Hotels may take on fantastic forms in Africa, they’re conjured from our wildest travel fantasies: glass cabins tucked away in dense forests, a vintage-chic train with a penchant for good wine, and a cozy riad hidden in the depths of one of the world’s most mysterious cities. A trip to Africa—from the foothills of the Sahara desert to the wilds of the savannah to the postcard-perfect beaches of the Indian Ocean—is a trip of a lifetime, and we have the hotels to prove it.

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Rich & Famous

andBeyond Mnemba Island

Zanzibar, Tanzania

A little bored of overcrowded beaches and cheesy resorts? How about a private island with its own coral reef, dive school and sites, in-room massages, dolphin sightings, and romantic beach dinners? Ultimate privacy is achieved on this tiny island in the Indian Ocean, about four miles in length and basking in wildlife: bird watching, turtle hatchlings, suni antelope, and coconut crabs. Sure, there are private yoga classes and plenty of water sports to choose from, but with roomy cabanas, beach lounging and gorgeous oceanside dinners by lantern light, there’s plenty of incentive to do nothing at all. Did we mention it’s a private island?

Tried & True

andBeyond Phinda Forest Lodge

Phinda, South Africa

The genius design of andBeyond’s Phinda Forest Lodge truly brings the outside in, with four glass walls that look out into the ancient sand forest of Phinda Private Game Reserve. The private reserve is one of South Africa’s best kept secrets—a secluded and exclusive natural setting where you can see the famous “Big 5” (cape buffalo, rhinos, elephants, lions, and leopards) without hordes of tourists. The 16 impeccably-designed cabins feel like part of an alternate reality, where the sounds of the forest lull you to sleep (or keep you up all night) and a ranger has to escort you to and from your room at night (in case of leopards). Every moment here is wild and magical, starting with breakfast, when the forest comes to life. Giraffes drink daintily from a pond next to the open-air main building while monkeys and impala stroll the hotel grounds like they own the place (they do own the place). On game drives, you might go for hours, spotting elephants, rhinos, and cheetahs without ever seeing another vehicle. As the light fades, it’s time for sundowners while listening to the meditative sounds of the forest.

Romantic Rendezvous

Bom Bom Island Resort

Sao Tome and Principe

With golden beaches, crystal-clear waters, and dramatic junglescapes, Principe Island is the stuff vacation dreams are made of—and The Bom Bom Island Resort makes those dreams come true. The goal of the 19 guest bungalows is simple: they provide the easiest, most comfortable access to the jungle, beach, and sea surrounding you. Amenities are more of an ordeal: the spa offers massage and beauty treatments; the dining room creates exotic, yet simple dishes based on fresh local fruit and ingredients. The resort shows respect to this ancient, beautiful island by making efforts toward sustainability including turtle conservation.

Remote Retreats

Kasbah du Toubkal

High Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Surrounded by otherworldy natural beauty, Kasbah Toubkal feels like an impossible dream—a gorgeous yet understated hotel filled with antiques that’s carved into a mountainside. Kasbah Toubkal is far from accessible, but that’s all part of the magic. After driving up precipitous and winding mountain roads that are so narrow it feels like you’re about to scrape the sides of buildings, a donkey awaits to carry your bags. From there, it’s a short but steep hike up to the hotel, a stone and wood fortress that feels thousands of years old. The setting is dramatic, with sheer cliffs, tiny villages, and majestic snow-capped peaks in every direction. The setting is the draw here, but the well-appointed rooms and authentic hammam will make you want to stay forever.

Cheap & Chic

Riad l'Orangeraie

Marrakesh, Morocco

Tucked away in the narrow streets of the medina, L’Orangeraie is a surprisingly affordable (and infinitely stylish) boutique hotel in one of this year’s travel hot spots. Like many small hotels in Marrakesh, L’Orangeraie is a riad, with a few individually-decorated rooms situated around a stunning courtyard and pool. There’s not a single corner of this hotel that isn’t romantic, from the lush, artsy rooms to the tiled bathrooms and the hidden candlelit nooks and crannies. And while the hotel oozes with character on the inside, one of its best amenities is the serene rooftop where you can enjoy a traditional Moroccan breakfast while drinking tea and listening to the call to prayer echoing off the rooftops of the city. L’Orangeraie is one of those magical hotels that makes you want to quit your job, sell your house, and open up a boutique hotel in a place that’s far from home.

