Mention the words ‘safari lodge’ and it’s probably khaki-green tents, flickering hurricane lanterns and a smattering of gum poles that spring to mind. Well, let us change that. Meet the continent’s finest selection of architectural masterpieces: lodges that blend seamlessly into their surroundings using the most modern of materials, organic camps and swanky villas, and hotels that look like they’ve fallen from space. And there’s not a canvas wall in sight…
1. Angama Mara
Masai Mara, Kenya
Jaw-dropping is a word often associated with Angama Mara, be it the lodge, the interiors or the wildlife – but most especially when it comes to the view. It’s a true eagle’s-eye vista of the Masai Mara, spread out like a magic carpet below, and lodge-design gurus Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens have certainly done their utmost to make it the focal point. Firstly, the lodge seems to ‘float’ over the plains (‘Angama’ actually means ‘suspended in mid-air’ in Swahili), giving each and every guest uninterrupted access to the vistas from just about every corner. The glamorous brick, steel and glass structures are simple, never distracting from what’s ahead, and the interiors are just as minimalist yet utterly fabulous. Think bold furniture in the perfect shade of Maasai-red, stylish rocking chairs and imported pieces that are classic, solid and beautiful. Carefully considered yet sometimes whimsical, every aspect of the lodge adds to the history, and that rare and magical feeling of finding somewhere truly special.
If you’ve always dreamt of a trip to the Masai Mara, it doesn’t get much better than Angama. Combine the Mara with some of Kenya’s off-the-beaten-track locations with this route here, or stick to the highlights with our Classic Kenya route.
2. Shipwreck Lodge
Skeleton Coast, Namibia
As you approach Shipwreck Lodge from the bracing Atlantic coastline, it takes a moment for your eyes to adjust. Rising eerily from the sandswept dunes, the 10 timber-and-glass cabins are perfectly reminiscent of the relics that line the shores and in some ways seem entirely at home in the harshness of the Skeleton Coast. From the outside, the rooms are austere yet beautiful – simple timber structures with small decking areas and porthole windows – but step inside and the eccentric decor provides a welcome respite. Shades of blue, burgundy, black and white represent the ever-changing moods of the ocean, whilst accents of rose and mauve are rare, semi-precious stones. Recycled wood, rope and cotton in the bedrooms is authentic yet soothing to the touch, and in the dining room, enamel dishes and old silverware transport you to a time of adventure and intrigue. In reality, the effect is soulful, calming, and extremely comfortable, without ever detracting from the incredible structures.
To really make the most of the Skeleton Coast, it has to be seen from above – which is exactly why we’ve designed the Ultimate Namibian Flying Safari, the perfect partner for a stay at Shipwreck Lodge.
3. Jabali Ridge
Ruaha National Park, Tanzania
In Ruaha National Park in deepest, darkest Tanzania, nature really is King. Not only is the park home to extraordinary concentrations of wildlife, the landscape is dominated by squat, fat baobabs and strewn boulders, reminiscent of giants’ bowling balls. Rather than mess with such flora, architect Nicholas Plewman has very much incorporated the features into his design at uber-luxurious Jabali Ridge. Two enormous baobab trees stand sentinel at the entrance, dwarfing all who arrive, passageways snake through the boulders, and shade is provided by giant rocks and cool overhangs. To complete the seamless blending of the camp into the rugged environment, the interiors are equally as natural; think vegetable-dyed cushions, earthy linens and palm-woven matting all the way from the shores of Zanzibar. Truly, a place to bed down and immerse yourself in the bush – and maybe a game drive or two if you can drag yourself away…
Combine a stay at Jabali Ridge in Ruaha with the equally as beautiful Roho ya Selous in the Selous Game Reserve and a few days of beach relaxing at the coast. Our route Remote Bush and Beach in southern Tanzania will help you get started.
Diego Suarez, Madagascar
When a south-African born Mauritian with a penchant for design, beach houses and wild places opens a lodge on a Robinson Crusoe-esque island off the coast of Madagascar, it’s probably going to be good. Then, when he teams up with renowned design team Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, it just gets even better…. The result is the audacious Time + Tide Miavana, a private island retreat that is as far away from a tried-and-tested beach residence as you can imagine. We’re talking enormous villas that are a fantastical mix of local and modern, handmade and minimalist, conical stone towers that house rainfall showers, and groovy, folding-glass doors that open out onto the Indian Ocean. Then, the public space: floors tiled in riotous colours, airy domes overhead, a Cabinet de Curiosities, a bar styled as an ancient ruined fort – and all surrounded by a clear-blue moat. A true, fairy-tale castle if ever we saw one.
