When someone as well-travelled as Go2Africa Safari Expert Lauren Johansson describes a journey as "the trip of a lifetime” I immediately sit up and pay attention.
Lauren's passport must be running out of pages by now; she’s travelled throughout Southern and East Africa, lived and worked in Kenya, and spent a year or so on Mahe Island in the Seychelles.
But after exploring so many incredible destinations, what was it about her recent two-week trip to East Africa that made such a striking impression?
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT: MNEMBA ISLAND
Her journey began with two days on Mnemba, a private tropical island off the north-eastern tip of Zanzibar. “I always knew this was a special spot, but was in no way prepared to fall in love at first sight!” Lauren smiled.
Although Mnemba Island Lodge was recently featured in the UK Telegraph's Ultra Travel magazine as one of the Top 10 Beaches in the World, you aren't expected to share your stretch of sand. With just 10 palm-thatched bandas, this is as private an island experience as you can get. (Unless you're Richard Branson and can buy an island of your own.)
THE SERENGETI & THE GREAT MIGRATION
Having set the holiday bar at a dizzying height, Lauren then hopped across to the Serengeti to spend a couple of nights at each of andBeyond's three camps: Klein's Camp, Grumeti River Camp and Serengeti Under Canvas.
While the Serengeti has excellent game viewing all year round, the reserve is best known for hosting the annual wildebeest migration. And not being one to do things in half measures, Lauren arrived in the middle of the drama. Over the next few days, her camera's memory card rapidly filled with photos of the herds attempting river crossings while dodging Jurassic-sized crocs and big cats, all packed between images of Maasai warriors, luxurious lodges, remote tented camps and elephants set against African sunsets.
But it wasn't all rushing around: "I loved relaxing in the lounge area at Klein's Camp, spotting wildlife in the valley below. Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp also has a great location right on the river so the sound of hippos carries through to the tented rooms. And if you really want to be in the midst of the migration" she added, "then go for Serengeti Under Canvas: we could hear and see the herds close to our camp pretty much all the time, and in the evenings we sat round a campfire and discussed the day's game viewing.”
THE MAGIC OF NGORONGORO
From the Serengeti, it was a short flight to the Ngorongoro Crater. Once a gigantic volcano, Ngorongoro has steep walls enclosing its savannah, woodland and wetland environments, making such a rich diversity and density of wildlife that many refer to it as a natural zoo.
Ngorongoro Crater Lodge is perched on the rim of this massive crater. In describing her time at this luxurious lodge, Lauren poses this question: "Ever wanted to be treated like royalty? This is your chance! The staff are so attentive to your every need - whatever you want you can have. And the décor is unlike anything I've ever seen: beaded chandeliers, beautiful antiques, raw silk curtains and fresh roses everywhere! You'll even be treated to a rose petal bath, drawn by your personal butler."
FROM TREE HOUSES TO TENTED CAMPS
Her next stop was one of Tanzania's smaller wildlife reserves: Lake Manyara National Park, best known for its famous tree-climbing lions and the thousands of flamingos which have made the lake their home.
"I have always wanted to stay at Lake Manyara Tree Lodge," explained Lauren "as it's the only camp within the park. And wow, it did not let me down!"
"Once again we had great game viewing, the birdlife is excellent, and I loved the tree houses - built on stilts in the forest canopy. I spent a good few hours sitting on the deck of my tree house, watching monkeys and bush babies in the branches; oh, and we even had elephant wander through the camp.”
The final destination on this journey was the Masai Mara National Reserve, just across the border in Kenya where Lauren spent a couple of nights at two adjacent camps: Kichwa Tembo and Kichwa Bateleur.
Being close to traditional river-crossing points, both camps are perfectly located for the migration. Along with game drives, Lauren enjoyed a host of exciting safari activities: "While at either camp I'd recommend going on a safari walk as the guides are really knowledgeable. We also went on a sunrise balloon safari rounded off with a champagne breakfast on the Mara Plains."
After phenomenal game viewing throughout Tanzania and Kenya's best known reserves, a private island escape, luxurious lodges and traditional tented camps plus all manner of exciting safari activities, it’s easy to see why this journey made such an impression.
TRAVEL FACT FILE
Lauren stayed at the following lodges and safari camps:
Mnemba Island Lodge: beachside bandas on a private island famous for phenomenal diving and snorkelling - ideal for romantics!
Klein's Camp: set in a private Serengeti reserve, Klein’s Camp delivers exclusive migration viewing plus genuine Maasai encounters.
Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp: known for its vibrant décor; this welcoming luxury camp overlooks a river overflowing with grunting hippos.
Serengeti Under Canvas: ensure front-row game viewing as you follow the migration from the comfort of this mobile tented camp.
Ngorongoro Crater Lodge: with its dramatic on-the-rim setting, this opulent lodge offers extraordinary views plus classic Big 5 safaris.
Lake Manyara Tree Lodge: tree-house suites with spacious bedrooms and beautiful bathrooms - the only lodge in the park.
Kichwa Tembo: lying in the path of the migration, this Hemingway-style tented camp is well placed to witness dramatic river crossings.
Bateleur Camp: a classic tented camp known for exceptional service, elegant tented suites and year-round game viewing.
Read more about an East Africa safari.