Safari Lodges are cool. Very cool. And fancy. But they come with a steep price tag.
While I was in South Africa, in September of 2017. I had the chance to stay at two different, both amazing, safari lodges. Again, these places do not come cheap, shelling out that much money for a safari lodge is a big deal. And unless you're a Rockefeller, you want to know that the trip is going to be worth the amount of money you plan on spending.
I was thinking the exact same thing when I booked my trip. I was SO SCARED that I just made the biggest mistake of my life. Lukimbi was $700 a night... I mean it better be good. The good news is it definitely was! I would pay it again for the experience I had. From booking your lodge to arriving in South Africa, here is exactly what to expect.
Booking a luxury safari lodge
Before you head out to Africa, you have to book the actual thing. Although I usually stay away from travel agents, and like to do everything myself, this is one of those instances I encourage you to use them. They will negotiate extras and transfers that you can't get just booking online.
I didn't know this before I left and when I booked my stay at Lukimbi , I actually booked them right on hotels.com. It did make me feel better that I was getting a competitive rate, but I think going through a travel agent might have been a bit better.
Once you are booked
Once you have booked your lodge keep an eye on your email. Your lodge will be reaching out to get additional information, including arrival time, dietary restrictions, and special occasions you may be celebrating.
Side note: I am a pescatarian and found that both lodges did an excellent job of accommodating my eating habits.
Arriving at the lodge
Once in South Africa, you will want to arrive to your lodge well before the evening game drive so you can check in and settle into your room. At the very latest, you must get to the lodges about 30 minutes before the game drive is set to leave.
When you arrive you will be greeted with a welcome drink (at most lodges) along with a porter to take your bags to your room. As you check in, you will get a brief tour of the lodge as well as a rundown of the daily schedule.
Luxury Lodges Daily Schedule
Each lodge, while different, structures their day pretty similar. Some of the times vary based on what season you visit in or preferences of the lodge. The sample schedule below was what I experienced during my stay at Lukimbi in September.
5:30 am - Wake up call
5:30 am - Tea and coffee in the main lodge before game drive
6:00 am - Game Drive (usually lasts around 3 hours)
9:00 am - Breakfast
10:00 am - Optional bush walk (some lodges offer this, not all)
1:00 pm - Lunch
3:00 pm - Afternoon tea before game drive
4:00 pm - Sunset drive (usually lasts around 3 hours)
8:00 pm - Dinner
The game drives are one of the main reasons I highly recommend staying at a luxury safari lodge. When you arrive, you are paired with a guide and tracker for the duration of your stay. The game vehicles are small, about 3 couple fit in each, allowing for an intimate experience. The guide and trackers are extremely knowledgeable and one of the best ways to spot animals on safari.
You get two game drives a day. The first leaves in the morning right at daybreak and lasts around three hours. At the halfway point, you will stop for a morning cocktail, or coffee, and some snacks. Your second game drive leaves around 4/430 (depending on the season) and lasts for another three hours. At sunset (about halfway through the drive) you will stop for cocktails and snacks. The last hour of your night drive will take place in the dark to search for nocturnal animals.
The guides are also not afraid to take you completely off road to find animals or to stay out later than the 3-hour time cap if you are having an amazing encounter.
Personal Experience: Throughout our stay at Lukimbi, none of us had seen lions, and our guides were determined to get us a sighting before we left. Our last morning there all 8 guides coordinated a game plan to track lions. We all set off in different directions, fanning out from the lodge. They communicated over radio any tracks, or droppings any of them could see to try and find a lion pride in the area. Only 30 minutes into our drive, the trackers caught a hot trail and we all converged together for an epic lion pride sighting: 3 females, and 2 juvenile males. We even got to witness them hunting a buffalo. That would never have happened outside a lodge experience.
The food at Luxury Safari Lodges
You will definitely not go hungry while at your lodge. All food is included at almost every safari lodge with your nightly rate.
Before your game drive, there will be coffee and tea out along with a light snack like granola. Once you return from your morning drive, a full breakfast is served. At my particular camp, this consisted of granola, yogurt, fruit, and pastries laid out buffet style. There was also a full menu of items cooked to order. Lunch is served around midday. At my lodge, an extensive buffet was set up for us to choose from. Dinner is served after your nightly game drive. If the weather is nice out most lodges will hold traditional braai's (BBQs). These consist of eating outside with tons of traditional sides, salads, and bread as well as meat cooked over an open fire. Dessert is also plentiful.
Drinking at Luxury Safari Lodges
Most, including my lodge, didn't include alcoholic beverages during the stay. Those were all charged separately and paid for as you checked out. The prices were more than reasonable - a great bottle of wine started at around $10.
This isn't always true though. During my stay at Lion Sands Ivory Lodge everythingggg was included. Including drinks, as much as you wanted. Seriously. Although, the price difference between Lukimbi and Lion Sands Ivory Lodge is very apparent.
What isn't included at the Lodge
Like I said above, drinks were not included. Nor is any additional food you order. Food is available throughout the day so if you get hungry at odd times they are more than ready to accommodate you. Some lodges only include a certain amount of water bottles a day. Anything bought in their shops was also not included. Tipping at the end of the trip is also not included.
Staying at a luxury safari lodge and not sure about what to tip while in South Africa?
Check out this article.
I understand worrying about what your very expensive trip is going to look like. I googled as much as I could find before I left as well. But rest assured the price of these trips are steep but definitely worth it.
One last thing... even though researching ahead of time is great, I definitely recommend bringing a guidebook along with you. Here are some books I recommend...
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