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On one of my trips to Africa last year I had the distinct opportunity to visit and stay at one of the most remote and incredible places: The Ngorongoro Crater Lodge.   Perched into the side of the craters wall, it’s a treat of wilderness and luxury in one of the more remote parts of the world.  It takes a hop skip and a jump in two bush planes and a bumpy drive in an AWD vehicle to reach, but it’s worth the trip.  I recommend starting the trip as early in the daytime as possible so you can see the crater as you drive upon it, and sights like Mt. Kilomanjaro on your flight in through nearby Arusha.

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The crater makes up a large part of what’s known as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which was originally formed from an exploded and then collapsed volcano.  The eruption and subsequent settling of the ground left a completely perfect wilderness refuge. The walls and steep hills that lead to the floor are some 2,000 feet tall and the crater floor itself covers more than 100 square miles.  It’s no wonder it’s home to more than 25,000 animals today.  It’s natures perfect sanctuary and a good place to see the Big Five.  Safari heaven by any measure.

Based on fossil evidence, most scientists say around this area was where man first came from some 3 million years ago.  Mind blowing to think about, but when you see it, it all kind of makes sense.

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After a bumpy but pleasant ride in, the grounds of the lodge come into view.  Setup like a postcard, every window looks out upon the wildlife playground below.

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After driving up, one of the first things you’re told are the ground rules.  Some basics:  The lodge is not fenced off, so lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo are found all around the buildings.  Venomous snakes and scorpions are found everywhere, so keep an eye out for those.  The lodge accepts no responsibility whatsoever for injury, death, loss or damage.  Under no circumstances should a guest walk in or around the lodge at night unless accompanied by a staff member.  Oh, and you’re in a malaria area.  Welcome to Ngorongoro!

An ominous welcome to what is basically a luxury lodge, but I forgot it almost immediately after I saw where I would be staying.

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The walkway to the main lodge.  Everything was perched up on stilts, and many animals were hanging out under at any given time.  Even in the middle of the night guests could hear and feel buffalo running below.

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We managed to see the sun set over the crater as we were checking in.

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I wondered what I would see first when we set out for the crater base first thing in the AM.

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Postcard like.  Just stunning.

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Inside the main lodge where we met the staff and checked in.  This would also be where we would socialize the next couple of nights.  It proved to be the perfect living room.

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The living room was packed with all kinds of old world items that made me feel like I was diving into a vast history of safari and game hunting. Books, globes, trinkets.  It was a truly opulent interior– hidden behind a handful of bland huts that from a distance simply blended right in to the crater walls.

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After checking in I was led to my own personal hut, situated only a 2 minute walk from the main lodge.  A king size bed, a view to die for. I felt like royalty.  It was flawlessly comfortable.

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I knew this bath would come in handy after a long day tracking animals.

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And the view I could see out the window from the bedroom wasn’t so bad!

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Dinner was served under chandeliers each night.  I was surprised to see that they could easily substitute and create almost anything to our liking. My then wheat sensitivities were not a problem– a rice based bread was made especially for me at each meal without hesitation.  I knew they had seen it all when the next morning they were ready with options for lunch out at the crater base (which was exceptional).

The first night we met our guide who discussed our game plan for the next morning.  We were up and out early looking for the big five.  When she asked me what I wanted to see most, I said a zebra and giraffe.  Hey, I’m easy to please.  I didn’t realize that was like spotting a subway rat in NYC.  We were joined by a second spotter– a spotter in training.  He saw things from such a distance I still think he was cheating.  Hundreds of feet away he would call STOP, whip out the binoculars and show me the ears of a lion, or the tusks of a rhino camouflaged far out in the distance.

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A common sighting the next day, baboons in the road!

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I called them African roadblocks.  What fun (and nuisance) they could be.

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Jurassic park clearly inspired by the real thing.

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The sun started to come up as we made our way to our first stop. A visit to a local Massai village.

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At first I was a little suspect that I was being taken to a tourist trap– but it was authentic and the people were glad to see us and show us how they live.  A proud tribe.

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Welcomed to the village and shown around.  There was singing, dancing, and of course, lots and lots of jumping.

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Learning about life in the village.

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The colors of their crafts.  Just so incredible.

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Finally after seeing the school and talking to the elders for a while we left to start our safari– and as we turned the first corner, there it was, my first giraffe.  During the trip we did mange to see everything but a leopard.  Our guide said it wasn’t so bad for just one day of safari!  All the more reason to go back to the lodge– and next time, for longer.  Highly recommended.  The crater is a must see place in anyone’s lifetime.

Related: Africa is Beautiful