I lost count long ago of the number of times I’ve been on safari. My first was in 1981 — to Kenya — and I’ve been to Africa at least once a year ever since, so the minimum number must be 40. No one has ever had to push me up the steps of the plane. I’ve always loved watching animals and birds, and I’m seldom happier than in wild wide-open spaces. Going to Africa is still a thrill (and, of course, in this context, by “Africa” I mean the famous wildlife areas in the eastern and southern areas of the continent). I also love big cities, and I am as susceptible as anyone to the exquisitely manicured landscape of Tuscany, but it is in wilderness that I feel most calm and centered. And I suspect that the same is true for many people. Sitting beside a fire in the gathering darkness, listening to Africa’s nightly orchestra warming up, I invariably feel elated and intensely alive.
Over four decades, I have stayed in hundreds of camps and lodges. At the outset, the accommodations tended to be quite austere: Air-conditioning was the exception not the rule; showers were often rudimentary; and the décor tended to be colonial in style. It was the fall of apartheid in South Africa that was the chief catalyst for change. A new generation of entrepreneurs, some of whom owned tracts of bush that had once been unsuccessful cattle farms, realized that a market now existed, chiefly in the United States, for safari lodges that were as comfortable as resort hotels and also offered sophisticated cuisine, augmented by a generous selection of wines. The luxury safari had been born. Nowadays, such lavish places are ubiquitous — so much so that occasionally I find myself nostalgic for the simplicity of the old days.
The list below details 10 exceptional lodges and camps that have provided me with an inexhaustible trove of memories. Every time I review it I want to tinker, to add or subtract, but finally decisions have to be made. What is certain, however, is that if you venture to any of these places, you are most unlikely to be disappointed.