Just Back From

Just Back From… Two New Tanzanian Destinations


inspires gratitude. Being in east Africa, in fact, stirs deep appreciation—for what we have throughout the world and what is endemic only to this magnificent place. Time here goes by unhurriedly, and watching animals move (or sleep), seeing the sun rise and set and witnessing our own connection to the land happens without knowledge of minutes passing. When out on game drives, dining in a remote clearing at the bottom of a 500-million-year-old crater, walking across pristine, private, white-sand beaches and spending time with Maasai people, a visitor can't help but feel both thankful for the earth and humbled by their tiny place in it. The best lodge owners understand and celebrate this, and two new properties in very different parts of the country celebrate their unique locales to great success. Sitting alone in the Indian Ocean, 16 miles off the mainland coast, Thanda Island is one of the world’s most extraordinary private isle experiences. The 20-acre spit of fine sand and pine forest shaped like a teardrop is available to guests only as full take-overs. This means that the fully staffed five-bedroom villa, two traditional yet luxurious bungalows and limitless water and beach activities are reserved only for the property's guests.

Related: Tanzania Destination Report

A stay might include snorkeling or diving amidst green and hawksbill turtles, whale sharks, the endangered dugong (a funny-looking, manatee-like creature) and some of the most colorful coral reefs in the world. The perfect way to end a safari trip, time on Thanda Island is utterly the guest’s own, where activities can be as rigorous (waterskiing, stand-up paddle-boarding) or as relaxed (drinking Champagne with salty skin and sandy toes) as they would like.

In places like this, where not another human or human-created element is visible, the occasional storm cloud rolling across the sky provides Hollywood blockbuster–level entertainment, and silences everyone as they are reminded of the majesty, the drama of nature.

To the west, in the vast Serengeti, the new Asilia Highlands, too, caters to those looking for special, personalized experiences with nature and local culture. Rather than compete with the masses who enter the crater early in the morning, the guides at Asilia set off down into the caldera around mid-day, beginning their game drive with a bush lunch in a remote clearing within the park. After a leisurely meal under towering yellow fever trees, guests traverse the crater floor by jeep, seeing animals in their natural habitat as most other visitors begin to leave. Asilia guests tend to be the only people left in the park at the end of the day, allowing for a starkly contrasting experience in the typically crowded, busy area.

Related: Graham Springer Photo Essay

The isolated location for the camp, about an hour’s drive from the Ngorongoro Crater, was inspired by a desire to be in an extremely remote region amidst Maasai villages and hamlets not previously privy to tourism. The eight-tent lodge has painstakingly created a program that allows guests an insight into the Maasai life that doesn't have detrimental effects on the culture.

Guests at Asilia are driven to a variety of boma, or Maasai homesteads, and introduced to the patriarch, his multiple wives and children. Through spending time in the small huts, guests learn about the Maasai's lives, complex coming-of-age traditions and talk with the warm, lovely people via a translator and some amusing charades moves.

The gracious and welcoming people, who have so little, want to share it all. I met a young mother of three and she noticed me admiring her intricately beaded jewelry. With clear pity for me — I was wearing only simple pearl studs, she took off an earring to give to me. The next day, the same woman came to the Asilia camp to teach me about the beautiful Maasai tradition of beading. Together, we ended up making a matching set of earrings for me to take home.

Being in Tanzania fundamentally makes us slow down, having pared down our days to our surroundings and simpler comforts, like sleeping with the view of billions of stars—either under mosquito nets on a tropical island or with a fleece-covered hot-water bottle in the cool highlands. We are grateful to put our real life on hold for a moment and focus on our place in the universe. With a feeling that can only be described as the opposite of homesick, we are in fact at home, on a remote island, on a mountainside, in the vast grass plains, with ourselves.

Related: Thanda Island and Asilia Highlands

Published onAugust 12, 2016

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