Day 1. andBeyond Lake Manyara Tree Lodge. Ernest Hemingway called Lake Manyara the “loveliest I had seen in Africa.” There’s only one Lodge within the park, and it’s a great one. As the Tree Lodge is on the far south end of the national park, the transit from the airport makes for a nice game drive. The scenery is stunning and variable, including large baobab trees, steep cliffs, and, of course, the flamingo-covered lake itself. Be on the lookout for the famous tree-climbing lions, who are prone to resting in branches right over the road (to escape the scourge of biting flies). After lunch at the Lodge, relax on the balcony of your very own tree house, which offers complete privacy, looking out into dense tropical forest. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Lodge’s location is its extraordinary primate activity. The Tree Lodge canopy is home to a troop of Blue monkeys. Swinging through the trees and making lots of noise, they provide ample entertainment from room balconies. The Lodge restaurant also is frequently visited by the nocturnal Bush Baby (yet another primate). At night, its loud cries echo back-and-forth through the darkness (hence, its name). The first night in the tree house can be disconcerting. While nominally screened, it has no windows so the sounds of roaring lions and elephants fill the air. Don’t be alarmed by the noises inside your room. Those are just bats flying around—nature’s own insect control.
Day 2. Village Bike Ride and Night Safari. Wake up in the morning and shower outdoors on the balcony. Don’t be alarmed if the shower is already on. Some of the monkeys have learned to turn the handles, too. It just means they had the first shower of the morning. Your first game drive will likely take you in the direction of the hot springs. At some point, you will come across one of the largest baboon troops in Africa, numbering in the many hundreds. It’s an awesome sight. After lunch, take the village bike ride—about half an hour’s drive south of the national park. A village resident leads you through rolling hills of sunflower fields before reaching the town center, where you tour the school. The ride then turns in the direction of the distant lakeshore. Along the way, you’ll meet members of a nomadic tribe who come to the village to trade for supplies. The ride ends at Lake Manyara, which is covered in pink flamingos as far as you can see. andBeyond will be waiting there with the chef, who BBQs your dinner on a small fire. After dinner, head out on a special night drive from 8-11 p.m. Accompanied by an armed park ranger, your guide uses a red spotlight to find nocturnal animals – civet, genet, mongoose, among others.
Day 3. andBeyond Crater Lodge. Drive to Ngorongoro Crater and experience the best lodge in Africa. You can go to hundreds of countries and stay in the best hotels in the world. Yet still, your dreams will return to the Crater Lodge – sitting on a balcony with the expanse of the Ngorongoro Crater laid out beneath you and the many-colored turacos and sunbirds flying back and forth across your field of vision. It’s a magical place, the one place in the world you will long to visit once more before the end.
Day 4. Olduvai Gorge and Shifting Sands. Savor the lodge in the morning and then travel to Olduvai Gorge around midday. It’s a little more than an hour through beautiful, open valleys punctuated by the circular dung huts of Masai villages. Once at Olduvai, a museum curator will explain the geology of the gorge and its various fossil discoveries. He then leads you on a hike to its bottom, where the excavations found some of our earliest ancestors. Not far away is another extraordinary geological feature – the Shifting Sands. This is a single dune of chocolate-colored volcanic ash that is slowly migrating across the plain. If you’re lucky, you might have the dune all to yourself. Do handstands on its summit. Hold a race around its base. Then go back and see the markers showing where the dune was one, two, three, and four decades earlier. Marvel at how far it has travelled.
Day 5. Full-Day Game Drive in Ngorongoro Crater. Depart before sunrise to be one of the first vehicles allowed inside the park. Have breakfast by a lake on the Crater floor. Bring a soccer ball and kick it around (always being on the watch for predators). The open vistas of the Crater make it easy to spot wildlife, although since the park prohibits off-road driving, how close one gets to the lions or rhinos just depends on the accident of timing. The number of birds also is extraordinary. In just one game drive, the Scott identified 49 species.
Day 6. Full-Day Tour of Empakai Crater. Drive two hours north of Ngorongoro to its smaller, but taller, neighbor – Empakai. There, an armed park ranger will escort you down the steep forest trail from the crater’s rim to its floor, enjoying the birds, trees, and views along the way. The descent takes about 30 minutes, where you can then hike along the lakeshore, identifying animal tracks. While the ranger is mostly concerned about Cape buffalo, leopards also are common. The ascent takes longer given the nearly 10,000 foot elevation. Have lunch on the rim, looking northward further to neighboring (and active volcano) Ol Doinyo Lengai (the Mountain of God). It’s quite likely that you will be the only people on Empakai.
Hotels: andBeyond Tree Lodge and andBeyond Crater Lodge
Photo Tip: Village biking
Photo Tip: On Shore of Lake Manyara
Photo Tip: Famous Tree Climbing Lions of Manyara
Photo tip: The Crater from the Lodge (photos will never do it justice)
Photo tip: The Shifting Sands
Photo tip: Soccer on the Crater floor
Photo tip: On the shore of Lake Empakai