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The Ngorongoro Conservation Crater was formed a few million years ago when a huge volcano exploded and collapsed. With walls rising from 400 to 600 meters, the 16 – 19 km area was allowed to develop without the interference of man. This means that the Ngorongoro Crater hosts an unparalleled collection of flora and fauna, making it one of the greatest natural wonders on the planet. The Ngorongoro Conservation Crater was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 1978, and its borders host some of the densest mammal populations on the continent. And since the crater is located at an altitude that varies from 1,009 meters to 3,645 meters, you get to see a variety of plants and animals here. The northern part of the crater is dry and offers vast grasslands which host most of the game animals. The southwest hosts the Lerai Forest, home to thousands of yellow fever trees. The Ngoitokitok Springs and the Gorigor Swamp lies to the east and these places are ideal for checking out hundreds of hippos lazing in the water. Ngorongoro Conservation Area gets the following relevant safari ratings:
- Wildlife Rating: 5 stars out of 5
- Scenery Rating: 5 stars out of 5
- Bush Vibe: 3 stars out of 5
Getting a chance to watch a lot of game is a given on any trip to the Ngorongoro. Much of the floor is flat and this offers grand views of the wildebeests and zebras who graze here. The plains are also home to gazelle, elephants, topi, and buffalo. Some of the largest tuskers can be seen here. Other animals found in the Ngorongoro Conservation Crater include cheetahs, black rhinos, lions, spotted hyenas, leopards, golden jackals and bat-eared foxes. The lions completely disregard the vehicles around them and often hunt or seek shade within yards of your vehicle. This means that you get to see some of the best and most exciting predator sightings here. Moreover, it is entirely possible to see the Big 5 in a single day.
The Ngorongoro isn’t just about its wildlife and safaris. It also hosts the Olduvai Gorge, an area having the most extensive history on the planet. A number of hominid species lived in the gorge for millions of years, and countless fossils which date back 3.6 million years have been discovered. The gorge is now considered to rank among the most important and best prehistoric sites and its fossils have been integral in understanding the evolution of man.
Activities within the crater are limited to game drives and getting out of your vehicle is strictly limited, but there are a few picnic spots where tourists can relax their muscles and breathe in the scenery without being restricted to the confines of a vehicle. However, a wide range of activities such as walking, trekking, exploring the Olduvai Gorge and interacting with the Maasai can be found in the greater conservation area.
The Ngorongoro tends to attract as many as 50% of the tourists visiting Tanzania and this means that roughly 400,000 visitors explore the crater each year. After all, a place that offers year-round wildlife spotting opportunities, presents excellent accommodation options and grand views, hosts the endangered black rhino and also boasts of authentic Maasai villages is sure to attract so many visitors! That said, the large number of tourists also means that the sheer number of vehicles in such a small and restricted area often tends to destroy any bush vibe and leave the place feeling busy and crowded. Sure, the majestic predator sightings make up for most issues, but the crater always misses out when it comes to offering an ‘authentic safari experience’.
While there are no accommodations within the crater itself, one does have a choice between the Rift Valley Escarpment and the phenomenal Crater rim. The accommodations found in Rift Valley Escarpment may not offer similar views or easy access to the floor, but they are far cheaper than those Crater rim lodges. The best options include Ngorongoro Farmhouse Lodge, Plantation Lodge and Gibb’s Farm. The Crater rim overlooks the floor and hosts a few luxury lodges that boast of having mind-blowing views as well as easy access to the floor. The best lodges here are the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge and the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge.
Since there is no escape for the wildlife living within the crater, you can enjoy fascinating experiences throughout the year. However, it always feels pleasant to visit the Ngorongoro Crater during low season (April – May) as the high number of tourists can often leave a bitter aftertaste, particularly during peak season. However,the low season also coincides with the wet season, and most of the rainfall takes place between the months of March and April. That said, the higher water levels in the Lake Magadi also mean that you get to see more flamingos during the low season.
There are a number of sights and attractions close to the Ngorongoro Conservation Center. Extending your vacation is easy, and a number of holiday packages already include these destinations and more.
- Serengeti: The first and most obvious attraction is the Serengeti, home to the Great Migration phenomenon. Considered to be one of the top national parks of Africa, the Serengeti hosts some of its most authentic safari experiences as well as a huge animal population. Click here to find out more about the Serengeti National Park.
- Empakaai Crater: Located at a distance of 90 minutes from the Ngorongoro Center, the Empakaai Crater is home to thousands of flamingos who constantly soak in its emerald lake, giving it a beautifully pinkish color. Don’t miss out on walking up to the rim of the crater to check out views of Ol Doinyo Lengai as these views rank among the best that Africa has on offer.
- Mount Kilimanjaro: The highest summit of Africa is one of the most recognizable as well as one of the most visited sites of Tanzania. Hiking the Mount Kilimanjaro presents a journey of a lifetime because of its breathtaking views, stunning sunrises and sunsets and exhilarating experiences.