Ngorongoro Crater Lodge stands in an amazing location...
Ngorongoro Crater Lodge: Our full report
Occupying a spectacular spot right on the rim of the Crater, Ngorongoro Crater Lodge is undoubtedly one of the most opulent lodges in Tanzania. Combining architectural hints of traditional Maasai homesteads with interior styles borrowed from European stately homes, the present lodge was built in 1995.
Grand antiques, gilded mirrors and local art compliment each other dramatically, resulting in a contemporary, smart, theatrical atmosphere. Crater Lodge isn't to everyone's taste: some will regard it as completely over the top, and not at all in keeping with the safari experience. However, if you're looking for something exceptionally special, and completely decadent, then it may be perfect.
Ngorongoro Crater Lodge is actually three separate intimate camps – North Camp (12 rooms), South Camp (12 rooms) and the smaller Tree Camp (6 rooms). Each has its own separate dining and lounge area, which helps to maintain a small and exclusive feel – even though the lodge has 30 rooms altogether. On our most recent stays, in April 2015 and November 2016, we had no preference for any of the three camps: each is similarly stylish and shares an excellent quality of service and high standards.
North and South camps are set slightly higher up the hill than Tree Camp and are mirror images of each other. Tree Camp, however, sits literally on the edge of the Crater and – as the name suggests – is built amongst the trees, with views uninterrupted by other buildings. That said, the higher location of North and South lend a better perspective, and they also have larger rooms and a greater overall feeling of opulence.
The main lounge for each of the North and South camps is divinely decorated with wood-panelled walls, large beaded chandeliers, raw silk curtains and inviting velveteen sofas. The roofs are brilliantly crafted from banana leaves (a motif created by the designers, Chris Brown and Diane Fox), while Persian rugs adorn the floors and fresh roses are set out daily. Outside each, an expanse of decking is decorated with terracotta pots filled with Maasai spears, and a large fireplace provides the perfect setting for pre-dinner drinks as the moon rises over the Crater rim.
Tree Camp is similar in style but not quite so obviously extravagant. The décor is still artistic and imaginative, but without the same rather camp 'boudoir' flair. The snug atmosphere of its communal area is balanced by floor-to-ceiling windows – with a stupendous, uninterrupted view across the Crater – and a terrace below that is a truly amazing place for breakfast. Tree has a more rustic feel to it than North and South, being built around a strangler fig – but the thick velvet and fur, and crystal decanters, mean that you might be forgiven for thinking you've entered a stately home.
The very large rooms, or manyattas, in all three of Crater Lodge's camps are essentially similar, except that two of them can be connected to create a vast suite, ideal for a family. Decorated with rich colours, chandeliers and wood-panelled walls, each room has a fireplace in the corner that is usually lit in the evenings by your personal butler. This makes it feel incredibly cosy at the end of a long day out on safari. In each room, a (Read more about the manyattas… ).
However, it isn't just the aesthetics of the lodge that are spectacular; the service is also top-class, and staying here we felt very spoilt. Each room is assigned its own personal butler, who is on hand should you want anything. While some people may be put off by the idea of having someone to wait on them, the reality is quite subtle. These butlers aren't ever-present servants; rather, they offer a high level of personal service, and a lot of the time you may not even notice their presence. But it does mean that when you arrive back after a long game drive, you may find someone standing in the car park with your preferred drink ready for you on a tray, and a bubble bath waiting for you in your room; or return from dinner to find you electric blanket switched on. It simply serves to enhance the luxury safari experience further.
The shop at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge stocks a fine array of high-quality curios, as well as clothes, toiletries and postcards. There's a fascinating and productive workshop right behind the shop which can be freely visited, and Maasai ladies doing beading often sell their wares outside. Since late 2016, there’s also a bespoke jewellery shop, where custom-made tanzanite pieces can be commissioned.
Although you might expect to find a swimming pool at Crater Lodge, it's rather too cold at this 2,400m (7,900ft) altitude to swim. The climate does suit wine storage, however, and there's a well-stocked wine store: an ideal space for small private drinks receptions and dining, as well as wine-tasting sessions. The store also doubles as a TV projection room, on request. As an alternative type of relaxation to swimming, there is a variety of spa treatments on offer, with massages taking place in your guests’ manyattas (for an additional cost).
