7 unexpected ways this South African hotel marries luxury with sustainability

Giulia Sgarbi - 20/10/2023


A hotel so embedded in nature you barely notice its presence in the South African savanna of the Kruger National Park, Singita Lodges is a true pioneer of existing in harmony with the environment. Here’s what it’s like to experience the magic of Africa while ‘touching the earth lightly’

“We were absolutely delighted to be the first recipients of the Flor de Caña Eco Hotel Award,” begins Dr Andrea Ferry, group sustainability coordinator at Singita. Having spent 13 years leading a host of initiatives at the hotel group’s properties across Africa, her pride is well justified – especially as the winner came out on top of a thorough review performed by the world-leading Sustainable Restaurant Association. “We have worked hard and have had to take risks, so being recognised with this award at a global level is indeed a validation of the more difficult path we chose,” she says.

While Singita also owns properties in Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, the recipient of this special accolade is Singita Lodges – Kruger National Park, composed of two clusters of suites and villas near the Sweni River in north-east South Africa, near the border with Mozambique. Named Lebombo and Sweni and comprising 25 nature-inspired living spaces surrounded by savanna, the lodges were voted No.15 in The World’s 50 Best Hotels 2023, a new annual ranking that reveals the very best places to stay around the globe as voted for by 580 experts.
Singita Lodges' team receiving the Flor de Caña Eco Hotel Award 

Here are seven unusual elements that contribute to making the hotel both one of the best and one of the most sustainable in the world.

1. It all started with plastic bottled water

Singita’s sustainable focus dates back to before it was even granted its private concession in Kruger National Park. Founder Luke Bailes’ grandfather purchased a 30,000-acre piece of land in a remote corner of the South Africa’s Lowveld region a century ago, which was eventually transformed from a hunting concession into the Sabi Sand Reserve that today borders the park: a conservation area where all wildlife is protected. 

After the lodges were built in Kruger National Park, the focus turned to community development and biodiversity. Then, Singita began working with NGO Bioregional. “When their ‘One Planet Living’ programme was introduced in 2012, it formalised the everyday operational sustainability efforts at the lodges,” says Ferry. “Having a framework like this was critical to our success. One of the first initiatives was to eliminate plastic bottled water.”
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Guests receive a refillable bottle to use during their stay at the lodges

Over the last ten years, plenty more projects have been introduced – from meals that feature less animal protein and more nutrients to conservation rooms that allow guests to learn about the nature reserves they are visiting, their local cultures and projects that need funding. But to this day, guests still receive a stainless-steel, refillable drinking bottle on arrival that they use for the duration of their stay, proving that even a small step can set you on an impactful path.

2. The drive comes from within

Of all the initiatives the property has implemented, Ferry talks with obvious pride of the solar photovoltaic plant installed at Singita Kruger National Park, which slashed diesel consumption by 70 per cent.

But there is one more element that fills her with joy: “I feel most proud when Singita staff take it upon themselves to run with sustainability projects, as it means we have shifted the culture at Singita to being one where ‘that’s just how we do things here’. The sustainability ethos has been embedded in our staff and it’s even the reason they choose to work here.”

3. Sustainability permeates the experience

“The Singita experience is hard to describe – it is sublime,” says Ferry. Kruger National Park is famous for being home to the ‘big five’: lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants and rhinos roam its grounds freely, and – with a pinch of luck – guests may be treated to special moments, such as rhino dehorning or elephant collaring, during the daily safaris offered as part of their stay.
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Guests' wellbeing was prioritised in the design of the lodges and menu of activities

“Every one of the lodges has a magic that I still, after all these years, cannot quite understand. Every moment of the guest’s day has been considered in the design of the lodges and in activities that feed body, mind and soul, as well as the warm interactions with staff,” she says.

This thoughtfulness starts even before guests arrive at the property: since 2020, Singita Lodges introduced an offset programme that allows guests to experience a carbon-neutral stay.

“Sustainability here is woven throughout. We take care to celebrate local cultures through lodge design, interesting artefacts and food offerings. There are so many touchpoints for guests to only to see but to feel our sustainability ethos.”

4. Community is just as important as the environment…

“South Africa has large social inequities that require funds and effort to right,” comments Ferry. “Singita has focused on a flagship community project, the Singita Community Culinary School, since 2007.” Until December 2022, the school – which offers internationally-recognised diplomas in professional cookery as well as wine, fire and first aid training – has supported 103 graduates, with 30 more set to take their final exams in 2023.
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Singita Community Culinary School was founded in 2007

But Singita’s efforts start much earlier in children’s education. Since 2019, the Singita Lowveld Trust has supported up to 2,000 children per year with its focus on holistic early childhood education, equipping local classes with learning materials, playground and music equipment, as well as educational toys and classroom furniture.

“Singita also focuses strongly on employing locally – 90% upwards – and developing and promoting employees to help address inequities,” adds Ferry.

5. …and also leads to better food for guests

The Singita Community Culinary School provides a crucial pipeline of skilled chefs for Singita’s kitchens – with visitors also reaping the benefits. At dinner time, when guests of the lodges gather al fresco, the ingredients grown at the on-site herb garden are featured in boma meals, a culinary tradition started by tribespeople in the 18th century. The well-curated African menus also exclusively feature seafood that is sourced ethically, traceable to its origins and not ‘red-listed’ as unsustainable by the World Wildlife Fund.

6. It is not planning to stop any time soon

Singita is driven by a 100-year vision for its properties, but in the shorter term, it has committed to the UN’s Goals for Nature and People, which include halting and reversing biodiversity loss, securing zero further extinction of species, halving its ecological footprint and becoming carbon neutral. “Although it is wonderful to win awards, there is still much work to be done. This kind of recognition encourages us to do more and better, with an eye on our 2030 goals,” says Ferry.
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Singita is committed to keep working hard to achieve its 2030 goals 

The hotel industry provides 10% of jobs globally, so Ferry highlights that its long-term resilience is very important – and that things are already changing. “Increasingly, guests – mostly younger – are expecting their choice of stay to have sustainability practices embedded. There is growing awareness of hotels’ impacts on culture and natural resources, often resulting in kickback from local community. The industry must control its negative impacts and maximise the positive ones.”

7. It could one day disappear without trace

Singita follows a motto that has become synonymous with the company: ‘touch the earth lightly’. “This phrase is applied to all our properties, but Singita in the Kruger is literally touching the earth even more lightly. It was built high above ground, using walkways to carry water and energy to the lodge suites, rather than having facilities buried underground,” highlights Ferry. “The property was designed to be deconstructed, removed and the land left without trace.”

But with its unique lodges immersed in nature, stunning swimming pools with vistas, outdoor showers and lion cubs scampering into view, as well as its positive impact on the community and environment, Singita Lodges – Kruger National Park has all the hallmarks of a property that is here to stay.

The first-ever list of The World’s 50 Best Hotels was revealed on 19th September 2023. Bookmark the 50 Best Hotels website and follow us on InstagramFacebookX and YouTube for the latest content on the best properties in the world.