India: land of spices, saris, Bollywood blockbusters, bangles ... and wildlife! From the sunsoaked grasslands of Ranthambore in the north, to the plateaued cliffs of central Bandhavgarh, to the deciduous jungles of Nagarhole in the southwest, India’s National Parks are some of the natural world’s most paradisiacal sights—once you’ve glimpsed the majestic stripes and jasper eye of its king, the Bengal Tiger, part of you will never leave the jungle. So, we’ve picked out India’s top luxury safari lodges: places that organize safaris so unforgettable you won’t need to bring a camera and so comfortable that only the morning chirpings of the hoopoes and cuckoos will give away that you’re in the heart of the jungle. 

By Alex Swanson
Tigers
Photo by Sher Bagh

RANTHAMBORE NATIONAL PARK, RAJASTHAN

A three-and-a-half-hour drive from Jaipur, Ranthambore National Park is one of India’s largest and definitely its most famous. With 62 marked cats prowling its 150 square-mile area, it remains one of the best places in the world to view tigers in the wild, but there’s also spotted chittal deer, ever-elusive leopards, striped hyenas, sloth bears and many, many others. Ranthambore is also home to a unique collection of Chauhan Dynasty ruins, most notably the 10th-Century sandstone Ranthambore Fort graced by many an Indian ruler—including the great Akbar. Because of this, the park is a favorite among photographers, all of whom pioneer after that iconic Ranthambore shot: a tiger amongst ruins. Due to its proximity to Jaipur, its stunning landscapes and its high density of tigers, numerous glamping-style high-end resorts have set up shop on its edge. Here are our favorites. 

Luxury Tent
Photo by Oberoi Vanyavilas

Oberoi Vanyavilas

Oberoi Vanyavilas, a feature on Travel + Leisure’s best hotel list, places guests in luxury temperature-controlled, triple-roofed tents just a ten-minute drive from the park. After spending the day hiding out by the ruins, waiting for the perfect tiger pic, unwind at the Ayurvedic spa—be sure to indulge with the “Safari Sanctuary”. The property has the park’s only temperature-regulated pool and an exquisite dining room to keep guests busy when they’re not strapped into a jeep. Bonus points for the variety of kid-focused programs including wildlife lectures, traditional art and crafts, nature walks, and spice tours.

Aman-i-Khas

Aman-i-Khas, one of the Aman group’s two ecoluxe retreats in India, features ten tents on Ranthambore’s border in a romantic brushwood forest. The boutique outpost features ten air-conditioned tents with luscious, light interiors of sandalwood and local stone, arranged in geometric Mughal fashion around a central fireplace. A camp inspired by India’s royal past, the scene here is intentionally reminiscent of Akbar’s military encampments, observable in his epic journal, the Akbarnama. Outside the safari (which Aman-i-Khas will organize for you), a spa tent specializing in poornvandana therapy, and a dining tent that can match its cuisine to whatever dish you’re yearning for, make sure a guest’s stay is as comfortable as possible.

Aman-i-Khas
Photo by Aman
Pool View
Photo by Sher Bagh

Sher Bagh

Sujan’s eco-tourism property, Sher Bagh, offers India’s most august safari experience. The owners have been deeply involved in Ranthambore’s conservation for over forty years and their property reflects it. There are 12 tents, inspired by chic 20’s safari encampments and they're choc-a-block with paintings and fabrics depicting local wildlife. The resort’s eco-commitment and top-notch cuisine were noted by Relais & Chateaux, and it became one of the first Indian properties in the collection’s profile. Expert Indian chefs, an open-to-nature pool and the Sujan Spa make for a stay at Sher Bagh blissfully peaceful and utterly authentic.

