Earlier this year I joined a remarkable luxury safari experience in Tanzania, witnessing amazing wildlife encounters and enjoying the country as I got to know it a little better. One of the world’s top luxury tour operators, safari is how Abercrombie & Kent first started business and it’s the decades of experience and know-how that allows them to remain one of the top experts when it comes to luxury travel in Africa. While aspirational for many folks, today I want to share not only what the luxury safari experience is really like, but what it’s like to travel with this top safari company on an adventure of a lifetime.
I met several other safari goers while on my Abercrombie & Kent expedition in Tanzania, and most were friendly, affable and happy to discuss their own safari experiences. But almost every one of them had a critical flaw, they had fixated on a safari objective and would not let go of it. Guides can’t predict what nature will and won’t do and even the best trackers aren’t able to find all animals all the time. That’s the beauty of the safari experience, the unknown and the unpredictable. This isn’t a Disney version of Africa, this is the real deal and it’s this failure to fully grasp that fact which tends to mar if not ruin entire safari experiences. Visitors believe that if they don’t see the Big Five or the Great Migration or some other arbitrarily selected objective, then the trip isn’t a success. This in turn puts pressure on guides and other staff to make sure visitors see and do exactly what they want. As a result, no one is happy and the trip has indeed been marred, but by the traveler and not from a lack of animal sightings.
Safari is a beautiful experience and it should be accepted for what it is and as it happens. Stumbling on a leopard would have been great, but I am fine with not finding one. The moments I enjoyed over those several days were amongst the best I’ve ever experienced on a trip. I observed more types of wildlife than I ever thought possible and loved every minute of it. Rounding a bend and coming face to face with a herd of elephants, or watching as a cheetah relaxing after making a kill. These are snapshots in time that I know I’ll never forget, they are special and aren’t dependent on a list or scorecard. Safari isn’t only about the wildlife of course, it’s also about being out in the bush, wind rushing through your hair, the smells of the countryside wafting past and the heat of the sun on your face. Africa and Tanzania in particular are both special places, they are destinations so unique and so infectious that you’ll find yourself wanting to return again and again. Ever since my first trip to sub-Saharan Africa I’ve been bitten by the bug, always ready to return and see what new experiences and adventures I can find. You won’t find that sensation on a scorecard, it’s not mentioned in a guidebook and yet it’s the best thing you’ll discover on your safari through the bush.
Service is on a different level
Luxury experiences usually aren’t defined by the broad stroke, but rather it’s the small details that make all the difference. That’s absolutely true for the Abercrombie & Kent luxury safari experience, as I learned immediately discovered upon landing at Mt. Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania. Even before immigration we were met by a smartly dressed gentleman holding a sign with my name on it. With a broad smile he welcomed me to Tanzania, told me which immigration line to stand in while he grabbed my bags and before I knew it we were in a van, being whisked away to Arusha to spend the night. Three people were on hand to help us that evening, the airport representative, the driver and the Arusha representative. This is normal practice for Abercrombie & Kent, and from the very start of the adventure it set the tone that I needn’t worry about any detail.
Answers were given to questions I hadn’t even formulated in my mind yet, and throughout the trip the service of those helping me experience the best of Tanzania was impeccable. Details aren’t just found in Abercrombie’s legendary service either, when it comes to safari even the trucks used every day for game drives have been specially engineered for comfort and convenience. Once again Abercrombie & Kent were innovators in this part of the safari experience, originally designing the now common style safari vehicle you find throughout the national parks of Africa. Inside are six individual seats with padded liners making the long hours spent searching for wildlife much more comfortable. There’s a mini-fridge, air-conditioning and even a place to charge electronic devices. The tops of the safari trucks pop up, enabling better views when you finally do find something to admire and when put all together, these rugged, retrofitted Toyota Land Cruisers are the ultimate resource for a great safari experience. There were a thousand other details that made the trip something special and together they point towards one important fact: Abercrombie & Kent as a company just doesn’t make mistakes and they place the second-by-second comfort of guests at the highest level of importance. Few companies pay this much attention to the details, and it’s why Abercrombie & Kent is known as amongst the best in the world. You just know that everything will always be perfect when you travel with them.
