A visit to the Ngorongoro Crater is an experience of a lifetime. There are few places that have wildlife densities and variety on this level. It is not unusual to see the Big Five in one day – and all this in the most amazing setting with a backdrop of the 600m/1,968ft-high crater wall.
In 1951, the enormous Serengeti National Park was declared, encompassing the present Serengeti, plus the Ngorongoro area and surrounding Crater Highlands. Today, this is split into the present-day Serengeti National Park, and the current Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The conservation area now encompasses a large area of the short-grass plains on the southern side of the Serengeti Plain and also the Ngorongoro Highlands, a range of largely extinct ancient volcanoes on the west side of the Great Rift Valley.
Ngorongoro Crater Safari
The showpiece of the conservation area is undoubtedly the Ngorongoro Crater which was created when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 and is the largest intact volcanic caldera in the world.
It measures about 16-19km in diameter, with walls of 400-610m in height. However you measure it, the Crater is a strong candidate for any list of the world’s greatest natural wonders. It is renowned both for its geological splendour, and for being a natural reserve which is home to some of the densest large mammal populations found anywhere in Africa.
- Driving from Arusha. Depending on your party size, it may be cheaper for you to all share a private vehicle and guide from when you are picked up from your international flight at Kilimanjaro Airport all the way until you fly out of the Ngorongoro region. If you are driving, it is essential to have a night either side of your crater descent either in a camp on the crater rim, or a 20 minute drive away in the Ngorongoro Highlands. This means you can get to the gates early to avoid the crowds!
- Flying from Arusha. If you are staying at a “fly in” camp which means your guide and vehicle are provided by your camp, and not by a ground handler from Arusha, you can fly into Lake Manyara airstrip, and get picked up by the camp. This can be a good idea if there are less people in your party, making flying cheaper than driving in a private vehicle from Arusha.
Best Time to Go: June to September (General wildlife viewing is best).
High Season: Most of the year – July to March (Expect crowds)
Size: 8,292km² / 3,202mi²
Altitude: 1,027-3,522 m / 3,369-11,555ft
Activities: Activities inside the Ngorongoro Crater itself are limited to game drives. A full range of activities is on offer in the wider Ngorongoro Conservation Area, including walking, trekking, excursions to Olduvai Gorge and visiting the Masai and other tribes
The Ngorongoro Crater offers some of the best wildlife viewing in Africa. All the major safari animals occur in great numbers. The resident population of black rhino is a real treat, as rhino are very difficult to spot elsewhere in Tanzania. The crater is also home to some very impressive elephant bulls with huge tusks. Lake Magadi often harbors large flocks of flamingo.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is stunningly beautiful. Aside from the well-known Ngorongoro Crater, Empakaai and Olmoti craters are scenic highlights as well. Both the Ngorongoro and Empakaai craters regularly have flocks of flamingo. The forested crater rim of the Ngorongoro crater is in stark contrast with the crater floor, which consists mostly of grassland. Another feature on the crater floor is Lerai forest, a beautiful, atmospheric, yellow fever tree forest.
Weather & Climate
Conditions at Ngorongoro vary depending on the altitude. Higher up, at the crater itself, it can get quite cold at night, particularly up on the rim. But down in the greater conservation area it stays quite warm. During the area’s Dry season (June to October) there’s barely a cloud in the sky. In the Wet season (November to May) you’ll confront two periods of rain separated by a brief dry spell.
Best Time to Visit
You can spot wildlife down on the crater floor at any time of year. But the viewing is better in the Dry season (June to October) when the undergrowth has receded and animals tend to gather conveniently around waterholes and rivers. The only advantages the wetter months offer are fewer people and low-season accommodation rates.
Where to stay
There is no accommodation within the Ngorongoro Crater and so generally speaking there are two different options; either staying on the Crater rim or on the Rift Valley Escarpment. There is a collection of lodges perched on the Crater rim overlooking the floor. These lodges tend to have incredible views and easy access to the crater, however the prices reflect this. The Ngorongoro Crater Lodge is the most luxurious option but it is also the most expensive. The other Lodges that have views of the Crater floor are the: Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge; Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge; and the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge. These lodges are much larger and also benefit from an exceptional view, however their size means they’re lacking in the character you can find elsewhere. There are a handful of other lodges and camps in the hills of the Crater, which do not have the views but are still extremely convenient and are also more affordable, an example of this is the Rhino Lodge.
Alternatively you could choose to stay on the nearby Rift Valley Escarpment in an area often referred to as Karatu. The lodges and camps here are all less than about 20km from the Crater and have a lot more character than the aforementioned lodges. Gibb’s Farm, Plantation Lodge and the Ngorongoro Farmhouse Lodge are all true of this.
Other attractions of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Only 90 minutes’ drive from the Ngorongoro Crater, Empakaai Crater is much smaller, yet endearing in its own way. A deep soda lake covers about half of the 6km wide caldera. You’ll often find thousands of flamingos in the shallows of the emerald lake – giving it a spectacular pink tinge. You can drive up to the outer rims of the crater, before taking the 45-minute walk down the path through the forested slopes to the crater floor. The views from the rim over the crater to Ol Doinyo Lengai are thought to be some of the most spectacular in Africa – on very clear days you can even see Kilimanjaro and Lake Natron. Empakaai Crater is a great day trip to consider for those spending more than two nights in the Ngorongoro area. Ask us for more details.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area does not only generate interest purely based on wildlife, the area has also got arguably the most extensive history of any place on earth. It has been proved that various Hominid species have lived there for millions of years. This has been discovered because of fossils preserved in volcanic rock, which date back to 3.6 million years ago. The 30 mile long Olduvai Gorge is a steep-sided ravine in the Great Rift Valley. This is one of the most important prehistoric sites in the world and has been instrumental in understanding human evolution. This is well documented in the museum, which has replicas of some of the hominid fossils unearthed at the site, as well as the Laetoli footprints (the most ancient footprints ever found). It also has genuine fossils of some of the extinct animals that used to live in the area. We can arrange day trips to the Gorge and the museum, which is an interesting addition to an Ngorongoro safari.