21 of the World’s Ultimate Luxury Vacations
Sometimes the journey really is about the destination. Secluded beach bungalows, glamorous mountain retreats, inns tucked into remote unspoiled landscapes, and romantic lodges in the heart of the bush are extraordinary experiences in and of themselves. Travel + Leisure consulted with travel advisors across the world—including many from our own A-List of power agents—to find these special places: the world’s ultimate luxury escapes.
These 21 properties are so spectacular that you might never want to leave your private villa—and you definitely don’t have to leave, either. Spend your days on your own private beach on a Polynesian island whose charms wooed a Hollywood legend (The Brando). Explore Chile’s prized Torres del Paine National Park from an “adventure spa” retreat right in the park itself (Tierra Patagonia). Charm your loved one at a Mexican resort where the amenities include helping you leave love messages in a bottle on the beach (Las Ventanas al Paraiso). Channel the sweeping romance of Out of Africa at the Kenyan game reserve where it was filmed (Angama Mara). And experience the Canadian wilderness firsthand from the comfort of a luxurious tented suite (Clayoquot).
Even that barely covers the splendor you’ll find across the world from the Swiss Alps to the Indonesian jungle, to the private islands of the Maldives, Seychelles, and the Caribbean.
Many thanks to travel experts who contributed advice, including Kristen Korey Pike, founder and CEO of KK Travel Worldwide; Andrea Malis with Camelback Odyssey Travel; Bobby Zur, founder of Travel Artistry; Valerie Ann Wilson, co-owner of Valerie Wilson Travel; Betty Jo Currie of Currie & Co. Travels Unlimited; Ginny Caragol, executive director of leisure for Valerie Wilson Travel; Kate Corey, founder of The Nomadic Souls; Stacy H. Small, president and founder of Elite Travel International; Jessica Maxwell with Currie & Co Travels Unlimited; and Julie Falconer of A Lady in London.
Hollywood legend Marlon Brando bought the French Polynesian private island of Tetiaroa in the 1960s with an aim to preserve the beauty and biodiversity that he’d fallen in love with while filming Mutiny on the Bounty. Carrying on that legacy now is The Brando, a resort offering 35 luxury villas. Each lies on its own private beach with a plunge pool, outdoor dining area, and modern media room, while the property includes a spa, two restaurants, an organic garden, a tennis court, a library and cultural center, and an environmental research station. The Brando’s commitment to sustainability is one of the many reasons Betty Jo Currie of Currie & Co. Travels Unlimited recommends it, writing, “Not only does it hit all the marks for luxury... it is also cooling the villas with seawater and making compost from leftovers, which then fertilize the gardens. And they have a foundation on the island to protect the cultural history and future of the area—especially important in a society without a written language.”
Explore the Galapagos from the comfort of the luxury Pikaia Lodge, which sits atop an extinct volcano with views out across the savannah, a mountain range, and the Pacific Ocean. “One of our guests put it best when he reviewed the property by saying, ‘This place is better than Jurassic Park,’” writes Andrea Malis of Camelback Odyssey Travel. Pikaia Lodge offers land-based eco-adventure tours—choose from packages ranging from three to seven nights—that might involve traversing lava tunnels, visiting organic coffee farms, or stretching out on pristine beaches. Each package includes a yacht trip where you’ll get to hike, kayak, snorkel or otherwise enjoy the more remote islands of the Galapagos. For those nights when you’re staying at the Lodge, you can take advantage of the infinity pool, Sumaq spa, 3.5 kilometers of trails for walking, biking, and jogging. There’s also a private tortoise reserve on the property so guests have an excellent chance of spotting iconic giant tortoises during their stay.
