The Ngorongoro Crater and its surrounds are listed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. We fully understand why it made the cut, and one hundred percent agree with the decision!
The Ngorongoro Crater is a massive, 20 km-wide, bowl-like depression in northern Tanzania formed by a volcano that collapsed in on itself. It’s a beautifully untouched and well-preserved natural phenomenon that has become a sanctuary to all kinds of wildlife.
Not only can you find the Big Five there, but you can find such a density of them, as well as an abundance of other indigenous animals and birds. The crater is, in fact, home to thousands upon thousands of animals. And they all live in and near truly beautiful habitats, like forest, wetland and savannah. Going on a Tanzania safari in Ngorongoro Crater is a truly mesmerising experience, and we wish everyone could witness the beauty of this site at least once in their lifetime!
The Ngorongoro Crater is a caldera, which is a very large crater that’s formed when a volcano erupts and collapses in on itself. Volcanoes played a large part in shaping the Tanzanian landscape. Think, for instance, of Mount Kilimanjaro, which is a dormant volcano. Some actually believe that Ngorongoro was once taller than Kilimanjaro! The reason for Tanzania’s volcanoes and calderas is that the Great Rift Valley runs through it. Seismic activity along the Eastern Rift created the Ngorongoro Volcano that eventually became the Ngogongoro Crater.
The Ngorongoro Crater is almost 20 km wide and covers 264 km² (102 mi²). The crater wall, or rim, rises about 600 m above the crater floor. This rim is a barrier to the outside world that has allowed the crater to become a true sanctuary for all sorts of wildlife.
When you stand on the ridge of the Ngorongoro Crater and look down, you see a vast, seemingly empty green plain. And yet Ngorongoro Crater is quite literally teeming with wildlife! It’s only when you descend to the floor of the crater that you start to see the wildlife. This fact might give you a small glimpse into how expansive the crater actually is.
The Ngorongoro Crater is not only famous for its wildlife, but also its natural beauty, as already mentioned. Other than a few roads for safari drives, the crater is free from human industry. Various ecosystems thrive within its walls, like woodland, forest, prairie and wetland.
Ngorongoro Crater sits in the north of Tanzania. Tanzania is home to great natural beauty and rich wildlife. It’s arguably most famous for Mount Kilimanjaro, the great Serengeti migration, and Zanzibar. Those in the know, however, will often cite Ngorongoro as the most magical of Tanzania’s sites.
The Ngorongoro Crater sits not far from Mount Kilimanjaro to its east, the Serengeti plains directly to its north, Lake Manyara to its southeast, and Lake Victoria to its northwest. A trip to north Tanzania therefore has plenty to offer the eager visitor!
The crater sits within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which is a much larger area containing other calderas and an abundance of wildlife.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is 8,292 km² (3,202 mi²), which is roughly the same size as Puerto Rico or Cyprus. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. It includes the Ngorongoro, Olmoti and Empakai Craters, the Olduvai Gorge, forests, bushland and vast swathes of savannah. It’s listed as one of the Sevens Natural Wonders of Africa.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area receives over half a million visitors annually. It’s also home to around 40,000 people, most of whom are Maasai tribes people.
There are around 25,000 large mammals inside Ngorongoro Crater in the wet season! These include:
The animals populations of Ngorongoro Crater are immense. There are, for instance, around 7,000 wildebeest, 6,000 hyenas and 4,000 zebras according to Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania. Many of the animals living in the crater are social creatures, so when you spot one, you usually spot more than one. The terms of venery (collective nouns) for many of our favourite African animals are just fantastic: a crash of rhinos, a bloat of hippos, a skulk of foxes, and a cackle of hyenas.
Did you know the black rhino has a pointed lip to help it pick fruit and leaves off trees? The white rhino has a wide lip and grazes grass.
There are giraffe in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, but none inside the crater. It’s speculated that the sides of the crater are too steep for them to descend. But you’ll certainly see them as you head to and away from the crater.
The abundance of wildlife also means that Ngorongoro Crater has one of the highest concentrations of predatory animals in Africa. In fact, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority reports the crater has the highest density of lions in the world – around 60 of these magnificent cats live in the crater. You can also see black-maned male lions in the crater, which is a treat. A black mane indicates advanced age and also a healthy lifestyle. Lions enjoy the crater floor and your chance of spotting a pride or two is high. Lions enjoy the crater floor and your chance of spotting a pride is high.
