While your vision of a perfect bush break may involve balmy days and sparkling swimming pools, any safari expert worth their khaki-chic outfit will confirm that winter is the best time to go on safari in Africa.
Up in Kruger and surrounds? The bare vegetation makes it easier than ever to spot wildlife, while the warming days of spring see young antelope aplenty. Across the border in Botswana, the ‘dry’ season is balanced by the arrival of the floodwaters in the Okavango Delta. In Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park, crisp winter days are a far cry from the soggy days of summer. It’s really just the birders who’ll grouse about the lack of summer migrants.
But in East Africa, winter means precisely that: migration.
Coming top of the (bucket) list for many safari aficionados, a visit to see the annual migration through the Serengeti and Maasai Mara is a must, marvelling at the massed herds of antelope, and the predators that follow in their wake.
The great migration across the plains of Tanzania and Kenya all comes down to two things: rain and grass. Following the former in search of the latter, from May each year millions of wildebeest, Thomson’s gazelle and zebra begin moving northwards through Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, their noses pointed towards Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve. En route, they’ll swim rivers inhabited by enormous crocodiles, and brave endless packs of hungry predators. Come September, the herds will turn south once more, and the cycle repeats itself. Little wonder it’s been dubbed the greatest wildlife spectacle on the planet.
And this year there are more than enough reasons to splash out on a trip to the migration, with a clutch of new lodges raising the bar for wilderness luxury in the region.
This week (1 June 2023), Singita reopens its iconic Mara River Tented Camp after a major refurbishment.
This much-loved camp is located on a bend of the Mara River — meaning dramatic views from every corner — in the world-famous Lamai Wedge, and the refurbishment has introduced a host of new opportunities for soaking up the scenery. The main lodge now features an al fresco pool sala, along with a new bar/deli for you to indulge in any time during the day.
The design of the new lodge draws heavily on local culture, offering a contemporary take on Maasai geometric shapes with a colour palette informed as much by the natural tones and textures as the vibrant textiles and beadwork of the Maasai people.
“The new-look Mara [River Tented Camp] has been created for travellers who are longing for adventure, and the sense of romance typical of tented travel,” notes Georgie Pennington, Singita’s group head of creative direction. “We’ve sought to create a calm and contextual, yet bold and uncluttered utilitarian interior with pops of colour and surprise.”
Equally striking is andBeyond’s Grumeti Serengeti River Lodge, which reopened last year after a complete rebuild dreamt up by the talented team at Fox Browne Creative.
The striking new design by architect Jack Alexander brings a thoroughly contemporary new look to each suite while opening up the living spaces to take in panoramic views of the Grumeti River. Suites have been doubled in size to offer a host of new indulgences, from spacious new bathrooms to outdoor decks with private plunge pools.
This game-rich region of the Serengeti’s remote Western Corridor — where the migration peaks in June — is also a welcome alternative to the busier sections of the Serengeti, where traffic jams and crowds are too often the order of the day. Here the focus is on a more immersive wilderness experience, with bush walks and interpretive safari excursions the order of the day.
Across the border in Kenya, the latest lodge to open is also the first luxury safari lodge in the global JW Marriott collection.
The JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge opened in April 2023 within the Masai Mara National Reserve, featuring 20 under-canvas suites strung out along the banks of the Talek River. Each offers a private deck andjacuzzi, and a design aesthetic that marries chic hotel with a touch of safari.
Game excursions are included in the rate, but unsurprisingly the experience here is pitched more as a global boutique escape than a dyed-in-the-wool safari lodge. The JW Spa is especially impressive, with treatment rooms and hydrotherapy facilities, plus a signature ‘JW Garden’ for meditative reflection. If you want a safari without too much safari, this is likely the lodge for you.