Honeymoon Safaris: Five Glorious Getaways in the Heart of Africa
For rampant romance, take a honeymoon where luxury is elemental, the nightlife howls, and the wildlife is really, really wild.
All the elements of a perfect romantic getaway are heightened several notches on an African honeymoon safari. Candlelit dinner? Try it al fresco with the moon rising over elephants bathing in the river in front of your table and your personal waiter discreetly stationed behind just outside the circle of candle glow. Luxury? You can’t find accommodations more posh than a two-story teak-and-canvas chalet with two private decks, a Victorian claw-foot bathtub for two with a bath drawn by your personal steward, and daily fresh roses, Champagne, and complimentary massage. Memories? Try walks among the gorillas and lions, shopping in exotic native markets, strolls through friendly grass-hut villages, and evening “sundowners” sipped on a sandbar where you’ve been taken in a dugout canoe. And if you absolutely have to have a waterfall, try the one that left explorer David Livingstone breathless.
There is a whole continent full of honeymoon destinations in Africa, including some five-star hotels that rival any in Paris or Rome. But I chose some of the wilder options because there’s something special about snuggling on 1,000-thread-count sheets while monkeys scamper across your roof and a leopard growls outside your lodge. I also narrowed the choices to two safe countries, Zambia and Uganda, because there are a few places in Africa you just don’t want to go right now. Then I excluded the bargain-basement tourist resorts; clambering into an air-conditioned bus to see the giraffes with a dozen traveling grandmas isn’t anybody’s idea of romance. The result is a mix-and-match itinerary guaranteed to give you honeymoon dreams for a lifetime.
Zambia: The Islands of Siankaba
Breakfast for two in an elegant teak-and-canvas tent in Zambia’s Siankaba.
This riverine wonderland on the Zambezi River (which stretches across the continent from west to east), is the perfect spot to begin or end your safari honeymoon—or a place to stay the entire time. It’s located on two untouched islands on the Zambezi River between Victoria Falls (I told you there was a heck of a waterfall) and Chobe National Park.
Luxury is the byword at Siankaba. The secluded honeymoon chalet is a two-story teak-and-canvas affair that sits like a treehouse on a platform raised above the island itself. Inside are custom furnishings made from native woods, a king-size canopy bed, and a bath suite with Victorian fixtures that include a claw-foot tub large enough for two. It has a garden deck, a sun lounge, and a private dining area as well as a library and games compendium. You’ll find your chalet equipped with sandalwood amenities, a full mini bar, bathrobes and slippers, Champagne, roses, bubble baths, and floating candles. A complementary private massage is included, too. Tarzan and Jane never had it this good.
As comfy as it is, you won’t spend your entire honeymoon in your chalet. At your request, a guide from the lodge will drive you to the town of Livingstone and Victoria Falls, where you can see the sites or get an adrenaline rush bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, river boarding, jet boating, or gorge swinging. Or stay closer to Siankaba and take a guided tour of the tiny thatched-roofed village itself and the nearby school. Visiting with the locals was the absolute highlight of my first trip to Africa.
At the end of the day, enjoy a sunset cruise on the Zambezi with the other guests (the lodge accommodates only 14) or a private outing for just the two of you in a makoro—a dugout canoe—paddled by one of the lodge guides. After “sundowners,” the civilized safari version of cocktail hour when you gaze at the most beautiful sunsets in the world as you sip your libation of choice, you’ll go back to the lodge for either an intimate candlelit dinner for two or a social family-style meal with the other guests.
The Details: The Honeymoon suite is $506 per person per night, which includes all meals, drinks, laundry, and most activities. Islands of Siankaba provides personal transportation (45 minutes) to and from Livingstone Airport. For more information, siankaba.net or email@example.com.
Kakuli Bush Camp
Kakuli Bush Camp at the confluence of the Luwi and Luangwa Rivers in South Luangwa National Park in southeast Zambia looks and feels like an “old time” safari camp where you can imagine Meryl Streep and Robert Redford hanging out in Out of Africa. Norman Carr, who founded Norman Carr Safaris, the operator of the camp, was a legendary big-game hunter before he became an ardent conservationist.
Romance in the wild. Antelopes and zebras abound in their natural habitat.
His spirit lives on in the most popular activity at the camp, tracking big game on foot accompanied by expert guides and scouts. There’s nothing quite so thrilling as looking at a pair of young lions with nothing between you and them except 20 yards of grass. Zambia is one of the few places where that is allowed; in most other countries, guests on safaris must stay inside their vehicles.
The honeymoon suite at Kakuli is surrounded by evergreen trichelia trees for extra privacy from the other chalets—all five of them. It’s actually a spacious tent with a deck, an attached open-air bathroom, and an emperor-size bed. A huge ancient acacia tree—with seed pods that are favorite snacks for the elephants—shades the tent. The staff goes out of its way to arrange special treats for honeymooners like sparkling wine “sundowners” or a romantic bush dinner on the riverbank where hundreds, if not thousands, of hippos congregate in the moonlight.
The Details: The nightly rate for two is $570 per person and includes all meals, drinks, laundry, activities, and airport transfers. Mfwue Airport is about two hours away. For more information, normancarrsafaris.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Nkwali camp you can spot what may be the most graceful animal on earth.
