Hosted by Roane Travel Design and TAASA Lodge; all opinions are my own.
“Jambo!” After a wonderful stay at Siringit Villa, we headed to the Arusha airport, a small outdoor airport for regional flights all around Tanzania. Our family had never been on a small 12-seater plane before, so it was quite a thrill to take off and see so much of Tanzania’s landscape below us! The pilot was kind enough to point out sights to us, such as Mount Kilimanjaro and an active volcano, on our way to Serengeti National Park and TAASA Lodge. “Serengeti” means “endless plains” in Swahili and that is exactly how we felt – remote and safe in the untouched, endless plains. We landed on Lobo Airstrip, which was a dirt-lined path in the middle of the park. It was so cool to land in such a remote area without a big airport to go through! Our future guide and tracker, Dominick and Loya, were awaiting us alongside our game drive safari vehicle with the biggest smiles on their faces!
We were joined by two other travelers, a couple Tom and Sam from California, who were absolutely precious! We became fast friends and spent the next few days enjoying safari drives, meals and conversations together. They were so sweet, patient and kind to our bros and we were so grateful to have experienced this journey together with them. Right after leaving the airstrip together, we immediately began to see wildlife! We quickly learned that one of the most amazing features of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park was the untouched wildlife and landscape around us. There were no fences or private safari lots, but instead nothing but safari land. It was absolutely incredible.
On the ride from the airport to the lodge, we already had seen giraffes, a cheetah, elephants, tons of zebras, wildebeests and beautiful African birds that were rainbow colors. We knew right then that this experience would be one to remember for a lifetime! We arrived to TAASA Lodge to receive the warmest welcome from the staff, who all gathered with welcome fresh juice drinks for us. We could immediately tell that something was different about this lodge – the people genuinely cared about their guests and took interest in everything we did, said or asked about. We would spend the next several days enjoying the presence of all TAASA staff and getting to know our guide, tracker and host, Leyan, better.
The all-inclusive meals and drinks at the lodge meant that the bar was always open and that the kitchen would provide a delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner. With a set menu daily alongside specials, our family enjoyed dishes from a mozzarella, caprese-style salad to creamy chicken and a daily fresh vegetable soup of the day. Logan and I enjoyed a local Tanzanian beer, Safari, which had a wonderful taste and was so refreshing after a long day on safari. The staff always accommodated the bros’ eating preferences and prepared a fresh fruit tray in the evening for them to bring back to the tent which was so appreciated. TAASA means “Let’s go!” in Swahili and that slogan rang true our whole stay.
The TAASA main lodge building along with the glamping-style tents were absolutely gorgeous! The layout was perfect for a family of four with young kids in one tent, with Logan and I sharing a queen bed and the bros using the couch pull-out bed and oversized sofa lounger. The tent was comfortable and cozy and the cool mountain air put us all to sleep immediately every night. Due to the vast amount of wildlife in the park and at the lodge, local guards with spears walked past our lodge at night, keeping us safe. It was so different to have to get a guard to walk us to breakfast in the morning or to walk us home from dinner in the evening due to safety precautions. TAASA is not in the Serengeti National Park, but is only a mile away so the lodge is surrounded by animals day and night. Such an experience!
The majority of the staff at TAASA were Maasai, which is an ethnic group in northern Tanzania and Kenya. Everyone was so proud of their culture and it was such a wonderful experience for the bros to get to learn more about their lifestyle. One evening we had an outdoor dinner with all TAASA guests where we got to enjoy a traditional Maasai Boma-style gathering with a dance in their traditional attire around a bonfire which was such a special occasion. Our host sat with us every night to review the next day’s agenda but was also flexible with our own preferences for the day – we could adventure as little or as much as we desired.
