Borana -- Cottage No. 8 (Laikipia, Kenya): As the country's very first boutique lodge, Borana revolutionized the way travelers bed down while on safari in Kenya. First built in the early 1990s, Borana's urbane owners chose a brilliant cliff-edge location and ensured that each of the beautifully rustic stone cottages enjoys amazing views. They also brought a high level of wilderness-appropriate luxury, unparalleled exclusivity, and hands-on hosting to rejuvenate the safari experience. Upping the design ante, though, are the newly added open-to-the-elements suites. Built directly into the rocks, the Moroccan-influenced rooms are, in fact, nothing short of breathtaking, with lime-washed floors, views framed by natural wooden beams, and eye-catching furnishings. Cottage 8 is the most desirable of all -- with a shower carved from massive boulders, glass doors that open onto wooden decks stretching down to your private plunge pool, and a bathroom that's as massive as the bedroom; the overall look is chic, cool, and sexy. It's simply one of the most romantic spaces in Kenya.
Dodo's Tower at Hippo Point (Lake Naivasha, Kenya): This unusual and decadent folly near the shores of Lake Naivasha breaks the rules of any dwelling you've ever laid eyes on. Each on a different floor of this majestic fairytale tower, the five elegant bedrooms offer increasingly splendid views -- and from the upper level you'll spy pink flamingoes in the thousands and half-submerged hippos wallowing in the lake. Built of cedar, cypress, mahogany, ebony, and black granite, the interior is a marvelous gallery of astonishing antiques, artfully displayed alongside Maasai handicrafts. There's every chance you'll forget where in the world you are, but when you're not swooning over the fantastical design, you can arrange game drives, boat rides, or a muscle-tingling massage in the lakeside gazebo -- and the animals you'll see will bring you back to the heart of Africa.
Ngorongoro Crater Lodge (Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania): Built right on the lip of the crater, this is Africa's most over-the-top lodge, a wonderful mix of hobbitlike styling and baronial splendor famously described as "Versailles meets Maasai." As such, it is a destination in its own right, and every vantage quite stunning -- the view of the vast crater below is an added bonus. It's a real exercise in pampering, too: Return from your game drive, and you're likely to find a crackling fire lit in your room (it's cold up on the crater rim) and a rose-strewn bubble bath; settle in and drink in the view, along with a glass of bubbly.
Olerai and Elephant Watch (Rift Valley and Samburu National Reserve, Kenya): These shabby chic properties are two very distinctive creations by the effervescent conservationist Oria Douglas-Hamilton. One is on the shores of the Rift Valley's Lake Naivasha, near the family mansion where Oria grew up, and the other in the heart of the elephant-rich Samburu game preserve. Both are defined by slick bohemian styling and superbly intimate hosting. At Olerai you'll enjoy the gentlest possible introduction to East Africa, in lovely colonial-era quarters; hippos trim the lawn through the night (perhaps munching right outside your window), and you can watch all kinds of plains game while you breakfast on the vast lawns. From Olerai, you can arrange to be flown to the popular Samburu game park, where Elephant Watch -- not far from the elephant research facility started by Oria and her husband, Ian -- is far and away the best place to stay inside the reserve. It's also arguably the finest place in Kenya to get up close and personal with pachyderms, perhaps watching them from your beautifully decorated tent or from beneath the open-air shower where you wash with water from a hand-painted bucket. Never was rusticity so elegant.
The Sanctuary at Ol Lentille (Northern Laikipia, Kenya): Each of the four villas at this fabulous boutique "resort" is magnificently attired and comes with a private butler, personal Maasai guide, and housekeeper. With its far-flung location creating a sense of absolute privacy and remoteness, there's no disputing that this is East Africa's most exclusive and alluring hideaway (and one of Africa's most luxurious). Even if the surrounding territory is not yet bustling with animals, the real thrill here is the splendid luxury in the midst of a sweltering semi-arid landscape -- on a clear morning, you can spy Mount Kenya across the dry plains strewn with rocks and studded with termite mounds. The visual beauty will hold you in its awe. For pure romance, the retro-style Eyrie is ideal for sensualists -- after waking up to wraparound cinemascope views on your circular, shagadelic bed, you can dine at your convenience, anytime, anywhere, and sign up for decadent spa treatments, all included in the reasonable rate. Secluded from the world, you'll be hard-pressed to imagine a higher degree of pampering -- or why you'd ever want to leave.
