Coming in across the Serengeti plains for a landing in the small six-seater aircraft, I spotted a herd of something below. Gazelle? Impala? It was definitely some sort of antelope. And in the midst of them, something raised its long and graceful head far above the others. My heart skipped a beat — it was a giraffe! I was seeing a real, live giraffe in the wild, in its natural habitat in Tanzania, with my very own eyes!
It only got better from there.
For any traveler, an African safari is way up there on that bucket list of must-do things in this lifetime, and we are no different. From the moment we landed and drove away from the small dirt airstrip with our andBeyond guide, Medson, we spotted wildlife. Within half an hour we observed hippos, baboons, more giraffe, and even a leopard napping in a tree before his evening hunt began. I was blown away — and we had only been in the Serengeti for a short time.
Medson drove us to our andBeyond tented camp, Serengeti Under Canvas. This is an incredible, luxurious camp that moves five times a year, to follow the wildebeest migration. The annual movement of wildebeest across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is one of the greatest spectacles in the natural world. The horizon fills with 1.5 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebra, 18,000 eland and a half-million Thompson’s gazelle, relentlessly tracked by Africa’s great predators.
Serengeti Under Canvas is a marvelous place — this is no “roughing it” camping. The spacious tents are equipped with a comfortable hardwood bed, rugs and even a flush toilet. We had our own personal butler, Edward, who was responsible for bringing us hot water for the outside shower, our meal services and, one of his most important jobs, escorting us to and from the main areas of camp after dark to make sure we remained safe from wild animals.
On an all-day game drive with Medson we saw elephant, lions, buffalo, warthogs, zebra, impala, gazelle and even one of the rarest animals to spot, a cheetah making his way through the great wildebeest migration. A highlight was the wonderful picnic lunch we enjoyed, beside a salt lake where hundreds of vivid pink flamingos live.
From the Serengeti we flew to the Ngorongoro Crater, a singularly exquisite ecosystem. The largest intact volcanic caldera in the world, the Ngorongoro Crater shelters one of the most beautiful 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. It is also the only crater on earth in which both animals and people — the Maasai tribe — coexist. Because most of the animals do not migrate from the crater it has created a completely unique biosphere where many rules of the natural world do not apply.
For example, here the hyenas have become more of the hunters than the lion — who are generally the scavengers that live largely off the kills of hyena and other animals. In Ngorongoro we also saw the last of the “Big Five” that we had not seen in the Serengeti: the Black Rhino.
The Ngorongoro Crater Lodge was completely different from Serengeti Under Canvas; a luxury lodge built in a combination of traditional Maasai, Western African and even Asian influences, this is a beautiful property with one of the most magnificent views in the world. It has been called the game lodge at the top of the world; with ever-changing views as mists swirl and clouds scurry over the huge wildlife cauldron below, the location is truly breathtaking.
The service here was absolutely incredible — Joachim, our multi-talented butler, is also a musician and expert botany naturalist. Highlights of our stay here included touches such as coming back to our room to find a fire going and a hot bubble bath drawn and waiting; complete with rose petals.
andBeyond operates 29 luxury lodges in 7 African countries: Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia.
Serengeti Under Canvas
From $650 to 995 per person, fully inclusive.
The solitary magnificence of the Serengeti is offset by the warm service and simple luxury of our comfortable tented accommodation. Using only private campsites, these migratory camps are entirely intimate and exclusive, featuring Tanzania’s most spacious safari tents, each with double bed, ensuite bathroom, separate w.c. and al fresco bucket shower. A dedicated sitting and dining tent provides deep sofas from which to contemplate the vastness and peace of the surrounding landscape. Custom made Indian rugs and polished brass samovars add a touch of elegance and romance.
Ngorongoro Crater Lodge
From $790 to 1500 per person, fully inclusive.
Divided into three camps, 30 stilted suites with banana leaf ceilings and grass roofs provide an intimate and exclusive Crater experience. Each camp has its own sitting and dining areas, with private butlers who provide warm, personal service. An eclectic blend of elegant teak panelling, Victorian furnishings and whimsical African touches creates a sumptuous atmosphere that is as elegant and unique as the Crater itself. Leather chairs recline in front of a lit fireplace and raw silk curtains screen a private veranda. Even the gigantic bathtub is set under a hand-beaded chandelier.
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Shelley SealeShelley Seale is a freelance writer and author based out of Austin, Texas, but can often be found traipsing all over the world. Shelley has written for National Geographic, USA Today, CNN, AOL, Globe Pequot Press, Outdoors NW, The Seattle Times and Andrew Harper Traveler, among others. She is also the author or a contributing author of six books. Her mantra is "travel with a purpose."Located:
cultural, immersion, sustainable, learning, experiential, voluntourismWebsite: http://www.shelleyseale.com
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