The Plantation Lodge

near Ngorongoro, Northern Circuit, Tanzania Book from Book from £1101 per night

An immaculate privately-owned lodge set in lush, subtropical gardens within easy reach of Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater
This is a great place to break a journey between Arusha and the Serengeti, as well as being a superb experience in its own right. A bumpy dirt track cuts in from the dusty main road by way of a vast coffee plantation, past tin-roofed shacks and waving children, to end at a sweep of lawn so green and so perfect, it could be lifted from deepest Oxfordshire. Beyond this emerald carpet, exuberant stands of agave, acacia, mango and bamboo, towering silver oaks, jacarandas and ficus trees teeming with multi-coloured birdlife, remind you that, yes, you're still in Africa - and a delectable corner of it to boot.

The guest suites and cottages fan out around the original coffee lodge, which feels straight from the pages of Karen Blixen: polished terracotta and screed floors, high garden-facing French windows, Planter-style furniture, whirling overhead fans and masses of African memorabilia like carvings, wall hangings and watercolours of the bush. The mood is cool and measured, one of respite and retreat: Plantation Lodge offers a perfect foil to the exertion and exhilaration of a Tanzanian safari.

Why we chose this partner

  • Just a 30-minute drive to Lake Manyara and 20 minutes to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, one of Africa's most stunning wildlife parks
  • Rooms - more like cottages, really - are big and airy, with plenty of space between you and your nearest neighbours
  • German owner Renata and her staff run a tight ship: impeccably maintained grounds and friendly staff
  • Wildlife aside, this is a great spot for cultural insight and much-needed downtime: perhaps a morning visit to a Maasai village or a Hadzabe hunt, then an afternoon by the pool
  • It's also family friendly: there's a group house with children's facilities

Please be aware

  • Because it's booked as part of a safari package, including all meals, transfers, private game drives and (hefty) park fees, prices work out pretty high - but you can be sure of a tip-top experience
  • It's outside the park, but only a short drive (and this means no park fees on any 'down days')
  • Larger groups sometimes book several suites and cottages, but you can always find a quiet spot if you prefer your own company
  • WiFi can be patchy
  • Needs to be booked well in advance

Best time to go

This area is amazing at any time of year but expect heavy rain if visiting during the 'Long Rains' which last from April through to May, sometimes on into June. There's a second bout of wet weather, the 'Short Rains', between October and early December. And, of course, the Serengeti migrations will be important in deciding when to visit. In February and March the green pasturelands of the southeastern end of the park are covered with calving wildebeest. June is the time to see the migration crossing the Grumeti river whilst the better known, perilous crossing of the Mara river at the Park's northern end takes place in July and August. But because most of Ngorongoro's animal life is sedentary you'll see masses of wildlife there at any time of year.

Our top tips

The Zanzibar Chest (Aidan Hartley) is a great holiday read: the early chapters give a fascinating insight into the area around Arusha during the early Nyerere years.

Great for...

Family
Foodie
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
Spa
Room:

Lodging

The configuration of rooms and suites varies a great deal (see below) - but the finish and comfort is top notch throughout. Expect diaphanous spaces with polished black screed floors, high ceilings and masses of windows that draw your eye out to the gardens. Watercolours of Tanzanian wildlife, Indian bedspreads, vases of cut flowers and bright silk cushions add colour to the white, black and brown palette. Bathrooms are in the same generous, functional and pristine vein.

Best for families are the Zanzibar and Bamboo Houses: both have 1 double and 1 twin room, which share a bathroom. Plantation House, with 2 interconnecting rooms, could comfortably accommodate a family of 5.

Best for couples are perhaps the Forest House or Eucalyptus House: we liked how secluded and private they felt, though they do have twin mattresses.

Best for small groups are the Garden House, with 4 ensuite doubles, and the Coffee House, with 2 enormous suites. Each house has its own dining and sitting room.

Meals here are moveable feasts. There are 5 different dining rooms spread out amongst the different houses and main lodge, as well as a number of alfresco eating areas. And wherever you choose to eat you'll have attentive service lavished upon you by uniformed staff.

Breakfast kicks off early: most guests want to make sure they're one of the first through Ngorongoro's main gate. In addition to a buffet of cold meats, cheeses, carton juice, a choice of cereals and a seasonal fruit salad, there are eggs cooked to order.

