Known as ‘Africa’s Garden of Eden’, Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater is the largest unbroken caldera in the world. This huge volcanic caldera, formed approximately 2.5 million years ago when a giant volcano exploded and collapsed in on itself, the crater is 610 metres deep. Endowed with an abundance of wildlife.
The amazing features of Ngorongoro Conservation Area, both wildlife and anthropogenic, have brought great accolades to this “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
The first European to lay his eyes upon Ngorongoro Crater was Dr. Oscar Baumann on 18 March 1892. In 1904 two brothers, Adolf and Fredrich Siedentopf, began to cultivate on the Crater floor of Ngorongoro. The brothers built two houses, one at the North end of the Crater on the Munge River. The brothers brought with them 2,000 cattle which caused much conflict with the Maasai and Wanderobo tribes that were living within the Crater at that time. The Maasai believe that God gave them all of the cattle of the world and therefore will raid and steal cattle from other tribes or residents in their area.
Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s preservationists made claims for the establishment of a national park, yet the government could not reclaim the land until twenty-five years after the lease. Residents were finally vacated by 1940 and the Game Ordinance of 1940 was enacted which designated the adjacent Serengeti as a national park. This decree was not very strict, and a new ordinance was declared in 1948 which was not effectively enforced until 1951 due to boundary conflicts. In 1951 the Serengeti National Park was proclaimed and included much of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area was established in 1959 after being excised from the newly created Serengeti National Park. In 1978 it was designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Three years later, in 1981, the Conservation Area was proclaimed a Biosphere Reserve by the same organization.
Ngorongoro’s caldera maintains a perennial spring that feeds a lake and swamp areas. Other springs can be found throughout the area that serve as important water sources for residents, wildlife, and livestock. The Crater highlands provide the natural resource of water catchments, as well as a different grazing environment than found on the Crater floor. The Crater itself, including its walls, covers approximately 310km², and the floor of the Crater, where most wildlife resides, is 250km². The walls of the caldera reach 600 metres , and exhibit an incline gentle enough to allow easy travel into and out of the Crater by the wildlife, the Maasai, and their livestock.
Ngorongoro is notorious for its wildlife both for diversity and density. The wildlife of Ngorongoro Crater has helped win the acclaim of “Eighth Wonder of the World,” boasting the highest density of predators in the world and a viable population of the endangered Black rhino.
1. Natural Wonder
Existing as its own self-contained ecosystem for more than two millions years, the Ngorongoro Crater is an awesome feat of nature. It remains the largest unflooded caldera in the world. The volcano responsible for forming the crater is thought to have been even larger than Mount Kilimanjaro. The massive mountain imploded and collapsed creating the vast cavity that still exists today. Measuring in at 20km in diameter and surrounded by slopes as high as 600m, the incredible natural wonder is an unforgettable sight.
2. Superb Location
Given the size and rural nature of Africa, many of its beautiful landmarks can be challenging to actually reach. Because the Ngorongoro Crater is located right along the road that leads to the Serengeti, it’s incredibly easy to get to making it convenient and enjoyable to visit. Its prime location also makes it a perfect addition to any Serengeti adventure, providing an added bonus to an already amazing experience.
Most people wouldn’t imagine that a 2-million-year-old crater would be home to some of Africa’s most sought after wildlife. Yet the area’s unique and successful ecosystem supports just about every kind of animal found in the country. From buffalo to flamingos to giraffes and just about every member of the big cat family, the crater is home to nearly 30,000 animals. The environment within the crater is surprisingly diverse, with grassy plains, acacia forests, muddy swamps and numerous lakes, making it the perfect year-round habitat for game, and the ideal place for visitors to have a chance to view it.
4. Rare Species
Within the abundant wild game that call the crater home, there are a number of rare and endangered species that are hard to find anywhere else in the world. In particular, the black rhino has managed to live, and even flourish, within the confines of the crater walls. While the Serengeti is also home to a few small herds of rhino, many of the places they frequent are off limits to visitors so the Ngorongoro provides the best opportunity to view these magnificent and rare beasts in their natural habitat. The area is also host to several large bull elephants which carry with them impressive long tusks as well as the sly and stealthy cheetah, which thrive within the tall grass that grows in some areas of the crater.
Arusha Airport is located just outside the town of Arusha, Arusha Airport is the entry point to the Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti, Lake Manyara and Tarangire but you’ll need to get there via Kilimanjaro International Airport, located about 50km away.
Kilimanjaro International Airport can be accessed from Dar es Salaam, Nairobi or directly from Europe and road transfer to Arusha Airport but note that international flights every so often arrive at Kilimanjaro Airport late at night, so an overnight in Arusha is ordinarily necessary.
However, as the Ngorongoro Crater is only a 3.5hr road trip from Arusha, many travellers would rather make the last transfer to their accommodation at the crater or in the nearby town of Karatu by road. Game drives and road transfers in the Ngorongoro Crater region are performed in open-sided 4X4s.
Weather & Best Time To Visit
The rainy season is in November to April. The short rains are from November to December and the long rains from February to April, the latter generally being considered the off season. However, the rainy season is a very exciting time of year as this is when animals congregate on the Short Grass Plains to have their young. Late February, early March is usually a good time to see the migration on the plains. In turn, this attracts large number of predators and results in spectacular interactions between predators and prey.
