Ngorongoro National Park

The jewel in Ngorongoro’s crown is a deep, volcanic crater, the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera in the world. About 20kms across, 600 meters deep and 300 sq km 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.

Best things to do in Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Ngorongoro Crater safari drive

First and foremost, every visitor to the NCA needs to go on a game drive in Ngorongoro Crater. Seriously. This will probably be the very best day of your entire Tanzania trip.

The crater is an enormous, unbroken caldera. This means that long ago a volcano collapsed in on itself, creating a bowl-like feature that now overflows with wildlife. This wildlife includes the Big Five (lions, elephants, black rhinos, leopards and buffaloes).

Some of the wildlife (besides the Big Five) to look for include wildebeests, zebras, elands, Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles, hippos, flamingoes, baboons, jackals and hyenas.

Ngorongoro Crater rim walk

While visitors aren’t allowed to hike into Ngorongoro Crater, you are allowed to go on guided hikes along the top of the crater wall. The upper rim is densely forested with tropical trees, plants, and creepers.

The rim is a very beautiful section of the crater, and full of birds as well as some other wildlife, including the odd leopard. Some birds you might see include the martial eagle, olive sunbird, cinnamon-chested bee-eater, and European roller.

Your guide will tell you interesting stories about the plants and animals you see, from which plants are used in traditional medicines to what animals are near based on scat and spoors. Be sure to ask many questions.

Empakaai Crater hike

While nobody except the Maasai are allowed to walk inside of Ngorongoro Crater, one crater that you can explore on foot is Empakaai Crater. Although again, like Ngorongoro Crater, it’s technically a caldera, not a crater.

Empakaai Crater – which is 300 m deep and 6 km wide – sits in the remote northeast of the NCA, so it takes a little commitment to get there. But it’s much, much less visited than Ngorongoro Crater, and so offers you a very private safari experience.

Olduvai Gorge and Shifting Sands visit

Olduvai Gorge – or Oldupai Gorge – is a 48 km-long ravine just north of the main southeast-to-northwest road running through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It’s a little over half way on the long drive from Ngorongoro Crater to the Serengeti, and thus serves as a really nice stopping point for some exercise and exploration.

We recommend first visiting Olduvai Museum at the eastern terminus of the gorge. While small, the museum is very good. It has interesting fossil displays and tells the story of the highly important discoveries made in the exposed strata of the gorge of what are believed to be hominid fossils.

The museum also offers a lovely view down over the gorge.

Maasai village visit

The Maasai have lived in the region that’s now the Ngorongoro Conservation Area for centuries. They have resisted change to their culture, and as such have a remarkably distinct culture that’s steeped in tradition. And unlike the Maasai that live further east and have adopted certain western ways, the Maasai of the NCA live very traditionally.

For many years now, the Maasai have been inviting tourists to visit their villages as a way of generating some income. This income is needed for certain unavoidable expenditures, like buying water in the dry season and providing what’s needed for their children’s schooling, as all Tanzanian children must attend school. Your safari guide will pay a set fee per person to visit the village.

Visitors to a Maasai village are always made to feel extremely welcome. Ladies are given elaborate beaded necklaces to wear whilst there. And both men and women are encouraged to join in during the energetic and traditional jumping dance.

Lake Ndutu safari

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area shares its northwestern border with Serengeti National Park. The two protected areas share an ecosystem, and have no fence between them. In fact, only a dirt road marks the boundary.

This being the case, many of the wildebeests, zebras and antelopes that form the Great Wildlife Migration move into the northwestern section of NCA around Lake Ndutu in summer to enjoy its nutrient-rich grasses.

The flat plains ecosystem near Ndutu Lake lets you see far and wide. This makes game viewing very exciting!

The time of year for a stellar Lake Ndutu safari is summer: January to March. Lake Ndutu and its surroundings are also very green and pretty, with lots of flowers, at this time of year.