7 Things to See and Do in Botswana

Recently named by Lonely Planet as one of the places to get to in 2015, Botswana is hopping onto people’s radar like never before. Botswana earned the top spot because of its incredible landscape and wildlife, along with its travel benefits such as direct flights into the country. It is indeed one of Africa’s last unspoiled wilderness and much thanks should go to the government for its protection of this wilderness, through conservation efforts. It is here where you can visit National Parks and Sanctuaries that allow you to get up close and personal with wildlife, it is here where you can stay in luxury safari lodges and it is here where you will have the most incredible wildlife experience of your life. Discover 7 of the best experiences in Botswana.

7. Visit Chobe National Park

It is rated as one of the best wildlife and conservation areas in Southern Africa and no trip to Botswana would be complete without visiting here. It actually covers four distinct eco-systems and the Savuti Marsh, in particular, offers some of the highest concentration of wildlife in Africa year round. One of the most popular ways to see the wildlife here, especially some of the 120,000 elephants that reside here, is to hop on a safari cruise, especially as the sunsets.

The best time to visit this national park is from May to September when it is the driest and the coolest. Herds of zebra, buffalo, giraffe, and wildebeest congregate here. You can access this park by driving your own car, but it is recommended you have a 4X4. Otherwise, the lodges and camps offer three-hour safari drives, three times a day in open-top vehicles.

6. Visit Tsodilo Hills

The Tsodilo Hills are a UNESCO World Heritage Site that consists of rock art, rock shelters, depressions, and caves, and is home to more than 4500 rock paintings. It is considered a sacred sit by the Bushmen who inhabited it for more than 100,000 years. It is recommended you take a guide with you to this site to fully experience the magic of this place. They will join you on such walking trails as The Rhino Trail, Lion Trail, and Cliff Trail.

Two of the most famous images are the rhino polychromes and the Eland panel, the Eland panel situated on a soaring cliff that overlooks the African wilderness. It is a mystery that has plagued historians as to what the meaning and symbolism behind the rock paintings are, but they are sure that there were religious rituals performed here and the spirituality that oozes from this place is undeniable.

5.  Visit Mokolodi Nature Reserve

This educational reserve is the perfect place for families or a starting point for a safari adventure. The animals housed on this reserve cannot be released back to the wild for some reason or another and they enjoy wandering the protected are while visitors have the chance to come up close with them. It is here you will find elephants, rhino, cheetahs, a multitude of birds and other species. The animals here are used to people and have no fear of cameras, allowing the budding wildlife photographer to snag some incredible shots.

The guides here are also entertaining and knowledgeable. There are two awesome experiences to try out at this reserve, the first being their rhino tracking tour. Beginning in a vehicle with a guide, visitors will start tracking the rhino by its tracks. Once you get close you actually get outside your vehicle and track the magnificent beast by foot. Coming up close to one of these endangered animals on foot is truly awe-inspiring. The best part about this reserve; the cost of the visit goes back into support conservation for the people and the animals.

4. Visit the Khama Rhino Sanctuary

Speaking of rhinos, there is no better place to see a multitude of these endangered species than the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, a community-based wildlife project that is dedicated to protecting them. The sanctuary provides prime habitat for both black and white rhinos, as well as other animals and birds. It is also one of the most budget-friendly ways to see some of Africa’s awesome wildlife. You can come just for the day; hours are 7am-7pm where you can drive yourself around the park (maps are provided) or hire a guide to take you out.

If you choose to stay overnight, there are plenty of options including a campground and private chalets. Early morning drives seem to be the best in terms of wildlife spotting and waking up at the crack of dawn and joining a knowledgeable guide is totally worth the experience. One of the best parts of this sanctuary, not only do you have the chance to see the elusive rhinos but the profits go back into supporting local Botswana communities.

3. Take an Okavango Delta Canoe Ride

The makoro has become somewhat of an iconic symbol of the Delta, and is one of the most popular ways to explore the Okavango while on safari. What exactly is a makoro though? It is a traditional canoe-like vessel that was commonly used as a mode of transport, originally constructed from tree trunks which were painfully hollowed out using hand tools. Nowadays the modern makoro is made from fiberglass, still retaining its authentic feeling. Each makoro can only carry one or two passengers and the boat-man stands at the stern using a long pole to navigate the waters. It is the most peaceful way to experience a safari and the best way to capture some stunning images as there is no motor to scare off the animals. As you glide peacefully through the water and happen upon an elephant, ear deep in the water, happily munching on reeds, it is then you will understand why this is a must on any trip to Botswana.

2. Splurge on a Luxury Safari Camp

Botswana is arguably the best place in Africa to take a safari, it remains one of the last unpopulated wilderness and conservation efforts include low-volume/high-revenue tourism and significant measurable benefits for local communities who live among the wild animals. There are only about 50 small camps in the Botswana wilderness but boy oh boy are they luxurious. If you are looking to dig deep into your pockets and experience the utmost luxurious safari camp, it is here you should head.

