Kruger National Park, South Africa

Photo: Singita

Hippos. Snorting hippos. That’s what woke you up around 5 am—before the sun even rose—this morning. At first, they sounded like pigs. Big pigs. But then you heard water splashing. There was no way you could go back to sleep and pretend you didn’t hear the commotion. So you gave up. You got out of your comfortable king bed, opened the sliding glass door, and walked outside onto your deck overlooking the river. Then you watched the sun rise over the noisy, snorting hippos.

You didn’t plan to watch the sun rise this morning. You didn’t expect to see hippos either. In fact, you surprised yourself by even going on a safari. That’s something you always pictured yourself doing eventually. Sure, seeing the big five would be cool. But between guided tours and the colonial vibe, you just weren’t interested. At least until you saw photos of a lodge that recently received a modern makeover.

That would be Singita Sweni Lodge. Singita, which means Place of Miracles, is an eco-minded company that has grown from a single lodge to a dozen across three African countries. They opened Sweni Lodge in 2003. It’s part of a private, 33,000-acre concession in Kruger National Park, one of the largest national parks in the world. It lies at the edge of the Sweni River near the border of Mozambique. It’s perched high in the trees, thanks to wooden stilts. Plus, last year, its traditional safari decor was swapped for contemporary, design-forward pieces.

Photo: Singita

So, a bit hesitantly, you decided to go on a safari. Your first stop was Johannesburg, a city that changes each time you visit it. Your next destination was Satara, an airstrip in the center of the national park. From there, it was a 45-minute drive to the lodge. The cool spring morning turned into a warm afternoon by the time you arrived. The bright sunshine made your suite, inspired by birds’ wings, seem even more spacious. Floor-to-ceiling windows, the panoramic deck, and the outdoor shower certainly helped, as well.

The rest of the lodge is just as photogenic. Green plants, a fireplace, and colorful artwork are in the lounge. Hanging chairs and wooden sculptures hang out by the rectangular pool. Chairs and tables spill onto another terrace for alfresco dining, where the wine list might be even more impressive than the dinner menu. It all overlooks the slow-moving river, where a lazy alligator was sunning herself against a fallen tree branch.

Later, during your first game drive, a large pride of lions, including two-month-old twin cubs, made an appearance. So did a herd of fast sable antelopes, a massive white rhinoceros, and, in the distance, the outline of an elephant. Even the Land Rover, which only holds six guests, wasn’t the big tour that you’d feared. Now the hippos just need to sleep in a little later.

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