News & Reviews Africa Tanzania Review: Singita Serengeti House, Tanzania

If you met your first crush now, would you still feel the same?  You’d probably appreciate that they no longer stick their fingers in electrical sockets and don’t try and eat crayons, but would that tingly feeling still remain?

I still remember my amazement at visiting Serengeti House in 2018 when we stayed at the nearby Sasakwa.  It was easily the most impressive safari lodge I had ever seen.  It seemed impossible anything could beat it.  Since then, I’ve stayed in many properties that could claim to beat it.  There was only one way to prove it.  They say never go back, but the cut-throat dog-eat-dog nature of luxury travel demanded it.

Singita is the best safari provider in the world.  They just are.  Not even flat-earthers are crazy enough to dispute that.  Their financial doping means they’re run like a 2020 crypto exchange.  They don’t have to abide by this thing called profit or care about this infinite resource called money, so their lodges are unrivalled.  The question is: are their exclusive-use properties?

That question keeps this monkey up at night.

I rarely talk about how easy it is to get to a property anymore, as I know most of you reading this have rocket ships, but for the less affluent amongst you who don’t live in a lair in a volcano, let me guide you through it.  The VIP arrival into Kilimanjaro was excellent: immediately met off the plane, taken to a private lounge, got passports stamped in the lounge, waited with a Singita rep and then got onto the Grumeti Air charter.  Between landing on an international flight to taking off towards the Grumeti, it was less than 15 minutes.  The lounge is not going to host any weddings any time soon, but it will suffice.  Flight time to the landing strip was just over an hour, and then it was a 10-minute drive to the camp.

Rooms

There’s a reason I recommend Singita.  There’s no part of the experience where you think: “oh, they don’t offer that!?” or “I much preferred that other camp, where they had no internet and made us catch our food”.  If I compare Serengeti House to another lodge, it will smash it into so many pieces that half the bankers in London would try and snort it.  Yet to compare it against the competition, who are around the same price point, is what this review is about.  If you’re deciding whether to take Serengeti House or a room, you should take the former and not bother reading anymore.

Serengeti House is an exclusive-use, four-bedroom property on the Grumti reserve in Tanzania.  It covers around 350,000 acres of private land, meaning you will only ever see another Singita vehicle.  Within 45 minutes of each other, you have Singita’s other camps, Faru Faru, Sabora and Sasakwa – the latter is less than 10 minutes from Serengeti House.  It has some of the best wildlife viewings I’ve ever had, and unlike Kenya’s Mara, it doesn’t suffer from overcrowding.  For me, it is one of the best places for safari, especially if you’re bloodthirsty and have a particular dislike of wildebeest.  The viewings are spectacular, and the ease with which you can see them fits well with the 99% of who I truly am: lazy.  No need for spotters, no need for tracking footprints, and no point praying or trying witchcraft to get a good sighting; just go on a hill with some binoculars, find it and then drive to look at it.

Or have them come look at you.

The house is quite intimate; it doesn’t feel that spacious, but neither is it claustrophobic.  With a maximum of 10 guests (ask nicely and maybe they’ll cram more of you in), it’s not designed with the vastness in mind of some of their competition, who seem to have designed properties you could live in during a fungal outbreak.

The design is much more modern than its Sasakwa brother (although their new Hillside Suite is more modern and gorgeous), yet still maintains a colonial look, just one if the Empire didn’t evaporate until the early 2000s.  The house’s focus is to lead you outside, with a lot of glass drawing your attention towards the pool and landscape.  As you walk in, you’re in the living and dining areas next to the bar.  To either side is the master suite or main bedroom.  Directly in front you have the outside dining deck, fire pit and the 25 m long pool.  There’s further seating and dining areas beside the gym, and inside there’s also a media room beside the hallway office.  The other two bedrooms are metres away from the house, but separated enough that you can put the less important members of the group, like your children.  Elsewhere, you have a private tennis court, which is next to a spa, although it’s really just two beds in a tent.

My master suite benefitted from two huge bathrooms.  As I was staying here with just my Dad, I spent almost no time in the room and could only observe that for entertainment, you either have the TV that rises from the cabinet at the end of the bed, or you can try and figure out how to turn off all the light switches.  Upgrades had clearly taken place since it was built, as the rooms had air conditioning; Apple TVs were in the media room, and Sonos was offered in several rooms, including the gym.  It’s not the most attractive thing to see an air conditioning unit stuck to the wall, or cables hanging out, but I’ll take it over the alternative.

For dining, there’s a shaded dining table besides the pool, or an indoor dining table, both of which can host the full group.  I opted for outside because in England it was being reported as -10C, so I wanted to rub it in everyone’s faces.  Yet after every bug in Africa took offence to my skin/personality/face, we quickly came back inside.  Every time I question why I choose to live in England, I’m reminded that everywhere else has things that are trying to kill me.

The pool is one of the best features of this property.  Not just photogenic but so warm it’s a joy to be in.  At a guess, somewhere around 33-34C.  Whilst it is heated, it’s really this great energy source called the sun that makes is so warm.  It is little wonder that you could come here and do nothing.  Go into pool, get out, eat, stay in lounger, get back into pool, done.

Service

Penny is the Serengeti House manager and overall awesome person that looks after most things.  If she’s not around, though, things were ok, without being great.  When there’s only two of us, we’re not the most I’m demanding, but it was still easy to see the interactions, attention to detail, and follow-through weren’t as good.  There is a dedicated team to look after you, but just repeatedly call Penny, day or night – I’m sure she won’t mind.