Guides are the key
Ultimately though, one decides to go on an luxury safari to actually go on safari. Yes, we all want to be comfortable and those champagne toasts at sunset are perfect, but we travel halfway around the world with one goal in mind – to see as much wildlife as possible. Abercrombie & Kent understands this, and our guide for the week – Ima – is the perfect example of how they excel when it comes to game viewing. Working for more than a decade as a safari guide, Ima was amiable, funny and just an all around great person. That was good for us since we spent most of the day, every day for a week with him as he showed us the best of his country. The guides Abercrombie & Kent use are amongst the best in the regions they serve, if not the best, and from years of experience they know exactly what animals to find and where. Whether it was the giraffe I was hoping to see or cheetahs on the run, we found almost every animal on our list that week. Ima spent hours scouring the bush looking for the unusual and the special, all in an effort to provide us with the best experience possible. This level of professional expertise can’t be faked or replicated, it just has to exist. Chatting with some other folks, some of the best hotels and resorts in the Serengeti also hire Abercrombie & Kent to provide their hotel guests with expertly run game drives, they’re just that good. If you want to experience the safari of a lifetime, there are many companies from which to choose, but if you want the best there honestly is no one better than Abercrombie & Kent. In this case it’s less of an opinion than it is empirical fact.
Great places to spend the night
For me and many other travelers, where we spend the night is important. I’m not a roughing it kind of guy and will always splurge on a nice hotel when I have the chance. So it was with a little bit of curiosity that I went into this luxury safari experience, knowing that we’d be mostly staying at tented camps along the way. Naturally, I should never have worried – this is Abercrombie & Kent after all, and even the tented camps they frequent are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Sanctuary Retreats was originally started by Geoffrey Kent out of necessity. With so many luxury travelers on safari in Africa, he needed permanently situated camps that they could use. Now a separate company, this concept still remains at the heart of and especially at their tented luxury camps. During the course of a week I stayed at three of these sites, and while they were all very different from one another, they do share many characteristics in common. A luxury tent is not your standard way to camp. Entering our accommodation at the Sanctuary Retreat Swala in Tarangire National Park, I was amazed by what I found. Perched on a permanent foundation was the largest safari tent I’ve ever seen and inside it looked more like a five-star hotel room than what one normally finds inside a tent. Large and comfortable beds, sitting areas, a full bathroom with plumbing, including both an outdoor and indoor shower, and all of the normal perks you’d expect in a great hotel. Except this wasn’t a hotel, it was a tent. In the middle of the African bush and far away from anything else. But that’s the great thing about the three Sanctuary Retreats I visited, they’re perfectly situated so that you can enjoy the best of being outdoors with all of the comforts of a great luxury experience. Sitting there one night, eating an expertly crafted dinner, I looked up and saw a herd of impala looking back at me, just a few feet away. In the distance was the laughter of hyena and from the corner of my eye I spotted some mongoose brothers playing with each other. It was extraordinary and perfectly summarizes why Sanctuary Retreats are so very special. They combine the best elements of safari and luxury travel in one amazing package.
Better than you ever thought
Ultimately, the most important aspect of any luxury safari in Africa is the experience itself. I talk a lot about experiential luxury travel, and it’s a definition that is fairly fluid. Sure, it can mean the traditional luxury experience we all expect with nice sheets, great food and stellar service. But for me personally, it also means experiences so rare, so unusual that they become luxury travel by definition. A trip to Antarctica, a cruise around the Galapagos and certainly a luxury safari in Africa with all fit this definition perfectly. There’s nothing like trekking around the bush in Tanzania, catching a glimpse of a family of elephants or a lion at a watering hole. These are special moments in time, moments that connect us to the world around us and teach us just how amazing this planet really is. They change us as people and many times they become defining moments that we will remember forever. That’s experiential luxury travel and it’s why when I seek out these experiences, I always make sure to enjoy them in the best way possible; they’re just too special to manage in any other way.