It’s been said that South Africa has some of the most incredible resorts in the world, and according to the latest Conde Nast Traveler readers choice awards, it’s not just all talk!
Johannesburg, South Africa – For their 32nd annual Readers’ Choice Awards survey, a record 600,000 registered Conde Nast Traveler voters weighed in on their favourite resorts in the world.
“As we reviewed this year’s results, one thing became apparent: Your curiosity. You visited nearly 10,000 hotels, resorts, and destination spas rated, but barely 15 percent made the cut. And we were certainly impressed by the ones that did.
The 2019 results were especially exciting for us, pulling in new openings and new parts of the world. We’re ever curious about where you go, what you loved, and who you went with, and as you continue to travel, we continue to listen.”
Here are the resorts you loved most this year.
40. Morukuru Family Beach Lodge
Say you’re more of a beach bum than a safari enthusiast—don’t worry, South Africa still has you covered. Head to the intimate five-suite Morukuru, about three hours east of Cape Town on the shore of the Indian Ocean. There are white sand beaches, of course, but also access to the De Hoop Nature Reserve with its zebra and bontebok and protected marine area. You can simply chill on the beach or by the lodge’s pool, but we’d suggest letting Morukuru’s friendly, attentive staff fill your day with game drives through the reserve, mountain biking, sandboarding, snorkelling, and more. (All activities, gear, and meals are included.) Plan your trip during South Africa’s winter (July-October) for prime southern white whale watching from shore, from the lodge’s restaurant, and even from your bed.
31. Lion Sands Game Reserve
Set on the banks of the Sabi River, this luxurious resort on 10,000 acres comprises four lodges and a family camp. Ivory Lodge rooms, done in ebony and ivory, have African artefacts and views of the reserve and its animals from private terraces with plunge pools, while the cream and beige rooms at River Lodge have freestanding tubs as well as indoor and outdoor showers. After viewing elephants and lions on open jeep drives, enjoy traditional boma dining. The unique treehouses couldn’t be more romantic—lit by lanterns, candles, the stars and the moon. After a picnic dinner, settle-in for a night surrounded by the safely-distant sounds of hippos, hyenas, leopards, and lions.
29. Marataba Safari Lodge
The lodge hosts 15 canvas-and-stone Tented Suites, each kitted in rich fabrics and niceties such as a complimentary minibar, air conditioning, a roll-top bath and an indoor and outdoor shower. Like the communal areas, the tent’s contemporary yet earthy look is a refreshing departure from the overdone ‘Out of Africa’ trope seen in other safari accommodations. If you’re lucky, you might be able to view wildlife activity right in front of your wraparound private deck. Options to relax outside of your tent here include a communal pool with loungers, hammocks amongst the trees and a library with plush brown leather sofas; alternatively, book an in-room spa treatment on your deck and zone out to sounds of the birds and the breeze. For those wanting alternatives for Big Five excursions beyond vehicle drives, Marataba offers a walking safari and a must-do water safari.
27. Morukuru Family Madikwe
The Big Five is the big draw across the continent, but at this family-friendly lodge on South Africa’s fifth largest game reserve, you’ll spot the Magnificent Seven—adding cheetah and African wild dog (an insider favourite for their strategic hunting abilities) as well hippo, rhino, prides of lions and the rest. It’s a fittingly spectacular viewing lined up alongside the camp’s equally spectacular accommodations: three free-standing luxury villas, each uniquely designed. (Think lots of raw blond woods in the Farm House; stone fireplaces and sink-into-’em couches over at the River House; and a staff of eight, plus an infinity pool and African artwork at the Owner’s Home). And unlike many of the lodges across the region, Wi-Fi here is fast and available everywhere, meaning your 13-year-old won’t have to wait until she’s back in Johannesburg airport to upload her shot of leopard cubs to Instagram.
21. Makanyi Private Game Lodge
The seven-room Makanyi Private Game Lodge is full-on luxury with the feel of a family home—which makes sense, given its provenance. British owner Jessica Gold bought the private property and turned it into a safari camp in 2015, conforming to a classic aesthetic of thatched-roof villas in terra cotta tones. This place is relaxed, void of stodginess, and perfect for people looking for a more intimate experience.
Situated within 6 million acres of pristine wilderness, Londolozi has been owned and run by the Varty family for over 90 years. The word londolozi comes from the Zulu language and means ‘protector of all living things’. Once endorsed by Nelson Mandela, who described it as “a dream I cherish for a model of nature preservation in our country,” it’s one of the best places in the world to see leopards in the wild. Some of Londolozi’s most popular features are its state-of-the-art photographic studio, and it’s safari Healing House. Breeding herds of elephant and buffalo roam throughout Londolozi, while white rhino and lion concentrations are among the highest on the African continent.
Loads of African resorts also made the list with one of them taking the top spot:
49. Tongabezi & Sindabezi
At Tongabezi’s private Sindabezi Island, guests have Victoria Falls all to themselves. Situated on the Zambezi river waterfront, this luxury camp, with just five romantic chalets, is all about adventure by day and indulgence by night. Test your heart rate while the sun’s up with white water rafting, helicopter flights and if you’re really brave, a bungee jump from Victoria Falls. Then come back down to earth with a slow drift down the river on a sunset cruise, followed by a dinner on an old wooden boat. And while waking up to a playful baby rhino is unforgettable, nothing beats the experience of having a personal valet throughout your stay, who will make sure a warm bubble bath has been run for you to perfectly time with your return from exploring.
