Moholoholo Forest Camp and Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
Hoedspruit, South Africa
Though the African wild is rife with carnivorous creatures, the Moholoholo Forest Camp, set against the backdrop of the menacingly named Drakensberg (Dragons) Mountains, lets you observe the natural order without any fear of being eaten by it. Free of most of the so-called Big Five (you'll see leopards but no lions, elephants, buffalo, or rhinos), Moholoholo is one of the few game parks where a tour guide can let his guard down and jump out of his safari jeep without worrying about becoming lunch.
Not that the experience is entirely tame. I was pleasantly scared out of my wits one evening when my reading was disrupted by shrieking baboons who dashed across my terrace. Later, I was kept awake by warthogs and bush pigs, whose nocturnal gruntings clashed with the cacophony of screeching vervet monkeys. And while walking back to my cabin after a delicious dinner of ostrich steaks and roasted impala, I kept an eye out for wandering crocodiles and intruding hyenas.
Daytime revealed all manner of antelope—impala, waterbuck, duiker—all grazing peacefully. After another full day of viewing game in the park, I retired to my luxurious cabin, replete with everything I could need: a wonderfully comfortable bed, electricity, a hot shower, tea, and privacy—give or take a wandering simian.
Rates are $62 per person per night (based on double occupancy), including all meals, one night drive, and a guided visit to the adjacent wildlife rehabilitation center. Call 011-27-15-795-5236. —Lance Gould
M'Bali Tented Camp Timbavati Game Reserve
Kruger National Park, South Africa
All that was left of the rhino calf in the dry riverbed were a few hooves, some scattered bones, and the fresh footprints of his mother. She had come back to visit his carcass, though the hyenas and vultures had made short work of his remains. You encounter some harsh spectacles in the bush, and the collective of 20-odd private game farms known as the Timbavati is a safari classroom.
Because no fence divides it from South Africa's humongous Kruger National Park, wildlife migrate freely in and out of the Timbavati. Our most notable Big Five sighting was a herd of nearly 500 buffalo during a night safari. On the same three-hour drive we saw wildebeest, giraffes, ostriches, a genet, zebras, impala, waterbucks, bush babies, duikers, and a chameleon. We then made our way back to camp, though where camp ends and the bush begins is debatable—warthogs, fruit bats, dwarf mongooses, and a variety of birds were regular visitors to our outdoor dining boma.
M'Bali's eight spacious tents are built on raised wooden platforms—more difficult for animals to check into—with A-frame thatched roofs protecting them from the elements. Each tent has two single beds covered with mosquito netting, a terrace overlooking the river, and there's a fully enclosed bathroom with flush toilet and hot shower just down the steps. Doubles are $268–$312 per person per night, including all meals, nature walks, and two game drives per day. Call 011-27-11-463-1990. —L. G.
Meru National Park, Kenya
Talk about pedigree. Named after Born Free's famous lioness, the newly opened Elsa's Kopje camp is owned by a small safari company with a stellar reputation. Cheli & Peacock, who created Tortilis Camp on the edge of Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya, chose as their site a rocky hill (kopje) in Meru National Park where the Adamsons freed Elsa.
The eight bungalows are made of stone and thatch, some of them built right into the rock face. As inconspicuous as it is central to game-viewing areas, Elsa's provides just enough (but not too much) pampering, some of the best-trained guides in East Africa, and a wraparound view of the plains from your bed and stoop. In addition to lions, you'll spot leopards, giraffes, elephants, and zebras, among others. The only difference between the new camp and Tortilis is its location in the less-visited northeast. A five-hour drive from Nairobi, the region is not yet part of the tourist circuit. Elsa's costs $280 per person per night, including all meals, airstrip transfers, game drives, and guided nature walks (fishing and rafting on the Tana River are extra). Call Africa Reps at 800-595-3628 for a brochure; call 011-254-154-22551 or 154-22552 for reservations; www.chelipeacock.com. —Ted Botha