“A treasure in the South Pacific, Laucala Island, Fiji, is set amidst 3,500 acres of turquoise lagoons, powder-sand beaches and lush green mountains,” writes Kristen Korey Pike, founder and CEO of KK Travel Worldwide. Lavish villas are designed to mimic traditional Fijian homes with thatched roofs, natural materials, and private gardens lit by tiki torches—and are also updated with modern luxuries like infinity pools, personal chefs, hot tubs, and your own golf buggy for getting around the coconut-grove-dotted island. “With five dining options, a hilltop spa, an organic farm, and an 18-hole golf course, Laucala offers the ultimate in luxury for those seeking privacy and seclusion in an authentic destination,” Pike adds. Laucala offers all kinds of outdoor activities from horseback riding to kitesurfing; both Pike and Andrea Malis of Camelback Odyssey Travel recommend an excursion on the resort’s new DeepFlight Super Falcon personal submarine.
Clayoquot Wilderness Resort
“This hidden gem in the Canadian Rockies gives clients the opportunity to escape in the rugged wilderness without compromising any element of luxury,” writes Andrea Malis of Camelback Odyssey Travel. “Clayoquot fills a void that Alaska does not: the soul-restoring wild of nature with five-star cuisine and exceptional ‘glamping’ accommodations.” This British Columbia resort boasts 20 luxury tents furnished with antique dressers, heirloom china, oil lamps, rich carpeting, and Thermostat-controlled propane wood stoves. Fifteen of these tents include ensuite bathrooms with heated floors and indoor/outdoor showers as well. From there, guests can customize their own adventures like river kayaking and wildlife-watching from bears to whales. There are also equestrian adventures, a zip line, clay shooting, and mountain biking, in addition to hot springs and an on-site spa.
Velaa Private Island
Founded on the vision of a “beyond luxury” hideaway, Velaa Private Island is truly an ultimate escape. Bobby Zur, founder of Travel Artistry, writes that Velaa is “truly a destination unto itself, with equal parts contemporary wow-factor, secluded natural beauty and state-of-the-art facilities.” Choose between a beachfront villa or a floating villa stretched out across the ocean, each with their own private pools and terraces. Though Velaa Private Island is tucked away in the Maldives, there are countless things to do right there at the resort, including indulging in a therapy at the spa, taking up water sports, conquering the climbing wall, reenergizing with a beach side meditation session, relaxing in the library, or sipping from the highly curated wine selection available in the tower that is Velaa’s wine cellar. Zur writes that Velaa is especially notable for having its own miniature submarine as well as the only golf academy in the Maldives, designed by Jose Maria Olazabel.
Las Ventanas al Paraiso
Las Ventanas al Paraiso is such an epic couples’ escape it has an 11-page menu of romantic amenities including an evening of cinema on the beach for two, sensory baths drawn in your suite while you’re at dinner, a carriage ride to the Los Cabos desert, cabanas with private plunge pools and Jacuzzis, butlers who will hide your love note in a bottle buried in sand for your lover to discover, couples’ cooking lessons, and “an ultra-dramatic” package involving a filmed wedding proposal screened on the beach. With all that glamour in the air, there’s hardly any reason to leave your spacious suite or villa—though you might want to venture out to learn about Mexican gastronomy through the resort’s barbacoa dinner, indulge in a one-on-one blind tasting with a tequila master, or take advantage of one of the resort’s seasonal once-in-a-lifetime experiences like embarking on a whale safari. “It all adds up to a luxury resort that tempts guests to stay on property the entire time they are there,” says Bobby Zur, founder of Travel Artistry.
Set on a 37,000-acre cattle ranch in picturesque western Montana, Paws Up is where the wilderness meets sophistication. Stay in an expansive ranch estate (featuring amenities like jetted tubs, a private deck with a hot tub, and even a vehicle to use during your stay) or go the full-on “glamping” route by booking a luxury tent with heated floors in its ensuite bathrooms and a camp butler. Bobby Zur, founder of Travel Artistry, describes Paws Up as a completely unique experience, writing that, “From the best horses, to the ultimate ‘glamping’ luxury tented suites, to every activity imaginable on the land and in the river, this is special.” And those activities really are endless. Among the pastimes available at Paws Up, there’s archery, ATV tours, horseback riding, fly fishing, hot air ballooning, geocaching, clay shooting, mountain biking, waterskiing, downhill skiing, dogsledding, sleigh rides, and more.