Mombo Camp is one of the most popular, and most expensive featuring enormous walk-in tents complete with beautiful furnishings, open-roofed look out points, exceptional cuisine and cocktails and a location which boasts some of the best animal’s year round. Or visit the Duba Plains camp where a modern gym, Swarovski binoculars and a slew of other amenities.

1. Safari in the Okavango Delta

We have talked about what sort of camp you should stay in but where should you go for a true safari experience. There is only one answer in Botswana and that is to the Okavango Delta where the Okavango River flows into the Kalahari Desert and large groups of animals call this place home. Here you will have the chance to take a riding safari, walking safari, self-driven safari and more.

It is important to note that hunting has been banned in Botswana so all safaris are photographic. It is home to some of the worlds most endangered species of large mammal including the cheetah, white rhino, black rhino, African wild dog and more. Explore this beautiful area that teems with wildlife by joining one of the reputable tour guides and have the experience of a lifetime.

Mind-Blowing African Walking Safaris

The time is now to rediscover the magic of the walking safari, the first kind of safari there ever was. Discover nature and wildlife using your own two feet, along with an experienced guide. From Kenya to Zambia to the mountains of Uganda and all the way down to South Africa, find out why your next safari should be a walking safari.

8. Tassia Walking Safaris, Kenya

If you are searching for a taste of unspoiled Africa, a Tassia Walking Safari is most definitely for you. The Tassia lodge is where the magic starts to happen, situated on the 60,000 acre Lekurruki Community Ranch, and is home base to all who want to experience a walking safari. The most exhilarating way to explore the area is by foot and Mart Wheeler lends his expertise to those wanting to get up close and personal with wildlife. Martin is an expert at tracking wildlife and will lead guests on rigorous treks and climbs. Expect to spot elephants, buffalo, giraffe, hyena and leopards here. Wheeler also offers an overnight fly camp safari into the Kenyan Bush where you will be treated to an evening under the stars as well as not just one but two walking safaris with ample opportunity for wildlife viewings.

Photo by: Tassia Lodge
Photo by: Tassia Lodge

7. Selinda Explorers Camp, Botswana

This small camp is located on a remote stretch of the Selinda Spillway, very close to the heart of the pristine 320,000-acre private Selinda Reserve and only caters to 8 people at a time. Four custom designed tents have been set up underneath the towering jackalberry and mangosteen trees and much effort has been made to rekindle the magic of a proper expedition camp. The majority of wildlife viewing activities is done via walking or canoe, with open vehicle game drives only when necessary. Each morning and late/evening is when the wildlife viewing it at is best and expects to see elephants, hippos, lions, zebras and more. Expect nothing short of a true African walking safari which makes you feel as though you have stepped back in time, just with better food, better drinks and beautiful accommodations.

Photo by: Great Plains Conservation
Photo by: Great Plains Conservation

6. Kitich Walking Safaris, Kenya

The tiny intimate Kitich Camp is located in the remote Mathews Range of forested mountains in Northern Kenya and walking safaris are the only choice offered here. The guides at this camp are known as masters of the forest, they know the trails intimately and can sense the wildlife before they see them. Like stated earlier, this camp avoids game drives and encourages guests to explore on foot. This mountain forest is home to a variety of animals including forest elephant, lion, buffalo, Melanistic leopard, Colobus monkey, waterbuck and zebra, as well as over 350 bird species. As an added bonus the cozy lounge at this camp overlooks the floodlit open river glade and at night guests can watch elephant, buffalo, bushbuck and the occasional leopard emerge from the forest to drink from the river.

Photo by: Kitich Camp
Photo by: Kitich Camp

5. Rhino Walking Safaris, South Africa

Guests here should be prepared for an intimate, quality, pristine wilderness experience while still lapping up luxury in 12,000 acres of pristine bush outside Kruger. Two highly qualified guides will share their wealth of knowledge on animals, trees, grasses, insects and birds as they take a maximum of eight guests on an incredible walking safari. Plains Camp is home base during the walking safaris and offers four East African Safari-style tents complete with elegant furnishings, treasure antiques and incredible food to eat. A cool plunge pool offers the chance to enjoy a cocktail while overlooking the plains between walks. Expect the walks in this safari to be upwards of four hours long as it is important to get the full hands on sensory experience. For an additional experience make sure you try out the platforms that allow you to sleep under the stars.

Photo by: Plains Camp - home of Rhino Walking Safaris
Photo by: Plains Camp – home of Rhino Walking Safaris

4. Selous Safari, Tanzania

Roughly the size of Switzerland, the remote Selous game reserve in south-east Tanzania is Africa’s largest protected wildlife reserve and one of the few places in the country to offer walking with camping. From rivers to open plains to woodlands to lakes and even hot springs, the variety of wildlife found here is simply overwhelming. By day guests will walk with the ranger to a secluded location where you will find your camp set up. Evenings will bring drinks around the campfire, eating under the stars and sleeping in the wild. Days are spent with gentle hikes in the cooler part of the days, searching out wildlife viewing opportunities. This is no luxury safari; frills are kept to the essentials; good simple food, cold drinks and a comfortable bed-roll. The trade off is an opportunity to see wildlife in their true habitat, alongside a knowledgeable guide.

