It used to be that a safari meant sharing. Private game vehicles were scarce and communal dining tables common, which meant spending time in the company of other guests was the norm. But a different type of stay is attracting seasoned safari-goers—the private villa, an accommodation that’s a rare find in the bush.
From South Africa to Zimbabwe, the safari experience is moving toward exclusivity. After all, what could be more luxurious than having the bush to yourself?
“If you’ve got a villa to yourself, you own the experience,” says Deborah Calmeyer, CEO of luxury tour operator Roar Africa. Her pick? The new Kubili House, a private residence owned by South African-born, New York-based Julian Koski and his wife, Aida, where guests can be masters of 26,900 square feet in Kruger National Park’s Thornybush.
Kubili House boasts a butler, guide, tracker, housekeeping team, childminder and chef. The sprawling interior, crafted by Koski and local designer Jacques Erasmus, gives the five-bedroom house a New York loft-meets-French maison feel, with a mixture of antique beams
and shiny pieces from Donna Karan’s UrbanZen collection. The pool, which overlooks a dam where elephant and waterbuck drink, will rival any hotel watering hole. “You won’t even want to go on a game drive,” says Calmeyer. Or maybe you’ll want to spend a night among the animals: Take one of three equipped camping vehicles and sleep out in the wild.
Driving this trend is the need for flexibility and privacy. In Zimbabwe, Singita Pamushana recently refurbished Malilangwe House, a private home settled on a ridge in the remote Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve. There are five suites as well as a dedicated vehicle, guide, chef, butler and unparalleled views of the dam below. Guests can access the hotel gym, spa and restaurant if they’re in the mood for a meal amongst others. But who would be?
When you’re the only guests, the experience is yours—when you want to eat, have afternoon drinks or chill is entirely up to you. “Any advanced safari-goer knows that the more you go, the more particular you become about exclusivity,” says Calmeyer.
A private home is also a slamdunk for group stays. In South Africa’s Greater Kruger National Park, the Farmhouse, a new exclusive-use property at Royal Malewane, is becoming a must-book for families. Owned by the Bidens (not those Bidens, but rather the ones who own The Royal Portfolio, the group of luxury boutique hotels), the main house has private staff, a pool and three suites, while the property’s central lodge includes a gym and a spa treatment room.
For the extended clan, three extra farm suites on the greater property are also available. This brings the guest count to 14—so, yes, you really can bring the whole gang.