Giraffes may be the most graceful animals on earth. Watching them amble through the bushes looking for tasty leaves is so relaxing and satisfying that you can feel yourself let go of all your cares and woes. Nothing is this gorgeous; nothing this magical. And, fortunate you, you’re honeymooning in Nkwali Camp, directly across the river from South Luangwa National Park, home to the unique and ultra-graceful Thorneycroft’s giraffe.
A typical day at Nkwali begins with a light breakfast served around the campfire, followed by a guided game walk or drive through a savannah with a huge population of elephants, buffalos, lions, impalas, bushbucks, elands, and more bird species than even the Audubon Society can count. Feeling a bit peckish? Your guide has brought along tea, coffee, and cake. You’ll return to camp for lunch, a swim, and a siesta before afternoon tea, then back to the trail for an evening drive to see wildlife found at night only.
Nkwali Camp accommodates only 12 guests. The cool, spacious chalets are made out of woven bamboo and thatch, and the honeymoon suite is extra large with a sitting room, bath, and king bed. The Camp’s bar is built around an enormous ebony tree and the dining area overlooks a small lagoon that often attracts elephants and bushbuck. Visits to a nearby village and school can be arranged.
The Details: The nightly rate is $550 per person inclusive of all meals, drinks, laundry, activities, and airport transfers. Mfuwe Airport is 45 minutes away. For more information, robinpopesafaris.net or email@example.com.
Uganda: Bwindi Gorilla Forest Camp
Honeymooners enjoy solitude at dusk.
Honeymooning among the 320 endangered mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a World Heritage Site, is not easy; it’s certainly not cheap. But, boy, is it great! Ever looked into the eyes of a mother gorilla nursing her baby? Unforgettable.
Mountain-gorilla treks can take up to six hours as you, huffing and puffing, hike up muddy mountainsides through the rainforest—or stroll 10 minutes up a road, depending on where the gorillas decide to spend the day. Guests go in small groups (eight visitors) accompanied by rangers and porters; you can spend up to an hour with the human-habituated gorillas. A permit costs $500 per person per day but they sell out months in advance, so make your reservation early.
Tired of looking for gorillas? Hire a guide to take you through a nearby village and visit a traditional healer who sells an herbal version of Viagra, a woman who makes banana gin (you gotta try it to believe it), and a settlement of the Batwa, commonly known as pygmies.
Gorilla Forest Camp makes an excellent base for your experience. The honeymoon cabin (one of only eight on the property) is a secluded permanent tent with a huge attached bathroom and 24-hour valet service. Honeymooners receive special treatment like a hot bubble bath strewn with flower petals and surrounded by scented candles waiting for them when they come back from their day tracking gorillas in the mountains.
The Details: The nightly rate is $322 per person including all meals, drinks, and laundry. Guide fees and permits are not included. Kayonza airstrip, served by charter flights, is 40 minutes away. For more information, sanctu arylodges.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
You’ll feel on top of the world at Mihingo Lodge, which is perched on a large rocky outcropping with expansive views of Lake Mburo National Park in southern Uganda. From this vantage point, sunrise through the morning mists over Lake Kacheera and sunset behind the hills framing Lake Mburo are amazingly spectacular.
A romantic ride in an African gondola.
The honeymoon suite has the best views of all, as well as a four-poster bed built from local olive trees. Like the other nine chalets, it’s actually a spacious tent built on a wooden platform with stilts and covered by a thatched roof. The bathroom has a shower built from rock and positioned so you can watch the impalas, zebras, eland, topi, waterbuck, and other wildlife visiting the watering hole at the base of the hill.
The main lodge is a fascinating thatched affair built of rocks, weathered wood found on the land, and native grasses. It’s laid out with several intimate seating areas where you can enjoy private moments, a small bar for the dozen or so guests, and an open-air dining room. On a terrace just below, an infinity swimming pool stretches out from the rocks and seems to disappear into the vast landscape.
The Details: The nightly rate is $210 per person inclusive of all meals, drinks, and laundry. Guided game drives, walks, and boat trips can be arranged. The lodge is about four hours from Entebbe International Airport. For more information, mihingolodge.com or reservations@mihin golodge.com.
A few things you should know
When to go: Animals congregate near the rivers during dry season, so May to October is peak game-viewing season in Zambia. The rainy season, November to April, has its advantages, too, especially if you want to visit Victoria Falls. Daytime temps at the height of the dry season are around 90°F.
Gorilla trekking in Uganda is a year-round experience, although there’s less rain from December to February and June to August. Note, too, that while Uganda is on the equator, the mountains mean much lower temps than you’d expect. Night times can be downright chilly, with lows of 45°F in June.
Health: You’ll probably need a few shots and you’ll definitely want malaria pills. Bottled water is provided everywhere.
Arrangements: While you can make these yourself, it’s vastly simpler to work with a travel operator familiar with the destinations. We use Custom Africa Travel Services (617) 491-1678, a boutique agency run by Gary Whitehouse, the former travel director for the Harvard Natural History Museum.