Story and photography by Barbara Penny Angelakis
Luxury Safari in Tanzania
My safari in Tanzania began in New York City with South Africa Airways new same day service to Dar es Salaam via Johannesburg. The 15 hour flight to Joburg was actually made comfortable and pleasant with SAA’s business class service. The cabin was spacious and the fully convertible seats-to-beds provided a full night’s uninterrupted sleep. The food service began shortly after take-off to maximize rest time and minimize jet-lag on landing. I choose King Prawns in Sambal Sauce for my dinner entrée selection and although it was delicious, the other selections, 8 in all, looked equally appealing. Appetizers and desserts were also very good and all courses were served according to each person’s individual dining pace. Table linens and silverware were used and several choices of South African wines were offered. Once the dinner meal was cleared away, I lowered the individual entertainment monitor with audio and visual selections, and cuddled in the fluffy comforter and pillow provided; lowered my seat into a flat-bed; adjusted my eye mask, and paid a visit to the sandman in anticipation of arriving in Africa. www.FlySAA.com
After a stopover in the ultra-lux Joburg airport, and another 3 ½ hour flight from South Africa to Tanzania, we landed in Dar es Salaam, negotiated downtown traffic, thankfully after the evening rush hour, and in no time we were at the waterfront Kempinski Kilimanjaro.
The Kempinski Kilimanjaro is a glass and marble calm oasis combining African influences with contemporary elegance. The hotel has 182 luxurious rooms and suites beautifully appointed with all the amenities you would expect to find in a premium hotel, including flat screen TV and wireless connectivity. Rooms also feature a windowed wall in the bathroom so that you can luxuriate in the roomy bathtub and look out past the bed to the harbor. Of course there are blinds if one prefers privacy in their bath, along with a separate glass enclosed shower, and separate enclosed commode. The hotel offers an executive floor, plus a business center behind the reception and Lobby Lounge, and two dining options, the Oriental and the Palm. An acclimating spa treatment can be had at the Anantara Spa but try as I might, I could not find time to indulge myself at this coveted facility because after a good night’s sleep, we rushed back to the airport, this time for an early morning domestic flight on Coastal Airways to Seronera, gateway to the Serengeti and the start of my Tanzanian safari.
Coastal Airways has made the northern National Park circuit including Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Kilimanjaro, and the southern circuit, including Ruaha, Lake Tanganyika, and Selous Game Reserve - the largest protected wildlife area in Africa – easily accessible with their flying safaris. www.coastal.cc
Located in the Serengeti National Park the new Bilila Lodge Kempinski is in a spectacular location overlooking the Serengeti Plains. Like clockwork every evening just before sunset, a troupe of baboons ascend a Kopjes - large rock outcropping – adjacent to the lodge, anthropomorphically to watch the sun go down, but actually to position themselves out of harms way from carnivorous night predators. During the dry season many animals, including elephants with their young, come to drink from the lodge’s infinity swimming pool and guests have a bird’s eye view from the comfort of their own private sun deck. There are 74 luxurious guestrooms and suites all decorated with state-of-the-art contemporary styling and amenities; a gourmet restaurant and an extensive wine cellar featuring over 120 different South African wines. The property also has conference and meeting rooms and an elegant Anantara Spa. One night we were treated to a festive Pioki dinner. Iron pots of local specialties are set in a circle around a fire; you grab a plate and point to what appeals to you as the contents of each pot are revealed. After dinner Maasai dancers in their colorful robes performed for us, singing and jumping in their unique way. www.kempinski-bililalodge.com
From the sophisticated Bilila Lodge Kempinski we switched gears and headed north for the Mara River basin and the mobile tent camp Olakira. But least you think pup tent, think again, because Olakira, like her sister camps Sayari, Dunia and Oliver’s, are all luxury properties. And like all luxury properties, they offer amenities such as cool fragrant towel and refreshing fruit or flower drink greeting on arrival; comfortable beds with fine linens; en suite running water and flush toilets; oversized thick bath towels, robes and slippers; top quality amenity package; gourmet meals and fine wines; and a staff friendly and eager to please; proud of their country and the wildlife they share it with.
