A new style of safari: The Highlands, Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

The only disappointing thing about the Ngorongoro Crater is its name. A person might expect that such a title would refer to a warrior king whose legendary adventures warranted having a vast caldera named after him. Or perhaps to some omnipotent demon whose apocalyptic fury led to the eruption of the volcano.

But no, according to some, Ngorongoro is an onomatopoeia, the noise approximately made by a cow bell. Essentially, it may as well be called Mount Ding-a-ling.

Millions of years of extraordinary evolution have gone into creating what is essentially a vast safari park. When the volcano blew out  more than 2 million years ago, it created a 260-square-kilometre crater.  Thousands of animals live there and conditions became so  agreeable that many ordinarily migratory species  spend their whole lives in the caldera without bothering to move on.

However,  there is also a long line of predators.  For lucky tourists, this means you may get to see the big five in a single morning.

But even dedicated animal lovers can grow tired of the 5am starts – so Asilia Africa, with   its new property in a remote part of the crater rim, proposes something a little different. The game drives are  still an option, but at The Highlands there's a focus on discovering more of the country.

That's assuming you want to leave  the new property at all. The eight cosy eco-domes on the mighty volcanic slopes each have one side of clear plastic, so when night falls you can lie in bed and stargaze.

The decor is a trendy mix of modern African chic and Scandinavian log cabin.  The tented accommodation represents about as modern an interpretation of the safari experience as you can imagine.

Half the staff at The Highlands are Maasai, the formerly nomadic cattle-herding people whose red robes are frequently seen fluttering in the breeze behind their livestock.

In this remote corner of the crater, the lack of accommodation options meant few  job opportunities  for the Maasai. That's changing, thanks to Asilia. As well as working  in the camp, men are employed as hiking guides.


There's also the chance to visit a Maasai boma, a farmstead managed by family members, led by a chief. As one of the first guests in The Highlands, I am one of the first foreigners to visit Chief Laigwenani's boma close to The Highlands.

Speaking through a translator, I ask every question I can about Maasai life: are lions a problem? No, but leopards are. What happens when a Maasai dies? Well, when we were nomadic we used to leave them in the bush and let nature take its course, but now we have settlements so we bury them.

After about 15 minutes, the chief decides to ask me a few questions and he starts with:  How much land do you own?

I tell him none. I tell him that in Britain  few people own land and that it's always been owned by someone else. I tell him that is part of the reason people went to Australia, to find land of their own. Yes, he says, but you personally – why do you not own land? Why is that OK? You have education, but no land? The chief looks away while the translator keeps talking. "He says he feels sorry for you."

I suddenly feel sorry for myself. Maybe the Maasai have it right. Maybe what's really important is land, and family, and nature.

I'm contemplating how I can reorganise my life when a teenage boy, not yet a warrior, runs up to the chief with a message and slips something into his hand.

The chief rummages inside his robes and in a flash my reverie ends – he's just been given a new SIM card for his mobile phone.  





There are no direct flights to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's capital, but all Gulf carriers connect via their various hubs. From Dar, Asilia or other agents can arrange internal charters. See www.etihad.com, www.emirates.com or www.qatarairways.com 


Asilia Africa has almost 20 properties in Africa. The Highlands is their newest, the only accommodation of its type on the continent. All excursions – including Maasai visits and game drives – are organised by the company, depending on your energy and interests.  See www.asiliaafrica.com

Jamie Lafferty was a guest of Asilia Africa.