It was just past 5:15 a.m. at Sanctuary Retreat’s Kichakani Serengeti Camp in northern Tanzania when I awoke to the sound of hunting lions just outside my tent. First, I heard the thunderous pounding of the chase, which began on one side of my tent and ended on the other; then, victorious roars as the lions began to dine not 50 yards from where, moments ago, I had been sleeping. Earlier in the day, on safari, we had watched as two lionesses, cubs in tow, took down a gazelle. It was a powerful glimpse into the often-violent but beautiful world of African wildlife.
“The lions are not interested in us right now,” our guide, Filbert, said as we watched, transfixed by the gory spectacle.
“Why not?” someone asked.
“When the lion looks at the truck, she doesn’t see you,” he said. “She sees only a safari vehicle, which would require far too much energy to take down.”
Despite the intensity of the hunt and the subsequent crunching of bone we could hear as the lions fed, when watching from the comfort of a safari truck, I couldn’t help but feel removed enough to be safe. It felt, even at a distance of just a few feet away, as though the entire thing was part of a performance — the creatures before us, and their prey, were so iconic and emblematic that they couldn’t actually be real.
“Step outside the truck though, and it would be a different story,” Filbert said.
Founded in 1999 by famed safari pioneer Geoffrey Kent, Sanctuary Retreats began when Kent (also owner of tour operator Abercrombie & Kent) saw an opportunity to add luxury lodging in Kenya and Tanzania with the purpose of giving back to the community in a sustainable way. Now, Sanctuary has properties across Africa in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and South Africa, including the recently renovated Sanctuary Swala Camp in Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park, as well as Sanctuary Olonana — the portfolio’s first and most impressive property — situated on the Mara River in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Preserve.
The Kichakani camp is composed of 10 guest tents and a dining tent, as well as a fire pit. The canvas tents are designed to be reminiscent of the safaris of old, but they come complete with everything from en suite safes to hot showers. Guests can check their email and sip a glass of wine as baboons hustle about in surrounding trees. What makes Kichakani most unique, however, is not just that you might wake up to elephants playing in the river or lions hunting outside your tent, but also that the camp itself is completely movable — each summer, Kichakani follows the great wildebeest migration. Plus, the camp is entirely sustainable, leaving no trace as it moves from place to place.
As I laid in bed that early morning in my tent at Kichakani — listening as lions dismembered the kill — I no longer had the comfort of a safari truck or the sagely musings of Filbert. While I was perfectly safe in my tent, any notion that I was merely a casual observer in the midst of an African performance piece was gone. I was truly part of the action — and with that realization came a sense of wonder and respect. I listened to the lions and all the magnificent sounds of the bush for more than an hour. Soon the birds would sing, and the sun would rise over the savannah. I would step out of my tent into the lion’s world, grateful to be part of it.
Kichakani Serengeti Camp