Africa. It isn’t just somewhere dentists with an insatiable urge to slaughter an innocent, terrified animal go straight after graduating. It’s also home to some of the most incredible luxury beach resorts in the world. Laying on a beach might not be what you think of when the wildlife is the main attraction, but after getting woken at 5 am every day just to watch a lion sleep, that’s probably what you’ll want to do. A safari and beach combo is my favourite trip, and here are some of my favourite African beach resorts.
It died the moment it became a Marriott, but like every superhero movie, it can come back to life at any moment. The island is still there, looking all sexy, but it needs a personality reboot – ideally, not one even darker and grittier. Turn it into a romantic comedy – Horrible Bosses 3? With only 11 villas, it’s incredibly private and flirts with just the right level of rustic to feel authentic without feeling cheap – excluding the outdoor bathrooms and weak conditioning, which are horrible. The wildlife, beaches and exclusivity are the draws, but just that pool makes me want to return. It seems to be a place where there’s little to do, but not enough time to do it all.
Get rid of Marriott, bring back someone who knows what they’re doing, refurbish the rooms, and you’re onto a winner. Still one of my favourite islands in the world, but no longer one of my favourite resorts.
Like North Island, Fregate benefitted from almost two decades of absent competition. Like North Island, they made some strange decisions with management companies, like going with Oetker, only to bin them. Yet unlike North Island, they realised they weren’t the creme de la creme anymore, so they shut down last year for one of the most extensive rebuilds I’ve ever seen, with a planned 2025 reopening. It looks like a masterpiece is in the works. The island has everything going for it, from the incredible wildlife to the sublime beaches, and now it seems like the accommodation will match. I have a feeling Fregate will return as one of the best properties in the world.
It might surprise you to see a property on this list that I once described as a worse launch than Quibi. Yet it’s been over six years, and things change. Even back then, I could admit that the location was an absolute dream (except their proclaiming they’re a private island when they’re not, but they’ve learnt their lesson), the service was superb, the food was brilliant, the 14 villas were outstanding, and lemurs and whales make it magical. They may even have had time to make it fun. It still needs some air conditioning, though.
The new kid on the block. I was full of doubt, I expected it to crumble under the weight of its PR campaign, but Kisawa delivered. It’s always hard to suss when to visit a new property: too soon and the property is terrible; too late and other travel agents remove their monocle and look at you in disgust. I seemed to time it just right with Kisawa, as they had settled into their grove and offered brilliant service and food, backed up by exciting activities and fantastic accommodation. Although I did go too early for the whale season, I suppose I need to head back at some point…
Not a beach, but I’ll include it because the name has convinced me otherwise. Sirai Beach is an exclusive-use, private villa with six bedrooms beside the coast in Kilifi. Take note: by the coast, not by the beach. But that all seems to fade when you appreciate the abundance of luxury. With your own tennis court, spa, media room and endless dining options, it is a perfect spot for families or groups to recuperate after the exhaustion of being fed 427 times a day on safari. The master suite is so large it might cross time zones, but when I could figure out how to get out of it, I spent all day in the pool. It is unheated but so warm here that the water temperature was well over 32C.
Thanda Island, Tanzania
I’m going to cheat and include it, even though I’m not going until December. However, every client we’ve ever sent has given gushing feedback, and the crowd is always right. Sat off the coast of Tanzania, Thanda Island is a private island, five-bedroom property that you must book exclusively. The USP is the soft, white sand beach stretching around the island, which is entirely you and your friends/families/mistresses/pets/Instagram followers. Pick the right month, and there’s an excellent opportunity to swim with whale sharks.
As always, I have not been everywhere so here’s a few that are still worth a look.
Six Senses Zil Pasyon, which I’m only including because the Residences are impressive, the rest is pretty meh. Mnemba Island, only included because I want to get microchipped by Bill Gates; Xanadu and La Cigale as I trust their sales rep; Four Seasons Deschores because I trust our clients and Cheval Blanc Seychelles, which hasn’t even opened yet, but I trust them.