Photo by: The Selous Safari Company
Photo by: The Selous Safari Company

3. Buffalo Camp, Zambia

North Luangwa National Park is one of the last unspoilt true wilderness areas left in Africa, and best explored by foot. Renowned by its huge herds of buffalo and other species, this park deserves to be discovered. The seasonal bush camp is only open from June to October and its recommended you stay at least 3 nights to get the full experience. The walking safaris normally last about 4 hours per day and are led by a highly trained Zambian guide as well as an armed Zambia Wildlife Authority guard. Accommodations are six chalets all overlooking the Mwaleshi River and as of the past two years are now a part of the Black Rhino Sanctuary, which allows visitors to live amongst the last of these critically endangered animals.

Photo by: Kapishya Hot Springs & Buffalo Camp
Photo by: Kapishya Hot Springs & Buffalo Camp

2. Anabezi Luxury Tented Camp, Zambia

Most people when they think of walking safaris think of the bare necessities but Anabezi Luxury Tented Camp is changing that. Although this company offers vehicle safaris as well, they are well-known for their walking safaris. At base camp visitors will be treated to swimming pools, a large game viewing deck, two large common decks with fireplaces, and large luxurious tents that feature indoor and outdoor bathrooms, teak beds, private deck with pool and beautiful furnishings. Experienced guides will take visitors through the surrounding areas on foot exploring the different flora and wildlife by daylight. Or choose to take a safari by canoe, with a guide and explore the wildlife on the riverbank as you paddle gently downstream. This luxury safari is the perfect mix of walking, canoeing and vehicle guided treks.

Photo by: Anabezi Camp
Photo by: Anabezi Camp

1. Nkuringo Walking Safaris, Uganda/Rwanda

Developed in 2007 as a sustainable tourism initiative, Nkuringo Walking Safaris pairs incredible guides with groups of visitors in a multi-day trek to view some of the most beautiful animals in the world, gorillas. Join one of many walking safaris that this company offers, including a 10 day journey that takes visitors to Bwindi The impenetrable Forest that is home to mountain gorillas. Participants of this safari will stay overnight in tents, dine on delicious food and witness some of the most amazing creatures in the forests, including the Golden Monkey. This is not your typical walking safari where treks only last a few hours, in some cases you will be required to walk upwards of 8 hours and therefore participants must be in good shape. In return, you will be treated to an experience of a lifetime.

Photo by: Nkuringo Walking Safaris
Photo by: Nkuringo Walking Safaris

10 Ecotourism Hotspots for 2016

Eco-tourism has become something of a buzzword in recent years. Some might be quick to write it off as nothing more than fancy marketing, but the trend toward “green” travel has stayed strong through 2015, with 53% of Americans looking to book green hotels, and interest in environmentally viable and sustainable tourism is likely to grow in 2016 as talks around climate change continue. So where can we expect green travelers to head off to in 2016? Here are our 10 picks for the year ahead.

10. Costa Rica

Let’s start with the tried-but-true Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a recognized leader in ecotourism, often considered a pioneer. The country’s focus on sustainability makes sense because Costa Rica’s tourism industry is heavily centered on its natural resources, including its abundant wildlife, lush mountain ecosystems and its “cloud forests.” Costa Rica’s commitment to green extends outside of the tourism industry, however; in 2007, the country committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2021 and, as of 2015, 93% of the country’s energy needs are met by renewable sources. Environmental taxes act as disincentives to polluting businesses and laws such as the 1996 Forest Law have helped reorient other industries to sustainable development. All of this means that tourists traveling to Costa Rica can feel secure knowing they’ve made an environmentally sound choice.

costa rica

9. Laos

Two decades ago, Laos was relatively low on the list of international destinations; since the 1990s, however, tourism has grown explosively, from under 100,000 visitors annually to nearly 2 million tourists every year. The relatively quick growth of the industry might lead to concerns about exploitative development and destructive mass tourism, but Laos has also developed a strong orientation toward ecotourism—perhaps fitting for a country that has adopted the slogan “Simply Beautiful.” Luang Namtha, the northernmost province in Laos, is one of the best areas for tourists looking for a trip focused on sustainability: local villages earn alternate income from offering trekking and rafting tours through the biodiverse region around the Nam Ha Protected Area and the Namtha River, which encourages preservation of the environment as an attraction for continued tourism.

