Ngorongoro Crater - Why to Visit, Best Time to Visit, and Things to Do & See
The skies are grey, painted in the brightest of blues and purest of whites, and then, right there, by the horizon, stands the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater.
We park our safari car a small distance from the grazing wildebeests, who, by the way, seem quite unimpressed by this astounding beauty.
If the constant camera clicks and jaw drops are anything to go by, we are pretty impressed by this scenic charmer.
Ngorongoro, before the volcanic eruption, towered the skies to lengths even the majestic Kilimanjaro dared not.
For every size lost in the collapse, the crater was compensated tenfold in wildlife and greenery.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area lies with the Tanzanian Great Rift Valley Region, west of Arusha and north of Tanzania.
A World Heritage Site, the region extends a little over 260 sq. km and is endowed with an over 30,000 mammal population.
The area surpasses your wildest imagination, both in beauty and scenery, and is quite affordable given its timeless beauty.
A 3-day budget safari to Ngorongoro Crater costs anything from £400-£600, a mid-luxury one goes for £650-£1900, and while a luxury one costs about £3250-£4000.
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How to Get Here - Road or Flight
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area, more often than not, features combined safaris and tours.
One can, for example, combine it with an excursion to the nearby Serengeti National Park.
The best part is that Ngorongoro is connected to Arusha, 180kms away, by a perfect all-weather road.
Alternatively, you can board a flight from Arusha to the Serengeti and approach the Ngorongoro by vehicle.
Best Time to Visit - June-September or July-March?
Wildlife viewing is best from June to September, owing to the dry weather.
Animals congregate at water catchment areas, making them easier to spot, and game drives can go for long hours undisrupted by the rains.
Budget travellers would want to avoid visiting during the high season, July-March, if that extra pound is something they would like to save.
Top 8 Interesting Facts About the Ngorongoro Crater
Ngorongoro Crater is known for having a high density of animals in a concentrated area. Here are other facts about this attraction,
- The Ngorongoro Crater is the largest unbroken caldera of the 20 that are in the world.
- The Ngorongoro caldera formed when a dormant volcano erupted and fell on itself. The significant depression formed at its centre today houses the Ngorongoro Crater Lake.
- At 55 lions and 7000 hyenas, the Ngorongoro Crater holds the largest predator population in the world.
- About 25,000 large and small mammals call the Ngorongoro crater home. This is in addition to 500 avid species.
- The Ngorongoro is seventh on the list of natural wonders of Africa. On the list are River Nile, the Okavango Delta, and the Sahara Desert. Close contenders, aren’t they?
- UNESCO recognises Ngorongoro Crater as a World Heritage Site.
- Unbeknownst to many, the Lake Ndutu to Serengeti wildebeest migration-one of the largest of its kind- takes place at the Ngorongoro Crater. The migration sees the movement of over 2 million wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles.
- Due to their height, Giraffes find it impossible to get through the steep sides of the Ngorongoro. Do not expect to spot giraffes here.
Think of any wild animal. Yes, that one. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area probably has it.
Apart from being the world’s largest caldera, the Ngorongoro crater holds the largest predator population in the world.
Fifty-five lions and over 6,000 hyenas are just the tips of the vast iceberg’s Ngorongoro predator population.
Looking at its vast vegetative cover, it is easy to see why the animals love it here.
Its grassy cliffs and walls teem with rhino, elephant, gazelle, hyena, buffalo, leopard, wildebeest, jackals, antelope, and hippo population.
Its crater lake, on the other end, is a magnet to anything wildlife and birds.
An over-head count puts the hyena population at 6,000, gazelles and elands at 3,000 each, 30 black rhinos, 55 lions, and 300 elephants.
Wholly, the area supports over 25,000 large and small mammals, the famous Big 5 included.
Birding excursions are also as rewarding, the area supporting over 500 species.
