PLANNING A WILDLIFE SAFARI IN EAST AFRICA? FOR UNEXPECTED PARADISE CONSIDER THE SERENA RESORTS
By Abdulmalik Merchant
I. THE SERENA HOTELS
Remarks by His Highness the Aga Khan and Prince Amyn Aga Khan
(The following are excerpts from a speech by His Highness the Aga Khan at the Inauguration of the Restoration of the Polana Serena Hotel in Maputo, Mozambique, 16 December 2010)
“There is one other larger context I would like to mention today – the story of the Serena Hotel Group as a whole. Stretching back now over nearly four decades the Serena Group has contributed significantly to the economic progress of the places where it operates. And we intend that this same thing will happen in this country [Mozambique]….
“One economic category that can have that sort of propelling impact, especially in Africa, is the travel and leisure sector. This is why our AKFED organization has made such significant investments in this field.”
(The following is an excerpt from a speech by Prince Amyn Aga Khan for the official opening of Dushanbe Serena Hotel, 1st November 2011)
“We pride ourselves that all Serenas (and we now have 34 in operation internationally and three more in progress) go beyond existing environmental laws, regulations and minimum requirements and in fact, through new techniques and approaches, set new benchmarks. Like all Serenas, this hotel [Serena Dushanbe] will also engage in a programme of corporate social responsibility, assisting and working with various local village organizations, technical and educational institutions and civic groups, civil society.”
II. CONDÉ NAST TRAVELLER READERS’ CHOICE AWARDS
As a subscriber to Condé Nast Traveler, I recently received the November 2011 issue with the cover page proclaiming “Best in the World! Hotels, Islands, Airlines, Cities, Cruises TOP 100.” With the recent opening of the Serena Hotel in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, by the country’s President, His Excellency Emomali Rahmon, and the 49th Imam of the Shia Imami Muslims, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, I was interested to find out whether any of the Serena Hotels or resorts had figured in the list, considering the long establishment of this popular chain since the first one was opened in Kenya during the 1970’s. The chain now comprises of 34 luxury resorts, safari lodges and hotels, which are located in East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Mozambique) and Southern Asia (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan). The Serena chain is one of the many companies that make up the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), the for-profit arm of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). The Group trades under the name Tourism Promotion Services (TPS Serena). Over the years, many of the hotels in the Serena chain have received travel industry awards and accolades. How were the Serena’s rated by the “discriminating travellers” who provide their feedback to Condé Nast Traveler?
For those who are not familiar with Condé Nast, it is a division of Advance Publications, and home to some of the world’s most celebrated brands. In the U.S., it produces 18 consumer magazines, including Architectural Digest, Bon Appétit, GQ, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Vogue, as well Condé Nast Traveler, which has the subtitle ‘Truth in Travel’. The founding editor of the magazine was the well-known British-born journalist, Sir Harold Evans, who edited The Sunday Times in London. Under him, Condé Nast Traveler won four National Magazine Awards.
Although not on the overall TOP 100 readers’ choice awards from around the world, the African Regional list has five Serenas listed in the top 25 resort category. None of the Serena hotels appear in the Top 20 hotels list, though. Disappointingly, the Asian category failed to secure even a single spot for any hotel or resort from Pakistan, leave aside the Serena. The accolades for the top 125 hotels and top 20 resorts in Asia were shared by properties in India and China, as well as countries further to the east – the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Japan to name a few.
The best overall resort voted in Africa was the Four Seasons Sharm El Sheikh, in Egypt, with an approval score of 98.6. Specific to East Africa, in the African regional category, were four resorts – one in Kenya and three in Tanzania – which were ahead of the Serena resorts with ratings of 98.5 (Kirawira Luxury Tented Camp, Tanzania), 93.2 (Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club, Kenya), 92.9 (Governor’s Camp Maasai Mara, Kenya) and 90.3 (Sanctuary Olonana, Kenya). The scores for Serena were in the eighties as follows: Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge, Tanzania (89.7), Serena Mountain Lodge, Mount Kenya (85.9), Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge, Kenya (85.8), Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge, Tanzania (82.7) and Mara Serena Safari Lodge, Kenya (82.6).
According to Condé Nast these awards or scores are based on the combined opinions of some 28,876 readers or “discriminating travellers” rating the cities, islands and hotels they visited in the past year and the airlines and cruise ships they travelled with. Plenty of material and photographs are available on the internet, and I decided to gather some notes and photos for the five Serena resorts, which in addition to the Condé Nast survey, appear very favourably in Trip Advisor, a favourite site for millions who want to research about “touristy” matters before committing themselves to holiday plans, including bookings.
1. Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge – Watch “The Big Five”
The Serengeti National Park is Tanzania’s largest and most famous park, and it has the largest concentration of migratory game animals in the world. It is also famous for its huge lion population and is one of the best places on the continent to see them. The park, a world heritage site, comprises most of the Serengeti ecosystem, which is the primary migration route of the wildebeest. The Park offers not only all the members of ‘The Big Five’ (elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and buffalo), but also the annual ‘migration’ of over one million wildebeest and their attendant cast of predators (see also, Mara Serena below).
The Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge is the ultimate fusion of traditional African architecture and world-class style. Winner of numerous awards from the world travel press, it is perhaps the finest venue the Serengeti has to offer. The lodge has been styled to offer a showcase of cultural performance, heritage and traditional art, which is best illustrated by the lavish Makonde carvings which decorate both the rooms and the stunning domed dining room.
Tripadvisor Reviews: “Perfect for the ideal safari experience”; “Watch your step in the dark”; “Loved it”. More at Tripadvisor Reviews of Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge
Resort Website and Reservations: Serena Serengeti
Getting There: Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge is in the Serengeti National Park, 335 km from Arusha. By road it takes 5 hours from Arusha with transfers. You can get there by air also. The air strip is adjacent to the lodge.
2. Serena Mountain Lodge, Mount Kenya – Ultimate Window To View Wild and Magnificent Creatures.
Mount Kenya (5,199 m) is Kenya’s highest mountain, a national icon, the nation’s namesake, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site and a wildlife stronghold which prides itself in having one of the most consistent high records of big game ‘visits’ and sightings.
The Serena Mountain Lodge is located at 2,134 metres above sea level, on the lower slopes of the stunning area ringed by a dense rainforest which comes alive at dusk with myriad of sounds that make the African bush so special and exhilarating. The lodge is cool, tranquil and hushed for optimum game-sightings from the public verandas or from the bedroom balconies. Steady streams of shy and magnificent creatures are drawn to the ancient waterhole. The visitor looks beyond the branches of the tall trees to witness the endless parade of game animals.
At any time of the day, one can spot game in the specially constructed bunkers that are connected to the lodge by a short tunnel. Here one will witness the endless parade of game animals and get spectacularly close to the animals that drink at the waterhole. Activities include guided walks through the forest, trout fishing in the clear mountain streams, and trips to the high moorlands of the mountain.
Tripadvisor Reviews: “Unique waterhole experience”; “a quiet and reflective place to view wildlife”; “While not a Four Star hotel, the staff and food are five-star!” More at Tripadvisor Serena Mountain Lodge – Mt Kenya National Park
Resort Website and Reservations: Serena Mountain Lodge
Getting There: Serena Mountain Lodge is within Mount Kenya National Park, about 193 kilometers from Nairobi. By road from Nairobi takes approximately 2 to 3 hours.
3. The Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge – In Kilimanjaro’s Kingdom, Africa’s Glittering Mountain
Kilimanjaro’s 6,000-meter-high snow-capped peaks preside over the landscape of the world-famous Amboseli National Park, a splendid place to view elephants in addition to other big game – lions, buffalos, cheetahs and giraffes.
At Amboseli you are also at the heart of Maasailand, and the overall design of the Serena Safari Lodge borrows from the traditional Maasai culture and style giving the resort an authentic nomadic feel. The decor reflects the brilliant primary colours and iconic shapes representative of these legendary warriors.
Close to the Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge are emerald-green swamps, the only sources of water in this otherwise starkly beautiful but arid park, which attract huge numbers of wallowing elephants, hippos, buffalos and plains game.
Tripadvisor Reviews: “Lovely, relaxed game lodge…but beware of the monkeys!!”; “Extremely Surprising Pleasant Stay”; “Great lodge with character”. More at Tripadvisor Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge
Resort Website and Reservations: Serena Amboseli
Getting There: Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge is located within Amboseli National Park, which lies approximately 250 kilometres from Nairobi and close to the Tanzanian border. By road: transfers by road from Nairobi take approximately 5 hours. By air: the airstrip is 11 km from lodge.
4. Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge – The Most Amazing Views You Are Ever Likely to See.
Known as ‘the eighth wonder of the world’, the Ngorongoro Crater is one of Africa’s best-known wildlife arenas. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it offers a unique biosphere, which has remained virtually unchanged since the dawn of time. Deep within the Crater, enclosed by towering walls, some 25,000 large mammals wander the plains, lakes and forests, dominated by enormous bull elephants, rhinos and lions.
