Have you ever been to Heaven on Earth? I have:

Rhotia Valley Lodge, Safari, Tanzania - Kathi Kamleitner, Travelettes

Well, actually this is of course a much more tangible place than Heaven. This is the Rhotia Valley Tented Lodge in northern Tanzania. After trying and failing to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro last June my dad and I treated ourselves to a luxurious getaway close to Ngorongoro Crater nature reserve and Serengeti National Park and spent two nights at the beautiful lodge in the lush green hills surrounding Rhotia village.

The Philosophy

The lodge is run by the Rhotia Valley Children’s Foundation, a not-for-profit charity which was founded by the Dutch couple Joris and Marise Koch. The foundation is centred around a Children’s home, which is located just opposite of the lodge, where orphans of the surrounding villages find a new home and opportunities. The children’s home also encompasses a school, a bakery and a cheese dairy, which produces enough bread and cheese to supply not only the lodge but also shops in the area.

You see, the lodge is not just another luxury getaway, but deeply rooted in the philosophy to support the local community in a sustainable way. The lodge, the children’s home and the farm provide jobs for local people, actually 90% of staff are local. All the materials used to build the lodge are from Tanzania and again around 90% are locally sourced. Amazingly, all wheat, vegetables, fruit, meat, coffee, honey and more are bought from small local businesses within 20 km from the lodge. Some of the herbs are grown in the lodge’s herb garden, and bread and cheese are produced on site.

Rhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | Travelettes Rhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | Travelettes

Some of the profit that the lodge generates is fed back into the Children’s home and its employees, and so far the foundation has been able to build several home and school buildings around a central courtyard, support local schools with educational materials and computers, build a soccer field for leisure, plant a vegetable garden and purchase livestock for the farm, start a bakery and cheese dairy (and training some of the children for these jobs) and switch the power supply to bio-gas from cow dung.

Guests are welcome to visit the children’s home to learn about the current projects underway, such as the construction of water pipes leading up the hill, improving the primary school education and the Coffee Corner Training Centre, where Secondary school graduates can train in practice, together with Hotel school trainees from the Netherlands. They can also visit the bakery and the cheese dairy to see how it works. We had a happy baker explain the entire process to us. Neither him nor my dad were fluent in English, but somehow managed to connect via the craft of making bread – it was great to get such a local insight!

So, not only is this place absolutely gorgeous, but also highly invested in local life and creating a sustainable way of implementing tourism in the village.

Rhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | Travelettes Rhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | Travelettes

The Lodge

We had chosen to travel to Rhotia by public bus from Moshi, which was the most beautiful and adventurous journey of my life, even if or more because we didn’t know that we had to change busses halfway through… Thank god the locals on the bus where super helpful! So when after a bumpy and sweaty journey we got off at a petrol station seemingly in the middle of nowhere only to get into a jeep for an even bumpier 30 minute ride off the main road to the lodge, we only hoped for the best. And what can I say – the lodge itself is like a dream come true. I mean, look at it…

Rhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | Travelettes Rhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | Travelettes

The lodge consists of 15 tents on wooden platforms with thatched roofs blending into the lush green hills above Rhotia Valley. The view over the valley and the fields is incredible – I could have spent a week just sitting on our porch soaking up the beauty. In amongst the tents there is a large living and dining space, a gorgeous pool and a garden where vegetables and herbs are grown for the lodge’s restaurant.

The tents don’t have constant electricity as the lodge is not connected to the Tanzanian power system, but there is a generator supplying energy a couple of hours a day, usually in the evening, and numerous solar panels to power the lights. Water is also heated by solar power and every tent has a little bathroom corner. As water is scarce guests are asked to collect the first, cold water in a bucket to minimise waste of water – what a great initiative! You can read more about the lodge’s environmental resourcefulness here on their website.

Our tent was in the lowest corner of the property – we were completely on our own, surrounded by nature. We would walk up to the large dining area for dinner, where we were dished up local recipes with a western twist made with fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden. After dark we would be equipped with a torch but also escorted to our tent by a member of staff – because the area is largely made up of farmland, scavenging elephant herds are not uncommon; and you don’t want to bump into a surprised elephant at night!

Rhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | Travelettes Rhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | Travelettes Rhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | Travelettes Rhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | Travelettes

The Perfect Safari Layover

Most people come to stay at the Rhotia Valley Tented Lodge on their way to the famous Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. Upon arrival in Arusha airport they board their safari vehicles and drive west. Just before the road climbs steeply uphill towards the crater rim, they will halt to explore Manyara National Park and then continue to Rhotia Valley. The next morning their journey continues to the Crater and Serengeti.

As we only had one day to spare before flying on to Zanzibar, we decided against Ngorongoro (too big for just a day trip and also very expensive outside of a safari package) and instead opted for a day-safari to Manyara National Park. We booked through Makasa Tanzanian Safaris who sent a safari guide to Rhotia Valley to pick us up early in the morning. On the way to the gate we stopped halfway down the hill for a great view over the park and the huge Lake Manyara it is named after.

Rhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | TravelettesRhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | Travelettes

We spent all day criss-crossing the trails in the park and spotted giraffes patrolling the shore of the lake, a flock of pink flamingoes and a herd of elephants covered in the bright red mud. We were surrounded by large groups of baboons, some fighting, some carrying their babies on their backs. We halted for marvel at peculiar birds, spotted zebras in the distance and watched a massive water buffalo making his way towards our jeep. It was incredible! Like a nature documentary happening in front of your eyes – minus the really spectacular bits however, as even the best filmmakers often have to wait weeks or months for that one magical shot. On a safari you learn to get excited about even the smallest of things.

Rhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | Travelettes Rhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | Travelettes Rhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | TravelettesRhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | Travelettes

Responsible Tourism

As I’ve mentioned before the Rhotia Valley Tented Lodge is invested in the local community and does its best to promote responsible and sustainable models of tourism in the area. All too often you find luxury safari companies that exist on foreign investment and basically have nothing to do with the local economy. I loved that this was not the case in Rhotia Valley.

In the morning befre our departure to Arusha airport we joined one of the staff members for a walk around the village that spreads out on the steep hills surrounding the lodge. Equipped with walking sticks and plenty of water we braved the increasing heat and visited a few local farms and houses. We met farmers who showed us their maize fields, many children who were super interested in my camera, an improvised gin distillery and we were invited to join a local woman in preparing a traditional local dish: Maize-mash cooked over open fire topped with braised pumpkin leaves – so delicious!

Rhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | Travelettes Rhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | Travelettes Rhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | Travelettes

Rhoda Valley Tented Lodge was probably the one place of our trip through Tanzania that I had the hardest time leaving behind. Two nights are simply not enough, and the fact the most other guests only stay here for one night, broke my heart. I would have loved to explore more of the local trails, visit more of the local shops, visit the market in the surrounding towns and then come back to soak up the sunset over the gorgeous valley. If Heaven was a place on Earth…

Find out more about Rhotia Valley Tented Lodge, their mission and your options to visit this wonderful place on their website.

Rhotia Valley Safari Lodge, Tanzania | Travelettes

Disclaimer: We were invited to stay at Rhotia Valley Tented Lodge at a discounted rate and received special rate for the safari to Lake Manyara with Makasa Tours. All opinions are of course my own and uninfluenced either way!

All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.