World / 17 January 2020, 08:00am / Christian L Wright
Safari camps are the stuff of dreams and bucket lists. They can also be leaders in conservation, sustainability, design, eco-sensitivity and hospitality.
Take Kisawa Sanctuary, set to open next summer on an island off the coast of Mozambique. The construction of the marine safari camp incorporated 3D sand printing, along with traditional weaving, thatching and textile work. Care was also taken not to disturb the orcas, humpback whales and manta rays in the surrounding waters.
Or consider Natural Selection’s Kwessi Dunes Lodge, due to open next spring in Namibia’s staggeringly vast desert wilderness. Each bedroom will feature a “star gazer” room so guests can take in the night sky.
There’s also Meridian Adventure SAIL, an ocean safari via six fancy catamarans - based in the pristine coral triangle of Raja Ampat, Indonesia - that leaves almost no footprint at all.
As places to glimpse creatures great and small, or gateways to the back of beyond, safari camps may be the ultimate hotel.
Here are five prospects, all outstanding in their field:
On 72 hectares at the edge of Volcanoes National Park in north-western Rwanda, this new lodge sits close to the habitat of one-third of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. It opened last August as the 15th in Singita’s collection of conservation-focused and sustainably-minded lodges.
The eight suites (and private villa) are done up in worldly African elegance, with indoor and outdoor fireplaces, heated plunge pools, woven ceilings and hand-fired brick work (by local artisans), along with views of three volcanoes from window seats and deep bathtubs. An unusual amenity: a nursery that so far has provided some 250000 trees and shrubs as part of the company’s reforestation effort to protect the silverbacks and their families.
This Big Five compound inside a 13700ha private game reserve began as the site of the Swedish owner’s family villa. It’s now a series of suites surrounding a central lodge and an encampment of 15 tents - rustic but deluxe - in a thicket of wilderness in KwaZulu-Natal.
With canvas walls and wooden floors that extend to outdoor decks, the west-facing tents take full advantage of nature - from sunsets to the sounds of the bush. (There are around 400 bird species.) Gravel pathways lead from the tents to an open-air lounge that overlooks a sleek swimming pool and fire pit, where guests can trade stories of the day’s sightings. The black rhino and cheetah can be elusive, but there are spindly giraffes and young zebra dotting the landscape, and herds of elephants trundle along to the watering hole at cocktail hour.
Built in 1990, Wilderness Safaris’ flagship - at the northern end of Chief’s Island in the Moremi Game Reserve, in Botswana’s Okavango Delta - has recently unveiled a $10 million renovation. The project was to bring the traditional camp up to design and environmental standards without disturbing the natural habitat. Mombo is now 100% solar powered, with sophisticated sewage and water filtration systems. More obvious is the English oak, from managed forests in Croatia, used for guest-room floors; and plenty of original materials re-purposed here and there.
The nine tented suites are big, with a sitting room and bar, and sliding louvred shutters that open on to an ample deck, from which to spy the exotic wildlife just out of reach.
The latest of four lodges set up by Taj in association with the travel company &Beyond, this is a good headquarters for tiger-spotting and bird-watching. It sits alongside the Banjaar River at the foot of Kanha National Park (part of a tiger-protection programme), with 18 tented huts, each group with its own bar, dining room and pool.
Inside, there are woven bamboos on the walls and raised bed frames, art from the nearby Indian state of Chhattisgarh, a soaking tub in the bright bathrooms, and sliding glass doors that open on to decks at the water’s edge.
Opened in December, this air-conditioned tent camp changes the luxury game in Costa Rica. It was designed by Luxury Frontiers (Zambia’s Puku Ridge and Botswana’s Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge) as its first foray into the Americas.
Each fabric-roofed villa has canvas walls, suspended floors, a tropical modern interior design and an outdoor deck with a plunge pool filled by local hot springs.
Set in the Arenal Volcano National Park, the camp shares 25ha with its sister properties, Nayara Gardens and Nayara Springs, all connected by suspended footbridge, or golf cart, if you must.
The company has reserved a patch of the resort’s land as a refuge for the sloth (the strange, smiling star of the rainforest) and has begun to plant Guarumo trees to attract them.