After having a good laugh with Penny about the reverse-birthing technique I experienced at Sirai Beach….well, you know where this is going.  I like to believe my profile will have “do not reverse birth” like a do not resuscitate notice.  It wasn’t my favourite ever treatment.

The food was the biggest letdown.  My humble dad, who days prior was in a four-star ski resort in Austria, thought the food was a disappointment.  I do like it when my dad starts complaining about things, it’s a good barometer for if something is really a problem or whether it’s just me beating my chest and screaming “king kong ain’t got shit on me” for no reason.  The quality of the food wasn’t great, but it was the format of it that was most disappointing: soup for a starter, some fish or meat with vegetables for a main course and then dessert.  There were no discussions with the chef and no options regarding what it is, we just got served it.  I was meant to ask them to change it, but forgot amongst my swimming pool slumbering.   They do certain things very well, like some of the deserts, but I understand these were made at the Sasakwa lodge.  Overall, it was not great.

The fact that Sasakwa is so close is both an advantage and a disadvantage.  As a Serengeti House guest, you can go there, whilst the proletarians aren’t allowed to come to you, but it also makes the property somewhat reliant on them.  Serengeti House has everything you should need, but at points, it felt like something was missing.  In the same way that Cheetah Plains is not really an exclusive-use property, Serengeti House felt like it also worked better when combined with Sasakwa.  The spa is just a tent beside the tennis court, the gym is too small to offer enough, the space isn’t available.  It acts as a self-contained unit, but parts of it aren’t good enough to be.

When I think of the exclusive-use lodges I’ve stayed in (Kubili House, Cheetah Plains, Arijiju, Lengishu, Ol Jogi), surprisingly, Serengeti House is probably the least luxurious of them all.  Yet I’m still going to highly recommend it, because of the experiences.  Speaking of which….

Experiences

Now I know you’re kinda wondering about these so-called things called animals.  Luckily, I don’t do this writing thing for a living, as otherwise, I would have been fired for not bothering to go out on a single drive.

I love safari.  Absolutely love it.  As much as Kevin Keegan loves Man Utd.  Yet having already stayed here before, and during the migration, I took one look at the relatively tall grass, heard from the guide about the lack of sightings, and decided the pool was the best use of my time.  It was also ridiculously hot, proved by the fact I managed to get severely burnt after “playing” tennis for less than 10 minutes.  In 33C heat, by the equator.  The British education system isn’t what it used to be.  They seemed rather concerned by us not wanting to go out, but should have taken it as a compliment, as the property seems to have some coma-inducing relaxation vibe going on.  I was perfectly happy seeing the occasional animal, in absolute comfort.

So to clarify what I mean by amazing experiences: I mean if you like animal-on-animal slaughter and come between May and October, which is what I did last time.  So here’s one of my all-time favourite pictures from that occasion.

The Directors Cut of the Lion King

During those months, the elephants are more likely to come to drink from the pool due.  As they did not, it meant it was purely ours.  In between the many hours in the pool, we went for a beautiful sundowner, which was elegantly set up, and then a local tribe came in to dance for twenty minutes.  I messaged my wife and received back: “hubby hates this stuff”.  That’s why I married her – she really gets me.  If only hotels knew me as well.

The Good

  • Facilities, including a private gym, tennis court and spa

The Bad

  • Bugs, bugs, bugs.  Everywhere.  I was here six weeks ago and still have marks all over my shoulder from one rather impolite pest.
  • Food
  • Things I never had any time for until I became a parent: the gift shop.  Now as a parent, I’m in there finding things for my children – what a loser.

The Luxurious

  • Setting
  • Activities

Rating

Good

Conclusion

I came, I saw, I learnt nothing.  Staying in Serengeti House managed to achieve nothing when it came to changing my mind.  If I had not gone and stayed, I would have told you it was the best option.  Having been there, the same applies. It was an expensive discovery when the outcome is like a shaman telling you that you already knew the answer the whole time.

I sometimes have to combat my demons in summarising these properties, as, on the one hand, it’s not as good as other exclusive-use properties, but on the other hand, it’s as expensive as them.  From a luxury perspective, you can find better; from a location perspective, it’s the best going.  If you’re here to see animals and not just pick up a tan whilst playing tennis, I would pick Serengeti House over every single other African exclusive-use property I’ve stayed in – which is almost all of them.

The difficulty in summarising is that it’s impossible to experience something without comparison.  Do I think that Serengeti House is a better resort than Arijiju?  Or Kubili House?  Ol Jogi?  Or even Cheetah Plains?  No.  But that doesn’t make it bad.  I don’t watch Jurassic World and think it’s better than Jurassic Park, but that doesn’t mean I cannot still enjoy it.  Who doesn’t like seeing Chris Pratt look like he’s trying to seduce a dinosaur whilst on a surfboard?

In 2018 I thought there was nothing better than Serengeti House; post Arijiju, I think it’s brilliant but not perfect.  Ultimately, Serengeti House is one of the best safari lodges in the world because of where it’s based and what it can offer.  It is leagues above anything else in the area.  If you’re choosing between the Mara or here, it’s like deciding between attending a riot in a disaster relief zone or going to an Enya concert.  The exclusivity offered here, the tranquillity, the luxury of being able to do what you want, when you want it, cannot have a price put on it.  Except it can.  And it’s worth it.

Room type: Exclusive use When: January 2023 Rates: from $10,615/n

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 28th Feb '23

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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