Hotel review: 5-star safari at Kapama Karula (South Africa)

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel and/or flight review.

I recently enjoyed a terrific holiday in South Africa. You can read my trip reports here:


Today (June 14, 2017): Review of Kapama Karula (Kapama Private Game Reserve, South Africa). 
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Address: Kapama Private Game Reserve, R40, Hoedspruit, 1380, South Africa
  • Hotel website: Kapama Karula

Set on the banks of the perennial Klaserie River, Kapama Karula the flagship five-star lodge of the Kapama Game Reserve, home to the Big Five. Meaning ‘place of peace’, this ultra-luxurious and prestigious lodge exudes calmness and depicts the pinnacle of elegant safari accommodation, with wraparound views of the African bush enhancing the overall sense of tranquillity. Modern whitewashed wood and vast sections of glass, complemented by a neutral colour palette, give Kapama Karula a contemporary African feel. The open-plan lounge and bar are spacious yet cosy, with skylights drawing in natural daylight and moonshine. Kapama Karula has twelve suites, each exquisitely decorated and with generous private space. Each suite has its own outside deck area, full-sized heated swimming pool and sun loungers for relaxation.

Kapama Karula features in my top 10 list of the best luxury hotels in South Africa and the most insanely beautiful safari lodges in South Africa.

In this review (more info below the slideshow):

  • Pros & things I like
  • Cons & things to know
  • My verdict
  • Tips for future guests & save money
  • Best time to visit
  • How to get there
  • Photos

Click to view slideshow.