30. Elewana Elephant Pepper Camp
If you really want to be surrounded by nature on safari, this tented camp with just eight suites is the way to go. With no fences or boundaries, you’ll fall asleep to the sound of lions, leopards, and hyenas making their way across the Maasai Mara. (Don’t be surprised if you spot animals wandering through in the daytime from your tent’s veranda, too.) The experience here leans more towards the glamping side of safari lodges—but you won’t be without creature comforts, as the tents are fully furnished with indoor plumbing and hot showers. You won’t have to jockey for a view of the wildlife on game drives, or bush walks either, since Elewana’s location and surrounding savannah is only accessible to the 11 other nearby lodges, keeping Land Cruiser traffic down.
17. Ol Jogi Home
The maximalist decor—animal prints, crystal, and ubiquitous statuary—may be over the top for some, but what Ol Jogi lacks in restraint it compensates for in its wholehearted commitment to conservation. The home of the Wildenstein family sits on 60,000 acres of wildlife conservancy in Northern Kenya, which you’ll have entirely to yourself. It harbours black and white rhino, giraffe, and zebra, which you can see on safari or ambling in front of the house’s wide terrace (there’s also a rescue centre for rehabbing animals—baby elephant, anyone?). It’s the perfect spot for a group takeover or big birthday party, with plenty to do between game drives from horseback riding and fishing on Mount Kenya to a hammam-style spa and an extensive cellar of wines that are served, fittingly, out of huge animal-stemmed goblets.
15. Oliver’s Camp
Asilia Africa, an East Africa–focused safari company, has 23 safari camps spread out in Tanzania in Kenya. Oliver’s Camp, located in Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park, was one of their first, dating back to 1992. It’s been a go-to on the East Africa safari circuit, with 10 beautifully appointed tents and prime access to wildlife spotting. The tents all include en-suite bathrooms, as well as running water and multiple showers so that you won’t be roughing it here. Oliver’s Camp is known for their walking safaris—a rare chance to get out of the vehicle with a guide. Most days at Oliver’s Camp include morning drives, afternoon tea, sundowners, and an evening drive, as well as plenty of downtime and stargazing at night. And it’s a great option for families, as children five and above are welcome.
11. Elewana Elsa’s Kopje
Meru National Park has it all: lions, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, kudus, and even a sanctuary filled with black and white rhino. One of the best home bases to see it all? Elewana Elsa’s Kopje, named after the real-life orphaned lion cub Elsa, whose rescue and return to the wild was dramatised in the 1966 movie Born Free. Built up on a hill with a full view over Meru’s savannah, the lodge offers game drives, fishing in Meru’s rivers, and bush walks for those looking to explore, as well as an infinity pool, private decks for each suite, and massages by appointment for those who don’t want to stray far from the lodge. You can also set up breakfasts out in the bush—and sundowners, too, before it’s time to turn in.
6. Richard’s River Camp
This casually luxurious eight-tent getaway is great for gatherings of up to 16 (and slightly larger groups upon request), replete with rounds of sundowners and festive bush dinners under the stars. A nearby spring attracts a resident lion pride also looking for a cool drink. The family of owners Richard Roberts and Liz Fusco have been in Kenya for decades (Richard is a third-generation safari expert and conservationist); the couple built Richard’s Camp as a home away from home in 2006, which gives it the feeling of a private getaway.
3. Chindeni Bushcamp
Chindeni’s strength is its simplicity. Don’t get us wrong—the camp’s four large canvas tents, rustic with their stripped wooden floors, solar power, and assemblage of rattan chairs in the sitting areas are supremely comfortable, yet manage to channel the frontier days of safari travel, eons before the high design era spread across the savannas. You won’t get short-changed on game drive viewings across the plains either (we guarantee you’ll lose count of the number of elephants you spot 10 minutes in), and walking safaris are especially poignant for the birders out there. But for our money, it’s the views from the evening sundowners, taken on your terrace, overlooking the lagoon where herds of hippo wallow, that will stay with you long after you return home.
1. Sirikoi Lodge
Built by second-generation Kenyans and conservationists, Sirikoi’s got a main lodge, a three-bedroom house, and two- and four-bedroom tents facing a watering hole for great armchair game viewing. The feeling that you’ve entered a private home suffuses the place, from the lovingly tended gardens to the heirlooms collected by the family over the years. In addition to morning and evening game drives, you can do a bush walk with a ranger, horseback ride across the plains, fly in a helicopter up to Mount Kenya to go fly fishing, or do a quad bike safari for an overnight campout.
And just a hop and skip away from South Africa, two resorts in the Maldives also made the list:
24. Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, Maldives
Although the Maldives isn’t exactly hurting for luxury properties, Taj’s Exotica Resort and Spa still manages to set itself apart from the pack. Occupying its own private motu (small reef/island), it’s ideal for those craving peace and quiet, where villages with palm-thatched roofs and wood finishes on the exteriors and floors all come with panoramic Indian Ocean views. If you’re not content to stay in bed all day, though, there are plenty of lounge-ready hammocks hanging on the beach, and activities like the sunset dolphin-watching cruise to keep you feeling like you’re actually doing something. Deep End Restaurant offers top-notch dishes, focusing mostly on the tastes of Europe.
9. Naladhu Private Island Maldives
With only 19 expansive guest quarters in South Malé Atoll, this intimate resort provides a level of privacy and personal attention impressive even in the Maldives. Weathered-wood accommodations come with a private garden and an infinity pool, high-ceilinged interiors decorated in cane and tropical hues, and an open-air bathroom with L’Occitane products and a sea-facing tub for two. The Living Room’s dining spaces range from tables set around the all-glass wine cellar to cushioned Indian daybeds under the stars, and a fleet of dhonis adds onboard private dinners. Dedicated butlers, or VGCs (very good chaps), exceed expectations with quiet, smiling service. With a location only a 30-minute speedboat ride from Malé’s international airport, Naladhu represents the Maldives’ most convenient exclusive destination yet.