Meeting Africa for the first time
I joined the tourism industry for the fast-paced excitement and passionate attitude of the environment I would be working in. At Somak, it was only going to be a matter of time before I travelled to East Africa. This would be my first experience of the African continent, my first safari, and my first ‘fam trip’.
Eager yet unsure of exactly what to expect, my work week began at 9.00am on Monday morning in Heathrow Airport. Once I had met the team – made up of representatives from several of the UK’s other top safari companies – the stream of insights and African expertise began to flow, and the adventure began.
On the outbound leg our flights connected through Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, with a business class service fit to rival any other carrier. Although seat layout varies between models, excellent food, a hyper-modern business lounge, and ample leg space made for a luxurious experience.
On arrival in Zanzibar we were greeted by the VISA queue and warm, humid equatorial air. We embarked on the 15-minute drive to Park Hyatt in Stone Town where maps, information and a beautiful clove welcome gift were presented to each of us, as well as a lovely warm greeting “Welcome home!”
The stunning 5* hotel occupies a UNESCO heritage building on the beachfront and makes for a fantastic base from which to explore the area. Excellent rooms, service, and a wonderful range of amenities were available, right down to a range of local teas or sumptuous food. The traditional Urojo soup (“Zanzibar mix”) was a personal favourite.
Moments such as waking up to a breathtaking ocean view from the balcony, enjoying meals by the beach, having a bubble bath while watching TV, or relaxing in the swimming pool by the ocean will forever be in my heart. I was particularly grateful to their amazing chef who would personally greet us and ask me – as a vegetarian – if there was any other vegetarian dish I would like them to prepare specially for me, which was never necessary thanks to the great and diverse menu.
It’s so important to pick up on every detail in this industry – good and bad. From the conveniences available to the little personal service touches, every hotel puts a slightly different emphasis on service, decor, facilities, cuisine, integrating local attractions into the experience, or even a specialism such as scuba diving or Omani-styled hospitality for instance. Learning to recognise the balance a property strikes, and understanding the kind of client each would suit, is an incredibly important skill, and the main reason fam trips take place.
If you are in search of the finer things in life, elegance, luxury, attention to detail and top class service, then I can certainly say that you’ll find it in Park Hyatt Zanzibar.
We did the Stone Town tour which revealed a plethora of interesting small shops selling tribal masks, statues, sculptures, and paintings, as well as traditional henna artists and the old island slave market. Quaint and steeped in history, a fusion of cultural influences permeate the style and architecture of the wandering streets. However, steering clear of the scooters that zip down alleys is a must as they seem to be everywhere!
The time for the safari adventure had come, so a simple one-hour flight taxied us and our respective 15kg-or-under bags from Zanzibar to Selous Game Reserve. Twice the size of world-famous Kruger National Park and three times that of the Serengeti, the reserve is a true wilderness in which the outside world seems a distant memory.
Azura Selous – our lodge – was absolutely gorgeous! We were blown away by the beauty of this place. My tent was not far from the river and a family of hippos. I had the chance to try the private swimming pool and amazing outside shower with river view which was a delightful and unique experience.
Azura claims the largest swimming pool in Selous, as well as offering fishing, walking safaris, boating, and dining under the stars at a different location each night. I will never forget the beautiful nights when we had drinks by the fire accompanied by lions’ roars or the moment we were offered a star gazing tour and learned about the mysteries of the starry sky. Every night I would go back to my tent and find a little gift on my bed, such as a lovely poem or aromatherapy oils to help relax after the daytime adventures. Topping it all off, impeccable service and a – frankly lovely – devoted staff made this oasis a true home for the whole of our stay.
The safari experience was memorable! Game drives took on the “explorer” driving style: off-road through thick bush, across dry river beds, and over hills which made me feel like a character of an Indiana Jones movie, a real adventurer in the middle of the jungle.
Breakfasts in the bush, wildlife sightings, encyclopaedic guiding, survival tips, and riverside sundowners complete with delicious food and Amarula punctuated these beautiful excursions. We had also the chance of experiencing a walking safari which was particularly special, with one ranger and one guide steering an impressed group through the dangers of the African bush. As the moment of packing and saying the final goodbyes approached, I was already sure that I need to do it again, and I will come back!
A light aircraft transfer returned us to the comforts of Zanzibar and Park Hyatt (those mattresses are like clouds to sleep on!), and it wasn’t long before we were plunged back into East African history on Prison Island. Despite its name and initial function a storage space for the Slave Trade, the island has for most of its human-inhabited history served as a quarantine facility for suspected cases of Yellow Fever. Now devoted to tourism and conservation, Prison Island boasts one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever set eyes on, where visitors enjoy activities like sunset cruises or feeding the local population of Aldabra giant tortoises.
Next, just a short boat ride away from Fumba village, was the Safari Blue Experience – a day of exploring Menai Bay’s sandbanks, dolphin-spotting, fruit-tasting, and snorkelling, interrupted only by lunch on the beach. Our group was unlucky enough to have chosen one of the very few days a year of rain. Still, fun was had and it was clear that with full sun this golden & azure paradise would have been unbeatable. As my African adventure drew to a close, I was beginning to understand the magic that keeps Somak’s guests coming back year on year.
The Return to Normalcy
The return flight was in economy class, pleasantly comfortable and with very reasonable food served on the 9-hour flight to Istanbul (touchdown in Kilimanjaro). The final three-hour connection to London gave me a chance to think about the lessons that I want to keep and remember from the trip, and from Tanzania as a country and holiday destination. Insofar as is possible, I’ve summed these up below:
- This naturally, culturally, and aesthetically spectacular corner of the world is utterly unmissable and undeniably transformative.
- East Africa is so much more vast & complex than I had understood. I have to go back.
- Somak sells holiday experiences for money, but you come home all the richer for having left.
Somak can work with you to plan the safari holiday of a lifetime. For more information on how our safari experts can help you, call Somak today on 020 8423 3000.