The Chedi Andermatt
“Tucked away in the heart of the Swiss Alps, Andermatt has always been known as a sleepy, traditional ski town,” writes Kristen Korey Pike, founder and CEO of top travel agency KK Travel Worldwide. But that has begun to change in recent years with the opening of The Chedi Andermatt. “With 105 rooms, a 9,000-square-foot spa, cigar library, walk-in cheese humidor, and personal ‘ski butlers,’” Pike adds, “the Chedi ... helped make Andermatt one of the latest and greatest ski destinations in Switzerland.” Here, the guest rooms and suites are furnished with leather chairs and wood floors with warm hearths and murals inspired by the 17th century painter Peter Paul Rubens. The property also offers a spa complete with Finnish saunas and hydrothermal baths, a ski-in living room, a courtyard ice rink, a fitness center, and access to excellent skiing, hiking, and gourmet dining.
“Little Kulala in Namibia’s Sossusvlei is the pinnacle of luxury in the desert dunes,” writes Julie Falconer of A Lady in London. “With private villas and the chance to sleep on the roof under the stars, it offers a great mix of style and comfort.” Little Kulala is composed of 11 climate-controlled thatched lodges, each boasting a plunge pool, indoor/outdoor showers, and minimalist interiors that blend in perfectly with the desert atmosphere. The wine cellar offers tastings, while dinner is served out on the dunes of Sossusvlei. Beyond the dunes, guests can take advantage of nature drives for spotting local wildlife, guided quad-biking, scorpion night walks, balloon safaris with a champagne breakfast, and horse riding safaris that culminate with cocktails at sunset.
Villa Manzu is an exclusive resort set on a peninsula on Costa Rica’s north Pacific coast and jutting out into the Gulf of Papagayo. Kate Corey, founder of The Nomadic Souls, reports that the eight suites of Villa Manzu are set into the cliffs of the peninsula, with 180-degree views of the Pacific Ocean beyond. Each suite is uniquely furnished, boasting local hardwood detailing, floor-to-ceiling windows, spacious bathrooms, and walk-in closets. Villa Manzu is known for its especially solicitous staff and all-inclusive rates that calculate in all meals as well as access to the resort’s wine room, selection of cigars, and team of bartenders. Amenities also include a spa, a yoga platform, a heated infinity pool, a gym, and sports equipment as well as the resort’s three vehicles for excursions. As Corey writes, “It’s in a league of its own.”
Set on the crest of a Kenyan kopje so romantic that Out of Africa was filmed there, Angama Mara is a luxury camp offering magnificent views of the Maasai Mara. It is so much a part of the landscape, says Valerie Ann Wilson, co-owner of Valerie Wilson Travel, that you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see wild animals up close in the game reserve just below the crest. Each summer, elephants, buffalo, black rhinos, lions, leopards, and cheetahs hole up in this region as part of the Great Migration. Stay in tented suites outfitted with floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the Rift Valley with wooden decks, a butler’s lobby for discreet delivery of tea and coffee, and the option for families to connect tents. There’s also a swimming pool, fitness room, and chefs whipping up perfect safari meals whether that’s a family-style bush barbecue, cocktails and small bites, or luxe picnics out in the elements.
Ponta Dos Ganchos
“Ponta Dos Ganchos is one of the most romantic and special beach resorts in the world,” writes Stacy H. Small, president and founder of Elite Travel International. She recommends taking a helicopter from the airport to get a proper overview of the gorgeous southern Brazilian coast before checking into one of 25 bungalow-style suites. These offer private decks, ocean-view pools, over-sized showers, and in-room Jacuzzis, as well as elaborate meals served whenever and wherever you like whether that’s a beachside barbecue or a cozy beachside dinner. Small describes it as the perfect honeymoon destination, thanks to its expansive property, casual atmosphere, and a staff that “treats you like family.” Small recommends jumping on a boat with local fishermen for a champagne/oyster cruise to the local towns—or not since, as she says, “You may not even want to leave your bungalow.”
