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Lion Sands River Lodge Review: The Best Luxury South Africa Safari

Lion Sands River Lodge

Kruger National Park is South Africa’s most famous and acclaimed safari destination, but next door lies an even better luxury safari spot—Sabi Sands Game Reserve. There are no fences between this private game reserve and the national park, so you’ll get all the same animal sightings without the crowds. Within Sabi Sands Game Reserve, there are a number of lodges, but the best is Lion Sands River Lodge. 

Lion Sands Game Reserve the only private reserve that extends into both the Sabi Sands and Kruger National Park. The crown jewel of Lion Sands Game Reserve is Lion Sands River Lodge, which is the only lodge on the Sabie River. This prime location draws in big game which likes to drink and bathe in the river (and sometimes even in the private pools at the resort). 

However, I chose Lion Sands River Lodge for my luxury South African safari vacation for one reason—the treehouses. Guests can opt to add on a night in Lion Sands’ treehouses, for a once-in-a-lifetime experience sleeping out in the African bush alone.

Read all about my treehouse experience, plus my full review of Lion Sands River Lodge below.

The Lion Sands Experience

Rates at Lion Sands River Lodge are so expensive because the room rate includes all food, drink, and safaris. We went on two safaris each day while staying at Lion Sands. Each day started with a sunrise safari, during which light coffee and pastries were served. After the game drive, we’d return to the lodge for a full breakfast, followed by free time to nap, swim in the pool, or watch the animals along the river from the comfort of our suite. After lunch, we would do a second game drive, which took place just before sunset, and included a happy hour break. 

Our days ended with dinner and an early bedtime, since the morning game drives start early. 

Rooms

Lion Sands River Suite

You won’t find any safari tents at Lion Sands River Lodge—the rooms here are stunning, and rival any five-star hotel I’ve stayed at, despite the remote location. 

We stayed in one of the four River Suites, which were worth the splurge as they had private plunge pools set on a panoramic wooden deck with incredible views. We saw an entire family of elephants nearby lounging in our pool one day! The only downside that I will note is that the pools are not heated, and can be a bit chilly even in the hot African sun. 

Lion Sands River Lodge Room

Our room was super comfortable—the king-sized bed, topped with a canopy mosquito net, was very romantic. Rooms are air-conditioned, and feature large picture windows and sliding glass doors through which you can admire the views. There was also a beautiful soaking tub and an incredible private outdoor shower. In-room minibars are stocked with complimentary drinks and snacks, and there are other thoughtful touches in the rooms such as flashlights and bug spray, and comfort items including plush robes. 

Treehouses

Lion Sands Chalkley Treehouse
Lion Sands Chalkley Treehouse

I booked the Chalkley treehouse, a two-story open-air suite built into an old leadwood tree. After the afternoon game drive, my husband and I were dropped off at the treehouse with a picnic dinner and breakfast, champagne, a lantern, an emergency phone, and strict instructions never to leave the treehouse. 

After the vehicle drove away, my husband and I were completely alone in the bush, with no one around for miles (except the wildlife).

The Chalkely treehouse is two stories and the first story is high off the ground, accessible through a staircase with a locking door, so you’ll feel secure that wildlife won’t be able to get in the treehouse. On the first floor, there’s an open-air bathroom with a dual sink (yes, there’s running water and plumbing in the treehouse), a hot outdoor shower, and an enclosed toilet. The treehouse is even stocked with robes, towels, and slippers to add to the glamping comfort level. 

The second floor is a totally open (no roof) platform with a king-sized bed underneath a mosquito net, a comfortable loveseat, and a small table and chairs. 

Pro tip: Eat your dinner in the treehouse before sunset: we were too excited to look for wildlife and enjoy the unique accommodations and waited until after dark to eat. At that point, bugs will absolutely swarm you and your food once you turn a light on in order to see. After dark, it’s best to turn off all the lights and simply stargaze to keep the bugs to a minimum. However, make sure to turn on the provided flashlight and aim it into the darkness around the treehouse a few times throughout the night—we saw some cool animal sightings doing that, including a hippo!

Lion Sands Treehouse

There’s no electricity in the treehouses, so make sure you bring a portable charger for your phone so you can document your stay. 

The treehouse was one of the most romantic things we’ve ever done, and I highly recommend it as a special place for a honeymoon or proposal. 

Location

Lion Sands View

Lion Sands River Lodge is located within Lion Sands Sabi Sand, which is part of Sabi Sand Nature Reserve. Established in 1948, Sabi Sand is the oldest private nature reserve in South Africa.

Lion Sands Sabi Sands has four different luxury lodges across 6.5 miles, so you can switch up your trip by staying at different locations if you want to.

Only guests staying at Sabi Sands lodges have access to this private reserve, so you’ll enjoy up-close encounters with wildlife without the crowds of safari vehicles you’ll find in Kruger National Park. No one is allowed to drive around the reserve except for rangers, so you won’t find any daytrippers driving around here. Another perk of staying at Lion Sands River Lodge is that rangers may drive off-road to find game (which is not allowed in Kruger National Park) so you’ll have a better chance of spotting the big five. 

