When you enter Ngorongoro, it feels like a very special, unique place – it’s the only conservation area in Tanzania where humans and protected wildlife co-exist in harmony, since pastoral farming is permitted here. You’ll see Maasai farmers herding their cattle across the vast plains, with zebra or giraffe grazing close by. The entire Ngorongoro Conservation Area is 8292 sqkm and adjoins the Serengeti National Park, so Ngorongoro is part of a colossal ecosystem. You will probably want to spend most of your time in the main attraction – the Ngorongoro Crater – but there are other beautiful landscapes for you to experience here, such as the lake-filled Empakai Crater and nearby Ol Doinyo, an active volcano. Ngorongoro is a carefully managed conservation area, a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve.
The Ngorongoro Crater, the Star Attraction
This is your dream safari adventure. Within a day, you can experience not just the Big 5, but see up to 20,000 mammals across the finest 10 mile stretch of landscapes in Tanzania. The Ngorongoro Crater is an extinct volcano with an unusually high concentration of wildlife and stunning scenery. As you approach the Crater’s forested rim, prepare yourself for a view that is out of this world….
Wildlife in the Crater
You’ll look down upon a vast expanse of rich, fertile grassland, teeming with all the major animals. In the centre of the Crater is Lake Magadi, home to flocks of flamingos, water birds and hippo pods. There are swamps, Acacia trees and an area of Yellow Fever trees called the Lerai Forest. Down on the plains, you can easily spot lions, leopards, cheetahs, buffalo, wildebeest, and bull elephants with tremendous tusks. If you are wondering which is the best park to encounter the illusive black rhino, Ngorongoro Crater is the place. Black rhinos are known to be incredibly shy, but you will see them grazing the open grassland of the Crater and retreating to the Lerai forest at night. Spotted hyenas are prolific in the Crater, as are golden jackals and bat-eared foxes. You won’t find any giraffes here, since they are not able to cope with the steep descent.
The Maasai tribes have colonised Ngorongoro for the past 200 years. If you visit Ngorongoro Conservation Area during the rainy season, you are most likely to see the Maasai leading their cattle into the Crater to graze on the plains and drink from the lake. During the dry season, the Maasai tend to stay in the forested areas and mountain slopes. They are not allowed to live in the Crater, but are free to live in and cultivate controlled areas of land in other areas of Ngorongoro, whilst the wildlife has protection status. This means that Ngorongoro is
A game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater itself is one of Africa’s most famous safaris (entrance to the Crater is very expensive, but worth every penny). In the surrounding Conservation Area, you’ll find even more activities on offer – walking safaris in Lake Natron and the Olmoti Crater, trekking safaris in Oldonyo Lengai and the Empakai Crater and inspirational aerial safaris across the whole area. Take an authentic Maasai safari to learn how the Maasai Mara live and teach their children; even watch a traditional Maasai welcome dance. Book a Bush Dinner, where you will dine out under the stars and experience real Tanzanian food. Or visit the archaeological site of Olduvai Gorge to see 3.5 million year old footprints and trace the origins of mankind.
Staying on the rim of the Crater is ideal, for the views and the convenience. There is one extraordinarily amazing hotel on the rim, but it costs about $3000 per night – it’s one of the world’s top 10 hotels and a real treat if you can afford it. Other hotels and lodges on the rim are more affordable, still with striking views, but some are quite big and old. There are charming guest houses and lodges on the small coffee plantations of nearby Karatu, not far from the rim, although they don’t have the same magnificent views.
Best Time to Visit
The dry season from June to September is the best time to visit the Crater, when wildlife is most easily seen; but all times of year are good. From March to May it can rain continuously for days on end, but the game viewing is still excellent and there will be fewer vehicles in the Crater in the rainy season.
How to Get There
Ngorongoro Conservation Area is only a 3 hour drive along a good road from Arusha town where all safaris in northern Tanzania begin. A game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater fits in perfectly if you are also visiting the Serengeti.