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PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • The lodge is located in the family owned and managed Kapama Private Game Reserve, which occupies a vast area between South Africa’s northern Drakensberg mountains and the Greater Kruger National Park. The reserve was established in 1986, when the late Johann Roode bought a farm called Moria near Hoedspruit. Initially, he used it for cattle grazing, but as harsh conditions and predators took their toll on the cattle, he began the transformation of the vast property into an ecotourism business by acquiring new land. Today, the reserve spans 13 000 hectares of magnificent African bushveld, teeming with over 40 mammal species (including the big five) and 350 bird species.
  • Adjacent to Kapama, Hoedspruit’s Eastgate Airport is ideally located to receive guests flying to Kapama on daily scheduled flights (by South African Express Airways) from both Johannesburg and Cape Town, and on private charters. This airport is just a 10 minutes’ drive from the reserve entrance, and Kapama offers complimentary transfers in open game viewing vehicles directly to any of the four luxury game lodges on the reserve (including Kapama Karula). If you don’t like to fly (like me), the game reserve is also easily accessible by road from Johannesburg in under 5 hours via excellent roads.
  • The Kapama Private Game Reserve features four establishments, each with a unique personality: Kapama River Lodge, Kapama Southern Camp, Kapama Buffalo Camp, and Kapama Karula. The latter is the flagship five-star lodge amongst the reserve’s 4 varied accommodation options and ranks among the best and most exclusive safari lodges in Southern Africa. This ultra-luxurious and prestigious lodge is clearly targeted at the discerning traveler that demands the very best.
  • Kapama Karula enjoys a natural setting on the banks of the Klaserie River, which serves as a water source for the resident wildlife. Meaning ‘place of peace’, this exclusive safari lodge exudes calmness as it offers wraparound views from all of its facilities and villas of the African bush enhancing the sense of tranquillity. The layout of the property is simple but convenient: the communal areas (small lobby, boutique shop, restaurant, and lounge) are centered around a small forested courtyard, with the 12 suites located along two walkways that spread out in each direction. The property is surrounded by an electrical fence to prevent big game from entering the resorts grounds.
  • The Klaserie River provides the backdrop for 12 exclusive suites, two of which are luxury family suites. I stayed in one of the latter during my visit, which must have been one of the most drop-dead gorgeous suites I have ever stayed at in my life. The enormous villa featured an open-plan living room, replete with gas fireplace , which flowed into the master bedroom. The en-suite bathroom was a highlight, with indoor and outdoor showers, his and hers basins, and a stand-alone bath. There was a second bedroom leading off the living room that could be accessed through an interleading door or its own entrance. The suite had a private outside deck, which offered terrific bush views, with sun loungers and a medium-sized heated swimming pool. The 10 superior suites are similar to the family suites, except that they only have one bedroom.
  • What makes Kapama Karula so special, is that it features one of the most stylish designs of any game lodge in South Africa. The interiors of the public areas and the 12 suites are all marked by magnificent white-washed woods, neutral colour palettes and vast sections of glass that make the most of the natural light and views. The open-plan concept and wide outdoor decks match the minimalist, airy and modern interiors. If you love interior design you will be in heaven here, with contemporary furniture fused with the tactile textures of the African bush, recycled materials used in pure harmony with quality fittings, and colourful paintings contrasting with lush under-canopy vegetation.
  • If you can drag yourself away from your suite in between game drives, you can always visit the open-plan lounge and bar. Spacious yet cosy, this lovely facility features the same overall stunning signature design of the lodge, with skylights drawing in natural daylight and moonshine. Alternatively, you can also enjoy the African sunshine on the lounge’s outside wooden deck, with views over the Klaserie River. Spotting one of the Big Five from here is not uncommon.
  • The lodge has only one restaurant, adjacent to the lounge/bar area, which serves breakfast, a 3-course lunch, and a 3-course dinner (all included in the room rate). The chic dining room – with its colourful modern art, lovely fireplace and Phillipe Starck chairs – creates the perfect setting for the gastronomic delight that awaits you at Kapama Karula. The sumptuous food and award-winning wines rank among the best fine-dining culinary experiences that I ever enjoyed during an African safari (although some Tripadvisor reviewers are more sceptical of the lodge’s food offerings). Weather permitting, evening meals are often enjoyed seated around a roaring fire in an open air boma.
  • Kapama Karula’s multipurpose library is equipped with audio-visual equipment and two internet stations with complimentary Wi-Fi for lodge guests wanting to connect to home (although high-speed WiFi is also available in the suites). A romantic fireside dinner for two can be enjoyed in the library, with prior arrangement.
  • A spa – located uphill behind the curio shop – is the newest addition to Kapama Karula. Surrounded by glass, this stunning newly built spa has an intimate connection with the bushveld scenery. Impalas can often be seen grazing beyond the glistening glass. The spa offers a range of health and beauty treatments in four deluxe treatment rooms. For a body workout, the fitness centre is equipped with state-of-the-art cardio and weight-lifting equipment, or you can run or walk on the treadmill or cycle on the Wattbike. After working up a sweat, you can visit the steam room, or relax in the pool overlooking the African bush.
  • Of course, the prime reason for a visit to Kapama Karula is to observe the African wildlife. Two daily game drives, in addition to bush walks, are offered and included in the tariff. Accompanied by a skilled ranger and tracker, you can expect to encounter a diverse range of animal and bird species on game drives. Since this is a Big Five reserve, seeing lion, elephant, rhino and buffalo is possible (and almost guaranteed) during a safari in Kapama Private Game Reserve. Although leopards are present in the reserve, they are far more difficult to find, especially when compared to your chances of spotting leopards in neighboring Royal Malewane or Lion Sands. I would recommend to stay at least two nights at Kapama Karula, to increase your chance of spotting all the animals that are on your bucket list.
  • Below is a schedule of what to expect on a typical day at Kapama Karula:
    • 5 am: wake up call.
    • 5.30 am: light breakfast (tea, coffee and rusks).
    • 6 am: game drive. Halfway through the game drive, there’s a stop for hot drinks and snacks.
    • 9 am: return to the lodge for full breakfast.
    • 9.30-1 pm: time at your leisure.
    • 1 pm: 3-course lunch.
    • 2-4 pm: time at your leisure.
    • 4 pm: afternoon tea.
    • 4.30-7 pm: game drive. En route, you’ll stop for a sundowner drink while watching the sun set over the distant peaks of the Drakensberg mountains.
    • 7pm: return to the lodge. A variety of completely different species can be seen on the night drive back to the lodge.
    • 7-9 pm: 3-course dinner.
  • The game drive vehicles at Kapama Karula seat only 6 guests in order to optimize each guest’s game viewing experience and comfort, affording ample space for photographic equipment (and some refreshments of course). Game drives are always accompanied by a two-man team. Besides the guide (who drives), there’s also an animal tracker sitting on the front of the vehicle. The open vehicles are perfectly safe for a safari. Wild animals do not associate open vehicles with humans or with food. Lions are naturally fearful of humans and, unless you stand up or run away, they will not see the humans in the cars as prey.
  • All meals, soft drinks, spirits, wines, and game drives are included in the rates at Kapama Karula, so you can completely relax and enjoy the endless temptations available.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

Because of its stylish design, wonderful facilities and exceptional food, Kapama Karula is hands down one of the best safari lodges in South Africa. Yet, it does have a few shortcomings related to the wildlife experience that you need to beware of when considering a stay here:

  • Although the Kapama Private Game Reserve is a great place with reliable wildlife viewings, there are some fence lines and overhead cables in certain areas of the reserve which detract from the sense of wilderness and spoil the natural beauty.
  • Game viewing at the reserve is good but not as exceptional as in the private game reserves bordering the Kruger National Park with open fences like Royal Malewane or Lion Sands.  The Kapama Private Game Reserve is entirely fenced in, so the animals cannot roam freely and are confined to that specific patch of land. The good news is that the game viewing is fairly predictable (and great for a first time safari traveler), but if you have been to the bush before, you may be disappointed because it may feel like a large open zoo.
  • Contrary to game drives in other private game reserves, the safaris in Kapama follow the paths, so it does not always allow for close up views of the animals.
  • Because of a severe drought that is affecting South Africa, the reserve made the controversial decision to feed the animals (with large piles of hay found around the landscape) and medically intervene. Although this isn’t a bad thing and also done at other reserves (to safe their number of animals), it does detract from the feeling of seeing animals in the ‘wild’.

