Just Back from Tanzania's Coolest Safari Camps
Just Back from Tanzania's Coolest Safari Camps with Brittany Bengry
Outside GO's trip designer, Brit, just returned from a sensational safari with her husband David. They explored the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and a traditional Maasai village all with the help of a five-star guide.
The Trip of a Lifetime is a phrase that is used in our office regularly. It’s a common request of hopeful travelers, and it is what we strive to deliver on each and every one of the trips we custom design.
I’ve worked behind the scenes at Outside GO for two years now, learning the ins and outs of the adventure travel industry. But there is only so much you can learn behind a desk. So with much excitement, this past fall my husband David and I set out on our first safari. It truly was an experience that can only be described as a genuine Trip of a Lifetime.
Our destination was Tanzania. Home to three of Africa’s seven natural wonders, Tanzania is a country that deserves a spot on everyone’s bucket list. After 40 hours of travel from Santa Fe, we landed in Kilimanjaro International Airport. As anyone who has been on a long-haul flight can attest, the first night of a trip like this is a strange mix of utter elation and unparalleled exhaustion. After a scrumptious multi-course dinner prepared by the chef at Machweo, we fell into bed, asleep within moments.
The next morning was filled with anticipation for what was to come. We had anticipated a genuine African safari for so long that being just minutes away from heading out into the bush was a bit daunting. It was this morning that we met the person who would arguably become the most important part of our safari, our guide, Kakae. Kakae was slated to be with us for all nine days of our safari, from the pick up in Arusha until he dropped us off in the northern reaches of the Serengeti for our final flight. A native Tanzanian with an easy sense of humor, I knew right away we were in for so much more than I had hoped for!
"Our destination was Tanzania. Home to three of Africa’s seven natural wonders, Tanzania is a country that deserves a spot on everyone’s bucket list."
With our bags loaded up and Kakae at the helm of our safari vehicle, we were truly on our way. Next stop: Tarangire National Park. After countless cries of “Quick, look over there!” at all the wildlife from Dave and myself, we reached the center of the national park where we found our home for the night, Kuro Tarangire. Here we experienced our first bucket shower, a nighttime game drive that showcased an entirely new side of the ecosystem, and meals so delicious I had to remind myself we were hours away from an semblance of a town!
The following morning after a much too short stay, it was off to the private Chem Chem Concession. Our spot for the night was Chem Chem Lodge, where they extol the virtues of a slow safari, which we embraced quite quickly! An afternoon massage and a cat nap (interrupted by an attempted break-in from a resident monkey) left us rejuvenated and ready for one of Chem Chem’s specialities—a bush walk.
We set out from camp with an armed guide and a Maasai tracker, eager to see the landscape from a different perspective. We found leopard tortoises, wildebeest skulls, and zebra tracks—all things we would have whizzed past in a vehicle. The one creature I would have actually preferred to see from the land cruiser was a scorpion, which our Maasai tracker “fished” out of its hole for us to get a closer look.
The bush walk ended at a waiting vehicle where we loaded up and drove out into the dry lakebed of Lake Manyara. Our destination in this vast expanse was a sundowner set-up–a perfect safari-style picnic–so picturesque I wasn’t sure I wanted to disturb it. Our evening wound down while we watched the sun sink below the mountains, drinks in hand and a cozy fire roaring (courtesy of our Maasai guide who started it quickly with the help of zebra dung, dry grass, and his natural fire starters).
"The one creature I would have actually preferred to see from the land cruiser was a scorpion, which our Maasai tracker “fished” out of its hole for us to get a closer look."
After the unending open plains of Tarangire and Chem Chem, the following day we made our way to a landscape with a bit more drama—the Ngorongoro Crater and the surrounding highlands. We climbed higher and higher, replacing dusty yellows for lush greens. Our next camp, Entamanu Ngorongoro, is one of only a handful of properties that sits on the rim of the crater, affording views that truly have to be seen to be believed. Our favorite moments on safari here were observing an entire ostrich mating ritual, sitting in the midst of a baboon troop (80 strong!), and photographing a pair of male lions who I’m fairly certain were posing for me.
What has left the largest impact on David and I though, was the visit to the Maasai village. When we pulled up we were greeted by two Maasai men who explained to us the cultural program the village had developed for visitors. We were treated to a song and dance, and though we did our best when we were invited to participate, I’m sure everyone got a good laugh at our sad attempts to jump on beat! There was a fire-making demonstration, a visit inside a local home, and a chance to buy beautiful beaded jewelry and hand-carved wooden sculptures. There was something wonderful about purchasing our souvenirs directly from those who had created them and having the chance to thank them face-to-face. After our goodbyes and thank-yous, we loaded up and set off for our final and legendary destination: the Serengeti.
Serengeti Safari Camp was our first stop. This time of year the tented camp is set up in the Moru region of the central Serengeti, tucked between what the locals call kopjes, or small rocky outcroppings. That night, we discovered that this particular area is in the territory of a large pride of lions—we had to wait until their growls and grunts died off before we finally fell asleep!
The Serengeti looks as if it jumped out of the pages of a children’s story book, and game drives here are an all-day affair. After a 6:00am wake-up call with coffee and hot chocolate, we were on the road by 6:30am. Breakfasts and lunches were packed ahead of time so that we could stay out until a setting sun forced our return. It was here that we noticed a shift in our demeanor. The wildlife was by no means less impressive, but David and I had grown comfortable. There were stories unfolding all around us on the savannah and we felt so privileged to quietly sit and watch life go by.
"That night, we discovered that this particular area is in the territory of a large pride of lions—we had to wait until their growls and grunts died off before we finally fell asleep!"
Our final camp stole my heart. Lamai Serengeti is a worthy destination in its own right, with stunning architecture, thoughtful design, and views that extend for miles. Being on the doorstep of the great migration doesn’t hurt, either. We spent our time relaxing in the pool in the heat of the day, dining under the stars, and toasting sundowners on a kopje. These are my favorite memories of Lamai. They are uncomplicated and without much drama which, after ten days in Tanzania, I had come to embrace as the true spirit of safari.
I’ve now been home from Tanzania for a month, and as I think about the memories that David and I have told the most, it’s clear to me that the lasting moments revolve around the people we shared them with. Our wonderful guide Kakae, the camp hosts, and each other.
And now that I have been to Africa I can honestly say, a safari is the Trip of a Lifetime, and one I hope each and every one of you experience some day.
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