Last updated on Jun 21st, 2021 at 01:07 pm

It has everything you would expect from a luxury game reserve –  top-notch accommodation, good food, splendid scenery and plentiful game. So what makes Samara Private Game Reserve stand out from the rest?

Warm wind swirls through the air as I take in the big skies, the heart-stopping mountain ranges and the tranquillity of the Karoo. Aware of the sounds and smells around me, of my own heart beating, I close my eyes and reflect on the glorious two days my husband and I had just spent at one of South Africa’s best kept secrets…

The award-winning Samara Private Game Reserve.

Nestled in the mountains, approximately 270km from Port Elizabeth (and 53km from Graaf Reinet), Samara offers travellers a unique safari experience.

It has everything you would expect from a luxury game reserve; top-notch accommodation, good food, splendid scenery and plentiful of game – so what makes it stand out from the rest?

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Breathtaking scenery

Samara’s 70 000 acres encompass some of the country’s most beautiful scenery. Whether you’re relaxing on the ‘stoep’ of your Karoo-style suite, bobbing along on a game drive, or taking in the vast, open plains from the mountain top, there is always a view – and a breathtaking one at that.

It’s the kind of view that, quite simply, makes your soul smile.

Photo by Lara Bestbier


Photo by Lara Bestbier


Photo by Lara Bestbier

Safari tracking and other memorable activities

Samara boasts The Big 5 and over 60 mammal species; including aardvark, cheetah, cape mountain zebra, eland and gemsbok – most of which you can track on foot.

Now, while most game reserves offer safari tracking as a separate, paid for, booked-in-advance type of activity, Samara does not.

At Samara, tracking is simply something that the reserve treats its guests to – whenever the opportunity presents itself.

We were lucky enough to track elephant, rhino and cheetah (yes, cheetah!) over the course of our two-night stay. Each tracking was special, and something I’d never experienced before, but, our cheetah tracking will go down as one of the most magical and memorable experiences of my life!

The cheetah at Samara are quite habituated to people, and so, our guide was able to walk us within five metres of a mother and her four, almost fully-grown cubs. We stood in awe, as the rowdy cubs chased each other through the shrubs around us, and followed them as they made their way to a clearing, where they would, no doubt, settle in for the night. I will never forget the excitement (or how my heart was pounding!) at having come so close to such a beautiful, wild animal.

Other activities on offer at Samara include: game drives (complete with coffee and rusks in the morning and sundowners and snacks in the evening), a luxury star bed experience, wilderness picnics, birding, mountain hikes, indoor and outdoor dining, mountain biking and conservation activities.

Photo by Lara Bestbier


Photo by Matt Covington (our American friend we met that weekend)

Photo by Matt Covington (our American friend we met that weekend)

Photo by Matt Covington (our American friend we met that weekend)

Charming staff

The lodge’s rustic charm extends to its staff, who know you by name and go out of their way to make you feel special and like you’re ‘at home’. Their passion and pride shine through each and everything that they do; whether they’re walking you to your suite, welcoming you back after a game drive or serving you breakfast.

Our guide, Julius, was particularly special. His knowledge and love for the bush, its animals and the reserve is hard to match up to. We loved listening to him recount ancient animal tales, and the close encounters he’d faced with animals like lion and elephant over the course of his career.

Family-orientated activities

While my two kids did not join us this time, Samara (a malaria-free area!) welcomes children of all ages and has a dedicated kids programme as part of its offering – an ideal opportunity to get older children off their screens and into nature!

Some of the activities included in the programme include:

  • Bushwalks
  • Spoor identification
  • Rock painting like the San people
  • Dung spitting competitions
  • African crafts
  • Orienteering and navigating
  • Storytelling

Little touches of ‘special’

Yes, Samara’s view will captivate you, its staff impress you and its activities entertain, and at times, mesmorise you – but, at the end of the day, it’s the reserve’s little touches of ‘special’ that sets it apart from the rest.

The staff have a steady stream of surprises tucked up their sleeves; like warm, scented hand towels offered to guests after each game drive, bubble baths drawn in the suite each night and setting up a mountain-top picnic, complete with champagne!

It’s the small things that count, and that’s what Samara gets right.

A safari for your soul

They say that going on a safari is good for your soul – and our break at Samara was just that; a chance for us to unplug from life (and our smartphones), engage our senses and just “be” in the moment.

Photo by Lara Bestbier

Good to know:

Wintertime is the ideal season in which to relax into the Karoo frame of mind. Mild, sunny days provide optimal walking temperatures as well as unique opportunities for daylight sightings of the elusive (and usually nocturnal) aardvark.

We flew to Port Elizabeth from Johannesburg, and then drove a further three hours to the reserve. You can also fly to Port Elizabeth from Cape Town – and if you choose to drive you’re looking at approximately a seven-and-a-half hour drive from Cape Town and an eight-hour drive from Johannesburg.

Samara Private Game Reserve is offering a Winter special from 1 June to 31 August 2019, whereby guests stay for four nights, but only pay for three – equivalent to 25% off their stay.

Disclosure: I was a guest at Samara Private Game Reserve from the 17th to the 19th of May 2019 for the purpose of a review. All views are my own.