First there was the lodge itself, the work of Silvio Rech, an award-winning South African architect said to have been inspired by nearby Masai mud and brick mayattas (homesteads) when he created what is arguably one of the most spectacular safari lodges in Africa. Taking in the organic shapes of the suites, perched on stilts on the very edge of the rim to better peer down 600 meters (2000 feet) into the silvery mirror of Lake Magadi on the crater floor, I suspected he may have also reached farther afield, to the Dogon villages precariously clinging to the hills of Mali half a continent to the west. But any primitive references stopped at the door. Inside, under the asymmetric domed ceilings of woven banana leaves, noted designer Chris Browne had created a Victorian-inspired extravaganza of cascading crystal chandeliers reflected in antique mirrors, oriental carpets, cut velvet overstuffed sofas piled with jewel-toned pillows, and miles of raw-silk draperies; and armloads of freshly cut roses at every turn.
However, the true luxury of the Crater Lodge was in the service. The polished, pleasant and ever attentive staff, and the over-the-top details. Morning wake-up tea was delivered to my suite in a gleaming sliver tea set; with freshly baked cookies in a small cut glass cookie jar. Daily laundry was returned wrapped in a crimson satin bundle, a long-stem rose tied into its bow. Gourmet meals were served in the dining room with the flair of a multi-starred restaurant. And when I returned from dinner, a cheery fire had been lit in my suite; a crystal decanter of superb cherry was set on a silver tray, along with a carved box filled with homemade fudge, Turkish lokum and white chocolate almond bark. The list of lovely treats and thoughtful attentions was long.
The game drives were astounding. My guide, Edwin, produced a cheetah sprinting for the kill within a half-hour of our descent into the crater; and 28 lions in a single morning (half of the known resident population), with two pairs of black rhinos thrown in for good measure. The density of game was exceptional, but as could be expected, so was that of tourists. Yet, even in this much visited 260 square kilometer (100 square mile) environment, there were roads less traveled. Edwin knew them well, and he made sure that I was able to enjoy my time in the crater in relative solitude.
With its unique location at the edge of one of the premier safari destinations in Africa, its outstanding staff and fairytale luxury setting, the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge was my most glamorous safari experience ever. While I know I will enjoy the memory of it for years to come, I think I should plan a return visit, just to make sure I was not dreaming the first time around.
Children Children over the age of six could be accommodated by prior arrangement.
Class Of Accommodation Luxury safari lodge
Communications My GSM 900/1800 compatible international cellular phone service was fully operational around the lodge.
Connectivity There was a reliable WiFi connection in the lounge throughout the day and evening. Speed was moderate. There was no Internet service in the guest suites. However due to the proximity of mine to the main lodge I enjoyed a connection from my room, albeit a bit weak and occasionally erratic.
Handicapped Access No
Length Of Stay Three nights
Location On the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, at the eastern edge of the Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania.
Owned-Managed &Beyond Africa, previously known as Conservation Corporation Africa (CC Africa), with headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa, owned and managed the property. At the time of this writing, &Beyond itself is owned by two major shareholders, Capricorn (the Enthoven family, originally from South Africa) and the Getty Family Trust.
Size Located on a one square kilometer (250 acre) site, the lodge consisted of 30 suites distributed in three separate camps. The North and South Camps had 12 suites each, and the Tree Camp had six. Each camp had its own sitting and dining room, outdoor dining area and viewing deck. The property could accommodate a maximum of 60 guests. It employed a staff of 155 including 11 guides. It had 10 game viewing vehicles.
Year Open-Renovated The property was built in 1997. It is the object of rigorous on-going maintenance.
