MARA PLAINS has seven tents with large lounge areas.
As Sub-Saharan Africa becomes easier to reach, more high-end camps are opening in a range of environments. Here are three new properties (and major overhauls of existing lodges and camps) that are perfect for getting close to nature in style.
Namiri Plains opened under the Asilia Africa portfolio on July 1 in a section of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park that has been closed to the public for cheetah research for the last 20 years. As such, the camp (which is 45 miles from any other development) has a great population of big cats, and one of the highest density of cheetah in East Africa.
This is a top choice for people who want to get away from it all and “rough it”...without roughing it too much. The six tents have king or two twin beds and en-suite bathrooms with hot bucket showers. (And even though this is technically camping, each tent has its own flush toilet.) Top Picks: The Honeymoon Safari Suite is perfect for couples, but families will want to grab the custom-designed family tent.
Wherever they choose to stay, visitors will get top views over the Serengeti plains, which are filled with migrating wildebeest from October to March each year.
Guests can go on twice-daily game drives and talk with the resident cheetah researcher about the big cats and what the teams have learned over the last 20 years.
For a bit of local culture, guests can try a traditional BBQ prepared over an open campfire each evening. For something extra special, they can even dine outdoors. (We hear this should be requested in advance.)
Good to know: The camp is open 10 months each year, from June to March. The annual Great Migration, from November to March, attracts the most guests, while summer (July through September) is also a popular time to book. Try to reach out at least six months in advance for reservations.
Getting There: Seronera airstrip, the primary airstrip in the Serengeti National Park, is an hour and 15 minutes away from the camp, and can accommodate a Pilatus plane. The airstrip gets local flights from Dar es Salaam and Arusha airports, and South African Airways flies to Dar es Salaam from Johannesburg, where U.S.-based travelers can fly from New York or Washington, D.C.
For questions or requests, reach out to Director of Marketing and Sales Dave van Smeerdijk ([email protected]; 011-27-21-418-0468).
In Laikipia, Kenya, Wilderness Safaris’ Segera Retreat opened last year. This is a top pick for eco-conscious safari fans who don’t want to skimp on the top touches.
Pictured: SEGERA RETREAT combines comfort with sustainability.
For example, spa aficionados will be in luck here: The Retreat’s Wellness Centre offers a range of holistic treatments and therapies—think scrubs, facials, full-body therapies and massage treatments. We hear the massage combine African traditions and traditional Asian techniques using ingredients like ghee, milk, wine, butter cream, and honey. The Rock Bath experience, meanwhile, includes body brush, followed by exfoliation, and ends with a milk bath with herbs.
The spa also has a Rasul Steam Tower, a salt-water swimming pool and a gym (no need to take a vacation from the daily workout). Bonus: Treatments can be booked same-day.
Activities can include day and night game drives, picnics, guided walks, camel walks, sleep-outs, community visits and family-friendly excursions for younger trekkers. For something really special, chart a fixed-wing plane and head out for a full day of game-viewing (with a picnic lunch, of course). Just as cool? Book a helicopter and head out to Mount Kenya or the Aberdares, the Great Lakes (Baringo/Nakuru) or anywhere around Northern Kenya.
When staying on-property, guests can choose from six timber-and-thatch villas, including one Family Villa. All of the villas are built on elevated wooden platforms with top views of the savannah, and each has its own private deck with lounge chairs and swinging beds for siestas or evening naps. Villas also have their own outdoor hot tubs, and each villa has exclusive artwork from local masters.
Families will want to book the stone-clad Segera House, which can accommodate up to four people. The house has a private lounge, raised observation deck, private garden and salt-water pool. Otherwise, families can book the two-bedroom Family Villa (aka Villa 4), which can accommodate four people and includes a sole-use vehicle when a family of four books the villa.
Couples, however, will want to book Villa Segera, which has two wooden buildings connected by a swing bridge. Need more? There’s also a private verandah, pool and lounge area, a private garden and salt-water pool.
Getting There: An airstrip is located at Segera Retreat, and private charters can reach the camp from Nairobi in a little less than an hour. Scheduled flights, meanwhile, land at Nanyuki Airstrip, which is a little bit more than 30 minutes from Nairobi, and South African Airways flies to Nairobi from Johannesburg.
