The best thing about AMANI, a cushy glamping site in Shaffer Bend Recreation Area, is the view. The safari-style tent sits atop a rise facing west, overlooking 180 degrees of wooded hills, the Colorado River, and the setting sun, with hardly an intrusion from anything human-made. You can enjoy this view from a covered deck with comfy seating, Adirondack chairs around the fire pit, or a private heated Cowboy pool.
For reservations, call 855-392-7638. AMANI starts at $450/night. Waterfront primitive campsites (including picnic tables and grills) are $27.50/night.
Or maybe it’s the food—a booking here comes with the option of adding a gourmet dinner prepared on-site by a private chef or cooked yourself on the sizeable outdoor propane grill. The meal comes with ingredients from Bay Kitchens Catering in nearby Horseshoe Bay, part of Bay Cuisine Culinary Group, whose Bay View restaurant in Cottonwood Shores has its own stunning sunsets and delicious food.
My friend and I opted to cook the meal ourselves and chose the Serengeti Menu: a salad of baby greens, strawberries, oranges, pecans, and feta with a house-made peach pecan vinaigrette; trout with fresh thyme and rosemary; herb-buttered Yukon Gold potatoes; Chardonnay and honey-spiked carrots; and Key lime cheesecake with berry compote and Italian meringue. A far cry from the usual camping fare, to say the least.
Everything came prepped and parceled and was ready to eat in mere minutes, which we did sitting at the dining table on the deck with solar-powered lanterns and mood lighting supplied by a sky seared orange by the sunset. We also could have eaten at the large picnic table beside the grill, both shaded by a couple of hefty trees. The tent’s well-stocked kitchen includes a mini-fridge and freezer, sink, microwave, assortment of pans, real dishes and drinking glasses, silverware, and barbecue tools. That means guests can bring and cook just about anything for their other meals. There’s even a basket provided in case the urge for a picnic strikes.
Then again, its remoteness could be the best thing about AMANI, which is a Swahili word meaning peace. Tucked deep within the 508-acre Lower Colorado River Authority park, on the north side of Lake Travis about 10 miles outside Marble Falls, it’s off the beaten path and off the grid. That means dark night skies. Wrap up in one of the provided fuzzy blankets and stargaze by the fire, or you can use the beach towels and a pair of cozy robes to enjoy the stars from the pool without a mad dash back to the warmth of the tent.
A great way to get the lay of the land and check out the many trails for a return visit on foot, bike, or horseback is on a guided tour via a utility task vehicle—sort of a souped-up golf cart—with a member of the LCRA Parks staff. Tours currently are scheduled at Shaffer Bend on Jan. 20 and 27, from 1 to 3 p.m. ($100 per driver, $50 per passenger). The vehicles also make the outdoors accessible for people who cannot hike, bike, or horseback ride. Guests can drive (must be at least 21 years old with a valid driver’s license) or ride (must be at least 4-foot-9 and 75 pounds). The park also sometimes offers guided hikes and other special activities such as archery. Check the website for the schedule and call 512-303-5073 or email [email protected] for more information.
A stay here also includes two electric mountain bikes (with helmets), another great way to explore the hilly park. The property takes in a long swath of the Lake Travis shoreline and, depending on water levels, visitors can canoe or kayak (bring your own boat), fish, and swim. There is even a concierge—technically a very helpful volunteer park host—who lives on-site to help guests make the most of their stay.
AMANI, which opened in September, is part of a growing trend of different and diverse types of accommodations to serve new groups of people wanting to explore the outdoors, according to LCRA Parks spokesperson Margo Richards.
“LCRA now is offering Airstreams, cabins, and safari tents in several locations and cool new things are coming on the market all the time,” she says, referring to options at multiple sites operated by LCRA Parks along the Colorado River from the Highland Lakes to Matagorda Bay. “We’re trying to continue to reach diverse audiences, people who may never have come into the park before and may be intimidated about putting up a tent or hooking up an RV. Now they can access the outdoors with heating and air conditioning, a real bed, and a private shower.”
At AMANI, that shower is part of a spacious bathroom in the tent that also has two sinks, toiletries, plenty of fluffy towels, a luggage rack, and a bench for slipping on your warm socks. This is definitely not roughing it.
In fact, this special place has just one drawback. Because it is off the grid, electricity and water run on a generator not far from the back of the tent that is quite loud. We weren’t bothered by the noise while inside the tent (and slept well), but sitting on the deck, by the firepit, or in the pool, it could be a bit of a distraction. Richards says having AMANI be off the grid was always part of the plan, but that LCRA will look into other options for powering it. In the meantime, guests can focus on the view. Or the food. Or, well, you get the idea.