At Southern Africa Travel we visit the lodges that we recommend. Getting out into the African bush not only ensures that we give our clients first-hand advice, but more than that it reminds us of the pure exhilaration that comes from being on safari.
Last month it was the turn of our senior travel consultant Llauren de Allende, who jetted off on a luxury safari to Tanzania’s Tarangire, Southern Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. Llauren has 13 years’ travel industry experience, although having recently joined the Southern Africa Travel team this was her first true Big Five safari. In her words “I’ve always had a passion for travel, but this trip really ignited it!”
All of the properties Llauren visited belong to the Classic Portfolio, a collection of privately owned lodges and unique luxury hotels. I'll let her share her reviews and safari highlights.
Giraffe often gathered on the grassy plains in front of Chem Chem
Legendary Lodge: Working Coffee Farm in Arusha
Our first stop was Legendary Lodge. It’s just a 10-minute drive from Arusha Airport to this beautiful lodge on a working coffee estate. We arrived when the coffee plants were in flower, which only happens for 72 hours out of the entire year! The tiny white flowers looked like a dusting of snow covering the coffee plantation.
Legendary Lodge has 12 cottages, each with huge rooms and private verandahs tucked away amongst lavender bushes and Frangipani trees. There’s a running track around the farm, you can go on a coffee tour, or simply relax in the peaceful gardens. As for the food, it’s fantastic! And they’ve recently hired a pastry chef so our freshly brewed Kenyan coffee was accompanied by fresh-from-the-oven pastries.
Travel can be tiring. Legendary Lodge was the perfect place to recover from our international flight, and awake refreshed and ready for our Tanzania safari.
(Left) Coffee with a view (Right) The spacious garden cottages at Legendary Lodge
Little Chem Chem: Thrilling Game Viewing in Tarangire
The road transfer from Legendary Lodge to Tarangire National Park takes around 90 minutes – but we flew! This 20-minute flight was a real highlight for me especially when coming in to land, our plane flying low over elephant herds. Also flying puts you right there in the reserve, so when the lodge picks you up your game drive starts immediately!
Instead of the usual hour-and-a-half, our drive from the airstrip to the lodge lasted a full 5 hours. The game viewing was that good! Lion, leopard, herds of elephant with babies just a few weeks old; it seems every corner we went around we saw something worth stopping for. By the time we arrived at Little Chem Chem, I’d already seen four of the Big Five.
Just one of the many big cats we saw on our game drives around Little Chem Chem.
We finally pulled up at the lodge where we were greeted by the owners, Fabia and Nicolas, and their pet mongoose Mongo. Mongo has the run of the place: he goes on game drives and sat with us at mealtimes. As for the owners, they’re really hands on and clearly passionate about what they do. That, combined with the small size of the lodge (just five tents), all add up to a wonderfully personal safari experience.
That first night at Little Chem Chem I awoke to the sound of hyenas running around close to the tents. I knew I could contact one of the guides, but felt perfectly safe and loved the thrill of lying cocooned in my warm bed listening to hyenas laughing outside. I drifted back to sleep and when I awoke again the hyenas were gone, replaced by a large bull elephant so close I could hear his low rumbling.
(Left) The large bull elephant just outside my tent (Right) Fabia and Mongo the pet mongoose
Chem Chem: Walking Safaris with the Maasai
Chem Chem lies on the far west of the wildlife concession, on the edge of Lake Manayara. The feel of these two lodges is very different with Chem Chem surrounded by tall palm trees, and plains game dotting the surrounding grasslands. During our stay we saw around 25 giraffe, herds of wildebeest and zebra although, unlike Little Chem Chem, it’s rare to see lion or hyena close to the lodge.
The eight tents at Chem Chem are carefully positioned around 80 metres apart, so it’s really private with fantastic views out over the grassy plains. The spacious bathrooms have both an indoor and outdoor shower, and I loved my private sala with a shaded daybed for lazy afternoon naps.
The open lounge and outside fireplace overlooking the plains at Chem Chem
At Little Chem Chem the focus is on game drives, while here they enjoy the concept of a “slow safari” with a mixture of activities many of which are not allowed in a national park. One of these was a guided bush walk led by a Maasai warrior who shared his vast knowledge of the birds and plants, showed us how to make a fire and which stick we could use as a toothbrush.
Other highlights included breakfast at a beautifully laid table at the foot of a 3,000-year-old baobab tree, and sundowners overlooking Lake Manyara (which in rainy season is covered with flamingoes). On Saturday morning we visited the local school, and even though it was the weekend many kids arrived to excitedly show off their classrooms which Fabia and Nicolas helped build.
(Left) Our Maasai guide by the enormous baobab tree (Right) Visiting the local school
Mwiba Lodge: Luxury in the Southern Serengeti
Our next stop, Mwiba Lodge, lies in a vast private reserve adjoining the Southern Serengeti. Don’t expect the Serengeti’s wide plains; this lodge is surrounded by thick bush - the lodge built amongst huge boulders with views extending out over acacias and ancient coral trees.
Mwiba opened in December last year. It’s incredibly beautiful with all the luxurious extras including a spa, gym and wine cellar. One afternoon we were out on the pool deck, and a herd of around 20 elephant came to drink at the springs. We had spa treatments booked but cancelled them to rather lounge on the beanbags, watching and listening to the elephants below. An amazing experience!
The swimming pool deck at Mwiba Lodge with elephant gathered around the springs below
This area used to be a hunting concession, and the animals are still a little skittish. We didn’t see lion although there was plenty of evidence of them: we could hear them, see their tracks and the signs of a recent kill. Since we’d already seen plenty of predators this didn’t matter, and we could just relax and enjoy this secluded safari experience, focusing more on birding and guided walks.
I also loved the elegant suites overlooking the river and the tree houses where were served lunch with a view. And we had visited the local village of the Datooga tribe who happily invited us into their homes; showed us their jewelry and dancing.
The elegant decor at Mwiba, and its wide views out over the surrounding trees and gorge
Gibbs Farm: Game Drives & Picnic in Ngorongoro Crater
We rounded off our incredible safari at Gibb’s Farm on the forested slopes on the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This historic property was one of the first guesthouses in Northern Tanzania and the new owners have really kept a lot of the authenticity. Much of the rest of Tanzania was dry, and Gibb’s lush tropical gardens were a welcome relief.
From Gibb’s Farm is about a 30-minute drive to the main gate of Ngorongoro Crater, and from there we wound down to the crater floor. Although we were travelling in low season there was still plenty of wildlife about; any animals you haven’t yet seen you’re likely to tick off at Ngorongoro. It’s also an amazing feeling just being in the crater, and we spent a full day here including a lovely picnic lunch.
Gibb's Farm has 17 cottages set amongst magical gardens - a real oasis
For those who like to stretch their legs Gibb’s offers a good choice of guided walks. We went on the 2-hour walk to the elephant caves, where elephant use their tusks to dig up the vitamin-rich soil. And in the evenings there are really interesting talks by a naturalist or traditional healer with topics ranging from tribal folklore to traditional medicine and wildlife.
All in all it was a phenomenal 10 days not just in terms of wildlife, although we had many unforgettable sightings, but also the people and culture, tucked-away lodges, range of activities and magnificent landscapes. Tanzania has so much to offer and travelling with agents from the United States, seeing Africa through their eyes, really made me love what I do.
Our Top Tanzania Safaris
- Luxury East Africa Safari: Safari in style in the Masai Mara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater.
- Tanzania Safari & Zanzibar Island Escape: Big game viewing and a relaxing beach break.