The Best Hotels
Yes, you’ll definitely find indulgent safari-style “tent” accommodations on this list, but you’ll also discover a wide range of gorgeous and varied hotels throughout the continent: A property made up of repurposed train carriages in South Africa, a stylish boutique riad with rooftop bar in the middle of Marrakech, a discreet city hotel hiding a lush secret garden on the Ivory Coast, and a once-in-a-lifetime castle stay in the middle of a desert. What unites these accommodations is the superior service and thoughtful amenities. The opportunities for fun are as plenty as the glamour is grand at these African hotels.
andBeyond Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp
Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
In the depths of the Kenyan wilderness is a luxurious oasis: Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp in the heart of Maasai Mara’s plains. Its fully-equipped tents (with gorgeous wooden bed frames and private verandahs) are sprawled along the spectacular Maasai Mara terrain, where warthogs feed right outside your doorstep. An iconic panoramic view of the Great Migration and viewing of the Big Five (elephants, leopards, lions, buffalos, and rhinos) is practically guaranteed. This hotel boasts a private concession, offering exclusive game drives, bush dining, bush walks, and night drives at your convenience. Immerse yourself with the locals by visiting the culturally rich Maasai tribe in their village and witnessing their customs.
Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp is an environmentally conscious establishment that uses a solar water system and saves over 56,000 plastic bottles annually. It also prepares wholesome organic delicacies using vegetables from their garden, serving meals from garden to table. If you’d like to get lost in an African adventure, this hotel embodies a classic safari experience with an eco-friendly charm amid world-class wildlife.
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Shaped like domed beehives, the six thatched villas of Bisate Lodge are fashioned after the King’s Palace in Nyanza. With a cup of hot Rwandan coffee in hand, step out onto your spacious open deck in the morning, and through a blanket of mist, catch enigmatic glimpses of Mount Bisoke’s peak. The lodge is perched within forested folds, on the dramatic slopes of an eroded volcanic crater, and is fringed by Volcanoes National Park. Describing views as breathtaking may be rather unoriginal these days, and yet, the ones from Bisate lend new meaning to the oft-overused description.
Each villa has a huge bed outfitted with luxe linens, a spacious bathroom, a central fireplace, and a large private terrace. The name of the game here is to return from a coveted gorilla trek to enjoy a glass of wine in the main building which houses the bar, restaurant, and wine cellars, marked by tan, sustainably-sourced leather chairs, exposed brick walls, and accessories made by local artisans. Overlooking the landscape, marvel at the land of a thousand hills through large floor-to-ceiling windows in the restaurant. Dishes are farm-to-table and the kitchen garden is on-site, so expect fresh flavors. The lodge works with the community to champion reforestation; plant a tree to help with the goal of drawing wildlife back to the area.
Elephant Plains Lodge
A stone’s throw from the Equator, high on the western escarpment of the Albertine Rift, sits Elephant Plains, the latest addition to Uganda’s collection of luxury lodges. Elephant Plains’ timeless Rift Valley scenery is just a few minutes’ drive from Queen Elizabeth National Park, the country’s most popular safari destination. The lodge is an excellent base for game drives, boat cruise safaris on the MV Kazinga, chimpanzee tracking in Kyambura Gorge, and birdwatching the park’s staggering 600+ species. Crater lake tours, engaging community experiences, and hikes in the Rwenzori Mountains are all on the lodge’s doorstep. It’s a short drive to Kasenyi plains, a breeding ground for hundreds of Uganda Kob antelopes (and attendant big cats). Expect to see elephants en route.
Ten bright, roomy cottages with large private verandas balance privacy with envy-inducing views of Lakes George and Edward shimmering in the distance. Water babies will love the cottages’ large bathtubs, showers, and eco-friendly infinity swimming pool–the perfect antidote to adventures in the Equatorial sun. Professionally curated crafts and African-inspired furniture adorn a sprawling lounge, restaurant, and exterior dining area that offer spectacular vistas in every direction. Cottages are thatched with Savannah grass and walkways fashioned of granite from the nearby Mukubu river.
