When it comes to accommodation on safari, there really is no shortage of options. From humble hotels to bare as bones camping to the luxury of a five star lodge like the Four Seasons Serengeti, there’s an accommodation option for all tastes and budgets when on safari in Tanzania.
Returning to Tanzania this last June was like a homecoming for me, and it seems fitting that a year after my first trip to the jewel of eastern Africa, I’m writing about one of my favourite memories from the trip.
That experience? Trying ‘glamping’ for the first time.
Just as glamping in Australia is becoming increasingly popular, this unique mix of outdoor ruggedness with high-end luxury is fast becoming the most popular way to stay while on safari.
What is Glamping?
Simply put, glamping (short for glamorous camping) is a form of camping in which accommodation and facilities are more in line with what one might expect from a luxury hotel or lodge.
You’re still out in the elements and you’re still sleeping under canvas, but rather than pitching a tent with a sleeping bag and the smell of your own farts, you’re afforded luxuries such as a hot shower, a proper bed, and (in some cases) gourmet cuisine.
It’s a really fun way to mix the closeness to nature that you find camping with the creature comforts that you want to treat yourself to while you’re on vacation.
In Africa, glamping sites are typically known as ‘tented lodges’, and these range from the relatively basic Wildebeest Camp on the fringes of Kenya’s Masai Mara to more elaborate locations such as Ang’ata in the Serengeti.
On my most recent trip through Tanzania’s northern circuit (comprised of the Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Tarangire, and Lake Manyara), I was lucky enough to spend two nights in tented lodges – one on a mountain overlooking the tangled forests of Tarangire and one at the very heart of the Serengeti.
We’d finished a long and dusty day of game driving through the Seronera (central) region of the Serengeti when we rounded one last hill and came within sight of our camp for the evening. My adrenaline was still up after finally having the chance to see and photograph a cheetah, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more than a little tired after our 7am start and long day of ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ at the incomparable beauty of the Serengeti.
Our home for the night would be Kisura Serengeti Camp, a ‘mobile camp’ that boasts all of the modern conveniences but has the mobility to move with the Wildebeest Migration that sees millions of animals move between the Ndutu region of the southern Serengeti and the Masai Mara in the south of Kenya.
A Night in Kisura Serengeti Camp
It’s standard practice at most African lodges to greet guests with an ice cold drink and a wet towel with which to wipe away the dust of the day, and Kisura was no different.
The porters were quick to divest us of our heavy bags and lead us to our accommodation for the evening, large tents sporting a spacious bedroom and an equally large bathroom including environmentally friendly toilet, a shower, and a small changing room.
With a Serengeti sunset beckoning, I didn’t waste much time in my room.
Covered in dust from the long drive between Tarangire and the Serengeti, it was then time for a shower. With the camp being a mobile camp, there aren’t any permanent hot water facilities set up. Instead, the staff heated water for us and gave us a shout when our showers were ready to use.
After freshening up, it was over to a bonfire to meet the other guests and relax until dinner was ready.
It was sitting around this bonfire while a pair of staff members patrolled the perimeter with flashlights that I was reminded that we were in the very heart of the Serengeti.
No fences, no walls, no armed guards.
All that stood between us and the very real danger of predators such as lions and leopards was a crackling bonfire and a pair of guards armed with flashlights and a keen understanding of the area.
Overhead its a seemingly endless sprawl of stars scattered across a pall of deep blue. The sheer quiet of the night imparts a sense of reverence, and the only sounds beyond our murmured conversations are the crackling of the fire and the cheerful singing of insects.
We’re soon called to dinner in a large communal tent, a scrumptious affair far removed from the fire-roasted sausages and beans that are standard Aussie camping fare.
Sleeping with Hyenas
There’s no bright lights or stocked bar out here.
No power points in your room with which to charge your laptop or iPhone.
Instead, it’s the soft glow of a pair of solar lanterns that welcome you back to your room once your escort ensures you’re safely behind the canvas.
Exhausted from a long day, it wasn’t long before I’d collapsed into my comfortable queen-sized bed accompanied by… silence.
It’s a rare commodity – silence. You really don’t get it much back home, so it’s completely surreal to hear nothing as you drift off to sleep.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a bit of trouble drifting off knowing that all that stood between me and hungry lions was a thin layer of canvas, or that I didn’t wake up a time or two startled by the ominous chuckle of hyenas or the weird, vaguely sexual grunting of a distant herd of wildebeest moving under cover of darkness.
But once the weirdness of the situation wore off, I was able to drift off into one of the better nights of sleep I’d had in months.
There aren’t many people who can say they’ve fallen asleep to a lullaby sung by hyenas and wildebeest, but that experience is available to anybody who visits the Serengeti. There is a healthy selection of tented lodges available for those who want to try their hand at a little Serengeti glamping.
My experience with tented lodges in Africa has (hopefully) only just begun. As much as I love the mod cons of a lavish lodge, I’d much rather feel like I’m out amongst the action.
I’m too much of a creature comforts guy to want to deal with sleeping bags and nowhere to charge my camera though, so tented lodges and the glamping experience are perfect for me.
Have you ever been glamping?
Is it something that appeals to you?