From the great plains of Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania to the spectacular sandy shores of Zanzibar, the wilds and wonders of Africa inspire nonstop awe.
An African safari has long occupied a place on my bucket list. But let’s face it, Africa is incredibly distant, so when making the trek, it’s usually recommended that you stay a bare minimum of one week on the continent. Realizing that Africa is a destination to which I won’t frequently return, however much I might desire—an extra-special experience was in order. Enter: Qatar Airways, Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti, Luxury Short Safari’s premium charter service, The Zanzibar Collection, The Residence Zanzibar and Cazenove+Loyd.
With expectations running high, I meet my travel companions in the Qatar Airways business-class lounge with just enough time to exchange hellos, finish a few final emails, grab a bite and, with bubbly, say “cheers” to our journey across the globe. This promising beginning continues with easy boarding to our business-class seats. Friendly flight attendants orient us to our surrounds—seat controls and entertainment and communication center here, plug and USB connection there—and distribute signature Qatar pajamas, a Giorgio Armani amenity kit and, naturally, more bubbly. Dressed in Italian Frette linens, our lie-flat seats are especially comfortable; above and around them is ample storage space. The table/work area is also spacious, and there are thousands of entertainment options from which to choose via an easy-to-navigate entertainment system. A finely curated on-demand dining menu features signature dishes conceived exclusively for the airline by Master Chefs Nobu Matsuhisa and Vineet Bhatia.
After a little more than 12 hours of these indulgences, voila—the plane touches down at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar. Not far from the arrival and departure gates is Al Mourjan Business Lounge. Since there’s no need to go through customs or leave the concourse, the layover is completely stress-free. The 100,000-square-foot lounge has the ambience of a luxury hotel with myriad dining options, including a dining area with buffet, full menu (the butter chicken is not to be missed) and global deli. There’s also a bar and quiet rooms for napping.
Nicely appointed restrooms, meanwhile, include showers, each with a roomy dressing area equipped with luxury amenities and fine linens. A prime perk of flying business class, this ultraluxe lounge makes either a stop-in or long layover a true pleasure.
Outside the lounge, we take a few moments to discover the impressive terminal, which boasts more dining options and one of the world’s largest duty-free shopping areas. It was then time to get some shut-eye at The Airport Hotel before our six-hour hop to Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar Es Salaam, on Qatar Airways, followed by a 1 ½ hour flight on Luxury Short Safari’s premium charter service to the Seronera Airstrip in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. The room was quite nice and bed comfortable; time permitting, a massage and workout at The Airport Hotel Spa would have topped off the experience.
Forty or so hours after departing for Africa, we finally land in the Serengeti, a UNESCO World Heritage site that, along with being one of the continent’s seven natural wonders, is also one of the world’s 10 wonders. Welcomed by the team from our hotel, the Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti, we experience our first game en route to the lodge. We ride in a safari-chic Toyota Land Cruiser, this luxed-up sport utility vehicle is decked out with power strips, a built-in cooler and a huge retractable roof accommodating passengers’ penchant for popping up and snapping photos. Unlike other places in Africa, open-air vehicles are not permitted in the Serengeti, where animal and safarier safety is top priority. While traversing vast biodiverse terrain, we spot wildebeest migrating to Kenya’s Maasai Mara game reserve, as well as so many giraffes, zebras, antelopes and elephants that I’m speechless.
Arriving at the Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti, a 77-room safari lodge centrally located in its namesake park, we find an open-air lobby with a sense of place and ambience provided by authentic African design and decor, from thatched roof to rich hardwood floors. Most wonderful is the warm, welcoming staff: traditionally dressed Maasai who greet, assist and guide guests throughout their entire stay. (No walking alone at night; Maasai are there to protect guests from an unlikely encounter with animals that wander too close.) At Maji Bar and Terrace, which faces the Serengeti plains and large pool (where elephants tend to gather), we lunch on menu favorites, which include an African tapas platter, poached shrimp and citrus salad, spicy beef salad and The Lodge beef burger. After, we stroll a wooden walkway amid magical and verdant surroundings to the spa. Here, we’re whisked to one of six freestanding treatment pavilions with connected changing rooms and steam showers—some also have outdoor bathtubs. After sleeping for most of my 60-minute massage, I walk groggily back to my room, a Terrace Suite with a water-hole view.