Flamingoes thrive at the waters on the Crater Lake, other worthy additions being the ostriches, white pelicans, King Fishers, and the starlings.
Visit the Empakaai Crater
No bluff, but few destinations beat the Empakaai Crater in natural wonders and views.
The saline lake nestles in the middle of the Ngorongoro Crater, and with it comes superabundant forests, whiskered monkeys, and an array of colourful birds.
Resulting from a collapsed volcanic caldera, the crater is 75% lake, its scenery featuring a 300-meter high wall which is an absolute delight to view.
Hikes up the pristine lake are your chance at a leg stretch while enjoying views of the scenic Oldoinyo Lengai and Kilimanjaro mountains.
Guided walks around to let you interact with the monkeys, flamingoes, waterbucks, buffaloes, and bushbucks.
The Olduvai Gorge
Dubbed the ‘cradle of civilisation,’ the Ngorongoro Crater’s Olduvai Gorge is here to answer all your “monkey became man” questions.
The gorge is one of the world’s most important when it comes to paleoanthropology, evidence of early humankind previously unearthed here.
Its museum allows you an exploration of fossils and remains that evidence the presence of prehistoric mammals from whom we all evolved.
Tanzania safaris between June and October allow you to interact with researchers on active sites digging to find more traces of early humankind.
A drive around the gorge introduces you to her beautiful views, a shifting dune being among the most memorable.
A Serengeti Tour
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area to Serengeti is a smooth four-hour drive by car…the road to heaven isn’t as long and rocky, hey?
Now, the Serengeti National Park is preceded by its reputation.
The park, lying north of Tanzania, is the ultimate go-to for unforgettable Tanzania safaris, a Serengeti tour promising huge wildlife varieties and unbelievable views.
The park is 30,000km² in size, vast of which is grass, shrubby bushes, and wildlife.
On its belt is the seventh African Wonder of the World title, and its greatest attraction is the starting line of the annual wildebeest migration.
The wildebeest migration alone- spanning from all-year-long- showcases over 1.7 million wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles.
You can catch these animals in a relatively calm manner in Serengeti from November to June before encountering the life-changing Mara Crossing in Kenya between July and October.
You could cut the tension in the air by a knife as thousands of these animals wrestle blood and tears to make it past Mara River.
The park, similar to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, teems in predator populations. 3,000 lions call the park home, as well as 1,000 leopards and almost 8,700 hyenas.
This is in combination with nearly 70 large mammal species and over 450 bird species.
These mammals include; cape buffaloes, giraffes, elephants, zebras, impalas, rhinos, hippos, monkeys, warthogs, gazelles, wild dogs, cheetahs, and dik-diks.
Lake Manyara National Park
It takes you two hours to drive to the Lake Manyara National Park, which is worth it given its breathtaking scenery and rich wildlife.
The park is one of the smallest in Tanzania, which is why it is best combined with the Ngorongoro Crater for wholesome Tanzania safaris.
The park might lack size, but it compensates for gorgeous sceneries, tall features, scenic vegetation-covered cliffs, and a 50km flamingo colonised lake.
The most notable, however, is the fact that the park houses a host of tree-climbing lions.
This, plus the elephants, giraffes, leopards, warthogs, waterbucks, zebras, impalas, monkeys, buffaloes, and ostriches, make the park a must-have on your Tanzania safari itinerary.
Guided treks down the lake showcase grey muddy hippos to the north and tame, scarlet flamingoes to the south, as well as other bird varieties.
1. What is Unique About the Ngorongoro Crater?
Apart from being a World Heritage Site and seventh Natural Wonder of Africa? Well, there is quite a list.
The formation of the crater is unique. It is not every day that a dormant volcano erupts and collapses on itself, right?
Secondly, the crater houses the largest predator population in the world. This is close to 55 lions, 6,000 hyenas, and several leopards, and cheetahs.
Thirdly, there is close to 25,000 large and small mammals in the park. The park is only 260 sq. km, so it would be correct to say that the numbers are pretty impressive.
