Ngorongoro Crater Lodge’s 30 stilted suites are admired for their architectural verve and luxe, but they’re only the beginning of a rare African experience of the fabled Ngorongoro Crater, a natural masterpiece that belongs on every traveller’s life list.
Eons ago a volcanic rival of Kilimanjaro, the Ngorongoro is a green and benign remnant of a massive eruption (perhaps witnessed by our spindly forbears over in the nearby Olduvai Gorge, where humanity arose). Undiscovered by outsiders until the 1890s (hence its richness of wildlife), Ngorongoro was well known to the Maasai for its bountifulness. They called it El-Nkoronkoro, meaning Gift of Life.
Based from Crater Lodge, well-soothed by the lodge’s impeccable service and serenity, we hop into our vehicles with our Micato Safari Director and wend our way down to the ancient caldera’s floor for deeply engaging game drives, acacia-shadowed picnics, and a deep appreciation of something the great Peter Matthiessen wrote in The Tree Where Man was Born: “The wild creatures I had come to Africa to see are exhilarating in their multitudes and colors, and I imagined for a time that this glimpse of the earth’s morning might account for the anticipation that I felt, the sense of origins, of innocence and mystery, like a marvelous childhood faculty restored. Perhaps it is the consciousness that here in Africa, south of the Sahara, our kind was born.”
“I’m not sure where to begin,” wrote one of our safariers. “Such an almost disconcerting combination of nature and brilliant human design and care….” Nature in all its bright drama awaits, but first let’s take a look at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge’s magnificent suites, which the Lodge exuberantly describes as “Versailles meets Maasai”: evocative antiques, leather-backed chairs, African treasures, a personal butler at our constant beck, all reminiscent of safari’s golden age (which, to be accurate, is still glowing as goldenly as ever).
Each suite features a broad deck from which to sip the intoxicating highland air and bask in views of the crater floor below. The Lodge’s chandelier-lit bathrooms, with a refreshing centrepiece of red roses between its twin sinks, are especially lovely. The domed main dining room—meals can also be taken on the deck—is gorgeously lit and thoughtfully luxurious, and Ngorongoro Crater Lodge’s cuisine lives up proudly to its beautiful surroundings.
Babysitting, in the African tradition, is cheerfully available, and an extra bed for a child 11 years and younger sharing a parental suite is no problem.
Relishing Ngorongoro Crater Lodge’s pacifying calm and luxury are deeply worthwhile activities of their own, of course; “bonds loosen, anxiety fades, the mind closes against the outside world you left behind like a folding sea anemone,” as Elspeth Huxley wrote about safari.
But game drives on the caldera floor are what bring us to Ngorongoro— where, Ms. Huxley once wrote about a similarly rich natural redoubt, “a whole world revolves in balance with itself more perfect than the finest symphony.” Animals abound, more than 25,000 of them large mammals, including lone bull elephants of astounding majesty, burly Cape buffalo, black rhino, zebra, a rich collection of ungulates, and the crater’s Maasai lions, whose sight, Isak Dinesen wrote, “goes straight to the heart.” As always our game drives are choreographed and accompanied by our Micato Safari Director, whose intimacy with the Crater allows him to tailor each drive to our specifications, inclinations, and delights.