In my experience, one of the very best ways to enjoy Africa’s most amazing wilderness with a small group of friends or family, is to rent a private house.
This allows you to bond as a family and to do exactly what you wish to do, with private guides to help you explore Africa! These private safari houses in Africa are always booked on an exclusive-use basis and have staff to cater to your every need; the service is second to none.
I recommend looking at these well ahead of when you plan to travel as the best houses get booked well in advance, especially for Christmas and the other festive seasons, though late availability is always worth checking.
Here are my top recommendations for private houses in Africa which are ideal for a family or group of friends, not just for the festive season but all year round…
Lengishu House is the newest exclusive-use offering on the award-winning Borana Conservancy. Perched on top of one of the many ancient rift valley ridgelines, the six bedroom house is adorned with sweeping views across the Lengishu Hills and into the adjoining Lewa Downs.
For families who wish to relax there is the option to stay at the house and play Pétanque, work out in the gym or relax in the pool. However the activities on offer at Lengishu are fantastic for the active and adventurous family; there is plenty to do here!
Game drives, bush walks, sundowner excursions and bush meals are all available, where you may see elephant, lion and the endangered and fiercely-protected rhinos on the conservancy. I also highly recommend that you take part in the ‘behind the scenes of conservation’ activities, a fantastic opportunity especially for teenagers.
One spends the morning with Borana Conservancy’s anti-poaching unit, tracking rhino on foot and assisting the rangers to account for and identify the rhinos, something which is done on a daily basis to ensure their safety. Due to their fantastic action, Save The Rhino International has hailed Borana as Kenya’s newest and most successful Rhino Sanctuary.
Children of all ages will greatly benefit from the opportunity to interact with children from the local community on a village visit. This gives a unique insight into school and village life and these personal and natural interactions really help to educate children about other cultures.
Borana Conservancy is fantastic horse riding country and two sets of stables cater for all riding abilities. There is also quad biking available, and it is possible to fly camp for a night out with a private guide, a truly immersive experience.
Finally, my absolute top recommendation for a whole-family experience whilst at Lengishu House is to take a private helicopter with expert pilot-guide to explore the stunning Suguta Valley, Lake Turkana and the Chalbi Desert.
Swim in untouched lagoons, go dune diving in the desert and have a picnic on a ledge overlooking the valley with the most stunning views! On the return you could visit the Reteti Elephant orphanage, the first community owned and run elephant orphanage at the foot of the Matthews Mountains.
This fantastic orphanage rescues, cares for and then releases orphaned and abandoned elephant calves, whilst creating much needed benefits to the local people that live alongside them.
Located on the slopes of Sasakwa Hill in the expansive 350 000 acre Singita Grumeti Reserves, Singita Serengeti House is an exclusive-use retreat designed to welcome families and friends to an environment that is conducive to total relaxation and a carefree stay.
Itineraries, meals and activities are tailor-made in accordance with each guest’s needs. Serengeti House offers a private swimming pool, tennis court, a fitness centre, dedicated staff, ample inside and outside lounge and dining areas, all intended to ensure that their guests experience a home-like atmosphere that untangles normal daily stresses and encourages bonding and sharing of priceless memories.
With just four rooms, it accommodates a maximum of eight guests. This region is wildlife rich year-round and they offer game drives in open vehicles, walking, archery, visits to the local community as well as going out with the anti-poaching team and their dedicated bloodhounds, which are amazing to watch in action!
Learn all about their work with the local communities, their conservation ethos and how they fight against poaching. They offer a mini rangers course for younger members of the family, which opens up a whole new world to young explorers.
This programme includes learning how to track animals, how to identify trees and birds as well as how to survive in the bush such as which plant can be used as a toothbrush! Children also enjoy frogging and butterfly capture and release, flower pressing and a Ranger’s test.
Upon completion of the course, these proud achievers are awarded a certificate to recognise their new-found knowledge and accomplishments.
Beautifully styled, the mud and thatch house has a fresh, contemporary feel whilst leaving a zero footprint and it is completely self-contained with two en-suite double or twin bedrooms, each with a separate en-suite and a children’s room. The house can sleep a total of four adults and six children comfortably and there is no minimum age.
Mkombe’s House has a private guide, with whom you can discuss the options and decide what you’d like to do each day. Game drives are the main focus, but it’s also possible to go out on walks (children must be over 12 years to walk in the bush), enjoy picnic breakfasts or lunches and sundowners on the rocks.
