Say “Africa” and people think of war torn countries, extreme poverty and major droughts abating the dusty landscape.
But did you know that some of the world’s top luxury destinations are also in Africa? From five-star safari camps featuring their own helipad to luxurious beach villas on your own private island, some of these African gems will take your breath away.
Africa’s richest country, the Seychelles are a cluster of 115 islands set in the Indian Ocean. Because of its great location and ideal climate, the Seychelles are one of the world’s top destinations for beach lovers, snorkelers and scuba divers. That’s right, forget Mexico, the Caribbean or even Thailand. This African nation beats them all.
Even better, because the islands are a bit far for most Western tourists and tourism is still in its infancy, you get to enjoy uncrowded ocean views from your perfect white sandy spot while rubbing elbows with the world’s elite. Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston honeymooned there in 2000, and so did British royals William and Kate in 2011.
9 Cape Town, South Africa
South Africa has had its share of political upheaval and crime issues, but that’s easy to forget once you step on one of the most picturesque urban centers in the continent.
Sure, Cape Town is modern and full of chic restaurants, luxurious spas and some of the world’s most expensive malls. Just a few steps away, however, the city is also home to the exotic: wild African penguins, abseiling from the top of Table Mountain, and fine wineries.
The ultimate in luxury is The One & Only Cape Town hotel, where top rooms go for R40000 (or about U$D3800) per night. These suites are located on their own lushly landscaped island, have a private lounge with fireplace, a terrace overlooking Cape Town’s famous marina and the option to pre-arrange services with your own private chef.
8 Masai Mara Reserve, Kenya
Luxury camping takes a whole new meaning in Kenya. While safaris are available in several countries around Africa, Kenya has been at the top of the game for decades.
Cottars 1920s Mara Safari Camp is one of the most private, most luxurious camps you can find -- at at about $1000 per night to sleep in a tent, it’d better be. Then again, these tents include everything from en suite bathrooms to fireplaces. Private dinners at candlelight? That can be arranged too.
Plus, Cottars camps are the only safari camps in Kenya where you can get exclusive on-foot safaris to see the “Big 5” (elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, and rhino) under the watchful eye of professional guides.
7 Marrakech, Morocco
Located at the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, Marrakech is a treasure of Byzantine art and architecture. Colorful mosaiques, medieval bazaars and impressive palaces make this a magnificent destination not to be missed -- and one of the best shopping opportunities Africa has to offer.
6 Gorilla Forest Camp, Uganda
Uganda is one of the last spots on Earth where you can still see wild mountain gorillas up close. And you can do it in luxury by staying at the Gorilla Forest Camp, located inside the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Think bathtubs overlooking the lush forest, spa treatments and the privacy of only eight lavish tents deep in the middle of one of the most breathtaking rainforests on the planet.
Uganda only allows a certain number of visitors to the forest every year and gorilla trekking permits cost a whopping $350 per person. That's in addition to other expenses (getting to the forest is not easy and the camps are not cheap).
5 Lower Zambezi River, Zambia
Zambia is a completely different safari experience. It's quieter, it receives fewer visitors and it allows not only for bush but also water safaris. It's also one of the best places in Africa to see elephants, hippos and crocodiles.
Lodges and tented camps here are few and far between, with touches of luxury that include everything from freestanding copper bathtubs to private shaded decks with their own plunge pools. Many can only be accessed by private charter planes.
Zambia is also home to the second largest wildebeest migration and a much wilder and rougher experience than the Masai Mara migration in Kenya. If you're looking for authentic desert camping and a unique experience of the wild side of Africa, this is the place to be.
4 Plettenberg Bay, South Africa
The 2014 World Travel Awards lists Plettenberg Bay in South Africa as one of the top beach destinations in the continent. Plet (as it's affectionately known by the locals) is the place to be for dolphin and whale watching and for those who want to take to the waters on a private chartered yacht.
Luxury hotels and five-star restaurants abound, including many with open views of the marina.
3 Red Sea Riviera, Egypt
Egypt might be better known for the pyramids (and because of recent civil upheaval) but the country is also home to the Red Sea Riviera. Home to some of the best snorkeling and diving opportunities in the continent, the area is also famous for its extravagant hotels and luxury river cruises, including long 10-day cruises that take you all the way from Cairo to Aswan.
Visitors also come here to enjoy the underwater coral formations, the water sports and the many archaeological points of interest. Be ready to pay top European prices for hotels and food.
Baobab trees, ring-tailed lemurs and natural sandstone structures... Madagascar is unique in many ways. Nowhere else in Africa will you ind the variety of fauna and terrain that Madagascar has to offer. Visitors can sun on the beach, then hike to the highlands or through the terraced paddy fields.
Madagascar is a major scuba diving destination in Africa, focusing on luxury underwater excursions to explore caves, coral and sea life. Masoala National Park, home to over 250 miles of rainforest, is also a popular kayaking destination.
1 Victoria Falls, Zambia and Zimbabwe
Located right on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the Victoria Falls offer some of the most breathtaking views in Africa. Helicopter rides, boat rides on the river below and even swimming in the Falls themselves make this a one-of-a-kind destination. Plus, Victoria Falls is famous for its Devil's pool, a natural infinity pool located at the top of the Falls. Here, fearless visitors can take a dip near the edge from where the water cascades down hundreds of feet, protected by a rocky edge that prevents them from falling.
Two small national parks flank the Falls and visitors can also take on the trails that wind around the Falls. Luxury white water rafting trips are also popular here, but are not for the faint of heart or the beginner paddler.