Condé Nast Traveller just released its list of the top 100 hotels and resorts in the world, as voted upon by its readers. Singita Grumeti, located on the western corridor of Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, earned the top spot.
Singita Grumeti is a 340,000-acre concession in the Grumeti Reserve that’s controlled by billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones. Jones partnered with Singita, a luxury safari brand with resorts around Africa, to build an oasis in the wild in 2006. There’s a big emphasis on conservation — Singita Grumeti established an anti-poaching unit and effectively stopped poaching in the area, resulting in a resurgence of big game.
Singita Grumeti has three main lodges spread across the property, as well as some smaller locales, including a mobile tent camp.
When the Tanzania Tourist Board invited me to visit in 2012, I had to see what all the fuss was about.
I stayed at Sabora Tented Camp, the most rustic of the three main lodges. My room may have been made of canvas, but it wasn’t an ordinary tent. It was ultra-luxurious, with air conditioning, Wi-Fi, an outdoor shower, and a canopied bed. The food was five-star, with a menu of locally grown produce and fresh meat and fish.
Singita Grumeti isn’t cheap. Sabora Tented camp costs $US1,425 per person per night in the high season and $US1,150 in the low season; rates at Sasakwa, the flagship lodge, go up to $US1,950 per person per night in a cottage. If you want to stay in a villa, it will cost you up to $US7,900 per night during the high season.
Disclosure: Our 2012 trip to Tanzania, including travel and lodging expenses, was sponsored by the Tanzania Tourist Board, Africa Adventure Company, Singita Grumeti Group, Coastal Aviation, Qatar Airways, Tanzania National Parks, Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority and Wildlife Division.
After a three-hour drive from Sasakwa airstrip through the plains of Grumeti Reserve, we finally spotted Sabora Tented Camp in the distance.
The place seemed to blend in with the scenery. From the kitchen to the guest rooms, the entire camp is actually made of thick canvas.
We hopped out of our off-road vehicle and were greeted by Sabora's staff, who welcomed us with a hand-washing ceremony.
There are 9 guest tents in total, including a double tent for families. Rates are $1,425 per person per night during the high season and $1,150 during the low season.
Finally, I reached my tent. The tents are spread out to give guests privacy. It was much bigger than a New York studio apartment. Let's step inside.
It may have been a canvas structure on the outside, but inside, the room was beautifully decorated in a 1920s style and had everything I could possibly need.
One of Singita's hallmarks is personalised service. The staff knew our names from the moment we arrived, and I found this note when I walked into my tent.
The bed was very comfortable, with a heavy comforter and a panoramic view of the plains. The canopy isn't just for decoration; at night it's used as mosquito netting.
Here's what the back of my tent looked like. There was a private deck, and I couldn't see any of the other tents when I sat on it.
The claw-foot tub looked luxurious, but unfortunately I didn't get to try it. If I had, I would have been able to watch geckos climb up and down the mesh netting.
Laundry is included in the price of the hotel, which was great since I didn't pack much and it was so dusty outside.
On the other side of the tent flap, there's an outdoor rainfall shower. The walls were low enough that I could watch the wildebeest graze while I washed my hair.
Guests can walk around the camp freely during the day, but at night they are escorted to and from their tents in case there are animals around.
At 7:30, my escort brought me to the main tent, where pre-dinner drinks were taking place around the bonfire.
Our dinner table was in the dining tent. But guests are served dinner at tables set up throughout camp, and guests who stay several days can expect to eat in a different location every night.
Singita gets most of its produce from local farmers, and imports what it can't get locally from the cities of Arusha and Dar Es Salaam. The dinner menu changes nightly, but no game is served, since Singita is so focused on conservation.
But the cheese plate looked great. I was surprised by how much variety there was on the menu, considering how remote the camp is.
I was glad to have a guard take me back to my tent, since it was pitch black outside and there were wildebeest bleating all around. Inside, I found my bed enveloped in mosquito netting.
I wasn't kidding when I said I could see wildebeest from the shower. They were everywhere when I woke up.
Days start early at safari camps, since mornings are the best times to see animals. I headed over to the main tent for breakfast by 7:30.
The view from my seat couldn't be beat. But if I wanted a closer look, there were telescopes set up around the deck.
After breakfast, most guests head out on an early morning game drive. Guests are assigned to one of Singita's 25 or so safari guides when they arrive, and have the same guide throughout their stay. Our guide, Simon, was with us from early morning until late at night, driving my tour group around the reserve and teaching us the intricate details of the Great Migration.
Of course, there's plenty to do for folks who don't want to wake up early every day of their vacation. All of Singita's Grumeti lodges have pools, and some rooms even have private plunge pools (but not at the tent camp).
There's even a tennis court. The manager said it gets used fairly often, but it looked like it needed to be cleared of droppings before anyone played a match.
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