Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti
Central Serengeti, Tanzania; 255-778-888-888; 77 rooms from $890 (U.S.), includes all meals; fourseasons.com/serengeti.
The Serengeti has its fair share of luxurious tented camps where well-heeled globetrotters know that, even though they are in the wilds of Africa, hot running water, high-thread-count linens and turn-down service are a given. But for some travellers, "glamping" is still camping and nothing beats a bricks-and-mortar five-star where you can order poolside cocktails, take a morning workout and hang out the do not disturb sign. In this respect, the new Four Seasons Safari Lodge, the brand's foray in Sub-Saharan Africa, gives sybarites exactly what they want.
A two hour journey from Arusha (half of it in a small plane, the other in a Land Rover from Seronera airstrip) provides a first taste of the safari experience. From the air, you'll see the Ngorongoro Crater and on a clear day, herds of zebra, elephant and giraffe crossing the plains of Serengeti National Park. I'd recommend an early-morning flight to avoid excess turbulence (flying in a 12-seat Cessna means you feel the wind, which often gets worse in the afternoon).
The lodge is well hidden among the acacia trees, rocks and grassland. After about an hour on dirt tracks that seem to lead nowhere, there's one final turn and an enormous thatched-roof structure comes into view. The hotel blends into the landscape, seemingly camouflaged from the wildlife. In the lobby there's lots of wood and leather, and eye-catching sculptures of elephants, hippos and Maasai warriors. Elevated pathways leading the rooms and spa pavilion are well-marked, but lend the feel of a sprawling resort instead of an intimate boutique property. Once in your room, the decor is best described as safari lodge meets city hotel. Spacious rooms feature satellite TV, air conditioning, private terraces and four-poster beds with an overly generous amount of mosquito netting (the grounds are also sprayed regularly).
The location: Set within Serengeti National Park, the wildlife literally comes to you. As I was wading in the swimming pool, about 20 elephants lingered at a nearby watering hole. On the way back to my room from a massage, I saw two Cape buffalo under the spa pavilion. And the shrieking noise I heard during the rub down was a group of bickering baboons on a neighbouring hill.
WHOM YOU'LL MEET
Four Seasons diehards and posh guests who can't live without five-star service, a gym and reliable WiFi. Behind the scenes, you'll meet a fascinating mix of staff who mostly hail from Tanzania, including traditionally dressed Maasai askari (Swahili for soldier) who help with luggage and guide guests to their rooms by flashlight after dark.
EAT IN OR EAT OUT?
You're in the middle of the Serengeti, so of course you're eating in. But that's no hardship. For lunch, ask for the tilapia wrap with Cajun mayo and masala chai iced tea at Maji, a lobby level bar/restaurant that overlooks the pool and the main wildlife watering hole. Inside, Kula's serves plentiful breakfast and dinner buffets, but for a more authentic African-inspired meal of oxtail and vegetable biryani, reserve a table at Boma Grill.
ROOM WITH A VIEW
Each of the rooms, suites and villas has a view over the plains, so chances are good you will spot wandering giraffes, elephants and buffalo whether you're soaking in the tub or taking afternoon tea on your patio.
IF I COULD CHANGE ONE THING
The restaurants' wait staff was friendly and accommodating, but they seemed unsure of themselves. Ordering poached eggs on toast led to much confusion, and dinner at Boma Grill was served in the middle of a performance by the singing and dancing Maasai (the servers caught on quickly that we were watching, not eating, and took the food back to be warmed). I stayed within three weeks of the opening, however, so I expect more training will improve things.
The writer was a guest of the resort.