If money is no object, there is only one choice: Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. A destination in its own right, its location, right on the crater rim, is unsurpassed. If you want to enjoy the same sublime views but not blow the budget, there are four more options along the rim, three of them reviewed below, of which Lemala Camp, while not the least expensive, offers the best value for your money.
Ngorongoro Sopa is a huge cavernous lodge that enjoys the same fabulous views as the Crater, Serena, and Wildlife lodges, but interiors and exteriors are ugly, and despite recent refurbishments to rooms, decor is still dated and drab. Before the Lemara Camp (reviewed later in this chapter), Sopa (www.sopalodges.com) was the only lodge close to the eastern route to the crater, which meant that you could be the first down, but Lemara now offers this and so much more. Given that the rack rates are usually only around $50 per person, per night lower than at the superior Serena, Sopa is not reviewed here. However, if all the recommended options below are full, or if you are cherry-picking for bargains (which Sopa at certain times of the year offers), take a look at their website. Note also that Rhino Lodge, an ugly new lodge located in indifferent surrounds near the crater rim, is not worth booking -- prices (around $180 double) are great, given that you are in the NCA, but the stark low-budget accommodations are depressing and there are no views. A far better option is to base yourself in one of the lovely farmhouse-style guesthouses that lie in the highlands above Karatu, the nearest town to the NCA, all about 30 minutes from the crater rim (more than an hour to the floor). The top three are reviewed below, but if you're watching your budget, also take a look at Bougainvillea Lodge (www.bougainvillealodge.net), on the main road leading into Karatu. It comprises 24 en suite cottages built around a central pool, each with fireplace and veranda. Units are comfortable and a good value ($146 double half board; $173 full board); I'd take at least one meal at Gibb's , however. Lastly, if you're a little more adventurous, Olduvai Camp (book through www.africatravelresource.com), located beyond the crater (walking distance from the famous archaeological dig, which you can visit with one of the resident Maasai), is a highly rated back-to-basics experience, with a relaxed and welcoming Maasai staff (one of the best reasons to come) and awe-inspiring views of the surrounding plains and volcanic highlands. Accommodations are classic East African safari-style tents -- big enough to walk in, with relatively basic furnishings. The new flush toilets are welcome, albeit erratic, and bucket showers during dry season are sometimes, well, dry. However, mealtimes are generally wonderful affairs shared around a communal table. This is a great camp to meet similar-minded folk from all over the world. If large lodges and four walls leave you cold (and Lemara is too pricey), this is the perfect stopover on your way to or from the crater. Rates range between $900 and $1,200 for a double, including all meals, park fees, private vehicle, and driver.
Hadzabe: Stuck Between a Rock and the Stone Age? -- Lake Eyasi, located on the edge of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, is neither as attractive or game-rich as Lake Manyara, nor as significant as Lake Natron. However, it still attracts a fair number of visitors, thanks to the inhabitants living near its shores. The 200-odd Hadzabe families are among the last remaining hunter-gatherers on the continent and have lived in this area relatively undisturbed for more than 10,000 years -- though the last 50 years have not been kind. They resisted the forcible settlement policies that Julius Nyere implemented in the 1970s, but their traditional way of life remained under serious threat -- not only from conservationists who disapproved of their hunting and government officials desperate to enroll the new generation in school, but more recently from the burgeoning tourism industry that has sprung up around them. What was initially irregular contact, usually with individual travelers with an anthropological interest in understanding their customs, the "Meet the Hadzabe" experience has been turned into a package tour event, with Westerners gawking at the hunting and survival methods of "Africa's last remaining primitive Stone Age tribe." The effect of this fishbowl treatment, as well as the money that has entered the Hadzabe's previously cashless social system, has had a disastrous impact on the lifestyle people are so keen to witness, and most reputable tour operators no longer participate in what some have described as cultural rape, others as simply a waste of the client's money. That said, Kisima Ngeda (www.kisimangeda.com), the tented camp on Lake Eyasi's shores, is a remote and peaceful camp, and a great way to spend a day or two unwinding pre- or post-safari.