El Fenn (which means “art” in Arabic) is as much a favorite among stylish locals as it is among design-obsessed travelers. It boasts an incredible rooftop bar with an abundance of plants, delicious jewel-hued rooms with metallic bathtubs, and an impressive collection of art from both rotating exhibits and the private collection of the owner, Vanessa Branson.
But El Fenn manages to exude glamor without being pretentious. Case in point: It’s home to two Siamese cats and five tortoises who clearly think they are guests of honor. El Fenn was one of the first boutique riad-hotels to ever open in Marrakech and is located in the heart of the city’s bustling medina. The trendy destination is spread across 12 interconnected riads and has three courtyards—which makes it tempting to explore the colorful spaces rather than sit back with a cocktail. The good news is you can do both.
Abidjan, Ivory Coast
There’s a thrill in finding a hotel with its own secret garden in a bustling city center. What started as a locally-owned family home in Abidjan’s suburb of Vieux-Cocody has since been renovated into the boutique eco-friendly Hôtel Particulier, a property that remarkably pulls off the air of desolation–it feels like nothing exists beyond its bamboo walls. Central to the design is an explosion of lush green gardens that intentionally balances the neatly manicured with the wild and untamed, and most rooms have terraces and open-air showers which serve to maximize these views. The house structure has clean straight lines and much of the interior is drawn from different African destinations—from Marrakech to Zanzibar—blending urban and African artifacts from the ‘50s to create an ambiance the owner likes to refer to as “ethnic vintage.”
Sip an herbal tea infusion then get pampered with the aid of the spa’s natural products. A refreshing dip in the pool is another fine option. The service is warm and efficient, and in the kitchen, regional dishes such as yassa, a spicy stew made with fish or chicken, steal the show. Stepping outside the entrance, Abidjan is ready to explore; the hotel is conveniently located and landmarks like St. Paul’s cathedral are only a short walk away.
More than a hotel, Jnane Tamsna comes across as a bohemian-chic hideaway for creatives and travelers. It’s nestled amid thousands of palm trees in the aptly named Palmeraie district, a 20-minute drive from Marrakech’s bustling old city. The sanctuary of bright-yellow villas is spread across nine acres of gardens containing date palms, olive trees, and an abundance of organic fruits and vegetables. Its salon holds hundreds of books and magazines, as well as furniture and paintings that each have a unique story of origin.
No one room in the hotel is the same, and each contains rich colors and treasures from owner Meryanne Loum-Martin’s travels. The lawyer-turned-designer decorates all the interiors, while her husband, ethnobotanist Gary Martin, oversees the gardens. The charming couple can often be found conversing with guests and sharing stories about the paradise they call home.
Kruger National Park, South Africa
Favoring swanky suites aboard an ingeniously upcycled train, this contemporary Kruger National Park stay rebels against a safari’s typical khaki trappings. The 13 train carriages, converted from 1950s coaches painstakingly collected from scrapyards across South Africa, contain 24 guest rooms, a lavish lounge, and a whimsical plunge pool—all suspended 15 meters (49 feet) above the sightings-rich Sabie River.
Like every good South African lodge, Kruger Shalati – The Train on a Bridge offers requisite walking safaris and game-drive excursions. But staying on-site has its rewards: Each cabin enjoys generous views, and even the view from the bathtub affords visuals of animals—hippos, elephants, antelopes, hyenas, or perhaps lions—ambling below. Contemporary design finishes, including embroidery-embellished artwork and bold graphic textiles throughout provide further reasons for enjoying this railway residence. The local wines in the minibar are yet another. Although the kitchen sits on land, the riverbank restaurant is one amenity that will easily tease you away with iconic South African specialties such as lemon peppered ostrich, prawn potato gnocchi, and deconstructed peppermint tart. Children are not permitted on the train, but rooms on solid ground recently opened, giving families an opportunity to experience this unparalleled journey.
