This is about as close as you can get to my definition of the 'ideal hotel' ... affordable, comfortable accommodation in a jawdroppingly beautiful location surrounded by stupendous wildlife.
We are unashamed 3 star travellers, and although luxurious accommodation is all very nice (when someone else is paying), we would rather stay somewhere less ostentatious that provides better value for money. And in that regard, the Crater Lodge is right on the mark - although Kenyan accommodation in parks and nature reserves may seem to be horrendously expensive when you start your research, if you explore the options, you can find some very competitive deals.
For example, when we stayed at Crater Lodge (July 2011), it was just the start of shoulder season. We paid USD144 per couple per night half board, which included bed, breakfast, evening meal, morning game walk and a night drive. We loved the fact that the quoted price - as promised - did in fact include everything, as so many lodges take the opportunity to load the bill with 'extras' that you weren't made aware of. In fact, the only charge on top was a USD20 bar bill, which - for three nights - seems very modest, but I can assure you, reflects no particular restraint on our side!
Where do I start? Well, to begin with, how many lodges boast their own exclusive, lake-filled volcanic crater? The rooms are located on the lakeside, which means quite a trek down a very long flight of stairs from the car park. The 'rooms' are actually permanently erected safari tents with en suite facilities and private verandahs, and whilst not brand new, are comfortable and weatherproof, even if some of the fittings are looking a bit 'tired'.
This is a private reserve, so the only people who come here are guests to the lodge and a limited number of 'day trippers'. In fact, the day trippers can be quite an exclusive bunch, as when we were there, the former head of the Kenyan Reserve Bank dropped in for tea in his helicopter, with a rather bored looking young woman in tow who spent the whole time in this stunning location playing with her iPhone!
The wildlife is spectacular - we were beside ourselves with excitement to see a zorilla (a sort of African native skunk) for the first time ever - and after 25 years of trying - on a night drive, and the bird life in particular is extraordinary. However, the absolute highlight for us was to be able to get out and hike amid such a beautiful landscape and get really close to wildlife - something that many other safari experiences simply don't offer you.
One of the high points of this lodge is the service. I often find that staff in upmarket game lodges are too obviously focused on the prospect of generous tips at the end of your stay (probably as staff often make much more out of tips than they do from their salary) and we find that sort of fawning attention unpleasant. However, here we found the staff to be genuinely helpful, attentive and keen to make your experience as memorable as possible. In particular, the game ranger (Elijah) who was assigned to us for the duration of our stay was both delightful and knowledgeable.
Another charming touch was to find that a hot water bottle had been slipped into our bed whilst we were at supper (as it can get quite chilly here at night) - how better to make your guests feel cosseted for minimal effort?!!!
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