I stayed in 3 very different lodges during my 5-day safari. Here's what each place was like, from glamping in the savannah to a farmhouse on a coffee plantation

Harrison Jacobs/Business InsiderA luxury safari at a bargain price.
  • On a recent five-day safari in Tanzania, I visited the Serengeti, Ngorongoro, and Tarangire.
  • With so much travelling, I ended up staying at three luxury lodges, each with a different flavour.
  • In one, I stayed in private huts overlooking a salt lake; another had luxury tents on the edge of the Serengeti; and the third was in a converted farmhouse on a 500-acre coffee farm.
  • The entire safari from African Budget Safaris cost $US2,500 a person, including lodging, food, park passes, and a guide, which was a bargain considering the quality of the experience I got.

Even at their cheapest, safaris are expensive. Leave out the long flight to eastern or southern Africa and the trip will still cost a few thousand dollars a person at a minimum.

For my safari to Tanzania a few months ago, I ended up booking a trip with African Budget Safaris and Tanzania Experience. They fashioned a five-day itinerary through Tanzania’s northern circuit, which includes the Serengeti, one of the most famous safari destinations in the world.

I was both ecstatic and slightly worried when they told me the price would come to $US2,500 a person all-in. I’m talking food, lodging, guide, and park passes. It may sound like a lot, but when most of the safaris I was finding were $US5,000 or up, the price felt suspiciously low. The last thing I wanted while on safari was to be staying in a leaky tent swarmed with bugs or eating cornmeal for dinner for days.

Thankfully, in this case, my worries were misplaced.

The tour operator booked me at lodges all run by Tanganyika Wilderness Camps, a company that runs locally owned safari lodges. While they weren’t exactly the Four Seasons, they didn’t need to be: Each was beautiful in its own way.

Here’s what it was like to stay there.

My safari started at Tarangire National Park, which spans 1,100 square miles of swamps, savannah grasses, and baobab trees. It is the best place in the country to see elephants. As we drove through, we came upon herd after herd of elephants.

My first lodge was a short ride from Tarangire at Lake Burunge Tented Lodge. When I arrived, they offered glasses of cold hibiscus juice. It was very refreshing after driving all day in a hot, dry car.

Source: Tanganyika Wilderness Camps

The main part of the lodge was a central dining pavilion with a deck and a lounge area for cocktails and Wi-Fi.

From the lodge’s terrace, I could watch flamingos on the shores of the lake while zebras grazed in the nearby bush. Every so often, I’d see a few zebra or wild boars drinking water out of the small pools.

There was a pool to take a dip in, which was very refreshing after a long day. The downside: There were tons of biting flies by the water.

Guests stay at one of the numerous private huts down this walkway. Depending on which pavilion you get, it could be a quarter-mile away or more. Walking between the main pavilion and your hut alone after dark isn’t allowed — you have to ask one of the guards to walk you, as the lodge is surrounded by wildlife.

Each hut is made up of a thatched roof with a wooden deck and framing. They look very rustic. Some of the huts are larger to accommodate families.

I had one of the smaller ones, as I was just travelling with my partner. We also booked very last minute so we got the furthest hut at the lodge — it was a hike back to the main pavilion for dinner.

The hut was somewhere between a tent and a bungalow. It had a queen-size bed surrounded by a mosquito net, a shower with running water, electricity, and a small desk. The walls and door were lined with canvas to keep out bugs.

Each hut had a porch with views of the bush. The guard warned us not to come out in the middle of the night to look at stars, lest we run into a lion that may have picked our porch as a perch. That’s not a joke.

We had dinner back at the main pavilion, where everything was all-inclusive except for drinks. Soft drinks and alcohol could be purchased for an additional cost. Dinner consisted of soup and salad, a hot buffet of curries and sides, and a stir-fry station. It was nothing to write home about, but when you’ve been in the sun all day, just about anything will do.

After falling asleep around 10 p.m. — you fall asleep early when it’s pitch black and there’s no internet — I woke up to birds chirping and the sun rising. The sunrise was spectacular. With a long day of driving ahead of us, we ate breakfast quickly and headed out.

But first, I picked out my lunch for the day. Like all of the lodges I stayed at, there was a lunch station in the morning where you could pick the various items for your picnic box. It was usually stuff like sandwiches, popcorn, fruit, barbecue chicken, fruit juices, and pies.

Our long drive brought us through the grassy plains of Lake Ndutu, just outside of the Serengeti, where we saw herds of wildebeest migrating. About ten or so miles away, we found our second lodging for the trip, Ndutu Kati Kati Tented Camp. Unlike Burunge, the camp is mobile: It gets moved around, depending on the season.

Ndutu Kati Kati had a similar set up as Burunge in that there was a central dining pavilion and many tents nearby. Because the sleeping tents don’t have electricity, the central tent had a charging room so guests could charge phones and cameras.

Ndutu Kati Kati is even more in the bush than Burunge. On the floor of the valley below the camp, I saw many wildebeest grazing. At night, I was sure I heard a large predator — like a leopard or a lion — rustling past our tents.

Each tent looks like this. There are a few camping chairs in front, a small washbasin so you can wash your clothes, and the tent itself.

The tent could be set up with a king-size bed for one couple or two full-size beds for a family. They just push the two beds together. The temperature cools in the evenings, so the tent never gets too hot or cold.

The tents have a bathroom attached with an actual toilet and a shower, but there is no running water. If you want to shower, you have to ask one of the camp attendants to boil hot water for you and slowly pour it into the camping shower.

Around dusk, the camp attendants started a bonfire and offered up snacks and cocktails. Because Ndutu Kati Kati is smaller and further into the bush, supplies are harder to come by, so there is no buffet for dinner. We had pork chops one night and a curry chicken the other.

After dinner, one of the guards took us back to our tent. All of the guards at the lodges were members of the Maasai, a local ethnic group of about 1 million living in Tanzania and Kenya. Maasai are known for their skill with animals and for their understanding of the bush.

The sunset in the bush was gorgeous …

… as was the sunrise.

Breakfast at Ndutu Kati Kati and Burunge proved similar: eggs, beans, bacon, sausage, pancakes, and a variety of freshly cut fruit.

After breakfast, we made the drive into Ngorongoro Crater, a highlight for most safari visitors. The inside of the crater is only about 100 square miles and is filled with wildlife, making it very easy to see all sorts of game.

Close to sunset, we drove out of the crater a few miles to the Ngorongoro Farm House, a small hotel located on a 500-acre coffee plantation.

The main building is a gorgeous restored farmhouse, with a large dining room and lounge area.

The entire property around the farmhouse is full of flowers and trees, making it the perfect place to take a relaxing stroll after four days of safari driving.

The spacious and secluded room, which had a perfect view of the property, was more upscale than the other lodges I stayed at. The king-size, four-poster bed had a mosquito net and there were many seating areas.

The vibe at the lodge was very relaxed. It felt like the kind of place you go after several days of “roughing it” in luxury safari tents with camping showers.

Dinner and breakfast at the farmhouse were a step up from the other lodges as well. For dinner, there was a made-to-order pasta station; for breakfast, there was fresh coffee from the plantation and local cheeses. It was the perfect ending to the safari trip.

While the last lodge was definitely the nicest, I appreciated Ndutu Kati Kati Camp the most.

When you are on safari, you want to feel like you are in nature to set the mood. I find that with too many creature comforts, it’s hard to disconnect. If you want my advice, find safari lodges that are as in the bush as you can handle.

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