Burning sands, epic sunsets, majestic mountain slopes — there are a million ways to fall in love with Africa. Start with this list of romantic hotel destinations.
Makgadikgadi Plains, Kalahari Desert
What's to Love: An over-the-top 1940s-style safari camp set in a palm grove. Explore archeological sites on quad bikes, then regroup at the lavish tea tent. It's pricey. But the service details are incredibly special (i.e.: tours are led by a group of passionate academics, anthropologists, and bushmen).
What's to Love: A true camp experience — al fresco showers, outdoor beds for afternoon naps, dining under the stars — upgraded with massages, plunge pools, and refreshing Stellenbosch between game drives. It's best to visit in March or early spring for the best weather and Big Game sightings.
Odzala-Kokoua, Republic of Congo
What's to love: Channel your inner primate in the largely unexplored Odzala-Kokoua rainforest in the Congo. Choose between two lodges — Lango on the edge of the savanna or Ngaga deep in the Marantaceae forest. The treetop suites at Ngaga Camp are raised about ten feet above the ground, giving you the same perspective as the 20,000 resident gorillas at your doorstep.
The Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh
Red Sea Coast
What's to Love: Spacious and secluded suites have private heated swimming pools, walled gardens, and 48 acres of white sand beach. Do not miss scuba diving in the Gulf of Aqaba.
What's to Love: Staying at the ten-suite safari estate is like stepping into an old Colonial fairy tale, where resident Rothschild giraffes reach through windows and rouse you with loving licks at sunrise and join you for supper at sunset.
Great Rift Valley, Kenya
What's to Love: You're the king of the jungle in a wildlife conservancy, gazing down on hungry hippos, grazing zebras, and howling hyenas from your 120-feet high perch at the top of Dodo's Tower. Invite the couples you love to swing with: The beautiful, European-antique filled suite can accommodate three couples.
What's to Love: It's exclusive and intimate. Take a scenic helicopter flight into the Maasai Mara at dawn from the hotel's private helipad. After an exhilarating flight into the reserve, take the rare opportunity to float over the million-strong wildebeest and zebra migration in a hot air balloon, followed by breakfast in a remote part of the Maasai Mara.
What's to Love: Checking in feels like stepping into a different century. Lost colonial Casablanca vibe, low-key Swahili culture, and beautiful beaches all come without posh jet-set pretension in this ancient Muslim enclave on the Kenyan coast.
What's to Love: The boutique tented camp overlooks the flowing Mara River (perfect for hippo watching). There's a wonderful spa and pool to refresh after game tracking. Hot water bottles are placed in your four-poster bed at night along with bedtime stories. Book tent 14 or 15 for ultra luxury. Request Joseph as a guide (though all are amazing). Have a sun-downer on the escarpment where the movie Out of Africa was filmed. Get married amongst the Maasai. Plant a tree on the property and leave something behind to grow.
Beldi Country Club
What's to Love: Beautifully decorated private villas with fireplaces and outdoor bathtubs in your own private garden. This is a great place for romance but an awful place for business. There is no internet in the rooms.
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Atlas Mountains, Morocco
What's to Love: 27 suites and nine luxurious Berber-style tents filled with Moroccan antiques in the mountains an hour outside Marrakech. This is Sir Richard Branson's retreat, the one he discovered while ballooning in the area. Try to tear yourself away from your room to explore the Atlas Mountains on one of their mules and to visit nearby village Asni for the weekly Saturday market.
L'Heure Bleue Palais
What's to Love: An ultimate one-time romantic getaway. Many rooms have open moucharabieh woodwork onto the courtyard, ask for a room on the top floor. The rooftop pool overlooks the smashing sea. Plenty of private corners in which to snuggle. The best table in town is in the hotel restaurant, ask to be seated in front of the fireplace.
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What's to Love: A gorgeous 2009 renovation caters to your design fetish. You'll find Moorish and Deco glamour, lush gardens, a marble mosaic hammam, and gleaming Jaguars in the driveway. The Baldaquin Suite is particularly stunning. Two of their four restaurants are led by Michelin-star chefs.
