A major aspect of my Tanzania safari experience with Abercrombie & Kent is where we stayed, and for most of the trip our accommodations were at three different tented camps run by Sanctuary Retreats. One of the most coveted luxury travel experiences, Sanctuary Retreats truly excels at what they do, but I thought today I’d take a few moments to share with you who they are, what their experiences are like and why a stay with them should be on your travel bucket list just as it was on mine. I will be reviewing each property individually, but first I wanted to provide this introduction.
Originally created by Geoffrey Kent as a way to provide guests with high-end, luxury accommodations while exploring the most rural areas of Africa, today Sanctuary is a separate company and is a collection of luxury safari lodges and expedition ships that bring a boutique experience to guests throughout Africa and now the world. Each one of their properties, located today in Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa, is completely unique and individual and operates by the ethos of “Luxury, naturally.”
What Is A Tented Camp?
“Welcome to your home away from home Mr. Long,” was how I was greeted at each of the three Sanctuary Retreats camps I visited, along with a cool washcloth and a refreshing welcome drink highlighting local fruits. Sanctuary Retreats excels in what is called a permanent tented camp experience. Mobile versions have been around for decades, but the permanent variety is a little newer to the luxury travel scene in Africa. Since each Retreat is different, it’s hard to provide sweeping generalizations, but in most cases a permanent luxury tented camp includes individual pavilions on which massive canvas tents are erected. The pavilions usually include a deck or verandah and inside the tent is everything you’d expect to find in a more traditional 5-star hotel experience. The camps themselves tend to have a central meeting area where there are lounges, bars and of course the restaurant. All three camps we visited also had fire pits for evening get-togethers and Sanctuary Swala even had a small infinity pool with a great view of the bush and wildlife. Spread out around a compound, the Sanctuary experience feels like a luxury summer camp, with every amenity and service you could ever possibly want.
Walking into the first tent of my safari at Sanctuary Swala, I was met with a massive space including sitting areas, a desk, large beds with the finest linens, a full bathroom with both indoor and outdoor showers, W/C and even wardrobes. Electricity was always available, there was a fan over the beds and WiFi was included for each pavilion. Better yet was the view; the untouched wilderness of Tarangire National Park was in front of us, along with all kinds of wildlife. Impala wandered a few feet away, monkeys poked around corners to see if we’d left any food and mongoose scampered around everywhere. It was a rural, African bush experience with the finest of every modern convenience. That was the Swala camp though, each Sanctuary Retreat we visited was a little different, but all shared the similar characteristics of a luxury tented camp, wooden pavilions with massive tents inside of which were our little havens for the duration of our stay. The one exception to this was the Sanctuary Retreat Ngorongoro Crater Camp, which is designated as a mobile camp. The conditions were still luxurious, but decidedly more rustic. While there was an en-suite bathroom, it wasn’t as private as at the other camps and the shower was an indoor bucket shower. We would tell our room attendant what time we wanted to take a shower, and he’d fill the bucket shower with hot water at the prearranged time, monitoring the supply throughout. It was a little strange at first, but I soon fell into the rhythm of even this more intimate camping experience.
The great thing about Sanctuary is that it’s an all-inclusive environment and just like an Abercrombie & Kent safari, you never have to worry about anything, especially the food. And from my own experience, food is something Sanctuary takes very seriously. At all three camps, breakfast was an event unto itself, not only with delicious options both hot and cold, but views unlike anything else in the world. Most people were out during lunchtime on game drives, which is why Sanctuary also excels in preparing elaborate and elegant picnic lunches, served on china and white linen on pop-up tables wherever your safari experience may take you. Dinner is where each camp shined though, and the individual chefs provided meals so unique and so delicious I couldn’t believe that I was literally enjoying them in the middle of nowhere. Whether it was homemade soups, expertly prepared steaks or chocolate desserts I still think about, it all had the air of a fine-dining experience, but under a canopy of stars in Africa.
The Overall Experience
I’m not a camper, but luckily a stay with Sanctuary Retreats is anything but camping. It combines all the best aspects of being as close to nature as you possibly can be with all of the luxuries of a first class travel experience. The game drives on my Abercrombie & Kent safari were of course amazing, but our accommodations at the tented camps weren’t just a nice aspect of our trip, they played a major role. At the camps we got to know fellow travelers, met people from around the world and learned how to appreciate the natural landscape in a slower, more laid back way than in a safari truck. Whether it was sipping my coffee as the fog lifted from the forest of acacia trees, or admiring one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen in the Serengeti, my experiences at the Sanctuary Retreats were just as important to my overall travel experience as was seeing my first cheetah or fawning over a baby elephant. Sanctuary and Abercrombie really are the perfect marriage of luxury, service and quality and when combined create the safari experience of a lifetime.