The Ngorongoro Crater

The cradle of life

Located on the Great Rift Valley edge, the Ngorongoro Crater is a remarkable geological feature and one of the best places to see The Big 5.

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Easily Tanzania’s most remarkable geological feature. The unique ecosystem of the Crater supports one of Africa’s densest populations of wildlife, making for fantastic game viewing in an even better location.

Ben Nelson

Located on the Great Rift Valley edge, the Ngorongoro Crater is a remarkable geological feature and one of the best places to see The Big 5.

This ancient volcano imploded many millennia ago, leaving the world's largest intact caldera with 600m-high walls on all sides, creating a self-contained wildlife sanctuary. This natural arena features grassland, forest, marshland and swamp, with Lake Magadi nestled at its heart - which is known for being covered with eye-catching bright pink flamingos.

There is also an abundance of predators who habit the Crater floor, with lion, leopard, cheetah, spotted hyena and side-striped jackal all commonly spotted. The open grasslands house vast herds of zebra, buffalo, wildebeest and gazelle, whilst eland and bushbuck graze in the neighbouring Lerai forest. The lake and its tributaries attract hippopotamus, waterbuck and elephant. The elephant numbers are not overwhelming, but some of the oldest and largest tuskers have residency here - with tusks hitting the floor. You'll also find Tanzania's healthiest population of black rhinos.

The wildlife is famously unfazed by safari vehicles, allowing for incredible up-close encounters (and photos), and when you are not encountering wildlife in the Crater itself, you can soak in the surrounding view.

A brief history

In 1959, the Conservation Area, including Ngorongoro Crater, received protection under the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Ordinance. The site was allocated for multiple uses, and wildlife roamed the floor adjacent to the livestock of the semi-nomadic Maasai farmers. Protection continues under the Ordinance, with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority in charge of wildlife conservation. Its concerns include measures to prevent poaching, monitoring invasive species, management of tourism and infrastructure control.

The Ngorongoro Crater is only a part of a much larger ecosystem – the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The magical Crater is a major attraction, but the Conservation Area is also home to off-the-beaten-track areas such as Empakai Crater (a smaller and water-filled Ngorongoro) and the forests that lead towards the active volcano of Oldoinyo Lengai. These remote areas are among Tanzania's hidden gems.

A popular choice

The Ngorongoro Crater is no zoo, but it can be bustling. As with so many of the planet's exceptional destinations, you will not be the only person visiting. There is no denying that the Ngorongoro's safari is not as authentic as elsewhere; there are too many visitors. However, consider the animals are there of their own free will and that you are on safari in an extinct volcano!

Top tip

Wake up early to visit the Crater floor. If you can be first on the Crater floor, the experience is out of this world, but be 30 minutes late and it can be troublesome as queues build.

Activities

Activities in the Ngorongoro Crater are limited to game drives only. Walking safari as well as night safari is not permitted. There are lodges on the Crater rim that offer short walks, but you have to move farther afield into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to find longer walks and village visits.

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Ben Nelson
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