For our Luxury Custom Travel consultants, one of the most important parts of the job is scouting destinations to find one-of-a-kind experiences and opportunities for special access that our guests will love. With their insider knowledge of locations around the world, our travel specialists curate customized trips from scratch for all different types of travelers.
Known for its sprawling national parks and game reserves, from Tanzania’s famous Serengeti Plain to the wide-open Masai Mara in Kenya, East Africa is a world-class destination for encountering Africa’s diverse wildlife. Below, consultant Renee Van Drent shares her favorite experiences from scouting the natural wonders of this must-see region.
Where did you go?
I started in Tanzania and went to Arusha, Grumeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Zanzibar. Then I spent time in Kenya, including Diana Beach, Mombasa, Nairobi, Nanyuki and the Masai Mara.
Where should our guests start for unique experiences in East Africa?
Right next door to the Serengeti National Park, the Grumeti Conservancy is a fence-free wilderness that allows you to get closer to the wildlife. In the national park, game vehicles aren’t allowed to venture off the roads or stop in packs, but within the conservancy, your driver has more freedom to take you right up to the animals, wherever they may be.
If you have time while visiting the Ngorongoro Crater, you should make the hour-and-a-half drive from the main entrance to the much more remote Highlands – Asilia Africa camp. Stay in one of eight domed tents that feel as if you’re staying in your very own treehouse—complete with butler service. In Kenya’s Masai Mara, Little Governors’ Tented Camp offers another incredible place to stay in the savannas. Located in a private concession, its 17 tents are situated on the banks of an oxbow lake home to all sorts of animals, including the Big Five. After a boat ride on the Mara River, a family of monkeys greeted me at the camp entrance. As you round the corner to the property, prepare to be stunned that you’ll be sleeping just feet from hippo ears wiggling above a giant watering hole.
What are some can’t-miss experiences and destinations?
Game drives in 4x4 vehicles are definitely the best way to approach East Africa’s world-famous wildlife, but a hot air balloon ride gives you the chance to survey the vast Masai Mara or the Serengeti from above. And words truly cannot explain the splendor of Ngorongoro Crater. Around 25,000 large animals live in the crater, including the critically endangered black rhino. What’s interesting is that there are no giraffes, topis, or impalas here, as they find the rocky areas too difficult to access.
I’d also recommend visiting Zanzibar, where you can take a walk through the UNESCO World Heritage site known as Stone Town. It’s a well-preserved example of the trading towns along the Swahili Coast, where the cultures of Africa mingled with Arab, Indian and European influences for over a millennium. Many other structures in the Zanzibar archipelago are protected under the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act too. We can arrange for a local to take you to some of the untouched villages on the islands.
You stayed in some remarkable properties. What made them special?
Singita Sasaqwa in the Serengeti Valley is an elegant, all-inclusive property that excels at making you feel like you’re the only guests there. Its ten spacious cottages are well appointed, each with a private plunge pool overlooking the valley. The main lodge also has lots of room to spread out, with multiple seating areas, libraries, a billiards room, map room and even a whiskey room.
I also loved the private atmosphere at the Baraza Resort and Spa Zanzibar, where you can rent your own villa adorned with beautiful Arabic décor. Soak up the incredible views of the Indian Ocean coastline from your personal beach chair, or find a quiet spot by the massive pool.
Describe some of your favorite food experiences.
The all-inclusive lodges that I stayed at all had fresh, delicious food, but the dining experiences at Segera Retreat stand out the most. Each of its restaurants features a unique setting, from a candlelit wine tower to a paddock house that looks out on Mount Kenya.
What surprised you about East Africa?
Even though I had a sense of what to expect, I was blown away by the wildlife and landscapes. You really do get up close and personal with the animals and you quickly realize that you’re just a visitor in their habitat. I wasn’t there anywhere near the time of the great wildebeest migration, but I never felt like I was missing out because there was still so much to see. It was right after the rainy season, and I loved spotting the lions perched in the trees to see over the extra-tall grass. Finding the Big Five was spectacular, of course, but one of my greatest joys was seeing a dung beetle rolling a ball of dung many times its size across the road.
We can send you on your own adventure of a lifetime in this incredible region. Our travel specialists would love to design a dream itinerary for you based on your interests, trip objectives, and ideal timeframe.