Travel

Singita Lebombo in the Kruger Park offers one of Africa's best safari experiences - here’s why

Business Insider SA
Interior of a room and balcony at Singita Lebombo. Image: Supplied.
Interior of a room and balcony at Singita Lebombo. Image: Supplied.
Review
  • Singita Lebombo, in the central-eastern region of the Kruger National Park, is one of the world's most revered safari destinations.
  • It's unashamedly opulent and exclusive, and continues to pick up global awards.
  • Guests stay in elevated rooms inspired by eagles' nests, which have panoramic views of the N'wanetsi River and the Lebombo Mountains.
  • Wildlife sightings, aided by expert guides and trackers, are also among the best in South Africa.
  • The lodge offers all-inclusive food and wine experiences to rival the country's top restaurants.
  • And a raft of other features like two lap pools, a spa, and an in-house culinary school.
  • Here's what to expect from a stay at Singita Lebombo.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

On the bank of the N'wanetsi River, not far from where the Kruger National Park shares a border with Mozambique, is Singita Lebombo Lodge - one of the world's most revered lodges that offers an unsurpassed safari experience from start to finish.

Rooms at Singita Lebombo resemble eagles' nests, and they jut out from the cliffs and appear to hover impossibly among the trees.

Rooms at Singita Lebombo designed to look like eag
Rooms at Singita Lebombo designed to look like eagles' nests above the N'Wanetsi River. Image: Andrew Thompson

Though intimate and private, natural sunlight filters into each luxuriant cliffside pod, and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, including one in the shower, allow you to flood rooms with fresh Kruger Park air and the sounds of the surrounding bush. 

The perfectly appointed room doesn't miss a step; if you prefer a hermetic seal from the very reason most travel to a place like the Kruger Park, there's also an air conditioner and Bluetooth speaker.

If it weren't for the twice-daily game drives, all-day brunch, two lap pools, and evening meals paired with South Africa's finest wines, it would be quite tempting to spend the entirety of a trip on the balcony daybed, or the sofa, at the writing desk, or in the oversized bathtub - possibly while making your way through the generous minibar.

Room interior at Lebombo Lodge. Image: Andrew Thom
Room interior at Lebombo Lodge. Image: Andrew Thompson

But among the views that slowly saturate at sunrise and start quite literally below your feet are 15,000 hectares of land. They're wildlife-rich and yours to traverse by vehicle or on foot, free from outside Kruger Park traffic, with a pairing of South Africa's finest guides and trackers. 

Although you may at times come close to the general public bumbling up the region's famed Gudzani road, you're unlikely to know it. And the expertise of Singita's trackers and guides means you'll likely be treated to sightings that would make the general public over the hill and out of sight green with envy.

A leopard at sunrise in Singita Lebombo's private
A leopard at sunrise in Singita Lebombo's private concession. Image: Andrew Thompson

Given the expansive concession and surrounding Kruger National Park, and that this is a safari, animal sightings aren't guaranteed. And there's enough beauty in the surrounding mountains, the large-leaved rock figs that sprout impossibly from cliff faces, and the outcrops of candelabra-like Lebombo euphorbia to fill most memory cards.

Even so, a giant leadwood tree is generally far more interesting with a leopard stretched out in its branches - and the guides at Singita are well aware of this.

Within hours of arrival on the trip's first game drive, guide Solomon Ndlovu and tracker Andrew Mathebula delivered a pride of lionesses, who embarked on a failed but thrilling hunt. The duo effortlessly tracked a pack of African wild dogs based on roadside paw prints, and located two leopards the following day based on impala alarm calls alone.

An African wild dog passes close to the vehicle in
An African wild dog passes close to the vehicle in Singita Lebombo. Image: Andrew Thompson

Between these self-made sightings, another chance meeting with the wild dogs and encounters with elephants, a rhino, and diverse general game, the small but proficient fleet of vehicles called us in to sightings of lions and leopards that would rival the best of any intimate private reserve. 

