Ngorongoro also known as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a conservation area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site located 180 km (110 mi) west of Arusha in the Crater Highlands area of Tanzania. Ngorongoro Crater, a large volcanic caldera within the area, is recognized by one private organization as one of the seven natural wonders of Africa. Though named after the famous Ngorongoro Crater (the world’s largest unflooded, intact caldera) the crater floor itself only occupies 102 mi² (265 km²) of the entire 3200 mi² (8288 km²) conservation area. Rising 1200 to 1600 feet (365 – 490 m) off its floor, the grasslands, stream-fed swamps and forests of the crater floor can be reached after a 30 minute drive down from the crater rim.
The jewel in Ngorongoro’s crown is a deep, volcanic crater, the largest un flooded and unbroken caldera in the world. About 20kms across, 600 meters deep and 300 sq kms in area, the Ngorongoro Crater is a breathtaking natural wonder.
The Maasai, the main residents of Ngorongoro, are pastoralists who move widely with their herds of cattle, sheep, goat and donkeys in search of pasture and water. In recent years the Maasai have been encouraged to work on the land and supplement their traditional diet of milk and meat.
The crater floor is home to tens of thousands of plains animals, including wildebeest, zebra, gazelles, elands, and a large predator population of lions, hyena and jackal which can all be viewed at close quarters. The rare black rhino can be viewed here, and if you are lucky you can see cheetah and leopard. The rainy season is between November and May. The altitude at the crater rim is about 2286 metres above sea level, and temperatures can get quite chilly in the evening, especially between May to September.
Ndutu is located in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, in the southeastern plains of the Serengeti ecosystem. The plains around Ndutu are the main holding ground for migratory animals where vast herds congregate and linger for more than four months, from December to April, before they start moving across the Serengeti in search of greener pastures and water. Ndutu area forms an important part of the Serengeti ecosystem, in particular the short grass plains which provide calving grounds for wildebeest and other migratory animals.
Lake Ndutu and Masek, both alkaline soda lakes, are home to rich game populations, and surrounded by peaks and extinct volcanoes, which create a stunning backdrop, completing the conservation area’s unique and beautiful landscape. The crater, actually a type of collapsed volcano called a caldera, is of course the main attraction. For many, the drive into the centre of the Crater is the highlight of their Tanzania safari. After a beautiful descent down the crater rim, passing lush rainforest and thick vegetation, the flora opens to grassy plains that spread across the crater floor. The game viewing is truly incredible, and the topography and views of the surrounding Crater Highlands out of this world.
The Ngorongoro Crater, which is the central attraction in the area, is the largest Caldera in the world that has its walls intact. The Ngorongoro Crater floor, a sheer drop of 610 metres below the crater rim, has an area of 304 sq. km, with a diameter of 19 km. The sight of the Ngorongoro Crater is simply stunning. “It is impossible to give a fair description of the size and beauty of the Crater, for there is nothing with which one can compare it. It is one of the Wonders of the World…” once wrote Professor Bernhard Grzimek.
Ngorongoro is arguably the best place to see black rhino in East Africa, but is also good for spotting elephant, waterbuck, leopard, hippo, and reedbuck. Because the crater possesses a permanent water source, game-viewing is excellent year-round. There are about 400 species within and around the crater, including greater and lesser flamingoes (especially in the saline Lake Magadi), kori bustard, rufous-naped lark, rosy-breasted longclaw, superb starling, augur buzzard, golden-winged sunbird, malachite sunbird, tacazze sunbird, Schalow’s turaco, streaky seedeater, black and yellow-billed kites and rufous-tailed weaver.
There are many attractions outside of the crater, including Olmoti and Empakaai Craters, Ol Doinyo Lengai, Gol Moutanins, Nasera Rock, OlKerian and Oldupai Gorge (the latter is the site of some of Mary Leakey’s archaeological discoveries), and the Shifting Sands (formed by Ol Donyo Lengai’s volcanic ash).
