The Serengeti is perhaps the most famous park in Africa and the Ngorongoro Crater is its most coveted section. So special in fact that it has become a conservation area of its own to protect the densely populated wildlife, varied landscape, and the Maasai tribe that lives there. One down side is that the park is fairly crowded and incredibly expensive so we only stayed two days but what we lacked in time, we made up for in unforgettable moments.
The Crater Highlands
Millions of years ago Ngoronogoro was a massive volcano, allegedly bigger than Mount Kilimanjaro, but with enough internal eruptions and diversions of lava it began to cave to the point of becoming one perfect caldera–a wild hybrid of a lush mountain with arid grassland in the center and more animals than you ever though possible in 100-square miles.
andBeyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge
For lodging, we had dreamed of staying at andBeyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, by far the best of the four hotels in the park, but it didn’t seem like it was going to come through. Just as we were about to give up and surrender to camping…our sponsor Honeymoons.com came to the rescue (we literally saw their email from the camping company’s office computer). We were able to review this beyond-luxurious $3000-per-night hotel and enjoy the park from the best spot on the crater rim (that elephant is hanging out by our suite).
The Beauty of andBeyond
The original hotel dates back to the 1930s, but in 1997 andBeyond rebuilt it to reflect the best of African architecture and European luxuries. Thoughtful touches like sherry and chocolates set out by the fireplace and a handwritten welcome note with roses by the bed made this place shine beyond the gorgeous chandeliers.
Heading into the Crater
Once we settled into our room, we descended into the crater for our first game drive. After coming from the thick bushveld of South Africa and Zambia, we were in awe of how easy it was to spot animals in the wide open grassland. We saw 13 lions, cheetah, jackal, zebra, warthog, water buck, elephant, Kori bustard, our first Thompson gazelle, rhino, hyenas, and plenty more.
The Wildebeest Migration
The Serengeti is famous for the wildebeest migration — in the summer the herd of 1.7 million head north to the Masai Mara for fresher resources and in the winter they return to Ngorongoro to birth 300,000 little guys.
So many spectacular events are happening in the wild at any given time …it’s just a matter if you are there to see them. Though in the instance of ostrich courtship, we were front and center. How this goes down is a male ostrich builds a nest to impress and if one lucky lady likes it, they mate in their new home together. Sniffing around, picking at the nest, and ruffling her feathers, this lady bird gave his work careful inspection and was not impressed.
The next morning as we descended the 2,000 feet down crater, there was the most incredible thick mist. The umbrella acacias, moss, lichen, and orchids that cover the slopes were magical to see appear and disappear behind the blanket of fog.
Time in a Masaai Village
Before we started the day’s safari we made a point to see a Masaai village. We weren’t sure if this was going to be horribly touristy but the Masaai of the Serengeti are said to be amongst the most traditional and with their colorful dress, elongated earlobes, and diet of cow’s blood, we could not help but be a bit curious! We entered the boma of mud and dung covered houses and touristy it was not. The Masaai were just going about their normal day and they invited us along (without a single other mzungu). We milked cows, hung out in a Massai house, and sat in on some jewelry making.
In the Masaai culture, there are various steps to reaching manhood but the culminating moment after circumcision and isolation in the wild has historically been to kill a lion with a spear. Thankfully, this is happening less and less and is strictly forbidden in the park…but when it comes to proving your manliness, this pretty much takes the cake.
With such a diverse landscape and abundant wildlife, Ngorongoro Crater is like ten different parks rolled into one bite-sized treat.