Set on the edge of Kruger National Park in South Africa’s Sabi Sands Game Reserve, luxury safari lodge Ulusaba offers guests thousands of acres to call home. Rooms vary across the estate: some are conical-roofed houses on a local koppie (hill) or treehouse-style suites reached by rope bridges and raised walkways. There’s a watering-hole for hippopotami on-site, a spa, a cellar showcasing the best of the country’s wine, and rangers on hand after dark to talk you through the southern-sky’s constellations.
Get this when you book through us:
A personalised Ulusaba Encountered book – a picture-laden guide to the reserve
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm, but also flexible if your room’s ready.
Double rooms from £1407.69 (ZAR29,276), including tax at 15 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of ZAR100.00 per person per night on check-out.
Rates include twice daily game drives and walking safaris in the Sabi Sand Reserve; all meals and drinks; transfers to and from the hotel's airstrip; taxes and a discretionary contribution to the Reserve of R100 a person each night.
Make room in your luggage for some school stationery supplies, which can be donated to South African children through the lodge-backed Pride ’n Purpose charity and its Pack for a Purpose branch.
At the hotel
Acres of lush bushland, gym, two tennis courts, laundry, free parking, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: iPod dock, free minibar, and Africology bath products. In lodges: swimming pool; wine cellar.
Our favourite rooms
Choose between a stay in the treehouse-style rooms of the Safari Lodge, which can be reached by crossing a rope bridge (while quietly humming the Indiana Jones theme, of course), or a room in the the loftily perched Rock Lodge, which has panoramic views of the bush below. We love Cliff Lodge 1 for its fireplace, pool-enhanced outdoor deck and gym, and the split-level Makwela Suites, which have a separate living area, library and infinity-edged plunge pool.
There are two: both outdoors and heated during the winter months, but one is better suited to families.
The Aroma Boma spa sits 800 feet above the savannah, with wide-ranging views of the surroundings. It’s quiet and peaceful, but if you do happen to hear something that sounds like a herd of elephants, that’s exactly what it’ll be. The treatments, which include facials, reflexology and massages, as well as grooming for men, use local ingredients such as rooibos, aloe and marula.
Bring creams, khakis and shades of stone to wear: you don’t want to scare off the local wildlife.
Children of all ages are welcome, but must be over six for game drives (over-12s can stay at Safari Lodge). Some rooms have fold-out beds for kids. Littles will be met with tailored activities and an educational backpack at the Cub’s Club at Rock Lodge.
Children under 12 are not allowed to stay at Safari Lodge. The most family-friendly rooms are the Makwela Suite and Cliff Lodge, which both have fold-out beds.
The Cub’s Club will keep children busy, with tot-tailored adventures and an educational backpack provided on arrival.
The Cub’s Club itineraries are flexible, but expect activities to include courses in how to become a ranger and safari walks on the hunt for birds, insects and lizards.
Request a stargazing evening out in the bush, for a post-prandial class in constellations, or just say the word and the staff will set up a private table somewhere magical.
Mr Smith should look to the man from Del Monte for lessons in how to stay stylish on safari. Mrs Smith, only chic, neutral utility pieces will do.
Dining at Ulusaba brings together the best of African produce, with regularly changing menus and dishes swayed by the seasons. Candlelit communal tables encourage story swapping about the day’s game spots, and settings differ throughout your stay: under a star-filled sky, on your deck or in the Boma. A traditional South African braai (barbecue) is likely to be the highlight of your stay, with the breads and pastries baked daily on-site ranked at a close second.
There are bars in both Safari Lodge and Rock Lodge, the latter toting Richard’s Corner, presumably referencing Sir Branson’s favourite sundowner spot (he owns the joint, after all). Safari Lodge has a well-stocked cellar that showcases the best of South Africa’s much-lauded wine output.
Breakfast is served after your first drive of the day, at around 8.30am. Lunch is from 12.30pm till 3pm; afternoon tea is on offer at 3.30pm, just before your sundown drive. Dinner follows the final drive, at around 8.30pm.
Ulusaba is set amid thousands of grass-carpeted acres on the Sabi Sands Game Reserve in South Africa.
Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport is 500 kilometres away from the lodge. From there we can arrange a 90-minute transfer in a two-engine jet directly to Ulusaba's airstrip (the views as you land make a window seat worthwhile). The journey is also a doddle from Skukuza (around 20 minutes) or Nelspruit (around 30 minutes) airports. Major carriers fly to Johannesburg from London Heathrow.
We don't recommend driving to Ulusaba, as it’s a lengthy (six-hour) drive from Johannesburg; but – if you're determined to do so – the hotel provides helpful instructions and free parking awaits. There’s an entrance fee to pay when you reach the edge of Sabi Sands. From the international airport in Kruger, the car journey will take around two hours; and from the gate of the Kruger National Park, it’s around 90 minutes.
Worth getting out of bed for
In addition to your daily game-drive quota, try to find time for some stargazing in the resort’s observatory out in the bush. Staff can arrange community tours and excursions to meet the people behind the lodge-supported Pride ’n Purpose charity, too. The lodge can also organise days out to see canyons, gorges, Victorian towns, robbers’ graves and waterfalls, or helicopter rides over the dramatic landscape – with a lunch stop at locally renowned Harrie’s Pancakes in Graskop.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this safari lodge in South Africa and unpacked their khaki-coloured clothing, a full account of their break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Ulusaba in Sabi Sands Game Reserve…
With a choice between a lodge that’s carved from the rock-face and treehouse-style suites linked by a swinging rope-bridge, Ulusaba has all bases covered. The former, Rock Lodge, sits atop a koppie (South African for small hill in a generally flat area, don't ya know…), with rooms scattered across a granite expanse; the latter's treehouse stays are ironically only suitable for over-12s, but big kids are more than welcome to monkey around in them.
The hotel sits on more than 30,000 acres of game-rich reserve, so you may well spot the Big Five, especially with the help of the lodge's expert trackers and guides. There’s an observatory for stargazing, as well as marvelling at the lack of light pollution. At Safari Lodge, some rooms overlook the Xikwenga Dam, where local hippos and elephant herds come to quench their thirst. The camp may be pretty and the drives rewarding, but it’s the ‘Ulusaba family’ who will make your stay truly memorable – especially as your parting image will be them handing you a box of brownies before you drive off into the sun-baked sunset… It makes the transition back to real life a little sweeter.