Checking In and Checking Out

The Surprisingly Affordable (and Luxurious!) South African Safari

by Nneya Richards
Cheetas Cheetah spotting in the South African bush. All photos by Nneya Richards.

Looking for a mid-priced safari lodge in South Africa? We’ve got the spot for you. Lions, elephants, and cheetahs included.

KARONGWE GAME RESERVE, South Africa - For my first safari, I had no clue what to expect. I imagined a sort of natural habitat zoo where I’d be provided binoculars to observe animals from afar. Accommodations? I wanted to do luxury and was expecting a little bit of glamping mixed with Out of Africa. Becks Safari Lodge completely fit the bill with its intimate vibe and first-class service. It is romantic enough for honeymooners, but the spaciousness and tranquility also make it ideal for a family or a solo traveler like me. There aren’t many solo travelers on safari, but you form a strong bond with the ones you meet.

The view from the swimming pool.
A peek inside the lodge.

Checking In

Overview
Overlooking the Drakensberg mountain range in South Africa’s Limpopo Province near Swaziland, Becks Safari Lodge is the latest addition to the Karongwe Portfolio of lodges on the Karongwe Private Game Reserve. With Kruger National Park less than 45 minutes away, the overall stay felt like an intimate and chic take on the classic African safari experience.

Claim to Fame
The two daily drives (at sunrise and in the late afternoon) are the highlights of any visit. Both are absolutely magical and not to be missed, even if you aren’t a morning person. While it's apparently very rare, I saw the South African Big Five (elephant, buffalo, rhino, leopard, lion) in one day over the course of two safaris. I also accompanied our driver, Betheul, and spotter, Freddy, on a bush walk where we approached a group of lounging cheetahs.

Elephant sighting.

What’s on Site
You’re going to want to check out while here, but you don’t have to. The WiFi at the lodge is great, but don’t expect service out in the bush. Starting your day at 5 a.m. leaves a lot of time to relax. You’re usually back from the morning drive at around 9 a.m. for breakfast, which gives you ample time to lounge, enjoy the spa, swim in the pool, or go on a guided bush walk before the afternoon drive. The 20-meter infinity pool overlooks the bush: You’ll see wildlife like kudu, antelope, and even a giraffe meandering by while you’re taking a dip. The spa has an open-air deck where you can work out any kinks you might have from those bumpy game drives.

The Food
The food is delicious, fine-dining served in the main lodge and surrounding porches. A light coffee, tea, and biscuit breakfast is offered during the morning game drive, followed by a more traditional breakfast (including the best eggs Benedict I’ve ever had) upon your return. Lunch is buffet-style, with a kind gentleman named Benedict taking drink orders. Try the pink elephant cocktail, an Amarula-based drink named for the berries of the amarula tree, which are beloved by elephants, or a crisp South African sundowner, a sunset cocktail tradition made with orange juice, apple juice, and gin. But save room for happy hour. On the afternoon game drive, your driver and tracker prepare a Pinterest-worthy wine and hors d'oeuvres spread in the bush to enjoy while you take in the sunset. One of our happy hour locations was rerouted because of a herd of buffalo, but we eventually found a safe spot. Dinner switches between candlelight dining inside the lodge and fireside dining in a banquet setting under the stars.

In the Room
Ten spacious suites connected by walkway bridges have a light, airy design and color scheme that blends in with the surrounding bush. The suites included spa tubs, indoor and outdoor showers, and roomy decks overlooking the bush that are bigger than most apartments in New York City. Fun bedside extras like yummy South African chocolates, inspiring quotes about South Africa, and a flora and fauna checklist to keep track of everything you see during your stay make all the difference. I felt like I was living at a modern California estate, and that the kudus and giraffes were resident pets.

Caught in the act.
A zebra in his natural habitat.

This Place Is Perfect For
Anyone who wants to be awed by nature. Will Smith, whose quote was by my bedside, summed it up nicely when he said, “It’s really beautiful. It feels like God visits everywhere else, but lives in Africa.” From a pride of lions to a blood-red sunset, the beauty of South Africa often leaves you speechless.

But Not So Perfect For
The faint of heart. From close encounters with cheetahs to the very necessary night guards who escort you to your room, a stay at Becks Safari Lodge is exhilarating and not for the easily scared.

Checking Out

This is a gorgeous part of South Africa. When you’re not spotting wildlife, take in the beautiful landscapes. People come here to safari and appreciate the natural beauty of the country, but there’s still a peaceful balance. You’ll feel as though you have miles and miles to yourself. The lodge can arrange activities outside safaris, like hot air ballooning over the Sabie River Valley or an eight-hour panorama hiking tour to view the famous God’s Window. On clear days you can see as far as Mozambique.

So long South Africa.

Book It

Rates change seasonally and start at $680 per night, including accommodations, meals, and safaris. (This is considered very affordable for safari.) Transportation from the airport is extra. Click here for reservations, or get in touch with the Popupla Travel Concierge and we can plan your trip for you.

Plan Your Trip

How to Get There
International travelers can fly into O. R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and take a short one-hour flight to Hoedspruit Airport. From there, the safari lodge is a one-and-a-half-hour drive filled with beautiful scenery.

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