Ngorongoro – the name has an almost mystical ring to it, conjuring an image of a giant wildlife-filled volcanic caldera, where the big five roam. But there’s even more – the Ngorongoro Conservation Area also encompasses mountains, lakes, forests and wide-open African plains! With the world-famous crater at its hart, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area covers an area of 8300 sq km.
The area was previously part of the Serengeti National Park, but due to the grazing needs of the local Maasai, the area was reclassified as a conservation area. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area as a whole has much to offer but the jewel in its crown is, without a doubt, the eponymous crater – an area of 265 sq km, which is 610 meters deep and 19 km across. The rim of the crater is an astounding 2286 meters above sea level.
The floor contains a small soda lake, called Lake Magadi and it is estimated that 30 000 animals are living in the crater, making it the most intensive game viewing area on earth! It was therefore very fittingly declared a World Heritage Site in 1978. A visit to Tanzania is simply incomplete without visiting Ngorongoro.
Ngorongoro lies in northern Tanzania in what was once volcanic terrain. A little more than 2,5 million years ago, Ngorongoro was a volcanic mountain rivalling nearby Mount Kilimanjaro in size, as one of the highest peaks of Africa. Then its top collapsed, resulting in the gigantic caldera, or crater, the largest, un-flooded and unbroken one in the world. Now when you stand on the crater’s rim you can often see elephants, buffaloes and rhinos – mere specks in the distance, but a foretaste of what is to come.
Located within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the Olduvai Gorge. It is here that Dr. Louis Leakey and family discovered the remains of Homo Hablis or “handy man” regarded as mankind’s first step on the ladder of human evolution, proving his theory that man had his origins in Africa. But many more fossils have been discovered here, including those of prehistoric elephants, giant horned sheep and enormous ostriches. Footprints of humanoids believed to be three million years old have also been found. A fascinating museum houses replicas and actual artefacts found on site, which makes the site worth a trip during your stay in this area.
The crater is one of the most densely crowded game areas in the world and is home to an estimated 30,000 animals. There are no giraffe, topi or impala in the crater – they probably find it to difficult to negotiate the crater rim cliffs and there is insufficient grazing for large herds of antelope, inside the crater. However the park teems with wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, aggressive pack hunting hyenas and resident lion prides. Supported by year round supply of water and fodder, the park supports a vast variety of animals, which include vast herds of wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, eland warthog, hippo, giant elephants and a small population of black rhino. Another big draw to this picturesque park is it dense population of predators, which include lions, hyenas, jackals cheetahs and the ever elusive leopard, which sometimes requires a trained eye to spot.
It is the setting that makes wildlife viewing and photography in the crater so extraordinary and rewarding. The steep walls of the crater, often falling into indigo shadows, create a spectacular backdrop for your photographs. But it is the animals that are the stars. They are varied and abundant, many are remarkably tame and habituated to vehicles. They are also generally out in the open, where they are easily photographed.
The crater is only open between 7am to 6pm and most people prefer to spend the whole day inside the crater. There are two picnic and toilet spots – in the Lerai Forest and at the Ngoitokitok Springs in the southeast of the crater.
The best vantage point is the flat-topped Engitati Hill in the northeastern corner of the park Lake Magadi, a large but shallow alkaline lake in the southwestern corner, is the main feature of the crater. A large number of flamingos, hippos and other water birds can usually been seen here. The Lerai Forest of fever trees in the south is a good place in the park to see elephants, waterbuck and flitting sunbirds. Swamps, thorn scrub and grassland fill the rest of the crater and provide the bulk of game viewing.
There are three main routes that are used to gain access in and out the crater. The main descent road (one-way) is located on the northwestern side of the crater and the main ascent road (also one-way) on the southern wall just east of the Lerai forest. Mainly guest from the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge uses the third road, in the northeast corner of the crater, form both directions.
The late Professor Bernhard Grzimek, a man whose name will always be associated with Ngorongoro described the crater as: “It is impossible to give a fair description of the size and beauty of the crater, for there is nothing with which one can compare it. It is one of the wonders of the world”
LODGES AND CAMPS
Accommodation options abound on the crater rim, with several lodges and camping sites. Lodges range from the very expensive to the more reasonable priced. Please click here to get full details of the lodges and campsites offered in our itineraries in and around the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.