Africa is home to some of the most amazing wildlife and landscapes, spectacular natural wonders, dramatic coastlines, unforgettable architecture, one-of-a-kind adventures, and unique cultures. The continent also offers an array of incredible places to stay — from luxury hotels to unique safari lodges. These properties offer superb dining experiences, majestic settings, and lavish décor and design, as well as excellent spas and a range of activities — you’ll want for nothing if staying in these wonderful places.
A night or two (or more!) in one of Africa’s top hotels or safari lodges is a fantastic way to travel. Whether you are looking to stay in luxury accommodation throughout your entire trip, or perhaps just to “treat yourself” for a few days, here are some of my favorite places to stay in Africa, from cosmopolitan Cape Town to the banks of the Zambezi River, from the wilds of the Okavango to the beaches of Zanzibar, and everywhere in between.
1. Ngorongoro Crater Lodge
Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania
At first sight, the exterior of Ngorongoro Crater Lodge might be a little confusing — the thatched buildings and unusual architectural details somehow seem to resemble a traditional Tanzanian mud-and-stick manyatta (village) rather than a luxury lodge. But the exterior is where any similarities end. The interiors of Crater Lodge are some of the most opulent in the country — think antiques, Persian carpets, chandelier-lit bathrooms, vaulted ceilings, decadent bush picnics, fine dining at tables laden with crystal and silverware and accompanied by superb wines, and a personalized butler service — it’s like stepping into a fairy tale.
Located right on the rim of the dramatic and breathtaking World Heritage Site, Ngorongoro Crater, Crater Lodge offers magnificent views over the world’s largest intact and unflooded caldera. The grasslands of the crater floor offer excellent game viewing, year-round, for animals including black rhinos, zebras, eland, and Africa’s densest population of lions. The rainforest that lines the crater walls is home to elephants, buffalo, and leopards, making for spectacular game viewing.
When relaxing between game-viewing activities, your only dilemma here is choosing the most perfect spot — your suite’s private deck or the gorgeous communal lounge, cocktails at the bar, or taking in the views from the main deck. Ngorongoro Crater Lodge offers a truly lavish experience from the moment you arrive.
2. Mount Nelson
Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town’s iconic, and discreetly glamourous “pink lady,” named for the hotel’s famously pink exterior paintwork, opened her doors in 1899 and has attracted a mix of “well-heeled” and loyal guests ever since. Mount Nelson is an oasis in the center of Cape Town. A palm-lined driveway leads to immaculately groomed lawns, magnificent flower beds, two pools, and several tennis courts.
The décor favors an English colonial style, complete with several original features. The use of wallpaper, mirrors, and potted palms in the lounge, bar, and terrace areas gives the feeling of a beautiful conservatory and makes for the perfect setting for high tea, for which the hotel is deservedly famous. The rooms themselves are elegant, spacious, and beautifully furnished.
Mount Nelson is perfectly located for exploring Cape Town. Just across the road from the hotel are the Company Gardens, the ideal place for a stroll and some squirrel or duck feeding on your way into town, and if you exit through the back entrance to Kloof Street, a plethora of restaurants and bars are within walking distance.
From the spacious size of the grounds, beautiful rooms, and ideal location to the unpretentious yet professional staff, The Mount Nelson Hotel is definitely one to add to your luxury list.
3. Morukuru Beach Lodge
De Hoop Nature Reserve, South Africa
In the De Hoop Nature Reserve, a coastal reserve on South Africa’s picturesque Whale Coast outside Cape Town, you’ll find the beautiful Morukuru Beach Lodge, a boutique hotel with just five suites. With typical Cape fynbos vegetation on one side and rolling white sand dunes on the other, the lodge looks out over the Indian Ocean and is the perfect location for whale watching — be it from your bedroom, the bar, or your dinner table — as southern right whales are here from July to October. Located in a nature reserve with a marine protected area stretching out 3 miles off the coast, Morukuru Beach Lodge is the perfect spot for watching whales, seals, and even occasionally penguins, while inland zebras, baboons, ostriches and a variety of antelope are found.
The interiors are stunning — spacious Scandi style, with a dash of Africa. Lots of light oak blend with beautifully textured fabrics, understated furnishings, vast, super comfortable beds, and walls of glass French windows that open up to the dunes and ocean views.
There’s plenty to do here, from marine walks to game drives, mountain biking, sandboarding, snorkeling in the rock pools, or just relaxing on the beach. And if the weather turns wet or windy, there’s an internal courtyard with a swimming pool and hot tub.
4. Waterside At Royal Malawane
Thornybush Private Game Reserve, The Greater Kruger, South Africa
Adjacent to the Greater Kruger National Park lies Thornybush Game Reserve, 29,000 acres of African bush. The reserve is home to an abundance of wildlife, and you are almost guaranteed to spot the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo) on your visit. The reserve is predominantly open savannah, and with a great year-round climate, it’s an ideal African safari holiday destination.