In terms of activities, the greatest draw is to head down into the Ngorongoro Crater , either with one of the knowledgeable lodge guides or with your own private driver-guide booked through Expert Africa. The lodge uses closed-sided safari vehicles designed for game viewing, with pop-top roofs. The drive from the lodge to the descent road and down to the Crater floor takes about 40 minutes, and departure times are very flexible. You may wish to take a packed breakfast and return for lunch, or perhaps have breakfast at the lodge and take a packed lunch with you, returning in the late afternoon. To maximise your time on the Crater floor you can also go for an all-day drive.
While games drives in the Crater are the main reason to stay here, guests can also visit the Olduvai Museum or perhaps hike the Olmoti or Empakaai craters. Back at the lodge, it is also possible to take a short 30–60-minute walk with the on-site naturalist between North Camp and Tree Camp to find out about the various species of plant and wildlife. There is a suggested donation of US$20 for this, all of which funds the planting of seedlings in the Crater conservation area; by late 2016, 60,000 trees had been planted as part of this initiative so far.
Near Tree Camp, there's a sundowner spot where Maasai dancers sometimes perform by arrangement at an additional cost (usually US$60 per person). Blankets are laid out on the grass and it's a fine way of spending an hour before the sun goes down.
Finally, if you're thinking of getting married on safari, Crater Lodge retains a qualified minister to perform the legal ceremony, and a Maasai blessing can be conducted, at additional cost.
Our viewNgorongoro Crater Lodge is a unique property. For some it is completely over the top and out of place; for others it's the height of luxury. The whole Maasai-meets-baronial-manor concept is extraordinary; the food, service, rooms and general facilities are excellent; and the location is outstanding, with stunning views over what many regard as the world's top wildlife area. But it's also one of the most costly lodges in Africa.
Ideal length of stay: Stay two nights in order to spend at least one day exploring the Crater floor, but you could easily stay for three nights and have a day just to enjoy the lodge and its amazing view.
Directions: Most visitors to Ngorongoro Crater Lodge fly to Lake Manyara Airstrip, from where it is a two-hour drive to the lodge.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: On our visits to Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, most recently in April 2015 and December 2016, the food was well portioned and of a very high standard. Since farming is not allowed in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and there isn't even a small organic garden at the lodge, everything is trucked in from Arusha. However, that's not to say they don't take great care over their sources: Brown's cheeses from Nairobi, Kenyan beef and local lamb from a Tanzanian farm, and fish from Lake Victoria are all on the menu.
Breakfast is a vast buffet of fresh bread, cereals, fresh fruit, dried fruit and yoghurt. You will then be offered a cooked breakfast – choose from a hearty full English breakfast, eggs Benedict, boiled eggs or perhaps smoked salmon and scrambled eggs if available. There's also often an interesting ‘treat of the day’.
You might choose to take a packed lunch with you into the Crater, which will include delicious sandwiches or wraps (our calzonis in 2015 were superb), fruit and perhaps a pastry or cake of some sort. These packed lunches are perfect to keep you going whilst out on a busy day of safari.
If you are at the lodge for lunch, there is usually a refreshing buffet featuring a selection of salads, cold meats, light vegetarian choices such as falafel and a number of tasty dressings. There is also fresh bread or chapattis served with dips.
Tea and biscuits are on offer in the late afternoon. Later, there is time to freshen up after your activity, before gathering in the lounge area or on the decking at around 7.00pm, for a drink and a chat with the lodge managers, senior guides and fellow guests. This is entirely informal (no dinner dress required!)
At your leisure you can then move to your table, where you will be seated for dinner, to the accompaniment of suitably unobtrusive music. Dinner is an impressive three- or five-course meal, with a choice of dishes for each course. One evening, we enjoyed bean and vegetable soup, followed by roasted tomato and basil tart, then a choice of four mains including one vegetarian and one local dish (we went for roast leg of lamb with barley). For dessert, we were served white chocolate mousse with a passion-fruit coulis, rounded off with a cheeseboard!
