The Highlands: Our full report
The Highlands is located north of the Ngorongoro Crater, far from other camps in a forested area near the ...... Olmoti Volcano. The camp's design is unique – you won't find anywhere else like this in East Africa.
We visited The Highlands for the first time in 2016, shortly after it opened. As it is the sister camp to Dunia Camp, Sayari Camp, Oliver's Camp and Olakira, amongst others, we expected the excellent standards set by these camps to be evident at The Highlands – we were not disappointed! Members of the team have been back multiple times since, most recently visiting in 2018.
Views from The Highlands are beautiful, taking in both the sunrise and the sunset, and the sweeping landscape of the surrounding area, for which the lodge is named. When the clouds clear, it is possible to see the Gol Mountains to the north west, the vast plains of the Serengeti, and the nearby Empakaai and Olmoti Craters. There are occasional sightings of buffalo, zebra, porcupine and even elephant from camp.
The camp is made up of a series of unusual domed tents, which are said to be inspired by the houses in Maasai bomas, but appear quite futuristic from the outside. Three communal tents – a lounge area, bar and dining room – are set at different heights and linked by wooden walkways. These are similar in structure, with high quilted 'ceilings' housing vents and fans and huge clear sections that serve as floor-to-ceiling windows. The focal point of the lounge, the largest dome, is a wood-burning stove, and this is complemented by a curved wooden sofa. Another wood burner heats the wood-panelled bar tent, where there's a selection of stylish seating and lighting. Fur and sheepskin throws, and checked cushions give a luxuriously cosy and homely feel. The dining tent, similarly panelled and heated, has a number of heavy wooden tables where meals are generally taken communally, but private tables can be arranged. There is a lovely veranda where breakfast and lunch can be served in warm weather.
The Highlands has eight raised bedroom dome tents, rather igloo-like in style, and dotted down the hillside among the trees. Along with three standard tents, there are three with mezzanine floors, one family suite and one honeymoon suite. Each has its own deck encircling the dome, offering private views and excellent opportunities to observe the neighbouring birdlife.
The small winding paths that access the tents can be steep in places, and some of the tents are quite a walk from the main area, a walk that is exacerbated by the altitude. Honeymooners may appreciate the two tents that are furthest from the main area, or could take up residence in the designated honeymoon suite. Larger than the other tents, this also has a hot tub on the veranda with sweeping views.
All the bedrooms have incredibly comfortable king-size beds, sheep skin covered wicker chairs by a wood burner, and cow-hide rugs on the floors. Each has a large vinyl window, offering night-time views of the stars and storms from the comfort of the bed. Luxurious soft furnishings, dramatic black-and-white Maasai portraiture on the walls and modern lighting create an extremely stylish aesthetic in an already striking structure.
Tents with a mezzanine floor also have two single, simple floor beds, accessed by a wooden ladder, so unsuitable for very young children for safety reasons. The family suite helps here, with a standard en-suite double tent connected to a smaller twin dome with its own bathroom. Note that there is no wood burner in the small dome for safety reasons, so extra hot water bottles are provided. Families could also use the two tents that are the closest together.
The wood-panelled en-suite bathrooms are evocative of a Scandinavian sauna – quite unusual for a safari camp! Kitted out with double sinks, a separate flushing toilet and a vast double shower, they have 24-hour hot water – though this can sometimes take a few minutes to arrive. Plenty of shelving is provided, as well as a safe, laundry basket, toiletries and robes in a Maasai-style material – but no hairdryer; the power supply is not sufficiently strong at present.
Due to The Highlands' location and altitude, low temperatures are an issue, particularly in the early mornings, and rainfall is quite frequent. The wood burner, which is lit while guests are having dinner, warms each tent in the evenings. Hot-water bottles are tucked into the beds and extra blankets are supplied in a leather chest, so the tents actually get very warm and cosy. In the mornings, however, it can feel chilly once the fire has gone out. In case of rain, wellington boots and umbrellas are supplied to each tent.
There are currently only USB charging points in the rooms with main plugs in the lounge. Unusually, wifi is available in the guest tents but not in the communal areas, which we really like as it encourages a more social atmosphere when guests gather.
The drive to the floor of the Ngorongoro Crater from The Highlands takes about an hour, running through beautiful valleys, and passing many Maasai villages along the way. Activities at the camp include game drives in the main Ngorongoro Crater, and the camp is also ideally located for walking – a great way to break up days in a safari vehicle. We particularly recommend the guided hikes at the beautiful Olmoti and Empakaai Craters. Olmoti, about an hour's drive away, is a relatively easy walk, taking approximately 20 minutes to descend, then around 45 minutes to ascend. Empakaai, an hour-and-a-half's drive away, requires a good level of fitness: it takes about 40 minutes to go down and an hour to return.
As The Highlands has strong links with a local Maasai village, providing financial support to the school and conservation education for the children, guests are invited to visit the village and spend time with the children, which can be very rewarding.
The big draws of The Highlands are its location – far from other camps in the area and with beautiful views – and the opportunity to do some great walks and cultural activities, all from a stunning property with good food, service and guiding. Although this not one of the closest options for the Ngorongoro Crater, the drive there is beautifully scenic. If you can cope with a chilly start to the day, and are not looking for a typical safari camp, we think The Highlands is an inspired choice.
- Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
- Ideal length of stay
- 2 nights would allow enough time to enjoy the surroundings and 3 nights would be ideal if keen on hiking.
- The Highlands is about two hours’ drive from Lake Manyara Airstrip mostly along roads of average quality, but with a good new private access road at the end.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- We have found the quality of the food at The Highlands to be very good, on the whole. The options were extensive and dishes were nicely presented, but a couple were let down by insufficient flavour.
