By Lila Battis
July 08, 2020
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Courtesy of The Oyster Box Hotel

This year’s World’s Best Awards survey closed on March 2, just before widespread stay-at-home orders were implemented as a result of COVID-19. The results reflect our readers’ experiences before the pandemic, but we hope that this year’s honorees will inspire your trips to come — whenever they may be.

Traveling in sub-Saharan Africa isn’t all game reserves and safari glamour. There are tented camps and giraffe sightings galore for those who want them, but beyond the continent’s wild places, a bevy of relaxing resorts stand by should visitors find themselves itching to escape the Land Rover for a few days.

This year’s list of the best resorts in Africa captures the thrilling variety of experiences on offer, whether you’d like to tip back Syrah in the South African winelands, swim in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, or gaze down at the vertiginous drop of Victoria Falls.

Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Hotels were rated on their facilities, location, service, food, and overall value. Properties were classified as city or resort based on their locations and amenities.

When a place has built an entire tourism industry around trekking into its most remote corners, stopovers are an inevitability. But in Africa’s safari country, the places you bed down en route are lush and destination-worthy unto themselves. Take this year’s fourth-place finisher, Elewana Arusha Coffee Lodge: it’s situated in the town of Arusha, a way station for travelers heading into Tanzania’s richest wildlife destinations. It’s no easy feat to create a property so appealing it makes you want to delay your Serengeti adventure, yet this lodge does just that, with elegant yet understated cottages, an on-site coffee plantation, and a cluster of chic boutiques offering wares from local makers like Sidai Designs. Tack on monkeys scrambling in the canopy, the toasty scent of roasting coffee beans that lofts out from the main lodge, and the skillful service, and it’s a wonder anyone can ever tear themselves away.

Of course, the list isn’t without luxe getaways just a short drive from a cosmopolitan center, the kind that cater to urbanites who want a slower pace without sacrificing creature comforts. Franschhoek, the jewel of South African winelands, is home to one such place: this year’s No. 2, La Residence. The property is one part Versailles and one part French country cottage — and the team knows just how to make its guests feel indulged. You’ll find service that’s flawless but never cloying, and a personal touch that extends to the whole of your visit to the region. Even off-property, the hotel ensures any restaurants and vineyards you visit can accommodate your preferences and particularities. The view alone would warrant a trip: strolling the grounds with the picturesque ridge as backdrop feels like stepping into the canvas of a Romanticist painting.

Below, the full list of the best resorts in Africa, including a new number one: South Africa’s Oyster Box.

1. The Oyster Box, Umhlanga Rocks, South Africa

Courtesy of The Oyster Box Hotel

Score: 97.60

More information: oysterboxhotel.com

Situated in Umhlanga, just a short jaunt north from Durban on South Africa’s eastern coastline, this 86-room beach resort marries coastal preppiness with cottage coziness. The smart red-and-white lighthouse sets the tone for the property: the aesthetic here recalls that of an English seaside town, with a South African twist — a fitting combo given that it’s the brainchild of British boutique hotel brand Red Carnation. Travel + Leisure readers raved about the unbeatable seaside location and the top-notch food. The curry buffet (a nod to Durban’s Indian influences) and afternoon high-tea service are perennial favorites, but the Chef’s Table option “tops it all,” one survey respondent wrote. Another summed it up: “Balcony over the ocean waves? Wonderful. Bed? Wonderful. Service? Superb. It was a joy to be there!”

2. La Residence, Franschhoek, South Africa

Courtesy of La Residence

Score: 96.60

More information: theroyalportfolio.com

3. Tongabezi Lodge, Livingstone, Zambia

Courtesy of Tongabezi

Score: 94.32

More information: tongabezi.com

4. Elewana Arusha Coffee Lodge, Arusha, Tanzania

Courtesy of Elewana Collection

Score: 90.67

More information: elewanacollection.com

5. Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Zimbabwe

Courtesy of Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

Score: 90.57

See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2020.