The Ngoronogoro Crater is a breath-taking and singular wildlife destination. Inside the world’s largest volcanic caldera is a plethora of big 5 animals; so much that you could tick the big 5 off your list within an hour of venturing down it’s 600-meter-high rim. As beautiful as it is action packed – the crater epitomises what one may imagine the garden of Eden to be like… If Noah’s ark also capsized in it. For anyone considering travelling to Northern Tanzania, you must see one of Africa’s greatest wonders before you leave.
One of the misconceptions about the Ngorongoro Crater is that the wildlife only lies within the crater itself. However, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCCA) spans right up to the southern Serengeti. To the south of the crater are the Ngorongoro Highlands which are not so much wildlife focussed, but you can expect vibrant Masai Culture and beautiful rolling hills patchworked with coffee plantations. One the northern side of the crater in the Ndutu region (often mistaken for the southern Serengeti Plains), the NCAA hosts the spectacular Great Wildebeest Migration from around January to March every year, as they are attracted by the rich fertile volcanic soils for calving season… Ngorongoro isn’t just about the crater!
For the sake of this article, I will just focus on the accommodation options for those interested in the Ngorongoro Crater itself, and not the wider conservation area. The best way to do the crater is in a full day trip, with a night in the area either side. It is no surprise that the crater can get busy with vehicles and because of this, park fees and descent fees are very expensive. Therefore, one (maximum 6 hour) day trip is enough time to see it and feel like you’ve “been there, done that” without the crater losing its charm by staying too long… Only 20km wide, when compared to Tanzania’s other parks, The Crater is relatively tiny.
Accommodation can be broadly split into two categories; ones based on the Crater Rim, and others which are in the surrounding Ngorongoro Highlands and the Karatu town area. The Highlands are home to some exceptional lodges, though they tend to be a bit further away than the ones on the crater rim, and the drive can take around 20 minutes. If you want to be the very first vehicle in the crater, it is worth staying on the crater rim. However, staying in the thick of the Highlands can be an experience in itself; beautiful and culturally very rich, it could be unwise to base yourself in a lodge for its location only, as you may miss out on an unforgettable stay which is better suited to you further afield…
Most lodges on and around the Ngorongoro crater can be stayed in on either a “full board” or “all inclusive” basis. When you stay at a lodge on an “all-inclusive” basis everything from your pickups and drop offs at Lake Manyara airstrip, your game drive into the crater, guide and vehicle is included in the cost. If you stay on a “full board” basis your meals and room are included, but no vehicle, guide, park fees or transfers, in which case you would have to “drive in” (as opposed to flying) to the lodge, with a guide and safari vehicle from an Arusha based company. So, although the rate is outwardly cheaper, when staying “full board”, you have to add on to the per person per night rate the cost of your vehicle and guide which will get you to the lodge, take you into the crater and drop you off afterwards.
Therefore, if you are a staying “full board” the more people you travel with, the cheaper the per person per night cost gets as you are splitting the cost of your private vehicle and guide between more people (maximum 6 people to a safari vehicle). The difference is one person paying $400 per night, to 6 people splitting this same cost between them. Bear in mind that with the “full board” prices below, add roughly $400 per person (based on only two travellers) onto the nightly rate to get a more accurate idea of costs when considering your guide and vehicle from Arusha.
NGORONGORO CRATER RIM ACCOMMODATION
Ngorongoro Crater Lodge (all-inclusive)
The Ngorongoro Crater Lodge is andBeyond’s flagship property and the most iconic hotel on the rim of the crater. It is the grand old dame of a Tanzania safari, and fit for royalty. However, it is extremely expensive, and it could be true that nowadays you can get a more quirky and interesting experience for a lot less by choosing Entamanu or the Highlands instead. Fly in to Lake Manyara and you are looking at $1,775 per person per night to stay here…
Entamanu, alike with the Ngorongoro Highlands has taken a ski-chalet approach to the interiors and it work’s exceptionally well. Cosy rooms draped in fluffy blankets and open fires epitomizes this truly characterful Crater option. What sets Entamanu apart from the Highlands is that it sits right on the crater rim, with sweeping views into the valley below on one side, and the southern Serengeti on the other. For lovers of a view and an intimate experience, it has to be Entamanu. Entamanu also offers a walk along the crater rim, though there is perhaps a bit less to do than The Highlands if you want to experience more than just a walk and a crater descent. They are difficult to choose between, but for a longer and more varied stay, then go to The Highlands, and for a short two night stop and to be in an unbeatable crater location, look at Entamanu. To stay in this amazing position on the rim of the crater with the fantastic accommodation with it, you are looking at $1,060 per person per night.
