Ngorongoro Crater National Park

Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a protected area and a World Heritage Site located 180 km (110 mi) west of Arusha in the Crater Highlands area of Tanzania. The area is named after Ngorongoro Crater, a large volcanic Caldera within the area. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority, an arm of the Tanzanian government, administers the conservation area and its boundaries follow the boundary of the Ngorongoro. Occupying some 3,200 square miles (8,300 square km), it extends over part of the Eastern Great Rift Valley of eastern Africa and contains a variety of habitats and landscapes, including grassland plains, savannah woodlands, forests, mountains, volcanic craters, lakes, rivers, and swampland. Ngorongoro Crater, one of the world’s largest unbroken calderas, is the most prominent feature of the park. Also located there are the major archaeological sites of Olduvai Gorged and Laetoli, within which were found hominin remains dating from 2.1 million and 3.6 million years ago, respectively. The area’s main volcanic formations, including Ngorongoro Crater and the volcanoes Olmoti and Empakaai, formed from 20 million to 2 million years ago. Empakaai Crater is noted for the deep soda lake that occupies nearly half of its caldera floor.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area is host to the largest ungulate herds in the world, including wildebeests, plains zebras, and Thomson and Grant’s gazelles. Predatory animals include lions, spotted hyenas, leopards, and cheetahs. The endangered black rhinoceros and African hunting dog can also be found there. There are over 500 species of birds in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Look out for the Livingstone Turaco and the black kite. There is also a huge variety of grassland birds, including the flamingo and the ostrich – the largest bird on earth.

Although harder to spot, there are also lots of hummingbirds – the smallest birds in the world. So, when you are travelling around the Ngorongoro Crater, do not just look for animals on the ground because there are plenty to be seen in the sky too.

Hikes in the highlands head northeast of Ngorongoro Crater towards two smaller craters, Olmoti and Empakai and can continue on to the active volcano Oldonyo Lengai (mountain of God to the Maasai) and Lake Natron. Most of the hiking is done on cattle trails alongside the warriors and their herds and nights spent camping amongst Maasai bomas, allowing visitors to interact with the Maasai in their own environment and learn their culture. Ngorongoro is the only protected area in Tanzania that allows human habitation while protecting wildlife at the same time. This establishment as a multiple use area was established in 1959.  Exploring this little visited part of the country is an adventure of a lifetime.

Ngorongoro also hosts the Oldupai gorge, which is colourfully dotted within the plains area. This gorge is punctuated within the Eastern side of the rift valley and it is decorated with very steep ravines at each side. The earliest known specimens of the human genus such as Homo habilis were found right within this area and this makes Oldupai one of the most important prehistoric sites in the world. This 50km-long and 14 km-deep, grandeur is the driest area of the region being nested within the rain shadow of the Ngorongoro highlands. The gorge was named after a Maasai word; ‘Oldupaai’, for the wild sisal plant

What to do in Ngorongoro Crater National Park

Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a great tourist destination in Tanzania offering breath-taking and memorable experiences to tourists visiting the park for a safari, safari activities offered in the park include

 

Game Drives/ Viewing

Game drive in Ngorongoro is more exciting than any other park in Tanzania or any other park activity elsewhere because of the vast variety of Ngorongoro wildlife you will find. Game drives in Ngorongoro crater are done after descending down into the crater through lush forests at the crater walls with beautiful songs from the birds being heard from the forests.

Ngorongoro game drives are best done in the morning; these are so rewarding as most of the animals are more active like big cats are on hunt looking for food while grazers look for fresh grass especially during the dry season. It’s easy to view most of the big game during the morning drive like shy black rhinos who prefer grazing during the cold time of the day, lions, leopards, elephants and buffalos among others. One can also decide for the afternoon game drive, which starts after lunchtime as you descend down to the 610 meters crater to explore the best wildlife viewing, it’s a short brief game drive but much rewarding especially during rainy season when animals are active more in the afternoon than morning due to weather conditions of the crater.

Game drives in Ngorongoro conservation area is best done during the dry season in June to October although the activity can be carried out at different times of the year.

 

Bird Watching

Ngorongoro is a paradise for keen ornithologist; it hosts over 550 species of birds of which some are resident and others are migratory.

The diverse range of vegetation in the area and the topography, which includes grassland plains, lakes, marshes and highlands, provide habitats for a wide-range of bird life. The wet months see the arrival of the Eurasian migrants at the pools; white storks, yellow wagtails, and swallows mingle with the local inhabitants: flamingos, stilts, saddle-billed storks, ibises, Rufus, and various species of duck. Thousands of lesser flamingos and other water birds often inhabit Lake Magadi, a salt lake on the floor of the crater.