Nagarhole National Park
Photo by Alex Swanson

NAGARHOLE NATIONAL PARK, KARNATAKA

Nagarhole National Park is a luscious deciduous forest a five or so hour drive from Bangalore. Part of the Western Ghats region, Nagarhole, together with three other wildlife sanctuaries, forms the largest protected area in India at 843 square-miles. Nagarhole is famous among conservation circles for its pioneering prey-focused conservation, a technique that preserves big cat numbers by maintaining abundant populations of their prey. Because of this, Nagarhole boasts of one the highest tiger densities in India, is one of the best places in India to see leopards and is also home to large wild elephant populations, crocodiles, aquatic birds and otters.

ORANGE COUNTY KABINI

Orange County Kabini, south India’s luxury boutique hotel chain, set its Nagarhole property on the picturesque banks of the Kabini river. Lounging on indigenously-styled wooden verandas, guests are privy to a drop-dead gorgeous sight: a panoramic view of the park from across the sun-gilded lake. Safaris begin with a lakeside breeze and trip across the Kabini river—an ideal wake up for the 5:30am roll call. There's a reading lounge (complete with expert baristas who make tiger portraits in your cappuccino foam), a lakeside infinity pool, an ayurvedic spa, and a ton of activities (take the local village tour) and in the evenings, dine at haute-cuisine Honeycomb, the Kuruba Grill, or if you prefer more privacy, how about a candlelight cruise for two on the twilight river?

Honey Comb
Photo by Orange County
A Wild Dhole
Photo by Alex Swanson

BANDIPUR NATIONAL PARK

Established in 1974 as a tiger reserve under Project Tiger (India’s mission to conserve its beloved big cats), Bandipur is just under a five-hour drive from Bangalore. It encompasses almost 350 square-miles and it’s home to many of India’s lesser known endangered species (the muntjac deer, four-horned antelope, malabar giant squirrel and changeable hawk-eagle, to name a few) in addition to the famed Bengal tiger. Along with other national parks in the area, Bandipur forms the largest protected area in India. Of special note are its dholes (wild dogs), wild elephant herds and gaur (wild bison). 

Jungle Safari
Photo by Serai Bandipur

Serai Bandipur

Built into the surrounding forests, Serai Resorts’ Bandipur property offers guests true immersion into wildlife. Malabar giant squirrels (native to the region), birds and deer can all be seen from guests’ rooms and private verandahs--though larger mammals are, of course, kept out. Guests reside in modern cabins with floor-to-ceiling windows and a dominating white, minimalist aesthetic. Outside, the hotel’s Sanctuary restaurant and Moyar’s Edge Wilderness Bar both look out to Bandipur’s beautiful misty hills, as does its pool.

Bengal Tigers in Bandhavgarh National Park
Photo by Shutterstock

BANDHAVGARH NATIONAL PARK

Bandhavgarh is one of India’s most famous national parks, just over three hours from Jabalpur airport (a two hour flight south from Delhi) in central India’s Madhya Pradesh region. Its tiger population has long been well documented, with cats making in onto the cover of National Geographic. To this day, it has one of the highest tiger densities in the world, and attracts world-renowned wildlife photographers, conservationists, enthusiasts from around the globe. It’s also a favorite for first-time safari-goers due to the high chance of seeing tigers here: There’s a saying that you’re lucky if you see a tiger in other parks, but in Bandhavgarh you’re unlucky if you don’t see at least one!

Mahua Kothi

Mahua Kothi is the result of an impressive partnership between Taj hotel group and Africa’s AndBeyond safari company with a goal to form a “tiger circuit” of ecoluxe lodges. Mahua Kothi is 12-kutiya (an indigenous mud-walled cottage) property set in a forest of Sal trees (India’s primary ingredient in incense) just outside the park. Rooms are in the vernacular style of central India, with mud-clay wallpapers, crafted wooden furniture and handwoven fabrics. The lodge features a variety of dining locations: on the main roof, under a nearby tree, indoors, or even atop your 4x4 safari jeep’s bonnet—and the specially-trained Taj naturalists ensure your safari will be as informative as possible, with the highest possible chance of seeing the elusive Bengal tiger. 

