By Bert Duplessis
It has been a few years since my last visit to the Serengeti in Tanzania. Previous visits had taken me to the southern short-grass plains in the Ndutu area, to Seronera in the Central Serengeti and also to the Grumeti area in the Western Corridor. This was a first: a few days at a couple of Nomad Tanzania properties in the far northern Serengeti, close to the border with Kenya and just south of the Mara where I had spent a few days in June this year.
After just 4 days in the area three things stood out: the Northern Serengeti is visually one of the most arresting bits of real estate likely anywhere in Africa. There is just no way to do justice to this mosaic of grass, sky and rocky hills with a photo or description. You just have to see it yourself. A soul-pleasing place where civilization as we know it ends and the primeval beauty of nature in the raw takes over. Every now and then I felt like just stopping for no reason to let my eyes linger on the beauty around me. Is there really a place like this where one massive grassy plain merges into another one, where one series of hills on the horizon vies with another to be more like the Africa you had come to see? Yes there is – but don’t wait too long to get on a plane to Kogatende to experience it for yourself. Already, there are quite a few mobile tented camps in the area and several permanent camps, with more to come. It is not nearly as popular – and crowded – yet as the Masai Mara, but it won’t be long.
Which brings me to the second thing that struck me: the game-viewing. Even though our trip came right at the very end of the season, in late October, the quality of the game-viewing was of such a standard that even the most demanding ‘big cat only’ aficionado would have given it the thumbs up. A first-time visitor would have been blown away by the diversity and the sheer numbers of animals. By Day Two we had seen the Big Five (black rhino, lion, leopard, buffalo and elephant) and by Day Four we had notched up several game-viewing experiences which belong firmly in our own personal hall of fame of best game drives ever. More about that later.
Our third impression was of course the friendly and gracious reception we received from the management and staff at the two properties we visited and the range of accommodation options available in the area. We spent a couple of nights at two very different yet both authentically African properties, namely Serengeti Safari Camp and Lamai Serengeti, both operated by Nomad Tanzania.
Serengeti Safari Camp is a rustic mobile tented camp which moves several times during the course of the year to be as close as possible to the wildebeest migration. It recreates the style of an old-fashioned safari without too many modern trappings: comfortable and a lot of fun with direct contact with the wilderness. You expect to have some camp followers in the form of a herd of wildebeest stare at you as you exit the tent just before dawn to retrieve a welcome cup of coffee or tea. You’re mildly disappointed if you don’t hear lions, hyenas, owls or other wildlife kicking up a bit of a fuss outside the tent at some or other time during the night. And with a bit of luck you are treated to repeated doses of the Burchell’s zebra’s distinctive – almost birdlike – braying call, one of the most unmistakably African sounds of all.
Lamai Serengeti is no less authentic of an African safari experience than Serengeti Safari Camp- it just comes with nicer rooms, an expansive lounge and dining room area and likely the best view of any safari lodge in Tanzania. The camp is located almost totally within the confines of a prominent rocky hill with a commanding view of the surrounding plains and toward the escarpment, the Mara River and the Masai Mara National Park. It makes absolutely the most of the location. Lamai has a few more rooms than Serengeti Safari Camp but it retains contact with the environment in a pleasing and effective manner. Sit at a particular table for lunch and you’ll have a rockface a couple of meters to your right, and a massive expanse of plains, riverine valleys and hillocks, right in front of you.
We popped into two other properties in the area namely Mwanga Moto mobile tented camp, also in the Kogatende area, and Sayari, a beautiful and very stylish tented camp located on an elevated spot close to some reliable wildebeest migration crossing points on the Mara River. Both of these would be perfectly fine choices for a visit to the area as well. The tents at Mwanga Moto had a quality feel and appearance, and with a bit of color and some nice touches in the bathrooms it would make for a very comfortable tented camping experience. We liked the small enclosed porches a whole lot.
Sayari was quite stunning: both the rooms and the common areas were replete with pleasing design elements. Clean and uncluttered yet oh so stylish. On the day there were many pesky flies (regular ones, not tsetses) about, mostly because there was not even a whisper of a breeze in the air.
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