On our visits to Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, dinner has often been accompanied by an entertaining performance from some of the lodge's team who sang a number of African classics, as well as some written specially for guests at the lodge: there's always an excuse to perform and get the guests dancing!
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Almost all drinks are included, except for some cellar wines, certain spirits and champagnes. UV-treated water is supplied for guests to drink, with bottled water available on request.
Further dining info: Ngorongoro Crater Lodge will happily provide room service. They can also set up private lunches on your veranda on request, but it would be a bit too chilly to do this for dinner.
Honeymoons: Ngorongoro Crater Lodge is a beautiful lodge set right on the rim of the Crater. The views create a spectacular backdrop for this romantic property, where you'll enjoy fantastic service, extremely luxurious rooms and delicious food. It's a great choice for a honeymoon to Tanzania.See more ideas for Honeymoons in Tanzania
Wellbeing: With your own personal butler, crystal chandeliers, claw-foot bathtubs and roses adorning most of the rooms, Ngorongoro Crater Lodge is an incredibly special lodge for relaxing in Tanzania. Massages can be done in your room.See more ideas for Wellbeing in Tanzania
Attitude towards children: Ngorongoro Crater Lodge recommends that children should be over the age of 5 to stay here, although children of all ages are welcome.
Property’s age restrictions: Tree Camp is for adults only. While both North and South camps welcome children of all ages, they advise that the lodge is best suited to mature children over the age of 5.
Special activities & services: The lodge runs a 'Wild Child' programme, with warrior-training sessions involving spear throwing, bow skills, fire making, and woodcarving, and beading with the ladies from the shop. The nature walk around the lodge and tree planting with JJ, the enigmatic naturalist, are highly recommended for children. Children’s menus are available and separate meals can be arranged, including in their rooms, with the option for parents to eat at the normal time.
Equipment: Baby cots and high chairs are available.
Generally recommended for children: Ngorongoro Crater Lodge is a very smart safari lodge, and some families with young children might not feel comfortable here. Dinner is quite a formal occasion, so is not ideal for younger children. Having said that, there were some children staying on our last visit and the staff will do their utmost to ensure they have an enjoyable stay. Two butlers are assigned to families to facilitate this.
Notes: Big game – especially buffalo – wanders around the lodge constantly, so children need to be closely supervised at all times.
Power supply: Generator
Power supply notes: Power is available 24/7 and there are plenty of sockets in the rooms. If all guests are out on game drives and the lodge is empty, the generators will be turned off.
Communications: There is cellphone reception at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge and free WiFi throughout, with complimentary internet access in the shop.
TV & radio: There is no TV or radio in the rooms at the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, but a big screen can be erected in the wine store for special occasions and sporting events.
Water supply: Transported in
Water supply notes: Spring water from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is supplied to the lodge tanks and tested quarterly. The lodge recycles its own water on site. All bathrooms are fully plumbed in.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: There is an on-site doctor at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, and a dispensary for guests and staff. The lodge vehicles have first-aid kits. Karatu Hospital is a 45–60 minute drive away.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: There are Maasai watchmen around the lodge for security and at night you will be escorted between your room and the main areas due to the presence of wildlife. The lodge's main gate is closed between 11.00–6.00am but there is a 24-hour gateman. The property is patrolled at night by local police to track the movements of anything dangerous around the lodge, such as buffalo.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in the rooms and main areas; each member of staff has been trained in how to use them and there is a fire evacuation plan on the back of each room door.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Laundry is included – it is machine washed and ironed, and will be returned to you the next day. A quicker one-day service is available if specifically requested, but it is important to note that they will use a tumble-drier to dry the clothes, so it should not be used for delicate items.
Money: Guests may obtain cash in US dollars or Tanzanian shillings against a credit card, but the lodge will make a 5% surcharge, or 10% for Amex. There is a US$200 limit per person.
Accepted payment on location: You can settle any extras using US dollars and euros cash, or with Amex, Visa or Mastercard. There is no charge for the use of credit cards unless you want a cash advance.