Just Back From

Transformative Tanzania

Indagare editorial director Annie Fitzsimmons reports back on her experiences on safari in Tanzania.

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After 12 days in Tanzania, I slept for two days straight upon returning to London. I wasn’t sick, but I felt somehow unable to be back in my real life. This had never happened to me before in two decades of nonstop traveling. I simply could not face daily tasks: shopping on Turnham Green Terrace for fruit and vegetables; taking the Tube to Green Park or Sloane Square; and definitely not taking my five-year-old to swim class.

In the weeks since, I kept coming back to this: why could I not face my life in London, a life I love?

Tented Dreams: The African Safari Tented Camp Experience

Indagare breaks down the multiple types of tented camp.

In Tanzania on safari–staying at Legendary Lodge in Arusha, the Chem Chem properties, Mila Tented Camp, Mwiba Lodge, and Singita Serengeti–I had been with a group of phenomenal women, friends old and new. We all had families at home, partners and/or children.

And we liked to talk, this group. Our guide remarked at one point that it was a constant chatter, a hum in the background. We rave about a honeymoon safari or bringing along your children when they turn 12. But safari with your friends is underrated: the lack of Wi-Fi and cell service in the bush encourages conversations that could only be broached when you’re fully present.

Until the moments came that silenced us. There were many of them. Like when—for about eight minutes—we were silent in the middle of a vast open space on the Serengeti inside a Land Cruiser, cuddled up in ponchos, rain pouring down and whipping into the vehicle. To one side a rainbow climbed up to the sky from the long grasses waving in the wind; on the other, lightning flashes split the heavens down the middle.

Or when we saw a zebra who had broken a leg outside Mila Tented Camp, popping his head up in the field and struggling to stand up, only to fall back down again. He struggled for two days until he became dinner for a lion. Or when I went incredibly silent alone in my tent one night, afraid to breathe too loud, as I heard a buffalo rubbing and snorting against the tent at 3:00 in the morning.

“It’s a fine line between extreme romance and extreme terror,” my friend said as we discussed the mating rituals of lions. Of course, this led to a conversation about the mating rituals of humans—and ups and downs of our own relationships.

Having any attention span at all is rare now. I crave conversations that invite nuance and depth; I am deeply aware that Africa is not one monolithic country showcasing sunsets over the savannas and colonial-era lodges. It is a continent of 54 countries, with nearly 1.5 billion inhabitants, many of whom live in thriving, global cities.

But I also see nothing wrong with standing in awe of the landscape, the animals, the people doing incredible work—and I believe for all travelers willing to take the time and investment it takes to get there, it is worth more than you can imagine. “I never tire of watching the megawatt heavens, picking out the Zodiac signs and reveling in the glory of the odd shooting star,” wrote Lawrence Anthony in The Elephant Whisperer.

I thought I had gained 10 pounds when I got home—many days, your only exercise is walking to the safari vehicle and back (some lodges have gyms, and it’s an important part of travel planning if that is an essential for you). But I had lost six, which I credit to the food—everything was fresh, bright, delicious and healthy, though you could also indulge in, say, French toast with caramelized bananas. We could not stop raving about the incredible food at Chem Chem, Mwiba and Mila, a program dreamed up by the co-owner of Chem Chem, Fabia Bausch, a Swiss former banker who splits her time between Zurich and Tanzania.

One lunch spread started with butternut squash soup; on to spinach and chickpea salad, beef filet with green beans and arugula, creamy leeks and pasta and zucchini salad. On another day, there was cucumber salad and Asian slaw with ginger-orange dressing. Each morning, we started with the smoothie of the day.

Everyone thought Fabia and Nicolas Negre, a Frenchman and former hunter who speaks Swahili, were absolutely crazy to start Chem Chem. But they now have three lodges under the Chem Chem umbrella. As of December, the corridor they help protect has been designated by the government as a success model for the 65 other important wildlife corridors in the country. The region had been ravaged by poachers and it’s been brought back to life—with magnificent big tuskers, lions and more—thanks to Fabia and Nicolas’s leadership and deep connections in the country, plus the formation of the Chem Chem Association (the aptly named CEO, Clever Zulu, is a fearless and knowledgeable leader).

After Chem Chem, we went to Mila Tented Camp and Mwiba Lodge. Everyone should see the view from Mwiba Lodge once in their life. It is a sweeping, cinematic view—and one that is entirely different from the endless Serengeti. The al fresco dining spaces overlook the infinity pool and rock formations below. Mwiba is also home to one of the more moving experiences of my lifetime—encountering the Hadza people in their home, the bush. We walked single file in a wooded area, our shoes wet and crunching under the grass. A baby stared at us with wide, calm eyes as his father put his hand in a tree filled with bees to find honeycomb, plucking the stingers from his arm as if they were harmless pieces of fluff.

It is hard to care about what is happening here until you visit. I have flicked past many safari posts on Instagram, as they all start to look the same. And then you visit, and you care more than you ever thought possible.”

