The Ngorongoro Crater, at a glance

The Ngorongoro National Park is located west of Arusha, connecting to the Serengeti in the north-west and to the Great Rift Valley in the east.

The park was established as a conservation area for wildlife and the semi-nomadic Maasai population that reside in it.

The caldera is an important landmark for human history, as well as an essential habitat safeguarding animal diversity. Despite its small area, the caldera has excellent bio-diversity, and several globally threatened species live on these plains. These plains form part of the route of the Great Migration

The caldera is of scientific importance as important discoveries were made here that shed light on the path of human evolution

Aside from the main caldera, there are two other volcanic craters: the Olmoti and Empakai. The Olmoti is famed for its beautiful waterfalls, and the Empakai is known for its deep lake and lush green walls.

Another amazing site is the Olduvai Gorge, a 14km long ravine. In order to protect this incredible natural wonder, visitor numbers are closely monitored, and you must obtain a permit to enter the crater and the gorge.

The crater was formed around 2.5 million years ago when a volcano - thought to be roughly the same height as Kilimanjaro - erupted and collapsed in on itself. Now dormant, the volcano’s crater is 610 metres deep and 20km wide, making it the world’s largest inactive caldera.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Safaris in the Ngorongoro Crater

Access to the crater for safaris is limited to between 7am and 4pm. For photographers, consider getting down to the crater at sunrise, beating the crowds, so no other vehicles obstruct your shots.  

Safaris in Ngorongoro are game drives. The small area of the park combined with its popularity means that it can get busy during peak season.  

The Southern Highlands, unlike the rest of the crater, are less frequented by travellers. This is in part because there is less wildlife in the area as the Maasai lead their cattle through here. If you've got a bit of extra time, it's worth passing through here to meet some of the local Maasai people.

You can also take a walking safari with an experienced ranger up to the rim of the Western Great Rift Valley. There are few predators in this region, so it allows you to see animals like ungulates and antelope up close.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Wildlife at Ngorongoro

Variations in climate, landforms, and altitude produce a range of habitats that can support a variety of wildlife, and has led to a network of overlapping ecosystems.

The crater basin is covered with fresh water and alkaline lakes, marshes and swamps. These alkaline lakes attract flamingos, which number in their thousands during the wet season.

The crater is home to some 30,000 animals, some of which migrate here during the Great Migration, and others that stay here year-round.

The rich, volcanic, fertile soil of the crater hosts plenty of wildlife in the dry season, including warthog, impala, and buffalo. These prey in turn attract predators, including lions, hyena, cheetah, leopard, wild hunting dog and golden cat. Honey badgers, jackals, foxes, and ostrich can be found here year-round. A high population of cheetahs and lions can be found in the Lake Ndutu region west of the crater. 

The crater is also home to over 500 species of bird, including the Rüppell’s Griffon vulture.

The rarest animals found here are the black male lion and the black rhino. Interestingly, there are no giraffes in the crater; it is thought that they cannot get up the steep sides.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Hiking in the Ngorongoro Crater

The Ngorongoro Crater offers at least one day’s worth of safari, but those staying for more than a day or two can enjoy some hikes up the wall of the crater.

There are plenty of trekking opportunities up the rim of the crater, where you can enjoy panoramic views of the entire crater region, as far as the OI Doinyo Lengai volcano. On a clear day, you can even see Kilimanjaro and Lake Natron

In the southern highlands of the crater you can hike Mount Lemagurut, which reaches 3,147 metres. The climb is difficult, so you will need a decent level of fitness. The climb will take all day and start just after breakfast. At the summit, you're rewarded with spectacular views of the Serengeti plains, the Ngorongoro Crater, and Lake Eyasi. 

Hiking in Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania

When to visit the Ngorongoro Crater

The best time to visit the Ngoronogoro Conservation area is from June to February if you are coming for the Great Migration. Wildlife lives at the crater year-round, which means you can visit at any time of year and still get great game viewing.  

