Extraordinary wildlife, unique luxury lodges, and breathtaking landscapes make Tanzania’s Serengeti the most exhilarating African safari destination.
An African safari ranks as one of the most thrilling and memorable travel experiences in the world. One of the hardest parts of such a trip can be deciding what area of this vast continent to explore. The time of year helps dictate most excursions, and during the winter months from October through January, nowhere on earth has a higher concentration of wildlife than the Tanzania Serengeti, where you can see buffalo, elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, cheetah, wildebeest, hippo, and zebra all in one place.
Tanzania boasts a safari extravaganza; particularly if you time your travel in sync with the Great Migration, the annual movement of wildebeest across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. The migration happens every year around October, and stands out as one of the greatest spectacles in the world. The vast horizon fills with nearly two million wildebeest, and millions of zebra and Thomson’s gazelles which migrate from Kenya, crossing over the Mara River into Tanzania in pursuit of the rains.
Any real bush experience in Africa begins in a tiny aircraft, which can be terrifying as the small plane sputters into the air after leaving the dirt runway. Our first destination was the andBeyond Serengeti Under Canvas Camp in northern Tanzania, which required a stop in Kilamanjaro, and then another hour flight to the camp’s airstrip. Once in the air, the harrowing plane ride turned exhilarating, as we skimmed over the vast sun burnt plains with nothing but the green grasslands and umbrella-like Acacia trees dotting the never-ending savanna.
The best way to ensure the ultimate viewing of the migration is to choose a tented mobile camp for a portion of your safari. The andBeyond Serengeti Under Canvas camp offers a pure bush experience without sacrificing comfort or luxury. Before we even arrived at the camp, our trusted guide welcomed us at the airstrip in a shiny new Landrover, offering us a delicious afternoon snack of veggie sandwiches, hot tea and coffee. On our short drive to the camp, we were awed by the amount of game we saw, including a herd of elephants, giraffes, and even a cheetah.
“Jambo,” chimed the attentive and friendly in unison as we arrived at the intimate camp, which consisted of eight luxury tents. We were instantly put at ease when we saw the inside of our tent, complete with comfortable beds, floor rugs, a set of shelves and racks to use as a closet, and an en-suite bathroom with flushing toilet. The attached outdoor shower even offered a hot water. We simply let our personal butler know ahead of time and he hoisted hot water into the tank outside.
On our first game drive that afternoon we encountered a pride of lions lounging underneath a shaded area, and a never-ending trail of wildebeest and zebras that stretched for countless miles in every direction. The sheer volume of wildebeest was hard to fathom; it is estimated that nearly two million of these docile animals make the great migration annually.
We felt a thrilling rush from staying in a tented camp, surrounded by the wide-open Serengeti plains and hearing the echoing sounds of lions and other wildlife in the distance. At nighttime guests gathered around an open campfire for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, regaling stories of the day’s game viewing. After spotting all of the “Big 5,” the quest became to see a kill, which sounds barbaric, but after multiple drives watching quiet animals lounging, a hunt becomes the ultimate quest. We nearly spotted one on our last day at the camp, as a pride of lions crouched and pounced upon wildebeest. Unfortunately, the wildebeest spotted the preying lion in the distance and ran away, but watching as the TV wildlife documentaries sprang to life was an unforgettable experience.
Serengeti Under Canvas rates from $600 per person, per night. Includes all food and drink, game drives and other activities.
For our next stop, we journeyed further into the Serengeti and arrived at the Ngorongoro Crater, the eighth natural wonder of the world. The largest intact caldera in the world, the Ngorongoro Crater shelters one of the most incredible wildlife havens anywhere. A permanent population of more than 30,000 animals inhabit a mere 100- square miles in the 2 000-feet deep crater, making this one of the few places in Africa where guests can see the entire Big Five in the course of a single game drive. The animals are not confined by the Crater walls, and can leave freely; they stay because conditions are favorable. Since most of the Crater floor is grassland, grazing animals predominate: gnu, zebra, gazelles, buffalo, eland and kongoni (Coke’s hartebeest) and warthogs. The swamp and forest provide additional resources for hippos, some of Tanzania’s last remaining black rhinos and even giant-tusked elephants are found here.
Although the Ngorongoro Crater isn’t a national park, it is a protected wildlife conservation area. The indigenous Maasai herdsmen are also safeguarded, so a safari here allows for the unique experience of watching the Maasai herd their grazing cattle side by side the other wildlife.
The ultimate place to rest after a day on safari was the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. This eccentric safari-baroque lodge featured Masai-inspired clay huts divided into three camps. The palm-roofed lodges were nestled atop the 2,000 meter-high crate edge of the Ngorongoro, offering awe-inspiring views of the crater below. The posh interiors included crystal chandeliers, gilt mirrors, velvet bedspreads, and silk curtains that shimmer in front of the panoramic windows. Romantic touches abound with a fireplace lit nightly by your personal butler, and a two-person bathtub that drawn daily and strewn with rose petals.
For game drives, we sat back for a hair-raising descent down the steep slopes for nearly an hour until we entered enter the crater. We also enjoyed an afternoon drive with lunch on the crater floor with a table set with crystal glasses and china. A visit to the local Maasai village was another highlight. We had the opportunity to tour the mound-shaped dome houses, where the villagers performed a Maasai wedding ceremony ritual, and the craftswomen designed elaborate beaded jewelery. We also visited the school, and learned more about this fascinating culture that has remained unchanged for centuries.
Ngorongoro Crater rates from $685 per person, per night. Includes all food and drink, game drives and other activities.
Our final stop was at the newly opened Bilila Lodge. This 74-room property opened last July and felt more like a resort than a traditional safari lodge, as it includes an infinity pool, Anantara spa, and fitness center. After five days of game viewing and nothing but the sounds of nature for entertainment, the high-tech room amenities were a refreshing change. All suites and villas featured luxurious en-suite bathrooms, multimedia DVD players, and over 50 satellite TV and radio channels. To get close to nature, we just slid open the glass door to reveal an expansive terrace with panoramic views of the Serengeti.
The only downside of all this luxury was that the game drives at the Bilila were filled with many more tourists than the other two destinations. Spotting a lion or cheetah also meant seeing up to ten or more vans perched along the road, jockeying for position. This detracted from the overall experience, but when combined with a stay at a smaller camp on a private concession, the Bilila Lodge offered sybaritic perks that would be hard to replicate elsewhere. A relaxing Balinese massage at the Anantara spa at the end a long day of game viewing was as good as it gets.
Bilila Lodge rates from US$1345 for two nights. Includes select food and drink, game drives and other activities.
When choosing a safari, it is vital to speak with a true expert who has personally visited the destination. Our wandermelon Travel Concierge can design a completely unique experience for anywhere in Africa. Call + 1 949 466 3526 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org to make an inquiry.
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