Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest, intact volcanic caldera, home to the largest concentration of mammals found anywhere on earth.
If you’re planning a trip to Tanzania, you definitely should put Ngorongoro on your list!
Where is Ngorongoro Crater?
Ngorongoro Crater is located in the larger Ngorongoro Conservation Area in northern Tanzania. Part of the larger conservation area borders Serengeti National Park and the two attractions share an ecosystem.
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania is approximately 3 hrs drive from Arusha, Tanzania and 60 minutes from the town of Karatu.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area Map
While the Ngorongoro Crater is certainly the most famous area of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, it’s only a small part of the larger ecosystem. Tourists who have enough time to explore the area should do so, spending 2-3 days in the area to really experience this wonderful Ngorongoro crater travel.
The northwestern part of Ngorongoro borders Serengeti National Park. These two places share an ecosystem. The famous wildebeest migration passes through this corner of Ngorongoro annually, in search of greener pastures and for giving birth to the next generation.
The east side of the Ngorongoro Conservation area includes the Ngorongoro Highlands and borders remote Lake Natron.
Empakai – Natron Trek
There is an adventurous trek from Empakai Crater to Lake Natron, weaving through scenic parts of the Ngorongoro Conservation area. The trek offers overnight rustic camping and takes approximately 3 days to complete.
Hikers will carry day packs, while heavier camping equipment is carried by donkeys.
On the western side of Ngorongoro is Lake Eyasi, a salt lake that is home to the ancient Hadzabe tribe.
This is one of the last remaining hunter-gather tribes in the world. Visitors to Lake Eyasi are welcome to join the Hadzabe on a hunt and discover how they find honey, hunt game and live without traditional homes. The Hadzabe are the only people allowed to hunt within Ngorongoro Conservation area (in contrast to the Maasai, who are only allowed to graze their cattle in the area).
Here is the majestic Mount Oldeani, an extinct volcano that rises out of the flat plains. It can be seen from miles around and is a wonderful day excursion for those seeking to stretch their legs a bit.
Why Visit Ngorongoro Conservation Area?
The world-famous Ngorongoro Crater has a whole list of accolades;
- It is a Unesco World Heritage site;
- home to the endangered Black Rhinoceros;
- Is a recognized World Biosphere
- It is the largest intact, unfilled volcanic caldera in the world
- Hosts the largest concentration of animals (large mammals) per square meter in the world
- It is one of the few remaining authentic places where traditional tribes-people continue to live in harmony with wildlife, including areas where lions hunt
- Is one of the places in East Africa where you are likely to spot all of the African Big Five animals.
Safari for the Big Five
The “Big Five” are Africa’s five most dangerous animals: Lions, Leopards, Cape Buffalo, Elephants, and Rhinos.
There are only about 60 lions residing in Ngorongoro Crater itself, with larger prides spread across the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
The lions of neighboring Serengeti or Lake Manyara National Park do not normally cross into the crater, as the territory is claimed by the Crater Lions. For this reason, most of the lions in Ngorongoro Crater share a gene pool.
Leopards are notoriously stealthy, so it’s unlikely you’ll see these animals in the crater, itself. However, you’re more likely to spot these beautiful, big cats in the trees of the Lerai Forest, which you will pass through as you climb out of the crater, towards the top rim.
You can expect to see buffalo wallowing in the swampy areas or hiding in thickets in the forest areas of the crater.
While they are not carnivorous, Cape Buffalo are some of the most dangerous animals in the world if they feel threatened, which is why they are included on this list.
There is speculation about how elephants came to reside in Ngorongoro Crater in the first place, but it is very clear: the crater walls are much too steep for them to ever climb out.
The elephants may be seen in the forests or walking through the grasslands, depending on the season.
Rhinos across Africa are endangered, their numbers dwindling as poachers seek these beautiful beasts for their horns. However, in the natural protected area of Ngorongoro, the black rhino population has done very well and is one of the few examples of this species of rhino living in the wild.
Other Ngorongoro Crater animals you’ll likely see on your safari include zebras, impalas, elands, wildebeests, hyenas, ostriches, flamingoes, warthogs, and different species of monkeys.
The animal you will not see in the crater are giraffes; they do not live here. Visit neighboring Lake Manyara National Park the following day to see these majestic animals.
Breathtaking Rim Walk
The Crater Rim Walk is an opportunity for nature enthusiasts to explore the Ngorongoro Highlands and get a spectacular view of the crater.
While there is a “viewpoint” that most safari jeeps pause at for photos, this is not just for taking photos and returning to your safari car – this is a nature walk in one of the most scenic places in the world.
If you’re a bird-lover, Crater Rim Walk is a must-do in Ngorongoro! You’ll have the chance to see rare species of sunbirds, bee-eaters and other forest birds.
You may also encounter animals, such as zebras, grazing in the highlands. For your safety, there is an armed ranger and a guide leading every Crater Rim Walk.
You should have a moderate fitness level and be able to walk on steep or uneven terrain in order to enjoy your walk to the fullest.