Guests tend to be out on game drives at lunchtime so box lunches - you get a couple of sandwiches, a slice of quiche, some kind of cold meat, fruit and a juice. But if you're picnicking in the Crater or beside the Manyara Lake your meal will still be a memorable one. Lunch back at the lodge is a light repast of salad, pasta, or perhaps an omelette.

Dinner always feels like a special occasion. Your table will be candlelit and beautifully dressed in all-white linen and crockery then strewn with petals of frangipani or bougainvillea. Dinners follow a 4-course formula. Ours began with seafood tagliatelle, followed by roast beef accompanied by veg which had been picked the same day in their garden. The meal ended with a scrummy dessert of grilled pineapple and mango topped with homemade ice cream. Award-winning Tanzanian coffee provided a perfect finale.

Activities

  • The Unesco-listed Ngorongoro Crater (20-30 mins drive) has over 25,000 animals living in its crater: keep your eyes peeled for zebra, buffalo, antelope, lions, black rhinos, hippos and elephants, as well as the Maasai who graze their cattle here. Two daily game drives are included in our safari packages - normally 1 in the morning and 1 in the late afternoon.
  • Lake Manyara park (20-30 mins drive) is great at night with porcupines, civets, bushbabies and perhaps leopards.
  • Explore the lodge's gardens and surrounding coffee plantations - guided tours will teach you about the lifecycle of a coffee bean - or visit the local market for a less closeted take on Tanzania
  • Birdwatch from the privacy of your terrace or from a corner of the gardens: Fischer’s lovebirds and yellow-bellied sunbirds are regular visitors, or the staff can give you a tour of the gardens and point out birds en route
  • Take a hike through the Empakaai Crater and take in spectacular lake views, teeming with flamingoes and pelicans. Other hikes lasting from 1 - 3 hours follow the edge of the Great African Rift Valley
  • Visit a Maasai village, or the hunter-gathering Hadza (Hadzabe) tribe on the shores of Lake Eyasi - you may need to add an extra day for these
  • Indulge in a bit of R&R by the pool, then treat yourself to a neck and shoulder massage with the lodge's masseuse

Activities include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Hiking
  • Safaris
  • Shopping / markets
  • Traditional cultures
  • Well being
  • Wildlife
Activity:
Kid Friendly:

With Kids

Kids are welcome at Plantation Lodge - though (if booking a package) bear in mind that many other safari lodges require a minimum age of 5. Kids would get good measure out of the extensive gardens and pool, and there are rooms which have been designed specifically with families in mind.

Children up to 2 years old stay for free, 2 - 6 year olds are charged 50% of the rate if sharing with parents, 6+ year olds in in own room full pay adult rate.

We've rated it best for kids aged 4 and up largely because the game drives are better if you're quiet and can concentrate...but we know there are exceptions out there.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

The Zanzibar Suite and Bamboo Family Unit both have a double and twin bedroom; The Plantation House has interconnecting bedrooms, and can sleep up to 5.

Babysitting: Babysitting is available by arrangement.

Baby equipment:

  • Baby cots
  • High chairs

Children's meals: You may need to request an early dinner for smaller kids or something less extravagant in the evening in general for them; otherwise, breakfast, packed lunches and afternoon tea are all perfectly child-friendly.

Kids Activities on site:

  • Group house with kids facilities
  • Swimming pool
  • Extensive gardens with great bird watching

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Ngorongoro Crater is 20 minutes away
  • Lake Manyara is 30 minutes away
  • There are also markets, villages and coffee plantations to visit

Families Should Know: Kids need to be good at travelling to tackle this kind of safari trip - ideally, you'd stay here for 3 days then move on to another stop. The pool is unfenced and some balconies have wide slats along the rails so aren't ideal for tinies.

Distances:

  • Airport: 190km (Kilimanjaro International Airport)

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited and can sometimes go astray, so if it is crucial to you, please check with the hotel that it is still available

Transport

The game drives and most camp-to-camp transfers are in comfy 4WD Toyota Landcruisers, with either 5 or 7 seats. All seats are by the window, with extra large windows for photography and driving comfort. They also have a pop-up roof for enhanced game-viewing in the parks, as well as a coolbox stocked with soft drinks, wildlife- and bird reference books, Maasai blankets, and a camera/phone charging point (with UK adapter).

The transfer back to Kilimanjaro Airport is normally in a light aircraft - typically a 12-seater Cessna caravan.

Transport:

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