Additionally, the park hosts one of the most massive mammal migrations in the world.
Every February to March, thousands of wildebeests move from the Ndutu area to the Serengeti for calving.
Over 1,000 calves are born daily.
2. Why Ngorongoro Crater is a Wonder of the World?
Often, volcanos do not collapse on themselves, and it is this bizarre happening that has seen the Ngorongoro clinch the Wonder of the World title.
About two million years ago, a dormant volcano erupted leading to the formation of what is today the largest caldera in the world.
With the caldera comes views you have to see to believe which is another reason why the crater managed to clinch the much-coveted title.
Currently, the crater hosts the largest predator population in the world as well as 25,000 other mammal species.
That’s not it, within the Ngorongoro also lies the Olduvai Gorge which is believed to be the origin of mankind.
We’d be surprised too if this splendid attraction didn’t leave the world in wonder.
3. How Far is Arusha from the Ngorongoro Crater?
Arusha is exactly 190.6km away from the Ngorongoro Crater, a distance easily covered in 3 hours and 49 minutes.
Being a popular tourist destination in Tanzania, it comes as no surprise that there are daily flights to and from the area.
It is also not surprising that all roads to and from the crater are in perfect condition.
Schedules flights can also be boarded from the Arusha and Kilimanjaro International Airports.
4. Is Ngorongoro Crater a Caldera?
Yes, the Ngorongoro Crater is a caldera, and the largest in the world so to speak.
The National Geographic Society describes calderas as large depressions formed as a result of volcanic eruptions and collapses.
The Ngorongoro Crater fits this criterion. As with calderas, lakes, commonly known as crater lakes, form when the depression formed after the collapse fills up with water.
The Ngorongoro Crater Lake thrives with wildlife population, most of them congregating around the area for water.
5. Which is Better: the Serengeti or the Ngorongoro Crater?
The Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater are as similar as they are different. That said, let us look at some of their most notable similarities.
Both parks share the Wonder of the World and World Heritage Site title. This is in celebration of the two being the crème in wildlife viewing.
Secondly, views of the Big 5 are guaranteed in, both parks outdoing themselves when it comes to predator populations. Their differences are more or less due to their different sceneries.
While the Ngorongoro scenery is more highland-like the Serengeti’s is more savannah grasslands.
The Ngorongoro has the Ngorongoro crater which adds insane oomph while the Serengeti has endless plains shrouded with spicy acacias.
Both do host large mammal migrations, the annual Wildebeest Migration being a treat of the Serengeti while the Ndutu area Migration being the Ngorongoro’s.
6. What Animals Live in the Ngorongoro Crater?
There are over 25,000 small and large mammal varieties within the Ngorongoro, prominent being that the park houses the largest mammal population in the world.
The number of black rhinos within the park are also ones to watch.
Calling the park home are, rhinos, leopards, hippos, waterbucks, bushbucks, elephants, lions, cheetahs, hyenas, jackals, wildebeests, gazelles, antelopes, kobs, and elands.
Also within the park are 500 bird species, flamingoes being their most popular attraction.
The birds are both seasonal and migratory, a large majority from Africa while some of them fly from European countries.
Common sightings are ostriches, secretary birds, pelicans, kingfishers, starlings, and Hamerkops.
7. How Many Lions Are in the Ngorongoro Crater?
Only four prides-almost 55 lions-currently roam the grasslands of the Ngorongoro, a population that is a shadow of the 125 that were there in 1975.
Heavy rains, so heavy the Crater Lake overrun its slopes, saw the Ngorongoro Conservation Area flooded with stomoxys (biting flies).
The biting flies attacked the lions, bring almost half of them to their death. Only one male and nine females survived this catastrophe.
Seven males, three years later, migrated into the crater, the current population has resulted from these eight.
Sad that the king of the jungle would bow to a mere pesky fly, right?