It had been a few years since my last visit to Northern Tanzania, an area on many people’s bucket list, and an area with names that evoke all sorts of emotions. My memories of my first visit to Tanzania, about 20 years ago, are still with me – particularly the cheetah sighting in the tall grass of the Serengeti, when the cubs got told off by their Mum, because she lost the Tommy she had just caught for their dinner, as they were otherwise occupied with some rough and tumble.
My recent trip started with an early morning flight from Heathrow on KLM via Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro. One of the big advantages with flying on KLM is that you have a number of regional airports to choose from, and do not have to make the journey to Heathrow. I do enjoy KLM (even at the back) – the planes are comfortable, the inflight entertainment excellent and the crew professional and friendly.
After landing in Tanzania, sorting our visas and clearing customs, it was an easy transfer to Lake Duluti Serena, where we were welcomed and given dinner and then straight to bed after a long day.
After breakfast the following morning we stopped off at the Cultural Heritage Centre on the outskirts of Arusha. This is a very worthwhile place to visit, with beautiful works of art to admire and plenty of local jewellery and curios to purchase. The centre holds the only collection of its kind in the world, ranging from African antiques to contemporary painting and sculpture.
The journey of 130kms from Lake Duluti to Lake Manyara Serena was comfortable, with excellent roads and lovely scenery and our guides kept us entertained with interesting information about the areas we were travelling through.
Lake Manyara Serena is set on the Mto wa Mbu, overlooking the Great Rift Valley and Lake Manyara. My group made a beeline for the infinity pool to soak up the view. It took quite a bit of effort getting them away, for a short nature walk around the property, which included a visit to the veg garden and tree nursery.
Lake Manyara Serena grows 3000 indigenous tree seedlings a year, which are given out free of charge to the local villages. The aim being that the neighbouring communities will rehabilitate their own land and protect the rich top soil.
Monday was our longest day – we left Lake Manyara after breakfast and drove via Ngorongoro, through the Serengeti to Kirawira. Serena had packed a picnic lunch for us, which we enjoyed at the entrance to the Serengeti.
The highlight for me at Kirawira, was early morning coffee on my deck, looking out across the Ndabaka Plains. The Camp is located in the Western Serengeti, between the Grumeti and the Mbalageti rivers, famous for their enormous crocodiles. Lake Victoria is just an hour’s drive from the camp.
The Grumeti Airstrip is just 13kms from the camp, which allows easy access from Arusha, only an hour away by plane. Slightly easier than the full-day drive that we did.
Mbuzi Mawe was our next stop, located in the Seronera region of the Serengeti. Here the tents are really spacious and set amongst huge boulders and acacia trees. We were lucky enough to see a couple of Mbuzi Mawe (Klipspringer antelope) on a rock in the evening. The game is more prolific, but that also means more vehicles.
Next stop was Serengeti Serena, and another opportunity for the Brits to try out a pool with a view.
The bee-hive shaped rooms and beautiful gardens, with large acacia trees, make this a very relaxing place to stay.
The highlight of our trip was on the last morning in the Serengeti, with Serengeti Balloon Safaris. The experience started from the minute we left the lodge at 5am, it was pitch dark when we came across a lion kill right next to the road.
Watching the balloon being filled, being shown how to board the basket, the take-off itself, and the flight – skimming the tall grass, popping over acacia trees or soaring at a great height – the whole experience was mind blowing.
As with any safari, you never know what you are going to see, so we were enthralled when a family of lions passed underneath us, and as we came into land the area ahead of us was filled with zebra and wildebeest – not quite the migration, but lovely all the same.
On landing a bubbly breakfast had been set up for us, with all considerations being accounted for … lots of pictures were taken from the loo with a view!
Our drivers picked us up straight from breakfast and we headed south with a brief stop at Seronera Airstrip.
Next stop was Ngorongoro, which was not nearly as busy as I imagined it would be. The game viewing and the scenery spectacular and another Serena picnic was enjoyed, this time overlooking a lake.
Ngorongoro Serena is reminiscent of the Flintstones, with the hotel being built with stones from the side of the crater. Being close to Olduvai Gorge, the hotel has murals on the walls that reflect the art of the early inhabitants of the area. The log fires in the communal areas, kept off the mountain chill. That night we were entertained by some of the local singers and dancers, which my group thoroughly enjoyed.
The next day we headed back to Lake Duluti Serena, arriving in time for lunch. With a whole afternoon to explore, we decided to head down to the lake and try out some canoeing, which was another highlight of the trip. As we headed back towards the shoreline, Mount Kilimanjaro peeped through the cloud.
A relaxed breakfast and then it was back to Kilimanjaro Airport and our flight to Nairobi, with everyone buzzing with stories to tell of an incredible week in Africa.
After an update with the Serena sales team, we spent the night at the Nairobi Serena, an oasis in the heart of the city. The next morning we transferred to Jomo Kenyatta Airport, to experience the new terminal and the business class lounge – last chance for some retail therapy, before boarding Kenya Airways for our daylight flight to Heathrow.