Laos

8. Cambodia

Tourism in Cambodia has long been overshadowed by violence in the country. Nonetheless, tourism is the second-most important industry in the self-proclaimed “Kingdom of Wonder,” and is based on 3 key elements. One of those elements is an embarrassment of natural attractions, and nowhere is that more evident than in Koh Kong, the country’s southwestern most province. Located near the border with Thailand, the region embraces part of the Cardamom Mountains and boasts 1 of the largest forests in Southeast Asia. The area also features untouched beaches and pristine waters along its undeveloped coastline. Cambodia’s largest national park, Botum Sakor National Park, is also located in Koh Kong, along with part of the Kirirom National Park. The rugged terrain along the Tatai River has been perfect for developing sustainable tourism aimed at keeping the natural wonders of Koh Kong intact for future generations.

Cambodia

7. Greenland

There’s been plenty of discussion about Greenland lately: the country has been named one of Lonely Planet’s top travel destinations for 2016, and much of the country’s frozen landscape seems to be melting at an alarming rate. While that might seem to be a call to travelers to see Greenland before it’s “too late,” Greenland has been working on a better plan: a sustainable tourism industry. Since much of the country’s young tourism industry focuses on experiences like dog-sledding, hiking along glaciers and whale-watching, ensuring that tourism in Greenland is eco-friendly is a must. Natural Habitat’s Base Camp Greenland is one recent eco-friendly initiative; the small-group excursion takes adventurers to a carbon-neutral expedition camp at the eastern edge of Greenland’s ice sheet. While 2016 promises to be a big year for Greenland tourism, that doesn’t mean it can’t be kept green.

Greenland

6. Norway

While it might be eco-conscious Western tourists who have been a driving force in the development of sustainable tourism, the tourist industries of most Western economies are run on less eco-friendly initiatives. One country that’s pushing toward an increasingly green tourism industry is the Scandinavian country of Norway. One of Norway’s top attractions has always been its environment, most particularly its rugged mountains and stunning fjords. While the remoteness of the fjords has kept them well-protected, so too have Norway’s strict environmental regulations played a role in keeping the iconic Norwegian landscapes pristine. Ensuring a healthy environment extends outside the realm of the tourism industry, and Norway is considered a leader in environmental policy in other industries as well. That means that scenic boat tours, biking through rugged mountain terrain and wondering at the snow-capped mountain vistas of the Norwegian fjords will be activities for future tourists as well.

Norway

5. Botswana

Botswana gets the short end of the stick when it comes to African tourism; the southern African country is bordered by South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia. In the ecotourism industry, Botswana is often overlooked for Kenya. Botswana, however, has its own charms: about 70% of the country is covered by the Kalahari Desert and the Okavango Delta, 1 of the 7 Natural Wonders of Africa and UNESCO World Heritage Site, is also located in the country. The Chobe Game Reserve is home to a large herd of free-ranging elephants and the Khama Rhino Sanctuary offers guided trekking experiences, while the Central Game Reserve offers up some of southern Africa’s most unspoiled wilderness. In terms of tourism, the industry is small, but growing in Botswana, which means that the country has had time to focus on developing sustainable initiatives.

Botswana

4. Maldives

The Maldives, located in the Indian Ocean, is a chain of 26 atolls that is threatened by rising sea levels. With this in mind, the country has been a leader in green industries, including ecotourism. The government has pledged to make the country carbon neutral by 2019. The islands rely heavily on tourism, which is the largest sector of the economy. Most tourism is driven by the Maldives’ natural beauty, including extraordinary diving opportunities in clear blue waters. The islands are often promoted as a tropical resort getaway, and white sand beaches and sports like surfing and scuba diving are popular. Government policies have aimed to reduce damage to sensitive coral reefs and to make stricter laws for waste disposal, while resorts themselves have focused on recapturing wasted energy and recycling heat.

Maldives

3. Seychelles

The Seychelles is a 115-island country located off the east coast of the African continent. Tourism is the primary industry in the economy and has been since the late 20th century. Since the mid-1990s, however, the government has moved to ensure that tourist development doesn’t come at the expense of the islands’ natural environment. This has included capping the number of beds in some of the most popular destinations, such as La Digue. The islands contain a number of unique ecosystems and are home to a host of diverse plants and animals, some of which live on only 1 or 2 islands. While Seychellois culture is coming to value environmental protection, the nation is not currently committed to clean energy or a carbon-neutral plan; time will tell if the environmental conscience of the tourism industry spreads to other sectors of the economy.

Seychelles

2. Kenya

Tourism in Kenya has always been driven by its natural attractions; in recent years, visitors have been attracted to coastal beaches and game reserves, such as the expansive East and West Tsavo National Park. The country boasts 19 such national parks and game reserves, the Great Rift Valley and a stunning view of Mount Kilimanjaro. Best known for its savannas, Kenya is still most popular for safaris, but you can also visit coral reefs on the coast, along with rainforests and deserts. Ecotourism Kenya, a watchdog organization, keeps an eye on tourism and rates accommodations based on their environmental policies. Most safari outfitters now offer eco-friendly options for visitors, and many of them ensure they give back to or work on behalf of the local people, thus working toward sustainability in the industry.

