The Big Five in The Perfection of An Intimate Luxurious Safari Experience At Ivory Lodge, Lion Sands Reserve and Lodges, Sabi Sands Reserve, Kruger National Park, South Africa

South-Africa-Victoria-Falls-map-lrOur Boomer grandparent bucket list of seeing wonders of the world included Victoria Falls in Africa, so Grandpa and I headed off to experience all of the wonders of southern Africa.  We saw Table Mountain in Cape Town, now on a new wonders list, the New7Wonders list, and proceeded to a safari, before heading to Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe, which is an amazing wonder of the world.  You must do the helicopter over the Falls.

We booked our southern Africa trip through Abercrombie & Kent, which just does it right.  See the information at this site. You can customize any trip with Abercrombie & Kent, and we did part of our journey privately and part with a small group.

I have to admit that, previous to this safari experience, I thought I would only like to see wild animals in a zoo.  I am now addicted to Africa.  Our Abercrombie and Kent escort said there are three safari experiences one must have in Africa and he included Sabi Sands Reserve, Kruger National Park, South Africa as one of the three.  He said that Kruger is the oldest park in Africa and you get to see the big five, and staying on a private reserve adjacent to the park, where there are no barriers between the park and the reserves is the best.  Lion Sands Reserve and Lodges, Sabi Sands Reserve, has four lodges, at different price points.  His second of the three must have African safari experiences is Namibia, the subject of another blog, which we privately booked through Abercrombie & Kent.  The third is to go on a migration in Tanzania and Kenya, an East African safari experience.  Yes, yet to be done, it is now on the list!

If an African safari is on your bucket list, and it should be, here is this Grandma’s review of the experience, and an experience it is.

Abercrombie and Kent arranged for us to have our safari experience at Ivory Lodge, Lion Sands Reserve and Lodges, Sabi Sands Reserve, Kruger National Park, South Africa because I wanted a “sanitized safari experience,” meaning luxurious and safe as could be seeing the Big Five, which everyone wants to see on safari.  It was


We saw the Big Five (leopards, lions, rhinoceros, elephant, buffalo are “the big Five” which I did not know either are considered by hunters the most difficult to hunt) in just our first two days, but other guests we got to know, a family of four from South Florida too, also fortunate to be able to experience the perfection of the magnificent renovation of the eight single villas and one double villa the size of homes at Ivory Lodge, saw the Big Five in just one day.


Everything about Ivory Lodge, part of Lion Sands, Sabi Sands Reserve, will exceed your expectations and when you must leave you will be leaving those whose wish is to make every moment of your safari experience perfect in every way. They will become as family and friends with whom you wish you could stay longer. We stayed three nights and were jealous of those who were pampered in every way for five nights. You too will not want to leave.

In addition to The Big Five, we saw so many other animals and birds. We saw a hyena mother feeding her babies and babysitting three more who romped around and gave us a show. We took a walk in the bush to the river and watched hippos play and listened to them talking to each other.  After our return, after reading about the woman who got killed by a hippo on a migration safari in Tanzania, I now appreciate the care that Michael, our guide took, on this outing.  I also appreciated the huge rifle he carried.

In addition to leopards, lions, rhinoceros, elephant, herds of buffalo (“the Big Five”), we saw herds of impala, hippos, zebra, baboons and babies, antelope of every variety, elephant babies, crocodile, giraffes and a baby, warthogs, beautiful birds and much more than I can mention. The monkeys around the lodge also give shows, and impala and buck greet you at your villa. At lunch the first day, a hippo was across the river.

This being my first safari, I was surprised that the animals watched us as much as we watched them, and did not bother with us in the huge specialized Range Rover vehicles as big and as tough as tanks, as long as we followed the rules we were given. My husband’s music on his phone accidentally went off in front of a rhino just feet from us and he and the rhino were as startled as all of us. Fortunately, we all just had a good laugh. We were also fortunate to be there in July, winter, with no snakes and few insects, and beautiful sunny comfortable weather.  I know I would not be interested in meeting a Black Mamba, standing tall at five feet, nor its venomous bite, which kills quickly, that we were told were around in their summer.

Patricia and Ronnie, who run the lodge, are warm and inviting and have a staff that welcomes you and wants to make your stay one in which is joyful every minute of every day. All of the staff were friendly, warm and shared his or her life with us. Clearly, Lion Sands treats their staff with respect and it shows in the loyalty and perfect service they provide to the guests.