“If you’re going on safari, you can’t get better than this,” says Valerie Ann Wilson, co-owner of Valerie Wilson Travel. Royal Malewane is so close to the wild that you might walk out on your deck to find elephants drinking from your private pool. Suites boast colonial design and thatched gazebos, as well as elevated walkways to the main lodge. Meanwhile, families and large groups can create their own villa out of the luxurious rooms of the Africa House, which each feature four-poster beds, antique furniture, private decks and outdoor showers. Set on the Thornybush Private Game Reserve, game drives depart at dawn and dusk, and you can explore by vehicle or by foot if you’d like to get a little closer to the wildlife. To unwind from a day out in the bush, the Royal Malewane also offers a Safari Spa with a full menu of massage and hydrotherapy treatments, a lap pool, hot and cold African baths, and even a hair salon on its premises.
Song Saa Private Island
Song Saa—Khmer for “the sweethearts”—is a duo of islands that lie in Cambodia’s Koh Rong Archipelago. This upscale resort connects the two islands by footbridge over a marine reserve, ultimately creating an atmosphere that Jessica Maxwell, a luxury travel advisor with Currie & Co Travels Unlimited, describes as “dreamy.” Villas are set on private beaches, in the jungle, and even hanging over the water where you can jump into the ocean from your private balcony. They all include private pools and unparalleled views; rates also include a variety of adventures such as sea kayaking, snorkeling, sunrise yoga, an in-villa movie screening, tours of the rainforest or the islands guided by a member of Song Saa’s conservation team, trips by buffalo cart to see a local farm in action, and even traditional blessings ceremonies performed by Buddhist monks at a nearby pagoda.
Fogo Island Inn
If you’re looking, Fogo Island can be found off the coast of Newfoundland. But rarely is anyone looking for this remote island whose position on the pathway of the Labrador Current brings both wildflowers and berries in verdant pastures and icebergs and frozen ponds in subarctic terrain. Those who do, says Valerie Ann Wilson of Valerie Wilson Travel, find that the passing of each season brings a vastly different experience to your stay at the Fogo Island Inn. And the inn— which Wilson describes as “an upside-down L on a cliff”—is an experience in itself with a 37-seat cinema, private library with a wood-burning fireplace, contemporary “white cube” art gallery, saunas, hot tubs, and a spacious, airy dining room with a vaulted ceiling stacked to the top with windows that feel almost like you’re floating in the ocean beyond. Through its community host program, Fogo Island Inn also matches each guest up with a member of the local community, who will dish intel on the best way to enjoy the island’s unique wilderness.
Set on the edge of the glorious Torres del Paine National Park—and with astounding floor-to-ceiling glass walls and walkways looking down on Lake Sarmiento—Tierra Patagonia offers a deluxe entry point to the park that has been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Jessica Maxwell, a luxury travel advisor with Currie & Co Travels Unlimited, recommends the Tierra Patagonia, which describes itself as having “an adventure spa philosophy.” Daily excursions into the park are part of your stay, whether you prefer to travel by foot, bicycle, boat or on horseback. These all-inclusive rates also cover all meals, an open bar, and access to the Uma Spa and its outdoor Jacuzzi, steam bath, indoor swimming pool with jets.
