“Alright everyone. Please hold on tight and prepare yourselves for landing.”
I looked out my window over the vast expanse of the Serengeti in search of some kind of runway, but could only see a single narrow patch of lumpy dirt ahead.
“We’re landing there?” I shouted to the pilot of the small twin-propeller plane, who looked to be no more than 25 years old. Making sure to keep his eyes focused directly ahead of us, he respond back with a stiff but authoritative thumbs up.
Great… No better time than now to experience my first landing au naturel. Rather than focus too much on this, I just kept my eyes glued out the window as the ground below us slowly came more into view. Soon enough, dispersed acacia trees, dirt roads, and the occasional vehicle were visible. Everything was framed against what seemed like an endless plain that stretched far out into the distance. It all seemed so organic and unlike anything I had ever seen before.
Completely transfixed by the scenery, I barely noticed the plane touching down on the dusty runway.
“This is Seronera Landing Strip. Welcome to the Serengeti”
An African safari in the Serengeti has been at the top of my travel to-do list for as long as I can remember. Whenever I’d catch a glimpse, either in print or on TV, it would take weeks for the romanticized visions of untamed savannah wilderness to stop swirling around in my head. Everything about it just seemed so pure, so unfiltered, and so damn adventurous. I badly wanted a taste. I just didn’t know how I’d eventually end up out there.
That day came when Tristen and I had to decide where we wanted to celebrate a very special occasion. In my mind there was only one option, so I selfishly pitched the hell out of this idea. Luckily, it didn’t take much convincing for her to be all in as well.
Now it was just a matter of where we wanted to go, which was no easy task given that there are hundreds of options. Being the touchy-feely San Francisco dwellers that we are, it was important for us that we went with a tour company that was both ecologically and culturally conscious. We also wanted to go somewhere unique that was away from the more well worn tourist resorts. Something wild was more up our alley. Something that would really allow us to connect with the area. Eventually, this all lead us to the Namiri Plains, operated by the Asilia Group.
Namiri seemed to tick just about every box for us. They were a small safari camp with only 8 tents (tents!) and, best of all, they were the only group in a large area of East Serengeti that had previously been a cheetah reserve. Having read all of this, we excitedly booked a tent and spent the next few months impatiently daydreaming.
What we didn’t anticipate was the amount of time that we would spend en route. All in all, the trip included an overnight in Dubai, an overnight in Dar Es Salaam, and then an early morning puddle jumper to the Serengeti.
As soon as we stepped off of the airplane, we were met by Erasto, our driver, and Chinoi, our young Maasai tracker. After a brief round of introductions, we quickly hopped into our safari off-roader and began the 2 hour journey to Namiri Plains.
The Seronera landing strip is located dead in the middle of the national park, so as a bonus we got a great introduction and mini-safari as we made our way towards East Serengeti.
After passing through mixed herds of zebra and wildebeest, we came across our first glimpse of an elephant out in the wild. Erasto slowly approached so we wouldn’t scare it away and eventually turned off the engine entirely so that we could quietly observe.
Just sitting there watching this massive animal munching away on grass, I couldn’t help but be hit by a heavy sense of shock and awe. We were speechless – minds completely blown. All of this in only 30 or so minutes since landing…
This feeling didn’t let up as we continued our drive. It felt like we couldn’t go 15 minutes without seeing something else amazing, including hippos, herds of zebra, and even more elephants.
What was also noticeable was how packed full of tourists the Central Serengeti could get. This was especially noticeable whenever a wild animal had been spotted, as large crowds of vehicles from the various camps would all pile in together to try and get the best angle. Kind of a buzzkill, but it really just reinforced our decision to go further out into the more private East Serengeti.
By the time we reached Namiri Plains, it was just about impossible for Tristen and I to conceal our giant ear-to-ear grins. This is clearly something that these guys are used to, as Erasto and Chinoi both let out a shallow chuckle before helping us out of the vehicle.
The camp itself is tastefully structured and blends into the area with minimal impact on the surrounding East Serengeti environment. There’s the main tent, which serves as a general communal area and where all meals are served. It was extremely comfortable, with just the right amount of frills for it to still feel like a special occasion. 360 degree views are on display from just about anywhere you sit and are always spectacular. For us, this really hammered home the fact that we were out in the middle of a vast wild ecosystem.
After a quick welcome drink, we were shown to our tent. We really weren’t sure what to expect, other than a place to sleep and our own bathroom with bucket shower. So you can imagine our relief to find a very tasteful interior, complete with working solar powered lights and a fully equipped queen sized bed. This truly was glamping at its finest.
We had an hour or so to unpack and chill out before dinner, which we took full advantage of by laying down for a quick power nap. By this point the sun had already dipped behind the horizon and we emerged from our tent to find old kerosene lanterns lighting our way back to the dining area.
As we sat around the dinner table chatting with some of the other guests, everything about the day was finally starting to sink in for me. This was it! This was the African adventure that I had been dreaming about for so long. I was already blown away by what we had seen, and this was all just during the drive back from the landing strip! It was hard to even think about the amazing East Serengeti experiences that awaited us the next day…