Chem Chem: Our full report
Chem Chem, meaning 'spring' in Swahili, was opened in June 2011 by Swiss/French couple Fabia Bausch and Nicolas Negre. Fabia has a business background; Nicolas was formerly a professional hunter in the Selous. A luxury tented lodge, it's set in its own 40km² concession with beautiful views of the Rift Valley's western escarpment, and is situated such that you can explore both Tarangire National Park (20 minutes drive to the main gate) and Lake Manyara National Park (50 minutes to the north gate, and 1 hour 20 minutes to the south gate).
Most guests stay at Chem Chem with their own private driver guide, who will conduct their safari activities in the national parks. Activities within the concession, which is not subject to national parks' rules, include walking, night drives and off-road driving. These are led by Nicolas or a freelance guide, and are at an extra charge. Within the concession you'll find good numbers of giraffe, impala and zebra, as well as lesser kudu, cheetah, leopard, and over 200 species of birds. The occasional elephant and lion are also spotted here.
On our last visit in October 2011, activities on offer included a guided walking safari for US$45pp, a night drive for US$50pp, and a visit to a Maasai boma for US$70 per vehicle. Other activities include a Maasai-guided sunrise run, and walks to learn about the use of local medicinal and herbal plants. The walking here is gentle and fun, with a chance to learn some local Maasai skills, as well as keeping an eye out for passing game. Ask us in advance about costing some of these activities into your itinerary.
Chem Chem has been tastefully designed in what they call 'contemporary vintage' style. The central area consists of a spacious open-plan structure of wood, stone and thatch that looks over the plains to the escarpment beyond. It's a peaceful spot to sit and read, with half an eye out for passing game in the distance. Expect chunky tree-trunk tables (made by Nicolas himself), leather sofas, sumptuous armchairs, telescopes, coffee-table books, and some beautiful black-and-white wildlife photos on the walls. The main lounge area looks over a sunken campfire surrounded by cushioned benches, where guests can enjoy a pre-dinner drink. The focal point of the open-sided dining area is a beautiful long table carved from a tree trunk, flanked by several smaller tables.
Situated a few minutes walk away from the main area, a number of sunloungers, some shaded under billowing fabrics, surround the pool, where there's always someone on hand to take any drink orders.
There is also a spa at Chem Chem which is run by a local Tanzanian woman, and provides a range of treatments including massages, body scrubs, manicures and pedicures. When we visited in October 2011 a manicure cost US$35 and a 45-minute back massage US$50.
Chem Chem's eight tented rooms are identical in size and design. Positioned to try and maximise privacy, all enjoy similar views over the plains. Each tent is raised on a stone base, which helps to keep it cool and has two private outside areas: a stone veranda at the front with a table, chairs and sunlouger, and a wooden decked area to the side, where you'll find a low cushioned sofa.
Inside, each tent is very comfortable, with the same natural and earthy feel as the main area. The spacious bedroom area has either a double or twin beds, flanked by wooden bedside tables, with lights. There's a large chest at the foot of the bed, a writing desk, and – behind the bed – an area to store luggage. Steps lead down to a stone en-suite bathroom which incorporates a wardrobe as well as twin sinks, a toilet, and a stand-alone bath, with a glass door leading to an outdoor shower. Soft towels, bathrobes and Molton Brown toiletries are added touches.
Our viewChem Chem is a peaceful, stylish and laid-back lodge, with very friendly service and great food. It's not a lodge for hardcore safari enthusiasts though…although only 20 minutes from the Tarangire gate, your safari time here will be mainly restricted to the busier northern section; and the drive to the Lake Manyara gates is longer than some other alternatives in the region. Instead it would be better suited to those who want to relax and enjoy the lodge's surroundings, and take advantage of the activities the concession has to offer. It is also at the top end of the price range, so only for those with larger budgets.
Ideal length of stay: Stay two nights here as a base to explore Tarangire and Lake Manyara or more to take advantage of the activities on the concession too.
Directions: 130km from Arusha (about 2 hours' drive)
Owner: Fabia Bausch
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Dining times at Chem Chem are very flexible, so guests can have lunch and dinner to fit in with their safari activities. The lodge takes a lot of pride in its food and regularly invites well-known and experienced chefs to work with and train their staff. In fact, the food was one of the highlights of our stay: fresh, light and healthy, imaginatively produced, and with portions of a perfect size.
Breakfast was the simplest meal, with a small buffet selection of cereal, fruit, meat and cheese, and the option of freshly cooked eggs and bacon.
Lunch was a light three-course meal – with a Tanzanian salad to start, followed by a choice of two quiches (either vegetable or Lorraine) and a mango sorbet to finish.
Dinner is served at individual tables in a variety of locations around the lodge, so is quite a private experience. The three-course menu incorporates two choices of both starters and mains. We could choose between iced cucumber soup or tomato carpaccio with avocado to start, followed by a chicken with leek and cream dish, or a vegetable curry, rounded off by spiced apple samosa with vanilla cream.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Most drinks are included at Chem Chem apart from premium wines and spirits.
Attitude towards children: The camp welcomes mature children over the age of 12.
Generally recommended for children: The variety of activities on offer within the concession – such as walks, night drives and the ability to learn a little about the Maasai culture, as well as the proximity to Tarangire and Manyara, mean that this is a good option for families with older children who are likely to get restless sat in a vehicle all day.
Notes: Chem Chem is in the middle of the bush and wild animals do stroll through the camp so children need to be kept under supervision at all times.
Power supply: Generator
Communications: WiFi is available in the central areas at Chem Chem, and there is good cellphone reception here.
TV & radio: No
Health & safety
Malarial area: Yes
Medical care: Chem Chem has a basic first-aid kit on site and was planning to first-aid train a number of their staff when we last visited. For more serious matters the hospital in Arusha is about 1½ hours' drive away.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: A team of 20 askaris patrols the grounds of Chem Chem.
Fire safety: Chem Chem has a fire evacuation procedure, and there are fire extinguishers in each room.
Laundry facilities: Full Laundry Service - Included
Money: There are safes in each of the rooms. The lodge doesn't have the facilities to change large amounts of money.