Every day was spent on safari drives, some shorter in length and one, a full 11-hour safari drive. We piled into the safari car and set out to search for wildlife, specifically the Big Five (leopard, cheetah, elephant, buffalo and rhinoceros). On our shorter drives, we saw thousands upon thousands of zebra and wildebeests, which we learned were on a migration from Tanzania to Kenya in search of better water sources this one time per year. It was absolutely incredible to see zebra everywhere we turned! We did get to see up close a few cheetahs along with several elephants, lions and buffalo. One of the more interesting animals we encountered was an ostrich – they were so funny to see! We also saw smaller animals like bush babies, warthogs, African birds, topi, hartebeests and monkeys. One of the most fascinating sites were seeing lions up close! We got to see a lion and lioness together and a few other lions on the prowl. It was such a gift how our guide and tracker knew how to safely navigate around animals in the wild – we never felt uneasy and fully trusted their skills.
The bros’ favorite was seeing giraffe, which we saw so many of and often saw leaving and entering the gates of TAASA. It was so much fun to witness their personalities and their beautiful prances. During our game drives, we enjoyed meals-on-the-go, with the TAASA staff preparing and packing bush breakfasts and lunches for us. It was so incredibly special to watch the Tanzanian sunrise and eat breakfast picnic-style and at lunch to sit below an amazing African tree and eat. One day, we set out on all-day game drive and actually ended up in a different country – Kenya! Northern Serengeti/Tanzania borders Kenya and Maasai people are able to pass from one country to the next without any form of border control. We had so much fun standing at a stone in the ground the signified one side being Tanzania and the other Kenya! While on that drive, we got to see an extremely rare black rhinoceros, which meant that we saw four out of five of the Big Five safari animals! That day, we also saw a crocodile in the Sand River and hippopotamus.
We spent our final day at TAASA on a tour of the Maasai village and get to experience the Boma and hut where our tracker, Loya, lives. It was amazing to see the Maasai culture and to meet members of his family. Our bros learned so much about Tanzania and the Maasai way of life and we are so grateful for the experience. We got to also tour the local Maasai school and see all of the ways that TAASA has given back to the locals. From providing desks and mattresses to the those who board at the school to two of the buildings where the boys go to primary school, it was so wonderful to see the beautiful lodge we were staying at giving back in such a big way.
Another way that TAASA gives back is through a partnership with Wine To Water, a North Carolina-based organization that helps to make water filters for several nations to provide potable water. While staying at Siringit Villa in Arusha, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to learn more about the organization and actually make some water filters ourselves! The bros got to help make the filters and learned more about the importance of everyone in the world having clean drinking water. Just three materials go into making each filter and it was amazing to watch the non-drinkable, muddy water become clear and drinkable after it went through the filter. The filter itself looks like a clay pot and allows dirty water to become clean in the process. Our family is so excited to get involved with Wine To Water and to begin contributing to help ensure that the East Africa plant continues the great work that they are doing. It was a joy to see the work that they are doing in action while at the Maasai primary school and getting to see dozens of people enjoy the drinking water that TAASA provided.
The hardest part of leaving the lodge was the staff. We had grown so close with Dominick, Loya and Leyan and it was tough to say goodbye. The bros received nicknames from Leyan, our host, with Landon being “Cheetah” and Griffin being “Bush baby”. Leyan played UNO card games with us and Dominick raced with our bros and threw them in the air for entertainment. The staff at TAASA are truly one of a kind and become instant family. Our departure from the lodge was emotional as all of the staff came to wish us a farewell. Many people who had visited TAASA before warned me that we’d want to come back without a doubt and they were so right. Logan and I would absolutely love to bring our bros and their families back to TAASA one day to experience again the good that they are doing for so many in Tanzania. The long flights to and from Tanzania were worth it for every memory made there.
Packing tips for TAASA: Duffel bags are recommended for regional air travel around Africa so be sure to leave hard-top luggage at home. One very helpful advantage of TAASA is that their wonderful housekeeping staff do guests’ laundry daily so we packed very minimally and were able to have everything laundered frequently. We even returned home with clean clothes!
Planning tips for a safari: If you are dreaming of a Tanzanian safari trip, be sure to connect with Laine at Roane Travel Design. This travel planning team knows all of the ins and outs of travel to Africa and they are the best points of contact to ensure you have everything you need. They can also answer questions regarding costs of the trip, documents needed for travel, etc.