Sanctuary Swala: Peace in the Tanzania Wilderness

I awake just in time for sunrise, rub my eyes and remind myself where I am: Tanzania. I grab my camera and go out to my wrap-around deck, which sits right in the middle of the savanna. An orange glow is low on the horizon shining through the acacia trees. Monkeys and guinea fowl run around in front of me. I hear only nature – rustling in the bushes and the sounds of birds awakening all around me. I grab the yoga mat that is stocked inside my tent and do 20 minutes of chatarangas and sun salutations. Lovely French press coffee is brought right to me on a tray and I sit in wonder.

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Sanctuary Swala
is about a four-hour drive from Arusha—the first two hours are paved, while the rest is on a dirt road through Tarangire National Park. It’s the first “hotel” at which I’ve stayed where on the way there, I pass zebras, giraffes, and lions.

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Upon arrival, an attendant escorts me to my “permanent tent”. One of twelve canvas pavilions, each tent has a bleached hardwood floor, a canvas ceiling with ceiling fan, upholstered chairs in a sitting area, fluffy white duvets on comfy beds, a full en-suite bathroom complete with modern cement slab vanity, double sinks, and an indoor and outdoor shower. There is a wooden deck surrounding the tent and you can sit on your front “porch” and watch zebras and elephants walk right on by. It’s surreal. If this is glamping, I am hooked.

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It is hot and dusty in Tanzania, so admittedly one of my favorite things is the complimentary laundry service. There’s nothing like clean clothes for the light packer. One interesting caveat, since they have an all male staff, they do not wash women’s underwear, but do give you detergent in your room so you can hand wash your delicates.

And just in case of any emergency, each tent is equipped with a handheld radio.

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At night, I am told to give out a sort of “bat signal.” I simply shine the flashlight that I find charging in my tent up toward the treetops and an askaris (night watchman) comes over and escorts me to the dining room. Seem unnecessary? You have to remember we are just living on the grounds of a national park. There is no fence between us and the wild beasts, just the door of the tent, so at night it’s in our best interest to be careful and still be escorted on the lighted pathways.

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Each day at camp, you can join a safari drive, take an early walking safari at dawn, or even go jogging with one of the staff just outside of the park at a local “football” field.

“Feeling adventurous?” asks Chris, the property manager. “Want to go for a little walk in the evening?”

“Sure!” I exclaim without even thinking.

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We meet at 5:15pm in the open-air lounge and I sign some “you could die” waivers and get the briefing about safe distances between us and the animals and when we might have to freeze or flee. Oh yeah. This is not just a “walk in the park.” A hike in Tanzania is much different than a hike in any park I’ve ever been to. This is the bush. When on safari we are not allowed to get out of the car. But now we are walking away from our lodge—away from any vehicle or shelter—and are literally just on our own out in the wild with 15,000 pound African elephants (the largest land mammals on earth), dangerous buffalo (they are very unpredictable and kill more people in Africa than any other animal) and lions. The big difference? We are escorted by a park ranger carrying an AK-47 and Chris leads the way also carrying a rifle. Of course, I don’t want to die, but I also really don’t want to put any animal in danger. I started having doubts before we even set out. Why should I risk the life of an animal just so I could get closer? That’s the last reason I came to Tanzania. For better or worse, we only see the elephants that were already at the campsite watering hole (therefore distracted with their bathing and cooling off) and some waterbuck. The most dangerous thing we happen upon are some big termite mounds and huge piles of elephant dung.

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Sanctuary Swala sits in a remote corner of Tarangire National Park. While it is one of the least visited in Tanzania, it is also teeming with wildlife—massive herds of elephants, giraffes, cape buffalo, wildebeests, zebras, and lions abound. The park is situated in and around Masai tribe country, which makes for a great introduction to the diverse people and landscape of this amazing country.

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Sanctuary Swala is run with the philosophy of “luxury, naturally.” This gives you a great combination of a comfortable stay, with a more natural kind of luxury in a place with a very strong commitment to conservation and responsible tourism. The camp has been built with high eco-standards and is said to have a particularly low carbon footprint. Power is run by generator, which is turned off part of the day, and then there is some low battery charged power. The location was chosen to be close to wildlife without causing any harm or distress. Wastewater is carefully managed and they do not use locally made charcoal as it promotes deforestation, instead they use briquettes, which are made locally from agricultural waste for cooking and heating water. Only biodegradable cleaning products are used and waste is sorted and transported to the city of Arusha for recycling. I also really like that, unlike most other properties I’d stayed at so far, they provide water in glass bottles which they refill everyday instead of using plastic water bottles.

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Since it’s a small place, dining at Sanctuary Swala is an intimate affair. The fixed menu rotates every six days and one day each week they have a communal barbecue around the campfire. Breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner are included and meals are served on the main dining deck, which is lifted on stilts around an enormous, ancient baobab tree. Breakfast is served before the morning game activity. Lunch can be enjoyed back in camp or picnic baskets can be arranged for guests going out on safari. As evening sets in, there are drinks and canapés around the campfire followed by a three course dinner. And to top it off, there is even an unexpected pizza oven. To be honest, after several days of safari, I loved my time just sitting still in the camp—watching the animals from the lounge and my deck on the edge of the wilderness of Tanzania.

Lisa Lubin is an established travel/food writer, three-time Emmy®-award winning TV producer, and travel industry expert. After a decade in broadcast television she took a sabbatical, which turned into three years traveling around the world. She documents her (mis)adventures on her blog, LLworldtour.com. You can follow her adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Lisa Lubin

Lisa Lubin is an established travel/food writer, three-time Emmy®-award winning TV producer, and travel industry expert. After a decade in broadcast television she took a sabbatical, which turned into three years traveling around the world. She documents her adventures on her blog, LLworldtour.com. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Glamping the Scottish Way at Inshriach

When you think of traveling to Scotland does staying in castle accommodations immediately come to mind? What if you’re an off-the-beaten-path traveler who enjoys the nature experience? Then the quirky glamping choices at Inshriach in the heart of Cairngorms National Park will be just your style.

