Lodge or tented camp: where should you stay in the Serengeti?
Booking a safari can be a complicated minefield and one of the biggest decisions is understanding what sort of place you would like to stay. Do you want to go down the purist route and choose a tented bush camp with bucket showers, so you are as close to nature as possible? Or are you looking for a more permanent lodge with a solid room, offering hot running water and maybe even a private plunge pool?
It is a personal choice and depends on many factors. You might be an enthusiastic photographer, keen to focus on the wildebeest-and-zebra migration action from your own vehicle with a private guide. Or if it’s your honeymoon, you might like to splash out on as much luxury and private dining as possible, while still enjoying the traditional game-viewing activities.
There are also clients who enjoy a more simple, tented experience, with all of the comforts you could wish for but keeping things simple and authentic. This is often best suited to those who appreciate the laid-back bush camp vibe, communal dining and chatting around the campfire to people from all around the world who are all enjoying the starry skies.
In Serengeti National Park, tented camps are mostly seasonal, meaning they completely dismantle and move everything two or three times a year in order to follow the popular route of the migration and get as close to the action as possible. They don’t often number more than about eight tents and, therefore, offer an intimate and sociable option with guests often eating meals around one table. However, at a more permanent lodge, you can cool off in a swimming pool in the heat of the day or enjoy a massage after all that bumping around on game drives. The lighting, decking and paths make it a bit easier to navigate at night and you will most likely have a more spacious room and deck to sit out on. If time is on your side, the best idea, of course, is to experience both: a lodge is a relaxing, spoiling treat after an exhilarating few days following the migration and staying in a seasonal tented camp.
A lodge I loved, on my recent Tanzanian adventure, was &Beyond Klein’s Camp. The nearest airstrip is Lobo, from where it’s about an hour and a half’s safari to the property. The journey is beautiful, with zebra and wildebeest all calmly paddling in the shallow stream, far from the danger of the famous migration river-crossing highways further west.
Situated in its own private concession, on the edge of the Kuka Hills in the east of the Serengeti, you will see no one else on game drives. Unlike in the national park, the guides here are allowed to practise ‘sensitive’ off-road driving, which feels more adventurous and means you can get closer to the wildlife. Walking safaris and night drives are also permitted.
All of the 10 white-stone cottages here have vast bush-and-valley views and are kitted out with hot running water, a very smart-looking exercise box and yoga mat, and an easel, sketchbook and watercolours in case I wanted to just relax on the very comfortable sofa on my terrace and be inspired. The deep armchairs and inviting decanter of brandy (or was it sherry?) all scream out to you to unwind in your cottage or soak up that vista from your outdoor sofa. Unlike the seasonal camps, there was Wi-Fi everywhere, a phone in the cottage if you needed anything and your own butler to look after you throughout your stay.
In the afternoon, I went on a stunning drive in the valley in front of the lodge. It was teeming with a huge variety of animals, all seemingly coexisting in harmony. We didn’t have to go far from the lodge to have a really productive experience, making this charming hideaway a good change of pace from chasing action inside the national park itself. The pressure was off. We had ticked off a couple of river crossings from seasonal tented camps and now we were taking the opportunity to slow down, while still seeing plenty of wildlife. There was even the possibility of taking the morning off for a leisurely breakfast as the bush wakes up around you, followed by a massage or a lovely, refreshing swim.