Big 5 in abundance at Four Seasons

Elephants drink at a watering hole adjacent to the resort’s main infinity pool.

There are any number of reasons to be excited about a trip to the Four Seasons Safari Lodge in Tanzania, which also happened to be my first visit to Africa, but among my top priorities was to see a zebra.

"I don't want to get my hopes up," I said to our guide, "but do you think I'll see one?" He exchanged an amused glance with another journalist, a veteran of African safaris.

"Oh, I think you'll see zebra," he said.

In fact, conservatively speaking, I saw thousands of zebras. Zebras at the watering hole, zebras making ill-advised leaps across the road in front of our safari vehicle, a zebra being snacked on by a female lion and her cubs, and — more cheerfully — zebras sauntering en masse by the window of my one-bedroom villa before I was even out of bed in the morning.

So, yes, I saw zebras, and I also saw lions, including the less common sight of a trio of male lions with their tawny manes and macho stride; elephants, in one case so close that the bull in the group could have nearly touched me with his trunk had he been so inclined; and even two male giraffes fighting over a female, although we would have thought they were just nuzzling if our guide hadn't explained what we were seeing.

At one point, four cheetahs laid languorously in a pool of sunlight in the road in front of us, only moving when our vehicle came too close, and twice we spotted a leopard in a far-off tree, passed out on a branch next to the remains of his unfortunate victim.

On another day, we paused for nearly an hour to watch a seemingly endless train of wildebeests, embarked on their annual migration, all the while being observed by a pair of inscrutable hyenas. Hippos asleep in an odoriferous watering hole, deer, impalas and buffalo, not to mention countless beautiful birds and fauna, became the backdrop of our days.

By the last full-day safari, our driver asked what we still wanted to see.

"Rhino," we exclaimed, even though we knew the chances of this were slim, and, in fact, a cloud of doubt passed over his face. He would try, he assured us, but so far even he had never seen one.

Imagine our delight when, a few hours later, he brought our vehicle to a halt and pointed into the far distance. Even with binoculars, it took me awhile to spot the two rhinos grazing contentedly on the horizon.

The living room of the Presidential Villa at the Four Seasons Safari Lodge, Tanzania.
The living room of the Presidential Villa at the Four Seasons Safari Lodge, Tanzania.

Serengeti views

Of course, one of the draws of the Four Seasons Safari Lodge is that you can spot beautiful animals even without leaving the property.

A watering hole adjacent to the main infinity pool brings dozens of elephants a couple of times a day to drink, and the rooms and villas look directly out onto the Serengeti, where giraffes, zebras and other exotic creatures routinely walk by.

I sometimes watched them from the comfort of my private terrace, complete with a plunge pool, a seating area and an outdoor shower, always keeping an eye out for baboons, who are said to be on the lookout for open sliding glass doors in their hunt for chocolate, fresh fruit and other edibles.

The 77-room property, including 12 suites and five free-standing villas, is laid out so that accommodations are accessible via elevated wooden walkways, and guests are asked to stay on those walkways for their own safety. Local Maasai, dressed in vivid red robes, are on hand to guide guests along the walkways at night, and at dinner one night they performed a beautiful jumping dance for us and our fellow diners at the Boma Grill, one of three on-site restaurants.

The service throughout the property is not only attentive, but genuinely friendly, and the staff make a point of remembering guests' preferences. Macchiato at breakfast? No problem. A safari picnic basket containing bottles of chilled rose wine because someone remembered that you ordered it the night before with dinner? Done.

The property also contains a fitness center and a full-service spa, where I had a signature treatment that resembled a hot stone massage, but with the heated bulb at the top of a Maasai stick instead of stones.

Because the lodge is committed to conservation, the property also features a Discovery Center that serves as part museum (complete with such oddities as warthog tusks and giraffe tails) and part venue for lectures and documentary films. The center is presided over by Oli Dreike, a zoologist and conservationist who also leads walking safaris for guests in small groups.

There also is a Kijana Klub for kids and teens, designed for ages 4 and up, who can learn to make a fire and dance with the on-staff Maasai, create so-called camera traps to capture images of wildlife or relax with low-key indoor activities such as puzzles and games. If parents want a night off, pizza and evening entertainment such as movie night also are available.

A bedroom in one of the two-bedroom villas.
A bedroom in one of the two-bedroom villas.

Dining diversity

Because of the property's remote location in the Serengeti National Park, a Unesco World Heritage site, bookings come with meals, and the staff go to great lengths to break up the dining routine in a variety of ways.

Guests at the villas can enjoy a private barbecue dinner on the pool terrace, for example, and the Presidential Villa comes with the services of a private chef.

During our stay, we were treated to a bush dinner, complete with sunset viewing with Champagne and alfresco dining under the stars next to a tree decked out with illuminated lanterns.

Rates for a one-bedroom villa start from $3,365 per night, including all meals, private butler service and two 60-minute spa treatments.

Safari excursions and hot air balloons can all be booked separately in advance or via the concierge. There is no age limit for children who want to participate on a drive, but if they are under 10, the family needs to reserve a private vehicle.

As to accessing the property, we, along with most guests, accomplished it in two stages. We flew to Kilimanjaro Airport, in our case via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, arrived in the middle of the night and spent a few hours at the Mount Meru Resort to rest. By early afternoon we drove to Arusha Airport where we flew in a bush plane over the Serengeti, to be greeted by Champagne and a fleet of Four Seasons safari vehicles for the drive to the property, a game drive unto itself. We reversed the process more or less on the way back, stopping instead at the Coffee Lodge in Arusha for dinner and a brief rest before our flight home.

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