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Venturing into the wilds of Africa may no longer mean dusty hammocks and mosquito netting, but the popularity of modern-day safaris is more than the promise of eco-chic tents. “People want to have a real conversation about poaching, the politics of hunting and the effects of global warming,” says Deeper Africa owner Karen Zulauf, whose company specializes in meaningful travel to Africa. Northern Tanzania’s 12,000-square-mile Serengeti ecosystem arguably is the best place to witness Africa’s “Big Five” game — lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino — and the private Singita Grumeti Reserve (singita.com) has some of the country’s most magnificent lodges. Its properties have played host to Natalie Portman, Will Smith and the Bush family. Sasakwa Lodge (from $1,350 a night) is an Edwardian-style mansion brimming with colonial-era furnishings like ostrich-feather lamps and faux snakeskin wainscoting, while the private hillside Serengeti House (from $6,800 a night) hosts up to eight guests with an infinity pool and staff villas. The Four Seasons (fourseasons.com) opened a modern lodge on the edge of the Serengeti in 2013, offering guests a privileged perch overlooking an elephant watering hole and a discovery center for families.
The African jewel of sustainable tourism, Namibia has lunar-like dune reserves that are home to desert elephants and crimson waves of sand peppered with lions and rhinos. During the filming of Angelina Jolie Pitt’s Beyond Borders in 2003, the actress fell in love with the country and has returned annually with husband Brad Pitt and family; in 2006, daughter Shiloh was born in Swakopmund. “Namibia is Africa’s best-kept secret — that is until we came here!” Pitt has said. Wilderness Safaris (wilderness-safaris.com) is the leader of conservation-based safaris in Africa (it hosted Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron during filming of Mad Max: Fury Road). The company runs Desert Rhino Camp (from $425 a night) in partnership with the Save the Rhino Trust. In 2014, it opened the stunning Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp (from $569 a night), featuring modernist tents and some of the best guides in Africa. Another posh property within earshot of a lion’s roar is Little Ongava (from $760), a three-villa retreat with private plunge pools and vintage telescopes that hosted Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky during their honeymoon. Diamond-prosperous Botswana is an underrated safari destination — home to the world’s largest elephant herd, the country has stylish camps from the Kalahari Desert to the vast Okavango Delta. Michelle Obama and her daughters have toured here, as have Bill and Melinda Gates, Oprah Winfrey and David Katzenberg. “It’s not everyday you get to see a leopard eat a carcass and then drag it up a tree and eat it some more. Welcome to Botswana!” the producer wrote on Instagram. Belmond’s just-launched self-drive safari (belmondsafaris.com) lets visitors drive themselves across the country from Khwai River Lodge to Savute Elephant Lodge (both from $740) in the Chobe National Park, where Liz Taylor and Richard Burton secretly remarried in 1975.
Swarms of tourist-laden minibuses may have overrun the Masai Mara, but Kenya also offers private ranches for those who prefer a more intimate safari. Ol Jogi (from $8,800 per night; oljogihome.com), the Wildenstein family’s ranch, recently became available to rent exclusively for those seeking the ultimate game reserve experience. (Recent visitors include Walt Disney president Alan Bergman and his family.) The outrageously lavish accommodations — seven guest cottages with a main house — are set amidst the backdrop of 58,000 acres abundant with game, plus the family’s French chef is on hand. Venture out on a game drive or let the animals come to you as you relax on the verandah overlooking the watering hole where elephants, giraffes, zebras and even an occasional rhino hang out.
One of the master guest suites with Wilderness Safaris, which hosted the cast of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road.’
The top-deck bar and lounge of the Aria Amazon.
Botswana’s Khwai River Lodge is nestled within the Moremi Wildlife Reserve.
River cruising is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry, with dozens of premium new ships offering haute-design panoramic cabins (no portholes here!), smooth hybrid engines and amazing land excursions. “River cruising has become huge this year,” says L.A.-based Gen Hershey, president of high-end travel and lifestyle company Genuine Access, Inc. “There are so many exciting itineraries now, attracting affluent travelers looking for an out-of-the-ordinary escape,” explains Hershey. Sailing through the Amazon on an Aqua Expeditions river cruise doesn’t require you to sacrifice style for adventure. The company’s two Peruvian-based ships, Aqua Amazon and Aria Amazon (three nights from $2,840; aquaexpeditions.com), feature 12 architect-designed California king suites with floor-to-ceiling windows and marble floors — not to mention a top deck with a gym, jacuzzi and bar serving up pisco sours. The wildlife-themed excursions include passage through Peru’s rainforests and jungles, where you can spot pink dolphins and rare endangered species. The onboard indigenous cuisine and organic wines match the views; recent hostings have included celeb chefs Nobu Matsuhisa and Ferran Adria.
The best time to visit Southeast Asia is from November to February (it’s cooler and drier), so why not chart a 600-mile journey down Burma’s Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers — you’ll snake past teak huts, bamboo forests, gilded monasteries and ancient cities. Launching in 2013, Belmond’s 25-cabin Orcaella (three nights from $4,788; belmond.com) has four teak decks and a spacious swimming pool, and offers a rarely accessible travel opportunity. Or head farther south to Cambodia and Vietnam, where Viking Cruises (the U.S. sponsor of Downton Abbey) is running 18 new patented longship vessels that feature solar panels, organic herb gardens and energy-efficient hybrid engines, which reduce vibrations for a smoother ride. Its Viking Mekong, handcrafted with French Colonial teak and brass furnishings, accommodates 56 passengers and offers three classes of cabins, all with glass doors and private decks.
The cruise down Indochina’s Mekong River encounters mysterious Khmer monuments at Angkor Wat, the French colonial capital of Phnom Penh and the floating markets of the Mekong delta (15 days from $3,499; vikingrivercruises.com). Jolie Pitt is a frequent visitor to the area (she adopted sons Maddox and Pax from orphanages in Cambodia and Vietnam, respectively), and currently is shooting her next film in Cambodia, Netflix’s First They Killed My Father, which she is casting entirely with local talent. If celebrity christenings are more your thing, in 2013 DouroAzul’s boutique passenger ship Queen Isabel (three nights from $3,099; douroazul.com) received the customary champagne smashing from Andie MacDowell. On this European charter, guests embark on a three- to seven-day exploration of Spain and Portugal, from Lisbon to Porto along the scenic Douro River Valley, the heartland of Portugal’s sun-kissed wine country. Oenophiles will appreciate access to ancient terraced vineyards and family-owned estates. The ship is equipped with a heated swimming pool, gym and a bevy of outdoor decks — ideal for sampling local wines at sundown.
The heated top-deck pool of a river cruise through Burma.
Namibia’s Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is an ideal retreat for spotting lions and desert-adapted elephants.
Additional reporting by Laurie Kahle
This story first appeared in the Dec. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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