Travel is not just a joy, it can also make a positive difference to the people and places you visit. We’ve picked out five of our favourite lodges in Africa, where guests can be sure of an exceptional safari experience and the satisfaction of knowing their stay is helping to support conservation efforts and community projects.
1. Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, South Africa
When it comes to sustainable luxury tourism, award winning and family-owned Grootbos is very much a shining light. Its 27 breathtaking suites enjoy a magical setting: a 2,500-hectare stretch of protected fynbos overlooking the broad sweep of Walker Bay. Guests can immerse themselves in nature in a variety of ways, from botanical walks and 4×4 safaris to trips out into the bay to spot the Marine Big Five – and even take in its magnificence from above on a scenic flight.
When the Lutzeyers set up the Grootbos Foundation in 2003, their aim was not only to preserve this precious wilderness, with its rare plants and the ancient milkwood forests from which it takes its name. They were also keen to benefit the local communities through imaginative initiatives that have gone from strength to strength, whether that’s courses in indigenous horticulture or daily sports sessions for youngsters. The Foundation even supports a cooperative farm, some of the produce of which currently supplies a community soup kitchen.
2. Governors’ Mugie House, Kenya
A relatively new addition to the highly regarded Governors’ Camp Collection, the small and charming Mugie House has an enviable setting at the northern end of a 50,000-acre private conservancy in Laikipia. Its various habitats, from savannah and bush to olive forests, harbour a rich variety of wildlife, including several rare northern Kenyan species such as the reticulated giraffe – one of which, rescued as a baby and named Tala, has been known to pop her head in at windows to greet new guests.
There’s a strong focus at Mugie on managing the delicate balance between conservation, local engagement and responsible tourism. Projects include a cutting-edge cattle-grazing programme that supports the land’s pastoralist people in a sustainable way and regular outreach health clinics via the Moyo Foundation. Mugie House itself is totally solar-powered, while guests can take part in behind-the-scenes activities that include heading out with the Mugie bloodhounds and their handlers as they track down the culprits behind crimes against both wildlife and livestock.
3. Chobe Game Lodge, Botswana
The upmarket Chobe Game Lodge is the only permanent property inside the wonderfully biodiverse Chobe National Park, with an enviable riverside setting that makes it a superb starting point for game-viewing trips on both land and water. Part of the Desert & Delta Safaris portfolio, it’s a trailblazer when it comes to taking care of the environment, which has earned it a full eco grading from the Botswana Tourism Board.
The park’s varied landscapes support a wide range of animals, from elephants and hippos to lions, leopards and wild dogs, which visitors can view from a fleet of electric 4x4s and safari boats charged by solar power. As well as being emission-free, they’re almost silent – ideal for close encounters that don’t frighten the wildlife. Other eco-initiatives include a super-efficient recycling plant, a closed-loop water system and even a biogas plant.
Schemes to benefit local communities are also very much part of the overall philosophy, reflected in everything from the lodge’s one-of-a-kind all-women guiding team – designed to promote female empowerment – to youth development projects and health schemes for staff.
4. Lemala Ngorongoro Tented Camp, Tanzania
Lemala’s aim to ‘protect the environment, support the communities’ is reflected in the running of all its boutique tented camps and lodges in Tanzania. That’s certainly the case at the intimate Lemala Ngorongoro, which has just nine tents surrounded by pristine acacia forest in a strategic setting not far from the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater.
Just by staying here, you’re helping to support the local and wider Tanzanian community, directly or indirectly. A high proportion of the staff are from nearby villages, there are Maasai guides who will take you on wildlife-spotting forest walks and as much as possible of the food is sourced from the immediate area. Even the biodegradable lunch boxes, used in all Lemala’s properties, have an ethical dimension; they’re made by a women’s empowerment centre in Mto wa Mbu.
These initiatives are complemented by a raft of environmental measures, from using 100% solar power to installing reverse-osmosis water-treatment plants to create clean drinking water, eliminating the need for plastic bottles. Even many of the building materials have been recycled from scrap.
5. Bomani Tented Lodge, Zimbabwe
Remote, exclusive and delightful, Bomani Tented Lodge has an unbeatable setting in a private reserve on the fringes of Hwange National Park. Not surprisingly, there’s a strong ethos of protecting this precious environment while improving the lives of the people who call the area home, something shared by all Imvelo Safari Lodges.
All the staff are local, which here means within walking distance of Hwange where possible, but the nearby communities benefit in other ways as well, from mobile dental clinics and clean drinking water to support for village schools. As for conservation, it begins with the location – just outside the park to reduce its impact on the wilderness – and continues with measures such as a network of fireguards to give early warning in the dry season of grassland-destroying bushfires.
At this time of year, water is also a particular issue in Hwange, so Imvelo looks after 19 waterholes kept topped up by hybrid solar/diesel pumps. Guests can enjoy a fascinating behind-the-scenes experience by joining one of the regular ‘pump runs’, taking food and materials to the attendants who keep these precious lifelines in operation for seven months of the year.
Your journey will start with one of our UK team – someone like Adele, who's travelled extensively in Zimbabwe. They’ll shape your ideas into the trip of a lifetime. But they won't do it alone. They'll draw on the expertise of our contacts on the ground, connecting you to the people who'll make your holiday one you'll always remember – the ranger who can show you the best game viewing and fishing spots on the Zambezi, the guide who’ll introduce you to ‘moonbows’ at Victoria Falls and the locals who’ll share their dinner with you.
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