This luxury safari in Africa is what travel dreams are made of

By Christine Loomis,
Serengeti National Park
Serengeti National Park spreads across 5,700 square miles in Tanzania, a vast, humbling landscape under surreal skies that surpasses all preconceived notions. Within it roam thousands, sometimes millions, of exotic creatures, including Africa's so-called big five: lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo and rhinos. Resolutely rugged and untamed, Serengeti also surprises with luxury: a remote lodge where safari dust and sweat succumb to hot showers, fine food, impeccable service and comfort. 
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Bikini-clad humans, dust-covered elephants
No pool on the planet offers a more compelling view than that at Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti, deep in the national park above a natural water hole frequented by elephants. It may be a luxury lodge's most intriguing amenity, with in-room elephant cams alerting guests when the pachyderms arrive. 
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
A journey of giraffes
Adventure starts just beyond Seronera Airstrip. The one-hour drive to the lodge might take twice that long as wildlife poses beside the road, a thrilling harbinger of all that's yet to come. Seasoned guides provide fascinating insights, such as this cool name for a group of giraffes: a journey.
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
A dazzle of zebras
Which do you prefer: A herd? A zeal? A dazzle? They're all real names for a crowd of zebras, but dazzle has pizzazz and brilliantly captures the intensity of the geometric designs, sharp angles and striking contrasts when these boldly striped beasts gather.
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Where the antelope play...and escape
You're almost guaranteed to see them on the Serengeti. Some 16 species of antelope gallop across park grasslands, including impalas like these, which can leap 10 feet in the air, bound 30-plus feet in distance and run up to 56 mph. Lions can hit 50 mph in short bursts, giving swift impalas a chance.
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Balloon view
Floating over the park at dawn offers one-of-a-kind views of the Serengeti's exotic ecosystem and inhabitants. Balloons can soar up to 2,000 feet or hover just over the tall grass, bending it as it sweeps by. High or low, it's an African experience that will hold its place in life's long-remembered moments.
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Action in the hippo pool
Where the Seronera and Orangi rivers meet, hippos, dozens of them, wallow year-round in a pool that draws visitors from across the park. This is what hippos do most of the time. Otherwise, they navigate the water with surprising – if comic – grace that belies their ferocious nature. 
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Hidden in the trees
Safari guides are practically genius in their ability to spot big cats lounging among the leaves. This leopard beauty looks relaxed but he kept a careful eye on lions in and around the trees about a football field's distance to the right, as well as humans in safari trucks straight ahead.
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
African buffalo nicknamed 'Black Death'
Seriously aggressive, hence the nickname, African buffalo can weigh nearly 2,000 lbs. and stand up to five-plus feet at the shoulder. Like rhinos, these behemoths have poor eyesight. When threatened, they often move closer to potential danger to get a better look pre-attack. You don't want that to be you. 
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Fabulous eyelashes, captivating smile
Standing 15 to 18 feet tall, giraffes exude elegance with their lanky necks, impossibly long eyelashes and seemingly dispassionate demeanor. You're likely to see dozens of giraffes on daily game drives in the Serengeti, often among the trees. But each one, like its fur pattern, is entirely unique.
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
The fine art of scavenging
They're not lovely but they are one of nature's most efficient scavengers – far more efficient than hyenas or African wild dogs. That makes them critical to the ecosystem. In places where vultures have been poisoned to manage them, the result was an increase in diseases due to carcasses left festering.
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Dung beetles can stop a truck...or four
These uber-industrious workers are fascinating, proving that not every photo-worthy creature is big or beautiful. Four safari groups stopped to watch this fellow push a tennis ball-sized piece of dung – irresistible to a lucky lady beetle in the future – across the road. Not one truck moved until he succeeded.
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Clever & handsome vervet monkey
Clever and quick, vervet monkeys often become pests when living near humans, eating crops and wreaking havoc. That has led to mass annual slaughter by farmers and others. The African Wildlife Foundation is educating humans to better co-exist with monkeys. No one is educating the monkeys yet.
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
The model for angry birds? Maybe.
One surprising treasure of exploring the Serengeti is the discovery of creatures you didn't come for and didn't know about before happening upon them. This aptly named Superb Starling near Gong Rock in Moru Kopjes was more than willing to pose and show off his iridescent purple splendor.
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Baboon baby backpack
Mother baboons carry newborn offspring in one arm. At about five weeks, babies ride on their mother's back clinging with all fours, and later sit upright like a jockey. Between four and six months, young baboons begin spending most of their time with fellow juveniles.
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Wildebeest tea ceremony?
It looks civilized but these guys are squaring off. They're just two of 1.3 million wildebeests that migrate across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. Wildebeests' most remarkable trait? The ability to detect new grass following a rainfall from 60 miles away. Scientists don't know how. 
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Spotted hyena skulking in the grass
Are hyenas just plain ugly or so ugly they're cute? You decide. While they're primarily scavengers, hyenas are also skilled hunters and highly adaptable. They may look similar to dogs but are actually more closely related to cats. Humans protecting livestock are their primary predator.
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Elephant ambling across Moru Kopjes
Moru Kopjes, in southwestern central Serengeti, is one of the park's most beautiful areas. Its breeze-riffled golden grasses, lakes, rivers, trees and dramatic rock outcroppings form the sweeping, evocative landscape that defines Africa for many. Moru also offers several important Masai cultural sites. 
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Five-star picnic
One of Four Season Serengeti's safari options is a full-day game drive. While coveted wildlife sightings and photo ops are almost guaranteed, there's also a standout picnic of gourmet salads, dressing, sides, sandwiches, dessert, wine and beer – elegantly served on the hood of a versatile safari truck. 
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Leopard on the move
On a late afternoon, this leopard finally dropped down from the tree on which dozens of binoculars and cameras had been trained for hours. Serengeti National Park is a safe refuge for animals – no hunting permitted – yet even well-meaning park visitors may not be entirely benign, especially in large groups.
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Rhinos at the edge of the Woodlands – and extinction
Consider yourself lucky to spot a black rhino. As many as 700 once roamed the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, yet by the 1970s, poaching had reduced the population to just 10. Black rhinos have been reintroduced to Moru Kopjes in recent years, but they remain at risk.
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Why does the elephant cross the road?
This little one appeared unfazed by humans clicking cameras in vehicles 10 yards away as he hurried to catch up with his group. Elephants are spotted almost everywhere in Serengeti National Park, often near the roads, leaving photographers to ponder, "Can one have too many elephant photos?"  Nah...
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Lion love, no matter what
Mother lions park their cubs in a safe place when they go off to hunt. When the hunter returns, these big cats act like kitties, bumping heads in a sweet greeting whether the hunt was successful or not. These two cubs, about a year old, had to wait another day to feast.
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This is the reason
It's faces like this that draw travelers to the Serengeti. It's the chance to see what wild unknown waits around the next bend and to look it in the eyes – literally. It's adventure by day and luxury by night if travelers wish, making it easy to understand why Africa is the stuff of bucket-list dreams.
Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis