My wife and I booked Lion Sands Ivory Lodge as a prequel to a cruise that we had planned in South Africa last month. Our expectations were high after reading all of the wonderful reviews on Trip Advisor, but Ivory Lodge managed to exceed our expectations.
We spent the night in Johannesburg after our long Transatlantic flight and took the Federal Air charter to Skukuza “airport” the next morning to begin our safari. We were met practically on the runway by a representative from Lion Sands and we were on our way within 5 minutes of landing. On the way to the lodge we saw impala and Cape buffalo from the road which was only a small sample of what was to come.
After a short ride, we were greeted at the Lodge with moist towels and a welcome drink. Check-in was efficient and we were shown to our suite within a few minutes. All of the pictures and descriptions can’t do justice to the wonderful villa that was to be our home for the next 3 days, but I’ll add my description to those that have already tried:
The floor plan is two separate “rooms” which are quite large and surrounded by floor to ceiling glass panels on two sides. They are connected through sliding glass doors, across a large deck with a private plunge pool. On one side is the bedroom, facing the glass windows and overlooking the Sabie River. In the back of this building there is a large section with vanity, twin sinks, bathroom and shower enclosures, and a large bathtub. Further back it opens to a large outdoor shower. The other building has a large sitting area, fireplace, and “maxi-bar” with refrigerator and many wines/liquors and other drinks.
There are 6 villas connected by a slightly raised boardwalk, but they are well situated so that from your villa you can barely tell that there are others nearby. The view of the Sabie River from your deck is wonderful, and Kruger National Park is right across the river.
The public areas were beautiful and open, surrounding a very large shaded deck where most meals were served, all overlooking the river. There is an enclosed dining area for inclement weather, a boma for outdoor dining with a firepit, a bar, and a sitting area with free Wi-Fi which was a nice bonus.
Your day starts at 5:00 with a wake-up call and coffee delivered to the suite. There is a small box in the outer wall of your sitting room with inside and outside doors – so they open the outer door and leave the coffee service tray in there at 5:00, and you open the inner door to get it when you’re ready. So you have complete privacy, but still get in-room service. Nice!
At 5:30 you go on your 3-hour morning game drive, which is broken up by snacks and coffee around 7:00. Upon finishing, you freshen up for breakfast which is at your leisure and then you’re pretty much free until lunch at 1:30. Sometimes there’s a late morning activity such as a river walk to see the hippos, or you can catch a nap… After lunch you again have free time to lounge on your deck watching the animals play in the river. Tea is served at 4:30 and you’re off on the evening game drive about 5:00. After a stop for snacks at 7:00, you arrive back by 8:30 in time for cocktails followed by a leisurely dinner. Then off to bed, as 5:00 comes too quickly…
The staff was uniformly friendly and helpful, and by day 1 they all know your name and preferences. They struck a perfect balance between being there for your every need, without ever getting in the way, which was wonderful. From the moment we arrived until we departed, they did everything possible to make our stay carefree and enjoyable. For example, on the day we left they were so worried about us missing lunch that they packed a box lunch for each of us to take along – without us even asking for it!
Our ranger Landon and his tracker Eddie had worked together for 7 years and were incredibly skilled at showing us all the wildlife and other sights of the bush. The jeeps were comfortable and there were only 6 passengers in 3 rows of seats, so everyone had a prime spot for photography – no dreaded middle seat! You keep the same ranger/tracker throughout your stay, and we had the same group of 6 so we all bonded nicely.
The game drives were nothing short of spectacular though admittedly I have not done a safari previously so I have nothing to compare. The game was endless and there is so much interesting wildlife to see beyond the “Big 5” that we were never bored. Elephants were abundant as were giraffes, zebra, all sorts of antelope, and white rhino. We did get a fantastic leopard sighting the first night; at dusk he wandered along the road for about 10 minutes marking his territory while we followed him.
The highlight was watching the same pride of lions for 3 days as they interacted with each other. We saw their dynamics as they feasted on a fresh kill, watched the male keep the females at bay while he ate, and saw the pride fighting with each other when the youngest tried to steal a bite – the male attacked the cub, and the 3 lionesses jumped in to defend her. Being only a few feet from 5 snarling, biting lions was an unforgettable experience!
The food was amazingly good, and I’d put it on par with the food we had later on the Silversea cruise ship; I mean for this to be a real compliment. The cuisine was a creative blend of local ingredients with some familiar dishes, and there wasn’t ever a thing I didn’t like. We got to eat crocodile, which was interesting, and springbok, which was delicious, as well as traditional meats and fish. The portions were quite generous and the included wines from South African producers were a wonderful complement to the meals.
Breakfast and lunch are served at your leisure at small tables for 2. For dinners, we’d meet up in the bar for drinks first and then we’d all eat at the same time. They varied the setting; one night we ate by ourselves and once we had a group dinner with our ranger in the boma. The last night we all pulled our tables together and had a great dinner with our jeep-mates all in one group.
I would really have to think hard to come up with something I didn’t like. Perhaps I’d have liked some more structured activity in the late morning before lunch; we did a walk to the river to see hippos one day but otherwise we just hung out in our villa and read, looked at pictures, napped, etc. It was fine for us as we were still jet-lagged, but had I been awake all day I might have wanted to have something more to do. Be warned also; there are bugs around because you are in the bush… But there’s bugspray in the room and it works!
The only other quirk was paying for the room itself; I booked directly via e-mail with the Johannesburg office and they require prepayment. I had to fax them a credit card authorization form twice – once for the deposit, and once for the rest of the payment. A secure server for cc payment might be helpful – though I avoided international FAX charges by scanning the completed form into a .pdf and e-mailing it to the reservations office. BTW, Viola at the reservations office was incredibly helpful and answered all of my questions in a timely and pleasant manner.
In conclusion I’d compare the ambience, service, and amenities to a Four Seasons resort or similar. We are eagerly anticipating a return trip in winter, so that we can see the bush in a different state. In winter, I can imagine spending our days lounging in our lovely sitting room with a nice fire in the fireplace and a glass of wine from the maxi-bar, or lounging in the warm bathtub. Until then, I’ll have to content myself by looking at our pictures. Well-done, Ivory Lodge at Lion Sands!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Family owned since 1933, this international award winning private game reserve spans across the world famous Sabi Sand Game Reserve and Kruger National Park. Lion Sands has four lodges; Lion Sands Ivory Lodge & Lion Sands River Lodge (Sabi Sand) and Lion Sands Tinga Lodge & Lion Sands Narina Lodge (Kruger Park). Each has a unique style, but is a reflection of Lion Sands' five-star signature of sophisticated interiors, unique experiences and service excellence. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Lion Sands Ivory Hotel Sabi Sand Game Reserve