A day and a night at Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater is a marvel of geology.

It is a fully intact 280km2 unbroken caldera situated in the heart of the Great Rift Valley. The rim of the caldera is around 1,800m (6,000 ft) above sea level. Standing on the forested and misty slopes of the eastern rim offers astounding views of the mosaic landscape of arid grassland, fever-tree forest, tiny streams and soda lakes 600m (nearly 2,000ft) below.

As if the spectacular views weren’t enough the Crater, as it is known, is also home to about 20-25,000 large mammals – one of the densest populations on Earth. Aside from large numbers of blue wildebeest, plains zebra, Thomson’s gazelles and Cape buffalo, there are well over 50 lions and over 500 spotted hyaenas here! This is also one of Tanzania’s last havens for black rhinoceros, which has declined in number from over 100 in in the Crater in the mid 1960s to about 10 in 1990, and since then has fortunately had a slow increase. It is not unusual to stop every five or ten minutes to look at another sighting when game-driving here.

So, if this is so unusual, where can we stay? All three places mentioned here are over 2,000m (7,000 ft) above sea level, so at night and in the early morning it can be chilly (Minimum temperatures on the Crater rim vary from 8-12°C at night, and maximums from 19-25°C during the day). None have modern insulation or double glazing, so this is a place where when the morning tea or coffee is delivered to your room you snuggle in your bedclothes and test the temperature of the crisp dawn air with your nose!

One of the most luxurious lodges nestled on the Ngorongoro Crater rim at 2,300m (7,500 ft) is &Beyond’s Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, nicknamed Maasai Versailles by the local guides! This consists of only 30 intimate cottages, offering spectacular views of zebras or buffaloes grazing from the deck of your room with the Crater spread out in the background. While enjoying the view you can sit beside the fireplace and sip a glass of sherry, soak in a hot bathtub, or request a massage. At night you snuggle in crisp linen bedclothes warmed by an electric blanket. This lodge is conveniently located between the two one-way tracks (the Seneto Descent and the Lerai ascent) on the southern rim of the Crater.

This year two other interesting properties have arrived on the scene – Nomad Tanzania’s Entamanu Camp, and Asilia’s The Highlands.

Entamanu Camp is situated at 2,300m (7,200 ft) in a misty and breezy Acacia Lehai forest on the drier western rim, with views below onto a shelf of grassland that stretches out to a forested lip that drops again into the Crater. This area is popular with giraffes (which interestingly are not known to occur in the Crater) and other animals, as well as herds of Maasai cattle that move from waterhole to grazing meadow. This tented camp consists of only six canvas accommodation tents and a separate tented main dining and lounge area, all built up on wooden decks. The tents are superbly adorned with leather and cowskin furnishings interposed with matt steel shelves. All along the east side, overlooking the Crater, there are thick see-through plastic sides, inner muslin curtains, and roll up or down canvas outer sides. During the day light can pour in and the views can be enjoyed, and at night they can all be closed up to retain the warmth. The gas heater provides welcome warm air, and once in bed you can snuggle up to the hot water bottle. Short bush walks are also possible from here. This camp is especially convenient during the green season (December-March) as, if you are staying on the Serengeti Plains afterwards, this camp is situated midway between the Crater and the Plains, and is only 7 kilometres (½ hours drive) along a bumpy dirt track to the Seneto Crater descent road.

The Highlands is a funky fusion of space and safari with eight unique canvas and clear plastic dome cottages built on wooden decks, and a larger reception dome with a central fireplace nestled between a cosy bar-lounge and a spacious dining room. When the morning mist clears, wonderful views of the ancient Gol Mountains and azure Lake Natron fill your horizon. The sound of Maasai cow bells, and the rolling trill of brilliant sunbirds sipping nectar from the forest flowers, can be heard as you bask in the sun on your veranda deck in the early afternoon. These rooms are really unusual, and anyone interested in architecture would be fascinated by this camp. There is a wood stove in each dome for welcome warmth in the evenings, and like at Entamanu Camp, the hot water bottles are very much appreciated here. The bathroom with wooden shelves is very cosy, and the huge shower with steaming water a luxury. This camp is situated on the slopes of Olmoti volcano in a more remote location than the others, ½-1 hours drive to the north of the Crater at 2,660m (8,700ft) elevation, so it is especially chilly at dawn. This camp is best for those keen on spending an extra day to hike or explore nearby volcanoes – Olmoti’s Caldera and waterfall is nearby, or about an hours’ drive from the camp brings you to a spectacular flamingo-dotted soda lake encircled by Empakaai’s Caldera. From Empakaai’s rim the steep sides of another volcano, but this one is active, cloud-topped Ol Donyo Lengai (the sacred Mountain of God), may be clearly visible to the north.

Where would you like to stay?