5. &Beyond Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge
Okavango Delta, Botswana
There are many lodges across the continent that are designed around the bush and nature’s quirks and charms, but there certainly aren’t many that take their vision from the wildlife. At Sandibe Lodge in the heart of one of the most game-rich areas of the Okavango Delta, that’s exactly what architect Nicholas Plewman did. Inspired by animals that carry their shelter with them, the cocoon-like bedrooms are the nests of the ever-present weaver birds, whilst the main area mimics the pangolin, Africa’s very own armadillo. The sweeping yet elaborate arches and interlocking beams of the lounge and dining area are more than similar to the creature’s distinctive scales, whilst a series of stairs, formed by huge logs of descending size, represent the stacked tail bones. Add unparalleled vistas of the shimmering Delta and ambling wildlife, so close you can almost feel the swish of an elephant’s ear, and this is a lodge that’s truly outstanding in every respect.
Use one of our handpicked Botswana routes to start designing your trip to the Okavango Delta and the stunning Sandibe Lodge today.
6. The Silo
Cape Town, South Africa
Standing tall above the industrious buildings of Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront, The Silo is the kind of building that stops you in your tracks. Once an old grain mill, the original storage silos are now home to the Zeitz MOCAA, Africa’s first major contemporary art museum, whilst the hotel is the cherry on top, located in the old elevator tower. It was London-born architect Thomas Heatherwick that was tasked with the transformation of the building and his first stroke of genius was undoubtedly the ‘pillowed’ windows that glitter above the skyline like a bug-eyed spaceship. The second was the removal of the thick paint that covered the walls, revealing the subtle tones of the now iconic grey concrete underneath. Inside, Liz Biden’s eccentric, colourful pieces (think velvet chaise long, luminous chandeliers and quirky bedheads) are the perfect antidote to the sharp corners and graphic angles of the exterior – and make this one place that we’d be very happy to spend a night.
Start designing your trip to Cape Town today. With so much on offer in the mind-boggling beautiful city, from mountains, beaches and award-winning restaurants to wine, penguins, excellent shops and hotels like The Silo, there’s no reason not to!
7. The Highlands
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
The otherworldly domes of The Highlands Camp that dot the hills around the Ngorongoro Crater certainly aren’t your traditional safari tents – but sci-fi gimmicks they are not. The geodesic domes were chosen in part to resemble the rounded roofs of traditional Maasai houses from the surrounding communities, but also for their ability to retain heat – and at 10,000 feet above sea level, it’s much needed! Inside, each has a wood-burning stove to warm chilly tootsies in the mornings and evenings and tartan throws and faux-fur blankets, all in hues reminiscent of heathery Scottish hills, are exceedingly toasty. Bulbous Perspex windows at the front of the domes showcase the iconic, undulating views that sweep all the way to the Serengeti and at night, you’ll look out at the star-speckled skies straight from bed, hot water bottle in hand. How’s that for a safari camp?!
Time your stay correctly and you could spend a few nights at The Highlands before jetting across to the Serengeti to witness the incredible Great Migration. Our fabulous migration route will get you off to an excellent start…
8. Singita Boulders
Sabi Sands, South Africa
When you visit one of Singita’s lodges in Tanzania, Zimbabwe or South Africa, you know you’re in for a real design treat. Sophisticated, subtle and always built with the lightest possible footprint, each takes inspiration from its unique surroundings. At Singita Boulders, located in a privately-owned concession just outside the Kruger, the inspiration is (can you guess?!) the magnificent boulders that line the Sand River. The lodge almost seems to balance on top of the granite massifs, and enormous floor-to-ceiling windows and suspended timber decks most definitely bring the outside in. In fact, just about everything at Boulders has been designed to provide an uninterrupted connection with the bush, from the fossilised tree-stump tables and solid stone lamps to the natural flax bed linens and curated collections of seeds, bones and crystals on display. Wow.
9. Chongwe River House
Lower Zambezi, Zambia
You won’t find a straight wall (or indeed a door) anywhere at Chongwe River House in the Lower Zambezi National Park. Instead the four-bed retreat is a relaxed melee of curved partitions and rounded walls that are quirky, beautiful and just a little bit surreal. The inspiration, according to architect Neil Rocher (who is actually not an architect at all, but a retired safari guide with an eye for the magical), was the luxurious bends and bows of the nearby Chongwe River as it flows mere metres from the house. Bringing nature even closer are the colourful pebbles that dot the ceilings, all collected straight from the riverbed, waterfall showers in the ensuites, and enormous bathtubs hand-carved from local wood and stone. And through every curved window, those magical views of the park, every way you look.