Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge was built with deep appreciation for the vast Lost World of the Ngorongoro Crater. It’s famous floor-to-ceiling windows face the setting sun (African sunsets being rivaled only by African sunrises for sheer spectacle). The Lodge sits on the rim’s highest point, looking 1,600 feet down to the 100 square-mile, animal-thronged caldera of the once-fiery, now sublimely peaceful, volcano. A great lodge, paying happy respect to one of the world’s greatest natural masterpieces.
Brightly flowered walkways lead to our double-bedded, fully amenitied rooms, furnished in traditional African motifs and wooden ceilings—and a memorable Sopa touch: a solarium from which to sip early morning coffee, gazing down at the awakening crater, into which we’ll soon wend for a game drive.
Ngorongoro Sopa’s public rooms are extraordinarily spacious, with an inviting lounge and lobby decorated with indigenous sculptures and carved wooden columns. The Lemala Hill Restaurant caters to all tastes and fancies, as does the aptly-named Crater View Bar—both of which feature those huge windows overlooking the great crater’s verdant floor.
We call the Ngorongoro a Lost World because of its uniquely isolated geography and because it was unseen by the outsiders until very late in the 19th century, thus escaping the worst of the 20th century’s trophy hunting and wildlife killings; it’s been a protected, non-hunting area since 1928 and is the centrepiece of the 3,200 square mile Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978.
That’s a long way of saying that the Crater is one of the finest places on the planet to see Africa’s charismatic beasts. Upwards of 25,000 large animals inhabit the crater and we zag and zig down the Ngorongoro’s forested walls to encounter them on morning and afternoon game drives—interspersed perhaps with an idyllic picnic shaded from the heat of the day by acacia trees. The caldera is home the Big Five, and to a host of ungulates: zebras, eland, near-comical wildebeest, and Thomson’s gazelles, as fine-tuned as a luxury timepiece. Male lions— “an arrogant authority unique among animals,” Elspeth Huxley wrote—limber up for the day’s work (most of which is done by female lions, in any case). Conjuring the crater’s mystique, the great Peter Matthiessen asked in The Tree Where Man Was Born, “How did the hippopotamus find its way up into the Crater Highlands, to blunder into the waters of Ngorongoro? Today ones sees them there with wonder, encircled by steep walls.”
And at day’s end, we climb back to the Crater’s rim to the Lodge for a dip in the pool, a browse in the gift shop, a sundowner in the airy bar, or just a few minutes or an hour gazing down into the crater, savouring the dream-like ambience of the Ngorongoro.