Expert Tips for a Safari HoneymoonWords by Louise Hoole
Photos courtesy of Selous Safari Company
Tanzania is currently at the top of everyone’s safari list: 40% of the country’s land is protected, it’s got more predators than you can shake a stick at, and it’s been voted as having three of Africa’s top seven wonders. Below are some reasons why Tanzania is a splendid locale for any honeymoon.
What’s so special about Tanzania?
Tanzania has been named the best safari destination in Africa, yet it still has relatively few tourists. Most head to the north of the country, so the undiscovered south is blissfully quiet. It’s also one of the world’s last pristine wildernesses.
So where did you stay?
With Selous Safari Company. They have two boutique safari ‘camps’ - Jongomero in Ruaha National Park, and Siwandu in the Selous Game Reserve - which offer some of the most isolated lodgings in Africa.
Never heard of them! Why should I stay there?
A honeymoon is no time to be mingling with the masses. Book into Siwandu and you’ll have 50,000 square kilometers at your disposal; book into Jongomero, and the closest lodge will be 70 kilometers away. There's nothing like sharing thousands of square kilometres with several million animals and just a few other guests.
So you think size matters?
Yes! The same numbers of tourists visit the Serengeti in a single day as visit Ruaha in a year. Ruaha is the biggest national park in Tanzania, and the Selous, by some estimates, the planet’s largest game reserve. That kind of isolation is almost impossible to find outside the Siberian steppe, Antarctica and parts of the Amazon. Welcome to one of the least populated areas in the world!
So we’ll be away from it all?
There are more lions here than people. The camps are so remote they both have their own airstrips, so your first view of elephants, hippos and giraffes is likely to be from the air. And you’re not going to be hounded by the office: Jongomero is a complete no-phone zone, with reception only available some miles from camp under one of the parks immense baobab trees.
You say we’ll be camping? That doesn’t sound much fun on a honeymoon.
This may be a ‘camp’, but not as you know it. This is nothing like struggling with a leaking polythene tent in a drizzling Wales. Don’t think camping, think glamping. Then multiply that exponentially. This is the sort of ‘roughing it’ that even Cheryl Cole can do. You’ll have a palatial suite, an ensuite big enough to turn cartwheels in, and a vast game-viewing veranda. Oh, and did I mention at Siwandu you are allocated your own personal butler?
That doesn’t sound like camping!
It is. Just the old-fashioned Out of Africa kind - all polished wooden floors, copper sinks, and stargazing showers. ‘Camping’ in the bush is about as glamorous as it gets.
Is it romantic?
Are you kidding? Nothing compares to the romance of Africa: the huge skies, the endless horizons, the sunsets. But safaris in the wilderness are particularly special. Swim in the moonlight whilst watching elephants, drink sundowners on rivers full of hippos, or cuddle up in a divinely comfortable bed listening to lions roaring in the distance. Sumptuous meals, roaring pre-dinner fires, siestas in eight-foot wide beds, and endless thrillingly-close encounters with the Big Five. Meryl and Robert knew a thing or two about romance.
Don’t safaris involve early starts and bumping around in cars? We’re really looking for something more relaxing.
You can wake before dawn to see the sun rise and the big cats slinking back from the hunt; you can walk for hours with your guide pointing out the signs and stories of the bush. But you can also just float down a river drinking wine and watching the wildlife coming into drink. Or relax in a sarong by the pool in the heat of the afternoon watching all the animals of the savannah wander past: a dazzle of zebras grazing just a few feet from your veranda; a phalanx of giraffes ambling past; a leopard lounging in a distant tree.
Isn’t East Africa dangerous? Haven’t Nairobi and Somalia been in the news recently?
East Africa is a BIG place. Holidaying in Tanzania and worrying about what’s happening in Kenya or Somalia is a little like worrying about the riots in Greece when you’re on the pier in Brighton. Presidents, popstars and a million tourists have all safely visited Tanzania this year.
