I’m fresh off of a fabulous and life-changing trip to South Africa. Everything about it was absolutely magical. To say I savored every minute of it would not be an exaggeration. I stayed at several hotels when I was there and am going to share each of them with you because they truly were the most luxurious hotels I’ve ever stayed at. It was so hard for me to choose where to stay because believe it or not, South Africa has an abundance of great luxe options, but after much online research and talking to every person and blogger I knew who had been, I made my picks. The hotels I stayed at are truly the top of the top of the top! And you can trust me–because I did my research! And because of course, I am the world’s brattiest and most spoiled traveler.
Singita Lebombo (actually all the Singita properties), along with Royal Malewane (review to come) are the most exclusive lodges in all of South Africa. Celebrities from all over the world come to these properties–everyone from Elton John to Justin Bieber. The resorts are private and insanely luxurious while at the same time capturing the true South African spirit. Singita Lebombo is more modern, while Royal Malewane is more traditional South African decor–both equally amazing, just different. Today I review Singita Lebombo–a hotel I believe to be one of the top resorts not only in South Africa but in the entire world. And PS, it’s probably the most luxe property I’ve ever experienced–and no one was more surprised than me that it was in the Bush!
Oh, and let’s just get the pesky disclosures out of the way up front. I paid a fraction of what regular guests would have to pay-it was a press rate. I always like to be honest with my readers. That said, this is common in the travel industry and almost every review you ever read is written by someone in my position. That said, you can read the other reviews on here and see that I am not always so impressed–it takes more than a free hotel room these days! But–moving on…
Getting to Singita Lebombo in South Africa is easier than you may think. All it takes is a 14-hour nonstop flight via South African Airways to Johannesburg (JNB), a three hour layover and then a quick one-hour flight from JNB to Hoedspruit airport. And then a short drive from there. Or there is the option of a private plane from JNB for truly luxe travelers but sadly, I’m just not there yet. Okay, so I know it sounds like alot, but it really wasn’t that bad. We were amazed at how quickly we went from New York City to Lion King.
When you pull into this extremely remote resort, you can tell something special awaits. After all, Singita does mean place of miracles!
What Is Included
I think that one of the biggest questions I had was what is included exactly, so I thought I would get that out of the way up front. So here is what is inclusive in your room rate: luxury accommodation, three meals each day, all drinks, including premium liquor (Grey Goose, etc.), wines (excluding champagne but including sparkling South African bubbly), and liqueurs. It also includes two safaris each day with expert guide and tracker in a luxury Land Rover safari vehicle. Oh and included as well is basically your own (almost) private butler who remembers all your preferences and does everything he can to make your stay special. You can also order any food or beverage at any time of any day in addition to meals. Basically they just want you to eat and drink all the time.
You’ll notice the scarcity of other cars as the hotel is miles and miles away from anyone else. A typical day is as follows in the winter (Times vary slightly during summer):
5:30 AM Wakeup
6:00 AM Light Breakfast and Coffees
6:15 AM Leave for Morning Safari
8:30 AM Coffee and Snacks are served in the bush during your safari.
Here is a sampling of some of my favorite things we saw on our trip:
9:30 AM-11:00 AM Return from your safari, depending on what you’re tracking and where you drove to.
Breakfast. Upon your return you have a gigantic full breakfast. They bring granola, croissants, muffins, fresh fruit, yogurt, juices and more to your table and then you can also order a hot breakfast like eggs, pancakes, etc.
Lunch. Basically as soon as you are finished with breakfast you have lunch. And not just a soup or something light. You can have a full 3-course meal if you’d like!
3:30 Everyone meets in the lobby for tea, coffee and snacks. And when I say snacks, I mean handmade pastries by the resort’s insanely-skilled pastry chef. Macaroons, homemade cookies, etc.
4:00 Leave for evening game drive. One evening we even went off on foot! They’ll cater to any desire you have here–as long as it’s safe and won’t bother anything in nature that is!
6:00 Sundowners (sunset cocktails) out in the bush. Enjoy the sunset and some light snacks like biltong (South African beef jerky), chips, wasabi peas, etc. This is one of our places we stopped for champagne and grey goose cocktails–note the white tablecloth set in the middle of the bush. This was one of my favorite moments.
7:30-8:00 Return to Lodge or head to dinner. You are now free to enjoy a few cocktails at the bar or freshen up back in your room before heading to dinner.
Dinner: prepare for wine pairings for each course and an amazing meal to send you off to sleep!
But back to the hotel itself–You’re greeted by friendly staffers with cool towels in a gorgeous open-air lobby overlooking the game reserve. There is plenty of seating here for guests to unwind with a board game or book, provided in the lobby for guest use. There is also a lovely bar with anything you could possibly dream of–premium liquor, craft beer, hard cider and an insanely extensive wine list. You can also order food to the lobby any time of day.