Fort Portal, Uganda
Overlooking a cobalt-blue crater lake, the design of this fairy-tale property provides serious wow factor: The masterpiece that is Kyaninga Lodge took six years and more than 1,000 hand-carved logs to build. The Rwenzori Mountains backdrop is the icing on this cake’s sensational setting. Nine spacious chalet-like cottages with private balconies perch high on the crater rim; intricate wooden walkways connect each building, while landscaped gardens and orchards (the source of delicious homemade breakfast preserves) fan out across the valley below. Food is famously good and includes Kyaninga cheeses made at an on-site dairy that raises money for the not-for-profit Kyaninga Childcare Development Centre, a charity that supports children with disabilities and their families.
Though Kyaninga Lodge is popular with visitors tracking chimpanzees in Kibale Forest, less than an hour’s drive away, a variety of activities close to the lodge will keep guests happy for days: crater hikes; wild swimming in Lake Kyaninga; swimming in the lodge’s pool; birding in the forest; trekking to the edge of the Albertine Rift; and a round of golf at Toro Golf Club.
La Maison Bleue
El Gouna, Egypt
If ever there was a poster child for the glitz and grandeur of yesteryears, this lavish Mediterranean-style boutique hotel fashioned after the mansion of a fictional Levantine merchant from the 19th century would fit the brief. La Maison Bleue’s 11 suites have all the opulent trimmings of a hotel from a different era, coupled with the modern conveniences of the present.
Sitting in a pristine private beachfront on Egypt’s Red Sea coast, Middle Eastern, European, and North African influences are distinct in the architecture and interiors; the polished marble halls and facade were modeled after Saint Marks’ Basilica while Barcelona’s Palau de la Música Catalana inspired an intricate mosaic colonnade. The comfortable Art Deco furniture captures the yearning for classic design, while an Art Nouveau fireplace keeps the salon toasty on those chilly Egyptian evenings. Timeless accessories curated by antique collector and interior decorator, Amr Khalil, tie it all together. A luxury spa and elegant dining room complete the picture at this adults-only retreat. Stroll down the secluded beach, dip in the lagoon or enjoy a Suffering Bastard, a hangover-cure cocktail created in Cairo in the ’40s, while you lounge by the pool.
Le Mirage Resort & Spa
This is your chance to live like royalty in the vast dryness of Namibia’s uncrowded desert. Le Mirage Resort & Spa is an architecturally eccentric hotel located 13 miles from the entrance gate of Sossusvlei, the highest sand dunes in the world. Shaped like a cone, it’s an eye-catching contrast to the surrounding desert it sits upon. The 29 rooms are spacious and cozy with large, inviting beds and a minibar—some have an open-air format, including outdoor showers. The set-up affords ample opportunities for stargazing.
Its restaurant provides wholesome and exquisite meals. Menu options are short and sweet; breakfast is a buffet, lunch is a la carte, and dinner is a five-course meal. If the once-in-a-lifetime castle stay in the middle of a desert hasn’t provided sufficient relaxation, just head on over to the spa which offers popular massage techniques aimed at stress relief and rejuvenation. A classic tale of modern comfort and vast wilderness meeting can be told at this hotel. Go on an adventure and immerse yourself in grandeur.
Mount Nelson, A Belmond Hotel
Cape Town, South Africa
Table Mountain stands watch over this grand, 198-room hotel, which opened in 1899 and earned its iconic rosy-pink hue in 1918 to celebrate the end of World War I. There’s undoubtedly a British colonial feel to the place—Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 21st birthday here, after all—but you’ll find plenty of African touches throughout Mount Nelson, from the indigenous rooibos and honeybush served at the posh afternoon tea to the locally made Africology products used in the spa.
You could spend all your time out among the Canary Island date palms and roses in the gardens or sipping cocktails by the pools, but then you’d miss out on the Belmond-curated experiences, designed to get you out into the Mother City and beyond: driving through the Cape Winelands in a chauffeured classic car or zipping along the coast in a vintage motorcycle sidecar.