Best African Safari Vacation Lodges

From helicopter rides over Mount Kenya to campsites that get you up close and personal with wildlife

Six a.m. wake-up calls, morning and afternoon game drives, afternoon naps followed by high tea—even the undemanding safari itinerary can become monotonous. For those in search of extended safari stays, there are African lodges that offer more than the average safari program—be it a helicopter ride over Mount Kenya or a hands-on experience with rehabilitated wildlife. Here, Nick Bay, the Seattle-based founder of Your Private Africa (which creates custom-designed safari itineraries), gives us his picks of safari lodges worth lingering in. 

Tswalu Kalahari, South Africa

Photo: Tswalu Kalahari

South Africa's largest private game reserve (set in the green Kalahari), Tswalu Kalahari has access to a cornucopia of wildlife. "Long known as a malaria-free reserve, Tswalu caters to families with kids of all ages," says Bay. WIth only 30 guests staying on the reserve at one time, it also offers unlimited serenity and seclusion. Activities include private vehicle safaris, walking safaris, horseback safaris, scenic helicopter flights and sleep-outs under the stars. In addition to the Big Five (except elephant), Tswalu boasts regular sightings of rare and unique species, including black-maned lions, meerkats, pangolins and aardvarks.

Don't miss: Participating in any of the conservation and research activities going on at the property during your stay. 

Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, Namibia

Photo: Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp

A remote, contemporary tented camp, Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is positioned along the stark and hauntingly beautiful Skeleton Coast in northwestern Namibia. With access to a diverse range of wildlife, including the desert-adapted lion and desert-adapted elephant, the game drives and nature walks alone make this a distinctive destination. But beyond seeking out these rare animals, those staying more than three nights can experience day excursions to the Skeleton Coast, which cruises past desert oases, on the Hoanib River, and along the coastline where shipwrecks lie and the huge Cape fur seal colony lives.

Don't miss: Hands-on experience with the Desert Lion Project research team (based near the camp).

Sausage Tree Camp, Zambia

Photo: Sausage Tree Camp

Set under a canopy of sausage and mahogany trees, on the banks of the Zambezi river, Sausage Tree Camp is one of the few lodges within the Lower Zambezi National Park. The camp offers a myriad of activities for guests of all ages. "Best of all, a private vehicle and guide is guaranteed for every booking," says Bay, "so guests can choose to go on game drives, walks, boating and fishing excursions, canoeing trips, and more, at their leisure."

Don't miss: River lunches served with a side of Pimm's and great views.

Ol Jogi, Kenya

Photo: Ol Jogi

Set on a 58,00000-acre, private family-owned wildlife conservancy, Ol Jogi is tucked away in a rocky outcrop and has terrific views of Mount Kenya. The property offers multiple safaris: 4x4 vehicle safari, horseback safari and guided walking safari. There's a hammam and tennis court, plus a wildlife rescue and rehab center and private veterinary clinic. In addition, the property invites guests to meet the members of Ol Jogi's bloodhound anti-poaching team. According to Bay, "Guests are hosted by highly experienced guides adapting the daily schedule depending on the interests of the guests and gain insight and often involvement in the lodge's numerous community and conservation programs for the many endangered species they rescue and reintroduce." 

Don't miss: Helicopter trips to Mount Kenya & Lake Turkana.

Singita Pamushana, Zimbabwe

Photo: Singita Pamushana

Singita Pamushana's lake-view position and vibrant interior are enough to warrant an extended stay, but the lodge also has loads of activities, including mountain biking, walking, boat safaris and fishing. Those staying more than a few days can arrange trips to the ruins of the ancient Old Zimbabwe civilization or a visit to the beautiful Chilojo Cliffs in the neighboring Gonarezhou National Park. 

Don't miss: Excursions to ancient rock art sites.  

Jack's Camp, Botswana

Photo: Jack's Camp

Loaded within a private concession area east of Makgadikgadi National Park, Jack's Camp is a throwback to a bygone era with 12 bedouin-style tents set in a beautifully barren landscape. The camp offers a variety of unusual desert safari experiences, including visits to a habituated meerkat colony, quad-biking on the salt pans, horseback riding and 4x4 vehicle safaris. In the green season, guests can expect to see the world's second-largest zebra migration. "Additional activities and experiences can be arranged on request," says Bay, "such as helicopter excursions to Kubu Island, a massive set of boulders and baobab trees jutting out of the middle of the salt pans."

Don't miss: A walk in the wild with local San people. 

This article originally appeared on AFAR.