The Ngorongoro Conservation Area spans vast expanses of highland plains, savanna, savanna woodlands and forests. Established in 1959 as multiple land-use areas, with wildlife coexisting with semi-nomadic Maasai pastoralists practicing traditional livestock grazing.
it includes the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest caldera. The property has global importance for biodiversity conservation due to the presence of globally threatened species, the density of wildlife inhabiting the area, and the annual migration of wildebeest, zebra, gazelles and other animals into the northern plains. Extensive archaeological research has also yielded a long sequence of evidence of human evolution and human-environment dynamics, including early hominid footprints dating back 3.6 million years
Ngorongoro Crater is close to Serengeti, Lake Manyara & Tarangire National Park which is located in the northern circuit of the park that is known for Tanzania Safaris with the base being Kilimanjaro International Airport.
Best time to visit the Ngorongoro Conservation Area
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area offers superb wildlife viewing year-round. However, June to September marks the region’s “dry season”, where vegetation is more sparse, making it easier to spot wildlife.
On the other hand, if you are looking for lush scenery, stark contrasting colours, crisp, clear mornings, dramatic afternoon skies and spectacular sunsets, the wet season – from November to May – is an excellent time to go. Whichever season you chose, our Rhino Africa Travel Experts will ensure you are in the best area to maximize your desired experience.
Accommodation at Ngorongoro conservation area
There are a variety of accommodation facilities available for travelers to the Ngorongoro crater. One can choose to stay in a budget, mid-range or luxury lodge. Some of the popular lodges include Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, Gibbs Farm, Lemala Ngorongoro Lodge, Lions Paw Camp Ngorongoro, Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, Ngorongoro Serena Lodge, Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, the Ngorongoro Farm house and the Plantation Lodge.
How to get to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is conveniently close to Arusha, the most popular starting point for most safaris in northern Tanzania.
Arusha has two airports – Kilimanjaro Airport and Arusha Airport. Arusha Airport is mainly used for regional (internal) flights and is about 10 minutes from the city Centre. Kilimanjaro Airport is used for international flights and is about an hour from the city.
From Arusha, you can “lodge hop” in a small light aircraft to your lodge’s respective airstrips. Alternatively, those with more time can opt for a road transfer to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which is only a three-hour drive on a tarred road from the town of Arusha.
The best option to get to Arusha is to fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport, located about 46 kilometers from Arusha. It’s also possible to fly into Julius Nyerere International Airport, near Dar es Salaam and fly on to Arusha Airport or Kilimanjaro International Airport. KLM is the best connection to Tanzania for passengers worldwide from North and South America, Asia, Europe, Middle East and Australia. This flight is perfect if you want to combine your Tanzanian safari getaway with a beach holiday on the Zanzibar Archipelago.
What to Do on Self Drive Safari in Tanzania
Olmoti Crater: Among the Maasai, Olmoti means cooking pot. The shallow crater is found within the Ngorongoro conservation area highlands and stands at 3080 meters above sea level. The grassy hollows of the crater are excellent for hiking and nature walks. It is where most of the Maasai herdsmen take their domestic animals for grazing alongside buffaloes, bushbucks, eland and reedbuck. You can crown your tour of the Crater by visiting a nearby waterfall (100 meter) that feeds into Lake Magadi.
Lake Magadi: If you are fascinated by beautiful scenery, nature and birds, then the shallow lake Magadi will not disappoint. This paradise attracts wading birds like pelicans and flamingos in the thousands. Lake Magadi is one of the best places for birding in Tanzania. Thousands of tourists visit Tanzania specifically to watch flamingos forage for green algae in the alkaline lake.
Lerai Fever Tree Forest: This forest is one of the best attractions within the Ngorongoro Crater. It contains rare acacia trees that are slim, tall and with yellow colors. The distinctive look and ability to attract wildlife is what fascinates tourists. The trees thrive here but can also be seen in small numbers when you visit some water bodies in Africa. The Lerai Fever Tree Forest is the best place to spot black rhinos. They are attracted to the vegetation in the forest. The acacia trees also attract hyrax, bushbucks, elephants and countless birds.
Visit the Serengeti and other parks in the Northern Circuit: As we noted earlier, the Ngorongoro Crater was once part of the Serengeti and to this day, most tourists choose to visit both wildlife conservation areas for a more complete safari. The safari can be extended to include visiting other national parks within the Northern circuit like Tarangire, Manyara and Mount Kilimanjaro.
Things to do
The Ngorongoro Crater and Conservation Area attracts thousands of tourists to Tanzania each year. It is one of the best places to spot all 5 of Africa’s famous mammals – lions, rhinos, leopards, elephants and buffaloes. Other animals found within the crater include hippos, jackals, reedbuck, waterbuck, wildebeest, warthogs, hartebeests, servals, zebras, cheetahs and crocodiles. In total, over 26,000 big mammals and 500 species of birds call the crater home. The main activities within/around the Ngorongoro crater are game drives, photographic Safaris, picnics, nature walks, birding, visiting the Maasai villages, hot air ballooning, a tour of Olduvai Gorge, visiting the Empakaai Crater, hiking to the summit of the Gol Mountains and Ol Doinyo Lengai. There is also visiting the Olmoti Crater, the Lerai Fever Tree Forest and Lake Magadi.
