I recently wrote about my trips to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro in Tanzania. For many, these are once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and considering the costs involved, it’s easy to see why. However, that doesn’t mean that visiting these grand wildlife sanctuaries is out of reach for those with more modest incomes. And you need not have to rough it up with cold showers and in uncomfortable sleeping bags.
I chose an off-peak season (late November), when the short rains arrive, and the wildebeest migration from the Masai Mara in Kenya to the Serengeti in Tanzania is in the early stages. My itinerary took me to Lake Manyara, the Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Tarangire. I made use of the the Sopa lodges in the latter three areas, which was a pleasant choice, arguably so because it was low season. The properties are large, and so during peak season I can imagine it filling up with large tour groups, which would detract from the remoteness of these wilderness areas.
Perched on the escarpment of the East African Rift Valley, with a calming view of Lake Manyara, is the Kirurumu Tented Camp. Each “tent” stands on a raised boardwalk, and despite having canvas walls, has everything you’d expect from a large hotel room. Tented camps provide the balance between being close to nature and the comforts of an inviting mattress and warm shower. My first night in Tanzania was spent here and it was the beginning of a week of friendly greetings and warm smiles.
Elsewhere, I stayed at Serengeti Sopa Lodge, Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge and Tarangire Sopa Lodge. Each carried the reliability of the Sopa brand, yet each carried its own character.
Ngorongoro Sopa, had the friendliest staff and best overall service. Rooms had large windows to admire the stunning views, which made up for the otherwise tired furniture. Meals were elegant; the chefs paid attention to detail and the food consistently good. In terms of location, the lodge is one of a few perched on the crater rim, affording magical sunsets. It’s close to the access road into the crater which is convenient for the all important safaris to view wildlife. All in all, Ngorongoro Sopa delivered well.
At Serengeti Sopa, although food was excellent, the service was often slow. But when its delivered with a warm smile, you have no option but to reciprocate. The rooms are comfortable and feature large bathrooms. Some have views of the Serengeti plains. The lodge is centrally located in the national park and is generally a good base to see large herds and a variety of species.
Tarangire Sopa offered the most modern looking rooms, which may be great for some, but lacks the authentic safari experience. Meals were nothing to shout about. However, the friendly manager, Andrew, was grateful for our feedback and willing to make guests as comfortable as possible. So perhaps, things will change for the better at this lodge, for it has a good location for a visit to Tarangire National Park.
I left home thinking I’d have to switch off from the rest of the world. But Wi-Fi in the middle of the African bush means posting updates on Facebook were a must. All the lodges provided free Wi-Fi in their lobbies. While you’re there, check out Herdtracker to see where the big herds (and predators) have been gathering. Despite the Wi-Fi distraction, it was easy for me to switch off and be absorbed by the remoteness of the bush.
A safari in the Serengeti and surrounds – once in a lifetime? I certainly hope not. It may take me a while before I revisit, but until then, I’ll just have to make more trips to Kruger!