Walter Micklethwait has transformed his family’s 200-acre estate into a glamping haven. After restoring the Edwardian country house (for those who need a touch more in their lodging experience), Walter set out to create a quirky assortment of glamping choices.

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You’ll find yurts available throughout the glamping world. But the yurt at Inshriach includes Walter’s special touches like a Victorian double bed and woodstove. Secluded in the woods, the yurt has a view of the Monadliath Mountains with wildlife as your only neighbors. Bath facilities are 600 meters away at the farmhouse.

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But why stay in a yurt when you can experience sleeping in a fire engine? Yes, you read that right. Walter has transformed a 1954 Commer fire lorry into The Beer Moth, cozy accommodations complete with parquet floor, wood stove and that all-important Victorian double bed. Guests have the option of opening up the sides to be that much closer to nature. Again, bath facilities are located at the farmhouse.

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If a shepherd’s hut appeals to you, enjoy a bit of Sweden on a Scottish estate. The hand-built hut sports a raised oak bed with plenty of cushions. A private compost loo is close by or walk the 600 meters to shared facilities at the farmhouse. And be sure to amble down to the river for a soak in the wood-fired horsebox sauna.

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The Bothy Project rounds out this glamping menagerie. Used half the year as an artist’s residence, the sleeping hut is available to guests in the summer. And just maybe some creative influence will rub off on you.

For meals guests self-cater — yes, you cooking on top of the woodstove is allowed — or visit a local pub. But Walter doesn’t leave it completely up to you. Eggs are available in the farmyard and during the growing season, salads and vegetables are supplied from the Inshirach’s gardens.

Now all you have to do is enjoy the adventures of Cairngorms National Park knowing that comfortable sleeps await you at Inshirach’s glamping choices.

Cruising on Yathra and exploring Kurulubedda : Jetwing’s Eco-Retreats

As I seek the horizon on Bentota River, a sense of unperturbed relaxation takes over me. I hear and see no one; the falling rain and a sparse flutter of leaves are my only companions.

I arrived on a rainy afternoon from Galle, to a silent Dedduwa boat house, Yathra by Jetwing. No one was expecting me, although they should have. It was in fact, best. I took to myself to intrude; I walked down the graveled path, out onto a murky garden of sorts and there she was, pastoral and gracious, the Yathra by Jetwing, anchored by the riverbank.

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I came a long way to see the first of its kind houseboat in Sri Lanka. Inspired by the Kerala waters (more specifically, the Indian Kettuvallan), the island’s inaugural floating hotel appeared to be as peaceful as I had expected it to be.

Simply crafted from bamboo, with wooden, thatched roof, the houseboat is at the same time, a green, rustic vision of elegance, thanks to the craftsmanship of environmental architect Sunela Jayewardene.

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Featuring two air-conditioned bedrooms complete with their own private balconies and enclosed bathrooms, the boat includes most amenities you may need or find in an otherwise high-end hotel (slippers, robes, hair drier, iron, toiletries, etc). Ok, no Jacuzzi! But who needs a Jacuzzi when you’re leisurely cruising the river?

A soft, nautical interior design can be noticed in the bedrooms as well as the entrance parlor that links the rooms: vintage chests, navy blues and seashell motifs.

I walk up and down the teak-wood floors and notice the deck aft, used for dining. Guests can enjoy their meals here, in the open towards the lake, as service is provided via the galley adjoining the after deck.

There is also a sun deck above the cabins for guests to enjoy.

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Under the direction of Captain Koralage, retired from the Sri Lankan Navy after 22 years, the cruise is set to traverse the calm Bentota River starting from Yathra by Jetwing, all the way to Awittewa, a small village some 11 miles away.

Similarly, an escape to Jetwing Kurulubedda is an eco retreat in itself. Concealed amidst the foliage of a wild environment, near the village of Mahamodera on the Southern Coast, you’ll surely feel in your very own secret forest.

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Rustic in appearance, each of the two villas at Jetwing Kurulubedda has been aesthetically built and adorned so as to perfectly blend in with the surrounding paddy fields. The facilities however, are completely modern, to fittingly accommodate its guests.

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A stay at Jetwing Kurulubedda is clearly best suited for couples that wish for absolute tranquility. Each of the two dwellings cloistered into the woods opens to a large terrace and furthermore onto a canopy of trees. There is also a private plunge pool at the base of each one.

And that’s not the best part. Whether you want to dine on your own terrace, or further down into the coppice, the chef will be there at your disposal: with the dinner of your request, where and when you desire.

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Given the success of the property and authenticity of the experience, Jetwing Kurulubedda has plans to expand to four dwellings total, as well as another pool.

Although I didn’t stay the night, I thoroughly enjoyed the silence, disturbed only by the sound of crickets and birds.

I visited the Yathra by Jetwing houseboat in early May, ahead of its inauguration. This review is based on my brief visit on property. Guests can now book various packages, to include roam and board, as well as cruises. For rates and availability, please visit their listing pages, here on Glamping.com.

Image Credits: Jetwing Kurulubedda, Yathra by Jetwing, Monica Suma

Monica Suma

Monica Suma is a Romanian-American freelance travel writer and blogger, always on the hunt for art, good food and all things Cuba. Through storytelling and an insatiable pursuit for whimsy, she contributes to a variety of publications such as Lonely Planet, BBC Travel, Business Traveller and more. Follow her adventures live on Instagram and Twitter.