Lemala Ngorongoro (all-inclusive )
Lemala Ngorongoro is buried on the rim of the crater in an ancient acacia woodland – it is almost rainforest-like and you feel truly isolated here. It is extremely close to the quiet Lemala gate which is not used by many other camps, which means you can get a bit more time in the crater to yourself than if you were to stay on the other side where most of the lodges are. The camp itself is nice, but basic when considering the price – $940 per person per night! If you are already paying this price, you may as well add on $100 more and stay at The Highlands or Entamanu which take quality accommodation to a whole other level.
Serena (full board)
The Ngorongoro Serena is part of a bigger hotel chain which operate all over East Africa, with some in the Middle East too. The hotels are generally perfectly nice, with comfortable beds, good food and the Ngorongoro one has an excellent location on the crater rim. It is particularly good for families who want to be in a big hotel complex if they have younger kids. A good option, but certainly not the cheapest at $514 per person per night; given the choice, it could be more special to go with some of the more authentic options, which although cheaper, may offer a more enriching and fitting crater experience…
Sopa (full board)
Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge is set on the rim of the crater, and has phenomenal views. There is no denying that Sopa is essentially just a big chain hotel, which could essentially be anywhere in the world, let alone on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. It is $341 per person per night, for which you get a pool with a view, and a basic yet comfortable room. There is not an awful lot more to it, and for this price you can get a much more intimate and unique experience in the likes of Kitela or Plantation Lodge.
Rhino Lodge (full board)
At $140 per person per night Rhino Lodge Ngorongoro is the most economical option to stay at for your crater visit. It is basic, but well positioned as it is set just back from the crater rim. It would be a great option for a family or group of friends on a budget, as you can split the cost of your private vehicle and guide from Arusha, and end up with a very reasonably priced Ngorongoro stay. However, if you are going as a couple then it is still quite an expensive few nights for the relatively low quality of accommodation you get. It is big, and not your classic intimate safari lodge experience, but if you want to keep the cost down, want a good location and don’t want any frills then it is a good option.
NGORONGORO HIGHLANDS ACCOMMODATION
The Ngorongoro Highlands wrap around the underbelly of the Crater and border the Serengeti to the North. There are an awful lot of accommodation options here, from ones which are totally isolated in the rolling hills, to the various options in the small area of Karatu. Here are the best options for various budgets and styles…
Highlands Ngorongoro (all-inclusive)
The Highlands Ngorongoro is a real stand out property and has a price tag to match at $1,058 per person per night, although, remember this does include your crater visit as well as your vehicle and guide costs. The rooms are cosy igloos, which have transparent fronts so you can look out onto an amazing view of the surrounding highlands. The ski-chalet northern European feel is emulated too in the huge circular main area focussed on the centrepiece log-burner, and the little cosy snug where guests can enjoy a night-cap before bed. The food is excellent, the location and accommodation even better, and all in all it is for those who maybe want to spend more time exploring the Ngorongoro region on foot, as well as just descending into the crater. It is not the place to go to be close to the crater though – it is so special because it is isolated. So bear this in mind when weighing up the pros and cons of each lodge. This is ideal for those who love walking, culture and want something a little different to just your standard crater descent experience. The Highlands is also wildly romantic for honeymooners, and unforgettable for families too.
The Manor at Ngorongoro (full board)
In a similar style to Gibbs Farm, The Manor is another colonial country house which offers both an authentic and luxurious stay in the Ngorongoro Highlands. The rooms are huge, and the dining experience is first class. This is perhaps the best option for those who love the authenticity of Gibbs but crave a few flamboyant creature comforts like a sauna and a steam room to unwind in after a day of exploring. At $767 it is one of the most expensive “full board basis” options and is therefore good for bigger groups who can split the cost of the private vehicle and guide from Arusha between more people. If you are only two people, then you may as well head to &beyond’s other property – the iconic Ngoronogro Crater Lodge and stay there on an all=inclusive basis, as The Manor is extremely expensive per person per night anyway!
