Following on from his safari par excellence at Lion Sands, seasoned B2B sales consultant, Paulo Florencio, visited the iconic Singita properties in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve and got a taste of the ultimate African luxury safari first-hand.
This was his experience:
Perched on the slopes of the Sands River in the exclusive Sabi Sands Game Reserve – which shares a fenceless border with the world-renowned Kruger National Park – are Singita’s exquisite Ebony Lodge and Boulders Lodge. Nearby, on the edge of an active waterhole, sits the magnificent private Castleton lodge. For those who don’t know, “Singita ” is a Tsonga word meaning “place of miracles”, and after spending time at their lodges I can say it’s an appropriate name.
As with any Sabi Sands lodge, there are many ways to get to the Singita properties. The main arrival option would be to fly from Johannesburg to Singita’s own private airstrip – there are options for scheduled flights or private charters. There is also the self-drive option which is about 6.5 hours from Johannesburg to the lodge, entering through the Sabi Sands Newington Gate. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended. Driving ourselves the short distance between the gate and the lodge was exciting, since wildlife could appear around any corner! Once we arrived at the gate, we met our friendly guide and tracker at the welcome pavilion upon entering Singita’s concession, who drove us the final few minutes to Ebony Lodge in the game drive vehicle.
When walking down the wooden path from the vehicles to the lodge and rooms, we were surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of the African bush. The rooms are tucked away at the ends of paths, behind lush vegetation, giving us the sensation that we were the only visitors in this magical place. The boardwalk wanders over a small stream that flows into the larger Sands River, and there is thick natural vegetation throughout the entire area with birds fluttering past and the occasional antelope sauntering by. Ebony Lodge, being the first of the Singita lodges, is a regal lodge adorned with beautiful antiques, many of which are originals from the founding family. The style is colonial African safari, dripping with traditional opulence.
The main lodge includes the reception, bar, wine cellar, large fireplace, lounge/reading room, and dining room. More seating areas and a large fire pit are a few steps below, arranged down the slope of the river like an amphitheater, with the Sand River being the main attraction. Between the various covered decks lush green vegetation makes you feel part of the outdoors even while perched on a cushioned chair drinking a delicious afternoon cocktail at your table next to the bar. Leopards have been known to stroll through the lodge, which no doubt inspired the leopard encounter protocol in our room.
The spacious rooms are just as ornate as the main lodge, complete with a fireplace, indoor and outdoor showers, private pool, and a spacious deck with a couch and lounge chairs overlooking the river. Large windows and glass doors allowed us to experience the bush even while enjoying an afternoon nap in bed. Yoga mats were provided along with yoga and meditation instructions. Hats, shawls, and bags were hanging on the coat rack in our room for us to use during our stay. I was moved by the painting kit set on the desk, and only wished I was talented enough to use it!
Another item on the desk was a large book detailing all the conservation and community work Singita is involved in across their various locations. While numerous lodges claim to have ethical practices, many fall short in practice. I can personally declare this is not the case for Singita. Leveraging its resources in the area, Singita has created the Singita Lowveld Trust, which manages community development projects such as an early childhood development program, digital learning, and culinary school, as well as environmental conservation projects such as anti-poaching, biological monitoring, and community outreach through local and global NGOs such as Panthera. They are involved in many more initiatives across Africa, which makes your stay at a Singita lodge not only luxurious, but also moral.
Singita supports its own anti-poaching efforts, which have been successful for many years now. One of my favourite parts of the trip was getting to meet an anti-poaching ranger and his canine partner. Hearing a little about the poaching activities in the area, and the danger that these brave rangers put themselves in each day in order to stop it, was a humbling moment. It made the amazing wildlife sightings – including a few rhinos – even more special. The Sabi Sands reserve is famed for its wildlife, and it certainly delivered for us: leopards, honey badgers, hippos, a massive herd of buffalos, and so much more. Our guide even allowed us to get on foot with giraffes, one of my favourite animals.
Additional activities around the lodge include guided walking safaris, personalized wine tasting (Singita is known for having an excellent wine collection), pampering at the spa, or kicking it up a notch at the fitness centre. And of course, one of my personal favourites: eating. The food was absolutely amazing, with a comprehensive brunch menu, a variety of tapas menus and delectable 3 course customizable meals. There is also a boutique shop (including wine sales) and an art gallery on the property.
The Ebony Lodge has 2 bush suites and many suites overlooking the river, including 6 regular suites, 2 larger suites, and 2 family-sized suites that can be combined for the private villa. Children of all ages are welcome, but the many stairs in the main lodge may be challenging for eldery guests.
We had the pleasure of stopping by Singita’s Boulders Lodge, which has a very different feel to Ebony Lodge. Boulder’s Lodge is literally built on the boulders sprinkled along the banks of the Sand River, which is reflected in the organic and raw design of the lodge. Smooth, cool rocks are featured throughout the main lodge and into the wine cellar, which keeps the temperature cool even on the hottest of African summer days. Similarly to Ebony Lodge, the main lodge of Boulders, which includes reception, bar, dining area, and many decks, envelops the Sand River. Natural finishes such as treewood, stone, and leather accent the open and bright main lodge and rooms. Boulders Lodge includes 2 bush suites, 8 river suites, and 2 family river suites, all with the same amenities as Ebony Lodge. Children over the age of 10 are welcome.
Our last stop was to Singita’s private Castleton lodge, which is located on a busy dam and can accommodate up to 12 guests. Castleton is the definition of a home away from home- it’s style is casual yet elegant and includes many personal touches from the founding family of Singita. The main lodge building is furnished with plush couches in light linens, welcoming rooms with large family tables, and rustic touches. It’s a beautiful combination of family farmhouse and African bushveld.
Adorned with an impressive wine cellar, family-style kitchen and chef, large swimming pool, trampoline, Bocce and tennis courts, fitness centre and yoga studio, massage rooms, and completed with an epic tree swing: Castleton has everything one might possibly need in an exclusive extended stay in the bush – whether you are 6, 36, or 60! The beautiful lawn around the lodge is perfect for picnics, game-viewing, children’s games, or stargazing at night. Castleton includes six double en-suite cottages, which could each comfortably house a family of four or two couples.
To summarize, Singita’s lodges in the Sabi Sands are all stunning in their own way. Ebony and Boulders are both top-notch luxury, with different styles: Ebony being more traditional and Boulders more contemporary. You simply can’t go wrong with either. And of course, for larger groups looking for unrivaled privacy, comfort, and indulgence, Castleton is the perfect answer.
We would like to thank Thuli for the invitation, Grant, Jason, and Warrick for the tours around the lodges, and the entire staff at Ebony Lodge for making us feel so spoiled and relaxed. Special shout out to Shireen at Ebony Lodge for making us an amazing mixed drink that we appropriately named Shireen’s magic. And of course, a big thank you to the people who indulged us in the enchantment of the bush: guide Damin and tracker Syd.