Nearly 20 kilometres in diameter, the Ngorongoro Crater measures in as the largest intact volcanic caldera in the world. Views from atop the 600 metres high walls are spectacular and open up a new world of wonder to those visiting this gorgeous country. A great introduction to Tanzania, this nature wonderland offers you sightings of the big five as well as a whole host of excellent plains game and even the elusive leopard can be seen perched high in the trees.
Flamingos can be seen wading through the central soda lake and the freshwater lakes provide some excellent bird watching opportunities. Hyenas are sometimes seen following the lions from a distance in hopes of a meal and jackal can often be skulking around the bushier areas of the crater.
Due to the fact that this natural spectacle is so very famous, it can be extremely busy. Please don’t be put off by this; we do recommend a short visit here and with our expertise, we will ensure you are thoroughly touched by your time spent sipping a nice cold drink from on high gazing over this immense scene. This 25km-wide geological marvel is the easiest place in Tanzania to see the Big Five, is firmly established on Tanzania’s northern safari circuit, and it’s not hard to see why.
Formed around three million years ago, when a huge Rift Valley volcano erupted and collapsed, the UNESCO World Heritage listed Ngorongoro Crater is the largest unbroken and un flooded volcanic crater in the world. Its 260sq km floor is surprisingly diverse with a permanent lake, open savannah and areas of mature woodland. Surrounded by steep, densely forested walls rising over 600m high, the effect is that of a huge natural amphitheatre – with Africa’s classic big game taking centre stage.
The wider Ngorongoro Conservation Area encompasses the crater (and two others), tracts of Serengeti plains, the Olduvai Gorge and highland forest ecosystems. Uniquely, the Ngoro Ngoro’s status as a conservation area rather than a national park means that outside the crater itself, resident Maasai still graze livestock on its grasslands, herds of cattle moving among the herds of zebra.
A luxury holiday to the Ngorongoro Crater
The Ngorongoro Crater is typically a one- or two-night stop on a longer itinerary. Most often, safaris here are combined with game drives in nearby Lake Manyara National Park, Tarangire National Park and the iconic Serengeti National Park, home to the famous wildebeest migration. This safari circuit of northern Tanzania is fairly well trodden, with excellent infrastructure. Driving between each of the parks, and to and from Arusha’s airport, involves relatively short, and easy journeys.
Typically, safaris in the crater involve game drives in six-seater, 4×4 safari vehicles, with an expert naturalist driver and guide. Vehicles share information on sightings so keep your binoculars and camera poised – you never know what you might come across around the next corner. Morning game drives often culminate in a lakeside wilderness picnic lunch.
Accommodation in the Ngorongoro area ranges from luxury tented lodges to basic campsites, with options at both ends of the scale enjoying panoramic views from the crater rim. Where you stay depends on your budget and your preferred style of holiday. Small group tours will often use the crater rim campsites, where night times can be chilly. In June to August, Tanzania’s winter, temperatures can drop below zero. This is peak safari time and you’ll need layers for early morning game drives. It gets cold, even in Africa.
What can I see in the Ngorongoro Crater?
The Ngorongoro Crater is popular, particularly in high season, but with good reason. Safaris here are a giant wildlife lucky dip – descend to the crater floor and you’re almost guaranteed to pick out a Big Five prize, sometimes all five of them. The sheer concentration of wildlife means game drives here enjoy regular sightings of lions, massive bull elephants, giraffe, endangered black rhino and even elusive leopards. Tanzania’s more southerly parks may offer a more isolated, wilderness feel, but the Ngorongoro delivers wildlife in spades.
Black rhino are, for the species, relatively plentiful here making the Ngorongoro Crater one of the best places in Tanzania and Kenya to spot them. However, with just 26 individuals occupying a 260km2 crater floor, seeing these critically endangered animals is still a rare privilege.
The Ngorongoro Crater is also famously home to one of the densest populations of lions in Africa, making sightings of the ‘King of the jungle’ very common. You will be sharing your lions with other safari trucks – there’s no getting around it in the Ngorongoro. The Conservation Area Authority specifies a maximum of five cars around an animal or kill, but wildlife here is so abundant that when things get too crowded, you can simply head off in search of another lazing pack.
Alongside its wildlife, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area offers some of the Rift Valley’s most spectacular vistas. Lookouts, lodges and camps line the crater rim, surveying the crater floor spread out some 600m below. The view that emerges through the thick rainforest at Heroes’ Point is unsurpassed.
The conservation area also holds natural history on a human scale. Some of the world’s oldest human remains have been found in the Olduvai Gorge, part of the wider Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and the discovery of a 1.75 million year old skull here has shaped our understanding of human evolution.
Best time to go to Ngorongoro crater for a luxury safari
When going on safari to Tanzania the chances are the aim of the trip is to either go for a safari, or to the beach or both. As a general rule of thumb, the best time to be in Tanzania on safari is in the dry season from July – October when the weather is dry and sunny. As the parks dry out, the bushes become less dense and the animals are easier to spot because of this, but also because they are forced to congregate to the remaining water holes. There are short rains in November (which sometimes trickle through into December, January and March) before the long rains which come in April and May. However, this is not to say December, January and February are not still excellent times to be in Tanzania.
Ngorongoro truly is an all year-round destination. Because it is a space of around 20 x 20 kilometres enclosed by the beautiful and dramatic crater rim, the animals really are there the whole time. It can get very busy in the peak season months of July and August – there may be slightly less tourists there in the rainy season. However, the crater is truly astonishing to behold so we can honestly say that it will always be busy, but don’t let this stop you ticking it off your list. One thing to note is that around the crater it is around 10 degrees colder than the rest of Tanzania – you will need to wrap up at night as in the winter months of June – September it can be as cold at 8 degrees. Rainfall is generally similar to the classic November short rains, with short bursts in January, less in February then picking up again for the long rains in March, April and May. Though, as we have mentioned before, the crater is a phenomenal year-round safari spot.