So it is safe?
Tanzania is probably the most peaceful and stable democracy in Africa. It doesn’t often make the news for exactly that reason: no wars, famines or genocides.
It does sound wonderful. What else can I expect?
Expect to see millions of animals, including some of the continent's most endangered species. Expect gargantuan feasts on dry riverbeds lit by oil lamps and a sprinkling of stars. Expect champagne in front of huge red African suns, the whoop of the hyenas as you lie in bed at night, and staff that smile as if you were the sun.
It sounds pretty special.
It is. There’s all the adventure of your backpacking days with none of the dirt, danger and disease. You’ll be collected in style in a twelve-seat Cessna, flown through the awesome, ancient Great Rift Valley landscape, passing over magical baobab forests and meandering croc-filled rivers. From there it only gets better. There is such attention to detail at camp: to the slow roasting of the Moroccan-spiced lamb, to the hand written notes on your bed when you arrive, to the hot water bottles slipped between your sheets at night. Many places try to emulate Selous Safari Company; few match it. It’s developed an amazing reputation in the last 25 years for providing once in a lifetime boutique safaris: I guess that’s why it attracts the sort of people it does.
So who’s been there?
The camp owners are famously discrete about their renowned guests. But let’s just say that princes, celebrities and superstars have all stayed in the company’s three exclusive retreats, all situated in isolated areas of extreme natural beauty.
I’m not sure we have the energy for a safari after such a busy wedding.
Most newly weds arrive exhausted, and want the chance to rejuvenate, acclimatise, and boost their energy levels before moving on to the adventures of a safari. If you want some time to relax, fly straight into Jongomero/Siwandu’s sister lodge, Ras Kutani, and book in for a three or four-night chill out. Expect a vast crescent-shaped white sand beach to lounge on, the balmy aquamarine waters of the Indian Ocean to splash in, and a coastal forest full of bush babies, vervet monkeys and civet cats to explore. A honeymoon offers the chance to splurge on the holiday of a lifetime: for many people that is a Tanzanian bush/beach experience. When will you have the chance to see lions, giraffes, hippos, turtles, whales and dolphins on the same holiday again?
What will we remember most?
The highlight of your honeymoon probably won’t be the amazing accommodation, the fabulous food, the spectacular sunsets or the majestic Maasai. It will be the absolute privacy, the pristine wilderness, and the beautiful animal-filled days. Most honeymooners spend their final day praying that their pilot will forget to collect them. This is the African dream. African arcadia. The continent doesn’t get more remote or romantic than this.
When to go?
The best time of year to see large mammals is during the dry season (mid May-December), when the animals can easily be seen congregating around permanent water holes. The wet season (January–April) is best for bird watching, lush scenery and wildflowers.
How to visit?
Fly Emirates or Qatar from London to Dar es Salaam (c. 12 hours), then take a 65-minute flight on Coastal Aviation to the Selous or a 2.5-hour flight to Ruaha.
Selous or Ruaha?
You can see scores of mammals, hundreds of species of birds, and thousands of species of plants in both locations. For some people, Selous may have the edge for bush walking, river safaris, hippos, crocs and wild dogs; Ruaha for birding, and great herds of elephants. Many honeymooner, however, choose to combine the two so as to experience the diversity of Tanzanian habitats, and finish it off with a few days chilling out at the boutique beach retreat of Ras Kutani. For more details of Jongomero, Siwandu and Ras Kutani, (all run by Selous safari Company) please log onto selous.com.
Imagine Africa is offering a nine-night Selous Safari Company special for select departures during 2014. The safari-and-beach itinerary starts at $4,427 per person, and must be booked before the end of March 2014. The price includes three nights at Jongomero (in Ruaha National Park); three nights at Siwandu (in the Selous Game Reserve); and three nights at the boutique beach retreat of Ras Kutani. The price is for full board and includes internal transfers, game drives, concession and park fees, taxes and surcharges.
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