At almost 1,000 square feet, my quarters boast a separate living room and master bedroom, both with sliding glass doors that open onto an outdoor space with a private infinity-edge pool and a seating area overlooking the Serengeti. Appreciated is the large bathroom with separate glass-enclosed shower, bath and outdoor shower, and sumptuous bed with down pillows.
When dinner calls, Boma Grill answers. An airy resto with a log fire pit center and an a la carte menu, it serves up a distinct dining experience featuring local ingredients from Tanzania and around Africa. The Dagaa Kamba Wa Kubanika (sauteed prawns and crisp taro root with kachumbari-cilantro sauce) is a delicious starter, followed by Zanzibar Lobster Curry (the main entree, with coconut-cilantro rice, sauteed vegetables with kachumbari relish and toasted coconut flakes). Midway through the meal comes a most memorable traditional Maasai dance.
Proving equally unforgettable is the half-day game drive that begins early the following morning to capture the golden hours of prime light. With professional guides from the Four Seasons leading the way, as sunrays beam down across the plains, it’s clear why Serengeti translates to “endless plain” in Maasai. It’s like nothing I have ever experienced before. One of its many special attributes is authenticity; the opportunity to see wildlife in its natural, untouched habitat. Driving for miles without seeing any animals, we’re suddenly in the middle of endless herds of zebras (more than 200,000 call the park home), wildebeest and antelope. Seeing these species migrating is absolutely surreal. We also encounter many elephants, giraffes, lions (some right next to our vehicle and, at one point, 14 in a single tree), hippos and leopards.
Impressive but often overlooked are the 500-plus varieties of birds in the Serengeti, including the spectacular superb starling, whose upper chest, back and wings are a brilliant metallic blue or green. All the while we’re educated on the area, its wildlife, matters of sustainability and much more, rounding out the drive’s visual experience. Unlike in other parts of Africa, we learn, game drives are allowed only during daylight; for the animals’ protection, no night drives are permitted. Animals are also seen at the Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti—at the baboon lookout point, where baboons perch atop rocky boulders, or at the watering hole, where elephants gather.
Our education continues at the interactive Discovery Centre, where manager Oli Dreike introduces us to, among other things, wildlife research, conservation and protection projects, and African culture and history. The focal point here is a huge interactive touch-screen map of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem that highlights the movements of the Great Migration. Later, all comes to life during a Sunset Kopje meditation guided by Sajeesh, the resort’s yogi, and several Maasai warriors. At the top of the kopje (a large rock mass), which overlooks the breathtaking Serengeti, and with the sun setting, Sajeesh leads us through a guided meditation—the ideal end to what is an early evening in preparation for my first sunrise flight in a hot-air balloon.
Knowing that Serengeti Balloon Safaris (balloonsafaris.com)pioneered ballooning in Tanzania eases my mind, and the actual ride sends me soaring. Taking in the magnificent setting and roaming wildlife from the air is incredible. The culmination of the flight is a Champagne breakfast in the bush.
Once back at the hotel, I head to the spa—this time awake, but in the hands of the same excellent therapist. A few hours of downtime in my room, enjoying the outdoor space and pool, and dinnertime arrives: a most savory meal served on property, in the bush. While totally customizable, ours begins with bubbly by the fire pit, watching the sun fade and indulging in five courses with wine pairings under a historic candelabra tree strung with lights. Truly enchanting.
Morning brings a full-day game drive to the southwestern Moru Kopjes area of the Serengeti in hopes of spotting the black rhinos known to inhabit it. Our mission is unfulfilled, but we do see an abundance of other wildlife, including mating ostriches and flamingos. A warden regales us about the Moru Rhino Project and the importance of protecting endangered species. Later, we picnic atop a kopje with endless vistas. Waiting back at the lodge is another five-courser, a South African wine dinner, highlighting local ingredients and vintages, that beautifully ends our stay in a very special place.
It’s always difficult to balance participating in activities and taking time to relax, but the next morning I skip yoga to luxuriate in the room I’ll soon leave. I would have enjoyed touring Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater. Part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the vast volcanic depression is home to the highest density of big game in Africa, but I certainly saw my fair share.
