Towards the end of July, I met up with old friends from North Carolina who were on a month-long East African safari extravaganza. Having finished up in Kenya, I joined them for the Tanzanian portion of their safari adventure, which included forays into the Selous, Manyara, Grumeti and Serengeti Lamai.
Our first port-of-call was the 50,000 square kilometre Selous game reserve. Kiba Point (http://www.nomad-tanzania.com/south/kiba-point-selous), situated a mile downstream of Sand Rivers, is Nomad’s flagship private safari camp in the Selous. It’s an idyllic family-friendly retreat on the banks of the perennial Rufiji River in the heart of the Selous’ main tourism area. Boasting four impressively large, open-air rooms – each with its own deck and plunge pool – we were able to appreciate the thrill of swimming and sleeping within earshot of hungry hippos and enigmatic elephants.
Although the Selous is famed for its enormous elephant herds, poaching has inflicted catastrophic losses on these giant pachyderms with the elephant population collapsing from 110,000 to 43,000 in five years. First-hand evidence of the elephant genocide that has ravaged the Selous was evident from the fact that during our five days in the heart of the game reserve, during a peak wildlife-viewing month, we never actually saw a single elephant. The stomach-churning magnitude of the slaughter defies belief.
By contrast the picturesque Rufiji River must have one of the highest densities of big crocodiles for any waterway in Africa! And it is the river, along with spectacular Stiegler’s Gorge, that is the modern-day highlight of any Selous safari. What a shame that Tanzania’s thirst for hydropower will rob the world of this iconic natural asset and quite likely cost the Selous its precarious World Heritage Site status in the process.
After exploring the beleaguered wilderness of Selous, we climbed aboard our Cessna Caravan and flew to Manyara airstrip and transferred to the ‘slow safari’ destination of Chem Chem Lodge (http://www.chemchemsafari.com) on the eastern edge of Lake Manyara. Aptly known as ‘the sunset camp’, it’s luxurious without being lavish, blending in with the unfenced wilderness of the Burunge Wildlife Management Area and forming an important wildlife corridor between Lake Manyara and the wildlife-rich Tarangire National Park.
Chem Chem has much to recommend it: top quality guiding (with Alex), attentive management (from Kelly), outstanding food, friendly staff and a diverse range of safari activities. From gawking at the giant flocks flamingos and enjoying sunset drinks overlooking Lake Manyara to Masaai-guided bush walks and game drives on Little Chem Chem, there is something to appeal to everyone. But for most visitors, Chem Chem’s greatest drawcard is its staggering concentrations of elephants – and especially its giant tuskers. They are indeed a sight to behold when jostling and cavorting at a busy waterhole on the Little Chem Chem concession.
Our next stop on the itinerary was no more than a stone’s throw from home for me at the exclusive-use Singita Serengeti House (https://singita.com/lodge/singita-serengeti-house/) at the base of Sasakwa Hill. Completely refurbished in mid-2017, the newly appointed Serengeti House embodies sophisticated safari living with a relaxed family-orientated atmosphere in the Grumeti Game Reserve: one of Africa’s most iconic conservation areas. Thanks to the outstanding work of the Singita Grumeti Fund (www.singitagrumetifund.org) the 350,000 acre concession has been secured and rejuvenated to once again harbour wildlife populations and animal densities that rival the very best in Africa. Singita Grumeti is a genuine conservation success story and a beacon of hope for what can be achieved with an effective public-private partnership.
In amongst a plethora of quality sightings, we enjoyed excellent leopard, lion and cheetah viewing. A procession of thirsty animals queued up to slake their thirst at the waterhole in front of the camp and we notched up sightings of elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, hyena and cheetah without even climbing out of the swimming pool! Add to this ultra-luxurious accommodations and attentive service, and Serengeti House is one of those rare safari lodges where you quite legitimately feel that you don’t even need to go out on game drive, because the animals come to you.
The grand finale – from a wildlife perspective – was a short plane hop away in Lamai where the wildebeest migration was in full swing already. We stayed at Nomad’s self-contained Mkombe House (http://www.nomad-tanzania.com/north/mkombes-house-lamai). Beautifully styled, the private house has a fresh contemporary feel, although the lack of an outdoor fireplace and heavily chlorinated swimming pool were a disappointment.
Designed for families and thoughtfully built around the rocks of the Kogakuria Kopje, it is conveniently located in the midst of one of Serengeti’s richest wildlife habitats with magnificent views across the Northern Serengeti towards the Mara River.
Sadly, the Lamai is no longer the safari backwater it once was and after the privacy and seclusion of the Singita Grumeti concessions, sharing our wildlife sightings and avoiding the safari hordes took some getting used to again. But, with careful planning and sensible route choices, we managed to notch up some sensational sightings of a female leopard and her cub on a wildebeest kill, lions taking down a wildebeest, a gigantic crocodile snatching a wildebeest during a river crossing, and carpets of noisy wildebeest that stretched as far as the eye could see. The ungainly gnu dominating the Lamai action!
Isla Mujeres – Mexico
Picture-prefect Isla Mujeres (http://www.isla-mujeres.net) – The Island of Women – is a beautiful, peaceful paradise lapped by warm, turquoise waters. Known for its beautiful white-sand beaches, calm crystal-clear waters, and the friendliest people in the Mexican Caribbean, the island is a sun-seeker and beach goer’s paradise. Just five miles long and half-a-mile wide at its widest point, and located a mere eight miles across the Bahia de Mujeres from Cancun, Isla Mujeres couldn’t be any more different to its more illustrious and horribly over-developed neighbour.
For hundreds of years Isla Mujeres was nothing more than a sleepy fishing village and even though it has evolved to embrace a tourism-driven economy, the charming island still retains its laid-back vibe and tranquil atmosphere. A rich Mayan heritage further infuses the vibrant island life and culture.
As we explored the island and strolled through the narrow streets, we saw local families gathered together in Caribbean-style homes tucked between small hotels and lively restaurants, giving the island a small town feeling that’s light years away from the high-rise hotels and designer stores of Cancun on the Mexican mainland.
Playa Norte – AKA North Beach – is considered by many to be the best beach in all of Mexico. With soft white sand, idyllic palm trees and water so blue that the sky looks pale, North Beach is the quintessential place to relax and destress. To ensure we were able to maximize our beach time, we opted to stay at the super-relaxed and kid-friendly Nauti Beach – http://nautibeach.com/en/ – adjoining this iconic strip on bone-white sand in the north of the island. The self-catering hotel proved an inspired choice and when our week was up nobody wanted to get back on the ferryboat for the short return cruise to the Mexican mainland and back to reality.