In June of 2013 I was invited to stay with Nicolas and Fabia at their lodge near Lake Manyara in northern Tanzania – Chem Chem.
Location: Set between northern Tanzania’s wildlife hotspots Lake Manyara and Tarangire in East Africa.
Number of rooms: 8
Cost per night: US $920 per person per night during peak season June 15 to October 31 and December 20 to December 31, 2014. Closed during the long rains – April 6 to May 14, 2014.
Recommended number of nights: 3 nights is ideal.
Why stay here: A great base to explore both Lake Manyara and Tarangire. Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is superb but doesn’t have a view and is not in an ideal location to visit Tarangire from… and Tarangire doesn’t have top level accommodations like Chem Chem… so rather than spend 2 or 3 nights somewhere more rustic in Tarangire and 2 nights at Lake Manyara Tree Lodge – spend 3 night at Chem Chem and have the best of both. Nearby Lake Manyara Ranch Conservancy does not compare with Chem Chem.
Ultimate Africa Client Special: Honeymooners will enjoy a 1 hour daily massage for the bride and groom, a special Chem Chem gift, and a private bush dinner!
Chem Chem is all about passion. Nicolas Negre, a Frenchman and former hunter who has been in Tanzania since 1995, and his Swiss partner Fabia have created a truly wonderful chic retreat on the shores of Lake Manyara.
Set within an oasis of palms Chem Chem means Spring in Swahili. Built in a 4,000 hectare wildlife migratory corridor between Lake Manyara and Tarangire the game is not great but the 8 roomed lodge itself is gorgeous.
As of June 2013 the lodge still has that “new car smell”. The main lodge buildings include a bar, lounge, outside fire pit surrounded by built in pillowed seating, a library, a sun deck, a pool, the Eagle’s Nest – a raised viewing deck, and dining area – all wonderfully decorated. Spa treatments in the Amani Spa (or in your room) are on offer as well.
Each suite has a large main bedroom area with writing desk, chair, and lounger. Burnt orange pillows and brown throw rugs complement the stone and other natural materials used in construction. Other nice touches included homemade cookies, dried fruit, and bottles of both still and sparkling water. Outside my room had two sitting areas. The large bathroom had a free standing tub with a gorgeous view of Lake Manyara’s shimmering waters visible through the trees. The bathroom also had double sinks, a toilet, an outdoor shower (no indoor shower unless you use the tub’s sprayer attachment), fluffy monogrammed towels, and Molton Brown toiletries.
Activities include professionally guided walks within the lodge’s private concession, sundowners on the lakeshore, visits to the nearby Masai Village and school, and day trips within Tarangire National Park (in an open 4×4 vehicle). Tarangire park fees of US $55 per adult are payable direct at the lodge. A full day trip to ,and within, Lake Manyara National Park (in a closed vehicle as a good part of the trip is on paved roads) is at extra cost. Hot air ballooning is also possible, at extra cost, in Tarangire although it is 30 minutes to the park gate and another 1.5 hours to the launch site – very, very, early in the morning.
In addition to the wildlife activities take time to relax, be pampered, and enjoy life. Have a massage in the spa or in the privacy of your own room (one 30 minute massage per person is included in your stay however other treatments are at extra cost)… watch the sunset from the lakeshore as you sit next to a warming fire with a drink in hand… have a romantic dinner for two in the bush. Bush breakfasts and picnics are also included along with a visit to a local Masai village / school.
So how was my stay? The afternoon of my arrival I went on a walk with a learner guided named Peter, professional guide Steve Pietersen (who used to be with Orient Express in Botswana)(Update: as of 2014 Steve is no longer at Chem Chem) and a Masai askari. Walking peacefully we spied 2 hyena, a very relaxed journey of close to 25 giraffe, and learned about the toothbrush tree and Masai perfume.
Nicolas picked us up after 45 minutes and we drove to the lakeshore where chairs had been set up. The sunset over the Great Rift as flamingoes flew by was magical. As darkness fell, and the air cooled, we talked around a small fire.
Back at the lodge we took a drink around the fire pit before dining communally with Nicolas, Fabia, Nicolas’s brother, his fiancé Rita (they had gotten engaged the night before at the same sunset location), and me. I ordered a little of both the chicken and vegetable curry and was hugely impressed. The standard of the food was very high… not your average lodge fare. After dinner we wrapped ourselves in warm blankets and went on a night drive within the concession. Nicolas was behind the wheel and Steve, the pro guide, sat on the bonnet. We were searching for lion that had been heard in the area. We had 5 spotlights and flashlights scanning the bush like we were looking for an escaped convict. Steve was like a dog on the hunt… jumping of the vehicle and stooping low to check the spoor… excitedly saying “let’s go this way! They are going this way.” The Masai examining the tracks simply said “it is a big one.” Alas after 45 minutes circling through the tall grass we could not find them. Back at camp I fell asleep at 11:30PM.
The next morning I woke at 6:30AM to Vervet monkeys playing on my room’s tented roof. I looked out upon the magical wilderness and a lone dik dik stood quietly looking at me. I showered and breakfasted with Nicolas and Fabia. Everyone in camp was super excited that 2 young male lion had been outside Steve’s room at 3:30 AM. Over 2 hours the lion had roared proudly while several female lions further away called back. A bit later Rita (the fiancé) arrived for breakfast with a sour look on her face. She was asked if everything was ok and replied “NO – not at all! We had lion outside our room for 2 hours and I thought we were going to die!” I suggested that she should have hid in her bathtub (knowing that is what you do during a hurricane – not when lion are outside your room). Steve and I had a good laugh at her expense – my apologies Rita. I had slept through the whole episode not hearing a sound and had surmised that the dik dik outside my room in the morning meant that the lion we had so diligently searched for earlier in the night were far, far, away. Steve believes the lion will settle in this area – not sure how he figures that.
After breakfast 20 staff and Nicolas helped switch out the massive wooden dining table for a larger one and then we drove to the workshop area nearby to check out Chem Chem’s new tented camp. Little Chem Chem, that will go into a their new 20,000 hectare concession bordering Tarangire… a former hunting block game viewing should get quite good there after a few seasons. The new tents are close to 50 square meters and set sideways. There will be a bed, toilet, sink, and shower. At night each tent should have its own fire pit which is a nice touch.
My opinion? Overall I loved it even though the game is not fantastically great on the concession. If you stayed for 3 nights I would suggest taking a day to drive around Lake Manyara… entering from the South Gate and exiting near the town of Mto Wa Mbu. Another day enjoy an hot air balloon trip in Tarangire or a full day wildlife viewing there with a picnic lunch. During the months July through October wildlife pumps! You can see over 500 elephant a day! Another day simply relax, have a spa treatment, enjoy the sunset over the lake – go on a moonlit game drive.
Here is it about the passion… the lodge is Nicolas and Fabia’s baby and you can feel the love they have for every detail. From the guiding to the food this comes through and was appreciated! Overall I was more impressed than I expected to be…
The lodge is a 2.5 hour drive from Kilimanjaro Airport and 1.5 hours by road from Arusha. The Chem Chem turnoff is just after the large phosphate / fertilizer factory on the main tarred road. The lodge is a few minutes down a dirt road. Laundry is included and there is wifi in the main lodge building.
Chem Chem’s website: http://www.chemchemsafari.com/
Ultimate Africa founder and president