The idea for this blog post came to me as I sat in a tub full of bubbles in the 3 bedroom / 3 bathroom Presidential suite at the historic Victoria Falls Hotel last September. I was traveling with my 7 year old son – his first trip to Africa. The Vic Falls Hotel has hosted presidents, royalty, Hollywood stars, and other dignitaries over its many years. As a Zimbabwean friend once said to me “when staying at Victoria Falls you stay at the Victoria Falls Hotel – because it is the right thing to do”. On previous visits over the years I had stayed in all of the hotel’s other room categories. So it made sense that I should experience the Presidential suite. Lucky for my son and me it was available for the 3 nights we were at the Falls and we used it as our luxurious base for our other hotel / lodge inspections and meetings. As I luxuriated in the tub late one night I began to wonder who else had pondered their naval in said tub… surely the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, on many occasions… was I soaking in the same tub that Queen Elizabeth had soaked in? Oprah? I wondered.
Over the past 20 years I have had the fortune to stay at hundreds of Africa’s top safari lodges, camps and hotels. Every so often, whilst on trips, I would overhear snippets or be party to conversations about special guests who have just departed, who are staying, or who will be arriving the following week… “we are expecting Obama in a few days”, “Charlize Theron flew out yesterday”, “the Saudi Royal Family has taken over the property for 2 weeks next month”…
Now we have been thrilled to handle the safari arrangements for numerous, what we call, V, V, VIPS. From finding the right airstrips to handle their aircraft to arranging special meetings and activities we spend a lot of time sorting details… however in most cases we don’t actually get to meet them. They often take exclusive use of a villa or entire safari property.
In 1996, the year that Ultimate Africa Safaris started I visited the Cape Grace Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa – which also opened that year. One morning I opened my door to find an armed Iraqi soldier staring at me from across the hall. He was protecting the room of Tariq Aziz – the Iraqi deputy prime minister at the time. This same morning, after breakfast, I stepped outside and noticed two security men ushering Jerry Springer into a car.
A few years later I was at Singita Sasakwa Lodge. As I sat down for lunch under the shade of a gorgeous flowering tree a US senator and his wife raised their wine glasses towards me in greeting from across the verandah.
More recently I stayed at Ellerman House’s first Villa, Villa One, in Cape Town, South Africa. This is one of the most exclusive, if not the most exclusive, address in this beautiful city. As I was shown around the 3 bedroom / 3 bathroom 7,500 square foot property my host noted that that the Kardashian’s had stayed the week before and I would sleeping in the same bed that Kim had slept in… I thought about sleeping in one of the other rooms – for a second. The 270 degree ocean view from the bed could not be denied.
Our clients have returned home having had famous run ins as well… the most memorable story came from a repeat client of ours. She was out on a wildlife viewing drive from Abu Camp in Botswana when “nature called” so to speak. At the same moment she found relief behind a termite mound a helicopter whooshed in and landed next to her. Once things quieted down she voiced her extreme displeasure at having been disturbed. Paul Allen was apologetic.
Certain celebrities love a place so much that they have actually become associated with the property… Bill Gates has professed his love for Mnemba Island Lodge in Zanzibar and Harrison Ford and Greystoke Mahale in Tanzania are linked.
Here is a short list of some of the world’s most famous peoples and where they chose to stay in Africa (see below).
And I would like to say “thanks for having me” to the Victoria Falls Hotel. Not only is this iconic property a historical gem, the friendly team that keeps everything running are a shining example of Zimbabwean hospitality! Mazvita, tatenda, chaizvo (Shona for thank you, thank you in an absolute and unconditional manner).
Famous Guests Oprah
Oprah has called Botswana Africa’s best kept secret. She also visits South Africa where she supports a school.
Abu Camp, Botswana
Famous Guests Paul Allen (he owns it)
Paul Allen’s 6 roomed Abu Camp offers some of the most luxurious accommodations in all of Botswana. Add to this one of the world’s most exclusive, bucket list wildlife experiences. Days are spent as part of the Abu family of elephants while nights can be spent in either your stylish and spacious room or in the aptly named “star bed”, an open air platform above the elephant boma – their rumbles permeating your African dreams. Abu is magical. It is one of the most impressive experiences we have had in Africa – ever! You have to visit at least once in your life.
North Island, Seychelles
Famous Guests Bill Gates, George and Amal Klooney (honeymoon), Prince William and Kate (honeymoon), Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and David and Victoria Beckham
In 1 word? ESCAPE! North Island is the most exclusive beach getaway in the world. It is not a resort and there is no people watching. There are no organized activities. It is an unbelievably private experience where your every wish is catered to.
Cape Grace Hotel, South Africa
Famous Guests Jerry Springer
Opened the same year as we did the Cape Grace quickly became an icon. Nothing says “Cape Town” like this boutique hotel. With a prime location at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront you can’t go wrong staying here. In fact if you do feel free to grab a bottle of wine from our private wine bin in their cellar!
Ellerman House and Villas, South Africa
Famous Guests The Kardashian’s
Owned by South African billionaire Paul Harris Ellerman House is one of the most exclusive addresses in one of the world’s most beautiful cities – Cape Town, South Africa. You are minutes from all that Cape Town has to offer and the views over the Atlantic are sublime. I personally love the art collection which is the largest private collection in South Africa. The Villas are perfect for a small group of friends or family.
La Residence, South Africa
Famous Guests Elton John
This is the most charming and extravagant of all of South Africa’s winelands properties. You absolutely, 100%, cannot go wrong with a few nights here.
