Where Bush Meets Beach: Saadani National Park
With hardly a coconut tree in sight, Saadani Safari Lodge (tel. 022/277-3294; www.saadanilodge.com) is one of East Africa's finest bush hideaways, with the added enchantment of a spectacular -- and, in all other respects, tropical -- beach. This world-class retreat is situated within Tanzania's youngest wildlife preserve, Saadani National Park, a 1,150-sq.-km (449-sq.-mile) wilderness that's distinct from any other part of East Africa, thanks to its special confluence of habitats. Hippos and crocodiles cruise the Wami River right near the open sea, elephants have been spotted ambling along the beach, and dolphins and endangered turtles swim just offshore. In and around Saadani village, not too far from the lodge, ruins of stone houses, the old German Boma, and a few gravesites bear witness to a time when the area was firmly in the grasp of international trade -- first in slaves and ivory, and later in all manner of crops desired by European overlords. There's a bit of something for all tastes here -- snorkel around a tidal sand island, gawk at abundant birdlife, wait in anticipation at turtle nesting sites, or visit a thoroughly untouristy Maasai community. Shabby chic in design, the lodge melds seamlessly with nature; spread out for privacy, there are 15 elegant thatched-and-tented cottages with wood floors and sailcloth ceilings. Just because you're practically on the beach doesn't mean you have to forgo modern conveniences -- there are attached bathrooms with solar-heated water, plush beds, and canopied mosquito nets. A game reserve since 1969, Saadani was officially protected only in 2005 and incorporates several distinct ecosystems. Besides the Wami River, Saadani encompasses the Zaraninge Forest, one of the very last bits of coastal forest in Tanzania, and the acacia woodland rubs shoulders with mangroves, meaning that there's diverse and interesting birding. The park itself may not be as high on the list of priorities among East African reserves as, say, Selous or the Masai Mara, but its relative obscurity means that you're likely to have a more intimate, personal interaction with the wildlife (not to mention the beach). Yes, game drives are possible, of course, as are walking safaris and fly-camping, but Saadani is not really a first choice if game tracking is your priority (in fact, sightings are dismal compared to the vast open plains of the inland parks) -- you'll probably just be happy to station yourself in the hide overlooking the waterhole behind the lodge and let the animals come to you. When the beasts do turn up, the scene has the power to transfix you -- if you can't pull yourself away, staff will even provide sundowners, a magical way to toast your time in Africa. Arrange your reservation immediately by calling tel. 071/355-5678, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. A night here costs $720 to $920 double, including all meals, park and concession fees, local transfers, laundry, taxes, guide services, and a number of in-house activities. A night in the honeymoon suite is $1,400.
If that strikes you as too costly, another blissful option is Tent With A View (www.saadani.com), where the full-board rate starts at $390 double, including local airstrip transfers. Situated just outside the National Park (so you pay park fees only when you go on game drives), the lodge bumps up against a stunning driftwood-strewn beach. You can cruise through the mangroves in a canoe and spend sunset in the treehouse, listening and watching as the light fades. The "tents" in question have permanent wood frames and are extremely comfortable and neatly turned out. While there's hardly a soul for miles in either direction, you are likely to spot monkeys, civet cats, and bush babies right from your dinner table.
Charter flights take 15 minutes from Zanzibar and 30 minutes from Dar es Salaam into Saadani airstrip. By road, you're looking at around 4 1/2 hours from Dar (via Chalinze and Mandera) and approximately 7 hours from Arusha. Typically, transfers to Saadani Safari Lodge from Dar cost $300 one-way (or $400 return) in a 4X4, but you can also arrange to be brought here by boat from either Bagamoyo or Pangani/Ushongo, and there are a number of scheduled flights and air taxi services available.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.