Tanzania is a country renowed for its safari opportunities.
And right near the top of every list has to be Ngorongoro Crater.
If you’re planning an African Safari for your next vacation, a tour of Ngorongoro Crater and it’s legendary wildlife viewings might just be the perfect option for you.
Located in Tanzania’s Crater Highlands 110 miles (180km) west of Arusha is the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It is also the home of the large volcanic caldera known as Ngorongoro Crater.
Despite the recent building and growth that is happening in the region (14 more luxury hotels are planned) the area is recognized for its unparalleled beauty as well as being one of the least changed wildlife sanctuaries in the world.
Perhaps best of all, it is also an area where you can indulge in a number of unforgettable safari adventures.
A Brief Introduction to the Crater
It goes without saying that Tanzania holds and abundance of safari adventure opportunities and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is no exception.
You can choose a number of adjectives to describe the crater’s blue-green vistas – amazing, breathtaking, ethereal, spectacular, etc.
But make no mistake about it. As fantastic as those vistas are when you are high above the crater, there are no words to describe the magic that occurs as you are driving among the wildlife within it.
No area possesses the amount of wildlife you will find here. Supposedly, Ngorongoro Crater features the highest concentration of predators (including lions) in the entire continent.
The Landscape and the Climate
As the largest inactive and unfilled volcanic caldera on the planet, Ngorongoro Crater was formed approximately 2 to 3 million years ago when a huge volcano erupted and collapsed upon itself.
The crater is 2,000 feet (610 meters) deep, but its original height (pre-eruption) has been estimated between 14,800 to 19,000 feet (4,500 to 5,800 meters). The crater floor sits 5,900 feet (1,800 meters) above sea level.
So despite its history, it is still a magnificent sight to behold while adventuring throughout the region.
The eastern side of the crater faces into the tradewinds and is covered in a lush, verdant forest. This growth has no doubt resulted from the 50 inches (1,270 millimeters) of annual rainfall that the crater receives.
The less steep western wall of the crater only receives 16 to 24 inches (400 to 600 millimeters) of rainfall per year and is primarily a mix of bushland and grassland dotted with sparse trees and other vegetation.
As far as the crater floor is concerned, it is comprised of two smaller woodland areas.
Why go on an Ngorongoro Crater Safari
Maybe the better question would be “Why not go on an Ngorongoro Crater safari?”
If you really need a reason to go on an adventure in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, consider this: Few safari destinations today can provide the experience or the impact on your mind that the Ngorongoro Crater can.
Granted there are a number of areas on the African continent that are larger in size and much wilder. However, very few of them can provide you a more effortless and rewarding format for observing the natural wildlife of the area.
An Ngorongoro Crater safari provides you with the ultimate “Big 5” experience – game-viewing that includes buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhino – all combined with the unique volcanic caldera as the stage for your adventure. Although the area is the home to over 30,000 animals, a guided safari will reveal the diverse habitat that the area is known for. It is not unusual to witness the Big 5 in a single day. However, you will be equally taken aback by the abundance of predators and the abundance of natural beauty in the area.
Additional Considerations About the Wildlife
There is much to be experienced where the wildlife of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Ngorongoro Crater is concerned. For instance, within the rim of the crater, there is protection for the endangered black rhino.
The forests are oftentimes the wandering grounds for the giant tusked elephants, flamingos can be seen crowding around the soda lakes of the region, and the stately lions with their black manes are oftentimes seen stalking the grasslands.
Suffice it to say, the crater is a “bowl of plenty” that provides food and shelter for some 25,000 mammals including 6,000 resident wildebeest, 70 lions, and 16 endangered black rhino.
While you will normally see cheetah wandering in and out of Ngorongoro Crater, most leopards are encountered within the magnificent Lerai Forest.
To cap it all off, you can usually see Maasai herdsmen grazing their cattle on any given day while walking side-by-side with predators.
When to Plan Your Ngorongoro Crater Safari
Since the wildlife remains throughout the year (within the crater walls) unlike so many other African safari destinations, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and crater can be experienced any time of the year.
However, you must first ask yourself a question. Is an Ngorongoro Crater safari more about the experience of viewing the Big 5 species or how willing you are to share the experience with dozens of other individuals and their vehicles?
If you want to “seasonalize” your adventure, you have 3 basic choices for exploring the crater and conservation area:
April to May – the main rainy season is usually considered the best time for visiting. The crater is alive with lush, green growth and there are far fewer tourists to contend with.
December to February – these months are known as the “calving” season and follow the November rains.
July to September – not only is this the dry season, it is the peak tourist season as well.
Furthermore, if you want to extend your adventure, you can combine your Ngorongoro Crater safari with a wide range of other adventures including:
- Dar es Salaam (known as the “Gateway to Tanzania”)
- Katavi National Park
- Lake Manyara National Park
- Selous Game Reserve
- Serengeti National Park
Additionally, there are a number of ways that you can enhance your adventure with additional activities. You could enjoy a banquet on the crater floor, guided walking tours along the crater’s rim, Maasai Delight with pre-dinner drinks (a tradition at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge), taking a tour of Olduvai Gorge, or touring the volcanic ash dunes on the Shifting Sands tour.
You can find some truly outstanding accommodation perched on the rim of the crater and offer some spectacular vistas that are oftentimes considered the best in Africa.
Granted, this is a prime location for taking in a drive down into the crater or just taking in the panoramas out across the crater and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
However, if you’re traveling on a budget, you can find much more affordable accommodation and fewer people to contend with in the town of Karatu, which is located in the Arusha region just 20 km (13 miles) to the south of the Ngorongoro Crater.
Here you will find several lodges worth considering when you visit the green rolling hills of the Karatu Highlands, all of which offer excellent accommodation for the money you’ll pay.
Some of these lodges are even situated on working plantation properties and offer a much broader range of activities compared to what are available when staying on the rim of the crater. Plus, many of them are rated as 3-star or better.
These activities include bird watching, cultural visits, Lake Manyara game watching drives, and mountain biking. For all intents and purposes, this is an ideal destination for the first-time safari adventurer.
Travel Advice and Tips
Although English is widely spoken throughout much of Kenya and Tanzania, the national language is Swahili. The only two accepted currencies of the region are the Tanzanian schilling and the US dollar.
Additionally, the conservation area and the crater are family and kid-friendly with an abundance of activities available for children regardless of age. One way or the other, there is plenty of adventure and excitement to be had by the entire family.
The key to staying safe no matter where you are in Tanzania is to remain cautious and be aware of your surroundings. While there are certain safety precautions that you must adhere to when viewing Africa’s animals in their native habitat, you should always remain in your vehicle during game drives unless your guide allows you to step out of it for better viewing. Be aware that predators abound around and within the crater and they are not picky about the meat they eat.
When you visit any of the larger cities or towns such as Arusha, Dar es Salaam, or Zanzibar (Stone Town), con artists and pickpockets are everywhere so keep your purse or wallet close to your person. Most of these individuals work the overcrowded market areas so be extra cautious when shopping there. Violent crimes are sometimes committed against visitors from other countries, especially if you make yourself a target by venturing out at night alone.
Additionally, you should research the CDC and the US State Department–Bureau of Consular Affairs regarding passports and visas as well as inoculations and vaccines that may be required when visiting the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Crater. You should always play it safe and not run the risk of accident or injury ruining your safari adventure. The bottom line is that you want to enjoy your safari adventure and return home safe and sound with tons of memories when all is said and done.