Saruni Samburu (near Samburu National Park, Kenya): Inspired by the arid, rock-strewn surrounds, Italian author Riccardo Orizio's second Kenyan camp is a splendid mix of Moorish influences and elements drawn from nomadic Samburu tribal homesteads. Savvy minimalist design works surprisingly well in the sweltering heat of Northern Kenya and the large, beautiful accommodations blend magnificently into the rugged, rocky surrounds. Positioned on the lip of a cliff, and affording show-stopping views from al fresco showers, these dreamy spaces are a perfect spot from whence to commence a love affair with Africa in its more arid avatar. Returning to your quarters at the end of a busy day of game drives or bush walks, you'll find the light of the stars, flickering candles, and a leopard calling in the dead of night all combine to set the scene for another sort of romantic magic.
SaSaab (near Samburu National Park, Kenya): This chic addition to Kenya's safari scene is -- like Saruni Samburu -- a firm signal that tony, design-centric properties are the country's future trendsetters. Each of the beautiful open-fronted living quarters comes standard with wonderful views from the bedroom, the bathroom, and the plunge pool on your private terrace overlooking the Ewaso Nyiro River and distant plains beyond. With their Moroccan-inspired good looks and generous proportions, you'll have no trouble thinking up excuses to spend entire days in your suite, but with excellent game drives into the game-rich Samburu National Reserve and the chance to visit tribal homesteads or picnic on boulders in the arid wilderness, don't forget that this is a perfect location to combine sensual pleasure with a top-drawer safari experience.
Serengeti Under Canvas (Serengeti, Tanzania): There's little to beat the romance of having nothing but canvas between you and the bush (hence "The Best Tented Camps" reviewed below). The semi-permanent tented camps that follow the Migration offer great game viewing with a level of luxury -- carpets, plush sofas, table lamps, and small libraries -- not normally associated with camping. There are four excellent operators, but only &Beyond comes with the luxury of a private butler to see to your every need, from delivering piping hot water, warmed over a fire and carried to your private bucket shower, to remembering that you like your G&T with crushed ice and mint.
Shompole (Southern Rift, Kenya): Sitting pretty on a cliff in one of the haziest, hottest parts of Kenya, this is another innovatively designed designer lodge, this time overlooking the volcanic hills and breathtaking plains of the Great Rift Valley. The thatched, whitewashed accommodations are bright, light-filled, breezy, and beautiful -- to compensate for the heat, they're open to the elements and feature running water in the rooms. You'll be mesmerized by the exotic design and drawn to the relatively undiscovered location; not far from the Tanzanian border, this is an ideal spot if you want to escape the hordes. From here, you can easily nip across the border to witness millions of flamingoes carpeting the Lake of Fire's crimson-colored surface, or take a plane ride to get a better view of Kilimanjaro.
Singita's Grumeti Camps (Grumeti Reserve, Serengeti, Tanzania): Singita has been wowing followers of the world's glossiest travel tomes with their South Africa camps for years, and they regularly vote Singita SA Best Destination on Earth (a record-setting 5 consecutive years) -- with Grumeti sure to follow suit. Well, given the landscape, Singita's East Africa camps -- a choice of three, each so different you'll feel as if you've arrived at a totally new destination -- are even better. Whether you're on honeymoon or have been married "forever," this is where you come to feel like the world's first couple.
Tassia (Laikipia, Kenya): The multi-talented architect-cum-builder (and now pilot with Kenya's Tropic Air) who designed this community-owned lodge legendarily spent 2 years living in a tree while he conjured each of the unique wood and rock cottages. Balancing on a rocky bluff that protrudes from the Mokogodo Escarpment in a remote corner of the vast Laikipia Plateau, each of the imaginatively crafted spaces overlooks a scene of devastating beauty -- especially lovely when troops of elephants come bounding through the wilderness below. Pachyderms, in fact, are frequent visitors to the salt lick just below the lodge, and you can spend hours watching them from behind a nearby gigantic rock. For more active pursuits, your hosts will take you on exciting adventures -- up sacred mountains, into caves once used by tribal hunters, and on foot through an animal-rich wilderness. It's a magical place to lose yourself for a few days and experience a life unimpeded by modernity -- solar energy powers the entire lodge, and the only contact with the outside world is from a satellite hotspot under a tree down near the airstrip.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.