Each night before dinner, drinks are served around a fire set in a clearing so that guests can gather and share the day’s experiences. After a first-class dinner with wine, I was escorted back to my tent, zipped in, and cautioned to remain there until first light for safety. The kerosene lamp had been lit, my bed turned down, flashlight and walkie-talkie handy on the nightstand, and linen place mat on the floor with slippers in position. And the best touch of all, a hot water bottle tucked under the covers to warm the bed and ward off the chill of the night air… and maybe also to comfort against the sounds of animals just a millimeter away on the other side of the tent flap. www.asiliaafrica.com
The faces of luxury are many and our next stop, the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, painted one of elegant refinery. Perched at the edge of the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater www.ngorongoro-crater-africa.org with breathtaking views, the lodge at first glance looks like a small Maasai village with typical conical shaped mud and thatch manyatta (homestead). But once you enter the beautiful wood-carved main building – reception and dinning room - you are transported into a world of ruby and royal purple - velvet and crystal - opulence. And yet somehow the décor manages to maintain an African feel. There are currently three camps of 10 suites, each with their own reception and dining room. All 30 individual suites have floor to ceiling windows that offer outrageous views overlooking the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. After a day on safari you return to your room freshly festooned with flowers to find a warm bath drawn for you, if you choose to luxuriate with a cool drink while watching the sun setting over the crater. Of course you may choose instead to join the other guests for cocktails on the veranda overlooking the beautiful African landscape. After a gourmet dinner, you are escorted back to your suite to find a fire has been lit in the bedroom fireplace, the brocade coverlet has been turned down and the raw silk curtains closed. Oh and did I mention the bowl of chocolate bon bon’s, fruits, and nuts, set on a table in front of the fireplace for after dinner indulgence? www.andbeyondafrica.com
The final luxury safari hotel took me once more back to nature, this time at a permanent tented camp located on the banks of the Mwagusi Sand River in Ruaha National Park in the southern circuit. The lodge overlooks a watering hole at a bend in the river and affords the greatest opportunity for viewing wildlife from the privacy of your room. I choose to ensconce myself in the hammock strung across the veranda perfectly positioned for keeping an eye on the watering hole, but since it was the beginning of the rainy season the animals were foraging further afield and except for baboons, there was not much action to catch. Each thatched banda consisted of an open veranda; tented area with bed, dressing table and chairs; dressing area with hanging racks; and a bathroom with hot shower, sink and flush toilet. The amenities were limited due to the marauding monkeys that tended to appropriate anything they could get their hands on. My butler was careful to place all my items inside a large trunk every morning so I would not return to my room to find my shoes missing. The clever monkeys also had learned how to unzip the tents so a horizontal flap was installed to discourage uninvited entry. www.mwagusicamp.com
Read about my encounter with wildlife at Mwagusi Camp in Back to Africa.
In addition, each of the lodges or camps provide guide service and safari vehicles. The trip itinerary was expertly organized by Africa Adventure Consultants President Kent Redding, who with his wife Kelly, lived and worked in Africa for years. Kent was named by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the top travel professionals in the U.S. and his knowledge of the territory and skill in putting the trip together added immeasurably to the experience. www.adventuresinafrica.com
The range of accommodations from elegant to tented luxury made the trip unique, but the real thrill was the sheer abundance of animals that we encountered up close and personal and the fact that they accepted our presence without fear. The lions especially exhibited a curiosity towards us while many of the others simply accepted or ignored us, and went about their business as if we weren’t even there ogling them. Some turned their backs when we approached, but did not run away, which I found to be a sign of distain on their part, and kind of humorous. It also meant that I got a lot of pictures of backsides – my favorite is the elephant family which en masse turned their backs to us. So I leave you with this view… No ifs... no ands... but plenty of BUTTS.
© May 2010 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.