Ngorongoro crater


The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a protected area and a World Heritage Site located west of Arusha in the Crater Highlands area of Tanzania. The area is named after Ngorongoro Crater, a large volcanic caldera within the area. The conservation area is administered by the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCA), an arm of the Tanzanian government, and its boundaries follow the boundary of the Ngorongoro Division of the Arusha Region. Ngorongoro conservation area land is multi-use and unique because it is the only conservation area in Tanzania that protects wildlife while allowing human habitation. The land use is controlled to prevent negative effects on the wildlife population. For example, cultivation is prohibited at all but subsistence levels. It is part of the Serengeti ecosystem and, to the northwest, adjoins the Serengeti National Park and is contiguous with the southern Serengeti plains.


The area around Ngorongoro crater has a mild, temperate climate. It area experiences two Wet seasons. From October to November are the ‘short’ rains, followed by the ‘long rains’ from March to May. Rainfall is usually experienced in the form of short showers. The crater’s rim is located at about 2,300 meters above sea level with the average daily temperature at about 16 °C (61 °F) from October to April, while it drops to 13/14 °C (55/57 °F) from June to August. It is a bit cold at night, and drops below 10 °C (50 °F) most of the year. The crater never gets very hot during the day, but the crater rim gets cold, and it can freeze at night.


The area has global importance for biodiversity conservation in view of the presence of globally threatened species such as the black Rhino. It also has a high density of wildlife inhabiting the Ngorongoro Crater and surrounding areas throughout the year. Also happening here is the annual migration of wildebeest, zebra, Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelles and other ungulates into the northern plains.

The area has been subject to extensive archaeological research for over 80 years and has yielded a long sequence of evidence of human evolution. The evidence includes fossilized footprints at Laetoli, associated with the development of human bipedalism, a sequence of diverse, evolving hominin species within Olduvai gorge.

Stunning landscape combined with its spectacular concentration of wildlife is one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. Spectacular wildebeest numbers pass through the area as part of the annual migration of wildebeest across the Serengeti ecosystem and calve in the short grass plains which straddle the Ngorongoro Conservation Area/Serengeti National Park boundary.

Ngorongoro crater is the largest unbroken caldera in the world. The crater, together with the Olmoti and Empakaai craters are part of the eastern Rift Valley.


Ngorongoro crater is a volcanic crater, the largest un flooded and unbroken caldera in the world. Its dimensions are  20kms across, 600 meters deep and 300 sq kms in area,  which makes it a breathtaking natural wonder. The Ngorongoro Crater is one of Africa’s most famous sites and believed to have the highest density of wildlife in Africa. It is sometimes described as an ‘eighth wonder of the world’.

The Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera.  It forms a spectacular bowl of about 265 square kilometres and sides of up to 600 metres deep. It is home to approximately 30,000 animals at any one time.  From the high vantage point, it is possible to make out the tiny shapes of animals making their way around the crater floor far below. Swathes of clouds hang around the rocky rim most days of the year.


Lake Magadi is a shallow, azure blue and contains alkaline from sodium carbonate. It is fringed by hundreds of long-legged pink flamingos. Majority are lesser flamingos, distinguished by their dark red bills, feed on blue-green  algae. There are also many greater flamingos with black-tipped pink bills, slightly bent to facilitate sifting shellfish from the rich bottom mud. The lake shrinks in the dry season, leaving thick, crystalline salt pans used as licks by jackals, hyena and other animals to supplement their diet.


Lerai fever tree forest is located on the crater floor. It consists of tall, slim yellow barked acacias and frequented by elephant, rhino, eland, bushbuck, hyrax, and hundreds of birds. The foliage are the preferred food of the rare, black rhinoceros, but the old forest is regenerating slowly, because of damage by elephants, which tear off whole branches.   A younger Fever Tree forest is now forming new groves at the base of the Ngoitokitok Springs.


There have been over 115 species of mammal recorded in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The main areas for game-viewing the crater, the short-grass plains west of the Gol Mountains, northwest of Ngorongoro Crater, and the surroundings of Lake Ndutu which is close to the border with Serengeti National Park. Two of the areas below the crater become the feeding and breeding ground for over 2 million animals during the rainy reason as they support the great annual wildebeest migration that spans the Serengeti ecosystem. From around December to May and depending on the rains, over one million wildebeests and thousands of zebras and gazelles move south to calve in the short-grass plains around Ndutu that straddle the Conservation Area and Serengeti National Park.