Aman resorts are known for their enduring luxury and Betty Jo Currie of Currie & Co. Travels Unlimited recommends the Amanwana as an ultimate escape. Hidden on Indonesia’s Moyo Island, just east of Bali, the Amanwana features tented suites both in the jungle and on the island’s unspoilt beaches. Outfitted with hardwood flooring and Indonesian artwork on their walls, these air-conditioned suites also boast hardwood decks where you might see monkeys or deer run past as you look out across the ocean or jungle. Explore the local reefs and coral cays with the Amanwana dive team; hike through the jungle to cascading limestone pools; then choose from an array of relaxing therapies at Amanwana’s beachfront Jungle Cove Spa. The hotel has plenty of options for dining as well, from a romantic meal surrounded by lanterns on the beach to a bonfire barbecue with your own personal chef and butler.
Six Senses Samui
Spend your days gazing out over the pristine waters of the Gulf of Thailand from your airy villa at the Six Senses Samui. This laidback resort, recommended by Andrea Malis of Camelback Odyssey Travel, offers all you need to stay relaxed: landscaped gardens, ocean views, private pools, sun decks with loungers, outdoor showers, and butler service to make your stay just how you like it. Book a treatment at the spa where you can also arrange private hatha yoga lessons and partake in a yogic sleep program that retrains your body to find its deepest level of relaxation (and a better night’s sleep). Dine anywhere you like, whether that be in your own villa, the signature Dining on the Rocks restaurant with its fabulous ocean views, or literally anywhere else that you like with the help of the resort’s culinary team. If you must leave the resort, there are a variety of excursions to explore the island of Samui by temple tour, sunset cruise, Thai cooking classes, and more.
If Necker Island is luxurious enough for Sir Richard Branson, it is luxurious enough for anyone. The billionaire founder of the Virgin Group owns this private Caribbean island, which he describes as an “idyllic island paradise.” Valerie Ann Wilson of Valerie Wilson Travel agrees, recommending these Balinese-style private houses and rooms for your ultimate escape. From Lover’s Cove to Windy Point, this 74-acre island is traced with footpaths and lakes and white beaches and wildlife from tortoises to flamingoes. Swing tranquilly on a hammock along the palm-lined Turtle Beach, or venture out to the main beach for water activities, a spa treatment, or a dip in an expansive infinity pool—which also features a swim-up bar and a floating sushi restaurant manned by the island’s chefs. Dine in the extravagant Great House dining room or indulge in an ultra-romantic meal at Bali Hi Beach, surrounded by candlelight, a roaring bonfire, and a sparklingly lit lounge bed.
“Unbelievable,” writes Betty Jo Currie of Currie & Co. Travels Unlimited. North Island is a Seychelles getaway that teems with beauty and biodiversity. These 11 villas boast hardwood floors, textured and organic furnishings, open floor plans, decks with private pools, and direct access to the beach. Each villa comes with an electric golf buggy, perfect for exploring the island and reaching its farther-flung beaches. Take to the waters of North Island for stand-up paddling, kayaking, scuba diving and fishing, or you can head out for a full-day ocean excursion aboard the resort’s guest boats to dive among wrecked ships or explore nearby islands. Learn how to better appreciate the abundant beauty and wildlife of North Island with the Noah’s Ark conservation team, which has been working for years to rehabilitate what was once an exploited island and transform it into this paradise.
Vana Malsi Estate
One of the most striking entries on Travel + Leisure’s It List 2015, the Vana Malsi Estate is a luxury wellness retreat spread across 21 acres of land in the Himalayas. Living spaces are simple with bamboo flooring, organic linen, and a calming atmosphere. Some of these suites are situated within the forest with enormous windows looking out into the trees, while others offer their own private treatment or meditation rooms. But with more than 50 individual treatment and consultation rooms across the property—from the Ayurveda center to the Tibetan healing center and beyond—wellness is easily accessible for everyone. Seek your own sense of inner peace at Vana Malsi Estate’s spa and salon, indulge in some aquatic therapy in the Watsu pool, or work out your stress at the gym or in one of the property’s yoga studios. Vana Malsi Estate also offers a temperature-controlled outdoor pool and a heated indoor pool for good measure.