Tanzania : Ngorongoro Conservation Area
In Northern Tanzania, you tend to have your own private-driver guide and the drive from Arusha to Ngorongoro gives you a real feel for the country and its people. Starting from the floor of the Great Rift Valley, you drive through colourful market towns, past rolling hills cultivated with coffee and tea plantations, past forests and streams before you climb up into the cooler tropical forest and to the rim of the spectacular 20 kilometre-wide Ngorongoro Crater.
The Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest intact caldera and a phenomenal natural amphitheatre enclosing some 250km of plains and lakes, and an estimated 30,000 animals including the endangered black rhino, lion, cheetah and flamingos. It is truly a majestic site, and offers an excellent opportunity for close up wildlife photography.
At the southern end of the Serengeti eco-system, the Ngorongoro Crater is also a unique experiment in co-habitation, with 12,000 Maasai pastoralists and their cattle co-existing with wildlife and tourism. You will see the Maasai taking their cattle into the crater to drink, their red shukas dotting the landscape.
Perched on the rim of the ancient Ngorongoro Crater, the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge is one of the most outrageously decadent wildlife hotels in Africa. The understated exterior of the traditional Maasai wood and thatch rondavels belies the beautiful, sumptuous interiors where glittering chandeliers hang over silver-laden tables, a cast iron bath sits in the middle of the room with incredible views to one of the world’s most impressive natural wonders, and an enormous bed sinks under the weight of rich, luxury fabrics. A personal butler will come to stoke the fire and draw your bath in the opulent en-suite bathroom, and there is a cut-glass sherry decanter by the fire, both of which will take the chill off a cool Highland evening. There are 30 cottages arranged into three separate villages, each with their own dining room and drawing room, so it feels like a smaller, more intimate lodge.
The Ngorongoro Serena Lodge is discreetly built into the rim of the Crater, and has 75 guest rooms, all of which overlook the crater. The balcony in each room has spectacular views, and as they all face east, you can watch the sunrise each morning.
The large lounge and dining room are set indoors as it can get quite chilly in the evenings, and you can look out over the crater through the large picture glass panels. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are usually a buffet, and the bar and lounge has an open fire where you can relax with a sundowner or after dinner.
The Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge is the only lodge based on the very edge of the eastern crater rim. It's a big hotel with 92 rooms, but it is on its own away from the other hotels on the crater rim and has its own road down into the crater. The lounge and viewing decks have great views and it has an outdoor swimming pool. The staff and especially the manager are very friendly and you will be assured of a good value-for-money stay.
Gibbs Farm is a charming former coffee plantation with beautiful luxury farm cottages set among colourful gardens, and is ideally based for exploring both Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater. It offers an authentic, homely experience with meals created from the garden and log fires on cooler days, and each morning you will awake to fresh coffee, abundant flowers and breathtaking views. The farm cottage rooms are decorated in New England style and have huge en-suite bathrooms and open log fires. As well as safaris to Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater, you can visit the local waterfalls and caves made by elephants, visit a nearby Iraqw village to take part in their daily life and visit the local school, or have a farm tour.