I knew that my safari experience in Tanzania with luxury tour provider Abercrombie & Kent would be amazing, that’s why I traveled with them in the first place. They’re one of the top luxury tour providers in the world and in Africa they have even greater expertise. They pioneered the concept of not only luxury safari but also experiential luxury travel, starting 50 years ago showing guests the best of the African bush and wildlife. It’s due in large part to this longevity that they remain the foremost safari experts in Africa and is also why I knew that my own trip with them around Tanzania would be an adventure I would remember for the rest of my life. But with any travel experience, there are surprises. That’s the beauty of travel, the unknown. If we knew everything before leaving home, then we’d probably never leave home. Safari, any travel experience, should be about exploration and education and for me, that happened throughout my tour of Tanzania with Abercrombie & Kent. Of the many amazing experiences I enjoyed and the ones I never expected, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites here today as an example of the level of service and luxury that comes with an Abercrombie & Kent journey.
While it seems to be trendy nowadays for travel and tour providers to feature a charitable wing of their business, as in all other things Abercrombie & Kent pioneered this concept as well. In 1982, Abercrombie & Kent first started raising funds for conservation efforts with the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Since then, the philanthropy has carried on social and environmental projects around the world, including the one I visited in Arusha, Tanzania. If you’re traveling to Tanzania chances are you’ll spend some time in this large city, a gathering place for visitors hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, going on safari or both. It’s also a city of extreme poverty, where many kids don’t get a chance to be properly educated and that is how A&K Philanthropy is giving back to this community. For nearly a decade, A&K has supported a special needs program that educates hearing impaired children as well as those with mental or physical disabilities at the Ilboru Primary School. These kids are at particular risk of abuse and being neglected and the project here has made great strides in making sure these kids have a safe place to live, study and just be kids. Visiting and touring the facility was a joy and an unexpected one. I’ve seen many other companies tout donations to charities and carbon offsets, but I’ve never seen such a physical demonstration of this commitment to giving back as I did at the Arusha school.
Thrill of First Wildlife Sighting
I’ve been on safari a couple of other times, but that doesn’t matter. Part of what makes safari so very special is that every opportunity to get out and view wildlife is unique; no two experiences are the same and so each adventure is just that, an adventure. As a conservationist and fierce lover of wildlife, I also feel a special spark of excitement whenever I see an animal in the wild, a feeling that is only magnified in Africa. On our first full day our guide drove us into Tarangire National Park, a reserve famous for the huge herds of elephants that call it home. Almost on cue, within minutes our truck slowed down as a herd of elephants crossed in front of us. There we sat, gawking at these beautiful animals as they slowly ate the plants around them, barely giving us a second glance. Since we were on a tailored safari experience with Abercrombie & Kent, we were alone and could spend as much time watching as we wanted; a perk we took full advantage of. Anytime you have the honor of interacting with wildlife in their native environment is special, but in Africa it exists on an entirely different level. It feels even more a privilege to stand there and be a part of the bush, mere steps from some of the most impressive animals on the planet.
I noticed a stop at Gibb’s Farm as soon as I received a copy of the first itinerary from Abercrombie & Kent and I was curious. I looked them up online, even checked out a map to see where they were but nothing prepared me for the reality of visiting this mountain oasis in Tanzania. One of the first guesthouses in Tanzania, Gibb’s Farm started out as a coffee farm in the 1920s. Walking around the impossibly lush grounds of the property it looked and felt like a tropical farm should look like. Gibb’s Farm is something out of a movie or a dream, but luckily it exists in real life and is pretty easy to visit. The farm enjoys an enviable position overlooking the Great Rift Valley and the Ngorongoro Forest and today there is a main farmhouse and 17 cottages where guests can spend the night in perfect, tech-free tranquility. I was just there for lunch, but even that was an event as meals are served using fruits and vegetables from the farm, along with its famous coffee which is still produced, processed and roasted on-site. I could’ve stayed there all day, just relaxing in the lounge chairs under ancient acacia trees, listening to the sounds of the forest and admiring those amazing views. This is an unexpected stop in Tanzania, a place where you won’t see elephants or leopards, but instead will only find a little bit of inner peace.