Youngsters often enjoy scrambling around on the rocks around the camps in search of lizards, hyrax and other harmless creatures. Highlights include spending time in your own house in the bush, reading in a shady spot, or having the odd dip in the pool, with great views.
Ol Jogi is located in the Laikipia Plateau, with views of Mount Kenya and is one of the most remarkable private wildlife conservancies in Africa. Comprising 58,000 acres (270 sq. km) of unspoilt wildlife habitat, the landscape is unique in its diversity within Kenya.
Family-owned by The Wildenstein Family for over 40 years, it is a safe haven for the preservation and future development of Wildlife Conservation. The conservancy hosts large herds of elephants, antelopes, reticulated giraffe, zebra, leopard, lion, cheetah, small cats, three species of primates and a stunningly diverse array of birds.
Its primary mission is the protection of endangered species and therefore provides sanctuary to a large population of black rhinos, over 10% of the world’s Grévy's zebra and wild dogs.
Ol Jogi gives true meaning to the word ‘exclusive’. There is no other place on the continent where you can have an entire private 58,000 acre conservancy, with as much diversity of terrain and wildlife, entirely to yourself.
Nestled around one of the property’s larger kopjes is Ol Jogi’s Main House, where you stay in a series of luxurious, themed cottages surrounded by tropical gardens, streams and waterholes.
There is something here for everyone, and one can go horse riding or camel trekking on the conservancy with a private guide, or go on bush walks for an immersive wildlife experience. For the active traveller one can have rock climbing instruction, or get up close on a walk with baboons!
Visit the local communities and interact with them, learning about their way of life and talking to them about yours. Take a trip to the veterinary clinic and rescue centre and learn how they protect the endangered wildlife on the conservancy. Or, for a true highlight, take a helicopter over Northern Kenya with your pilot-guide.
The itinerary is tailored to your own interests but could include flying around the snow-capped peak of Mount Kenya, heli-fishing, visiting the Singing Wells, or flying through the Suguta Valley, standing on the edge of ancient craters and going dune-diving in the desert.
There are plenty of options for relaxing after a busy day too, including the swimming pool, Jacuzzi, steam room, Hamman, sauna, spa, fitness centre, or yoga room with yoga instructor. Or explore one of Ol Jogi’s secrets – a hidden underground tunnel which brings you into a hide at the edge of the waterhole where you can watch the wildlife up close. This is the best place to get the perfect photograph!
This is the only real private luxury home in the Maasai Mara which can be rented out exclusively, and is perfect for travellers who wish to combine absolute privacy with discrete and devoted staff, award winning guides and bountiful wildlife. The Villa was designed by Calvin and Louis Cottar and it was built by hand using indigenous materials.
The villa is over 10,000 square feet in size, and features a 25m lap pool, a large living room, dining room, a magnificent viewing deck, and five en-suite bedrooms, all with stunning views over the savannah plains which feature the spectacle of the annual wildebeest migration.
Guests can the experience top-quality guiding and adventure that Cottar’s is well known for and can go on privately guided game drives, including night drives, plus bush walks, swimming and fishing.
Children will enjoy learning bush craft from the Maasai guides, who will teach them how to use a bow and arrow, make a camp fire and identify plants, insects and animal tracks.
It is also possible to explore the savannah by mountain bike or float over it in a hot air balloon at sunrise if you wish! Another fantastic experience is to spend time with the local Maasai community, interact with them and see them perform traditional songs and dances, something so enriching for everyone but especially for children and teenagers.
Okonjima Villa is set on the edge of a wilderness area in 22 000 hectares of private nature reserve in central Namibia and is the home of Africat Foundation. Okonjima’s private Bush Villa has just four rooms, accommodating a maximum of 12 guests only.
Each room has an organic design and the whole villa is simply luxurious, with wonderful touches such as the chef designing the menu for the day in discussion with the guests, and the option to have the bed rolled out onto the verandah so that you can sleep under the stars should you wish.
One can track leopard and cheetah with the researchers and experience the work done by the Africat Foundation. Okonjima is home to over one hundred cheetahs, many of whom were separated from their mothers before they learnt how to survive on their own.
