You can stay at the most beautiful, most luxurious hotels in the world, but often that means you’re one of 500 guests. At a boutique hotel, however, you are never treated as one of many. When you stay at a property with just a handful of rooms — be it oceanfront villas or thatched-roofed chalets — you can expect a level of service that’s often unattainable at large-scale hotels. From private safaris through Kruger National Park Area to personalised butler service and private chefs, the world’s best boutique hotels know how to deliver. By Evie Carrick
To ensure quality and a next-level dedication to service, we reviewed each top-ranked hotel featured in the 2021 Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards and put together a curated list of just 14 properties with fewer than 20 rooms. The result is a smattering of intimate properties that don’t skimp on service — whether it’s a safari lodge in Botswana or an adults-only retreat in the Costa Rican jungle.
Here’s the list of the best boutique hotels in the world
Mahali Mzuri, Masai Mara, Kenya
Mahali Mzuri, which means “beautiful place” in Swahili, was named the No. 1 hotel in T+L‘s World’s Best Awards — and it’s easy to see why. The luxury safari camp in the Kenyan bush has just 12 stylish tents, each with an en-suite bathroom and private deck overlooking the wildlife living within the Olare Motorogi Conservancy.
While you settle into your home away from home, a team of chefs are busy preparing three meals a day to fuel days spent swimming in the outdoor infinity pool, cruising the savannah on game drives, or melting into a spa treatment.
Grace Hotel, Auberge Resorts Collection, Santorini, Greece
Situated on a cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea, this immaculate five-star hotel has a handful of accolades to its name as the no. 1 hotel in Greece and no. 6 in the world. It’s known for some of the best sunset views on Santorini.
And thanks to the property’s size — just 20 rooms and suites — no detail is overlooked. Each guest is treated to expansive indoor-outdoor spaces with unobstructed sea views and perks like complimentary breakfast and clifftop yoga.
Savute Elephant Lodge, a Belmond Safari, Chobe National Park, Botswana
The Savute Elephant Lodge somehow manages to be both chic and wild, with 12 luxurious tented rooms overlooking the expansive Chobe National Park. Each day, elephants parade by the property while the nearby watering hole welcomes hyenas and cheetahs. To make things even more luxurious at this boutique hotel, three meals a day (included in your stay) are paired with fine wines and enjoyed alfresco with views over the savannah.
Nobu Ryokan Malibu, California
Nobu Ryokan Malibu, which is owned by acclaimed chef Nobu Matsuhisa of Iron Chef fame, takes the traditional Japanese ryokan experience and elevates it into a five-star experience that feels more like a retreat than a hotel. The property’s 16 polished rooms have a Zen-like feel, wooden soaking tubs, skylights, and fireplaces and/or patios.
As you might guess, the beachfront property (upgraded rooms have ocean views) also has an upscale restaurant operated by chef Nobu and access to Malibu’s Carbon Beach, an exclusive spa, and a racquet club.
andBeyond Phinda Vlei Lodge, Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa
With just six rooms to look after, the team at Phinda Vlei Lodge has no problem going above and beyond for each and every guest. Set on the edge of a rare sand forest in the Phinda Private Game Reserve and overlooking an impressive wetland system, this safari lodge is all about wildlife — and romance.
The property has a reputation for its secluded, intimate feel, and boasts a team of knowledgeable safari guides who introduce guests to the iconic Big Five, among other local wildlife.
Pickering House Inn, Wolfeboro, New Hampshire
Set inside a landmark mansion near Lake Winnipesaukee, this contemporary guest house has just 10 rooms, each with its own distinct look and feel. Included in every say is a gourmet daily breakfast and light snacks that are best enjoyed on the inn’s expansive covered deck. As if the hotel itself wasn’t charming enough, it’s also set on the edge of the idyllic town of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.
The Roundtree, Amagansett, New York
The Roundtree in East Hampton has what it takes to charm even the most jaded of hotel guests — luxurious rooms and suites, renovated cottages, and perks like loaner bikes and beach gear. With just 15 meticulously renovated rooms, you can expect a next-level dedication to service and attention to the little things — from high-end linens to curated experiences that include cooking classes and winery tours.
Gibb’s Farm, Karatu, Tanzania
It’s next to impossible to beat the location of Gibb’s Farm, a circa-1929 farmhouse and safari lodge set on the slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater. And while guests will be drawn to the carefully laid out lodging — 17 cottages and two houses — the real draw is the property’s expansive gardens, which include a herb garden, rose garden, cactus garden, vegetable garden, and a medicinal garden.
In addition to Tanzanian safaris and activities around the farm (think: baking classes and coffee bean picking), guests are treated to true farm-to-table meals influenced by Tanzanian and English cuisine.
Matetsi Victoria Falls, Matetsi Private Game Reserve, Zimbabwe
It’s about more than twice-daily game drives and walking safaris at the Matetsi Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The family-owned property sits right on the banks of the Zambezi river near the largest waterfall on Earth: Victoria Falls.
The property has 18 stand-alone suites (including two family suites) and a private villa with four en-suite rooms, an outdoor pool, and an expansive outdoor dining area where you can enjoy meals prepared by your own private chef.
Khwai River Lodge, a Belmond Safari, Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
The Khwai River Lodge in Botswana serves up the perfect mix of adventure and calm. It’s at once both a basecamp for big game drives and a retreat with all the bells and whistles — including a peaceful infinity pool, luxe tents with spacious decks, and in-room massages.
With fewer than 20 suites, you’ll enjoy impeccable service, a full board, and a private deck perfectly situated for elephant viewing.
The Bushcamp Company’s Mfuwe Lodge, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
With an enviable location right in South Luangwa National Park, guests at Mfuwe Lodge will become accustomed to seeing wildlife at all hours of the day. In fact, elephants have been known to parade right through the lodge in search of the property’s wild mango tree. Guests rave about the 18 recently refurbished chalets, luxurious Bush Spa, and the staff’s excellent attention to detail.
andBeyond Ngala Safari Lodge, Kruger National Park Area, South Africa
The Ngala Safari Lodge is perched on the border of Kruger National Park overlooking a wildlife watering hole. In addition to a hard-to-top location rich with wildlife sightings, the South African property has a small smattering of thatched-roof cottages featuring canopy beds and private verandas.
When not out exploring the park, guests at the 20-room boutique hotel can enjoy the outdoor pool and hot tub or a night under the stars in the Ngala’s treehouse.
Sasaab, Samburu, Kenya
It doesn’t get more personalised than the Sasaab, a five-star boutique hotel with just nine tented rooms, each with a private veranda, plunge pool, and furnished deck looking out over the wilderness. In addition to standard safari offerings, you can view the Kenyan landscape by helicopter or camp in a dome tent with wide-open night sky views.
Casa Chameleon, Mal País, Costa Rica
This adult-only paradise has just 10 villas, each overlooking the acclaimed surfing beaches of Mal Pais and Santa Teresa. To balance out days spent in the surf and sand, the secluded jungle property offers a selection of body treatments, fitness classes, and delectable Costa Rican fare (all-inclusive meal packages are available).