If you dream of seeing the Big Five (lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants and Cape buffalo) at least once in your lifetime, put South Africa‘s Sabi Sands Game Reserve on your list. Here, game sightings are so common they’re almost guaranteed — it is one of the few places on the continent where you have the chance to see the Big Five within two to three safari days. Only permitted rangers are allowed to drive off-road here, giving you the opportunity to get so close to the wildlife that no binoculars will be needed for viewing. Since you’ll rarely come across another vehicle with tourists, you will soon forget about the outside world.
Within Sabi Sands lies Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, home to four different all-suite lodges where guests can stay. These include the Earth Lodge, Selati Camp, Little Bush Lodge and (our choice) the Bush Lodge, which is a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World. When you’re not on game drives, this creatively designed retreat allows ample space to play, unwind and experience the tranquility of the nature around you.
The lodge’s exquisitely furnished lounge, atrium, bar and deck area are perfect places to read a book, play a game, sketch an animal, have a friendly chat or look out for animals visiting the watering hole. The lodge décor, collected from all over the African continent, provides a vibrant and eclectic mix of safari style throughout.
For privacy and intimacy, Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge only has 25 suites total, including two luxury villas and the Mandleve Deluxe Suite. Each suite has two outdoor patios, a bedroom, a living room and a large bathroom. The accommodations are so spacious, with ample room for the entire family to spread out, that it feels as if you never left home.
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We truly relished every one of the seven daily meals, served either in the open buffet-style dining area, on the viewing deck or during game drives in the bush. Sabi Sabi has a worldwide reputation for serving mouthwatering gourmet cuisine, and this is unquestionably true! Executive Chef Wilfred Mtshali runs an exquisite and creative kitchen that provides delicious and beautifully prepared food throughout the day. He not only gives each guest an unforgettable African dining experience, but also gives back to the local community through his yearlong culinary teaching program, which offers training for a new generation of chefs.
While managing a 45-person team that prepares all the meals for the guests and employees, Wilfred has also found time to write three cookbooks, so you can recreate the memories back in your own kitchen.
Sabi’s once-in-a-lifetime experiences include exhilarating morning and evening safaris with close-up animal encounters and bush walks with trained trackers and rangers.
Our ranger, Kyle, and tracker, Crimson, shared their vast knowledge and love for Africa during our adventurous private game drives. They scanned the ground and bush relentlessly with eagle eyes and found an incredibly well-hidden lion pride. It is unbelievable how well an elephant herd can hide behind a spindly bush! We learned so much about the native wildlife and had so much fun during our game drives that the time flew by.
A bush walk is another exciting excursion, best done after breakfast while the kids are having their own adventures in the EleFun Center (more about the center below). You will learn a lot about the vegetation and how to behave when you are walking instead of driving. Exploring the bush on foot is a very different hike than any others you might have been on.
Sabi Sands cares about the local communities and runs several community projects, such as education and care centers, teacher training programs and sports programs. Guests of the Bush Lodge can visit a nearby village and learn about the day-to-day life of the residents.
The lodge has a small boutique, two outdoor pools, a gym and an Armani Spa, which offers the ultimate African Spa experience. Unfortunately, our time was too short to experience the spa ourselves (another reason to come back). The Bush Babies treatment menu for kids includes fun and relaxing offerings such as the Elephant Foot Print Massage, the Busy Bee and the Paw Mani/Pedi.
The EleFun Center (ages 4 to 12) is a full-fledged indoor/outdoor child facility designed by childcare professionals who envisioned a space that would be fun, safe and educational. The center is filled with age-appropriate learning opportunities developed and supervised by qualified staff, and includes fascinating bush craft subjects such as animals, bugs, birds, tracking, map-reading and arts.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? So we tested it. At this point I have to let you in on a little secret. My daughter Anika (age 6) does not like child centers, period, no matter where we go and how wonderful the hotel is. Therefore, I had to inform her that she was my assistant and I needed her help writing this article. She accepted her duty and I was allowed to drop her off.
Two hours later, I picked up a beaming, happy girl who was almost upset that I came so early! She absolutely loved the EleFun Center. She could not stop talking about the amazing outdoor play structure with a zip line, the obstacle course where kids can try to beat the course record, the animal craft she made, and the fact that she left her handprint behind in Africa! She was also fascinated by meeting local children Louis and Sophia, who shared stories with her about living in Africa. I was told that the lodge employees’ kids go to school onsite and use the EleFun Center for their breaks to interact with the visiting children so they all learn from each other. Talk about raising global citizens!
The center is open twice a day: after the morning game drive and breakfast, and before the afternoon game drive. This way, the kids can burn some energy in between. You can also ask for a trained babysitter, if you wish.
Fly directly into Sabi Sabi from Johannesburg, or fly to Skukuza Airport inside Krueger National Park and take a private one-hour transfer to the Bush Lodge. You can also rent a car and drive.
Editor’s Note: Nicole received a media package to review Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge for families. As always, our opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Nicole Schick except where noted.
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