The Rehabilitation Camp will give these cheetahs an opportunity to learn survival skills such as hunting in a closely monitored environment. Successfully rehabilitated cheetahs are then relocated to parks and reservations.
There is also a San Trail where one can catch a glimpse of a day in the life of the San people and learn how they make rope, fire and traps and live in harmony with nature.
For the active family there is also a guided mountain walk (as well as ordinary walks and trails) which includes identification of animal spoor, information on the local people and spectacular views and, of course, exceptional bird watching - over 300 bird species have been identified at Okonjima.
Morukuru Farmhouse is located in the Madikwe Game Reserve, in the North West Province, which is a malaria free reserve. It is a bright and stylish house and this designer oasis has a modern “new bush” appeal and is eco-conscious.
Children of all ages are welcome at Morukuru and permitted on game drives. A host of activities are provided to keep the children entertained such as spoor tracking, biscuit baking, beading and mini bush walks. A nanny service is available and the camp has a perimeter fence making this a safe haven for children.
Activities include game drives, bush walks and fishing, plus safari drumming, massage treatments and the Madikwe Hide. The highlights are the outdoor tub for starlit baths and a large heated infinity pool.
Africa House is an elegant house in a private game reserve within the Greater Kruger National Park. This exclusive-use house has six en-suite bedrooms which sleeps a maximum of 12.
Children of all ages are welcome and a children’s programme is run by well-trained staff. The children are given a bush backpack and will be kept entertained with fun kitchen activities, a “cubs” spa menu and a junior ranger course.
The flexibility of having your own private guide and game vehicle means shorter game drives may be enjoyed which is more suitable for younger children. Activities include game drives and bush walks.
Nearby activities include hot air ballooning, golf and local village excursions. The highlights are superb guiding, getting thrillingly close to the Big Five and indulging in a fabulous array of treatments at the stunning spa.
Singita Castleton is an exclusive-use lodge located on a private reserve in the Greater Kruger National Park. Steeped in history and originally a family home, it now perfectly combines the elements of a private safari lodge with the rustic charms of a farmhouse.
The main house enjoys attractive living spaces and the six cottages are scattered about the grounds, sleeping 12 in total. Children of all ages are welcome at Castleton and children’s activities include games, baking with the chef, community visits, plus archery. A mini rangers’ course covers tracking, astronomy, survival techniques, quizzes and much more.
There are also day and night game drives, bush walks and mountain biking available, as well as the opportunity to visit local communities. There is a garden with swimming pool, gym, tennis court and treatment room. The highlights are that the camp overlooks an active waterhole, where game comes down to drink.
Tswalu Tarkuni is located in the Tswalu Kalahari Game Reserve in the Northern Cape, which is a malaria-free area of 110,000 hectares. It is an exclusive private homestead with five luxurious suites and Tarkuni offers a serene oasis with beautiful open-plan central spaces and a covered deck leading to a sala and tranquil poolside deck.
The Tswalu Kalahari Spa offers fabulous treatments and a fun activity is a dune picnic. All children are welcome and the junior ranger programme includes activities such as archery, spoor identification and tracking. Children receive a welcome backpack, plus complimentary baby-sitting which is available around the clock.
Activities include game drives, bush walks and horse riding safaris. You can also bond with meerkats and have the chance to view black-maned lion and desert adapted black rhino, have boma dinners and wine tastings. The main highlight is the sleep-out deck, Malori (meaning ‘dreamer’ in Tswana), which offers guests the unequalled experience of sleeping safely in the wilderness, under the stars.
All of these private houses offer the most fantastic experiences for a family or group of friends wanting to embark upon a life-changing journey together in Africa. With the best wildlife and top guides in exquisite locations, staying in unique and wonderful properties with exciting and engaging activities on offer for the entire family, these exclusive houses and villas offer you a holiday that you will never forget, all the while having a positive impact on the local wildlife and communities. If you would like more information about exclusive safaris in Africa or indeed private houses and villas in Asia, please do feel free to contact me, or, if you would just like to dream for now, you can do so at our Video Library.
Images kindly provided courtesy of:
Borana Wildlife Conservancy, Lengishu House, Cottar’s Bush Villa, ‘Part Time Travellers’, Okonjima Wildlife Reserve, AfriCat Foundation, Tswalu Tarkuni, Singita, Ol Jogi, Royal Malewane, The Morukuru Family, Nomad Tanzania.