Safaris are often thrilling, even life-changing, but they are seldom restful. Most morning game drives begin before sunrise, the dirt roads are bumpy and the tsetse flies can be infuriating. True, upscale lodges generally have a pool, and it is possible to relax during the heat of the day, when the animals have sought refuge in the shade. But it still makes sense to spend a few days relaxing on the beach before returning to normal life, soothed by the sea breeze and free from the tyranny of the 5:30 a.m. wake-up call.
While there are no Andrew Harper-recommended beach resorts in Kenya, safari travelers to East Africa can choose between the coastline of the continent and the islands of the Seychelles archipelago, which lies approximately 1,000 miles out into the Indian Ocean. (On the coast of East Africa, the rainy season extends from April to June. We recommend visiting outside of those dates to avoid the suffocating humidity.)
Many of Tanzania’s best beaches are found on the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, both of which can be reached by a short flight from Dar es Salaam. Beaches on the mainland coast are wild and extremely beautiful, but they tend to be less protected from the Indian Ocean swells, which also bring seaweed and other marine detritus. Currently there are no resorts of Harper quality, though I suspect this may change before too long. In contrast, the east coast of Zanzibar is sheltered by a mini barrier reef, inside which there is a picture-perfect azure lagoon, with perpetually calm water.
The extraordinarily romantic hideaway &Beyond Mnemba Island lies about three miles off the northeastern tip of Zanzibar and is accessible by speedboat.
The private islet is ringed by powdery-white sand, luminous turquoise water and pristine coral reefs. Tucked into the pines and palms that line the glorious beach are just 10 rustic bungalows built of local timber and handwoven coconut palm matting. Each comes with a shaded veranda on which to read and lounge away the day. And a personal butler is on hand to ensure that the drinks remain suitably chilled. If you grow tired of lotus-eating, there is a PADI-certified dive school, or you can fly-fish for bonefish.
During our stay, a humpback whale and her calf spent much of a day in shallow water within a few hundred yards of the resort. We swam out and snorkeled with them for close to an hour.
A very different but equally restorative experience can be found at the new Park Hyatt Zanzibar. For centuries, Stone Town, the historic center of the island’s capital, was a wealthy trading (and slaving) port. Many of the fine old mansions remain. The Park Hyatt is housed within the 17th-century Mambo Msiige mansion, centered around a peaceful courtyard, as well as the newer Zamani Residence.
The 67 accommodations come with four-poster canopy beds and floor-to-ceiling windows, many overlooking the beach, the dhow harbor and the Indian Ocean. The dining room serves Arabian, Persian and Portuguese dishes with ingredients primarily sourced from nearby farms. (Zanzibar was originally a Persian outpost, before it came under the control of the Sultan of Oman.) In addition, there is a seafood-oriented grill next to the oceanfront infinity pool. An Anantara spa offers a wide range of massages and treatments.
The 115 unspoiled islands of the Seychelles make up one of the world’s most exquisite tropical archipelagos, with forested peaks reminiscent of French Polynesia, innumerable white-sand beaches and waters that still teem with iridescent fish. Aside from the three main islands of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue, there is a constellation of smaller ones, as well as a chain of coral atolls that extends south for some 700 miles to Aldabra, home to more than 100,000 giant tortoises (similar to those found on the Galápagos Islands).
These days, the best known of the Seychelles private island resorts is North Island, which, despite its rather prosaic name, has carved out a niche for celebrity honeymoons. George Clooney flew from Venice after his wedding to Amal Alamuddin. And Prince William, the future king of England, brought his bride, Kate Middleton, in 2011.
Located 20 minutes by helicopter from the Seychelles International Airport, North Island is also a conservation area, where rare indigenous species are being reintroduced. (The island has received a National Geographic World Legacy Award for preserving and restoring the natural habitat.) The exquisite 462-acre hideaway comprises 11 air-conditioned two-bedroom villas. Each is a self-contained world, staffed by a dedicated butler, with its own dining area, library, private deck, plunge pool and relaxation sala. The resort’s main swimming pool is carved from a granite outcrop. If you tire of the four stupendous white-sand beaches, activities include scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing and fishing.
The only way to reach Cousine Island is by a 15-minute helicopter ride from the international airport on Mahé. The 62-acre island is a nature reserve, and immense care is taken to avoid the release of invasive and alien species. (Ground-nesting sea birds, for example, could be decimated by the accidental introduction of rats.)
Just four guest villas are set along a stupendous white-sand beach, each designed in a French Colonial gingerbread style. These come with infinity pools, Jacuzzi tubs and indoor-outdoor showers. In addition, there is a two-bedroom Presidential Villa on the opposite side of the island, with a pool, a gym and a spa, plus a personal butler and a private chef. The public areas are housed within a large pavilion that includes a library, as well as a dining room overlooking a freshwater pool.
Due to Cousine’s isolation, its wildlife is completely tame. Giant tortoises munch greenery, oblivious to human presence. Ethereal, swallow-tailed white fairy terns show little inclination to move, even if approached to within three or four feet. And during our stay a frigate bird was nesting on the doormat of our villa. (We were obliged to step over it on our way to the beach.) Guided nature and bird walks complement snorkeling and world-class scuba diving.
Now part of the Oetker Collection, a group that includes A-list hotels and resorts such as Le Bristol Paris and the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes, France, Fregate Island Private is a lush 740-acre island, a 15-minute flight from Seychelles International Airport.
The 16 thatched residences come with separate living, sleeping and dining pavilions, plus gazebos with infinity pools and Jacuzzis, and private butlers. The resort’s superb Creole cuisine uses produce from the island’s own organic garden. Aside from seven astounding white-sand beaches, there is a clifftop spa, a dive center and a yacht club.
The island is a bird sanctuary — endangered species such as the magpie-robin and Seychelles blue pigeon have been successfully reintroduced — as well as a conservation area devoted to the protection of hawksbill turtles. And invasive trees are now being replaced by indigenous species such as the voluptuously scented Wright’s gardenia.