We spent another day in the Serengeti area. In the morning, we visited Eco-Lodge Grumeti on hills outside of the national park’s central gate. It has 19 beautifully furnished permanent tents on high wooden platforms that overlook the savanna. Because it’s outside of the park, it’s able to offer night game drives, walking safaris and sundowners cocktail hours in the bush. (Inside the national parks, walking safaris and night game drives are generally prohibited.)
Back inside the park, we visited Mbuzi Mawe Serena, a 16-tent permanent camp whose name in Swahili means “klipspringer.” It’s an apt name because we saw at least three of the small antelopes during our visit. In addition to klipspringers, the hilly area attracts bush hyraxes (furry, guinea-pig-sized cousins of the elephant that dine on acacias and woody plants) and yellow-spotted rock hyraxes (which eat grasses, fruits and insects). We also saw several red-headed agama lizards basking on the rocks, the males occasionally doing rapid push-ups to flash their colors and claim territory.
Guests can view resident animals both day and night, thanks to night vision binoculars that Mbuzi Mawe keeps on hand. Other onsite activities include a spa that offers massages, manicures and pedicures. The lounge and rooms reflect the local landscape with naturalistic wood furniture built from sturdy tree branches, while also embracing the modern conveniences of 24-hour electricity and hot water.
We then drove back across Serengeti National Park toward our night lodgings: Pioneer Camp, a luxury permanent-tented camp in the acacia woodlands. It has 12 ground-level tents with canvas floors, including one family tent. The 11 standard tents feature two double beds, a desk, lounge chairs, plenty of sisal and plush rugs, and an en suite bathroom with solar-heated hot water. Electrical lights operate 24 hours a day. The lounge offers beautiful views of the Serengeti; looking out toward the horizon one can see the woodlands transition into savannah and then into grasslands farther out to the east and hills to the south. Guests who want to avoid the sometimes bumpy drive from Arusha can take a charter plane to a nearby airfield and be picked up by lodge staff. The lodge provides safari guides and vehicles to guests who choose an all-inclusive package.
On our way to Pioneer Camp, we had some notable sightings. We found three adult female lions and their cubs, some feasting on a recent buffalo kill, others napping in the shade. Lions can get territorial with their food, even within the family; when one of the cubs sidled up along a dining adult, he got to close and she growled at him until he backed away to another part of the buffalo. As we watched, a few of the dozing cubs woke up and started grooming each other, which soon turned into a lazy game of swat-and-pounce, then back to napping. (Napping is important for lions; they can sleep 18 to 23 hours a day.)
We also encountered a giraffe who was sniffing around the base of a sausage tree (named after the long, sausage-shaped green pods it produces). Our guide explained that she was looking for fallen flowers and pods to snack on. It’s not easy for giraffes to pick things up from the ground: first, they have trouble seeing directly in front of them since their eyes are located on the sides of their heads; and second, they can’t spend a lot of time with their heads lowered because too much blood will flow to their brains, leading to faintness and possibly death. So her hunt was a hit-or-miss operation. She would crouch down, lower her mouth to the ground, quicly try to pick up something with her mouth, then raise her head back up above heart level so that the blood could flow back down her neck. We watched her do this a few times, but the only success she had was in picking up a rock. She quickly spit it out when she realized it wasn’t what she was looking for.
We arrived early at Pioneer Camp and were able to enjoy the view from the lounge before dinner. I retired early and from the safety of my tent enjoyed listening to the activity outside: lions, cape buffalo, hyenas, zebras and a leopard were all active in and around the camp. (Animals do not bother visitors in their tents; if you need to leave your tent at night, a guard who is familiar with the local animals and their activities will escort you to make sure that you don’t cross paths with any unwelcome visitors.) I fell asleep to the soothing sound of rain falling softly on the thirsty savanna.