New luxury safari camp opens on the Serengeti

African travel company Nomad Tanzania opened a new safari camp earlier this week, offering travelers a unique experience in a small group, luxury setting. The camp, which is located in a remote region of the northern Serengeti, sits not far from the border between Kenya and Tanzania, offering visitors spectacular views of the Mara River and the wildlife that inhabits the endless African plains.

The accommodations at the new site features just 12 tents divided between two camps. Eight of the tents are in the main camp, while four others occupy a smaller, private camp, nearby. Each of the camps has its own private bar, dining hall, library with adjoining map room, and natural rock swimming area. The tents feature spacious, private verandas, 24 hour power, hot and cold running water, flush toilets, and indoor baths, along with outdoor showers. In short, this journey into the bush isn’t exactly roughing it.

When visitors venture away from camp, they’ll find plenty to enjoy as well. Daily game drives will give them the opportunity to witness the beauty and wonder of the Serengeti, which includes the annual Great Migration of animals across the countryside. Guided walks allow travelers to explore the region on foot and bush picnics make for a sublime way to spend an afternoon.

Prices begin at $4200 per person per week (Remember, I did say luxury!) which includes accommodations in a private tent, all food and drink, plus game drives and other activities.

This looks like a completely different Serengeti experience from the one I had a few years back. I camped in a two-person dome tent that was anything but “luxury.” Despite that however, the African plains remain one of my favorite destinations ever, with amazing wildlife, breathtaking scenery, and a true sense of adventure. A stay at this new camp looks like it would be a perfect (and romantic!) way to visit Tanzania.

African safari: then and now

African safaris are one of the most enduring travel experiences ever. For decades the safari has remained at the top of the “must do” list for many travelers. Such a trip is often seen as the ultimate escape, giving them a chance to visit a wild and untamed place, encounter amazing wildlife, and add a bit of adventure to their lives. Over the years, the traditional African safari has evolved greatly, and today it is still a fantastic experience with options for nearly every type of traveler, under nearly any budget.

The word safari traces its origins back to the Arabic word of “safara,” which when translated means “to go on a journey.” It was originally used by merchants traveling long distances trade routes throughout the Middle-East and Africa. As late as the 18th centuries, the term continued to refer to those traveling caravans that roamed the continent selling all kinds of goods, which was a profitable, yet dangerous, venture during that era.

During the 19th century, the writings of a number of prominent naturalists and explorers, such as Henry Morton Stanley, kept the public enthralled. They told tales of Africa that included vast herds of wild animals, deadly predators, primitive cultures, and dark, unexplored jungles. Those stories sparked the imagination and painted the continent in an almost mythic light. Many readers wished to travel to Africa themselves, and see these wonders with their own eyes, but in that age, few could make such a journey for a variety of reasons.The modern safari as we know it had its origins early in the 20th century, when larger than life figures such as Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway made frequent visits to Africa on big game hunts. Tales of their daring exploits were popular with the public as well, and soon the safari became synonymous with bagging big game on the wildest continent.

For the hunter, the ultimate prize was to shoot one of the Big Five, which include elephants, rhinos, lions, buffalos, and leopards. Well heeled travelers came from around the world just to have the opportunity to stalk one of these creatures and take its pelt home to put on their wall. Roosevelt himself once spent weeks on the hunt with his son, and over the course of their expedition, the two men claimed more than 500 kills, including 17 lions, a dozen elephants, 20 rhinoceros, and much more.

In those days, travel was often done on foot or horseback, with dozens of porters carrying gear, food, and other supplies. Travelers stayed in tents, although they were often quite luxurious in nature, with plenty of comforts from home. Later, trucks would make travel easier, as they could carry the travelers and their gear over rough terrain much more quickly and efficiently. In those days, the vehicles were prone to frequent breakdowns however, and they were far from reliable in the field. Later, more durable and sophisticated trucks, jeeps, and SUV’s would hit the open savannas of Africa, allowing for even more travelers to experience the safari first hand. The Land Rover was just such a vehicle, and for decades it was seen as the only way to travel throughout the continent.

The advent of cheaper, more reliable, vehicles meant that people no longer needed to be rich to go on safari. That realization brought a more diverse, and discerning, traveler to the Serengeti. One that wasn’t all that interested in killing the creatures they saw, but would rather see them thriving in their natural habitat. Slowly, the safari evolved once again, this time away from shooting the animals with a gun, to shooting them with a camera instead.

Today, travelers can go on safari in a number of countries across Africa, each offering a unique and amazing experience. You can now have a safari experience that is expensive and luxurious or affordable and basic, with just about every option inbetween. For example, you can catch the Great Migration in Kenya and Tanzania from a comfortable vehicle or go deep into the bush on foot in South Africa. You can glide across the Okavango Delta in dugout canoe in Botswana or sail above the African plains in a hot hair balloon in Zimbabwe. The options are nearly endless, and there is little to keep adventurous travelers from making the journey themselves.

The concept of the safari has come a long way in the past hundred years, and it is likley to continue to evolve in the future. No matter how it has changed however, the African safari remains a fantastic adventure that is unlike any other.