Safari Experience
Photo by Mahua Kothi
Samode Safari Lodge
Photo by Samode

Samode Safari Lodge

Another of Relais & Chateaux’s Indian properties, Samode Safari Lodge has been featured in Conde Nast’s top 25 new hotels and CNN’s top ten safari destinations. It encompasses 12 spacious villas that, despite an austere exterior, are awash with lively interiors--think indigenous woodcarvings next to printed fabric armchairs, handpainted murals of tigers and lacquered furniture. They have both en-suite baths and open air bath courts and private, daybed-equipped wooden verandas. Samode has a library, spa, pool and gym, yet its main highlight is, of course, its safari offerings with its own open-top safari jeeps and expert guides. 

Chital Deer in Kanha National Park
Photo by Shutterstock

KANHA TIGER RESERVE

Covering 750 square-miles, Kanha Tiger Reserve is central India’s largest wildlife zone. It contains a significant population of Bengal tigers, sloth bears, critically-endangered barasingha deer, honey badgers, wolves and dholes as well as over 1000 species of plants. Landscape-wise, it is a mix of open meadows, Sal tree forests and bamboo groves offering safari-goers a vibrant experience even if they don’t see any big-ticket cats! A five-hour drive from Jabalpur, it’s a less touristy option in the area than Bandhavgarh. 

Taj Banjaar Tola

The Taj Banjaar Tola consists of two nine-tent camps spread across a 90-acre private concession overlooking the core zone of Kanha National Park. True to Taj Safari’s style, tents are oh-so-luxe. Wickerwork screens separate the rooms and local wooden and bronze sculptures bring the far-flung abodes to life. Each has a glass door and a floating veranda overlooking the tranquil river that gently ripples through the grounds. Jeep safaris go out twice daily, and, since this property is owned and operated by the Taj group, you know every aspect is top-notch, from the organic ingredients and anywhere-you-want locations (breakfast on the lowtide river bank? No problem) of its regional cuisine, to the company-trained guides that ensure your chances of tiger spotting are as sky-high as possible. 

Banjaar Tola
Photo by Taj Banjaar Tola
Leopard in Pench National Park
Photo by Shutterstock

PENCH NATIONAL PARK

Dominated by vast teak and bamboo forests, hills and valleys, the almost 300-square-mile Pench National Park is one of India’s richest yet lesser known natural gems. The wealth and natural richness of its lands feature in the Ain-i-Kabhi, Akbar’s great 16th-Century constitution, and its forests were the inspiration behind Kipling’s The Jungle Book. A healthy population of 40 or so tigers inhabit the park according to the last census, but that number is ever on the rise with shrewd conservation tactics and effective park management--Pench won the award for best-managed park in 2011. Best part is that its lesser known that parks like Ranthambore or Bandhavgarh, meaning that sightings here, although almost as likely, are most private, treasured affairs. It is just under four hours from Jabalpur airport.

Taj Baghvan
Photo by Taj Baghvan

Taj Baghvan

The Taj Baghvan property has a distinctly 50’s vibe. Its 12 bungalows are spacious, air-conditioned and decorated with the local austerity and natural palettes that characterize all Taj Safari properties. However, their knockout feature is a rooftop jungle platform complete with bed should guests want to sleep al fresco--don’t worry, four-poster cascading mosquito nets are provided. Pench park is a five-minute drive, and Baghvan’s naturalists are trained to Taj standards giving guests the highest possible chance of tiger sightings. Additionally, the hotel features a pool, shaded decks, a library and an interactive kitchen. 


Before you go...

One quick note before we send you packing: whenever we send people into the jungle or other far-flung corners of the globe, it's our policy to make sure all bases are covered beforehand. Booking most of these lodges requires a little back and forth with one of our agents—we want to make sure every box is checked so no client ever gets stuck at the airport, the embassy or in the middle of the bush.