Welcome Amenity? There are plenty of tables to enjoy your Rooibos iced tea (a South African specialty) and little snacks. There is no check-in desk since there are only 15 rooms. Everyone knows you by name and you simply sit down in the lobby and sign one paper. Then they give you a quick tour of the sprawling and fabulous property while asking a few of your preferences.
Singita Lebombo is the perfect marriage between a ‘Wow Factor’ hotel and an eco-friendly one. I don’t know how they managed to do this but this hotel manages to offer over-the-top luxury while at the same time “treading the earth lightly,” which was their main goal when they built the resort.
They wanted to be able to pack up shop if need be and not have been able to tell the resort was ever there. And I’d say they succeeded with flying colors. It’s pretty much the most luxurious tree house you’ve ever seen! Sort of like a Five Star Swiss Family Robinson!
The resort is set in the eastern concession of Kruger National Park. It is perched in the clifftops overlooking the N’wanetsi river. You feel like you’re in an eagle’s nest as you look out onto the river–you can even occasionally see Hippos bathing from your balcony! It’s so magical.
There is a pool up by the lobby/hotel dining room. It’s Olympic-size (by length only) and looks out onto the gorgeous Kruger Park. There are also lovely seating areas in the shade around where you can enjoy the views as well.
Fitness Center? Yes. Very lovely. Located down by the spa. Very nice, new machines and gorgeous views of the wilderness.
Adults Only Pool? No, but the resort does not accommodate children under 10 unless you are booking the entire resort. There were not children there when we were staying here so this wasn’t an issue. I imagine though that if there were the hotel would ensure that they do not bother other guests.
I’m not sure that any photos can do this room justice–it was so gorgeous. There are 15 luxurious suites in all. And they’re constructed almost entirely of glass, which makes for a pretty dramatic view of the river from your own private spacious balcony! The room was huge and featured every amenity any luxury traveler could imagine!
Room decor is modern/contemporary meets rustic, treehouse.
The beadwork on the headboard was absolutely gorgeous. I wish you could see it better.
Charging Situation? They have adapters in the room that they leave depending on where guests are from. There are also tons of plugs near the desk in the living room.
Turn-Down Service: Yes, basically every time you leave the room they come in and tidy up. At night though they put down the mosquito net around the bed, turn on the heated blanket and leave you a lip balm and water at your bedside table.
Bottled Water? Complimentary and as much as you want of still and sparkling, not just in the rooms but around the resort of course. You aren’t to drink the water here so they are very generous and leave plenty of bottles around.
Coffee maker/Mini Bar? Yes, and tea kettle, lovely cups and tea set. There is also a lovely mini fridge.
Reading Material in the Room? There are several books in the room about luxury hotels, travel, and Africa and safari in general. There are also tons of books in the lobby should you be looking for a grander selection.
What else? They had a nice range of board games both in the room and in the lobby.
Laundry Situation: Laundry is included! You can have them clean everything you want in your suitcase if you’d like. This is excellent because you can basically bring just a few outfits and keep laundering them. This is quite useful considering baggage weight limitations. Plus, the hotel is so casual, everyone basically is wearing sweats and jeans the entire time, except maybe for dinner. Makeup is also a rarity!
White Glove Inspection: Everything was absolutely immaculate. No complaints here!
Balcony: There is a lovely Game Viewing balcony equipped with a day bed and two chairs.
In the summer time, if you want, you can have housekeeping put a mosquito net over this bed (you can’t see above but there is a hook set up) and then you can watch game mosquito free, nap during the afternoon or even sleep under the stars at night.
The bathroom was gorgeous–it featured a deep soaking tub, indoor and outdoor shower, his and her sinks, a lovely couch at the center and some closet space to store your luggage.
Indoor and outdoor shower. You can see the bush but the outsiders can’t see…well you get the picture
Just one more shot of the gorgeous tub!
Hairdryer? Yes. Decent quality too.
Designer Toiletries? Yes! Dermalogica. My favorite products I’ve ever seen at a hotel!
Towel quality? Amazing and absorbent.
Robes? Yes, and slippers!
Amenities? Q tips, cotton pads, Shower cap, multiple bugsprays (one for day and night)
The Food & Drink
The food here is top notch, and not just for the Bush but for everywhere. Ronny our butler greeted us every time we came down from our room and presented us each with our own personalized menus, which reflect allergies, likes, dislikes. Such a wonderful touch! But in addition to that, they reiterate over and over that you can order anything you want and if they have the ingredients, they’ll make it happen. The entire Singita experience is all about over-the-top service. The food is delicious but in addition to quality, the presentation was gorgeous. Below are a few of our favorites.
Classy Hotel Bar? Yes! And it overlooks the bush. They’ll make you any cocktail your heart desires but there is also a communal fridge with craft beers from around the world (an impressive selection), sodas and even hard ciders that you can just take from at your leisure.
