After a last-minute airline cancellation unexpectedly changed my return flight home from Tanzania, my travel plans were left in disarray. I had planned on three days of vacation after hiking Mount Kilimanjaro, which would have been plenty of time to unwind, relax, and experience the country’s famous safari parks.
Faced with a big time constraint, I decided to turn my safari planning over to the experts. I reached out to Ker & Downey Africa to see if they could make my dream trip happen despite having just one full day to work with.
Ker & Downey Africa is a custom travel company that specializes in tours across the continent. I told them my requirements: a wildlife photo safari, some much-needed relaxation and pampering, and a maximum of two nights before I had to be back at the airport for my flight home.
Considering my limited time on the ground, my advisor at Ker & Downey Africa recommended minimizing the hours spent driving to get to a safari destination by heading to Tarangire National Park, which is an easy three-hour drive from the city of Arusha. My private safari guide and driver for the trip, Penuel Tango, would help make the transfers seamless by picking me up in Arusha and dropping me off at the airport at the end of the trip.
The sixth largest national park in Tanzania, Tarangire remains slightly under-the-radar with tourists, making it a good choice to escape any potential crowds. Tarangire is also home to the largest elephant population in northern Tanzania, so amazing wildlife sightings were bound to happen within minutes, not days.
The morning after I returned from my hike, Tango picked me up in a custom-outfitted Land Cruiser stocked with USB chargers, blankets, and a cooler full of cold drinks.
Tango is an award-winning safari guide who served as my own personal Google for wildlife during the trip. Any animal, bird, or even bug I asked him about he could describe to me in great detail along with some entertaining facts.
Tango has been in the tourism industry for many years, and is passionate about his job. He prefers leading private safaris (Ker & Downey Africa’s speciality) over big group tours. On a private safari, he says, if he tracks down a lion, “that is our lion.” We don’t have to share it with convoys of other cars or fight for a good photo spot.
Private safaris also avoid the “negotiations that often happen on group trips between guests,” Tango diplomatically explains. “If you have 10 people in a car and one person wants to go back to camp, everyone has to cut the safari short.” On a private safari, I could decide to spend as much time with any animal that I wanted, or go back to camp at my leisure without worrying about inconveniencing anyone else.
Fortunately, Tango and I were aligned on what the best animals to see would be: we were both all about the big cats, and made leopard and lion sightings our goal for the next two days.
Tango lives for what he calls “the moment of discovery.” This is the joy he gets from using tracks and other subtle signs to track down animals, rather than relying on radio calls and sightings from other guides. This is how we found ourselves at the far end of Tarangire, totally alone, with no other humans in sight, just feet away from two young lions. Totally unbothered by our vehicle, the lions slept, stretched, and yawned, unaware at how exciting they were for us to simply watch sleep. With no one else to consider, we stayed watching the lions for a luxuriously long stretch of time, reveling being so close to something so wild.
After eight days spent camping on Kilimanjaro before the safari, I was hesitant at first when I heard Ker & Downey Africa were sending me to a tented lodge, thinking that I was in for two more nights of roughing it. Fortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Ker & Downey Africa has a wide network of referred partner lodges that are locally-owned, sustainable, and above all—luxurious.
I was booked into Lemala’s Mpingo Ridge Lodge, an intimate collection of 15 tented suites that are essentially five-star hotel rooms with canvas walls. Perched high above the Tarangire valley, there are incredible sweeping views from every room. Private outdoor showers and soaking tubs provide spots to unwind and wash away the dust of the day without missing out on a second of the scenery.
When I was ready for dinner, a Masai watchman escorted me to the main lodge in case any wild animals were wandering the property—there’s a resident leopard who is reportedly very laid-back, and also a frequent honey badger visitor who is decidedly less chill. In the lodge, the open-air dining room serves up three-course meals highlighting local ingredients against an epic background of the sun setting over Tarangire.
Later that night, I lay in my tent’s plush king-sized bed and drifted off to the sounds of the valley below, thrilling in the calls of elephants and roars of lions.
The luxurious experience extends out from the lodge into the wilderness. Rising before the sun, we started our safari before the heat of the day set in, when animals tend to be the most active. Pulling over near a group of elephants bathing in a nearby watering hole, Tango set out a breakfast of fresh coffee, ripe fruit, and delicious baked goods on the hood of the vehicle for us humans to enjoy.
Tango told me his favorite part of his job is that he “only deals with people on their best days,” because if you’re on safari, who isn’t having a good day? With days filled with incredible animal sightings and nights spent in five-star comfort, a safari with Ker & Downey Africa is sure to be remembered as one of your best days.
Editor’s Note: The author of this story was hosted by Ker & Downey Africa.
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