Mount Kilimanjaro

1. New Zealand

New Zealand is a major destination for travelers who seek adventure; the wild, untamed and often rugged landscape offers excellent opportunities for almost all outdoor activities, from hiking to trekking to mountain climbing to surfing and diving. Given that tourism focuses largely on the natural environment, it’s little wonder that New Zealand is also invested in protecting its natural assets—the country has committed to becoming carbon neutral and markets itself as a “clean, green” playground for adventurers. The country has developed numerous walking and hiking trails, such as the internationally recognized Milford Track and the Te Araroa Trail, which spans the country. In line with the country’s presentation of itself, ecotourism initiatives have been on the rise, although there is some concern about tourism being a carbon-intensive industry, as many visitors travel huge distances to reach this remote country.

Milford Track NZ

Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Countries to Visit in 2016

As 2015 has started to wind down, no doubt many of us are already looking ahead and planning those vacations for the coming year. If you’ve been having trouble deciding just where you want to cross off your travel bucket list next, check out this list of the top countries to visit in 2016 as per Lonely Planet’s new guidebook; ‘Best in Travel 2016’. All countries and their rankings were determined by Lonely Planet’s staff and community members.

10. Fiji

It’s true that Fiji has had a rocky last decade or so after political unrest and government instability but it seems the country has sorted all that out and can now get back to being the model for island paradise. It’s geographic location has made it a bit harder to get to in the past but in 2016, the country’s international airport will get an upgrade making the travel process much smoother. Lonely Planet says that in 2016,”Fiji’s got its groove back” so prepare yourself for warm welcoming singers at every turn.

Fiji Jetty

9.  Greenland

While everyone else still seems to be hung up on Iceland, Lonely Planet insists that in 2016 it’s Greenland that arctic travelers should take note of. Part of this is due to the limited time factor, as a country that’s 80% covered in snow and ice will only last so long in a world that’s continually getting warmer. Come for the icebergs, midnight sun, dog-sledding and of course the Northern Lights, but also in March of 2016, come as Greenland hosts the Arctic Winter Games, the largest event of it’s kind ever held.

Greenland

8. Uruguay

For decades Uruguay has flown under the travel radar, often being overshadowed by its boisterous neighbors Brazil and Argentina. But they don’t call this country “the Switzerland of America” for nothing; while other South American countries deal with conflict after conflict, Uruguay revels in political stability, good governance, peacefulness and prosperity. Granted safety and security does not make a top travel destination, certainly not a Lonely Planet top 10 one anyway, but the architecture of Old Town Montevideo, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the opportunity to live out a traditional gaucho (cowboy) experience do.

Ksenia Ragozina / Shutterstock.com
Ksenia Ragozina / Shutterstock.com

7. Poland

According to Lonely Planet, the country of Poland has superpowers. That may seem ridiculous but for a country whose economy and visitor number continue to climb through a recession that brought to rest of Europe to its knees, it may not be such a stretch after all. Wrocław, the historical capital of Silesia will become a European Capital of Culture in 2016, a designation appointed by the EU that will surely see the city in the spotlight. And it’s not the only city to see some stardom in 2016 either; Kraków will be getting a visit by the Pope for World Youth Day when arrives to kick-off a calendar of celebrations and activism.

Wrocław Poland

6. Australia

Unless you’re from New Zealand, a trip to Australia may seem out of reach. It’s a notion that has many travelers saying “too far, too expensive” but Lonely Planet insists the 24 hours of flying time will be well spent one you experience the beauty and diversity of this land down under. The weakening Australian dollar is also another reason why 2016 is the right time for that trip you’ve always dreamed of. Several of Australia’s most renowned natural attractions are under threat, including the Great Barrier Reef and Tasmania’s astounding wilderness. With the threats of dredging and logging looming, the time to see these natural wonders is now, before they’re seemingly unrecognizable.

Australia Great Barrier Reef

5. Latvia

Latvia hasn’t always been a place you’d want to visit, mostly thanks to the shadow of Communism and oppression that blanketed the country during its Soviet occupation from 1944 to 1991. Now, on the country’s 25th anniversary of independence, the story is much different. Lonely Planet says that after over two decades of playing catch up to its neighboring European countries, it’s clearly earned the title of ‘most improved.’ This theme is evident in everything from the food to the buildings as everywhere you turn, old castles and manor houses are being lovingly restored and turned into beautiful inns and museums.

Latvia

4. Palau

This country is more accurately described as an archipelago of over 500 islands in the Western Pacific Ocean. From that info one may have pieced together that the scuba diving and snorkeling here is unsurpassed by many other places on earth. While Australia is struggling to protect its famous reef, Palau is blazing new trails by designating 100% of its marine territory as a protected sanctuary. A move which earned President Remengesau the title of ‘Champion of the Earth’ by the United Nations. Even if you prefer to keep your head above water, this ‘underwater Serengeti’ has offerings for you too, including kayaking, sailing and wildlife watching.