It is hard to care about what is happening here until you visit. I have flicked past many safari posts on Instagram, as they all start to look the same. And then you visit, and you care more than you ever thought possible. The group behind Mwiba Lodge and Mila Tented Camp leases land from the government that is around 1.5 times the size of the Maasai Mara in Kenya, an enormous undertaking for conservation and the surrounding communities.

We arrived at our final stop, Singita Grumeti, where the 350,000-acre reserve has been brought back to life over the last two decades through a partnership with the Grumeti Fund. The thrill of a tented camp had started to wear off; the indulgent grandeur of Singita Sasakwa was very welcome. And the view is so magnificent, with elephants marching in the distance, that guests are routinely overcome with tears upon seeing it. As I emailed a friend, “I think once you’ve seen it, you carry that view from Sasakwa Hill with you for the rest of your life. I know I will.”

Not all felt like a miracle—I had been bitten so badly by tsetse flies (not uncommon close to the rainy season though people react differently) that it looked like I had swollen chicken pox on my legs. I wanted to hug the incredible doctor at Singita after he gave me steroid pills. And now—I can barely remember that part of it.

But I still think of that struggling zebra, that biblical rainstorm, the view from Sasakwa Hill, all the conversations with my friends that continue on WhatsApp. I miss the food every single day. I miss how a giraffe looks at you, a steady, unceasing observation as they chomp leaves, before they prance off in another direction.

What I realized when I got home was that I was not ready to see life in London go on as usual. Often, people return from safari saying that they have changed forever. Had I changed? Maybe I had. But for me, it was less about changing and more about finding those moments where I felt like the truest version of myself, through the unfiltered conversations with my friends, through feeling the rain on my cheeks, through understanding that I am so, so little compared to the vastness of the Serengeti.

I was not ready to see life in London go on as usual.”

Everything was so raw and elemental, almost prehistoric. Even the word “Serengeti”—derived from a Maasai term meaning “endless plains”—takes my breath away. It holds such weight and glory, and mostly, it is timeless, implying that the earth looked like this thousands of years ago, and that if we protect it, it will look the same as far in the future as we can see.

And in London, the juxtaposition between life as normal and a transformative personal experience felt so jarring. I was reminded of the old adage, you can’t step in the same river twice, meaning nothing is ever the same. What I had seen–but more so, how I had felt about myself–felt impossible to reconcile with the quotidien drudgery. To return to my life, I needed a transition, to sleep. I wrote my grocery list with a renewed focus on healthy flavor and spices; I restarted my daily five, six and seven-mile walks by the Thames and in the Royal Parks. Like any travel editor, I’ve taken other trips; ones that gave me a sense of ease (Switzerland, Milan). Next up is Paris with a couple of days at Disneyland–and I’ll see my daughter’s face with a different kind of (princess-related) awe. I’m editing and writing and scouting and working with great people. The to-do lists are never ending.

To go so far from your real life, and back again—this is the way to be in it more, attune to all the absurd and privileged smallness compared to what you have seen. I can’t wait to go back.

My Tanzania Itinerary

Legendary Lodge

An ideal rest stop after arriving into Kilimanjaro airport, Legendary Lodge has comfortable, spacious cottages surrounding tropical gardens, a swimming pool, and decks to enjoy breakfast or other meals outside. There is also an excellent shop with local handmade products. Read our full review.

Chem Chem Lodge and/or Little Chem Chem

The food at Chem Chem is second to none. If possible, I’d stay at both two nights each (they are about 45 minutes apart), but you can pick one to experience the region. Chem Chem Lodge is design-forward and built above ground with breezy, beautiful public spaces; there is a viewing deck from which to watch giraffes, zebras and other wildlife. There is also a pool and gym. Little Chem Chem is an idyllic, classic safari camp with tents built at ground-level and expansive, heart-stirring views across the landscape as you enjoy your meals or read a book in the public tented spaces. We hear they are getting a pool soon, which will make it even better! For exclusive-use, Forest Chem Chem is an excellent option.

Mila Tented Camp

Mila Tented Camp is a fantastic tented camp known for lion sightings (Mila means “lion”) with beautiful luxury accommodations in the western Serengeti (and in fact, quite close to the Grumeti and Singita). It is not uncommon to wake up with thousands of zebras walking by your tent in the distance. They will be adding A/C units (currently there are fans) in the future. Review coming soon

Mwiba Lodge

Located in the southern Serengeti, Mwiba Lodge has one of the world’s great hotel views overlooking a wildlife reserve from a rocky hilltop. Each suite has a private deck; number six and seven have arguably the best views. As mentioned above, don’t miss a bushwalk with the Hadza hunter-gatherer tribe if available. Read our full review.

All Chem Chem properties, Mila Tented Camp and Mwiba Lodge come with a private guide and vehicle for all guests, a rare inclusion and a wonderful value-add to take customization of the experience up a notch.

Singita Grumeti Lodges

The opulent Sasakwa for one of the best views on the continent and indulgent luxury; Sabora Tented Camp for the ultimate glamping safari; Faru Faru for stunning mid-century modern design (think sexy Palm Springs in the bush). The new five-bedroom Singita Milele villa opens in May.

Published onApril 18, 2024

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