The Ngorongoro Crater was once part of the enormous Serengeti National Park. However, thanks to the unique eco-system created by the dominating geological feature the separate and present Ngorongoro Conservation Area encompasses a large area of short-grass plains on the southern side of the Serengeti Plain as well as a range of largely extinct ancient volcanoes on the west side of the Great Rift Valley known as the Ngorongoro Highlands.
The Ngorongoro Crater itself is a large volcanic caldera: a remnant of a three million year old explosion that saw a volcano collapse upon itself. It is the largest untouched caldera in the word, measuring up to 19km in diameter and walled in by slopes up to 600m high. The coincidence of the crater’s location amid the cradle of life and its unique size make Ngorongoro host to one of the densest populations of large mammals and game to be found anywhere in anywhere in the world.
Safari tours in the Ngorongoro Crater regularly get to see the “big five”: Lion, Elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhino. The only surprising absentees from the Crater are Impala and Giraffe; it is thought this is perhaps because of the lack of open woodlands and browsing species of trees which these two tend to thrive on.
Alongside the wildlife, the Conservation Area is stunning in its beauty, featuring the Empakaai and Olmoti craters as well as Ngorongoro itself. The forested crater rim of the Ngorongoro crater is in stark contrast with the crater floor, which consists mostly of grassland. Another feature on the crater floor is Lerai forest full of beautiful yellow fever trees.
A special highlight in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the Olduvai Gorge. Ngorongoro is critically important to the study of human origins and at Olduvai Gorge, countless fossil digs have revealed that Hominid species thrived there for over 3.5 million years. The 30 mile long Gorge is a steep ravine in the Great Rift Valley and perhaps the most important prehistoric site in the world.
Perhaps the only negative about Ngorongoro Crater is that its small size and popularity draw a sometimes over crowded safari population of humans. This can spoil the wildlife experience of those looking for quieter and more personal safari but it mitigated by the sheer abundance of flora and fauna.
Black rhino is easily seen
Staying on the crater rim offers great views into the crater
Empakaai Crater – hiking with the Maasai
Cultural visit to a Maasai village is available
Olduvai Gorge: earliest footsteps of man, can be seen at the museum
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Ngorongoro Crater Flora & Fauna
The Ngorongoro Crater and greater Conservation Area host some of the best flora and fauna wildlife experiences of any of the Tanzanian parks thanks to the unique eco-system supported by the crater. There is an abundance of big game including the resident black rhino, which is virtually un-seen in the other parks, and can be spotted around the Lerai forest area where it spends the night among acacia yellow fever trees. Huge tusked elephant bulls are another treat to see as are the commonly spotted hippo, buffalo, golden jackal, lion, and cheetah. Abundant populations of zebra, wildebeest, and hyena are also part of the Eden-like Ngororngoro Crater experience
Up around the Ngorongoro highlands and inside the crater there is also an excellent bird watching opportunity. The area plays host to over 500 recorded species including the white-eyed slaty flycatcher and the Livingstone turaco. Special grassland birds are also thriving in the crater such as Ostrich, Kori bustard, crowned crane, and the secretary bird. Migratory birds are present from November to April which include huge flocks of flamingo that dot the alkaline Lake Magadi area which includes pods of hippos amongst the Gorigor Swamp and Ngoitokitok Springs.
Ngorongoro Crater Location & Map
The Ngorongoro Crater is held inside the larger Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Northern Tanzanian region of Arusha. While people tend to visit Ngorongoro Crater as part of a bigger safari package, it is a renowned location only a 3 hour drive from Arusha town that offers a stunning diversity and range for safari goers.
Arusha is the starting point for most safaris to Ngorongoro which can be seen after Lake Manyara National Park and is conveniently on the way to Serengeti. Arusha is served by its own regional airport (ARK) that can be reached via Dar es Salaam’s Julius Nyere International Airport, or the closer by Kilimanjaro International Airport where regular KLM flights from Amsterdam land as well as new Qatar and Turkish Airlines routes.
Alternatively, a shuttle bus can take you from Kenya to Arusha but most safari operators will pick you up at the airport and take you from there.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area has a mild, temperate climate with two wet seasons from October to November and March to May. However, the geography of the infamous crater which most people visit creates its own climate: inside the crater, which descends to 1,700m, it is relatively cool throughout the day, whereas the rim, which reaches 2,300m gets cold and even freezes in the nighttime, so warm clothing for early morning safaris is an absolute recommendation.
Fast Facts On Ngorongoro Crater
Total Land Area
8288 sq km About the same size as Puerto Rico
Elevation above sea level
About 665 stacked giraffes
Nearest Major City & Airport
About 199 km East
When To Visit Ngorongoro Crater
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
Arusha National Park
Lake Manyara National Park
Tarangire National Park
Serengeti National Park
Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area
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