Palau

3. USA

You wouldn’t be alone if you’re thinking that the USA may be the odd man out on this years top countries list but Lonely Planet knows what they’re doing and there’s good reason for it. In 2016 the US National Park Service turns 100, celebrating a century of the governing body responsible for protecting the nation’s national parks and historic landmarks. It’s one of the reasons that names like Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Badlands, Zion, and Shenandoah are still accessible today. So in 2016, pack your hiking boots (and some good wool socks of course) and prepare for an outdoor adventure of natural splendor.

Grand Prismatic Spring Yellowstone National Park

2. Japan

While Japan lands at #2 on this years top travel list, Lonely Planet insists it still “ranks number one in the world for that quintessential not-in-Kansas-anymore travel experience.” Anyone who’s been to Japan and witnessed the brightly illuminated, highly automated streets of Tokyo, already knows this to be true. But in 2016 it’s Japan’s amazing juxtaposition of old and new, modern and historic that puts it firmly on the Best in Travel list. The city of Tokyo is already seeing activity in preparation for hosting the 2020 Olympic games, including the creation of a new shopping district, an Olympic Village and the movement of the famous Tsukiji fish market to a brand new facility.

Japan Torri Gates

1. Botswana

Lonely Planet describes the #1 country on this list as “Democratic, progressive, enlightened – but above all, invigoratingly wild.” The continent of Africa doesn’t exactly scream safety and political stability but Botswana is an exception to these stereotypes. In 2016 the country celebrates 50 years in independence and in those 50 years Botswana has become one of Africa’s most stable, thriving societies with a growing economy, minimal corruption (what country doesn’t have some) and a forward thinking tourism industry. Aside from economic factors, it’s Botswana’s vast, untamed and pristine wilderness (17% of the country is dedicated to national parks) that deserves your attention. Lonely Planet also says that the myths of this country being ‘too far, inaccessible, and not catering to families’ are simply not true. But as always, you’ll just have to plan a trip and see for yourself.

Okavango Delta Botswana

The 15 Best New Hotels on the Planet

Travel + Leisure searched thousands of hotels all over the world in order to find the best game changer hotels that are new for 2015. The hotels were then tested out by staying a night in each and with a combination of elegance, innovation, personality of the owners and more; Travel + Leisure named their top 43 new hotels on the planet. We have gone one step further and explored these hotels picking our 15 favorites! From Israel to London to Botswana, here are our top 15 picks for the best new hotels on the planet:

15. Pikaia Lodge, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Boasted as the most luxurious and sustainable eco-lodge in the Galapagos; the Pikaia Lodge is designed for the environmentally conscious traveler who is looking for adventure in this remote area. Forget being stuck on a yacht, this lodge is land-based and offers land and water based activities through the day in small groups; allowing visitors get as close to nature as possible. With an infinity pool, spacious rooms, amazing restaurants and a spa, guests won’t have to sacrifice any amenities here. Did we mention that the lodge is perched on a small plateau on top of two extinct volcanic craters and offers some of the most spectacular viewpoints in all of the Galapagos?

Photo by: Pikaia Lodge
Photo by: Pikaia Lodge

14. Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge was actually re-built from an existing lodge and offers one of the most architecturally stunning safari camps. It blends seamlessly into its surroundings, the forest canopy of wild palms and fig trees with an abundance of wildlife nearby. 12 Cocoon like suites complete with wood burning fireplaces, private plunge pools and solar-power air conditioning hover on stilts above the floodplain reserve. World-class dining, breathtaking furnishings and an open-air dining room that is absolutely breathtaking set the mood for the ultimate safari adventure.

Photo by: Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge
Photo by: Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge

13. Viña Vik, Millahue, Chile

It looks more like a spaceship that touched down in the lush hills of Chilean wine country than a winery complete with a retreat recently added on the hillside above it. Viña Vik is home to only 22 rooms, each one designed by a different artist, adding to the allure of the place. Activities here are endless from taking a private guided tour through the winery, taking a dip in the stone infinity pool or eating the delicious food at the Pavilion Café.

Photo by: Viña Vik Hotel
Photo by: Viña Vik Hotel

12. The Norman, Tel Aviv, Israel

This boutique hotel blends 1920’s elegance with luxury services and facilities including a rooftop pool, wellness center and first-class dining. The Norman spans across two historic buildings that have been restored to their unique architectural heritage and furnished with a combination of classic and modern furnishings and fixtures. With 30 individually designed guestrooms and 20 one-of-a-kind suites the choice is endless as to where you can lay your head down at night.

Photo by: The Norman
Photo by: The Norman

11. Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard, London

This hotel isn’t just attracting tourists but locals themselves as they come to gawk at the Shangri-La Hotel located on floors 34-52 of the tallest building in Western Europe. Floor to ceiling windows in your room give you a breathtaking view of the vibrant city of London and the River Thames. The infinity pool, the incredible suites, the intimate bars and the amazing dining options are just a slice of the many luxuries offered here.