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What's to Love: A French-owned hotel with ocean views and balconies that back up to the city's ancient sea walls. Cross your fingers for a power outage, because the fishing village is even lovelier by candlelight. For the breeziest breakfast, order from the roof terrace.
Riad El Fenn
What's to Love: Vanessa Branson's (yes, one of those Bransons) charming contemporary boutique hotel has three courtyards, swimming pools, mint tea and cake every afternoon, and an excellent hammam near bustling Djemaa el-Fna square. Riad Vanessa is the especially lovely and private suite to book. If you fall for the brightly striped Turkish cotton towels by the pool, you can pick some up at Atelier Moro (114 Place de Mouassine; +11-212-24-39-16-78), along with other non-touristy souvenirs.
What's to Love: Imagine the Chateau Marmont relocated to a small medieval Moroccan town with camels wandering the beach and sea spray sweetening the evening breeze. The nearby dock is the essential destination for al fresco lunches.
La Sultana Marrakech
What's to Love: If Marrakech is famous for its many charming riads, La Sultana dazzles the senses by offering several differently themed riads in one. The interconnecting buildings feel like an elaborate warren where no detail is too ornate or too fantastical. Yes, you have just stepped into the pages of 1,001 Arabian Nights. Just don't forget to spend at least one of them having dinner on the rooftop and another in the steamy hammam. If you want add even more to love, spend a few days at its beachfront sister property, La Sultana Oualidia.
What's to Love: All the world’s a play at this magical North African Kasbah, French hotelier Thierry Teyssier’s fever dream of an escape. Twenty eight guests are tended to by a staff of over 100 who service every wish and make each day a different, theatrical, unexpected experience. Stargazing in a desert oasis, dining in a secret garden, taking a bath next to the fireplace, walking the Berber trails — whatever you fantasize can be done, and it will be special and sumptuous and laid-back in that cool French-Moroccan way. For a few days, you’ll feel like the only people who exist in the world.
What's to Love: The hotel consists of 16 private villas on a semi-private island accessible only by helicopter. Most of them have their own infinity pool. All of them come with two full-time butlers who make it their job to surprise you throughout the day. You can have lunch served on a desert island off-shore one day and in an abandoned old fishing boat another day. The snorkeling nearby is world-class. The accommodations are perfect and the service is warm. Splurge for a luxury villa with private pool, and be sure to take advantage of the exceptionally well curated activities offered
What's to Love: Palatial villas, white sand beaches, crystal clear water, just-caught seafood. You are completely disconnected from the world in the best possible sense.
The diving — in some still uncharted reefs — is incredible.
Delaire Graff Estate
Stellenbosch, South Africa
What's to Love: If it's privacy, good wine, and a beautiful setting that you're after, look no further than the intimate, villa-only estate. Nestled in the Cape Wineland's scenic Helshoogte Mountain pass, amid the area's many vineyards, the view from your private plunge pool is one to savor. A state-of-the-art winery, two outstanding restaurants, and a world-class spa make it ideal for a romantic getaway.
What's to Love: A blissfully secluded guesthouse perched on a sea cliff. It is so private that staff departs every evening to leave you to your own devices. Take a dip in the heated saltwater pool or stargaze on a chaise with a digestif from the honesty bar. Head down to the Camps Bay strip for beachfront breakfast, lunch, or dinner. For a breath of fresh air, stroll the nearby Table Mountain natural reserve.
What's to Love: The home-away-from-home feeling wrapped up in a stately, manicured Cape Edwardian mansion. Considered to have the most spectacular view in Cape Town, overlooking the Atlantic, yet only ten minutes from the action of the city.
Kruger National Park
What's to Love: Amazing meals and walking safaris in the bush. Rooms with soaring ceilings, canopy beds, fireplaces, and cozy outdoor showers. Traveling with another couple? Book The Royal suite for the private chef and massage therapist.
Singita Lebombo Lodge
Kruger National Park
What's to Love:Fifteen suites with private outdoor showers overlookng the N'wanetsi River, fireplaces, sweeping decks, and expansive views. Private tours, chefs, and butlers are at your service. No children younger than ten are allowed.
