Singita the epitome of luxury African safaris

In the world of luxury African safaris, says Richard Holmes, few brands have earned as much admiration for their work in conservation, community empowerment and sustainability as Singita.

A truly African safari awaits at Singita Sabora. Pictures supplied

It was back in 1993 that Luke Bailes opened the very first Singita property, on land originally purchased by his grandfather. That slice of Lowveld bush would later become the Sabi Sand Game Reserve and, transformed from hunting concession into conservation champion, it became known as one of the world’s most famous safari destinations.

Fast-forward almost 30 years and Singita, which translates as ‘place of miracles’ in Shangaan, now operates 15 luxury lodges and camps in four African countries. That pan-African spirit has become a cornerstone of the Singita experience, a thread woven into the company’s commitment to sustainability, environmentally conscious hospitality and the empowerment of local communities. “Modern conservation requires a keen focus on keeping tourism, communities and wildlife in a constructive balance – and the survival of each is crucial to the survival of the whole,” says Luke. It’s a balance that is evident across Singita’s portfolio of lodges, where the company has created pioneering ways to preserve wildlife and ecosystems while engaging with local communities in the realms of conservation, art, culture and fine food and wine. So how do you choose to experience it? Well, that’s up to you…

East Africa’s annual wildebeest migration is a spectacular sight.

Singita Sabora: Marvel at the migration

East Africa’s annual wildebeest migration is a bucket-list experience for any serious safari-lover and at Singita Sabora travellers enjoy a front-row seat to this incredible natural spectacle.

Sabora lies within the 141,640ha Grumeti Reserve, adjacent to the Serengeti National Park, which was established in 1994 to preserve the ancient migratory pathways of the vast herds that move between grazing lands in Tanzania and Kenya’s Masai Mara. Aside from this remarkable location, the camp is a vision of contemporary under-canvas luxury.

Re-invented in 2020 – a bold move during the pandemic – today it offers a sumptuous vision of a modern safari. Thanks to the keen eye of Singita’s design partners Cécile & Boyd, you won’t find tired safari clichés here. Rather, the textures and tones reflect the surrounding grasslands, while private meditation decks and secluded outdoor daybeds encourage you to slow down and soak up the landscape. Beyond the camp, guided game drives and walks delve deep into the unique ecosystem of the region, while guests also enjoy an opportunity to visit one of 12 outposts manned by the Singita Grumeti Fund’s anti-poaching team.

Art is the latest addition to this offering, with dedicated gallery spaces introducing guests to Africa’s dynamic creative industries.

Singita Sabi Sands: Art in the wilderness

African art and creativity is in the limelight like never before, from the opening of Zeitz MOCAA and the Norval Foundation in Cape Town to the appointment of Khanyisile Mbongwa as curator of the 12th Liverpool Biennial, the UK’s largest contemporary visual arts festival.

And at Singita’s Sabi Sand lodges, Ebony and Boulders, African artists have been given a new space in which to shine, with the opening of a newly imagined boutique and gallery. African art and aesthetics have long informed the visual language of Singita’s lodges and the new gallery creates a valuable showcase to established artists and rising stars alike, while affording guests a unique opportunity to discover – and perhaps acquire – works from the continent. “We want to celebrate Africa’s rich cultural heritage, its unique places and people and the beautiful stories and experiences that have shaped who they are,” says Phumzile Mgiba, the manager of the boutique.

Beyond the wilderness this pair of lodges celebrates the finer things in life, from cuisine guided by award-winning restaurateur Liam Tomlin to an enviable wine list served by expert sommeliers.

Between game-viewing activities, guests have the opportunity to look at the artworks on display and delve into the context in which they were created. Plans for the future include art auctions and residencies for artists.

“By creating a space dedicated to contemporary art from Africa, Singita is showcasing the talent and creativity that is so prolific on the continent. The works displayed at the new Boutique & Gallery space in Singita Sabi Sand embody this direction and we will continue to build on its remarkable momentum across all our regions,” adds Lindy Rousseau, the chief strategist at Singita.

The gallery concept has already proven so successful that a second gallery recently opened at Singita Kruger National Park, home to the Sweni and Lebombo lodges, where a piece by the multi-award-winning Athi-Patra Ruga takes pride of place.

Singita Lebombo: A sip of Africa

Gaze across the crowd at any notable wine auction in the Western Cape and chances are you’ll find François Rautenbach somewhere near the front, paddle poised to pick up a case or two of a rare vintage or unique bottling. Or, perhaps, simply a South African icon worthy of the Singita cellar.

As the head of Singita Premier Wine for more than 20 years, François is the man in charge of curating Singita’s signature wine experience, an element that has become a highlight of any stay at a Singita property. Currently the Singita wine list stretches to more than 200 labels, many of which are rarities, older vintages and limited releases.

Each of Singita’s 15 camps boasts a dedicated wine cellar, from the subterranean space built around granite monoliths at Singita Boulders to the towering ground-level collection at Singita Lebombo. They are all supplied from Singita’s maturation facility outside Stellenbosch, where François analyses wine consumption patterns, forecasts trends, decides which wines have reached their peak and dispatches stock to the far-flung lodges. And at those lodges, sommeliers are on hand to suggest appropriate wine pairings or present tasting flights of specific regions, varietals or vintages.

It’s a remarkable vinous experience in the middle of the African wilderness. In addition to recruiting trained sommeliers to work at the lodges, Singita runs the extensive Wine Steward and Beverage Programme to nurture local staff and identify potential talent. This operates in partnership with the two Singita Community Culinary Schools – in South Africa and Tanzania – that train local staff in culinary skills, equipping them for a career in the kitchens of Singita, or further afield.

Singita Pamushana: Community and culture combine

Zimbabwe’s remote south-east is far from any traditional safari hotspots and yet within the 52,610ha Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve Singita has crafted an unforgettable destination lodge that taps into the unique ecology of the area as well as its rich local culture. The reserve borders the remarkable Gonarezhou National Park and Singita manages the lodge on behalf of the Malilangwe Trust, channelling revenue from it into conservation and community projects in the area. It’s a natural progression then for the decor and design of Singita Pamushana to celebrate the natural beauty and rich cultural traditions of the region.

In each of Singita Pamushana’s eight suites the decor draws inspiration from the area’s vibrant Shangaan culture, from geometric patterns and tile inlays to hand-carved wooden furniture. There’s a bold use of texture here too: think woven leather, raw silk and hammered metal against a colour palette of tan, black and brass.

The lodge’s lofty position on a sandstone ridge overlooking Malilangwe Dam suggests a nod to the citadel of Great Zimbabwe too, says Geordi de Sousa Costa from design studio Cécile & Boyd. “Singita Pamushana is built on a hill and its majestic location naturally inclines the design to hinge on the idea of a royal household holding court over this beautiful land,” he explains.

And a beautiful land it certainly is: a land to be discovered on bush walks, game drives and boating excursions. Walks to ancient rock art sites can also be arranged.