Take a hot-air balloon safari with Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti. // © 2018 Christine Loomis
Feature image (above): Guests may catch sight of elephants on their trek to the water hole. // © 2018 Christine Loomis
Stepping onto the cool stone floor from my steamy shower, I glanced toward the big-screen elephant camera on my wall. I expected to see what I had seen each time I’d checked it in the past 24 hours: the static image of a water hole and the lodge’s sunlit pool.
Instead, a nose-to-tail line of elephants — ears flapping, trunks searching — ambled across the screen. Some were already girthy ankle-deep in the water, sucking it up and splashing it on.
It was what I had been waiting for — what had drawn me to Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti to begin with and what sets it apart from all other lodges and tent camps in Tanzania’s central Serengeti National Park: elephants by the pool.
Grabbing the first dust-covered clothes I saw, I dragged a comb through my dripping hair, ran out the door, up the steps, along the elevated wooden walkways that connect the hotel’s collection of thatch-roofed buildings and into the main lodge. From there it was a dash down the sweeping circular stone staircase and out onto the pool deck.
Exhibiting none of the elegance and style of the other guests — some who stood model-like in the pool at its infinity edge — I snapped a few quick shots. The elephants don’t linger on their treks to the water hole; they stay there just long enough to counter the Serengeti’s pervasive dust and insects and to take a cool drink.
This scenario played out each day of my stay, the elephants with an unerring sense of the exact moment I showered or changed. But it was a scenario I loved, just to see these magnificent creatures doing what they naturally do within feet of the Four Seasons swimming pool, smack in the middle of Serengeti National Park.
I could have happily stayed day after day by the pool, cocktail in hand, just to watch the pachyderms come and go. But that would be ridiculous in this place where photographers, nature lovers and bucket-listers come to see Africa’s Big Five — lions, leopards, buffalo, rhinos and elephants — not to mention zebras, giraffes, jackals, baboons, wildebeest, antelope, hippos, hyenas, monkeys, mongoose, birds, beetles and a host of other critters.
On daily safari drives, these animals appear almost on cue as humans poke their heads out of the tops of Land Cruisers ready for the next photo opportunity. I gave up counting at 47 species, but there were more — all in just three safari drives ranging from two hours to a full day and one dawn balloon soar.
These outings and the guides who lead them are another reason the hotel stands out.
The resort has a few of its own guides, but most are contracted through highly regarded Abercrombie & Kent. Our guide was professional and polished, and he could not be stumped by any question. He was an infinite fount of Serengeti knowledge — who knew a crowd of zebras is called a dazzle? — and gifted with a stunning ability to spot wildlife camouflaged in the breeze-riffled grasses, in the shadowed trees, in the sky and — in the case of the few black rhinos remaining in Moru Kopjes in the south central Serengeti — from two miles away. Literally.
The hotel’s Discovery Center is another highlight, a place where guests can poke around exhibits and hear from experts about park history and culture as well as conservation and anti-poaching efforts in which the Four Seasons Serengeti is involved. The center also offers safari walks through the surrounding land and group bush dinners accompanied by local Masai and other staff, giving guests a way to discover the visceral beauty of the Serengeti close-up in a way not possible from a truck.
To be honest, though, Four Seasons Serengeti may not be for everyone. It’s large with stone-and-stucco buildings, more removed from the nature you come to see than may be true for traditional tent camps where only canvas and breezy mosquito netting lie between you and the elements.
But the property offers a welcomed respite from the less pleasant elements of the Serengeti — such as dust, mosquitos and tse tse flies — so that each day when you return from the park, you can float in the main pool or your private plunge pool if you’re lodged in a terrace suite. You can shower off the repellent and sunscreen and slip into a chic pair of sandals and non-safari attire to enjoy the evening.
I never felt distance from the animals or from the beating heart of Africa — quite the contrary. And, each evening, I enjoyed the serenity of the hotel, its fine food and creative cocktails and the warmth and passion for this place that radiated from the staff. It’s Four Seasons, for sure, but the soul of the Serengeti is palpable.