Africa is a continent that is simply brimming with natural beauty and amazing wildlife, with a seemingly endless list of potential safari destinations. Amazingly, each country, region and national park offers something different: from navigating the waters of the Okavanga Delta in Botswana to scanning the endless plains of the Serengeti in Namibia. Perhaps one of the most unique experiences of all, however, is in the jaw dropping Ngorongoro Crater.
The Ngorongoro Crater is located in Tanzania, about four hours from the town of Arusha, in the Central Highlands of the country. As one of Tanzania’s premier tourist destinations, the Tanzanian Government carefully conserves the area through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. The Crater is, as the name suggests, a volcanic crater that was created when a large volcano erupted and the pressure of the explosion caused it to collapse on itself some 2 million plus years ago. The result is a vast “dent” in the landscape, creating a sort of bowl that is filled with flora and fauna.
What makes the Ngorongoro Crater so special?
The name of the Crater roughly translates from the local Masai language as “the gift of life”, and within moments of entering the expansive park you’ll see why. Although it is the largest intact, inactive volcanic crater on the planet, it is still relatively modest in size, covering 260 square kilometers in total. Within those 260 square kilometres, there are more than 25,000 large animals (think elephants, lions and hyenas). This means that the density of wildlife is absolutely incredible – it is almost impossible to gaze over the landscape without seeing dozens of animals. While, for the most part, the animals co-exist peacefully, you can also expect to see the cycle of life in action with plenty of hunts and fights, as well as birthing of animals. The birdlife is fantastic with more than 200 species within the Crater and we love the hundreds of pink flamingos that flock here.
Not only does the Crater offer spectacular wildlife viewing, but the environment itself is incredibly beautiful. The crater is about 610 meters deep, and the views over it are spectacular, with beautiful green hues stretching out far in front of you. It is well worth getting up early in the morning to see the sun rise over the stunning landscape.
What can you see in the Ngorongoro Crater?
Those in search of the Big 5 will not be disappointed by a visit to the Ngorongoro Crater, as it is home to each of those animals and far more. In fact, it is easier to describe what animals you can’t see the in the Crater than to provide a list of those you can! It is really only alligators, giraffes and impalas who cannot be found in the Crater.
Perhaps most significantly, the Ngorongoro Crater is home to one of the largest concentrated population of lions in East Africa.
It is estimated that there are 62 lions that call the Crater home, so it's almost impossible not to see one. Even the lions’ prey, such as zebras and gazelles, seem to have gotten used to them – it's not unusual to see a group of zebra relaxing within easy grabbing distance of the King of the Jungle (and the Crater).
There is also a huge swamp within the Ngorongoro Crater, which creates an ecosystem for animals such as hippopotamuses, buffalo, lions and more. This is one of the best and most popular spots for lunch – imagine eating surrounded by some of the world’s most incredible creature – who hopefully aren’t hungry themselves!
Other animals that are less frequently seen in the Crater include African wild dogs, cheetahs and leopards do live in the Crater, however you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled to spot them as they are quite rare. Luckily, experienced guides are skilled in finding the best places to see these incredible creatures.
When is the perfect time to visit the Ngorongoro Crater?
One of the most amazing things about visiting natural wonders such as the Ngorongoro Crater is how it changes with the seasons: you could visit every month of the year and have a slightly different experience. As such, there is no “bad” time to see the Crater.
The most popular time to visit is June to September, when wildlife viewing is generally the best and the weather is typically dry and warm. October is also a dry, warm month that offers plenty of opportunities to see amazing wildlife. If you don’t mind a little rain, however, the wet season – from November to May – is also a good time to visit as the rainfall makes the Crater incredibly lush and green. January and February is a particularly special time, when there is mass wildebeest calving.
If you want to miss the crowds, April and May are the ‘least popular’ times to visit the Crater, meaning you will have more space to yourself – but you may want to pack a poncho as it does rain quite frequently! Whatever time of year you visit, make sure you get up early to see the sunrise, as watching the sun ascend over the lush crater is surely one of the most incredible sights on the planet. If you only have one early morning start during your African holiday, make it while you are in the Crater!
It is typical to leave the Crater having been bitten by the ‘safari bug’ (figuratively, not literally!) and the Ngorongoro Crater can easily be combined with visits to other fantastic safari destinations in Tanzania. Lake Manyara is about 90 minutes away, and the famed Serengeti is also nearby.
Where to stay
Your budget will certainly help to dictate this one!
If you have an unlimited budget for the ultimate luxury, we recommend the &beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, which has stunning views, fabulous food, and deems itself an "Award winning lodge fit for a king and queen on the edge of the Crater".
For something more mid-market, we love the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge which boasts a fantastic location on the rim of the Crater, and is one of the larger hotels in the area.
If you want luxury at a more affordable price like we do on our group tours, we recommend
Ngorongoro Oldeani Mountain Lodge, which is still nearby but allows all the luxury without breaking the bank.
And finally for those wanting something more more budget, you are actually able to camp on the Crater rim, or alternatively try the Ngorongoro Rhino Lodge.
It is no wonder that the Ngorongoro Crater has been named one of the seven wonders of Africa, with its incredible diversity of wildlife and jaw dropping landscapes. For anyone seeking the quintessential African safari, the Crater is sure to live up to all of your expectations – and then some!