New & Noteworthy

One&Only Nyungwe House

Nyamasheke Nyungwe Forest Reserve, Rwanda

Among the best resorts are those that serve foremost to honor their amazing locations. This newly opened luxury resort knows how special it is: Nyungwe House sits at the foot of one of the oldest, most gorgeous, and largest preserved mountain rainforests in Africa. The resort, immediately surronded by rolling green tea plantations and often covered in the mist and peaceful sounds of the rainforest above, markets to a guest seeking not just luxurious amenities but a cultural and natural immersion in an unbelievable place. That’s not to say you won’t experience comfort—the suites and rooms with panoramic views, private balconies and fireplaces are top notch, as is the spa—but the adventures are where it’s at. A dozen hiking trails, African tea tasting, chimpanzee trekking, guided night walks, and community participation celebrations are among the curated ways you’ll experience the Rwandan rainforest here.

Weird & Wonderful

Rovos Rail

Throughout Africa

Rovos Rail is not quite a hotel and yet it’s so much more than a hotel. This vintage-chic train is one of the world’s greatest railway adventures, with routes that travel through South Africa to Namibia, Angola, Tanzania, and more. It’s the journey of a lifetime aboard a gorgeous locomotive with wood-paneled interiors, spacious (for a train, anyways) suites with private bathrooms, a sumptuous lounge with an outdoor observation deck, and a restaurant that serves improbably delicious fresh local fare—all decadently paired with South African wines. A stay on Rovos Rail is about the journey, but it’s the destination that comes first, with daily excursions like game drives, bush walks, and city tours.

Quintessential Classic

Schoone Oordt Country House

Swellendam, South Africa

Nestled in the South African countryside between peach and apricot orchards and at the foot of the Langeberg mountains sits this sprawling manor house. Owners stumbled upon a crumbling Victorian mansion in the town of Swellendam, on a drive home to Cape Town in 2003, and it soon became a (quite laborious) labor of love. The languorous but welcoming layout of the house, dotted with different sitting areas, feels more like a lucky friend’s mansion than a hotel. Time spent touring nearby Marloth Nature Reserve, riding horses in the Langeberg Mountains, or exploring the cute town of Swellendam are complimented by relaxing hours at the pool, surrounded by a lush gardens and terraced lawns, or in the sunny breakfast room full of hanging plants.

Super Splurge

Singita Boulders Lodge

Kruger National Park, South Africa

In perhaps a common theme among these ultra-exclusive nature retreats, the architecture here does its best to blend into the outside world as a way of paying homage to it: sandy, neutral colors, thatched roofing, natural wood and stonework open out onto the preserved wildness of a private game reserve. Each suite, with its sitting rooms of natural hide, wood, and stone decor, glass walls, and private pool and deck essentially melts into the impressive outdoor surroundings. Exploring the property includes safari walks, game tours, stargazing, archery, and wine tastings inside the private wine cellar (and option to send favorite Singita wines home).

Timeless Treasure

SS Sudan on the River Nile

The Nile River, Egypt

If you seek one-of-a-kind travel, it doesn’t get much better than a 100-year-old cruise along the Nile River. The historic steamship (where Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile in 1933) maintains impeccable Old World details: wood-paneled cabins with gold trim, brass beds, and parquet floors; wooden decks covered in rattan furniture and cafe tables; lush interior parlors, a restaurant with breathtaking views, and a sleek piano bar. The steamship makes six-day trips between Luxor and Aswan (offering itineraries in both directions). Schedules aboard are packed with gourmet meals, relaxation, and visits to temples, holy sights, and the Theban Necropolis.