The dry season is in May to October. The dry season holds its own beauty. In Africa the dry season is the best time for game viewing because the animals are concentrated along permanent water sources. Within the Crater game viewing is excellent during this time. However, keep in mind that the Short Grass Plains become completely devoid of game during this season.
Accessing health care is major challenge and hence some lodges have an on-site doctor or medical assistant, and a dispensary for guests and staff. You will only find decent medical service at Arusha which is a 6-8 hour drive from the Serengeti. Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre is a full-service hospital and serves as a “consultant” hospital. It provides a full range of services including both primary care and sophisticated specialist care. The hospital serves as a Zonal Referral Hospital with specialist care provided for Inpatient Wards, Outpatient Visits, Emergency Department Visits, Dental Clinic Visits, and the HIV Care and Treatment Clinic. Selian Lutheran Hospital is a government run hospital located about ½hour drive from Arusha.
Health & Safety
A pre-travel consultation with your health provider is highly recommended and may bring along a small personalized medical kit. Generally, we recommend that your purchase medical evacuation insurance. Malaria transmission occurs in this game park. Safari activities include animals at dusk or after dark, sometimes near waterholes, all increasing the risk of being bitten by malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Taking preventative medication and using personal protection techniques – wearing long sleeved shirts and pants, using insect repellents, and under mosquito netting – are essential.
A variety of activities are on offer at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area that range from customary game viewing to exquisites’ farm visits.
The annual migrants from Europe and Asia inhabit the Ngorongoro Crater between September and April. Among the migrant birds in this area you can see the Lesser Kestrel, the European swallow, European bee eater, the Northern Wheatear, European roller, Pallid Harrier, Caspian Lapwing and the Montagu’s Harrier. Furthermore, in the wet season you can see the Rosy-breasted Long claw and large flocks of European storks.
On the bare grounds or sand tracks in the Ngorongoro Crater you can see nests of Ostiches, Kori bustards, Secretary birds, Grey crowned Cranes, the ground nestling Northern Anteater Chat, Rufous-napped Lark, Capped Whater, Fischer’s Sparrow lark, Red capped Lark and the Grassland Pipit. The tree nestling birds of the Ngorongoro Crater are the Superb Starling, Rufous Tailed Weaver and the African White backed Vulture. The Ngorongoro Crater is also inhabited by birds of prey such as: the Augur buzzard and the Long-crested eagle.
The soda lakes of Ngorongoro are the breeding grounds of thousands of flamingoes and other water birds such as ducks, waders and herons.
Nature walks at Ngorongoro are done in the company an armed ranger and local guide. The two-hour hikes can be arranged in conjunction with a Maasai village visit. The surrounding highlands include seven extinct volcanoes full of outstanding beauty and spectacular scenery. The best way to appreciate these attractions is by walking. Even a short walk of only an hour or two can be very rewarding and there are also many opportunities for hikes.
The exploration to the Ngorongoro wouldn’t be complete without meeting the captivating Maasai. This wonderful cultural excursion will immerse you in the fascinating ancestry of these noble people. 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. If you would like to extend your half-day adventure, and turn it into a full-day’s exploration, you can experience a day in the life of a young Maasai or, for an authentic interaction, watch a bloodletting ceremony. It is an extraordinary reality how the Maasai people live in the heart of the bush, with warthogs foraging and elephants trumpeting just on their periphery.
A great addition to any safari is taking the time to visit some of the local farms or plantations and sample some local produce on an authentic farm life experience. Some types of visits include coffee plantations and sunflower farms.
Game drives are conducted on morning and night drives on the Ngorongoro Crater through a lush highland forest, with magnificent birdlife to be spotted among the different tree species. Once on the grassy crater floor, you may discover a large variety of grazing herbivores, as well as the predators that are attracted by this abundant supply of prey. Depending on the time of year, you may see huge flocks of pink flamingo around the shores of the shallow Lake Magadi, while the surrounding swamp is inhabited by hippo. Safari vehicles are closed, with glass windows and a pop-up roof. Off-road driving is not permitted.
The top activity for a safari in any country is photography. Whether you are a professional of many years, or just a beginner, you will have ample opportunity to practice your technique while on safari. For the more serious photographer, a telephoto lens is recommended, and you will see lenses of all lengths and sizes while on safari. Those going on night drives may wish to invest in a night camera.
I plan to visit the Serengeti and is a day trip to the Ngorongoro Crater worth it?
Yes, without a doubt – the Serengeti has no Rhinos whilst the Ngorongoro Crater offers an opportunity to view the Rhino and the geology is fascinating on one of the world’s nature wonders.
Is the park open throughout the year?
Yes, the park is open throughout the year.
What wildlife can I see in the Ngorongoro Crater?
The Ngorongoro Crater is rich in wildlife and is home to the big five, cheetah, hyenas, jackals, wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, hippo, waterbuck, bushbuck, eland and over 500 bird species.
Is water safe to drink?
Most lodges and camps have bottled mineral water readily available and this water is very safe.
Will I have internet and cellphone coverage?
Internet connectivity at most lodges is poor and mobile reception is generally reasonable with cellular network providers.
Will I have access to ATM whilst I am at Ngorongoro?
Ngorongoro Conservation Area has an ATM on the main road, however it is often off-line. Major credit cards are widely accepted.
Can I take photographs of people whilst I am on safari?
Resist the urge to take photographs of people on the roadside (the Maasai, in particular) without first asking permission. Permission may not be granted, or will be for a fee, sometimes as high as $10 per person, in which case you may refuse with good grace.
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