Located within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the Olduvai Gorge. It is here at Olduvai Gorge that Dr. Louis Leakey and family discovered the remains of Homo Hablis or “handy man”, regarded as mankind’s first step on the ladder of human evolution, proving his theory that man had his origins in Africa. But many more fossils have been discovered here at Olduvai Gorge, including those of prehistoric elephants, giant horned sheep and enormous ostriches. Footprints of humanoids believed to be three million years old have also been discovered at Olduvai Gorge. A fascinating museum houses replicas and actual artefacts found on site at Olduvai Gorge, which makes the site worth a safari trip during your stay in this area.
The park is one of the most densely crowded wildlife areas in the world and is home to an estimated 30,000 animals. There are no giraffe, topi or impala in the park – they probably find it to difficult to negotiate the crater rim cliffs and there is also insufficient grazing for large herds of antelope, inside the park. However the park teems with wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, aggressive pack hunting hyenas and resident lion prides. Supported by a year round supply of water and fodder, the park supports a vast variety of animals, which include impressive herds of wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, eland, warthog, hippo, giant elephants and a small population of black rhino. Another big draw to this picturesque park is it dense population of predators, which include lions, hyenas, jackals, cheetahs and the ever elusive leopard, which sometimes requires a trained eye to spot.
It is the setting of the park that makes wildlife viewing and photography in the caldera so extraordinary and rewarding. The steep walls of the crater, often falling into indigo shadows, create a spectacular backdrop for your pictures, photos and digital images. But it is the animals that are the stars in all the pictures. They are varied and abundant, many are remarkably tame and habituated to the safari vehicles. They are also generally out in the open, where they are easily photographed.
The Ngorongoro Crater is only open from 06h00 to 16h00 and only 6 hour safari permits are issued which allows for only a ngorongoro-crater-animalsingle 6 hour morning game drive or 6 hour afternoon game drive to the park. There are two picnic and toilet spots – the one in the Lerai Forest and at the other at the Ngoitokitok Springs located in the south-eastern section of the park, please refer to the safari map below.
The best vantage point is the flat-topped Engitati Hill in the north-eastern corner of the park. Lake Magadi, a large but shallow alkaline lake in the south-western corner, is the main feature of the crater. A large number of flamingos, hippos and other water birds can usually been seen here. The Lerai Forest a fever tree forest located in the south is a good place in the park to see animals such as elephants, waterbuck and flitting sunbirds. Swamps, thorn scrub and grassland fill the rest of the park and provide the bulk of wildlife viewing.
There are three main safari routes that are used to gain access in and out of the Crater. The main descent road (one-way) is located on the north-western side of the crater and the main ascent road (also one-way) on the southern wall just east of the Lerai Forest. Mainly guest from the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge uses the third road, in the north-eastern corner of the crater, in both directions. Please refer to the safari map below for further details and information in this regard.
The late Professor Bernhard Grzimek, a man whose name will always be associated with Ngorongoro described the crater as: “It is impossible to give a fair description of the size and beauty of the park, for there is nothing with which one can compare it. It is one of the wonders of the world”.
Accommodation options abound on the crater rim, with several safari lodges and camping sites. Lodges range from the very expensive to the more reasonable priced establishments. Visit the Ngorongoro lodges and camps page for more information.
The Ngorongoro crater and wider conservation area is easily accessible. There is a daily light aircraft flight to Arusha from Dar (other airstrips in Tanzania also fly to Arusha) where you would then be met by a safari guide in a close-sided pop-top 4 x 4 safari vehicle. Your guide will stay with you for your time down in the Crater, and possibly longer. The drive from Arusha is around 4 hours to begin an Ngorongoro Crater safari.
Another alternative is to fly to Manyara airstrip, which is about an hour from the Crater. Depending on where you’re staying – you may be met by the lodge, or picked up by a private driver guide