Sited in the Great East African Rift Valley in northern Tanzania, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area includes the wondrous Ngorongoro Crater, home to the densest concentration of wild animals in Africa.
One of Africa’s iconic ‘Big 5’ species, black rhinos are on many travellers’ safari wishlists. Small populations are found in the Ngorongoro Crater.
Tanzania is one of the most important paleoanthropological sites in the world; it has proven invaluable in furthering understanding of early human evolution.
At the Maasai village playing host to your tour, you will have the opportunity to meet with a Maasai family, visit a traditional boma, the village huts (called Manyatta), made of cow dung and clay plastered over stick frames, and perhaps venture to a local school or clinic.
The largest unflooded, unbroken caldera in the world.
NGORONGORO CONSERVATION AREA
Ngorongoro Crater – a Unesco World Heritage site – is 600 meters deep, 20 kilometres wide and the largest unflooded, unbroken caldera in the world. It’s an extraordinary ecosystem where you can find the Big Five or even, if you’re lucky, the endangered black rhino on the Crater floor.When it was still active, the volcano deposited its volcanic ash on what’s now the Serengeti plains towards the west, preserving many fossils in Olduvai (Oldupai) Gorge, discovered by Louis and Mary Leakey. The greater Ngorongoro Conservation Area conserves the fragile Ngorongoro Crater ecosystem and serves as an important space for the animals of the Great Migration to give birth at Lake Ndutu, which borders the southern Serengeti.
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 Ngorongoro Crater is one of Africa’s most famous sites and is said to have the highest density of wildlife in Africa. Sometimes described as an ‘eighth wonder of the world’, the Crater has achieved world renown, attracting an ever-increasing number of visitors each year. You are unlikely to escape other vehicles here, but you are guaranteed great wildlife viewing in a genuinely mind-blowing environment. There is nowhere else in Africa quite like Ngorongoro!
The Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera. Forming a spectacular bowl of about 265 square kilometres, with sides up to 600 metres deep; it is home to approximately 30,000 animals at any one time. The Crater rim is over 2,200 metres high and experiences its own climate. From this high vantage point it is possible to make out the tiny shapes of animals making their way around the crater floor far below. Swathes of cloud hang around the rocky rim most days of the year and it’s one of the few places in Tanzania where it can get chilly at night.
The crater floor consists of a number of different habitats that include grassland, swamps, forests and Lake Makat (Maasai for ‘salt’) – a central soda lake filled by the Munge River. All these various environments attract wildlife to drink, wallow, graze, hide or climb. Although animals are free to move in and out of this contained environment, the rich volcanic soil, lush forests and spring source lakes on the crater floor (combined with fairly steep crater sides) tend to incline both grazers and predators to remain throughout the year.
Ngorongoro Crater: Wildlife Highlights
Ngorongoro Crater is one of the most likely areas in Tanzania to see the endangered Black Rhino, as a small population is thriving in this idyllic and protected environment. It is currently one of the few areas where they continue to breed in the wild. Your chances of encountering leopard here are also good, and fabulous black-maned lions. Many flamingos are also attracted to the soda waters of Lake Magadi.
Ngorongoro Crater: Maasai village trips
Part of the reason behind the Ngorongoro Conservation Area has been to preserve the environment for the Maasai people who were diverted from the Serengeti Plains. Essentially nomadic people, they build temporary villages in circular homesteads called bomas. There are possibilities to visit a couple of these now, which have been opened up for tourists to explore. Here you can see how the huts are built in a strict pattern of order according to the chronological order of the wives, and experience what it must be like to rely on warmth and energy from a fire burning at the heart of a cattle dung dwelling with no chimney. These proud cattle herding people have a great history as warriors, and even though they are no longer allowed to build villages inside, they continue to herd their cattle into the crater to graze and drink, regardless of the predators nearby.
- Ngorongoro Conservation Area can only realistically be explored in a solid 4×4 Vehicle.
- A day trip to Ngorongoro Crater is worth planning carefully. Vehicles are forbidden from entering the crater before 07h00, and they must leave before 18h00, and a hefty ‘crater service fee’ is payable every time a vehicle enter the crater.
- Far preferable, however, to take a packed breakfast and lunch, allowing you to get down into the crater as early as possible, partly because early morning offers the best photographic light, but also because the place is at its most magical before the tourist hordes descend, with the main procession usually starting the descent from 08h00 onwards.
- The conservation authority forbids tourists from staying overnight within Ngorongoro Crater. But several tourist lodges and tented camps are perched on the lofty crater rim, offering fine views over the floor and its teeming wildlife, and there is also a campsite.
- Plenty of accommodation is also available in and around the town of Karatu, which straddles the main surfaced road from Arusha about 15 minutes’ drive from Lodware Entrance Gate. The lodges on the crater rim are preferable in terms of views and for placing you as close as possible to the heart of the action, but accommodation in and around Karatu tends to offer better value for money.