I’m always looking for authenticity in my travels, commonly eschewing large resort experiences in favor of being someplace that feels just a little more unique.
But prior to my recent trip to Tanzania, I admittedly knew very little about safari. What do you wear? How do you get around? How comfortable are the places you’re sleeping? What do you pack? These were all questions I was asking.
I boarded a plane bound for Tanzania ever so curious, and my adventure brought me to one of the coolest places I’ve ever been, Asilia’s new lodge, The Highlands, at Ngorogoro Crater.
The Highlands is a unique property all around: luxury accommodation is found in domed tents that allow you to see the stars from where you sleep but still keep you warm; the property is located in a remote area surrounded by Maasai families who you’ll see herding cows along the road driving in and out; and it’s still close enough to the Ngorogoro Crater for a traditional safari experience.
Here’s a photo essay that will give you a peek into the sort of experiences I had each day.
My room was stunning. These domes have fireplaces inside that keep them toasty at night–it does get pretty cold! At night I could watch the starts from my warm bed. Magical!
I loved how these tents made the place feel luxurious and also rustic.
Our first day at Asilia’s The Highlands took us to a nearby Maasai village.
One of the coolest things about Asilia is their partnerships with their community, as the lodge itself is In a world where these people are too often exploited for tourism, Johannes Solar, Asilia’s Sustainability and Positive Imapct co-ordinator worked out a deal with the community that allows travelers an unheard-of access to their local homes and ways of life, while the company pays a fee that benefits the greater community. A large percentage of that fee goes to the family you are visiting, and it’s a different family each time– decided by the community. If they don’t want visitors, they simply say so. It’s a wonderfully respectful way to get to see and interact with the Maasai.
Head safari guide and guide trainer Pietro Luraschi serves as the bridge of communication between the Maasai and our group.
Solar, together with Pietro Luraschi (Head Guide and Head Guide Trainer) were heavily involved in dictating the agreement to the community and the list of outings Asilia provides at the Highlands. I really admired the respect they have for the community and for trying to minimize the potentially damaging effects of bringing tourism to such a remote area.
We woke at dawn to watch as they let their cows out to pasture for the day.
The next day, some of the women the Maasai boma that we visited came to teach us how to make jewelry.
The activity was enlightening- the women brought with them the tools they use to stitch and create their ornate jewelry, including potato sacks, which is where they get the string that holds together some of their bracelets. Though it was difficult communicating through the language barrier, we all ended up laughing and finding a way to bridge that gap.
The same women who were so shy on our visit were now starting to warm up.
And we got the chance to get to know them more: what their days are filled with, how many children they have. We found many parallels between our lives.
My instructor, Naladi, who taught me how to make these cool necklaces.
The Safari: Ngorongoro Crater
After a full day of cultural immersion, our next day was all about safari. This was my very first glimpse at any animals in their natural environment in Africa and I was SO EXCITED to be able to sit in that jeep and journey into Ngorongoro crater. And we saw so many animals! Lions, elephants, zebras, wildebeest, buffalo, rhinos, hippos– you name it.
Because the team at Asilia is dedicated to giving you a unique experience, they enter the crater later than everyone else, staying until just before close when the place was literally deserted. It was just us, nature, and the animals, for hours. That’s really remarkable when you consider the amount of cars and the thousands of people who enter the crater each day.
Heading to Tanzania my biggest excitement was the safari. I wanted the chance to be surrounded by nature and see as many animals as possible. But after spending a few days at the Highlands, I realized–the safari wasn’t really even the highlight of the trip. The highlight for me was the culture, the people and the setting.
Sure, animals are great too. But Asilia has really found a unique way to put a spin on a traditional safari with their Highlands property, and I suggest you go ASAP.
(They’re booked up through October, so if you’re planning a trip soon, book now!)
Up next: Riding a Hot Air Balloon Over the Serengeti at Sunrise. Unbelievable.