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Set within a 12-mile wide ancient volcano caldera, the Ngorongoro Crater is one of the most unique safari destinations on earth. Africa’s own ‘Garden of Eden’ is the best place in Tanzania to find the Big Five, as well as abundant other wildlife on a tailor-made Ngorongoro safari holiday. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is three million years old, and with towering walls and its own self-contained ecosystem, the Ngorongoro Crater is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful settings for an African safari.
About the Ngorongoro Crater
Neighbouring the Serengeti National Park and close to Lake Manyara National Park on Tanzania’s northern circuit safari route, the Ngorongoro Crater is located 75 miles east of Arusha. For many visitors to Tanzania, a safari in the Ngorongoro Crater is a trip highlight thanks to this unique habitat that supports so much wildlife.
The 600-metre deep Ngorongoro Crater is a collapsed ancient volcanic caldera that covers an area of over 260 km². If the volcano had remained in-tact, today it would be a mountain as tall as Mount Kilimanjaro. An astonishing 25,000 animals reside on the crater floor and its surrounding area.
Visiting the Olduvai Gorge
The Ngorongoro Crater area is also an important site in the history of the development of mankind. The Olduvai Gorge is a 30-mile long ravine located in the larger Ngorongoro Conservation Area to the west of the crater. Fossils discovered here prove that early humanoid species lived in this area over 3 million years ago, and this knowledge has played a significant role in understanding the origin of man in modern science. A visit to the Olduvai Gorge is a simple addition to a Ngorongoro and Serengeti safari itinerary and can even be visited whilst travelling between the two areas.
Safaris in the Ngorongoro Crater
The Ngorongoro safari experience is unlike any other in Africa. As you drive along the caldera rim before descending to the crater floor, a lookout point offers panoramic views across the plains below. On a clear day it’s easy to see the open savannah, woodland, forest and soda lakes that form the Ngorongoro Crater’s unique eco-system. From here you can’t help but feel that the Ngorongoro Crater is rather special, and unlike any other safari in Tanzania, or even Africa.
Game drives in Ngorongoro are the only way to explore the crater floor, which is easily covered in a single day in a 4×4 with plenty of wildlife to see. Leopard, hyena, jackal and cheetah are all regularly seen while on a luxury safari in the Ngorongoro Crater, with lion sightings in particular very common thanks to the high density of individuals spread across several prides. There are also large quantities of grazing species such as wildebeest, zebra and buffalo. Breeding herds of elephants tend to prefer the thick forest of the crater rim but can sometimes be found on the crater floor. Solitary bull elephants are more frequently seen than larger herds within the crater. Rhinos are rare but around 26 individuals call the Ngorongoro home so you might just get lucky.
Birding in the Ngorongoro area can be highly rewarding, with over 500 recorded species in the region. On the crater floor ostrich, crowned cranes and secretary birds are often found, while the tropical rainforest on the crater rim is an ideal place to see exotic birds such as the Livingstone’s turaco and the near-endemic Hartlaub’s turaco. Lesser flamingos often visit Lake Magadi in the south-west of the Ngorongoro crater, and this pink spectacle makes for some great photography.
Walking safaris in the greater Ngorongoro conservation area can also be arranged. On these Ngorongoro bush walks, you will explore diverse landscapes, meet local people and often see wildlife. Due to unpredictable weather conditions hot air balloon rides are not available in the Ngorongoro Crater.
Best Places to Stay in the Ngorongoro Crater
There are two options when it comes to Ngorongoro Crater accommodation, either a lodge on the rim itself, or in the nearby town of Karatu. Ngorongoro Crater lodges on the rim offer fantastic views over the caldera, and their unrivalled location means it’s possible to arrive earlier and depart later from the crater floor. As a result, you’re more likely to experience a bespoke Ngorongoro safari with fewer crowds. There are only a handful of properties on the rim so availability can be limited. The &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater lodge offers almost unrivalled views and quick access to the crater floor.
There is a good range of hotels and lodges in Karatu which means that accommodation can be found to suit most budgets. Access to a safari in the Ngorongoro Crater from Karatu requires a road transfer before reaching the access gate, and depending on where you are staying this drive can be between 1 and 1.5 hours long. An early morning start is required to beat the crowds to the crater floor. Lodge rates in Karatu are usually more favourable than those on the crater rim, and the town’s proximity to Lake Manyara National Park as well as the Ngorongoro Crater mean it’s a convenient hub for going on safaris in both parks during your stay.
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Best Time to Visit the Ngorongoro Crater
The Ngorongoro is a good year-round destination. Due to its enclosed eco-system, few animals leave the area and so annual game viewing is possible. In the dry months between June and October grass is shorter and vegetation is thinner, which makes spotting wildlife much easier. During these months the crater can become crowded and many vehicles congregate at sightings, so it’s a good idea to book well ahead, especially for a family safari in the Ngorongoro Crater.
The crater is still a fantastic Tanzania safari experience outside of the peak dry season. The crater becomes luscious and green with the rain between November and May, and there are often far fewer visitors, which can provide a more relaxing experience at sightings. Due to the well-maintained roads of the Ngorongoro Crater, rain rarely affects safari access here. Showers are usually short and pass quickly, leaving behind blue skies. Overcast conditions and mist can obstruct views from the crater rim but travelling at this time can also work out favourably on cost as well.
Weather During the Year
How to Book a Ngorongoro Crater Safari
To discuss your Tanzania safari holiday, Ngorongoro safari packages and tailor-made itineraries, speak to one of our Tanzania experts today by contacting us.