Amenities/Activities

Lion Sands Safari experience

The main area of Lion Sands River Lodge features a beautiful open-air lounge, outdoor lounge area, two swimming pools, game viewing decks, bird hides, and even a river island deck. 

There’s also a lovely spa (treatments cost extra) and a small gym that doesn’t get much use. 

In addition to the twice-daily game drives, you can sign up for guided nature walks, astronomy viewings, and birdwatching tours. 

Safaris

Safari in Lion Sands

Two safaris are included with each day of your stay, and they were the highlight of my trip. Sabi Sands is world famous for its Big Five population and we saw all of them (lions, leopards, elephants, buffalos, and rhinos) during our three-day stay. If you’re trying to choose where to go on safari based on the best chances of seeing the Big Five, you can’t go wrong with Lion Sands. 

In addition to the Big Five, we saw:

  • Aardvarks
  • African wild cats
  • Giraffes
  • Honey badgers 
  • Hippos
  • Impalas 
  • Jackals
  • Monkeys

The safari guides at Lion Sands River Lodge are incredible. On our daily safaris, we went out in comfortable, open-air vehicles that held a maximum of six guests. Each car had a guide (who would explain what we were seeing) and a tracker (who would find the animals we were looking for.) I was blown away by the trackers’ abilities to find wildlife, and the guides were all so fun and friendly. 

Safari in Lion Sands

When we found a white rhino, our guide gave us the chance to get out of the safari vehicle and do an impromptu walking safari which was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

We saw so many more animals than I expected and were never bored on safari. 

Dining

Lion Sands River Lodge Food

You’re located out in the middle of nowhere at Lion Sands River Lodge, so your only option for breakfast, lunch, and dinner will be to dine at the lodge. Fortunately, all food and drinks are included in your stay, and the food is amazing. 

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all served in the main open-air dining room, and snacks and drinks are offered while on game drives. You can also opt for room service, or for an ultra-romantic private dinner in the bush, which I highly recommend. 

Lion Sands River Lodge Dining

The food is a mix of traditional South African dishes along with Westernized comfort food staples and doesn’t get repetitive no matter how long you stay. Lion Sands River Lodge can accommodate allergies or other dietary restrictions with advance notice. 

How Do You Get to Lion Sands River Lodge?

Getting to Lion Sands

We flew from the US to Cape Town, spent some time in Cape Town, and then took a domestic flight from Cape Town to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA). From Kruger Airport, it’s approximately a two-hour drive, and we were able to arrange a transfer to Lion Sands River Lodge with the hotel. 

However, you can also opt to cut off driving time and instead take a short flight from Kruger Airport to Skukuza Airport, followed by an approximately 25-minute drive to Lion Sands River Lodge. 

Be aware that there are strict baggage limits on flights to and from Kruger Airport, so pack lightly!

Other Lion Sands Lodges

Lions in the sand
Lions in the sand at Lion Sands!

There are three luxury lodges within the Lion Sands Game Reserve: Lion Sands River Lodge, Lion Sands Ivory Lodge, and Lion Sands Tinga Lodge. I stayed at the Lion Sands River Lodge, but you really can’t go wrong with any of the three. They are all located along the banks of the Sabie River (for prime wildlife viewing) and all feature standalone suites for accommodation. 

I chose Lion Sands River because it offered access to the Chalkley treehouse, and had suites available with a private plunge pool. 

LodgeNumber of RoomsPrice per person per Night
Lion Sands River Lodge18$1,315 
Lion Sands Ivory Lodge9$2,478
Lion Sands Tinga Lodge10$1,491

How to Book

Lion Sands River Lodge Room View

I recommend booking directly with Lion Sands River Lodge, like we did, as you will have lots of logistics to work out in terms of airport transfers and arrival times.

Keep an eye on Sabi Sands’ special offers page, which has great deals especially if you want to combine your Kruger National Park safari with a trip to Victoria Falls or another destination. There are also usually incredible savings available if you’re staying for three or more nights. 

FAQ

Lion Sands Safari

How much is Lion Sands per night?

Prices at Lion Sands vary, but for Lion Sands River Lodge, here are the most up-to-date prices (prices are per person, per night, based on two people sharing a room.)

Room TypePrices Starting at
Luxury$1,314
Superior Luxury Room$1,447
River Suite$1,691

The room rate includes:

  • All meals
  • Unlimited soft drinks, local brand beers, spirits, and house wines
  • Tea and coffee
  • Water
  • Two game drives per day

Who is the owner of Lion Sands?

Lion Sands is owned by the More Family.

What is the child policy at Lion Sands River Lodge?

Lion Sands River Lodge does not allow children under the age of 10 years, which helps keep the atmosphere peaceful and romantic. Children between the ages of 10 and 15 will be charged 50% of the adult sharing rate. 

How many rooms does Lion Sands River Lodge have?

There are 18 standalone suites at Lion Sands River Lodge. The rooms are all spread out so that guests have plenty of privacy. 

What Should You Pack for a Lion Sands Safari?

Read what we packed for Lion Sands in our Ultimate Safari Packing Guide.

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