To the right of the foyer, the dining room was a long, cheery space with whitewashed plaster walls. On the crater side, French doors draped in jade silk opened onto the viewing deck. The ceiling was cleverly designed to create a feeling of intimacy, with three domes of woven banana leaves, each holding a crystal chandelier, separated by white wooden arches with copper trim. The back wall of each domed area held an eye-level rustic plaster and brick fireplace that enhanced the cozy atmosphere of the room. The ceiling arches were held by rough-hewn tree trunks set in a whitewashed adobe ledge that also served as display base for a collection of contemporary African carved figurines scattered about the room. Square dining tables which could be grouped into banquet tables to accommodate parties of varied sizes, were draped in floor-length white linen and formally set with silver carvers, cutlery, napkin rings, and crystal stemware. The high back chairs were fully upholstered and skirted in cream damask with taupe medallions. In the evening, pillar candles lit on all the tables complemented the light of the chandeliers and the concealed indirect lighting to bathe the room in a romantic glow.
Suite My 600 square foot (54 square meter) suite, Number Five in the North Camp, was a lavish retreat where no detail had been overlooked to bring safari glamour to new heights. A crystal chandelier hung in the center of the domed woven banana leaves ceiling. The walls were a harmonious blend of cinnamon adobe and rich Zanzibar wood paneling that started with the double doors of the entrance and followed the front half of the room to include, on the opposite side, the matching doors leading to the bathroom. In the center of the rear wall, a king size bed had a ceiling-height backdrop of saffron silk brocade stretched in a carved frame. Bedside tables made of natural tree trunk cylinders held silver and crystal candlestick reading lights, their silk shades trimmed with a fringe of crystal beads. The bed faced a full height glass wall draped in heavy burgundy silk held back by gilded ropes and tassels, which opened onto a balcony with a spectacular view of the crater. Two leather armchairs with raspberry mohair throws faced an eye-level corner fireplace. Oriental area rugs enhanced the mahogany hardwood floor. In a corner of the room, a writing desk with a high-back chair held a box of stationery and a top-of-the-line docking station for personal MP3 players.
An especially thoughtful architectural detail was a small enclosed foyer that buffered the suite from the exterior entrance door. A counter-height semi-circular shelf was built into the paneling where my butler could deposit my morning tea, or collect used serving items while ensuring total privacy within the suite. It was also a good place to check before stepping out for the occasional elephant or buffalo that may have wandered onto the lawn.
All meals, soft drinks and house alcoholic beverages were included, as were game viewing activities and daily laundry service. Top brand alcoholic beverages such as vintage wines, French champagnes and luxury whiskeys were available for an additional charge.
Facilities There was a dining room, lounge, and viewing deck in each of the three camps, and a common gift boutique.
Gift Shop There was a large well-stocked gift shop located just inside the main entrance of the property. It carried a good selection of local sculptures and other ethnic arts, crafts and jewelry, as well as high-quality, lodge-branded safari wear. Basic toiletries and personal necessities were also available there, gift-wrapped and complimentary, as I discovered when I ran out of toothpaste during my stay.
Game I sighted included: olive baboon, bushbuck, buffalo, eland, elephant, Grant’s gazelle, Thomson’s gazelle, Coke’s hartebeest, spotted hyena, black-backed jackal, golden jackal, lion, black rhino, vervet monkey, warthog, waterbuck, blue wildebeest and zebra.
Birds included: kori bustard, tawny eagle, grey-backed fiscal, lesser flamingo, African crested hoopoe, ostrich, pink-backed pelican, lilac breasted roller, superb starling, Ruppell’s long tailed starling, Abdim’s stork, white stork and lappet-faced vulture.
Although the camp did not have a dedicated spa facility, there was a licensed masseuse on staff who offered a range of massage and spa treatment options in guest suites. &Beyond was voted Africa’s Leading Responsible Tourism Company at the 2010 World Travel Awards, and was honored with the prestigious Africa’s Leading Responsible Tourism Award.
Date Of Visit February 2011
Reviewers Article and photos by Josette King
Service Every member of the staff I met was well trained and friendly, with any query or request promptly and cheerfully handled. My personal butler was attentive. I returned from game drives to find a bath freshly drawn, rose petals floating on the water. The room was serviced twice daily, with fresh cotton mats laid out by the bed during evening turndown, the electric blanket switched on and fresh bottled water set on the beside tables. Most staff members with whom I came in contact ranged from conversant to fluent in English. My guide was knowledgeable, pleasant, and proactive in finding out my special interests.
Would You Stay There Again? Yes