The forests of Ngorongoro are also abundant with birds, including species of turaco and hornbill. Raptors and scavengers are common on the plains of the conservation area. There is also the presence of distinctive grassland birds: ostriches, kori bustards, and crowned cranes.

Although the bird life is amazing all year round, we also recommend that you visit from November up to April as the various migratory birds that come from Europe as well as Northern Africa can be seen, and several resident birds here are in breeding time. During those months, you will be rewarded with unique views of rare bird species.

 

Walking Safaris

Walking in and around Ngorongoro conservation area is adventurous and rewarding. The activity is one of the best ways to explore the area on foot giving tourists a closer experience with the surroundings of the area. While on this safari, tourists enjoy the beautiful and diverse landscapes, enjoy views of variety of wildlife species around the destination as well as interacting with the Maasai people who live in the neighbouring villages around Ngorongoro.

The walking safari also takes place around the Ngorongoro highlands, which are far from the crowds with breath taking views. Other tracks, which are followed during the walking safari, go through the forests and around Ngorongoro are also carried out during the safari. Wildlife species encountered during the walk include lions, elephants, and buffalos among others

Walking safaris take about 2 to 3 hours of exploring Ngorongoro conservation area, the activity is conducted under the guidance of an experienced guide.

 

Cultural Experiences

Cultural experiences during the safaris in Ngorongoro conservation area involve interactions with the Masaai people who coexist with the wildlife at the destination. The Maasai are well known for their unique culture and way of life and can be seen grazing their livestock around the Ngorongoro conservation area. They also have unique arts and crafts like beaded jewellery, belts, shukas and sandals among others.

Maasai people who are about 100,000 also have unique homesteads or bomas, which can be visited by tourists. Interact with them and learn about their daily activities, visit the kraals where they keep their livestock, enjoy seeing as the cows are milked and how traditional meals are prepared during the cultural experience.

 

Archaeological Tours

Special guided tours to archaeological sites, mainly the excavation sites at Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli, are rewarding for those who want to trace the life of the ancestors of man.

Olduvai Gorge is in northern Tanzania situated between the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park. The Olduvai Gorge is one of the most important historical sites on earth and is in the Great Rift Valley part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

The gorge is the perfect stop while traveling between the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti Park. Visitors can stop for beautiful scenic views of the gorge’s rugged landscape, walk through the new museum exhibitions, or receive a history presentation for local museum guides. Highlights of the museum include an exhibition on early Stone Age findings, as well as cultural exhibits featuring the Datoga, Masai and Hadzabe cultures, which can be found living within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Just 60 km away lies the Laetoli site. Here, visitors can see ancient footprints of human ancestors that are preserved in volcanic rock and date back to 4 million years ago.

The Olduvai Gorge is known for its evolutionary discoveries of some of the earliest signs of human development. Whether you are visiting Tanzania for a safari adventure or to immerse yourself in the culture, a visit to the Olduvai Gorge Museum is highly recommended especially for anyone interested in archaeology and palaeontology.

WhEN TO VISIT Ngorongoro Crater National Park

There are two distinct weather seasons in the region; a rainy season (November to April) and a dry season (May to October). During the rainy season, animals congregate on the Short Grass Plains to have their young ones. Between February and March, you can see the Great Serengeti Migration on the plains and a number of spectacular predator/prey interactions.

The dry season is typically best for game viewing as many animals congregate around permanent water sources. However, the Short Grass plains become totally devoid of game during this season. If you visit Empakaai Crater or Lake Ndutu, resident game remains all year round.

HOW TO GET To Ngorongoro Crater National Park

By car – Ngorongoro Crater is about 185 km from Arusha by road. The trip can take between two and four hours.

The road from Arusha to Ngorongoro Conservation Area is good and is paved; it enters the Conservation Area through the Loduare Gate near the town of Karatu.

Another common entry point is from the west, from Serengeti National Park, on a gravel road through Naabi Hill Gate.

By air – There are daily flights from Arusha to Lake Manyara Airstrip. From there, it’s a scenic one-and-a-half hour trip to the Ngorongoro Crater. Arusha is served by two airports. Domestic Arusha Airport has daily flights from numerous local destinations while Kilimanjaro International Airport has daily flights from local, African and international airlines.

There is an airstrip on the crater rim, close to the headquarters of Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Other local airlines have scheduled flights from Arusha, and other major destinations in the country to Serengeti next door, which makes easy connection to Ngorongoro.

Game-viewing safaris around Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and particularly entry into Ngorongoro Crater, are restricted to four-wheel-drive vehicles (4WD) only.