A South African Original: Singita Ebony Lodge
As I rolled up to the Singita Ebony Lodge, a safari camp seated along the banks of the Sand River, a few thoughts were running through my mind. The first was curiosity—I debated how a bush camp said to shower its guests in utmost luxury could still do so while fully immersing them in the wild terrain of South Africa.
The next—and ever-present—thought was the wildlife. I knew I was in prime territory to view the giants of Africa. I suddenly developed an extra sense, always on alert and wondering what would be the first creature I’d see.
I walked the tree-lined trail leading up to the property, remarking how seamlessly everything blended into its surroundings: a sprawl of thatched houses, comprised of stone and wood, shrouded by ancient ebony trees.
I was greeted by the staff and accompanied along the path to my private villa. Meanwhile, more impressions joined the medley: a sensation of both sheer awe and absolute calm. Everything was extravagant; from the magical setting to the top-notch service to the elegant decor. But at the same time, it felt both comfortable and strangely familiar, and much like I was coming home.
As my stay continued, I realized this sense of feeling at home was no coincidence. The Singita brand (Singita, meaning “Place of Miracles” in the local Shangaan language) dates back to 1925 when the grandfather of present-day CEO Luke Bailes purchased the land that now encompasses the Sabi Sands Game Reserve.
The Ebony was the very first boutique lodge built under the Singita name. Though it’s been renovated since and the Singita brand now extends to eleven additional lodges across the African continent, Ebony’s role as the benchmark of the family legacy continues to resonate.
In the main lodge, materials like wood, iron and aged-bronze frame the Colonial-inspired motif—a tasteful blend of tartan fabrics, Persian rugs, antiques and artifacts that are evocative of the tastes of the area’s first explorers. You’ll find here a gorgeous bar with wicker stools and a backdrop of wild prints, a cozy library with plush armchairs and dark wood furnishings and a shared deck with a smouldering fire pit that overlooks the river.
Overseeing nearly one million acres of unspoiled wilderness, the Singita Ebony Lodge is the largest private concession in Sabi Sands, and a commitment to conservation and sustainability is at the core of their hospitality practices. I noticed during my stay that I never came across any plastic; water was offered in glass bottles and overall, waste was minimal. They aim to ‘touch the earth lightly’ and work in conjunction with the environment and local communities; an ethos that extends to all of their properties.
For moments you spend back at the lodge, you can cool off from the heat in the swimming pool, which is found further down the hill, sweat it out at the fitness centre or book a treatment at the spa. If you wanted to plan for a family movie night, make sure you download in advance; while WiFi is available, the connection can be slow and intermittent (but hey, that’s not what you came for).
The real highlight here is the wildlife—lions, zebras, elephants, rhinos—you name it. Cats are especially known to frequent these parts; in particular, the elusive leopard. I saw it all—including a display of the Animal Kingdom at its rawest when one of these leopards hauled an antelope up into a tree!
Each day includes morning and afternoon game drives with professional guides aboard open Land Rover 4x4s. I headed out with Martin and Andreas. Martin, the tracker, navigated us through the plains while seated out on the front of the vehicle, and Andreas drove and narrated the scene.
While merely witnessing such exotic wildlife in their home habitat would have been enough to thrill me, being in the company of these two enriched the adventure. Thanks to their utmost professionalism and genuine kindness, I felt engaged the whole time, and no question I had was left answered.
For those looking to quicken their pulse, there are also walking safaris available. These take you into the bush on two feet with an expert guide for an up-close look at the smaller details, like the flora, and surreal moments like standing within metres of giraffes and elephants. Other available activities include biking—both trail and mountain—archery lessons, astronomy classes and a visit to the community school (upon donation).
Rounding out the experience at the Singita Ebony Lodge is the exceptional service—high-level, but never overboard. It was a perfect combination of feeling like I was well taken care of while maintaining my privacy; I never lifted a bag or found myself searching for a staff member to accompany me back to my room. Small yet incredibly thoughtful touches, like remembering my preferred wine order, went a long way in adding to that ‘at home’ feeling.
See (and Stay) For Yourself
Part of our Spectacular Stays collection, Singita Ebony Lodge is situated within the exquisite Sabi Sands Reserve in South Africa—also known as ‘Big Cat Country’. Comfortable, yet luxurious; sustainable and sumptuous, this is the original Singita property that started it all.LEARN MORE
The morning and afternoon meals are reminiscent of home-cooked fare; unfussy, yet delicious and satisfying. Each day begins with à la carte breakfast options such as granola and fresh fruit and eggs benedict, along with a selection of smoothies and fresh-pressed juices.
While there is an indoor dining room for iffy weather, meals are best enjoyed on the large outdoor deck that faces the river. (Though keep an eye out for cheeky monkeys that want to steal your bagel—I speak from experience!) You could also order room service and enjoy your meal seated at the marble and iron table of your private deck.
Lunch and dinner are dishes typical of the area: lamb is the meat of choice, and you’ll likely find in the form of a flavourful curry—a nod to South Africa’s Indian population. Plating is contemporary and elegant. Meals are paired with a selection of vintage wines, which are included in your stay. The dining staff shared with me that serving farm-to-table fare is paramount for them, and specified that they use only local farmers to supply their meats and produce, translating to you always getting a meal that is fresh and in season.
About every third night, the lodge hosts a traditional boma dinner. During this camp-style cookout, guests and staff gather around a fire pit beneath the night sky and feast on a spread of barbecued meats and veggies, while members of the Shangaan community serenade with song and dance.
There are a total of twelve (totally dreamy) stand-alone suites built in a safari-tent style, elevated with modern flourishes like glass walls and an ensuite bathroom with a four-claw bathtub and separate shower area. A large four-post bed anchors the room, while a spattering of vintage lacquered furnishings from the family’s private collection, glamorous animal prints, artwork from the local tribes and sepia-toned photographs fill the surrounding space.
My favourite part of my suite was the private game-viewing deck that watched over the river, complete with a heated plunge pool. From here I’d look on in wonder as—each day at the same time—a giant herd of elephants would cruise past, pausing along their route for the babies to frolic in the water or to snack on some trees.
Individual suites are best-suited for couples and solo travellers. There are two family suites, which offer an en-suite master bedroom and en-suite twin bedroom, plus a dining area, a lounge area, and a private deck with a plunge pool. Larger groups can opt for the villa, which is comprised of two family suites in addition to a lounge, a swimming pool, a personal guide and vehicle, a chef, wait staff and a private entrance. For families with teenage children, your best option is to book the Lewis suites, which are located next to each other and close to the main lodge.
How to Get Here
A multi-season destination, you can come home to the Singita Ebony Lodge year-round. There are daily direct flights to and from the Singita Private Game Reserve from Johannesburg, South Africa, and scheduled commercial flights from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) in Nelspruit, which is about an hour from the lodge. There’s also a private airstrip on the lodge grounds so that private planes can be flown in.