More so than almost any other place in the world, Tanzania is the land of safaris. Wildebeest stampede across the plains. Hippos jostle for space in muddy waters. Elephants roam along seasonal migration routes and the ever-comical troops of baboons frolic and groom each other. Throughout this wonderfully vibrant country there are incomparable opportunities to experience this natural wealth and on a recent press trip with andBeyond we were lucky enough to take in two of its most exciting spots: Lake Manyara National Park and the Grumeti Game Reserve, which borders the mighty Serengeti National Park.
Lake Manyara National Park
On the airstrip at Lake Manyara where we were met with the biggest smile by our guide Abdullah, who was busy brewing the obligatory Mocha-Choca-Rula’s to prepare us for arguably the most exciting airport transfer known to man: “It’s about three hours to the lodge through the national park, but we’ll stop for lunch on the way.” Typically a three hour transfer would fill me with dread but within minutes of setting off into the thick ground water forest at the entrance of the park, we were greeted by a big and beautiful male African elephant who was peacefully lunching on some leaves. And with that the tone was set. Over the next few hours, as we made our way to andBeyond Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, we would savour a multi-sensory spectacle: acacia woodlands, baobab strewn cliffs, eerily beautiful swamps and the lake itself, bringing a sense of serenity against the hustle and bustle of the animal kingdom that was to delight us over the next couple of days.
Within the first 24 hours at Lake Manyara, we spot lionesses snoozing under the shade of an acacia tree, towers of giraffes moving gracefully along the edge of the lake, a pod of 30 hippos wallowing lazily in the water and a giant monitor lizard that was so big it could pass as a crocodile. The night time drives provided more delights with a rare genet sighting and the improbable appearance of the elusive honey badger scuttling through the forest. Abdullah, a guide with andBeyond for over 20 years, was the most captivating host with kindest soul and the sharpest of eyes; perfect for spotting even the smallest of birds. Delighting me daily were the majestic European Bee Eaters and Superb Starlings, flitting around with their spectacularly colourful plumage. Equally as majestic, yet certainly more sinister were the birds of prey, including a White Backed Vulture and the Bateleur Eagle – which is fittingly the andBeyond emblem.
Our second evening, which was set to raise the bar of surrealism even further, saw us packing our overnight bags to spend a night away from the comforts of our treehouse suites at Lake Manyara Tree Lodge for the sleepout experience. As the African sun was setting, we arrived at a tree clearing where bonfires and beds were set up ready for our night under the stars. It turned out we needn’t have worried about a lack of comfort, this was five star camping. In true camp style, we sat around the fire into the evening sharing tales as our Masai friends kept guard before clambering into bed and gazing up at the canopy of stars. The soundtrack of the bush was surprisingly soporific and despite hearing the unmistakable roar of a lion in the distance we all slipped into a deep slumber, arising the next day with morning sunlight. After our night in the bush, it was time to make our way to our next stop…
And Beyond Grumeti Serengeti River Lodge
This spectacular lodge, deep in the Grumeti Game Reserve reopened last year following a total redesign. The excitement arriving at this camp was palpable – we’d all cooed over the pictures and now it was finally time to experience it for ourselves. Above a tributary of the Grumeti River in northwestern Tanzania, this has to be one of the best spots in the world for viewing wildlife without the need to even get in a safari vehicle. From the privacy of my bush villa pool I enjoy the sounds of birds chirruping and cooing in the bushes, admire a herd of burly buffalo making tracks to the river, smile at hippos cooling themselves off in the water, and I even spy couple of creepy crocs sinisterly slithering through the murky river. With a fully stocked bar and an inviting selection of little nooks for relaxing or game viewing, do I even need to leave my suite?
Yes, of course. There’s a whole reserve to explore. On a gloriously sunny afternoon drive across the plains of Africa we see herds of zebra, an unmissable Secretary bird and finally, a pride of lionesses with their beautiful cubs playing in the afternoon sun. We were the only vehicle to be seen and were, without disturbing them, getting breathtakingly close. After a mesmerising 20 minutes watching them, the sun was starting to set, and it was time to get to our stop for sundowners. One of the most powerful things about the African bush is the unpredictability of the weather. We parked up on top of a rocky crag looking out of over the plains ready for a drink and suddenly the skies turned from scorching sun to an ominous shade of grey. The winds began to whip around us, the heavens opened, the smells heightened and the sounds became intense – we were caught in a ferocious African bush storm. From the safety our vehicle, wrapped up in our trusty cagoules and with a beer in hand (it was sundowners after all) we enjoyed this wonderfully surreal act of nature.
In stark contrast to the storm was our hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti, which we’d had to get up for at 4.30am the next morning. Masterfully sailed by our pilot, Zumo Godliving, we glided serenely over the sunlit plains with a unique, birds-eye view of the animals going about their daily business below. It was a magical and peaceful experience, and from 15,000 feet above the ground I quietly pinched myself. Savour this moment I told myself, because life experiences don’t get much better than this.