Rooftop dining at Phinda Rock Lodge

Million-star lodges

Planning a first-time trip to Africa but not sure what to expect from a luxury safari?

Let’s face it. If you’ve never set foot on the African continent, then travelling to “deep, dark Africa” for the very first time can admittedly be quite daunting. But never fear, first-time Africa travellers choosing to embark on this life-changing maiden voyage with &Beyond can rest assured that the journey will not only be safe and seamless, but also comfortably luxurious and (excuse the pun) beyond-the-expected unforgettable.

I recently met the most endearing couple while on safari at &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge in Tanzania. Andrea and Jerry were celebrating Andrea’s milestone birthday on a continent she’d always dreamed of experiencing. As we all tucked into a beautiful picnic breakfast on the Crater floor, Jerry described their &Beyond adventure, saying “It’s not often you get more than you expect.” And that’s just it. The &Beyond experience, right down to our name itself, is all about giving travellers more and going well above and beyond their wildest expectations.

In fact, we have spent a year re-imagining the &Beyond guest experience, from start to finish, in search of creative new ways to make an already exceptional experience truly extraordinary. These added perks are aimed at delighting our guests at no extra cost to them. A few examples: the complimentary use of Swarovski Optik binoculars; the option to purchase an exclusive range of &Beyond-branded Thule luggage; interesting new guest collateral (including our fantastic new Guide’s Journals and annual Bateleur Magazine); redesigned safari vehicles; restocked and re-envisioned safari shops, boutiques and galleries; and our “theatre of safari” brought to life with bush cappuccinos, new and improved sundowner cocktails and so much more.

Redefining luxury

Like a rite of passage, once you have been to Africa, you will echo the sentiment of all other Africa addicts that Mother Africa has a way of stealing your heart and connecting with your soul. Once you have experienced this enchanting continent and its dramatic landscapes, endearing wildlife and welcoming cultures, Africa will never leave your soul. It is a soul continent.

Exploring an unfamiliar country (and continent) can be confusing, even scary to some, which is why travellers around the world rely so heavily on the hotel grading system to guide them on what to expect from a particular property. Five-star hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants have become the luxury traveller’s holy grail, however, with this system heavily biased towards city hotels, selecting a luxury safari lodge in Africa does become somewhat trickier.

So what exactly is luxury in Africa? Well, to us it’s as much about the location and ambience, as it is about the experience and how it makes you feel. Did you return home richer for having been there? Do you have more memories, stories and photographs than you do trinkets and souvenirs? Did the journey transform you and change the way you see the world?

At &Beyond, we’re not about twinkling chandeliers, haughty white glove service or pretentious bite-sized meals. Don’t expect gold-plated taps, marble basins or big screen televisions in every room. At &Beyond, our movie screen is the great outdoors and, believe me, it beats Netflix hands down. Forget five (or seven) star properties; our luxury safari camps and lodges are million-star properties. Don’t believe me? Just look up at the night sky and you’ll understand.

Luxury on safari

While the comfort, architecture and design of the accommodation will always play a major part, luxury on safari is also measured in terms of other (far more important) factors, not least the knowledge of the guide, the quality of the wildlife experience and an authentic sense of place.

The &Beyond experience focuses on natural luxury and uncontrived bucket list moments that will educate you and take your breath away. Our expert guides reveal the wonders of nature in some of the world’s most iconic, jaw-dropping destinations, and while the accommodation is undeniably stylish, sophisticated and spacious, the luxury and elegance is always intentionally understated.

Nor do we focus on Michelin-star meals; rather, our expert chefs prepare wholesome, hearty and irresistible food that is bursting with local flavours. The food is healthy; it is cooked with love; and it is always served in abundance.

Luxury to us is spoiling our guests with wide open spaces filled with unique wildlife; with unexpected surprises and well-deserved pampering; with educational, insightful experiences that bring everyone together; with delicious, moreish food that is served in the most enchanting locations; with authentic experiences shared among interesting cultures; and so much more.

Location, location, location

Location is always a key factor in assessing properties, and safari lodges are no exception. Our lodges and camps are situated in Africa’s most iconic safari destinations. You know, those places you read about in National Geographic; those very ones that had you transfixed to television wildlife documentaries when you were growing up.

From the dreamy tree-dotted plains of the world-famous Serengeti National Park and Masai Mara National Reserve in East Africa, to the game-rich Big Five territory of the Kruger National Park and the conservation haven of &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa, each location is entirely different and remarkably unique. And whether you choose to safari in a national park or a private reserve, &Beyond’s experienced guides are expertly trained to avoid the crowds and to provide a wildlife viewing experience that is as exclusive and intimate as possible. And did you know, not only that we opened our first lodge in South America last year, but that we are also opening one in Bhutan next year?

On the edge of one’s (comfortable) seat

With a legendary team of full-time ranger trainers stationed across the continent, and not one, but three &Beyond ranger training schools, &Beyond is well known for the extremely high standard of our guides and trackers, who make each game drive come alive through their encyclopaedic knowledge, contagious passion for nature, charismatic charm and engaging storytelling. Many of our guides and trackers hail from the local communities that surround our reserves, and their lifelong knowledge of these wildlife areas and their inhabitants enable them to effortlessly predict the movements and behaviours of the animals.

With safari goers spending the greatest part of their day and evening on a game drive, not only is it crucial to have a knowledgeable guide with an outgoing and engaging manner (and stories that keep you on the edge of your seats), but a comfortable vehicle also adds greatly to the experience. With no more than six guests on a vehicle, we ensure that each game drive becomes an exclusive experience. In our private game reserves, we have implemented meticulous guiding policies that limit the number of vehicles present at any given wildlife sighting at any one time. Not only does this ensure that our guests are never jostled for space and they always have an uninterrupted view, but it also ensures safe viewing distances and maintains a healthy respect for the wildlife and their natural habitat.

Differences and cultures are celebrated

While many hotel brands subscribe to a cookie-cutter approach and generic look and feel that is rolled out across their entire portfolio, our lodges are imbued with the unique culture and traditions of each individual destination. Each lodge has its own very distinct and refreshingly authentic sense of place. We guarantee that no two &Beyond lodges are the same. Designed with natural luxury in mind, each lodge blends seamlessly into its environment.

The emphasis is on celebrating the natural surroundings, bringing the outdoors in and creating elegant and comfortable spaces for shared experiences, whether it’s an intimate dinner for two beneath a blanket of stars or a shared picnic feast for families. The smaller size of the lodges allows for a more personalised experience where private butlers focus on the needs and wants of each guest, subtly anticipating their every need before they even become aware of it themselves.

Pay it forward

Million-star luxury can be enjoyed all the more when it comes with a clear conscience and here at &Beyond we believe in creating responsible and sustainable travel experiences. With a positive influence on more than 9 million acres of wildlife land and 3 000 km of African coastline, we remain true to our core company ethos of Care of the Land, Care of the Wildlife, Care of the People.

Simply by travelling with us, our guests are helping to ensure that Africa’s iconic landscapes and endangered species are protected and conserved for future generations. While our guests are spoiled with the warmest of service in the most exclusive of settings, they can rest assured that they are making a real and meaningful contribution to our planet’s wild areas, as well as the people and wildlife that inhabit them. Now that’s luxury with a purpose.

Which would you prefer?

So which would you prefer … a Michelin-star meal and a stiff glass of Dom Perignon served with no-personality white gloves amidst glitzy chandeliers, formal company and strained conversations? Or a festive, hearty African feast and overflowing glasses of bubbly poured by a khaki-clad ranger overlooking the most dramatic natural vista? To us, it’s a no-brainer. Come and wish upon a million stars with us…

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