Since I had an extra free day after climbing Kilimanjaro, the hotel suggested that I might want to go on safari. Not being a big fan of safari's, but not wanting to hang around the hotel for a day with nothing to do, I decided to go to Ngorongoro Crater. This turned out to be a wonderful experience and one of the highlights of my trip.
The cost for the two day trip, including a private driver and land-rover, hotel accommodations at the Ngorongoro Wilderness lodge, park entrance permits, and all meals, was $450.
I departed the Keyes hotel at 7:30am and we headed west. We drove through the towns of Moshi and Arusha. Arusha is an interesting city, filled with the hustle and bustle of local people and merchants going about their daily business. This was also one of the filming locations for the movie "Hatari!".
After driving for about 2 hours, we turned off the paved road onto the gravel road and started heading north through a flat, barren desert-like area. At the intersection of the paved road and the gravel road, is a small complex consisting of two stores and a restaurant. The stores sell native crafts and I found that the prices were best at this location and (as I would later find out) at the store in the airport's departure lounge. I purchased a beautiful hand-carved tribal mask for about $30, some wooden candlesticks with intricate carvings for $20 (for the pair), and some hand-carved animals for $5-$10 each. Outside of the stores was the only place in Tanzania where I saw people begging and trying to hawk handicrafts. A polite, but firm, "no thanks" is usually enough to keep them back...your driver will also help keep them at bay.
After leaving the store we proceeded along the gravel road. Along the way we passed many Masi, herding their cattle. We also passed through some Masi villages. Many Masi were dressed in beautiful colored flowing robes. They were good natured and seemed always to have a smile on their face. Male Masi will ALWAYS be carrying a stick...ready for battle at all times. The gravel road changed to a dirt road and we continued on for a few more hours until we came to the entrance of Ngorongoro park.
After taking care of a few formalities, we drove higher and higher to the rim of the Ngorongoro crater. The crater is covers a huge (many hundreds of square miles) area and is about 1 mile deep. From the top of the crater, the view is expansive, yet all you can discern is grasslands and a small lake at the bottom with a little pink dot on the edge (I'll come back to this in a moment). We checked in with the guard on the crater access road and proceeded down into the crater. When we reached the bottom I was in an amazing place. Almost every square inch is covered with wildlife of every conceivable variety (in fact, the greatest concentration and variety of wildlife on earth exists at Ngorongoro). Wildebeest, zebra, elephants, hyena, hippos, lions, monkeys, rhinos, giraffe, and gazelle were in abundance. The small pink "dot" I saw from the top were actually thousands of flamingo. When we drove past them, they all took to the air and the sky turned pink from their presence. The driver raised a special roof panel on the land-rover, which enabled me to stand within the safety of the truck, and view the wildlife...if only I had more film!
After two hours of driving, we headed up the crater and checked in at the Ngorongoro Wilderness Lodge. This is a fabulously beautiful stone and wood hotel, built right on the very edge of the crater with expansive views from every room. Rooms were not air conditioned, however, since the hotel is at the crater's rim at about 7,000', the night was comfortable. The room consisted of a bathroom, beds, and a table. The walls were thin, but people are generally quiet and there are no TV's or radios. The room also had a candle and matches, since the electricity and water goes off at around 10:00pm. After taking a well needed shower (the dirt and dust from the road will permeate every inch of your body), I headed up for dinner. Dinner started at 6:00. It consisted of the buffet. The special that evening was barbecued wildebeest and gazelle. I opted for the pasta-salad and turned-in early.
The next morning, there was a nice buffet breakfast, and a self-serve section for preparing your own box lunch (included in the price of the hotel) that you will take with you that day. My driver was waiting for me in front of the hotel (the drivers stay in a driver's barracks for the night).
On the way back, we headed to Lake Manyara National Park. Although the wildlife wasn't as abundant (or as apparent, since Manyara is heavily wooded), I saw quite a few elephant and baboon. The lake itself was huge. From here we headed back to the hotel.