Ngorongoro Crater – The Expert’s Guide
Ngorongoro Crater is a world-famous Tanzania crater, the largest intact volcanic caldera in the the world. This article features all the important details about the Ngorongoro Crater: facts, history, which animals you will see in the Ngorongoro Crater, and more.
You can also book your Ngorongoro safari with links at the end of the article.
Safari Ngorongoro Crater
This article will also share why you should book your safari to Ngorongoro Crater during your trip to Tanzania – you surely won’t be disappointed with the world’s largest concentration of wild animals and the opportunity to see the humans who are brave enough to live among them.
Ngorongoro Crater History
Historians and scientists have speculated about how was the Ngorongoro Crater created and the accepted consensus is that an enormous volcano (probably larger than Africa’s tallest mountain – Kilimanjaro) had a massive eruption, and afterwards the cone collapsed in on itself, forming Ngorongoro Crater.
The rich nutrients from the volcanic ash have contributed to the lush ecology of the area and attracted the wildlife. Animals, such as elephants and rhinos, could climb into the crater, but not climb out, and thus the biosphere developed; a crater containing the largest concentration of wildlife found anywhere on earth.
The exact age of Ngorongoro Crater is still debated; some suggest the volcano erupted over 2.5 million years ago, but in the larger Ngornogoro Conservation Area there are human footprints eternally fossilized in volanic rock that are estimated to be over 3.6 million years ago. Hence, the age of Ngorongoro is not yet determined, although we can certainly discern that the crater is ancient and could likely reveal clues to the earliest humans and wildlife within Africa.
What does the name Ngorongoro mean?
The name “Ngorongoro” comes from a Maasai word which refers to the sound of a bell, hung on a cow’s neck. Typically, the lead cow of a Maasai’s herd will have a large bell hung around her neck, and the word “Ngorongoro” refers to this clanging-jingling sound the bell makes as the cow walks.
Why it has been given to the crater is because of the way sound echoes and reverberates off the crater walls, reminding the tribesmen of their favorite lead cows and their bells.
What is special about Ngorongoro Crater?
When it comes to discussions about this Africa crater, it is essential to mention its unique status as a biosphere, Unesco World Heritage Site, and home to endangered black rhinos.
Ngorongoro Crater Size:
- The largest intact, unfilld volcanic caldera in the world. It spans 304 sq km.
- The crater depth is a fantastic 630 meters (2067 feet).
- Ngorongoro Crater diameter is almost 20 km across, making for a very deep, natural bowl that contains wildlife.
Facts About Ngorongoro Crater:
- Ngorongoro Crater has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1979.
- It is also on the UN Protected Biosphere List as an important habitat for wildlife, especially Black Rhinos. It is one of the only places where this species of rhino have been allowed to live safely within the wild.
- Is home to the most dense population of animals, per square kilometer, in the world. An estimated 30,000 large mammals live in the crater, year-round.
- In additional, the Ngorongoro Crater is estimated to be home to approximately 500 species of birds.
- Is a unique place in all the world where humans live at peace with wildlife, including lions and leopards. Visitors can see the semi-nomaic Maasai tribesmen herding their cattle throughout the area. An estimated 100,000 humans live in the Ngornogoro Conservation Area.
- There is a seasonal lake, Lake Magadi that fills during the rainy seasons. The alkaline waters attract thousands of pink Lesser Flamingoes, and in the dry season, the lake has been known to completely evaporate, leaving behind salt crystals in the dry lake bed.
Reaching Ngorongoro Crater
The drive to Ngorongoro Crater is around 3 hours from Arusha town, and an additional 45 – 60 min from Moshia town.
The nearest large town to Ngorongoro Crater is Karatu, a tourist hub with several surrounding hotels and a local market.
Many safari itineraries include an overnight at one of the top-rated hotels in the area to be near Ngorongoro for a game drive, without an early morning. Alternatively, Ngorongoro can be a day excursion from Arusha, usually with an early 4:30 or 5:00 am departure time, to reach the entrance gate at approximately 7:30 – 8:00 am.
While it is long, the drive is very scenic – it passes along the Great Rift Valley, with the chance of spotting animals such as giraffes or zebras crossing the highway at dawn. You may ask your driver to make a quick stop so you can photograph the sunrise over the grasslands on your way to Ngorongoro by road.