Guide Expertise and the Ngorongoro Crater
I first heard of the Ngorongoro Crater while watching a segment on “60 Minutes” and immediately I knew it was a place I had to see in person. A veritable Garden of Eden, this pristine valley enjoys unique conditions that can support wildlife all year, which means when you visit animal experiences are essentially guaranteed. Although the Crater itself is only 12-miles in diameter, there’s a lot of ground to cover and that’s where having an expert guide is essential. It’s crucial that someone who is truly an expert in tracking and finding wildlife guide you throughout your adventure, whether it’s in the Ngorongoro Crater or anywhere else in Africa. That’s one of the best aspects of traveling with Abercrombie & Kent, they created the modern day concept of photo safaris and their guides are the best on the continent. This isn’t opinion, it’s fact and was proven to me throughout our time in Tanzania, but especially our day traveling the entire width and breadth of the Crater. It’s not just about the ability to find wildlife, it’s about understanding their habits and tendencies. It’s about noticing even the smallest of details that in turn lead to amazing discoveries.
Camaraderie at Tented Camps
One of the highlights of our trip around Tanzania were the luxury-tented camps we enjoyed almost every evening. Sanctuary Retreats provides some of the most luxurious accommodations in places where you’d least expect to find them, tucked away in the middle of the African bush. I described the luxury tented camp experience in this post, but needless to say this isn’t your average camping experience. Large, permanent safari tents shelter suites that could easily be in a 5-star hotel in any major city. Not only were the rooms amazing, but the food was also a feature. The chefs take great care to create fine-dining experiences in some of the most remote and beautiful places in the world. I expected all that though, what I didn’t expect necessarily was the sense of community and camaraderie I enjoyed with other guests, particularly at the Sanctuary Kusini Camp. Energized after a full day of game viewing, everyone came back to the camp at night to share stories of their adventures around the campfire, glass of chilled bubbly in hand and broad smiles on their faces. The camps are small and so it’s easy for everyone to meet and get to know each other, friendships forming not only quickly, but with a ferocity that usually takes weeks to achieve. It was fun, staying up a little too late, laughing with people from around the world, sharing experiences not only from the day but our everyday lives. I left happy and content, not just with the safari experience, but with the new friends I had made.
Magic of a Hot Air Balloon Experience
Ok, I have written about this experience already a fair number of times, but with good reason. Without exaggeration, the hot air balloon experience I enjoyed over the Serengeti was one of my all-time favorite travel moments and here’s why. Staying at the Four Seasons Serengeti, we got up early on the last day of our trip to be at the launch area before dawn. Getting up that early is never easy, but I knew it would be well worth the momentary pain, I just didn’t expect it to be as remarkable an experience as it was. An option offered by Abercrombie & Kent, as soon as I saw it listed I knew we had to do it and almost as soon as the balloon left the ground I knew it was the right decision. Floating high above the mighty Serengeti, we saw a different side to the African bush impossible to otherwise replicate. Mere feet from the road, yet invisible thanks to the tall grasses, was another world hidden in plain sight. Lions devouring breakfast, hippos sleeping in the water and more zebra and wildebeest than I ever thought possible to exist were all right there, unknowingly providing a show to the people flying over their heads. The hour flew by, but in those 60-minutes we enjoyed a collection of memories so powerful and so vivid, I know I’ll never forget them.
These are just a few of the many unexpected highlights on a trip full of them. I knew that traveling with Abercrombie & Kent would be special, that their expertise would allow for a safari experience unlike any other, but even that was an underestimation. They’re the best for a reason and after my week with them I have a much better understanding of why so many people around the world depend on them for their travel experiences.