to an "alarm" of shrieking baboons at sunrise.
I could see the watering hole from both the indoor and outdoor beds, as well as from the shower. There was really nothing like seeing animals in their bath while I was taking mine! There was no fence separating the lodge from the rest of the park, so I was really out there in nature. It wasn't uncommon to spot all sorts of tracks in the morning around the property.
Speaking of the bathroom, the freestanding tub was perfect, and the large shower passed the TPG shower test. It was so nice to come back to the comfortable room each day after the safaris -- I almost felt like I was in a luxury condo in the hills of Los Angeles (until I spotted African wildlife from my deck, of course).
Food and Beverage
The lodge had only about 15 suites as well as a communal dining room and an espresso bar.
Having dinner outdoors in the bush near a fire was such pleasant experience to have each evening. The barbecue and seafood were absolutely delicious, too.
The best part about my stay, though, was taking the safaris with my family. One thing I really loved about this particular safari was that it was off-road.
When I did a safari in Tanzania, it was always on a road, and we didn't have a tracker to help us spot more wildlife. At Lebombo, things felt more like a quintessential safari: off-roading in private game reserves with a private guide and tracker. Our tracker was a local, and he taught us about things like what footprints went with which animal.
The sundowners part of the safaris were fun too. At the end of the safari, we'd stop for a drink to check the sunset out among beautiful scenery in the wild.
Another highlight was the walking safari. It was a little scary, to be honest, but I felt safe, as our tracker had a large gun with him for protection.
We were able to see four of the Big Five (we didn't see a rhinoceros), and it was made even more special by having my parents with me.
Our guide and tracker, Sunday and Jacques (check out his blog and wildlife photos here), were both phenomenal. I learned a lot from them this trip, and of course they helped us spot a whole lot of wildlife. Make sure to request them if you safari with Singita Lebombo. Plus, I was able to put my phone down and just enjoy, as Jacques shared some of his photos with me, like this one below.
View this post on Instagram
It can be tempting to spend your whole time on safari taking photos, but I’d recommend putting the camera down and taking it all in with your own eyes. Luckily my guide @wildatwild took amazing photos of the cheetahs, lions, birds and more on my trip (and they’re way, way better than I could have dreamed of taking). @singita_ Jacques and Sunday are top notch!
Aside from just the safari-related activities, Lebombo also offered a nice-sized pool with spectacular views of the surrounding nature, a gym and an outdoor spa, where I got a relaxing massage. The lodge even had an expensive boutique with a carefully curated collection of African art, carvings, jewelry and more. I purchased some really unique, locally crafted pieces for my home.
Activities like stargazing, cooking classes and archery were also on offer, though I didn't have time on this trip to partake. Although I enjoyed admiring the views from my private deck, room and the pool, I made it a point to head up to the rooftop viewing area, too.
A Note From the Points Parents
Since I brought my parents along on this adventure, I thought sharing some of their experiences might inspire you to bring your parents along or decide what style of safari is right for you and your family. My mom compared this safari in Kruger National Park to the one we did a few years back in Tanzania's Serengeti at the &Beyond property:
In Tanzania, we stayed on all the roads, as opposed to off-roading in Kruger. The fact that we were within a few feet of animals -- especially the lions -- was amazing, and I was surprised I wasn’t more scared. I give a lot of credit to the tour guides, since they were very knowledgeable about the animals and the area and really put us at ease. I am still shocked I went on the walking safari. After being told to never get out of the Jeep while we were out on a drive, we now were walking in silence behind the guide with wild animals nearby.
The guides in Kruger carry rifles, as opposed to the guides in Tanzania, where guns are not allowed. I would have felt terrible if the guide had to use his gun while we were on the walking safari, since we were the ones intruding on the animal’s habitat, but was very glad the walk was quiet (when we got back on the Jeep we realized we had been very close to several lions). Overall, it was a surreal experience!
As far as the Singita Lebombo lodge, again it was very different from Tanzania, where we stayed in a tent at the &Beyond property. “Glamping” didn't even begin to cover staying in a tent with a king-sized bed and bathroom. Listening to animals prowling nearby at night was unique, to say the least. At Lebombo, we stayed in the lodge with an outdoor patio and pool. We were close to the river, and I have to say I was somewhat nervous about hippos and crocs being nearby as I sat outside reading a book. Each location was special in its own right, so it was nice to experience both.What we really loved was having one-on-one time with Brian and sharing some great experiences. Life as the Points Parents has been quite a ride.
View this post on Instagram
In my opinion, a good safari camp will make you feel like you are living (comfortably) in the bush. I’ve been on five safaris so far, and @singita_ Lebombo has been my favorite. With a big focus on sustainability and being a part of the landscape- with no fences around the property and perched on a hill overlooking a busy river. I could sit for hours on my deck watching the wildlife- from giraffe to crocodile to noisy baboons. They will even put a mosquito net and sheets on the outdoor lounger so you can fall asleep at night to the cacophony of animal noises from the bush. I booked via Amex Fine Hotels for extra amenities like 2 massages per room and great customer service.
My trip to Singita Lebombo was worth every penny. It's the most design-forward lodge I've been to thus far, with decent (though not incredible) food, fantastic service and amazing guides and trackers. This was the perfect trip to couple with several days in Cape Town, as we really got the best of both a city and nature trip. Plus, going off-road with trackers was a really unique experience -- one I didn't have on other safaris. I highly recommend doing a safari with Singita Lebombo, especially if you want a luxurious, unforgettable experience. Those looking for a midrange safari may want to try the Savanna Lodge in South Africa, which actually was my very first safari experience.