Get up close and personal with wildlife in the Serengeti, then head to the white sandy shores of Zanzibar to relax and reflect. The perfect holiday? We certainly think so…
It’s first thing on Monday morning and my commute has been interrupted by a herd of elephants.
Yep, you read that right. I’m in the depths of the Serengeti National Park, a World Heritage Site, and our jeep has slowed to a stop in the middle of a bumpy, uneven track. Five elephants are ambling across the track in front of us, lazily swinging their trunks and paying us absolutely no attention at all. We, on the other hand, are all pressed against the jeep windows, iPhones gripped in our hands, filming five identical videos. The biggest of the elephants stops without warning in front of a giant tree and effortlessly snaps it in half with his trunk, causing a massive crack to echo across the endless plains around us. I decide that elephants are now my favourite animal of all.
“The Serengeti is the animal’s natural habitat, and we try to disturb them as little as possible,” our friendly (and knowledgeable) guide explains. This means that when the animals want to cross the track, they cross the track.
In fact, the animals are remarkably undisturbed by the jeeps and the accompanying tourists who lean excitedly out of the roofs to take photos and exclaim at their everyday activities. During my three days in the Serengeti we rumble past napping coyotes and get within a few metres of a dozing lion, and they don’t even twitch a whisker at our admittedly noisy presence. They are used to humans, and they know they rule this land.
Being able to get so close to the animals and see what they’re really like out in the wild makes the whole safari experience even more magical. Apart from London’s (many) urban foxes, I’ve never really seen animals in their natural habitats, and there is something really special about the first time you see a giraffe or an elephant casually wander out from behind a tree, the most natural thing in the world.
The Serengeti National Park is a vast and seamlessly endless stretch of land in Tanzania, spanning some 14,750 square kilometres. The word ‘Serengeti’ comes from the word used by the Maasai people to describe the area: ‘siringet’, which translates as ‘the place where the land runs on forever’. It is home to lions, cheetahs, leopards, giraffes, elephants, hippos, a quarter of a million zebras and many, many more animals. It is, without doubt, the ultimate safari destination.
Fancy booking a trip? Read on for our guide to having the best safari experience, from staying in an eco-hotel to floating in a hot air balloon, and unwinding after all the action with some R&R in Zanzibar.
Melia Serengeti Lodge
This is without a doubt the most impressive hotel in the Serengeti. Located on the southern slopes of Nyamuma, the lodge offers unbeatable views across the Mbalageti River valley, a wild and rugged landscape that stretches out as far as the eye can see. You can stand on the edge of the lodge and feel like you’re the only person in the world, the perfect antidote to our fast paced, technology-driven lives.
Even better, the lodge has a strong eco-focus, and was built using natural materials from the surrounding area. There are on-site solar panels that generate over 45% of the total energy used by the hotel, as well as on-site waste disposal facilities, a compost site and a bottling plant. There are little touches in the rooms that speak to the lodge’s eco-friendly nature, too, with miniature kettles to keep electricity usage to a minimum, and recycled and reusable products.
You can stay in one of 50 rooms and suites, with the two ‘Serengeti Suites’ offering wraparound views of the surrounding area through glass panelled walls. There are three gorgeous on-site restaurants and bars that offer a brilliant selection of local food and drinks, meaning you never have to leave the hotel – apart from when you’re on safari, of course. Enjoy a buffet breakfast at the Savannah restaurant and look out at the view beyond the glittering infinity pool. If you’re very lucky, you might even get a pool-side visit from Freddie, a local wildebeest who wanders up from the nearby watering hole whenever he wants to get in on the action.
Rooms from £333 per night. For more information and to book, head here
Obviously a safari is top of the list, and guests at Melia Serengeti Lodge have the option of going on a luxurious game drive during their stay. Hop into one of their roomy air conditioned jeeps and head off in search of the Big Five (a lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo), complete with a delicious lunch of fresh food served right in the heat of the bush.
Game Drives can be organised via the hotel for guests of Melia Serengeti. Other drive options can be found here
Hot air balloon safari
Make your trip extra special with a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the plains of the Serengeti – I promise, it’s worth the 4am wakeup call. You’ll drive out to what feels like the middle of nowhere to jump into a giant basket, and as the sun starts to rise, so do the balloons. The expert guides will do their best to track the animals in the area, giving you an incredible birds eye view as they go about their daily business.
After the flight, there is celebratory champagne, followed by a slap-up breakfast right in the heart of the bush. What’s not to love?
For more information and to book, visit balloonsafaris.com
Why not head out to the Serengeti on foot? Obviously, it’s not a safe place for humans to be ambling around on their own, but a walking tour is a brilliant way of getting up close and personal with the natural environment. It also gives you the opportunity to learn more about the animals, tracking their daily movements and seeing their paw prints in the dust.
For more information and to book, visit wayoafrica.com
After all the excitement of a safari, it’s only fair to expect a bit of R&R while you go through your photos and reflect on all the amazing things you’ve seen. Most visitors to the Serengeti add a few days in nearby Zanzibar to their itinerary, to give them a chance to chill out while also exploring one of the most beautiful places in the world. We recommend you do the same…
Melia Zanzibar is, quite literally, a slice of paradise. Located on the north-east costs of Zanzibar, an island in Tanzania, the hotel spans a 40 acre estate that sits right on the edge of a beautiful, white sandy beach. Stroll along the 300 meter stretch of powdery sand and look out over the natural coral reefs that sit just below the surface of the water. If you’re looking for a luxury beach escape, then this will tick all of your boxes.
The hotel has 124 rooms, including 7 incredible ocean front pavilions. These are designed as private villas with direct views from the bed straight out to the Indian Ocean. Sip a glass of wine and watch the sunset while relaxing on your terrace, or sink into a giant bubble bath and listen to the sounds of the waves lapping against the shore. The pavilions are made of natural coconut tree wood, and come complete with the typical ‘Makuti’ roof, made with braided dry leaves from the coconut trees for a totally authentic experience.
There are plenty of dining options on site at the hotel; we recommend a morning spent sipping coffee under the palm trees at Gabi Beach Club, before settling in for a tapas-style lunch at the Jetty Lounge, located right in the heart of the Indian Ocean. The views alone are worth a visit. For dinner, we recommend a night of fine Mediterranean dining at Aqua, a Cliffside restaurant.
Rooms start from £310 per night. For more information and to book, head here
Eat and drink
Beach House Restaurant and bar
Fancy sipping a decadent gin cocktail while watching the sun set over the horizon? Beach House has got you covered. Grab a table on the vast veranda and settle in for the evening.
For more information, visit beachhousezanzibar.com
La Taverna Italian Restaurant
Why not grab an authentic Italian pizza or pasta dish in the heart of Zanzibar? This award-winning taverna is well worth a visit.
For more information, visit latavernazanzibar.com
A visit to Zanzibar isn’t complete without a trip to Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is also the capital city of Zanzibar. Wander the cobbled stone streets and pick up a gift from one of the resident designers, such as a handmade wooden jewellery box or soft leather handbag.
Head here for more information
Swim with whale sharks
Missing the adventure of the safari? Don’t worry, there are even more opportunities to get up close and personal with wildlife in Zanzibar. Head to Mafia Island (a 30 minute flight from Zanzibar) to swim with whale sharks, or go for the more local option of swimming with turtles on the north of the island.
Head here for more information
Prices correct at the time of writing.
Images: courtesy of hotels/Unsplash