Game Drives and wildlife viewing: Game drives are without doubt the best way to view wildlife in the Ngorongoro Crater. Game drives are done with a standard tour van and are organized in two shifts – morning and afternoon. By 4:30 pm, all tour vans must be out of the crater. You need at least three days to explore each and every part of the crater. On every safari, expect to see all the big 5 mammals, birds, lakes, lush forests and savannah vegetation to marvel at.
Photographic Safari: If you have already taken a game drive at the Ngorongoro crater before and liked what you saw, you can organize another safari with the sole purpose of taking amazing wildlife photos. A photographic safari should not only be about the animals but also birds, lakes and savannah vegetation. There are Maasai tribesmen living close to the crater who may be open to being part of your photography expedition.
Visiting the Maasai: The Maasai are one of Africa’s most intriguing tribes. Although they live outside the crater itself, they are allowed to graze their animals around the crater rim or bring them down the crater for water during the dry months of the year. While visiting the Ngorongoro Conservation area, an arrangement can be made for tourists to visit one of their homes or cultural centers to learn about their traditions and culture. It is more rewarding to visit villages/families that are less visited so that you have a more enriching experience instead of stage-managed tours. Visiting the Maasai people involves attending traditional dance performances, taking photos, buying souvenirs and meeting the elders.
Enjoy Picnic Lunch: Have you ever dreamt about having a beautiful picnic lunch in the African wilderness with wildebeest grazing nearby? The Ngorongoro Crater will not disappoint.
Visiting the Tanzania’s Last Bushmen: When the Maasai arrived in the Serengeti area about 300 years ago, they drive out the Hadzabe Tribe and other Bushmen to remote areas of the park. Less than 2000 of these Bushmen still live in the area. Unlike the Maasai who have embraced modern ways of living, these Bushmen remain primitive and still live off hunting and gathering. A tour of their remote habitats will allow you discover their culture and secret ways of living.
Nature and Crater View Walks: After completing activities down the crater and getting back to your lodge for a shower, you might want to take a stroll along the edges or rim of the crater. The western edge of the crater offers great views of the woodlands, open grasslands and acacia forests. You can also watch as the Maasai take their cattle for grazing or back to the kraals.
Birdwatching: The Ngorongoro crater is one of the best places for birding in Tanzania. The species to look out for are the flamingos, Kori bustards and crowned cranes. From the crater rims, one can observe species like the African cytrill sights, forest buzzard, golden winged sunbirds and white eyes slaty.
Hot Air Ballooning: This is an expensive but very adventurous way to explore the vast crater and surrounding areas. Hot air ballooning is highly recommended especially during the migration – when the wildebeest are roaming or calving outside the crater and the nearby Serengeti. The great thing about hot air ballooning is that it allows tourists to appreciate and enjoy the beautiful scenery within the crater.
Hiking to the summit of the Gol Mountains: The Gol Mountains are found within Serengeti National Park. The slopes are excellent for wildlife viewing and cultural encounters with the resident Maasai Herdsmen. At the base of the Gol Mountains is the famous Nasera Rock where tourists can spot a variety of birds and hundreds of baboons. The Leakey family excavated remains of humans who lived there during the Stone Age period. The Gol Mountains will capture your imagination if your dream is to explore the remote African wilderness. After exploring the Gol Mountains, you can also choose to conquer an active volcano known as Ol Doinyo Lengai.
Visit Olduvai Gorge: The Olduvai Gorge is known as the “Cradle of Mankind”. It is where the oldest archaeological discoveries where made by Richard Leakey and his family. The Leakey’s discovered the remains of the very first hominids in Olduvai Gorge in the early 20th Century. They went on to make some groundbreaking discoveries with most of them older than 2 million years ago. The fossils include that of extinct animals that roamed the area and the more recent Stone Age man. You can register to be taken for a guided walk within the gorge. Do not forget to check out the hominid footprints in Leatoli. These footprints where discovered on a volcanic rock and are over 3 million years old. There is a small museum that was built for public viewing and contains excavated remains and artifacts for tourists to see.
Visit the Empakaai Crater: This is the smaller sibling of the Ngorongoro Crater. The Empakaai Crater was also formed when a volcano collapsed into a 6-kilometer-wide caldera. It is a lesser known crater but with a lot to offer. Much of it is covered by a deep alkaline lake that is 85 meters deep. The lake changes color depending on the time of the day and attracts thousands of flamingos because of abundant algae. The rims of the crater are home to pink flamingos, blue monkeys, water bucks, bush bucks, buffaloes, elephants and hyenas. Beyond the crater are stunning views of Mount Kilimanjaro and Ol Doinyo Lengai.