Perched on the jagged rim of the crater, wreathed in morning mist, camouflaged in river-stone and cloaked in indigenous creepers, is the Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge. It is a triumph of ecological and architectural fusion. Strung around the crater rim, each with its own rock-enclosed balcony, the 75 rooms feature brass lamps, embossed leather headboards, wildwood mirrors, Maasai carvings and flamboyant prehistoric wall motifs depicting fleeing giraffes, stylised gazelle and plunging buffalo. Each room draws on a cave-grey, indigo-blue and jasper-red colour-scheme as well as enjoys magnificent and unmatched views looking over the Ngorongoro caldera. The Lodge is entirely visible from the floor of the Crater 600 metres below.
The resort is laid out on two levels in long lines along the crater rim, making it feel much bigger than the other Tanzanian Serena properties. The Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge also offers historical and cultural tours to nearby Olduvai Gorge – the site of one of the most interesting Palaeolithic finds in recent history – or to one of the local Maasai villages to meet the community.
Action packed days end with guests following a gentle nature trail that loops around the Lodge through moss-hung glades and plunging ravines, with many deciding to take a guided walk to the Crater’s rim. The lodge has spacious lounge areas and a grand dining room with floor to ceiling windows over looking the Ngorongoro Crater.
Tripadvisor Reviews: “The best views of one of the world’s great wonders!”; “Best view from bed…ever”; “Warm and cozy with gorgeous views”; “Incredible Scenery from Lodge – Best Lounge in Africa!” More at Tripadvisor Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge
Resort Website and Reservations: Serena Ngorongoro
Getting there: The Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, lies immediately adjacent to the Serengeti National Park, and 180 kilometres from Arusha from where it takes approximately 4 hours. By air: there is an adjacent airstrip.
5. Mara Serena Safari Lodge – Ringside Seat for “The Great Migration”
The best time to visit the migration is between June and August when the wildebeest congregate and prepare to cross the famous Grumeti River. They generally arrive between August and September and remain in the Maasai Mara between October and November. Between the end of November and January the wildebeest gradually begin their migration from the Maasai Mara back towards the Serengeti in Tanzania.
Tripadvisor Reviews: “Fantastic lodge”, “Amazing Location”, “A Great End to a Great Safari”. More at Tripadvisor Reviews of Mara Serena Safari Lodge
Resort Website and Reservations: Serena Mara
Getting There: Mara Serena Safari Lodge is located within the famous Maasai Triangle of the Masai Mara National Reserve, which lies 320 kilometres from Nairobi. Approximate driving time from Nairobi is 5 hours. You can get there by air also. The air strip is located 2 km from the lodge.
Date posted: November 10, 2011
The source of the photograph is specified in each caption. Simerg thanks Serena Hotels and the following Flicker users for giving permission to reproduce their images on this Website. We invite readers to visit their photo streams on Flickr. Please click:
Fiona Forsyth’s photo stream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/monbulktravel/
Jacqueline photo stream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/jackieo10000/
Haw Yu’s photo stream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/hawbone/
Kirk Maddison’s photo stream http://www.flickr.com/photos/kirkmaddison/
Other Credits: In addition to the Serena chain Websites, the following resources on the internet were used to compile material for the article:
Please visit www.akdn.org to read the text of speeches of His Highness the Aga Khan and his younger brother, Prince Amyn Aga Khan, at the opening of the Dushanbe Serena, Tajikistan, and the Polana Serena, Mozambique. The speeches are also available in the national or native languages of the respective countries where they were delivered.
Other travel related articles by Malik Merchant:
Our Incredible ‘Yellowstone’ Holiday: Part III – The Yellowstone Caldera and Geysers of the Old Faithful Basin
Our Incredible ‘Yellowstone’ Holiday: Part II – Wild Life Safari at Grand Teton National Park
Our Incredible ‘Yellowstone’ Holiday – Part I: Salt Lake City
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Amazing beauty! Makes me feel that I should visit these places at least once in my life time.
I am proud that I came from this country. The natural beauty is mind blowing, the pics are awesome and natural habitat is at its glory.
Wonderful!!! I am in awe. Targeting to visit these places. Regards. Mumtaz
Superb. Hope all future generations will be able to visit these really fabulous hotels. What a legacy His Highness the Aga Khan has given us.
Oh! What beautiful and marvellous views of Africa and the Serena resorts. I hope to be there. I spent about a week in September 2003 in Serena Hotel in Khorog, (Tajikistan). It is a quiet and lovely hotel at the edge of Banj (Jayhun) river.