Renowned as a UNESCO world heritage site and protected wilderness area, Ngorongoro Crater is one of the best places in Tanzania to see the famous Big Five (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo) and for this reason is a popular choice amongst safari enthusiasts. A safari in the Serengeti or reserves in northern Tanzania is not complete without a visit to the Ngorongoro Crater.
Encompassing volcanic craters and fertile grazing grounds, Ngorongoro affords incredible game viewing all year round. Renowned for its big game and plentiful predators, game drives in this region are exciting and offer great photo opportunities. Experiences to be had in the Ngorongoro Crater include big five game drives on the crater floor, bird watching, interactions with people from the Maasai tribe, and visits to Olduvai Gorge.
There is a selection of lodges that nestle on the rim of the crater, offering phenomenal views, gorgeous sunsets, and convenient access to the crater floor. A short distance away from the crater is Karatu which offers fewer crowds, smaller and more intimate lodges and additional activities such as walking and mountain biking.
Due to the fact that the Ngorongoro wildlife remains within the confines of the steep-walled crater throughout the year, your decision as to when to visit is not likely to revolve around maximising your game viewing experience. What is likely to influence your decision, however, are the highs and lows of the tourist seasons as the crater floor can become rather crowded with visitors at certain times of the year.
Visitor numbers tend to be at their highest during the dry season from around June to September as this is generally considered to be the best period for wildlife watching. The game usually gathers around rivers and water holes during the dry season and the vegetation is at its thinnest, making the animals much easier to spot. The dry season’s days tend to be warm and sunny but early mornings and evenings can get cold, so be sure to pack plenty of warm clothing.
Visitors numbers then typically decrease significantly during the rainy season which begins around the end of October and continues until the end of May. Tourist rates are generally reduced during this time and the landscape becomes beautifully lush and green. The higher water levels in the Ngorongoro Crater’s Lake Magadi also result in higher concentrations of both resident and migratory water birds including large numbers of flamingo for which the area is known. Aside from the months of March, April and May, when the rains are at their heaviest, the rains are usually short afternoon showers and are unlikely to affect your safari experience. Note that travellers who are eager to experience the wonders of the calving season, should plan their trip during the wet season, particularly during the months of December, January and February.
Forming part of the greater Serengeti ecosystem, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is an impressive UNESCO World Heritage site in northern Tanzania. This pristine expanse of wilderness is comprised of a large area of short-grass plains on the southern border of the Serengeti National Park as well as the exquisite Ngorongoro Highlands region, featuring a range of dramatic ancient volcanoes on the western side of the Great Rift Valley.
The area’s star attraction is undoubtedly the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest inactive, intact volcanic caldera, which forms a unique 300 square kilometre natural enclosure for around 30, 000 wild animals. The crater is renowned for containing the highest density of big game in Africa including all of the ‘Big Five’ as well as cheetah, serval cat, jackal, hyena, Grant's and Thompson's gazelle, and over 400 species of bird. In addition to its astonishing array of wildlife, the crater features the wonderfully scenic Lake Magadi; the Lerai Forest, considered one of the best places in Africa for leopard sightings; and the lovely Ngoitokitok Spring area, inhabited by countless hippos, elephants, and lions.
Other popular attractions within the greater Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area include the smaller Empakaai Crater, known for its exceptionally large flocks of flamingos, and the spectacular Olduvai Gorge. This steep-sided, 50-kilometre-long ravine is one of the world’s most significant prehistoric sites boasting a fascinating museum displaying replicas of some of the hominid and animal fossils unearthed at the site.
Must see: The magnificent Ngorongoro Crater containing: an impressive abundance of resident wildlife, an acacia forest crawling with leopards, a beautiful lake teeming with waterbirds, and the Ngoitokitok Spring area, inhabited by countless hippos, elephants, and lions.
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