There are also leopards, cheetahs, caracals and foxes in the crater, among other predators. And then there are plenty of scavengers and omnivorous guys, like hyenas, jackals, baboons and civets. The abundance and diversity of wildlife in Ngorongoro is truly staggering.
Some of the magnificent birdlife to look out for in the Ngorongoro Crater are as follows:
Ngorongoro Crater is a great spot for birdwatching all year round, but November to April is especially good as this is when migratory birds from Europe and North Africa come to the area. Also, many of the resident birds have their best plumage as it’s breeding season.
One of the highlights of visiting Ngorongoro Crater is witnessing its population of flamingoes spread all across the lake. Thousands of this leggy bird – both the greater and lesser varieties – flock to the crater’s lake in the rainy season. The greater flamingo is the larger of the two and has whiter plumage, while the lesser flamingo is smaller and has pinker plumage. Did you know that flamingoes, which eat crustaceans and algae, do a ‘dance’ at mealtime? This is done to loosen the mud.
For the interested take a look at this gorgeous, full-colour online guide to the birds of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The short Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania in HD video shows you some of the gorgeous wildlife that awaits those who visit Ngorongoro Crater.
Fortunately for humans, the animals of Ngorongoro Crater are generally pretty easy to spot, as much of the crater is open savannah. The local leopards, however, are more elusive (aren’t they always?), as they stick mostly to the crater rim. The rim has plenty of euphorbias and fig and fever trees, among other plants, and so it’s easier for leopards to catch prey here. The sausage tree can be found on the rim too – this tree has long fruit shaped like a sausage and is quite the exotic sight to those from abroad!
In the rainy season the crater is an inviting bowl of green. There’s also a burst of prairie flowers like the vlei ink-flower. In the dry season, most of the vegetation yellows and browns. Many beautiful sedges grow in the crater’s Gorigor Swamp. This is also where the hippos like to hang out.
You can visit Ngorongoro Crater any time of the year. Arguably the best time to visit, however, is during or just after the wet season, as there are many migratory animals in the crater at this time, and the vegetation is lush and gorgeous. The rainy season for Ngorongoro Crater, which lies in the north of Tanzania, is November to May. Its wettest months are March and April. The grass grows long at this time, which can make smaller animals like mongooses, civets and jackals harder to spot.
The best time for seeing as many animals as possible is May or June to October, because the grass is shorter. The vegetation is much drier and browner in the dry season, so the crater overall isn’t as attractive during this season. Elephants also tend to leave the crater in the dry season. Temperatures are fairly manageable throughout the year, with a summer average of 18.6° C and a winter average of 14.5° C, so at no time of the year will you melt or freeze.
As you can see, there are pros and cons to each season. Deciding on the best time of year to visit Ngorongoro Crater might mean determining which consideration ranks highest with you.
|I want to …||Time of year to visit|
|See newborn animals||January to March|
|See lots of birds||November to April|
|Find a green landscape and flowers||March or April|
|See as many animals as possible||June to October|
|Have no rain on my safari||I don’t want any rain|
|Avoid the crowds||November, December, May or June|
|Witness the Serengeti migration||December to March|
Note that the Serengeti migratory animals are more likely to be seen in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area than in the crater itself.
If you want the best chance of seeing newborn animals, you should visit Ngorongoro Crater in February or March.
Here are a few tips for when you visit Ngorongoro Crater:
The Ngorongoro Crater is a surprisingly well-kept secret. For instance, how many people do you know who have been there? As mentioned earlier, one of the wonderful things about the crater is how close it is to so many other world-class attractions, like Kilimanjaro, Lake Manyara and Serengeti National Park.
We’re in love with Ngorongoro Crater at Follow Alice and so we like nothing more than taking visitors there! We find clients often like to pair an Ngorongoro safari with a Kilimanjaro climb. If you’re interested in visiting this Garden of Eden in Tanzania, or would just like to know a little more, please give us a shout below and we’ll be in touch with you soon!