This New Safari Lodge Is Like an African Art Gallery in the Wild

Emilee Geist

Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket list adventure. © Provided by Travel + Leisure COURTESY OF XIGERA Botswana’s Xigera Safari Lodge. The coffee you’re tasting on a sunrise game drive tastes so much more delicious […]

Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket list adventure.



a herd of sheep grazing on a lush green field: COURTESY OF XIGERA Botswana’s Xigera Safari Lodge.


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COURTESY OF XIGERA Botswana’s Xigera Safari Lodge.

The coffee you’re tasting on a sunrise game drive tastes so much more delicious out of a handmade mug,” says Toni Tollman, the director of design and projects for Red Carnation Hotels. Such details are central to the design-fueled rethink of one of Botswana’s most iconic places to stay, Xigera Safari Lodge. When the Tollman-family-owned camp reopens to guests in early 2021 after a two-year overhaul led by architects Anton de Kock and Philip Fourie, the Okavango Delta property will be what Tollman calls a “living gallery” of southern Africa’s most celebrated artists and craftspeople, curated by Cape Town’s Southern Guild collective.



a herd of sheep grazing on a lush green field: Botswana’s Xigera Safari Lodge.


© COURTESY OF XIGERA
Botswana’s Xigera Safari Lodge.

Many of the major pieces at Xigera (pronounced kee-jeer-ah) are site-specific commissions. Cape Town–based sculptor Adam Birch spent months on the property hand-carving benches and chairs from dead knobthorn and mangosteen trees, intending them to mirror the semi-marine landscapes and wildlife of the surrounding area.



a person standing in a room: MICKY HOYLE/COURTESY OF XIGERA Madoda Fani working in clay.


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MICKY HOYLE/COURTESY OF XIGERA Madoda Fani working in clay.

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Other commissions include a 23-foot-wide water lily designed by de Kock and sculpted by South African Otto du Plessis that will reflect the dark delta waters flowing beneath the property’s elevated walkways. A quartet of coiled ceramic sculptures from Cape Town–based Madoda Fani were inspired by woodpecker nests and plumage. Even the vaulted canvas of the lodge’s 12 guest suites takes cues from the environment, mimicking the shape of the wings of the native Pel’s fishing owl.



HAYDEN PHIPPS/COURTESY OF XIGERA A collection of Chuma Maweni’s ceramics.


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HAYDEN PHIPPS/COURTESY OF XIGERA A collection of Chuma Maweni’s ceramics.

But for all the eye-catching art from South Africans — those coffee mugs from ceramist Chuma Maweni, woven cane seating by designer Porky Hefer, hand-dyed and handwoven rugs from Coral & Hive — something is missing: Where are the artists from Botswana?



From left: ADEL FERREIRA/COURTESY OF XIGERA; HAYDEN PHIPPS/COURTESY OF XIGERA From left: artist Andile Dyalvane, whose ceramics are at Xigera; stools at the camp by Atang Tshikare.


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From left: ADEL FERREIRA/COURTESY OF XIGERA; HAYDEN PHIPPS/COURTESY OF XIGERA From left: artist Andile Dyalvane, whose ceramics are at Xigera; stools at the camp by Atang Tshikare.

“Sadly, there are not so many,” Tollman admits. True, Botswana-based furniture and accessories brand Mabeo supplied some guest-suite tables and storage items such as trays, pencil boxes, and coasters. But almost all the major pieces are by South Africans — many of them white South Africans. In recent months, Southern Guild has pulled in smaller contributions from dozens of Black craftspeople from across western and sub-Saharan Africa. “No doubt, the number of African artists supplying Xigera will continue to grow,” says Southern Guild cofounder and CEO Trevyn McGowan.



a leopard standing on a rock: COURTESY OF XIGERA A cheetah in the Moremi Game Reserve.


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COURTESY OF XIGERA A cheetah in the Moremi Game Reserve.

Despite the representation question, the pioneering art-driven concept reflects a major shift for the safari industry: Tollman’s ambitions may well spark a positive change that will see Africa’s artistic talent woven more deeply into the fabric of the wilderness experience.

A version of this story first appeared in the October 2020 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline A Gallery Without Walls. 

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