Photo by: Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London
Photo by: Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London

10. Four Seasons Resort Orlando, FL

It is Disney’s first five-star resort and it manages to incorporate enough trademark Disney traditions such as character breakfasts without sacrificing any of the luxury one would expect from a five-star resort. With a total of 443 rooms, there are options for both families and grownups including huge balconies, pullout sofas and oversized closets; all done in neutral colors to please anyone. Luxury amenities include the 13,000 square foot spa, the championship golf course and the adults-only pool. Count on dining on the roof top restaurant which features incredible views of the nightly fireworks.

Photo by: Four Seasons Resort Orlando
Photo by: Four Seasons Resort Orlando

9. Adler Mountain Lodge, Dolomites, Italy

Located in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Adler Mountain Lodge is truly a wood-built hideaway at the heart of nature. This lodge promises breathtaking views across the mountain meadows and soaring peaks, as well as an innovative guest experience and superior holiday experience. From the heated outdoor pool to the alpine spa to the sauna with incredible views, this lodge is like no other and creates the perfect base for exploring nature.

Photo by: Carlos Muela
Photo by: ADLER Mountain Lodge

8. Belle Mont Farm, St. Kitts

The passion for sustainable living is at the forefront of Belle Mont Farm hotel, along with making sure luxury amenities are still available to guests. Accommodations have been designed to fit in with nature and feature spectacular views of the ocean and forest. The guesthouses are loaded with amenities including rainwater showers, film-stocked iPad, projector screens and fresh fruit crates that get delivered daily. The personalized attention from the owners and the farm-to-table approach is what really wins guests over here.

Photo by: Belle Mont Farm
Photo by: Belle Mont Farm

7. Maalifushi by Como, Maldives

It’s not over the top luxury that got this hotel on our list, as the Maldives are packed full of that. It’s actually the family-friendly vibe that caught our attention. Maalifushi by COMO offers every choice of accommodation from two-bedroom suites to private pools to direct beach access to private butlers; giving families a wide range of options. Amenities such as a kid-friendly lagoon, kid’s club with outdoor cinema and babysitting services complete the experience. Don’t forget about the spa suites over the water, surfing lessons on nearby legendary breaks and amazing dining options for the grownups.

Photo by: Maalifushi by Como
Photo by: Maalifushi by Como

6. Raffles, Istanbul

This 21-storey hotel houses 181 guest rooms that are elegantly designed with Turkish influences and feature fine details you won’t find elsewhere. Floor to ceiling windows fill the rooms with light, private terraces, spa-like bathrooms and walk-in closets are just a few examples of these. The hotel is decked out with over 200 pieces of contemporary art that create a refined, modern sense of style. Whether you are enjoying the 33,000 square foot spa, dining in one of the seven on-site restaurants or sipping on Turkish coffee in the lounge, this hotel proves to be unforgettable.

Photo by: Raffles Istanbul
Photo by: Raffles Istanbul

5. Hotel Sahrai, Fez, Morocco

Gone is the notion that one must hole up in a budget hotel when visiting the medieval city of Fez with the introduction of this hotel. Loaded with terraces, outdoor bars, dining areas and an infinity pool; Hotel Sahrai embraces the notion of open space and natural light. The 50 guest rooms feature glass walls, soothing colors, exclusive furnishings and elegant details. Delicious food in an elegant setting tops off this hot new hotel of 2015.

Photo by: Hotel Sahrai
Photo by: Hotel Sahrai

4. Vines Resort & Spa, Mendoza, Argentina

Vines Resort is set amongst 1,500 acres of private vineyards and offers 22 private villas ranging from one to two bedrooms units. The huge windows allow for visitors to watch the incredible sunrises and sunsets that take place in the Uco Valley. Outdoor hot tubs, luxury linens, gas fireplaces, rooftop terraces and spa-inspired bathrooms complete the villas. Guests here can choose to dine inside, outside or in front of the open kitchen where they can watch skilled chefs cook with locally sourced ingredients to create five star dishes. Paired with award-winning boutique wines; this is one experience you won’t forget.

Photo by:The Vines Resort & Spa
Photo by:The Vines Resort & Spa

3. 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin

25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin is certainly one of the most unique hotels on this list as designers have created a hotel that blends nature with culture in one of the most interesting designs we have seen. Think 10-speed bikes dangling from the hallway ceilings and hammocks lining the third floor lobby. The location cannot be beat and if you feel like watching the apes play in the city zoo all day, why not book a room overlooking it or head to the rooftop bar. Rooms are playful with their polished concrete floors, black-tiled showers and colorful fabrics throughout and this will truly be one unique hotel stay.

