When my husband asked me last Fall where I wanted to go for my upcoming ‘milestone’ birthday, I did not have to hesitate in my reply — I desperately wanted to get my feet back on African soil. Even though there are still other continents that I have yet to explore and I have been to six countries in Africa already, I am always yearning to go back. The adage that ‘once Africa gets into your blood, it does not leave’ rings especially true for me. And while going on safari may sound something more of a travel cliche these days than it used to, I have yet to go on a safari and not be completely enthralled by the savage beauty of the land (and its stunning sunsets), the abundant wildlife and warm hospitality of the people each time I go back.
Forever on top on my bucket list has been to see the Great Migration in the Serengeti plains (called the ‘greatest wildlife show on earth’ – this is the annual trek of about two million wildebeest, zebras and other species) and get up close with the endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda. With a brief period of freedom between our childrens’ sleep-away camp visiting days in early July, we had a little over a week to check both off my list. It is not nearly enough time, especially as you need two full days just to fly back and forth, but I couldn’t wait any longer.
Planning a safari involves a lot of logistics, especially when you have to secure flights in between camps, are traveling between two countries (with different visa and vaccination requirements) and determining availability at the camps themselves (as most luxury camps have limited accommodations, they can book up a year ahead of time). Trying to find the best locations to view the constantly moving migration of wildebeest, which peaks in July/August, just adds another layer of complexity. As we were to discover, Mother Nature is often unpredictable – the early rains in the Spring made predicting where the wildebeest would be very challenging.
We enlisted Extraordinary Journeys (run by Elizabeth Gordon, who knows East Africa inside out), a New York-based luxury safari specialist who I have worked with professionally, to help coordinate our itinerary. I was so impressed with Elizabeth’s knowledge (she knows pretty much every lodge inside out), patience (as is needed when dealing with a multi-leg itinerary) as well as her own personal deep love of Africa. I knew I was in very capable hands with her and the EJ team.
What lodge you choose really sets the tone for a safari and in Tanzania there is an incredible array to choose from. To maximize our potential of catching the migration, EJ recommended we split our four nights in Tanzania into two nights at two different camps in the Grumeti and Serengeti, both in the North, not far from Kenya’s own Southern border of the Masai Mara. We narrowed our selection immediately to the Singita lodges. The first safari camp I ever experienced was the Singita Ebony Lodge during my honeymoon in South Africa and it still ranks as my most memorable travel experience. I had heard wonderful things about the collection of Singita lodges in the Grumeti Reserves (bordering Serengeti National Park) and in the Lamai Triangle (where Serengeti National Park, the Kenyan border and Mara River connect).
After a flight connection through Amsterdam, we landed in Kilimanjaro airport in Arusha late at night, where most people must stay overnight before moving on to safari. Our overnight was at Arusha Coffee Lodge, which is about a 45-minute drive from the main airport but closer to Arusha airport, which we would be departing from the next morning. While our time was very brief (10 hours?), we enjoyed this picturesque lodge surrounded by coffee plantations very much. Our Plantation room was very spacious and beautifully styled, the service was genuine and friendly and the food was delicious. I highly recommend a stay here in between safaris.
The next morning we took 6 seater to begin our safari in Grumeti.
Grumeti itself – once a series of hunting concessions that was purchased in 2003 by Wall-Street Hedge Fund manager, Paul Tutor Jones – is now a concession of 350,000 acres of wilderness where hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and other game can now roam freely without fear of being hunted. Roughly the same size as the Masai Mara to the north, Grumeti has the advantage over it’s neighbor of only having a few lodges – all which are Singita camps. That means that 74 very lucky guests have the entire reserve to themselves instead of competing with the crowds of mini-vans that can often occur in the Mara. Guests have their pick of four lodges here – Serengeti House, Sasakwa, Faru Faru and Sabora Tented Camp – each possessing its own distinctive style and ambience in prime locations throughout the concession.
We chose Sabora, a 1920’s-Hemingway inspired camp, because we wanted a more ‘tented’ experience. But if you are envisioning a rustic tent experience, think again. The best words to describe Sabora are lavish, romantic and simply breathtaking. Here your your ‘tent’ is decorated with perfectly worn Persian carpets, king-size beds with mosquito netting, campaign steamer trunks, and gas-lit lanterns alongside teak campaign furniture. It was completely reminiscent of ‘Out of Africa’ except we had full wifi and American outlets! Even Ralph Lauren would be impressed. I was expecting Robert Redford (the young version) in his Finch Hatton persona to drop in at any time.
Sabora is situated on a flat plain – directly along the Great Migration route – with expansive views overlooking two waterholes where we saw zebra, buffalo (one who decided to stick around all day like it was a hot tub), and impala pass by during our stay. We were hoping to see the hordes of wildebeest come through as we timed our visit during the typical peak period of the migration but they weren’t cooperating with us. Instead we had to seek them out and we were able to see plenty of wildlife during or brief stay.
As we approached Sabora, the first thing we noticed and admired were the two vintage cars (one works, I am told) at the entrance. The main public lounge comprises of one tent serving as an outdoor living and dining space and viewing deck (where you have breakfast and afternoon tea) with flanking smaller tents for lounging, reading or playing a game of backgammon (there is a TV if you needed to catch a Wimbledon match). The restless can go to small heated pool, gym or spa all housed in separate small tents or play tennis on the two simple clay tennis courts. There is even a tent just to purchase some local artisan items.
The 9 spacious guest tents are located to the left and right of the main lounge. Every convenience and comfort was provided in our stunning accommodations. The bathroom, equipped with a free-standing clawfoot tub and outdoor shower was almost as large as our bedroom. Each tent also has a large viewing deck and outdoor sun bed with an umbrella to doze in-between games drives (because it’s so exhausting to sit in a car!), which I took advantage of and woke up to hundreds of zebra surrounding me. Where is your camera when you need it?
It was not difficult to succumb immediately to the charms of Sabora. The friendly staff here – expertly overseen by Lodge Manager Wilson Owino – aims to please. No creature was too elusive for our dedicated driver and tracker, Robert, during the game drives. We wanted lions and lions we got. While we were able to take in an abundance of wildlife during our stay and enjoy breathtaking scenery of the endless reserve, the highlight during our stay was actually a surprise lunch (banquet more like it) the staff organized for my husband and I out in the bush after a game drive. The gourmet grilled buffet (enough to feed a party of eight) complete with outdoor barbecue and champagne along with the backdrop was simply something we will never forget.
Since we are in the topic of food, I have to point out the incredible gourmet cuisine during our stay. From breakfast, to afternoon tea and then to dinner (which changes nightly in location), our meals were always consistently creative, fresh and delicious.
Everything about Sabora was superlative. We departed reluctantly (as I recall, we were the last guests at any of the Singita lodges as Paul Tudor Jones takes over all the lodges two weeks each year for family and friends) but we had to move on to our next destination: Singita Mara River in the Lamai area of the Serengeti. Stay tuned.
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