What's to Love: Nestled at the foot of the Korannaberg Mountains, subtly luxurious lodgings and top-knotch guides come together to perfectly redefine "safari." Get flown in on their luxurious Pilatus plane from Johannesburg airport. Stay in one of the eight spacious legae, little houses, with outdoor showers and big open fireplaces.
It's intimate, only twenty guests stay at a time.
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andBeyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge
What's to Love: It's tribal meets luxury with rich, velvety curtains, a heated bed, French crystal glasses (for a fireside glass of sherry, and a view of the crater that would make even the most heartless brute weep. After a day on safari, you'll come home to a rose-petal strewn hot bath and chilled champagne. Is there any better prequel to a romantic romp?
Essque Zalu Zanzibar
What's to Love: There's nothing quite like standing on a pier overlooking the Indian Ocean. The grounds are undeniably stunning, and it's easy to feel like you're truly getting away from it all.
What's to Love: Romance is a cocktail of ambiance, privacy, and comfort, made even better in a dramatic setting far away from everyday life. The hotel feels like something out of Architectural Digest, set against the soothing sounds of an Arugusinyai River rushing below and the lions roaring in the midnight bush.
Hotel Sidi Driss
What's to Love: An ordinary room this is not. You may recognize the twenty-room, five-cavern hotel located in a Berber settlement (which by some accounts was founded in 146 B.C.E.) as Luke Skywalker's childhood home on Tatooine from Star Wars. There is no dark side: It's only $16 per night.
Volcanoes Bwindi Safari Lodge
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
What's to Love: Eight thatched-roof bandas with picture-perfect jungle views from broad verandas, and the chance to spend your morning flirting with mountain gorillas.
Bring a bathing suit for the lodge's private swimming hole. And hiking boots, long pants, rain gear, and gloves for the gorilla treks. Save the massage for after your hike with 500-pound apes amid the slopes' tangled vines.
Luangwa Safari House
What's to Love: A super chic blend of creature comforts — Neil Rocher-designed architecture, designer furniture, a private chef — surrounded by vast savannah wilderness. With some of the healthiest populations of elephants, giraffes, and hippos on the planet, South Luangwa is one of the wildest (and most remote) corners on earth. An excellent way to ease into a Zambian adventure.
Just upriver from Victoria Falls
What's to Love: Five open-sided thatched cottages on a private island on the Zambezi River. Take an alfresco bubble bath in an antique claw-foot tub. Enjoy the flickering candle light of antique lanterns. Wake up to hippos bellowing in the water. Request Trega, the best personal butler you'll ever know. You can combine a stay on this island with one on the sister property, a short boat ride away.
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The Bushcamp Company
South Luangwa National Park
What's to Love: Six distinct bushcamps are set up in the remote south of the park, where wildlife experiences are out-of-this-world. The resort also supports two local schools and runs eco initiatives (tree-planting, solar cookers, honey production).
Good to Know: Go in November when resident elephant families near Mfuwe Lodge are on the search for succulent wild fruit. One particular wily old matriarch (named Wonky Tusk) takes the most direct route to the mango trees, which means walking through the reception lounge.
Mnemba Island Resort
Mnemba Island, Indian Ocean
What's to Love: A private island resort with ten very stylish free-standing bandas, outdoor living rooms, fantastic food, and world-class snorkeling. You can be active or do nothing. How else to know how Robinson Crusoe would have felt as a Zanzibari sultan?
Good to Know: There are no real roads, phones, or TVs (though there is wifi). You will be barefoot all the time. You will hear doves along with rare (and tiny!) Suni antelope. Bring ear plugs if you are a light sleeper — those doves melodically coo all day and night.
GIMME MORE LOVIN'
Contributors: Josh Abramson, Erinn Bucklan, Larry Burnett, Kym Canter, Caryl Chinn, Ondine Cohane, Sonya De Castelbajac, Melanie Dunea, Erin Hartigan, Rachel Kahlon, Devorah Klein Lev-Tov, Lanee Lee, Kelley McMillan, Christina Ohly, James Sturz, Rima Suqi, James Truman, Jess Teutonico.