20 questions to ask when booking your African safari

A luxury safari is big investment. With rates at some lodges going for $800 to $1200 per night (and even mid-range prices in the $400-$500 range per couple, per night), it’s an experience that needs to be perfect. Here are questions you need to ask when booking your dream safari lodge.

How much land will you cover and what animals will you most likely see?

Different concentrations of animals live in different countries, so depending on what you want to see the most, you may be interested in one location over the other. Similarly, every lodge is different, and if you stay on a private reserve, your experience can vary widely from property to property. Be sure to ask how big the lodge’s property is and what animals live there. Many lodge websites also have a ranger’s blog. Read the past few months’ entries and you can get a good feel for what animals you might see on your trip. For instance, the lodge I recently stayed in South Africa at only had two leopards. We were lucky enough to see one, but many of the other groups staying there did not.

What is the daily schedule and how many game drives will you go on each day? What time is check-in and check-out?

At most luxury lodges, game drives happen very early in the morning (around 6am) and in early evening (around 4:30pm) and last for three hours each. Breakfast will be served after the morning drive; dinner is after the evening one (so bring snacks if your eating schedule requires it). Some lodges include a mid-day drive as well. Find out the schedule and try to plan your arrival and departure times so that you can do game drives on the day you get there and the day you leave. This will also help you figure out how much down-time you’ll have to fill between drives.

What is included in the rate – meals, drinks, game drives? How much tip is normal?
Some lodges are truly all-inclusive, but they tend to be more expensive. At most, food and game drives are covered, but drinks – including bottled water, soft drinks, beer and wine served with meals and while on safari – are not. This can add a significant cost to your budget if you like to drink with dinner. You can bring your own wine to most places, but they will charge a “corkage fee” that can cost the same as a bottle from their cellar. Tipping your guide is common practice and should be figured into your budget as well.

What other optional activities are available at the lodge?

Between the post-morning-drive breakfast and the afternoon drive, you’ll generally only have one activity planned: lunch. Other than that (and probably a much-needed nap), you may have as much as 6 hours to fill. To occupy that time, many lodges offer additional activities like spa treatments or extra safaris. These come at an extra price, so budget accordingly or bring a few books to read. Check to see if your lodge has a pool where you can relax (most do), or a tv to watch (many don’t).

How many guests does the lodge/camp accommodate? How many other guests will go on safari with you? Are children allowed on the safari?
The number of guests at each lodge or camp can vary widely from less than a dozen to over a hundred. If having a more intimate experience is important to you, be sure to ask how many other guests will be on the property with you, and how many will share a safari vehicle with you. Whether you are traveling with children or not, check the lodge’s policy to see if any little ones might be running around your camp.

What vaccines will I need? What do I need to pack? Do I need travel insurance?
Most lodges will give you a packet of info that will let you know if you need malaria meds (some safari lodges are located in malaria-free zones) and any other vaccines you will need (aways check with your doctor as well). They’ll also give you guidelines on what to pack. The general rule is to bring lightweight, light-colored clothing. It gets cold in the evenings and early mornings, so a light sweater is recommended, as are a raincoat, hat, sunscreen, and bug spray. Check with your lodge on the necessity of hiking boots. On many safaris, you’ll spend nearly all your time seated in the vehicle so special footwear is not required. Be sure to inquire about travel insurance too – some tour companies insist you have it.

When is the best time to go?
Your safari experience will be different depending on the season. In summer in South Africa, for example, the land is much more lush and green from November to February. You may have a harder time finding animals (they won’t be congregating by the water holes), but you may see some newly-born baby animals. Winter’s dry season makes for better viewing, but is much more expensive, with more visitors.

How far is the lodge from the airport and is transportation provided?
Getting from the airport to your lodge can be another budget buster. While many lodges provide free transportation from the nearest airport to the camp, some do not. You’ll either need to rent a car, hire a private driver, or pay for a charter flight to the reserve’s private airstrip. If you are on a tighter budget or have limited time, it’s best to pick a place closer to the airport or that offers free transport.

What are the accommodations like?
Some safari lodges resemble luxury hotels, complete with all the modern amenities. Others are much smaller affairs, offering basic accommodations. Whichever route you choose to go, the main things to consider are: Does the room have a fridge or mini-bar for snacks (remember, most lodges serve three meals at set times)? Is there air-conditioning or a fan (many only have fans)? Are the bathrooms private or shared? If the doors don’t lock (at tented camps, most don’t), is there a safe for valuables? Is there access to the internet?

What meals will be served and can you accommodate dietary restrictions?
The only part of my safari experience that disappointed me was food. While I had visions of exotic game meals each night, instead, all but one night we were served an eclectic mix of more cosmopolitan entrees that ranged from lamb curry to beef lasagna. I wish I had specifically asked for sample menus so that I knew that I wouldn’t be trying too many exotic meats on safari (and could have tried them elsewhere in South Africa).

How is the resort eco-friendly and what does it do in terms of conservation?
Most of the high-end resorts I’ve looked at are proud of their conservation efforts (the one I stayed at had an onsite Endangered Species Center) and of their efforts to cut down on energy use and protect the environment. If the resort you are looking at doesn’t specifically mention their programs, be sure to ask. The point of a safari is to come see these beautiful animals in the wild. It would be a shame to play in a part destroy them or their habitat while you do it.