Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
London, UK
writer specialising in responsible tourism

Inspiring luxury safari experiences

Going on a high end safari isn't about choosing between comfort and conviction. If you want to ensure you get the most memorable experiences money can buy, you are best to go with the most ethical safari companies. After all, the most passionate and knowledgeable rangers are the ones who are most devoted to conserving wildlife; and the best hosts are those that care the most about people's wellbeing, whether it is for their guests, their staff, or their local communities. 

As the author of Rough Guides' first guidebook dedicated to responsible tourism I got to travel to some pretty amazing places for my research, and saw first hand some of the amazing work people are doing combining incredible holiday experiences with meaningful work in community development and conservation. The desire to share these experiences with more people were one of the reasons that this year I launched Fair Game (url below) which aims to promote safaris like these.

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Meno A Kwena Tented Camp

Private Bag 053 Maun Botswana, Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, Botswana

For me, a luxury safari isn't about infinity pools and oversized beds. The luxury is the chance to escape the urban world, and connect to nature at its most untouched. Meno a Kwena's remote tented camp in Botswana takes you into another world, an escape into the middle of truly nowhere, where you fall asleep in your safari tent listening to lions roar in the distance.

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Gorges Lodge

Zambezi River Gorge, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

If you've ever wanted to go to Zimbabwe - this is the place to stay. You've got the Victoria Falls round the corner (or bend as we're talking rivers), a jawdropping location from which to view the Zambezi, and the chance to discover the bush with one of the most switched on, conservation minded safari outfits around. Gorges, and Imvelo’s two other Zimbabwean camps don’t only offer luxurious lodges and spectacular safaris. There is a level of commitment here that they sum up as: “We believe in enriching the lives of our visitors, as well the lives of those around us. We are, after all, using the local communities land and resources; so it’s only fair that they benefit too.”

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Campi ya Kanzi

Mtito Andei, Kenya

Think of the words that conjure up images of safari - Kilimanjaro? its an ever present backdrop. Maasai? The express purpose of this camp is to help the Maasai survive and the camp protects 280,000 acres for the community to live as they wish. There's just room for 16 guests, and 400 square miles to explore without seeing another tourist - it's just you and the bush.

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Nkwichi Lodge

Lake Niassa, Lichinga, Mozambique

The location is everything - on a virtually untouched shore of Lake Malawi - the Lake of Stars - with bath clear waters, soft white sands, and jungle behind. Sleep under the stars, go on snorkel safaris amidst vast shoals of many-hued cichlids and other fish, or head off into the forests with their trained guides to track game, far, far from other tourists. The chalets are pretty special, with rock pool baths hewn from the rocks. The houses even more so, as they came with their own private beach. If you've ever dreamed of an African escape - this is it.

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Wolwedans Dunes Camp

NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namib Desert, Namibia

The highlight of safaris at Wolwedans, and the other-worldly Namib Rand reserve, is not the wildlife - of which there is plenty to see. It's the ethereal scenery, which changes with the light and transports you far from any known reference point. Most mysterious of all are the fairy circles, thousands of circles of bare sand that appear from nowhere in the grasses - there are plenty of theories as to their origin, but for lyricism, none beat's the ancient Bushmen belief that they were land trampled by their ancestors' spirits, who had returned overnight to dance. The camps are the most glorious tents imaginable, the food divine, the experience meriting the overused epithet - unique.

F H Mira flickr

Gorongosa was once one of Africa's greatest parks - a lost eden. Unfortunately that eden really was nearly lost, due to the ravages of the country's long civil war. But amazingly, in the last few years - the war now over - a remarkable regeneration project has made this one of the most inspiring conservation success stories again. This will become a must see destination. Go now while you'll have it (almost) to yourself.

oztenphoto flickr

Grootbos Garden Lodge

Off R43 between Stanford and Gansbaai, Gansbaai 7210, South Africa

The Cape Floristic Region - where Grootbos is found - is the smallest of the world's six floral kingdoms, and found only here, in South Africa's western Cape, a couple of hours from Cape Town. A region of extraordinary biodiveristy diversity, it is home to over 9, 000 plant species, of which 69 percent are endemic. Grootbos offers 'flower safaris' to discover this unique floral kingdom. But if flowers aren't you're thing - or you;ve been clever enough to book for a few days, then there's some very special stuff happening off shore. This is one of the best places in the world for land based whale watching, or you can jump on a boat for a trip to view the marine 'Big 5', Southern White Whales, Great White Sharks, African Penguins, Bottlenose Dolphins and Cape Fur Seals. And the accommodation - which wins countless awards for its environmental and social credentials, is discreet boutique luxury, blending in with its very special landscape.

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Kanha Jungle Lodge

Kanha National Park 481111, India

There are many parks in India where you stand a chance of seeing a tiger - but Kanha is the one that was the inspiration for The Jungle Book. You'll get much more than the bare necessities here though, this lodge is highly rated by Tour Operator for Tigers, who assess lodges and parks across India to see just how good they are at looking after the environment and being respectful to the wildlife you have come to see. Seeing tigers isn't guaranteed anywhere in India - there just aren't enough left, but if you are lucky enough, it's an experience that lives you the rest of your life. It brought tears to my eyes the first time it happened, and it's still probably the most powerful connection with nature I have ever had. I've simply never been more humbled by an encounter with another species.

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Masoala Forest Lodge

Masoala, Tampolo, Madagascar

A beautifully located off grid lodge, Masoala Forest Lodge is only accessible by sea (or by foot, but you'll be trekking for days through rainforest to get here). Once here there's just 6 treehouse tents (on stilts with thatched roofs) perched between rainforest, sea and sky. You can head off to explore the jungle behind you (no poisonous snakes or spiders, and no predators to worry you), swim amid coral gardens, or if that all sounds a bit much, just sit back and marvel at the sense of tranquility and isolation.

Tiger Tops Karnali Lodge

Thakurdwara, Bardia, Nepalgunj, Bardia National Park, Nepal

Most people head to Nepal to trek in the Himalaya. But in the foothills, near the border with India, are some amazing safari and wildlife opportunities. Staying at Tiger Tops Karnali Lodge gets you access to many of the best of these, as well as wonderful spa and wellness facilities, the chance to connect with their resident elephants by getting involved in their daily rituals - including bathing them, and excellent way of gaining some perspective on their size and power. You can go on safari on an elephant's back, in a jeep or along the river. While not guaranteed, you've a chance of sightings of tigers, rhinoceros and leopards.

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Shamwari Game Reserve

PO Box 113, Swartkops, 6210, 6000, South Africa

The reserve has won endless awards for its safaris and its conservation. Its many difference lodges and camps offer everything from colonial grandeur to tented escapism. And throughout it runs the ethos of combining incredible safari experiences with a total commitment to conservation. Unlike many safari companies, they also have a very detailed and engaging programme for younger children - making it an ideal place for wildlife loving families too.

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andBeyond Phinda Mountain Lodge

Phinda Private Game Reserve, Phinda Private Game Reserve 3960, South Africa

Mountain Lodge, Rock Lodge, Vlei Lodge.... there's seven lodges and camps at Phinda, each one in a different ecosystem, and each one truly special in its own way. The views at Mountain lodge are spectacular and the suites luxurious in every sense. But most of all, it's the wildlife experiences here - this is one of the best places to see cheetah in South Africa; Phinda's rhino conservation has been superb; its rangers are knowledgeable and charming; and if you've got the money, it's very, very special place to go on safari.

Last updated at Aug 25, 2015