March and April sees the worst of the rains, so the crater is less busy during these months. One benefit of visiting during the wet season is that the landscapes are beautiful, but wildlife viewing is not as good. The peak season is July to September, and this corresponds with the best wildlife viewing. 

If you are more keen on seeing the predators in action, go in January or February when there is a hiatus in the annual rains and the wildebeest calve.

Due to the large number of vehicles during the high season, some prefer to travel to the crater in the low season. This is still a pleasant experience because the water levels in Lake Magadi (in the centre of the crater) results in higher concentrations of flamingos. Plus, most of the predators stay in the basin year round – there are still plenty of animals for them to hunt. The only thing you will miss is the Great Migration, and of course you should be prepared for some rains if travelling in the quieter months!

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Accommodation in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

There are 6 lodges along the crater rim, and 16 campsites. If you stay closer to the crater, you can often be the first to arrive at the crater the following morning, allowing for the best wildlife sightings and photo opportunities. 

The Highlands is the one of the best accommodation options in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. With its stunning design, exceptional service, and beautiful views over the Ngorongoro plains, The Highlands has a tendency to over-deliver. 

The Lemala Ngorongoro is a new camp on the rim of the crater. This area is known as Acacia camp because there are so many Acacia trees here. Each tent has a toilet and a traditional safari bucket shower with a dressing room. Thanks to its location on the rim of the crater, the camp is excellent for those wanting to get a head start the following morning.  

The Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, built in 1939, has topped many 'best hotels in the world' lists over the years. The hotel describes itself as ‘Maasai meets Versaille', and can be reached by aircraft via the Manyara airstrip. The communal areas are adorned with huge fireplaces and chandeliers.

The Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge is the only lodge on the eastern rim of the crater, and offers stunning views. The lodge retains a traditional African house style. 

A more affordable option is the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge, which sits on the crater but is not quite as expensive as the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. 

The Kirurumu Ngorongoro Camp is an example of a mobile camp that sets down in some of the most beautiful and strategic locations in the Ngorongoro highlands. The camp has 7 customised camping tents with solar panelled lighting and a campsite area. The camp organises day trips to Empakai to see the flamingos, and it is a great base for hiking. 

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Getting to the Ngorongoro Crater

There are two options to get to the crater. The first is to drive from Arusha to the crater, which takes about 4 hours. A common setup is to get picked up from Kilimanjaro Airport.

It is often a good idea to arrive early at the crater gates to avoid waiting in a queue to buy park tickets – this can mean it is worth stopping off halfway between Arusha and the crater for the night.  

Alternatively, you can fly into the national park from Arusha. This is known as ‘fly in camp’, and we'll provide a guide and vehicle for when you arrive at the park. There is one airstrip in the park, the Lake Manyara airstrip. 

Note that if you have booked your safari with us, all transport will be taken care of for you. 

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

The Human History of Ngorongoro

Perhaps one of the most remarkable features of the Ngorongoro Crater is its role in our understanding of human evolutionary development.

In the Olduvai Gorge, archaeological findings revealed the remains of a Zinjanthropus, the world’s first humans. The footprints are not visible to safari-goers – they have been covered to protect them from atmospheric agents and corrosion.

Then, at Laetoli, specimens of the human genus Homohabilis and early hominids like the Paranthropus boisei have been found. At the same site, archaeologists have found evidence of the use of stone technology, and the transition to the use of iron. These incredible findings have given the crater the nickname ‘the cradle of mankind’. 

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

The Maasai at Ngorongoro Crater

Today, around 40,000 indigenous Maasai pastoralists live in the conservation area. Only the Maasai are granted permission to live on these lands.

Archaeological sites reveal that cattle-herding people have lived in the area for thousands of years, but the Maasai only arrived in this area 200 years ago. During the rains, these semi-nomads move out onto the open plain, while in the dry season they move their cattle up into the woodlands and mountains. 

In order to understand more about their history and culture, you can visit the Maasai bomas (huts). One sits on the road to the Serengeti, the other is close to Sopa Lodge. This is a chance to learn more about the culture, take photos, and buy the famous Maasai beads. 

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

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