If you don’t enjoy driving there is an option to visit Ngorongoro by air- with a charter flight.
Visitors will fly in or out of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area with domestic Tanzania airlines, which offer a range of destinations to suit tourists. Your charter flight may arrive or depart from: Serengeti National Park, Arusha regional airport, Kilimanjaro International Airport, Zanzibar or Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam.
A charter flight offers a once-in-a-lifetime view over the Ngorongoro Crater. Traveling by air is a superb way to see Tanzania’s incredible scenery. However, your flight will not land directly in the crater; that is prohibited. Instead, you will likely land in one of the two most common airstrips for flying in or out of Ngorongoro Lake Ndutu or Manyara.
Lake Ndutu Airstrip
Lake Ndutu Airstrip is located near Olduvai Gorge, in the greater Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This airstrip features stunning scenery and the landing of your charter flight will be near the lovely saline lake; Lake Ndutu.
From there, you can continue your safari as a game drive with an awaiting safari jeep.
The Manyara Airstrip is not inside of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, but is at the nearby Manyara region, near Manyara National Park.
You’ll land in a small, but scenic area and fly over tranquil Lake Manyara as you fly in or out of this airstrip.
What animals will you see in Ngorognoro Crater?
The most common animals to see in the Ngorongoro Crater include: lions, antelope, zebras, wildebeests, cape buffalo, elands, impalas, ostriches and hippos.
There is a large pride of around 75 lions that live permanently in Ngoronogro and lounge out the crater floor, so safari-goers are almost guaranteed lion sightings during their drive.
Wildebeests, zebras and ostriches usually move about together, protecting one another with each’s keen sense of sight, smell or sound. You’ll see them grazing on the crater floor along with impalas, and buffalo.
Travelers enjoy having a quiet picnic lunch at the Hippo Pool, where hippos (and sometimes their babies!) are easily spotted.
Animals you are likely to spot are: elephants, black rhinos, hyenas, jackals and kudu. Some of these animals, such as rhinos, are solitary animals, and you’ll see them from a distance instead of up-close. Elephants may hide in the forest areas during rainy season.
Animals that live in Ngorongo Crater, but are more difficult to see: leopards and cheetahs live in the area, but they are very stealthy and harder to spot.
There are also an estimated 500 bird species found in Ngorongoro Crater, including buzzards, bee-eaters, flamingoes and oxpeckers.
While you can make a visit to Ngorongoro Crater a day trip, it is certainly worth it to overnight in the area before or after your visit to the crater, to make for a more enjoyable day.
Relax with a sundowner as you recap the day’s events, or enjoy a candlelit dinner overlooking the Great Rift Valley – don’t rush, enjoy your time in Tanzania.
Here are some of the top accomodation options near Ngorongoro Crater:
Basic Camping: There are both public and ‘special’ campsites in the Ngorognoro Conservation area. Simba Camp is a popular one. Be sure to bring your own water and a cook, as this is rugged camping for the budget traveler, but with incredible scenery.
Basic camping is also available in nearby Mtu wa Mbu. This area is very hot and humid and the name literally means “Mosquito River”, therefore, we do not recommend camping in this locale.
Tented Lodges: Consider luxury camping in Africa with walled tents, set on platforms with a view. Tented lodges are a mid-range to high-end accomodation option for visitors, usually with excellent chef-prepared meals, balconies with a stunning view and swimming pools to take a rest from the day.
Hotels and Luxury Lodges: There are also 4 and 5-star hotels in the area, some which are eco-friendly, offer horseback riding experiences, or have the facilities to host weddings or events on-location. The lodges have excellent ratings, superb service and extras for guests looking for a memorable safari experience.
Learn more about accommodations, with recommended stays here.
If you’re ready to book your safari to Ngorongoro Crater, but aren’t sure how to find a tour operator, our top pick is Altezza Travel. Altezza is a locally-based Tanzania tour operator with experience leading safaris to Ngorongor Crater and beyond. Their guides speak a plethora of languages, including English, French, Italian, Spanish and more! Contact them to set up your Tanzania safari, including a trip to Ngorongoro Crater, today.
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