For any questions or requests, reach out to Wilderness Safaris’ U.S. Sales Manager Craig Glatthaar ([email protected]; 011-27-21-702-7500) in the company’s Cape Town office.
Just a year ago, Mara Plains, located on the northern border of Kenya’s Maasai Mara Game Reserve in the 35,000-acre Olare Motorogi Conservancy, reopened following a complete top-to-bottom overhaul. Owned by National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence and five-time Emmy award-winning photographers and filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert, this camp is a must-visit for anyone who appreciates both wilderness and the finer things in life.
With only seven tents, Mara Plains is limited to just 14 guests (and two trip leaders), guaranteeing an exclusive, completely customizable experience. What to do? Try early morning, late afternoon and night 4x4 game drives; balloon safaris; wildlife walks and visits to local villages. Beyond local villages, Camp Managers Shaun Moseley and Amy Rostance can also arrange visits with local wildlife conservationists, private visits with Maasai locals and tours of their schools.
The dining experience at the camp is never the same twice since the menu can be adjusted to guest requests (or, just as importantly, dietary restrictions). We hear that the bush dinner with Maasai dancers, however, is a special event. While there is no formal bar, drinks are usually taken around the campfire at the end of the day to unwind after game drives.
Again, there’s no roughing it here: All the tents have large lounges, private ice boxes with drinks, a tea/coffee station, deep copper soaking tubs and private decks. Maybe the coolest perk of all is a set of Canon professional camera equipment including a 100-400 mm lens and a pair of Swarovski binoculars for use during a guest’s stay. (No need to worry about packing heavy SLR cameras in carry-on luggage).
Tents six and seven are the top picks, we hear. The former sits just above the river with a two-level deck for prime wildlife viewing (think lots of hippos) while the other looks out over the plains (think front-seat vistas of the Great Migration). Both are a bit apart from the other tents, so they’re a good pick for couples looking to get away from it all.
Family Tip: Tents one and two don’t connect, but are close to one another, so these are good for family units or friends who want to stay nearby.
Pictured: NAMIRI PLAINS tents are open to the Serengeti, but have plenty of modern comforts.
Luxury travel advisors in the Americas should reach out to Director of Strategic Business Development Caitlin Carter ([email protected]; 011-425-392-0163) with any questions or requests.
Getting There: Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International is the nearest international airport, but it’s at least a five-hour drive from camp. A better option is to book a private flight to either the camp’s nearest airstrip (Ol Kiombo, which is 45 minutes from camp) or Mara Plains’ private Olare Orok airstrip (which is 20 minutes away.) These flights should only last about an hour. Bonus: Upon arrival in Nairobi, the camp team can help arrange private visa assistance and even helicopter transfers.
On the Radar
As of press time, Wilderness Safaris was slated to open the Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp along Namibia’s Skeleton Coast on August 1. The company is also set to open its Linkwasha Camp in 2015.
Pictured: SEGERA villas have top views over the savannah.
&Beyond also has grand plans for &Beyond Benguerra Island in Mozambique’s tropical Bazaruto Archipelago, acquired by the company in November last year. The lodge was renovated in May, and further refurbishment is scheduled for early in 2015.
For news about other luxury camp renovations from &Beyond, Sanctuary Retreats and others, keep an eye on www.luxurytraveladvisor.com.
To learn more about upcoming luxury camps, we reached out to Karen Harris of Camelback Safaris, an affiliate of Travel Experts.
“One of the ones that everyone’s really excited about is the new Wilderness [Safaris] Skeleton Coast property, Hoanib in Namibia...There hasn’t been a proper camp on the Skeleton Coast for quite a while. Everyone is really excited about the access, about the way it was built, about the manager—who used to be a guide and is spectacular and everybody loves.
“The area is really unexplorable unless you take a private plane and set up a tented camp. It’s not an accessible area, so having a permanent camp there gives you access. I think the Skeleton Coast itself is the hook.
“I’m really excited about the possibilities of Benguerra Lodge that &Beyond has taken over in Mozambique. They’re shutting it down for six to eight months, and it will be spectacular. Part of the brilliance is that Benguerra has an unbelievable site and setting, and &Beyond has the funds and the wisdom and the background to really create something new for Mozambique…If you know Mozambique and you know Benguerra Lodge, you’ll be excited, because it’s so well located and it’s got a great name and Benguerra is so interesting.”