Elephants, elands, hartebeests, and the endangered rhinos are among the wildlife that are found on the crater. Zebras and wildebeests found in the crater do not take part in the annual migration. Hippos are found in the permanent fresh water pools and the swamps on the crater. Other non-migratory herbivorous mammals found in the Conservation Area include buffalos, waterbucks, warthogs, and kudus and other species of antelope. Giraffes are to be found in the surroundings of Lake Ndutu, where acacia trees are abundant.

Carnivores found in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area include lions, cheetahs, hyenas, leopards, jackals, serval cats, and the endangered wild hunting dogs.

Over 550 species of birds have been recorded  in the Conservation Area, of which some are resident and others are migratory. Lake Makait (Magadi), a salt lake on the floor of the crater, is often inhabited by hundreds of lesser flamingos and other water birds. Some of this birds can also be observed around Lake Ndutu and in the Empakaai Crater Lake. Ngorongoro crater is one of the best places for birding in Tanzania. Species to look for are the flamingos, Kori bustards and crowned cranes. From the crater rims, one can observe species like the African cytrill sights, forest buzzard, golden winged sunbirds and white eyes slaty.


Game drives are the best way to view wildlife in the Ngorongoro Crater. Game drives are done with safari vehicles and are mostly organized in two shifts( morning and afternoon). By 4:30 pm, all safari vehicles must be out of the crater.  Attractions to seen include the big 5 wildlife, birds, lakes, lush forests and savannah vegetation.


This is where fabrication of the earliest tools and the building of the first human settlements can be witnessed. At Laetoli, hominid footprints have been found in sedimentary rock of 3.7 million years old. There is an excavations and modest paleoanthropological museum at Olduvai where you can also see evolutionary fossils.


This is a very adventurous way to explore the vast crater and surrounding areas. Hot air ballooning is highly attractive especially during the migration when the wildebeest are roaming or calving outside the crater, and the nearby Serengeti. Hot air ballooning allows tourists to appreciate and enjoy the beautiful scenery within the crater.


Olmoti Crater is a shallow, grassy, and lovely. Maasais pasture their cattle here alongside eland, bushbuck, reedbuck and buffalos. On the south wall of the caldera, the Munge stream forms a waterfall, plunging several hundred meters into the Ngorongoro crater to feed Lake Makait. Empakaai Crater is half-filled by an unusually deep soda lake. From the rim, there are views of volcanic craters and depressions towards Ol Doinyo Legai, The Great Rift Valley, and at a distance Mt Kilimanjaro.


On the northeastern zone, the primeval Gol Mountains provide a surreal wilderness environment. It comprises of stark, pink cliffs, enclosing the Angata Kiti pass, a bottleneck for the annual Great Migration of wildebeest and zebra.  They graze on the mineral rich grasses as they return to their ancestral breeding grounds in southern Serengeti and the Ndutu wilderness.

With a height of 80 meters from the foot of the Gol Mountains, monolithic Nasera Rock provides refuge to mountaineering klipspringers, baboons and varied birds. It is also hosts the location of a Stone Age human shelter, excavated by the Leakeys.


One of the reason behind the Ngorongoro Conservation Area has been to preserve the environment for the Maasai people who were diverted from the Serengeti Plains.  Mostly nomadic people, they build temporary villages in circular homesteads called bomas. It is possible to visit the Maasai who have maintained a traditional way of lifestyle.  Some of the things that can be seen include huts that are built in a strict pattern of order according to the chronological order of the wives. The masai have a great history as warriors and young men spend most of their time grazing cattle. They are no longer allowed to build villages inside the crater, they continue to herd their cattle into it to graze and drink, regardless of the predators nearby.


There are lodges in Ngorongoro Conservation Area built on the rim of the crater, and one lodge in Ndutu area. The facilities include old classic lodges and new establishment built in the 1990s. There are other modern lodges, hotels, and guesthouses outside the Conservation Area, especially in and around Karatu.