Breakfast is served 6.00-9.00am, inside or on the veranda, and is a buffet of cereals, fresh bread, dried fruit, and mixed cheeses and meats. Cooked breakfasts are available to order with a special dish each day; we enjoyed poached eggs and avocado on toast. Some guests take a packed breakfast so that they can reach the crater floor early. One morning we had a huge picnic in a beautiful spot consisting of bacon-and-egg sandwiches, sausages, crêpes, muffins and fruit, with juice, tea and coffee.
Lunch is generally taken on the crater floor (although guests can return to camp if they wish) at one of a number of picnic sites. We had lovely individual chicken pies, mixed bean salad, lentil and sultana salad, and fruit, with ginger ale.
Dinner is three or four courses with a choice of two dishes for each. We found this to be quite forgettable one night, but quite excellent the other: roasted vegetable and ricotta salad, butternut-squash soup, honey-roast pork with garlic mash and baked cheesecake with coulis. The service is attentive but not overbearing and the managers as meal time hosts are great additions to the communal dining.
- For stunning scenery, unique game viewing in the Ngorongoro Crater and varied activities, The Highlands is a wonderful choice for a honeymoon in Tanzania. You can expect inspired, luxurious design and wonderful, very personal service to make your honeymoon special.
- See ideas for Honeymoons
- Cultural experiences
- The Highlands has a close relationship with the local community, and guests may visit with a staff member to learn about the culture. This is a very genuine visit and not a working 'tourist' village.
- See ideas for Cultural experiences
- The proximity to the Olmoti and Empakaai Craters makes The Highlands a great choice for walking and hiking in Tanzania, catering for a range of physical abilities.
- See ideas for Walking
- With futuristic dome tents nestled amongst the trees, The Highlands is a unique and contemporary option for the Ngorongoro Crater. Expect these spacious wood-paneled domes to come complete with sumptuous furs, kingsize beds and fabulous bathoorms.
- See ideas for Luxury
- Attitude towards children
- Children are welcome
- Property’s age restrictions
- 7 and above only
- Special activities & services
- There are games, fire making and bow and arrow making with the Maasai available. There is a children’s menu and early meals can be arranged.
- The baby dome in the family suite and single beds on the mezzanine floors are aimed at children but no other equipment is supplied.
- Generally recommended for children
- Despite the children’s activities and services on offer, The Highlands does not provide much fun for young children. In addition, space is limited and high supervision required. We feel this stylish camp would be better suited to older children who could also physically partake in the hikes.
- As the camp is unfenced, set amongst the trees and quite spread out, children should be carefully supervised and must stick to the decked areas and pathways.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from The Highlands
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at The Highlands have kindly recorded their wildlife sightings and shared them with us. The results are below. Click an animal to see more, and here to see more on our methodology.
- Power supply notes
- Back up generator for 24 hour power. There are single USB points in the rooms and plug points in the dining area for charging batteries.
- Poor mobile phone reception. Good WiFi is available in all of the rooms but not in the main areas.
There are walkie talkies in all tents for contacting reception and security.
- TV & radio
- No TV or radio
- Water supply
- Transported in
- Water supply notes
- Plumbed in showers and flushing toilets. There are plans to tap the Olmoti water flow in the future.
Supporting local villages through collaboration
Built with the intention of creating an authentic East African feel, The Highlands offers customers the opportunity to stay in domed tents inspired by local Maasai Bomas houses. Located in Ngorongoro Conservation Area, what sets The Highlands apart is its dedication for engaging with the local communities.
The Maasai village of Ochaniomelok benefits from The Highlands through both employment and revenue. Prior to The Highlands continued investment, Ochaniomelok was isolated and poverty was prominent. Women, for example, had to walk 30km to access water. The road built to access the lodge demonstrates how The Highlands’ presence benefits locals. Furthermore, the increase in air traffic that the lodge generates assists rural villages in cases of emergency.
Also, a significant number of villagers are employed by The Highlands, where they have access to fair wages and training from Lobster Ink - the training platform of choice for the hospitality industry. Moreover, The Highlands’ community engagement is a collaborative project, with locals having a say in the activities at the camp. As locals welcome tourists during village visits, guests receive a genuine representation of the Maasai way of life, whereas locals get to sell their wares and learn about new cultures.
Most recently, the camp partnered up with Kamitei Foundation to support the Ochaniomelok Primary School, challenged by the lack of infrastructure and resources. To help the school and build an additional rainwater collection system to fight against the increasing problem of climate change, the lodge is currently aiming to raise $6500 from guest donations.
See more great sustainability projects in Tanzania
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- All guides and some members of camp staff are first aid trained and there are kits in camp and the vehicles. Karatu Hospital is an hour and a half to two hour drive away.
- Dangerous animals
- High Risk
- Security measures
- Askaris guard the site between 6pm and 6am, and will escort guests to and from their rooms in hours of darkness.
- Fire safety
- There are fire extinguishes and fire buckets in all tents.
Guided walking safari
- Disabled access
- Not Possible
- Laundry facilities
- Laundry is included with the exception of underwear and soap is provided in the bathrooms for this. Note that the washing is line dried so due to the damp climatic nature of the site, sometimes laundry services will not be possible.
- There is an electronic safe in every room.
- Accepted payment on location
- Cash payment can be accepted in US dollars, GBP, Euros and Tanzanian shillings. MasterCard, Visa and American Express are also accepted means of payment, but there is a 5% surcharge.
Other lodges in Ngorongoro Crater
Alternative places to stay in this same area.