Gibbs Farm (full board)
Gibbs Farm is one of the most unique and quirky options in the Ngorongoro Highlands region. It is a working farm, and a stay here can be educational as well as luxurious. It is an old colonial farmhouse and offers a real taste of authentic and old school East African hospitality. The farm house is peppered with history, and the rooms are grand yet cosy. It would provide an extremely peaceful memorable stay particularly for honeymoon couples; the surrounding grounds and the view makes the location enchantingly beautiful. Starting its story in the 1920’s, a stay here feels like you are experiencing a slice of Ngorongoro history. It is not the most affordable option, at $525 per person per night excluding all your vehicle and guide costs, but if you have the budget for it and would like something a bit different then it is a highly recommended option.
Oldeani (full board)
O’ldeani Ngorongoro is one of the more traditionally upmarket hotels around the crater with a huge main area, spacious rooms and a rickety colonial feel. For a hotel which outwardly has all the luxuries for a more middle ground price tag then it is a good option. The views are stunning from this lodge, so if you want a luxury hotel feel but with a bit of character to it, then you should look at O’ldeani over Ngorongoro Sopa for a reasonable $390 per person per night.
Kitela (full board)
The sister to Ngorongoro Farm House, Kitela is a fantastic little hotel set in the Ngorongoro Highlands. It has a much different feel to Ngorongoro Farm House, and a slightly inflated price tag at $337 per person per night. The rooms are big, and there are 20 of them set around some lush gardens. All in all, this is a lovely place to relax and unwind with a nice splash of luxury, though in comparison to Plantation, it had slightly more of a hotel feel to it. Kitela offers a slightly more authentic experience when compared to the Retreat and is generally less conference-like and slightly more intimate.
Plantation Lodge (full board)
Without a doubt a real favourite for an amazing value lodge, Plantation is by far the most luxurious yet truly characterful option in the Ngorongoro Highlands and at $305 per person per night it is certainly not the most expensive of the options either. Plantation is perfect for those who love good food, charming rooms, authentic décor but no huge luxuries and don’t want to pay a premium. Its atmosphere is fun and sophisticated and would suit an older family or couple/honeymooners. It is a very special lodge for groups of friends too as there are the big private garden suites where you can dine privately every night.
Neptune Lodge (full board)
Neptune lodge is very similarly priced to The Retreat, at $300 per person but is quite a bit more authentic in its luxury. With a pool, a spa and a huge main area; Neptune is excellent for those who love a nice splash of luxury, but don’t want an “anywhere in the world” hotel experience. Neptune is more honeymoon luxury than family gathering luxury, though most people would still probably have a fantastic time here. Neptune is an excellent option if you are looking for a bit of creature comfort after or before a tented safari experience.
The Retreat (full board)
The Retreat at Ngorongoro is an unlikely addition to the Karatu lodges. Outside the rooms, you are in a leafy paradise; the gardens are exceptionally well kept, and the pool is very inviting. Inside the room, those seeking an authentic experience may be somewhat disappointed as the feel is more of a big hotel which could be pretty much anywhere in the world. For those who want luxury without paying a premium, and who have maybe had a long and tiring safari, then it could be a good option. At $282 per person per night, it is for those who have a Ngorongoro Farm House budget but who prefer air-con to a typically East African safari experience.
Ngorongoro Farm House (full board)
Reflected in the price increase from Rhino Lodge, is the atmospheric and authentic Ngorongoro Farm House. It is a big property with 54 rooms set not far from the gates to the crater. At $227 per person per night, it would make for an unbelievable family holiday pit stop, if you are looking to keep the per person cost down when paying for lots of little ones, but also want a truly memorable experience. The staff are friendly, attentive and although it is big, it does retain an extremely intimate feel to it which some other bigger lodges in the area miss. The surrounding farmland is beautiful, and it has a really Tanzanian authenticity to it which everyone fondly remembers long after they leave; Farm House is for those who value “something a little different”.