World's Best Hotels 2012

Everyone wants recommendations where to stay when they travel, and for 17 years running, Travel + Leisure has asked our readers to vote on the hotels they love most. The resulting World’s Best Awards are a collection of the properties that go above and beyond.

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Some hotels at the top of the list, like Montana’s Triple Creek Ranch and India’s Oberoi Udaivilas, are perennial winners. But there were also some surprising newcomers this year. The romantic Nayara Hotel, Spa & Gardens, near Costa Rica’s Arenal volcano, debuted at No. 6—the first Costa Rican hotel to break into the Top 10. And Australia’s Southern Ocean Lodge, the country’s first wilderness luxury retreat, surged to the top of the list at No. 3.

You can find great hotels all over the planet, of course, but here are the best of the best.

No. 1 Singita Grumeti Reserves
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Score: 98.25

Pioneering Singita has done it again with the new Singita Explore, a mobile safari camp that's the latest addition to the company's 340,000-acre concession in Tanzania's majestic Serengeti. Other lodges include tented (and stationary) Sabora, with mahogany chests, worn-leather campaign chairs, and thick Persian rugs. Faru Faru, with six chalets overlooking the Grumeti River, channels a Swahili beach resort; a swimming pool curves in front of an open-air lounge, where guests sip sunset cocktails as elephants gather at the watering hole below. The reserve's flagship is Sasakwa, an East African ranch house on a plateau. There are seven cottage residences, each with a garden and cliff-top plunge pool. Tennis courts, a spa, and a yoga center occupy guests between twice-daily game drives, where sightings include elephants, wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles. Active travelers can take in the scenery via horseback or mountain bike.

No. 2 Triple Creek Ranch
Darby, MT

Score: 98.22

Triple Creek is a service-driven, adults-only property in Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains. The 40-acre landscape has 23 plush log cabins, each outfitted with wood-burning fireplaces, hot tubs, original oil paintings and sculptures, and fit-for-a-rancher feather beds topped with locally woven woolens. Itineraries are tailored to guests’ interests and can include fly-fishing, dinners at the chef’s table, and helicopter tours. The Baker and Boulder cabins are the least expensive, but still have a sitting area and fireplace and offer access to a hot tub. In winter, don’t miss a snowshoe excursion across the Chief Joseph Pass—explored by Lewis and Clark in 1805—or the chocolate chip cookies served by cowboy-booted staffers on your return.

No. 3 Southern Ocean Lodge
Kangaroo Island, Australia

Score: 97.87

On a sparsely populated island 30 minutes by plane from Adelaide sits this lodge, which is contemporary in design and green in attitude. The 21 spacious suites have limestone floors, locals' artwork, and outdoor terraces. Air-conditioning is unnecessary: the property was constructed to take advantage of natural weather patterns. Owners James and Hayley Baillie developed only one percent of their total acreage on the wildlife-filled isle, leaving the rest of the land in a preservation trust. Guests learn about the resort’s sustainability policy upon check-in, underscoring the Baillies’ appreciation of the area’s natural beauty.

No. 4 Oberoi Udaivilas
Udaipur, India

Score: 97.50

This palatial, 30-acre property, located in central Rajasthan, presides over the banks of Lake Pichola, preserving the enchantment of a bygone era through a distinctly Mewari lens. Royal service is ensured from your arrival as a private boat ferries you across Udaipur's domed palaces. You're also provided with a personal butler who guides you to your room, situated in a private courtyard with silken parasols and views over the jagged Aravalli Mountains. It's hard to believe you're less than 3 miles from the city center and its landmarks like the 16th-century City Palace; the resort can arrange for an English-speaking expert to guide you through its countless corridors and gardens.

No. 5 Discovery Shores
Boracay, Philippines

Score: 96.77

Barefoot elegance is undoubtedly the vibe on this tiny island, where the 2 and a half-mile stretch known as White Beach is often singled out for being the softest in the world. The 88 spacious suites all have large glass walls that look towards a scenic rock garden, but chances are you'll spend more time by the water. Take a dip in the infinity pool, or jet-ski on the crystalline sea. For people-watching, head to The Sandbar, where they stir up delicious mojitos, infused with local flavors like lychee and mango. Once you're sufficiently refueled, karaoke your heart out, with over 1,000 songs (mostly in English) to choose from at the resort's recreation lounge.

