The Ngorongoro Crater
Size: 8228 km² -3176 mi²
Altitude-1009-3645 m -3310-11959 ft
A visit to the Ngorongoro Crater is an experience of a lifetime. There are few places that have wildlife densities and variety on this level. It is not unusual to see the Big Five in one day- and all this in the most amazing setting with a backdrop of the 600m/1968ft high crater wall.
The Ngorongoro Crater, at 2,286m above sea level, is the largest unbroken caldera in the world. Surrounded by very steep walls rising 610 meters from the crater floor, this natural amphitheater measures 19.2km in diameter and 304 sq km in area. It is home of up to 30,000 animals, almost half being wildebeest and zebra. Buffalo, elephant, hippo, hyena, jackal, lion, ostrich, serval, warthog, bush-buck, eland, Hartebeest, reed-buck, water-buck and huge herds of both Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle are easily seen on the Crater floor. Thanks to ant-poaching patrols, the crater is now one of the few places in East Africa where visitors can be certain of seeing black rhino. There number is now approaching 20. Leopard may occasionally be spotted in the trees of the surrounding forest while cheetah are present but rarely seen. Large herds of giraffe live on the rim of the crater and will be seen on the drive to Olduvai Gorge and the Serengeti. Countless flamingo form a pink blanket over the soda lakes while more than 100 species of birds not found in the Serengeti have been spotted.
The Crater, which has been declared a World heritage site, lies within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which covers more than 8,000 s km. It is bounded by Lake Eyasi in the southwest and the Gol Mountains in the north. Roughly in the center are the Olbalal Swamp and the arid Olduvai Gorge.
The Ngorongoro Crater offers some of the best wildlife viewing in Africa. All the major safari animals occur in great numbers. The resident population of black rhino is a real treat, as rhinos are very difficult to spot elsewhere in Tanzania. The crater is also home to some very impressive elephant bulls with huge tusks. Lake Magadi often harbors large flocks of flamingo.
The Ngorongoro Conservation area, as a whole, is stunningly beautiful. Aside from the well-known Ngorongoro Crater, Empakaai and Olmoti craters are scenic highlights as well. Both the Ngorongoro and Empakaai craters regularly have flocks of flamingos. 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, a beautiful atmospheric yellow fever tree forest.
People and Culture (Maasai)
For thousands of years a succession of cattle herding people moved into the Area, lived here for time, and then moved on, sometimes forced out by other tribes.
About 200 years ago the Maasai arrived and have since colonized the Area in substantial numbers, their traditional way of life allowing them to live in harmony with the wildlife and the environment. Today there are some 42,200 Maasai Pastoralists living in the NCA with their cattle, donkeys, goats and sheep. During the rains they move out on to the open plains; in the dry season they move into the adjacent woodlands and mountain slopes. The Maasai are allowed to take their animals into the Crater for water and grazing, but not to live or cultivate there. Elsewhere in the NCA they have the right to roam freely.
Pros and Cons
- Top wildlife viewing all year round
- Superb for spotting predators
- Black rhino is easily seen
- Excellent mid-range and luxury lodges on the crater rim
- Staying on the crater rim offers great views into the crater
- Cultural visit to a Masai village is available
Beyond The Craters:
Lake Ndutu and Lake Masek form shallow basins where water accumulates from the nearby areas of slightly higher altitude. The water in both lakes are extremely saline, too saline for human consumption. Lake Ndutu becomes alive with animals during the migration because it is surrounded by the Ndutu woodlands and the Short Grass Plains, which provide ample cover and food.
The Shifting Sands
This remarkable black dune, composed of volcanic ash from Oldonyo Lengai, is being blown slowly westwards across the plains, at the rate of about 17 meters per year. Some 9 meters high and 100 meters long in its curve, it can be found to the north of Oldupai Gorge.
The Gorge is ecologically important because it is a vital nesting site of the Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture. The best time to visit Olkarien Gorge is from March to April when the vultures are breeding. This coincides with migration when there is plenty of food available.
Walking in and around the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is encouraged, but should be done with guides. Short hikes can be organized with your lodge or the NCAA headquarters. Long walks can be adventurous and rewarding but need some planning. Suitable walking routes include the area from Olmoti Crater to Embakai Highlands and down to the Great Rift Valley, the Northern Highlands Forest Reserve and the Eastern Plains around Nasera Rock, Gol Mountains and Olkarien Gorge.