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 7/10
  • Design: 10/10
  • Pool: 8/10
  • Resort grounds: 8/10
  • Rooms: 10/10
  • Food: 10/10
  • Breakfast: 10/10
  • Spa: 9/10
  • Service: 10/10
  • Value for money: 8/10
  • Overall experience: exceptional: 8,8/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury resort like Kapama Karula (and receive many free perks).
  • All suites are similar in layout. However, some suites are a bit of a walk, so if you have an aversion to that, you have to request one close to reception.
  • Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

The best time to visit really depends on your personal preferences – nature has something to offer throughout the year. Incredible game viewing can be experienced at any time and there is not really a ‘best time of year for game viewing’. The region enjoys summer rains and dramatic thunder storms – temperatures soar into the 30s in the summer months. The vegetation is lush and verdant attracting incredible bird life while many new borns appear at this time of year. The winter months are drier and cooler – the vegetation is sparser resulting in improved visibility for game viewing as the animals make their way to the watering holes for hydration.


HOW TO GET THERE

Kapama Karula is easily accessible by road from Johannesburg in under 5 hours. Most guests though will prefer to travel by air, by making use of a commercial flight to one of the nearby airports (either the Hoedspruit Airport or Nelson’s Kruger Mpumulanga International Airport), or by chartering their own flights directly onto the lodge’s private airstrip.


ENTRANCE

ENTRANCE

ENTRANCE

ENTRANCE

RECEPTION

LOUNGE & BAR

LOUNGE & BAR

LOUNGE & BAR

LOUNGE & BAR

LOUNGE & BAR

LOUNGE & BAR

LOUNGE & BAR

LOUNGE & BAR

LOUNGE & BAR

LOUNGE & BAR

LOUNGE & BAR

LOUNGE & BAR

LOUNGE & BAR

LOUNGE & BAR

LOUNGE & BAR

SWIMMING POOL

SWIMMING POOL

SWIMMING POOL

CURIO SHOP

CURIO SHOP

CURIO SHOP

CURIO SHOP

CURIO SHOP

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

DINING ROOM

LIBRARY

LIBRARY

LIBRARY

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SPA

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GYM

GYM

FAMILY SUITE: EXTERIOR

FAMILY SUITE: ENTRANCE

FAMILY SUITE: LIVING AREA

FAMILY SUITE: LIVING AREA

FAMILY SUITE: LIVING AREA

FAMILY SUITE: LIVING AREA

FAMILY SUITE: LIVING AREA

FAMILY SUITE: LIVING AREA

FAMILY SUITE: LIVING AREA

FAMILY SUITE: LIVING AREA

FAMILY SUITE: MASTER BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: MASTER BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: MASTER BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: MASTER BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: MASTER BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: MASTER BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: MASTER BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: MASTER BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: MASTER BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: MASTER BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: MASTER BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: MASTER BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: MASTER BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: MASTER BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: BATHROOM

FAMILY SUITE: BATHROOM

FAMILY SUITE: BATHROOM

FAMILY SUITE: BATHROOM

FAMILY SUITE: BATHROOM

FAMILY SUITE: BATHROOM

FAMILY SUITE: BATHROOM

FAMILY SUITE: BATHROOM

FAMILY SUITE: BATHROOM

FAMILY SUITE: BATHROOM

FAMILY SUITE: BATHROOM

FAMILY SUITE: BATHROOM

FAMILY SUITE: BATHROOM

FAMILY SUITE: BATHROOM

FAMILY SUITE: SECOND BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: SECOND BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: SECOND BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: SECOND BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: SECOND BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: SECOND BEDROOM

FAMILY SUITE: MINIBAR

FAMILY SUITE: OUTDOOR DECK

FAMILY SUITE: OUTDOOR DECK

FAMILY SUITE: OUTDOOR DECK

FAMILY SUITE: OUTDOOR DECK

FAMILY SUITE AT NIGHT

FAMILY SUITE AT NIGHT

FAMILY SUITE AT NIGHT

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE MORNING GAME DRIVE

LIGHT BREAKFAST BEFORE MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

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MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

MORNING GAME DRIVE

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

LUNCH

AFTERNOON TEA

AFTERNOON TEA

AFTERNOON TEA

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

DINNER

BOMA DINNER

BOMA DINNER

BOMA DINNER

BOMA DINNER


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Filed under: Trip reports: luxury hotels Tagged: big five, Hotel review, Hotel Review Africa, Hotel Review South Africa, Kapama Karula, Luxury, Luxury travel, review, safari, Travel, Trip report