Cocktails on the game drives! One of my favorite parts of the experience were the little picnics your guide and tracker prepared you on your game drives (if you wanted). Check out this little contraption they used to bring along all the mini-bottles of anything you may desire! We opted for gin and tonics–the perfect sundowner in my opinion! Since our entire vehicle wanted this they brought along a big bottle of Tanqueray–and let me tell you–they mix a stiff cocktail!
And this (above) was served with a side of this:
For guests who enjoy food and wine, Singita has a comprehensive wine cellar. In fact, Singita is the largest buyer of wines in South Africa. The hotel has over 1000 different wines. They were in between sommeliers when I was there but you can do wine tastings and staff will happily match wines to a tasting menu for you.
The only warning I have is not to feed the monkeys at breakfast who staff are doing their best to keep away. Monkeys have a tendency to become aggressive and while they aren’t there yet, if they realize that humans will give them food they will try to become dominant–so just don’t feed them, okay?
The Staff Village & Spa
The spa is lovely. Very low key but absolutely gorgeous treatment rooms that open out onto the bush. There is also quite an extensive shop–almost a little town of shops. Lovely stuff! I still wish I had more room in my suitcase to bring it all back.
The Little Things
Did I feel truly welcome by the staff? You have never met lovelier people in your life. They are so friendly, warm and welcoming. It’s definitely a place you go back to and remember everyone! Our butler was Ronny–he was great. Our tracker was Christophe and our Guide was Nick–they were all amazing! We also spent a bit of time with Ross on our way to the hotel and he was wonderful as well–and apparently knows his stuff about photography.
Wi-Fi? Throughout the property and it’s complimentary–and quite reliable I might add.
Flowers: Mother nature does most of the heavy lifting here! The surroundings are gorgeous so the floral arrangements are minimal.
Where do Most Guests Hail From? The guests we all met were from the United States.
Service Fee: When I asked how much we should tip the staff graciously said that we should tip whatever we were comfortable with. Some of their guests own small countries (no joke) and some people have saved up their whole lives to come (I fit more into this category–for now anyway) so they weren’t much help in figuring this out. Luckily I had asked my travel agent before we left and he recommended the following:
Guide$15.00 USD per person per day
Tracker $8.00 USD per person per day
Lodge staff $12.00 USD per person per day
We did a bit more than this because we thought the staff was outstanding but at least this gave us a place to start!
Technology: There were master switches and even satellite TV–though we never even turned it on.
Safety: You do need to be escorted to your room after dark because you are in the center of a wildlife reserve. However, you don’t need to bring your room key. Yes, I said that right–the New Yorker inside of me didn’t quite understand that but most people here leave their rooms unlocked with the keys right outside. That’s the type of clientele you’re mingling with.
Room for Improvement
This might be the first time I’m going to say this but I am at a loss for what I could possibly change here. And I mean that, if you look back at other Welcome Travelingpanties hotel reviews, you’ll see that I always have something to say–but not here. Can’t mess with perfection.
Things to Know:
You Need to take anti-malarial medicine before you come and while youre here. Consult a doctor. Also bring lots of layers of clothes, temperatures have a big range here from very cold in the AM to very hot in the afternoons. Though I was never really uncomfortable because when it got cold our guides pulled out hot water bottles and warm blankets.
Be careful to shut your doors and lock them–it sounds crazy but Baboons and Monkeys have figured out how to get inside if you don’t secure your doors behind you.
Bring binoculars if you have a good pair but the hotel was happy to let my husband borrow theirs.
If you’re trying to take pictures that will impress ask for bean bags so you can rest your camera and keep it still for a clearer shot. Also–if you have telephoto lenses–this is the time to bring them out!
The Wow Factor(s):
My most memorable experience was the game drives. I am not lying when I tell you that I cried when we left. I am not an outdoorsy type but being on safari is the most inspiring, romantic, magical and wonderful experience I have ever had. Singita is over the top luxury while at the same time being extremely service-oriented yet at the same time not pretentious or stuffy in the least. Staff at Singita Lebombo make the guests feel special, welcome and like they have had an authentic African experience. It’s also worth noting that when I visited other hotels in South Africa that they said that Singita and Royal Malewane are the top of the top and essentially the best place for staff to work and to aspire to reach. It’s the top of the top and so the trackers and guides know their stuff, which makes for a much better game viewing experience since they are able to find loads more than unexperienced trackers.
The Bottom Line:
I would absolutely recommend it here if you can afford it.
Basically, this is an amazing escape for luxe-loving couples (and even families if kids are old enough) off the beaten path of the usual luxury destinations. I loved it! Travelingpanties approved!
Singita Lebombo Information
Phone: +27 21 683 3424
Cost: Rooms start around 17,300 ZAR per adult per night, which is roughly $1,615 USD per person per night.
*Disclaimer* As is common in the travel industry, writers are provided with complimentary services for review purposes. In this case I did pay a minimal press rate. However, I planned this trip entirely on my own and chose the hotel after much extensive research–in other words, I found them, they didn’t find me. As always, all opinions herein are my own. You can’t buy the love here, people! Just ask my husband!