Photo by: 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin
Photo by: 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin

2. Namiri Plains, Tanzania

The eastern edge of the Serengeti has been off-limits to visitors for over 20 years, as its status as a wildlife refuge took precedence. The game-rich region is full of big cats including the ever elusive cheetah. Namiri Plains was created to cater to the wildlife enthusiast that was seeking a deeper experience, secluded surroundings and excellent wildlife experiences. This camp was created to minimize the impact on the environment and comprises of only eight tents that are perched in the shade of the giant acadias. Daily game drives, sunset picnics and the annual migration of the wildebeest and zebra make this an unforgettable vacation destination.

Photo by: Namiri Plains
Photo by: Namiri Plains

1. The Brando, Tetiaroa, French Polynesia

The Brando is made up of 35 ultra-private villas, each constructed with sustainable local wood and cooled by seawater-powered air conditioning. They face their own secluded private beach complete with visits from sea turtles and exotic birds. If you are looking to escape reality for a week, this is the hottest new hotel to visit this year. Two restaurants, a luxurious spa and wellness center, an organic garden, lily pad pond and two bars make up the rest of the property. Don’t forget about the tennis court, infinity pool and cultural center. Guests can expect to snorkel or dive with the tropical fish, take a sail into the lagoon, kayak above coral gardens, paddle board out to a nearby island or just relax on the breathtaking white sand beaches.

Photo by: The Brando
Photo by: The Brando

10 Best Safaris in Africa

Up and down the Great Rift Valley, there are many parks and game reserves that offer visitors the beauty of Africa. Whether you are looking for lions and luxury or roughing it with rhinos, here are ten African safari destinations that are sure to please.

1. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

Best known for the Great Wildebeest Migration between July and October, the Mara grasslands are home to zebra, lion, the African elephant, and the endangered black rhino, while some of the most dangerous animals in the world hippos and crocodiles can be seen in the Mara and Talek rivers. Visitors can find lodges or camps offering driving tours, horse-riding or even hot air balloon tours.

Black Rhino

2. Okavango Delta and the Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana

The Okavango Delta is a lush oasis nestled in the heart of the Kalahari Desert, containing the Moremi Game Preserve. With both fertile grasslands and meandering waterways, the delta offers visitors breathtaking dry and wetland safaris, whether on game drives, on foot or aboard canoes, called makoru. Moremi is also a birdwatcher’s paradise, boasting more than 400 colorful species.

Bird Watching Okavango Delta

3. Kruger National Park, South Africa

Offering both guided and self-driven safari adventures, this national park is home to all of the Big Five game attractions: lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros. Lodging at the park includes everything from tents to luxury accommodations in 26 rest camps.

Leopard Kruger National Park

4. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe/Zambia

Not only does this area offer stunning views of the Zambezi River crashing spectacularly over Victoria Falls, but there are also many diverse safari options. Elephant and water buffalo can be seen drinking along the river from canoes or while walking along the numerous river trail walks. Visitors can also view the rare Sable antelope at the Matetsi Game Reserve, or literally get in touch with nature on elephant-back safaris.

Elephants Victoria Falls

5. Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania 

Where there had once stood a looming volcano is now one of the most beautiful natural wonders in Africa. The world’s largest unbroken caldera, a collapsed volcano crater, Ngorongoro is home to large populations of lion, hippo and gazelle. Luxury lodges can be found on the crater rim with stunning views looking down into the heart of the once mighty mountain.

Gazelle Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania

6. Etosha National Park, Namibia

Home to African elephants, black and white rhinoceros, giraffes and leopards, the Etosha Pan floods during the summer months, attracting water birds, including flamingos and pelicans. Tourism is managed by the Namibia Wildlife Resorts, with five in-park sites for lodging or camping.

Giraffe Etosha National Park

7. Lake Malawi National Park, Malawi

Located at the southern end of the lake, the Lake Malawi National Park boasts the first freshwater national park in the world. From Cape McClear and other landing sites, visitors can enjoy the pristine water, home to many different species of mbuna, freshwater fish known as cichlids. Other wildlife seen on game drives, boating and walking tours include baboons, fish eagles and hyrax.

Cichlids Lake Malawi National Park

8. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda

Despite its foreboding name, Bwindi welcomes visitors, offering thrilling mountain safaris, most notably, gorilla-tracking tours. Accommodations range from luxury lodges to tented forest camps, surrounded by more than 200 tree species, colobus monkey and chimpanzees. The park is open year round, but it is best to visit during dry seasons to avoid the muddy conditions of roads and trails.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

9. Luangwa Valley, Zambia

View the world’s largest concentration of hippos in one of the four national parks in this valley: North and South Luangwa, Luambe and Lukusuzi. Safari adventures here include walking elephant trails and day and night game drives. The valley is also home to two endemic species, Thornicroft’s Giraffe and Cookson’s Wildebeest.

Giraffes Luangwa Valley

10. Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique

After decades of civil war, tourism in Mozambique is experiencing a renaissance, and the Gorongosa National Park has steadily rebounded since 2004. Now an active tourist destination, the park offers diverse flora and fauna, including buffalo, wildebeests and rainforest habitats on Mount Gorongosa.

Wildebeasts Gorongosa National Park