Everyone is highly skilled. Our driver and guide, Michael, lessened the bumps and dips on and off road, as if he knew the location of every one, and he seemed to know everything about every animal and bird in the reserve, even being able to identify an animal by how the light shined in its eyes returning to the lodge after dark. Joe, our tracker, skillfully found a leopard hiding in a dry river bed, and found two others, one of which we tracked as it walked along, another coming within two feet of our Range Rover. He showed us how he tracked, and both he and Michael educated us about the bush and animals in our days with them, 6:30-9:30 am and 3:30-6:30 pm, and during our sundowners in the bush every night, and our pancake breakfast one morning in a special bush hut. And, the most comfortable Range Rover vehicles and their pampering of us enhanced our luxurious experience, especially the wooden platforms where the vehicles parked when we just had to climb a few steps in get in. We were a maximum of six, and usually four on safari drives, lounging in large, extra padded seats only two across, with a large center console containing blankets and excellent binoculars, and hot water bottles warmed our seats and us in the cool mornings. Charlotte, the resident photographer and who writes the blog for Lion Sands lodges, joined us on some of our safari excursions, and offered to share her expert photographs from her professional camera, and shared videos of our experiences in the bush.

Our personal butler, Ben, made coffee appear in our rooms via a hatch in our kitchen at 6 am and the menus for breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner were incredible, the food gourmet and delicious and choices outstanding. The villa was fully stocked with snacks, drinks, alcohol and mixers, wine and beer. We could eat overlooking the river or in our huge villa. Meriam, our villa housekeeper, kept our villa spotless and left us cheerful notes on a chalkboard day and evening.

The lodge is small, intimate, and magnificent and our villa huge and beyond beautiful. It is not a tent, but a large home. Look at the pictures on the Lion Sands website of Ivory Lodge and look at the layout.  The photographs show the attention to detail in every public and private space. There are only eight villas and one family double suite villa.  We stayed in Woodlands, in the middle, and those who want more privacy stay farther away from the lodge. However, I think Malachite, just next to us facing the bend in the river had the best animal views, neighbors seeing a herd of elephants in the bend in front of their villa while we were on excursion. It could be a different villa tomorrow, as there is definitely privacy in the distance between the villas. The beds are huge, two double beds seamlessly combined with luxurious bedding. The layout is flawless, with fireplace, plunge pool (where beautiful birds greet you in the morning) facing the river. The enormous well appointed bathroom includes a large soaking tub, indoor and outdoor showers, and sinks placed so you do not miss the view of the river. This is a romantic way to do a safari.  Yes, it is a honeymoon place.  It is also a family place, with the youngest child we saw at the lodge age 11.  If your family does not get the only double villa, three can stay in one other villa.  The family of four from Florida split into two villas, with one parent and one child in each.  After seeing the bush and wild animals, this Grandma thinks age 13 is the youngest to bring a child on safari.

Experiences went beyond safari. Boma, barbecue event, gave us the opportunity to eat with Michael and the other guides, and listen to staff sing and watch them dance, many songs which Michael translated and which praised Lion Sands, Ivory Lodge, for the opportunities it provides the local community. We took the tour of Huntington, the local town, Henna Preschool, funded by Lion Sands, and a nursing home for the elderly. Please bring books for the children, and candies for the elderly, or you have an opportunity to give donations to help, as Henna is sponsored by Lion Sands, which also assists the upper schools as well. Vanessa, who accompanied us, shared that her husband, now a manager at Ivory Lodge, started at Henna, and we saw photos and videos of their adorable five month old. Kruger, our driver, showed us his lovely home in Huntington and told us about his family. We also got to visit with the Songoma, a healer, with Vanessa translating. We never got to the spa, which looked wonderful, as we were always so busy at Ivory Lodge.

Abercrombie & Kent made all the travel arrangements seamless, though Skukusa airport, the tiny and most adorable airport in the world, a short ride from Ivory Lodge, and we had representatives make our transitions easy.   The other family from Florida did not book through Abercrombie & Kent, told us they were sorry they did not, after they took two and a half hours to get past the border from Zambia to Zimbabwe to get to Victoria Falls and we speeded through with our A & K representative in fifteen minutes.

If you want an intimate, personal, perfect, luxurious safari experience, new Ivory Lodge is where you should head. Yes, it is expensive, but it is all inclusive of meals and spirits as much as you want, outstanding villa lodging, superior game drives, exceptional service, most experiences, etc. I would rate Ivory Lodge as seven star, and one of the best places we have stayed in the world, easily equivalent to Aman or Oberoi or even the Burj Al Arab, which is the only listed seven star hotel in the world. You will feel you got real value for your money, and your memories made at Ivory Lodge are worth every penny.

I always wondered about those who had been on safari and had close up wild animal photographs around their homes upon return.  I now understand.  So do we. Because Ivory Lodge provided a photographer with us on some outings, some of our framed photographs are pure professional.  We love them all.

This Grandma now understands.  Wild animals in the wild are miraculous to behold.







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