The Best of Both Worlds
Review by Fiona Duncan, published 18th April 2005.
I don't know about you, but four days on the same beach is quite long enough for me. That thought, churlish perhaps, occurred to me more than once as I lolled about at The Palms, a slice of paradise on the undeveloped east coast of Zanzibar.Content and soporific, I stirred only to move from the shaded day-bed on my veranda to the velvety communal pool (hardly crowded: there are just six thatched, double-bedded bandas, each with outdoor Jacuzzi) and then to my private pavilion on the empty beach, with its icing-sugar sand and a constant cooling breeze.
Occasionally, I would make it as far as the adjacent hotel, Breezes Beach Club, for a Thai massage in the spa or a snorkelling trip.The Palms, at twice the price of Breezes, provides exclusivity and privacy, while Breezes, no less beautifully positioned, or elegant in its way, is a fine mid-price resort. If The Palms has a fault, it is that the design of the six large bandas is a little clunky, with too much dark, solid furniture for my taste, but that is to quibble: my stay was unblemished.
It was a perfect place in which to unwind and reflect on the first part of the trip, for this sybaritic dawdling in Zanzibar was merely the cherry on the cake. Four days was precisely how long I was staying on the beach, the second half of a two-centre holiday that will remain one of the highlights of my travelling life.
It had begun, after a flight from London to Dar es Salaam, at an airstrip in Tanzania, when the pilot of our light aircraft buzzed the runway, sending a dozen impala skittering out of the way so he could circle and land. It was my first safari: in fact, apart from Morocco, my first time in Africa. I knew roughly what to expect, but nothing that I had read about our destination, Camp Beho Beho in the Selous Game Reserve, Africa's largest wildlife sanctuary, prepared me for the beauty of the landscape and the grandeur of the sky, the accessibility and abundance of the wildlife, the comfort and elegance of the accommodation or - but for the sounds of nature - the silence. Old safari hands among us talked of five or more Jeeps converging on a group of animals in other parts of Africa, yet on none of our game drives did we see another vehicle. We bathed alone in the hot springs and stood by ourselves at the grave of Frederick Selous, the adventurer for whom the reserve is named. On the vast, crocodileinfested Lake Tagalala, ours was, rather unnervingly, the only (small, tin) boat.
For a first-timer such as me, there were many remarkable sights, including lion, rare painted hunting dogs, great wallowing hippo like half-submerged submarines and dozens of bird species - from huge, wheeling martial eagles to brilliant, chattering golden weavers and three types of kingfisher, spotted one after the other. One sight, though, remains scorched in my memory. In an ever-changing landscape of riverine forest, swamps, lakes and open grassland, matched by the vast African sky above - blood-red sunset in one quarter, gun-metal grey streaked with lightning in another, piles of fluffy clouds in the third and sheet blue in the fourth - we rounded a low hill on our early-evening game walk.
Lolloping across a verdant ridge ahead of us were perhaps 20 giraffe, with a herd of zebra hard on their heels, and dainty golden impala bouncing about at the rear as if trying their best to keep up. Under the shade of a tall baobob tree beneath the ridge, its back turned imperiously to the foolishness above, stood a great bull elephant with massive tusks.A lilac-breasted roller flew across the scene, while to one side were a couple of stately yellow-billed storks and a group of warthogs. I half expected Noah to appear and sort them all out.Back at Beho Beho, our superb, gentlyspoken guide, Spike Williamson, his partner Rita and head chef Maretha run a safetyconscious camp that is impossible to fault.
On the slope of a hill overlooking a river gorge, there are nine spacious, airy bandas, recently rebuilt in local stone and palm-leaf thatch to provide natural, comfortable and very elegant double bedrooms with breathtaking views, and large bathrooms with open-air showers. The food is sophisticated and excellent, the company convivial, the breakfasts by Lake Tagalala and the sundowners at various viewpoints magical. It was an enchanted few days.
But it was also tiring, with 5.30am starts and sleep disturbed by the low boom of hippo in the watering hole below the bandas. The thought of a few days winding down in Zanzibar, just off Tanzania's coast, began to seem very appealing. En route to the hotel from the airport, I spent the morning in Zanzibar's capital, still stamped with its history of slaves and spices. Suspecting that once I reached The Palms I wouldn't feel like sightseeing, I took the opportunity to explore Stone Town's heady Arabian streets, studded with splendid carved wood and brass doors, and overhung with rickety balconies.
Once at The Palms, I quickly learnt to say hakuna matata (no problem) and I fell for Zanzibar's traditional taarab music, a jazzy mix of Arabic, Indian and African sounds which summed up the laid-back atmosphere.The animals were gone, though the immense African sky was still in place. In this seaside setting, its greatest glory was reserved for the night, and each evening after dinner, I lay on the darkened beach and watched idly for shooting stars as the minutes trickled into hours. And yet, lovely though it was - and this must indeed seem churlish - I still reckoned that the beach was, from now on, simply not enough.he combination of Camp Beho Beho in Selous, Tanzania and the Palms, Zanzibar is one practical idea for a two-centre holiday in East Africa, but there are plenty of others that work equally well, and to suit a range of budgets, particularly if you are prepared to spend more time travelling between the two destinations. All prices for the suggestions below are inclusive of flights and transfers.
For the first three options contact Escapology (0845 070 0601; www.escapologytravel.com); for the second, two contact Abercrombie & Kent (0845 070 0611; www. abercrombiekent.co.uk).Tanzania and Kenya Coast The coast of Kenya is the least expensive and least time-consuming location for the second part of a holiday in East Africa. It can easily be combined with Tanzania - you could take an eight-night safari in the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti, for example, and follow it with five nights at Hemingway's on Kenya's north coast. Thirteen nights cost from £1,649 per person.Kenya Safari and Coast For another inexpensive safari-and-beach combination, you could stick to Kenya for both, driving from Nairobi to the Rift Valley Lakes then on to the Masai Mara for game viewing. Then you could wind down at the Voyager Beach Club on Nyali Beach, 30 minutes from Mombasa airport. Eight nights cost from £998 per person.Kenya and Zanzibar Another affordable option is to combine the Mara Safari Club in the Masai Mara (after spending a night in Nairobi) with Breezes Beach Club in Zanzibar. Nine nights cost from £1,348.
Kenya and Seychelles or Mauritius If you like the idea of spending the beach part of your holiday in the Seychelles or Mauritius, then start of with a safari in Kenya, as there are flight connections to the Indian Ocean from Nairobi. You could, for example, spend three nights in Samburu Game Reserve followed by three nights in the plains of the Masai Mara, then four nights on Praslin, Seychelles, at the Hotel Lemuria. Twelve nights cost from £3,149.Kenya and Dubai For something completely different, another option would be to combine a safari with a beach holiday in Dubai. Again, Kenya has good flights connections to Dubai so you could spend six nights there first, as above, with a further three nights in Dubai, at a beach-resort hotel such as the Jebel Ali. Ten nights cost from £2,110.Getting there Abercrombie & Kent (0845 070 0611; www.abercrombiekent.co.uk) offers a Selous Escape itinerary, including three nights at Camp Beho Beho, Selous, and four nights at The Palms, Zanzibar, on a full-board basis from £2,758 per person, including international flights with British Airways and transfers.