Best of the Best 2007: Resorts: Grumeti Reserves, Sasakwa Lodge
Grumeti Reserves, Sasakwa Lodge
Tracking big cats on the hunt is a highlight of almost any African safari. With cheetahs—which can accelerate to a top speed of 70 mph and chase their prey for more than three miles—the act unfolds most dramatically during the winter-month migration on Tanzania’s Serengeti Plain. At Grumeti Reserves, a private concession along the western edge of Serengeti National Park, you can experience the thrill of the kill in near total seclusion, where the only other travelers are the millions of wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles on their annual trip north into Kenya’s Masai Mara.
Grumeti Reserves is accessible only to guests of one of the three safari camps within the 400,000-plus-acre property. South African company Singita manages the camps, each of which opened in the past 12 months. The best of the three, Sasakwa Lodge, is the former private estate of American commodities trader Paul Tudor Jones, whose Grumeti Community and Wildlife Conservation Fund runs the reserve.
Sasakwa Lodge is a grand, 1920s-style estate that evokes the era of Out of Africa author Karen Blixen. (The other two camps—Sabora, a tented resort, and Faru Faru, a riverfront eco-lodge—also are impressive.) At Sasakwa, dinners are served on fine china and followed by snifters of Cognac in the billiard room and safari storytelling in the library. Each of the camp’s seven one- to four-bedroom cottages includes a lounge with a fireplace and a veranda with a pool, as well as a Swarovski spotting scope for viewing the animals on the plains below the escarpment setting.
The wildlife at Grumeti Reserves includes thriving populations of cheetahs, lions, giraffes, elephants, warthogs, and ostriches. This was not always the case. When Tanzanian authorities created Serengeti National Park in 1951, they left one-third of the circle that comprises the annual migration path unprotected. They designated the region for development and hunting, on privately leased areas called concessions, which led to significant declines in animal populations.
In 2002, Tudor Jones leased three of the hunting concessions and created Grumeti Reserves. He closed the area to hunting, thus, in a sense, extending Serengeti park. The Grumeti Community group employs more than 600 people, many of them former poachers who now work to protect wildlife. The fund’s census records show that the hunting freeze has had its intended effect: From 2003 to 2006, the number of elephants in the concession increased from 435 to 892, Cape buffalos from 605 to 2,248, and warthogs from 435 to 4,118.