No. 6 Nayara Hotel, Spa & Gardens
La Fortuna de San Carlos, Costa Rica

Score: 96.36

Tucked away towards the base of the still-active Arenal Volcano, Nayara could very well be considered the definition of oasis. The resort has views of the volcano, surrounded by a rainforest that bursts with Costa Rica’s trademark bright colors, whether it’s tropical flowers or vibrant creatures (like a blood red dragonfly). With a focus on romance and seclusion, the 50 casitas include private outdoor Jacuzzis and sheer curtains surrounding the four-poster beds. Explore the surrounding wilderness by guided hike, zipline, horseback ride, river rafting, or wildlife tour. Then unwind with cocktails at the swim-up bar or a rose petal-adorned massage.

No. 7 Singita Kruger National Park
South Africa

Score: 96.33

Singita has become the gold standard of the safari industry, and it's easy to see why at these two lodges in a 33,000-acre concession in Kruger National Park. Every need is anticipated (hot water bottles and blankets for warm morning game drives), staff remember your preferences, and every day brings a surprise, whether candlelit bush dinners to surprise fireside performances. The treehouse-cum-urban-loft aesthetic affords dramatic views of the N'wanetsi River and Lebombo Mountain foothills. Lebombo's 15 glass-fronted suites have roughly hewn wood ceilings and pillars mimicking the surrounding trees. The all-glass front allows for game-viewing from bed, or you can laze on the elevated deck. Neighboring Sweni's six suites have a similar design. Both have access to a gym, a spa, an art gallery, a boutique and a wine cellar specializing in innovative African vintages.

No. 8 Palacio Duhau - Park Hyatt
Buenos Aires

Score: 96.13

This Park Hyatt feels like two hotels in one. The original 23-room mansion, built in 1934 by French architect Leon Dourge, defines Belle Epoque elegance: elaborate ironwork, glass chandeliers, and Persian rugs. Next door is the 142-room Posadas building, a sleek, minimalist tower that opened in 2006. What unites the two spaces—in addition to an underground art gallery—is impeccable service. And while the rooms' appearances vary according to their era (hardwood floors and silk curtains in the Palacio, a natural palate and contemporary furniture in Posadas), all have the highest-end technology, rain showers, soaking tubs, and bathrooms bedecked in Travertino marble. At the Vinoteca, a sommelier and maitre fromager pair wines from among 3,500 bottles of Argentine vintages with regional cheeses and chutneys.

No. 9 Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge
Arusha, Tanzania

Score: 95.85

Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge's perch on the eastern rim of the crater offers some of the best access to game viewing on the crater floor. They even have their own access road in, a serious perk allowing you to beat the traffic-jam crowds of jeeps heading out on game drives each morning from other lodges.  The location makes up for the uninspiring design of the 96 rooms with dated 80s-ish cream and burgundy bedspreads and souvenir-shop tchotchke-style accents. Still they're cozy, and with the big five spread out like a theatre below you, you'll likely spend more of your time on the quaint rocking chairs in your glass-enclosed balcony.


No. 10 Singita Sabi Sand
Kruger National Park Area, South Africa

Score: 95.74

South Africa's most luxe safari experience awaits in the Sabi Sands reserve bordering Kruger National Park. Service could not be more friendly or personalized—butlers remember your coffee preferences, pre-preparing mugs for your morning gamedrives. Equally impressive? The design. Ebony's 12 suites, fresh off a 2011 renovation, have a Ralph-Lauren-goes-bush elegance with weathered leather club chairs, stone fireplaces, and massive four-poster mahogany beds. Each villa overlooking the Sand River has an outdoor shower, private plunge pool and bathroom with a romantic clawfoot tub. Neighboring Boulders embraces a more contemporary aesthetic with burl wood tables and natural accents like cream hide rugs and baskets of ostrich eggs. Both have gyms, spas and access to the lodge's wine program, which includes limited-release vintages not available elsewhere. You can purchase these bottles to ship home as well as African jewelry and homegoods. Families and groups should consider booking the exclusive-use Castleton Camp, which comes with its own pool, staff and chef.

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