10 best new luxury safaris for 2017

CNN  — 

Searching for Africa’s wild heart is one of travel’s most magical experiences.

But being stuck in a 4x4 convoy while scanning the horizon for a distant lion can take the sheen off somewhat.

These new luxury safaris offer premium views, expert guidance and the chance to truly get among rhinos, hyenas and hippos.

1. A private plane safari across Kenya

Kenya’s varied landscapes and breadth of biodiversity means it is one of Africa’s premium safari destinations.

Seeing it all can be a tall order though. That’s where Scenic Air Safaris comes in.

Its new nine-day endangered species itinerary makes use of a freshly kitted out 10-seater private plane, with rotating leather seats for spectacular aerial views.

The tour takes in the Maasai Mara, the Great Rift Valley, Samburu, Laikipia and Lewa, with exclusive access to scientists and researchers specializing in lions, reticulated giraffes, elephants and zebra.

Prices start at $9,630 per person based on 10 guests traveling together.

2. A forest villa in Rwanda

Rwanda: Get a close-up look at primates.

Rwanda’s endangered, but growing, population of silverback gorillas has turned this small country into an essential visit for safari enthusiasts.

Those looking to kick back in luxury after a long day of trekking to see gorillas and golden monkeys up close won’t be disappointed.

Bisate Lodge, on the edge of Volcanoes National Park, is due to open in June 2017.

Set in 27 hectares of pristine forest with huge views across to Karisimbi, Bisoke and Mikeno volcanoes, it features six private forest villas, each with their own deck and central fireplace.

Prices start at $1,091 per person per night through Wilderness Safaris.

3. A luxury camp in Tanzania

Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area is home to The Highlands, a recently opened luxury camp with eight domed, canvas suites. Each has a king-size bed, wood-burning stove and floor-to-ceiling windows.

The highest property in the area, it’s the perfect base for wildlife watching.

Ngorongoro’s 8,200 square kilometers is one of Africa’s most game-rich areas, with the chance to see leopards, black rhino, lions, elephants and golden jackals.

There’s also the opportunity to take a guided walk into the Empakaai crater, where flamingos congregate by a spectacular soda lake.

Prices start at $431 per person per night with Asilia Africa.

4. A photography-focused lodge in Zambia

The remote Liuwa Plains National Park in western Zambia is one of the wildest places in Africa.

Blue wildebeest pass through here on their vast migration, attracting the attentions of lions and cheetahs. Zebra abound and the birdwatching is unrivaled.

It all makes for the perfect photography tour.

Handily, the King Lewanika Lodge, due to open in April 2017, is set to offer dedicated photographic safaris.

It features six luxury villas which open out directly onto the plains, with space for just 15 guests.

Rooms start at $845 per person per night, including full board, via Aardvark Safaris.

5. A delta retreat in Botswana

The Sanctuary Chief's Camp offers post-safai pampering.

For anyone looking for a spot of pampering after a long day’s lion-, leopard- and giraffe-spotting, Sanctuary Chief’s Camp, situated in the Okavango Delta’s Moremi Game Reserve, delivers.

Completely rebuilt in 2016, the camp is home to 12 pavilions, each with a private pool and outside seating area.

The Geoffrey Kent Luxury Suite sleeps six people and comes with its own private bar, kitchen, waiter, guide and safari vehicle.

Abercrombie & Kent’s nine-day Classic Botswana itinerary offer stays here with prices from $6,911 including international flights.

6. A riverside resort in Zimbabwe

Situated on a private wildlife concession on the Zambezi River, just 40 kilometers from Victoria Falls, Matetsi River Lodge is one of Zimbabwe’s newest and best places for an indulgent safari.

Opened in late 2016, the lodge is spread out over two camps, each with nine private suites and a pool which overlooks one of Africa’s most renowned stretches of water.

Sundowner cruises are available, the ideal way to unwind after a day searching for herds of elephant and wildebeest.

Rates start at $495 per person per night from andBeyond.com, including all meals and twice-daily game drives.

7. A tropical safari in northeastern Madagascar

Miavana, on the private island of Nosy Ankao, off Madagascar’s northeastern coast, is due to open in April.

Taking luxury to the next level, visitors arrive by helicopter before setting off to explore the azure waters on a “blue safari,” including whale-watching.

On land, private guides take tours into the island’s forests in search of golden-crowned lemurs and all-black Perrier’s sifakas.

Rainbow Tours offers an eight-day trip including flights and helicopter transfers from $21,416 per person based on two sharing.

8. A spa in South Africa

Karloof Safari Spa: Wildlife meets wellness.

Karkloof Safari Spa has all the trappings of the usual luxury safari lodge: private guide, game drives and spectacular wildlife.

But it’s the wellness aspect that makes it stand out. The first inclusive spa property in Africa, visitors can indulge themselves with unlimited hydrotherapy and up to 11 different treatments per day.

There’s no daily schedule, but it’s worth making time in between massages to head out and see the hippos, antelopes and rhinos which roam here.

Health and Fitness Travel offers a seven-day package including flights, spa and private guide starting at $5,759.

9. A rhino-tracking adventure in Kenya

Located in a dry riverbed, the new Saruni Rhino camp, opening in February 2017, has just two small luxury “bandas:” open, stone cottages with king-size beds and waterhole views.

Visitors can take part in a walking safari tracking endangered black rhinos, which have been reintroduced to this part of Kenya after a 25-year absence.

Local guides use traditional techniques and electronic transmitters to help intrepid safari-goers get close to these incredible creatures.

Saruni has a four-night experience starting at $630 per person per night based on two sharing.

10. A tailor-made airborne safari in Namibia

Namibia’s ethereal landscapes are unlike anything else in southern Africa.

They’re best explored by light aircraft, with the chance to experience the Etosha Pan salt flat and the Namib desert without too much rough riding in a 4x4.

Rainbow Tours has a tailor-made tour of the country, suggesting visitors touch down at the uber-luxury Kulala Desert Lodge, with the opportunity to sleep under the stars, and Ongava Lodge, on a private game reserve which borders Etosha National Park.

Lions, elephants, springboks, ostriches and hyenas can all be spied in their natural habitat.

Prices start from $4,767 per person for a 10-day trip.

Joe Minihane is a freelance travel writer. His new book “Floating: A Life Regained,” will be published in May 2017.