During a mini game drive to the Seronera Airstrip for the Luxury Short Safari’s premium charter service flight to Julius Nyerere International Airport, I reflect on the sincere, personalized service at the Four Seasons, my stay in the Serengeti and the lifetime of memories I’m certainly taking with me.
Softening the regret of departure is the arrival in Zanzibar, a mere 20-minute flight from Julius Nyerere International Airport on Coastal Aviation, at the recommendation of Cazenove+Loyd, a luxury vacation-planning outfit that customizes African and Indian Ocean itineraries (among others). With C+L taking care of airport transfers and hotel and activity bookings, there was no guesswork involved.
Located about 20 miles off the coast of Tanzania, in the Indian Ocean, the island of Zanzibar is the main draw in an archipelago with another large atoll and many smaller ones. Here is The Palms Zanzibar, part of The Zanzibar Collection. With just six villas peppered between tropical gardens and award-winning Bwejuu beach, privacy is paramount. At 1,400 square feet, accommodations are relaxed yet elegant with an ocean view, living room and wet bar; bedroom with large attached bathroom and walk-in dressing room; and second bedroom, also with attached bathroom.
Outside the villas is a pool with adjacent bar; next to it is the dining room and evening bar. (Although small, The Palms Zanzibar and its larger sibling property, Baraza Resort and Spa Zanzibar—our next stop—also offer guests use of all amenities and services at their neighboring sister hotel, Breezes Beach Club and Spa Zanzibar). Immersed in ambient music, the aforementioned dining room sets the perfect tone for a thoroughly enjoyable meal, one with a selection of exotic dishes focused on freshly caught fish and island produce prepared with local spices and flavors representing Zanzibar’s cultural mix.
When on our way to Baraza Resort and Spa Zanzibar the following morning, we notice the tide is out—where it will remain, explains a passerby, until 2pm, necessitating that we plan land activities before then. At Baraza, a much larger property than The Palms Zanzibar with a completely different look and feel, one sees an exquisite fusion of Arabic, Indian and Swahili design. Evoking the heritage of Zanzibar dating back to the era of the sultans, luxurious one- and two-bedroom villas (29 total plus a presidential two-bedroom villa) feature dramatic arches, handmade furniture, cement Baraza benches, beautiful fabrics and intricate hand-carved cement decorations. A large lounging area with a daybed topped with a flurry of pillows ensnares attention, as does the spacious terrace with sun loungers and a private plunge pool. A grandiose bathroom with separate shower and tub, and a large dressing area, also entice.
The hours drift by before a spa date at the Frangipani Spa complex, which has its own lap pool featuring underwater music, indoor and outdoor relaxation rooms, and a fitness center and tennis court. Therapists hail from Thailand, Bali and India. They are practitioners of various massage techniques and treatments, including Thai massage and the more relaxing Swedish style. Starting at sunset, we enjoy cocktails and dinner, with live music, under a canopy of stars.
In no time, it seems, we’re jetting to our final destination, The Residence Zanzibar, located on the southwest side of the island, just 55 minutes from the capital, Stone Town, and Abeid Amani Karume International Airport. Aesthetically more modern, the hotel is sprawled across a 79-acre estate along a stunning coastline dressed with swaying coconut palms. While the open-air lobby, pool and ocean all beckon, the villas inspire even more awe. My room’s view faces the water and jetty, where complimentary nonmotorized watersporting equipment (kayaks, pedal boats and Hobie Cats) are offered; among the excursions here are snorkeling, sunset dhow cruises, kite surfing, deep-sea fishing, dolphin safaris and scuba diving. Outside, a pleasantly sized private pool and loungers make it easy to stay put. Another villa highlight is the huge, well-designed bathroom with a superchic soaking tub, glass-enclosed shower, outdoor shower, and Alessi sinks and toilets.