Hiking through the craters
There are several other, smaller craters throughout the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and some are certainly worth a visit.
Empakai is a smaller, but very steep crater with a soda lake at the bottom. Empakai Lake attracts birds from all around, including flamingoes and other waterfowl.
A trek from the bottom to Empakai Crater up to the rim takes approximately 1-2 hrs, depending on your fitness level. While it is a short excursion to reach the top, the view of the lake, edged with pink flamingoes is really priceless.
Another beautiful crater in the larger Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the grassy Olmoti Crater. What makes the short hike to this crater so pleasant is the waterfall, pouring out of a hole at the top of the crater wall. Besides the lovely Munge Waterfall, hikers are sure to have a beautiful panoramic view of the area and may even see buffalo and antelope up close, as they come here for a drink of the fresh water.
Lake Magadi is a seasonal lake found within Ngorongoro Crater itself. As an alkaline soda lake, it attracts thousands of flamingoes and other animals to its shoreline.
Another interesting thing about lake Magadi is that, during the dry season, it can dry up entirely, leaving behind a dry lake bed of salt crystals.
The name “Magadi” literally means ‘salt’ in the Maasai language.
Visitors to the Ngorongoro Conservation area can also visit Olduvai Gorge; a natural piece of history where artifacts of the first humans have been excavated.
Archeologists Louis and Mary Leakey made some of the first discoveries of human remains and their primitive tools in Olduvai Gorge back in 1935, and the area continues to be excavated today.
For those interested in exploring more archeological sites, there are fossilized footprints 45 km away from Oluvai Gorge, in a place called Laetoli, which give evidence to the time when humans started walking on two legs – estimated to be over 3.6 million years old.
Mount Oldeani is situated on the South Eastern side of Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It is an impressive (extinct) volcano that adveunture-seekers can spend a day climbing.
At the top, you’ll have an incredible view of Lake Eyasi and Lake Manyara from above.
There is also a luxury lodge on the mountain, if you are interested in seeing this peak, but not climb it, you can spend a night here and enjoy a sundowner with an amazing view – without the sweat.
A trip to the Ngorongoro area would not be complete without learning about the culture of the semi-nomadic tribe who call this area home.
The Maasai are a traditional herding people who live in tune with nature and count wealth in the form of cows, not cash. Their communities are made up of families living together in ‘bomas’, and homes of hand-constructed mud-and-dung huts.
Many Maasai women are artisans, making beautiful beaded jewelry or headdresses.
Maasai boys are raised to be warriors and are typically seen leading cows to graze in the grasslands. In Ngorongoro specifically, the Maasai are permitted to walk amongst the wildlife; including zebras, impalas and at times – even near lions!
Take the opportunity to visit a Maasai village during your safari to Ngorongoro – you won’t be disappointed!
Visit Lake Eyasi
Lake Eyasi is the largest lake in the Arusha region, it is an alkaline lake that frequently dries up during dry seasons in Tanzania. When dry, neighboring tribes cross over the lake bed on foot, in search of grazing land for their cattle.
In contrast, during rainy seasons, the lake has been known to flood and hippos from nearby Serengeti come to wallow in its waters.
While visitors may spend a few hours visiting a local Maasai village, a trip to Lake Eyasi typically requires an extra day in your safari itinerary, as it takes several hours on a dusty road to reach this tranquil area.
Top attractions at Lake Eyasi include:
- A cultural tour with the Hadzabe tribe, including practice in ancient hunting skills
- Visiting Mumba Cave, where Stone Age artifacts have been uncovered
- Bird watching at the lakeshore, a migration site for Lesser Flamingoes.
If you’re visiting Ngorongoro Crater from the months of January through March, the Lake Ndutu area is a must-see. This area is incredibly green and is part of the wildebeest annual migration route.
It is here where the migrating wildebeests and other ungulates give birth every year. As many as 8,000 baby wildebeests are birthed here every day during calving season.
Other animals you’ll likely see around the lake include giraffes, elephants, lions, leopards and cheetahs.
Lake Ndutu is located in the northwest corner of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and is possible to include a visit to this lovely lake during a drive to or from Serengeti National Park.
Contact your safari tour operator to add a visit to Lake Ndutu to your itinerary. Altezza Travel is one of the top tour operators in Tanzania, with expert local Tanzanian driver-guides to share about the area.
Ngorongoro Crater is famous for its beautiful crater floor, but ther is so much to do in the larger Ngorongoro Conservation Area, after your game drive to the crater floor. Take a crater rim walk, climb Mount Oldeani, visit traditional Tanzanian tribes, or see some of the other craters in the vicinity.
Consider extending your itinerary in Ngorongoro to include an overnight at one of the top-rated lodges so that you have more time to explore one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
If you’re looking for a tour operator that offers flexible booking choices, or itineraries that can be adjusted, contact Altezza Travel. They also specialize in making romantic safaris, from honeymoon to anniversaries and everything in between!