The Ngorongoro Crater is world-famous for its stunning scenery and concentration of game.
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Ngorongoro CraterIn 1951, the enormous Serengeti National Park was declared, encompassing the present Serengeti, plus the Ngorongoro area and surrounding Crater Highlands. However much of the southern side of this was already being used by the Maasai, hence it was split into the present-day Serengeti National Park, and the current Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA).The conservation area now encompasses a large area of the short-grass plains on the southern side of the Serengeti Plain and also the Ngorongoro Highlands, a range of largely extinct ancient volcanoes on the west side of the Great Rift Valley.
The showpiece of the conservation area is undoubtedly the Ngorongoro Crater itself. Declared a World Heritage Site in 1978, this is the largest intact volcanic caldera in the world. It measures about 16-19km in diameter, with walls of 400-610m in height. However you measure it, the Crater is a strong candidate for any list of the world's greatest natural wonders.
The mineral-rich floor of this spectacular bowl is largely flat, open and covered in nutritious grasses – much to the liking of large herds of zebra and wildebeest which graze here. These extensive open plains are also home to herds of buffalo, Thomson's gazelle, Grant's gazelle and tsessebe (often called topi). You'll also find East Africa's best population of black rhino here which, just to confound the safari experts, are often seen in open grasslands. Breeding herds of elephant pass through the Ngorongoro Crater itself only rarely, but you will see a scattering of old bulls, including some of the biggest tuskers left alive in Africa today.
No Ngorongoro safari would be complete without the predators, which are often highly visible on the crater floor. The Crater's lion population varies significantly over time, the one constant being their complete disregard of vehicles; they will hunt within yards of a vehicle, and when exhausted even seek their shade beside it. Spotted hyena are even more common here, often competing with the lion, and there's are a small but growing number of cheetah. Leopards are around, especially in the vicinity of the Lerai Forest – a small forest of fever trees notable for their yellow bark, whilst wild dog have not been recorded there for some time. Side-striped and the lovely golden jackal are often seen skulking around, whilst bat-eared foxes area rarer sight.
Empakaai CraterOnly 90-minutes drive from the Ngorongoro Crater, Empakaai Crater is a much smaller crater, yet endearing in its own way. A deep soda lake covers about half of the 6km wide caldera. You'll often find thousands of flamingos in the shallows of the emerald lake - giving it a spectacular pink tinge. You can drive up to the outer rims of the crater, before taking the 45-minute walk down the path through the forested slopes to the crater floor. The views from the rim over the crater to Ol Doinyo Lengai are thought to be some of the most spectacular in Africa – on very clear days you can even see Kilimanjaro and Lake Natron. Empakaai Crater is a great day trip to consider for those spending more than two nights in the Ngorongoro area. Ask us for more details.
Safaris into the CraterHaving waxed lyrical about the Ngorongoro Crater's wildlife, the reality of safaris there isn't always as amazing. The sheer number of vehicles in the crater, combined with its open environment, can destroy any sense of wilderness. It can feel crowded and busy. If you're lucky, this will be mitigated by amazing game sightings; if you're not it won't be. So whilst the Ngorongoro's wildlife is stupendous, the Ngorongoro safari experience isn't always as good.
For some time we have been expecting a new regime of increased park fees, and constraints on the timing of visits, to help alleviate some of these issues, however nothing has been implemented as of yet. If you're including the Ngorongoro in your Tanzania safari, then talk to us and we can help you get the best that's possible. Spend time discussing the options with us. We can then agree a plan for your visit into the Crater with your safari guide – having carefully worked out your priorities with you.
The Crater RimThere is no accommodation within the Ngorongoro Crater, but there are four lodges, perched on its rim overlooking the Crater floor.
Ngorongoro Crater Lodge
Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge
Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge
Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge
Then there are a further two places to stay close to the Crater's rim but not overlooking the floor itself. They still have a very convenient location, but don't have the views.
Lemala Luxury Camp
Rift Valley EscarpmentThere are a number of lodges in the Crater Highlands which can be used as a base for trips to the Crater. Three are particularly close – less than about 20km from the crater rim.
The Plantation Lodge
Ngorongoro Farmhouse Lodge
Bougainvillea Safari Lodge
Lake Manyara Serena
Kirurumu Tented Lodge