Yet, given the exclusivity of the concession and the vastness of the surrounding Kruger National Park, the sightings felt spontaneous and authentic. And they were ours to enjoy, without any of the rushed and sometimes contrived nature of over-trafficked private reserves or shared concessions.

Some sightings may have been even more impressive had it not been for heavy rains a few days prior. But Ndlovu, who looked pained to leave behind a pack of wild dogs trotting off into the bush and clearly on the hunt, explained that although his vehicle could comfortably manage in the damp off-road conditions, they have a strict policy not to cause any damage to the concession.

Concerns and insights into the area's conservation underpinned how Ndlovu interpreted, respected, and presented every aspect of the experience. 

Lebombo dining area. Image: Andrew Thompson
Lebombo Lodge dining area. Image: Andrew Thompson

Unsurprisingly, this is something Singita works hard on from head office down. The company employs 20 people who exclusively oversee various conservation initiatives. And a sustainability pillar funded by hospitality, private partnerships, and donor funding impacts multiple ongoing projects - from anti-poaching initiatives and dealing with human-wildlife conflict to sustainability and community development.

Although much of this work takes place out of sight from guests, visitors to Lebombo get a front-row seat to one of the most enjoyable - an in-house community culinary school. 

Liam Tomlin, of Chef's Warehouse fame, leads the Singita Community Culinary School that operates out of the lodge and exposes young talent to a real-world cooking environment. Guests at Singita Kruger National Park can meet the students, participate in pastry courses, or simply enjoy specially prepared meals.

Food at Singita Lebombo rivals top-tier restaurant
Food and wine at Singita Lebombo rivals top-tier restaurants. Image: Supplied

Many who return to the lodge regularly do so almost exclusively for its famed food and wine options, taken in its unique setting. It's also no secret that Singita procures more fine wine than most other businesses in South Africa. An expert team hand-selects the country's top private reserves and rare auction wine, ages it in its Stellenbosch cellar, and then distributes it to lodges throughout Africa - where guests are free to taste and drink it at will. 

In-house sommeliers are on hand at the lodges to pour favourite varietals or suggest those that may better compliment a three-course fine dining meal or midday brunch. On special occasions, chefs may decide to push the limits of what you'd expect from a meal at a safari lodge and present a multiple-course food and wine pairing menu that would rival that served by most top restaurants in the country.

Communal poolside lounge. Image: Andrew Thompson.
Communal poolside lounge. Image: Andrew Thompson.

And at the end of the evening, you're welcome to retreat to the bar, where a hinged wooden box of Cuban cigars and a selection of rare liquors await.

In all, it's an experience worthy of the cabinet of awards and accolades and consistent five-star reviews. Singita makes no excuses for its opulence and exclusivity, and it sits intentionally among the most expensive lodges in South Africa. Despite this, it remains humble in its conservation initiatives and community work. And it's hardly surprising that seasoned travellers from around the world continue to flock to Singita Lebombo, and not just to perch in eagles' nests of their own.

Singita Lebombo Lodge rooms designed to resemble a
Singita Lebombo Lodge rooms designed to resemble an eagle's nest. Image: Supplied.

Getting to Singita Lebombo

Lebombo Lodge is located in a private concession in the central-eastern section of the Kruger National Park. It's a 45-minute drive from Satara Rest Camp, where an airstrip fields charter flights.

Skukuza Airport and Hoedspruit Airport field commercial flights from major cities throughout South Africa, and both are a two- to three-hour drive from the lodge.

Driving from Johannesburg takes approximately 8 hours, depending on sightings once inside the Kruger National Park.

Rates include all meals and beverages, including premium wines, spirits and liqueurs, but excluding French Champagne, twice-daily driving or walking safaris, and return road transfers between the Satara airstrip and the lodge.

Bookings can be made directly through the Singita website, and the lodge is also currently running a stay four, pay three promotion.

Andrew Thompson was a guest of Singita Lebombo.

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