How to Choose an African Safari Lodge: 11 Things to Consider

by | Last updated Apr 2, 2024 | South Africa

How to choose an African safari lodge that’s right for you can be overwhelming, especially for first-timers. There are many choices at various price points. It’s a big decision, so you want to make sure you get it right. After all, the safari is truly an epic experience and a big bucket list item for most. Where do you even start? Let’s walk through the 11 points to consider to start narrowing down your options.

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01- Safari Lodge Property Size

Sabi Sand Reserve Map

Sabi Sand Reserve Map

Size matters. 

Let’s use the Sabi Sand Reserve in South Africa as an example. 

If you look at the map above, you will see the MalaMala Game Reserve is massive compared to the other game lodges’ properties. Larger traversing area = more biodiversity.

Here’s another example in the Sabi Sand Reserve to illustrate this point.

Our lodge, Lion Sands River Lodge (read our full lodge review here), has traversing rights with Kirkman’s Kamp as shown from the map above. Because these two properties have shared rights, this increases the game viewing potential. 

Even bigger yet is Kruger National Park. It’s massive compared to Sabi Sand, which gives you more opportunity to see a variety of wildlife. If you are debating between Kruger vs. Sabi Sand, don’t miss my article below!

Always check the Reserve Map before you book a lodge to get a sense of the wildlife viewing potential.

02- Safari Guide’s Qualifications 

Our safari ranger and tracker at Lion Sands River Lodge

Posing with our safari ranger and tracker at Lion Sands River Lodge in South Africa

Your guide will make or break your experience just like a good or bad teacher when you were in grade school.

One way to get a sense that the safari lodge hires well-qualified guides is to look at the reviews. If there’s a bad guide, someone is going to comment on it.

We had a fantastic safari guide (IP) and ranger (Alfred) while at Lion Sands River Lodge.

They were engaging, informative, and really went the extra mile to make sure we saw everything we wanted.

03- Kids vs. No Kids

This is important especially if you are celebrating a special occasion and want a more adult-oriented relaxing experience.

Lion Sands River Lodge, the lodge we stayed at, allowed children 10 years and up to go on game drives. While we were there, we didn’t see any kids. 

04- Six or Nine-Person Jeep

Riding in a 6 seater jeep at Lion Sands River Lodge in Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve in South Africa

How to choose an African safari lodge: pick one that offers a 6-person jeep. Photo of us at Lion Sands River Lodge

Super important!!!

If you are in a 9-seater, you will likely end up in the middle seat at one point since everyone tends to be courteous and rotates seats for every drive. No one wants to be hanging over someone’s lap as they try to see the lion yawning next to them.

Having a 6-seater jeep was a must on our list of requirements.

We had a nice middle console that had a warm blanket when we needed it and cup holders on the back of the seat in front of us to store water bottles.

05- Number of Game Vehicles at a Sighting

At a private game reserve, they try to limit the number of vehicles at a site at one time.

When we stayed at Lion Sands River Lodge, there were normally no more than 2 jeeps together at a time and rarely 3 if there was some special sighting.

06- Game Viewing & Unique Experiences

Chalkley Treehouse at sunrise

Chalkley Treehouse at Lion Sands River Lodge

What is the safari lodge known for?

Are they a host to the Big 5?

Are they near a river?

Do they offer a UNIQUE wildlife experience?

For example, Sabi Sand safari lodges are known for seeing leopards.

In the Timbavati Reserve, &Beyond Ngala Safari Lodge offers the opportunity to swim in the pool as elephants come up close to check you out. 

At Lion Sands River Lodge in South Africa, you can sleep under the stars in a treehouse out in the bush listening to animal noises (which we did!).

Read more about our once-in-a-lifetime experience below.   

07- Reputation of Safari Lodge

I usually check TripAdvisor, Google reviews, and for reviews.

The reviews are probably more reliable since they are verified, but I always like to cross-reference the three resources.

I also browse through reviews on I’m a travel nerd; I research a lot! 

PRO TIP: I like to go to TripAdvisor and sort by the worst reviews to see what people are complaining about. Often, it is about stupid things like the coffee was not hot enough but occasionally you’ll come across something that may dissuade you from a certain property.

08- Foodie Experience

Ostrich fillet for dinner at Lion Sands River Lodge

Ostrich fillet for dinner at Lion Sands River Lodge

Is it buffet-style or a la carte?

Do you eat inside or outside?

Is dining private, or do all guests sit together and eat?

This may matter if you are on your honeymoon and want privacy. Your only option for food is from the lodge which is included in your rate, so it’s best to pick one that is also known for great food. 

At the Lions Sands River Lodge, breakfast, lunch, and dinner were all served a la carte. Everything was delicious! 

Another South African safari lodge known for its gourmet food is the ultra-luxurious Singita properties.

Famous Chef Liam Tomlin, who runs multiple restaurants in Cape Town and in the Cape Winelands, has helped guide the culinary experiences at Singita in South Africa. He has also become involved in Singita’s Community Culinary School, which helps young people from local communities achieve their goal of becoming a chef.

We had the opportunity to dine at two of Chef Liam Tomlin’s restaurants: Thali (one of the best restaurants in Cape Town )and Chefs Warehouse at Maison (one of the must-try Franschhoek restaurants in the Cape Winelands). 

09- Distance from Airport to Safari Lodge 

Skukuza airport

Skukuza Airport

Some properties are 30 minutes away and some could take a few hours.

All factors to take into account.

We flew into Skukuza Airport from Cape Town, and then we drove 25 minutes to get to our accommodations, Lion Sands River Lodge.

Not bad at all. If you refer to the Sabi Sand Reserve Map earlier in this article, you can see Lion Sands is one of the reserves that is closest to Skukuza Airport. 

10- Safari Lodge Amenities

Pool at Lion Sands River Lodge

The pool at Lion Sands River Lodge

Spa at Lion Sands River Lodge (1)

The spa at Lion Sands River Lodge

Not all safari lodges are alike.

Some offer no amenities, and others offer very luxurious options. 

Because we were celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary, I wanted a lodge that offered a little pampering so having a spa with daily massages and a pool was a must.

This was one of the many reasons we booked Lion Sands River Lodge.

11- Cost

Your budget of course will dictate your lodge.

Safari lodges in Sabi Sand can range anywhere from $300 USD per person per night all the way up to $2000+ USD per person per night.

There are 11 things to consider when determining your African safari cost, which are all explained in detail in the article below. 

Final Thoughts

When my husband and I went on our first safari, we had no idea how to choose an African safari lodge. Hopefully, these 11 points will give you direction when you are sifting through the many safari lodge choices. We chose the highly reputable Lion Sands River Lodge in Sabi Sand and couldn’t be happier. It ticked all the boxes.

Need more help planning your safari? Don’t miss my 12 Safari Planning Tips!

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Questions on how to choose an African safari lodge?

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