Lion Sands Ivory, South Africa
Famous Guests Paul Allen
Lion Sands Ivory has some of the nicest rooms in the highly competitive Sabi Sands Game Reserve in South Africa – the spot for South Africa’s best Big 5 wildlife viewing.
Londolozi, South Africa
Famous Guests George Lucas
Londolozi is renowned for its Big 5 wildlife viewing. Located in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve in South Africa you can’t go wrong with any of the 5 lodge’s here. I personally love Granite Lodge!
Madikwe, South Africa
Famous Guests The Obama’s
Madikwe is a private game reserve in South Africa. With gorgeous open grasslands and loads of wildlife it is the perfect complement to a safari in Sabi Sands / Kruger.
The Palace at Sun City, South Africa
Famous Guests Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore
The Palace at Sun City is South Africa’s version of Last Vegas… with wildlife. Guests come for golf, gambling, swimming and eating. Yes you can view wildlife but there are better spots. Rather just enjoy 3 or 4 days of relaxation.
Royal Malewane and Africa House, South Africa
Famous Guests Paul Allen, Elton John, Bono, Richard Gere, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Mrs Sarkozy
Royal Malewane and Africa House have a well earned reputation for easily handling VIP clientele. If you have the time and the monies give us a call. A wildlife viewing safari here is second to none.
Crater Lodge, Tanzania
Famous Guests Anthony Bourdain
Crater Lodge is built on the edge of Ngorongoro Crater – one of the world’s 7 natural wonders – in Tanzania. I love this place and consider it one of Africa’s top 5 bucket list places to stay. The property is divided into 3 camps: North, South and Tree. We always request North or South Camp for our clients as the suites are twice the size of Tree Camp’s at the same price. Crater Lodge made Conde Naste’s 2006 Gold List as one of the “Best Located Hotels in the World” and is consistently voted Tanzania’s Best Safari Lodge. This place is great year round.
Greystoke Mahale, Tanzania
Famous Guests Harrison Ford
Greystoke Mahale in the Mahale Mountains of western Tanzania is the place to go trekking for chimpanzees! As the London Evening Standard notes “you can’t blame the chimps for hanging out in a place like this”. Bucket list all the way. Not only are the chimps super cool the camp, set on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, the camp has a chilled / relaxing vibe. It may not be the most luxurious safari property but so what… you gotta go!
Mnemba Private Island Lodge, Zanzibar
Famous Guests Tom Cruise, Naomi Campbell, Bill Gates
What can I say about Mnemba? I have visited many beach spots – from Hawaii to Mexico and the Carribbean… all along East Africa’s coast and the Indian Ocean. Mnemba is without question the place to stay around Zanzibar and it is very easy to reach from a Tanzanian safari. The spacious rooms are Robinson Crusoe chic and being able to snorkel right in front of your room is special. I anticipate each meal as the lodge staff surprise you with a new location each time. And the fresh seafood – wow!
Mwiba Lodge, Tanzania
Famous Guests George and Amal Klooney
Built as a family getaway for Texas billionaire Thomas Friedkin Mwiba Lodge is 1 of only 7 ultra luxury safari properties in the whole of Tanzania. Staying at Mwiba is like staying at Bill Gates’ house when he is away. There is a palpable sense when you roll through the security gate or land at the heli pad that you are somewhere most people will never see. Mwiba has been built in an incredible rock top riverside site with hugely impressive architecture. And it has been terrifically decorated. But it is not a MAX wildlife destination as it is being rehabbed after years of hunting. Wildlife viewing is good and Mwibas’ own 40 member anti poaching team is making sure that it is improving each year. In my opinion it is a great place to finish a luxury trip to Tanzania. Are you going to see more game here than at other locations in Tanzania? Nope… but trust me you won’t care! Rooms 6 and 7 are my favorite as they have the most dramatic views.
Singita Grumeti Reserve, Tanzania
Famous Guests Dwight Howard, Oprah, Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, and Charlize Theron
Singita Grumeti Reserve is US billionaire Paul Tudor Jones’ private game reserve west of the Serengeti in Tanzania. It was once heavily poached and now is being rehabbed. There are 5 small lodges and camps. Sasakwa Lodge is like a presidential palace atop a large hill. The views are jaw dropping however being so high the wildebeest looks like ants… I could easily live here. Each room has its own pool, fireplace, etc. There is a spa, gym, billiards room, tennis courts, etc. Faru Faru Lodge is in my opinion the perfect blend of luxury and wilderness. You are much closer to the wildlife here and this place has the best lunches I have ever had. Sabora Plains is an old style luxurious tented camp whilst Singita Explore is offers the smallest tented rooms – very modern, chic, and cool though. Singita Safari House is where you go with a small group of friends or as a family looking for an exclusive experience. I could live here as well! Wildlife viewing in the Singita Grumeti Reserve is best around May / June when the wildebeest migration comes through. Watch out for tsetse flies which we call flying teeth… they are truly annoying.
Famous Guests George Bush
Livingstone, Zambia Livingstone is on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls and offers a very similar experience… excepting the town is located more than 20 minutes from the Falls. There are some superb hotels and lodges located along the Zambezi River.
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Famous Guests Bill Clinton
The Falls are a great spot to end any southern African safari. There is loads to do from helicopter flights over the Falls, sunset cruised on the Zambezi River, white water rafting, high tea on the Victoria Falls Hotel verhandah, an elephant interaction at Elephant Camp, steam train excursions… or simply as a spot to relax for a few days after a wondrous safari!
Ultimate Africa president