Shaded by a grove of fever trees in the north of the reserve is the colorful and contemporary Waterside at Royal Malawane. No dark, dingy rondavels here, no sagging tents, creaking ceiling fans, or leaky bucket showers like many a safari lodge in Africa. Waterside is a stunning lodge full of carefully curated artwork and décor, with each extravagantly sized suite individually designed and eclectically furnished — think oriental rugs, outsized four-posters beds, deep-cushioned sofas, roll-top bathtubs, indoor and outdoor showers, and private plunge pools beside expansive decks with views over the bush.
Fantastic wildlife sightings are right on your doorstep (quite literally at times!) and the guides are some of the best in Africa. Combine this with fantastic service (always with a smile), great food, and an impressive number of craft gins, whiskies, and South African wines at the bar, and Waterside provides everything you need for a thoroughly memorable, modern safari.
Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia
I’ve long loved Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park and visit as often as I can. Lolebezi, the Lower Zambezi’s newest camp, is wild, remote, and without doubt one of the most luxurious and spectacular lodges I’ve ever visited. Deep inside the national park and spread out under a canopy of trees with more than half a mile of private river frontage on the Zambezi, Lolebezi takes going on safari to a whole new level.
Set within 12 hectares of protected wilderness, with four elegant suites and two double family units, each with stunning décor, their own private plunge pools, and outdoor lounge areas, the attention to detail is incredible. Lolebezi marries the carefully designed luxury of a world-class safari camp with the level of excitement that can only be found in the African bush.
The park is a hunting ground for lions, leopards, and wild dogs. Herds of elephants roam here, and an array of wildlife can be found in this timeless valley of giant towering Winterthorn trees. The river is home to hippos, crocodiles, and the coveted tiger fish. The beauty of the Lower Zambezi lies in its wildness and the opportunities to get right up close to the wildlife. Lolebezi is definitely the place to stay for fantastic wildlife experiences, extremely knowledgeable guides, and the kind of luxury that is not often found on safari.
6. Khwai Leadwood
Khwai Community Concession, Botswana
Khwai Leadwood is located in the Khwai community concession area, a pretty corner of the Okavango Delta that’s known for its excellent and varied game viewing. Sheltered by a canopy of tall trees, the camp overlooks the Khwai River, where hippos make their home and elephants (and even lions from time to time) can be found wading through the water.
Game drives, walking safaris, and mokoro (traditional canoe) safaris are just a few of the activities guests can enjoy from this stylish lodge, and when not out on game drives, guests can relax with a dip in the pool or curl up with a good book in the reading area. Of course, the luxury tents have all the creature comforts you could desire, including a hammock on the private deck that’s perfect for afternoon naps.
The elegantly designed camp has six stylish standard tents and one family unit, all designed to embrace the concept of an intimate and exclusive wilderness experience. Khwai Leadwood effortlessly marries luxury accommodation with still feeling like you’re in the great African outdoors.
7. Shipwreck Lodge
Skeleton Coast, Namibia
The imaginatively designed Shipwreck Lodge offers a rare opportunity to stay in luxury on the fringes of a great wilderness, Namibia’s barren yet beautiful Skeleton Coast. The Skeleton Coast takes its name from the demise of a British cargo ship that ran aground on these shores in 1944, and Nina Maritz, the award-winning architect responsible for Shipwreck Lodge’s design, used this as the inspiration to create the lodge’s “castaway cabins.”
The guest cabins, dotted along the dunes, are havens of understated luxury, with velvet day beds, vast king-sized beds, stylish bathrooms complete with porthole windows, and wood-burning stoves that are the perfect spot for a nightcap. Lodge life revolves around the pleasures of dining, reading, wildlife spotting, and being totally immersed in nature. This is a world of sand, sea, and silence, and staying on the wind-swept sands of this fragile environment feels like an incredible privilege.
8. Xanadu Luxury Villas
Dongwe, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Xanadu is found down a sandy, un-signposted road just over an hour’s drive from Zanzibar airport. If you blink, you’ll miss it, which is the whole point! Xanadu’s villas, steps away from the Indian Ocean on the spice island’s southeast coast, come with their own personal butler service and an “anytime, anywhere” policy to meals. There are nods to the spice island’s Arab history in the striking domed buildings, and each villa has Arab-influenced furnishings and relaxed living spaces that open out onto private plunge pools and tropical gardens, where curious monkeys can often be seen.
There’s another swimming pool at the heart of the property with pool lounges, a bar, and a restaurant around it, all lit up by lanterns at night. Down on the beach, there are more shaded lounges and swinging two-person hammocks to relax in. This is the place to come for total privacy and relaxation.
Legendary Italian watchmaker, Angelo Bonati, once said “Luxury is attention to detail, originality, exclusivity and above all quality.” I can definitely say, without a moment’s hesitation, that every hotel and lodge on this list fulfills all those criteria. Now all that is left for you to do is plan your future travels to incorporate at least one of these hotels.
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