Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi
This tiny country wedged between safari giants Tanzania and Zambia has its dukes up and is ready to take on the big boys. Armed with a Lonely Planet "Top Destinations for 2014" designation, Malawi has some spankin' new safari lodges and thanks to a successful release of lions from South Africa, a full roster of the Big Five of African game animals. Only thing missing: big crowds and astronomical prices.
Better known for its ocean-size Lake Malawi (think sand like the Bahamas, without the killer sharks) than its game parks, this country rides the Great Rift Valley and played a starring role in Stanley and Livingstone's journeys.
Majete Wildlife Reserve, the LeBron James of Malawi's nine-game park lineup, is a smashing model of sustainable development and biodiversity. Its Afro-chic Mkulumadzi Lodge is worth visiting, if only for its swashbuckling suspension bridge over the croc-infested Shire river. Guests can view game by Jeep, by river, by foot, or (for those who really need to relax) by sitting in a bath that overlooks the river, the beautiful leadwood and mango trees, and a veritable menagerie of Africa's best.
Mkulumadzi has eight ooh-la-la rooms, each with an open wall, solar-powered air-conditioning, and a roof planted with endemic grasses. This five-star offering comes from the venerable Robin Pope Safaris outfitter, known for its four-to-one ratio (that's one guide for every four guests) and custom trips.
Everything's included, from guided morning hikes to late-night game drives (better to see you with, my dear), food, drink, and all the civets, bushbucks, elephants, and hippos you can photograph. [robinpopesafaris.net]