During a round of cocktails, we overhear some guests raving about the service and experience, which we’re discovering for ourselves—no detail is left unattended. And so, in this sun-soaked setting, we relish the expansive vistas and inhale a delicious dinner of fresh seafood and European specialties, all kissed with a hint of Zanzibar spice. The quality of the food and the service is excellent. (My wine glass wasn’t half-empty before it was refilled.) During the high season, The Pavilion Restaurant opens to serve Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, and dining à deux on the beach, the stars glistening overhead, is always an option. Our last night at the hotel comes with a sunset dhow cruise followed by another sumptuous meal where majestic panoramas pale only in comparison to the exceptional service. Much like Zanzibar itself, all prospects in this place carry with them a kind of fantasy. Here at the hotel, all are fulfilled, whether familiar (a gym and tennis courts) or extravagant (a glass-walled infinity-edge swimming pool) or otherworldly (a breakfast buffet with a monkey or two for company).
Add to these pleasures is The Spa, tucked away on five acres of beautiful tropical gardens. As two bikes are provided to guests of each villa, getting here—and elsewhere—is a breeze. Comprising yet another openair reception area, nestled in green landscapes are relaxation areas with a whirlpool, sauna and steam room along with six spacious treatment pavilions, each with its own outdoor shower and bathtub. Organic plant and mineral ingredients are incorporated into treatments that work with the body’s natural energies to accomplish desired results. The signature massage lulls me further into a state of relaxation.
In this state of bliss, I wonder how I’ll ever be able to return home to my familiar and frequently frenzied routine. I ponder this while stopping in Stone Town to tour sights of the city and the new Park Hyatt Zanzibar, a renovated wonderland set in a historic building a mere 15 minutes from the airport, where I’ll board another Qatar plane en route back to America—my heart still beating for Africa.
Customized & Curated
Cazenova+Loyd offers curated, fully customized turnkey trips to Africa and the Indian Ocean, Central and South America, and Asia and the Middle East, arranging everything from hotel transfers to tours to private dinners, and even offers a personalized app with a countdown to departure, and all pertinent travel documents.
Qatar Airways flies from most major U.S. cities (Atlanta and L.A. launching 2016) to Hamad International Airport in Doha. A long layover makes checking into The Airport Hotel at Doha airport a great option. Nearby city attractions can easily be visited. From Doha, Qatar Airways flies to Julius Nyerere International Airport, where you can connect with Luxury Short Safari, a private charter service to Seronera Airstrip in the Serengeti. From Serengeti to Zanzibar, we flew Luxury Short Safari and then connected with Coastal Aviation. Returning from Zanzibar is easy, as Qatar now flies direct from there to Doha.
Visas, Shots, Docs & Meds
U.S. citizens pay a $100 visa fee upon arrival in Tanzania. Passports must be valid for at least six months from date of departure and have a minimum of three consecutive blank passport pages. Certificate of a yellow fever vaccination (received a minimum of 10 days prior to your arrival) is required for entry. Passport Health, with locations nationwide, is a great go-to for vaccinations and health-related travel information. Anti-malaria pills are suggested, not required. Also recommended is filling and bringing a prescription for Cipro (an antibiotic that treats food- and water-related ailments) and bug repellent (3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent with time-released protection from mosquitoes for up to 12 hours).
Bug repellent and SPF-protection clothing by brands such as ExOfficio and Columbia are recommended. While in the bush, clothing should feature muted tones (khaki, green, beige, neutrals); avoid insect-attracting darker shades like black and navy blue. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts are best. Wear comfortable shoes you won’t mind dirtying. Hats for both safari and the beach provide protection from pests and the sun. Evenings in the bush are safari-chic; at the coast, beach-chic attire is appropriate. Leave heels at home (a simple wedge is dressy enough for evenings). Bring binoculars and a camera with a good zoom lens for safari drives. Airlines for small intra-Africa flights have a weight restriction typically of around 33 pounds for bags; all except for personal items require checking, as overhead compartments are small. The Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti offers complimentary laundry service.
While seasons are the opposite of what they are in the States, temperatures are generally pleasant, ranging between 59 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, sometimes rising above 86 degrees Fahrenheit during warmer months. Rainfall is common in March, April, May and November. Mornings and evenings tend to be chilly, even during warmer months.
East Africa Time is 19 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and 22 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time.
Most times of the year, there is an abundance of wildlife. Large migration passes through Central Serengeti during late May through early June and again in November through December. In the Western Corridor, July and August tend to see a lot of action, and in Serengeti South, herds tend to gather December through March.
Vary by season and hotel, but are full-board inclusive of meals, house wine and spirits!