Ngorongoro Crater Travel Guide

"Eighth wonder of the world", "heavenly paradise", "magic cauldron", "temple of aesthetics", "garden of Eden", "welcome site for Noah's ark" ... Almost everything was said about this place, known worldwide and classified by UNESCO on the list of World Heritage. 

All of these definitions actually relate to a very small part of the Ngorongoro Protected Area (around ). But this piece is undoubtedly the most beautiful: the Ngorongoro crater. This place rightly deserves these many qualifiers because no epithet, on the ground, rings false. No, it's true, this is a real wonder, isolated, untouched, at an altitude of 2,200-2,300 m (the bottom of the crater is at 1,700 m).

What strikes first is its immensity. It is 19 km long and 16 km wide (or 265 km2). Imagine: a capital like Paris would largely fit in this enormous natural hole. In scientific terms, it is called caldera,  that is to say a vast crater formed by the explosion of the chimney of a volcano, blocked by lava. Its steep flanks, wooded to the east and south-east, more arid to the north and it has never really been broken.

From the crater rim there are no breaches, no valleys to enter it. You enter the crater from the special road from the top, and only from the top. And it goes down to the crater floor , the drop is 610 m. This extraordinary volcanic feature is a closed world, closed in on itself. This explains the difficulty for animals to enter or escape.

This is the largest regular, non-flooded crater in the world. On the southern ridge, it measure at an altitude of 2,286 m. The air is cool and light. You will forget the heaviness of the overheated savannah if you are coming from Serengeti plains.

The interior of the Ngorongoro crater shelters various types of landscapes, grassy steppes, savannah with some trees, streams, marshes, lakes, small woods and mounds. The central at the bottom of the crater is occupied by excellent grass. There is water and shade here and there. Ngorongoro crater has listed as one of the 7 wonder of the world under UNESCO because the animals are in there as in earthly paradise.

See some of the features you can find in Ngorongoro Crater:

The Munge River (Munge Stream):  It has its source in the nearby Olmoti crater and crosses the crater, attracting many animals (especially lions) who come to drink there.

The sources of Ngoitokitok (Ngoitokitok Springs): southeast of the crater also the picnic site for visitors. Here you can also spot the hippos going around the springs water (hippo pool).

Mandusi Swamp (Mandusi Swamp): This is another attraction which act as a refuge for elephants, hippos, predators, wildebeest, zebras, and many birds.

Lerai Forest: There are two forests at the bottom of the crater. Lerai is one of them, this is a wonderful forest of yellow acacias (fever tree, or acacia xanthophloea) and fig trees. It is also common to see elephant and leopard around the forest.

Magadi Lake (Magadi Lake): Magadi means "salt" in the Maasai language and "soda" in Kiswahili. It occupies the central part of the crater. The level of its waters varies according to the season. It is an oasis of freshness.

What you Should Know about Ngorongoro

Human beings lived here four million years ago. Bones of cattle dating back 10,000 years have been found, proof of the presence of nomadic herders in this region. According to a thesis, the name of Ngorongoro comes from the Maasai word "ngor ngor" a word derived from the sound of the bells worn by the Maasai's cattles during grazing. 

Others claim that Ngorongoro  means "big hole" in the Maasai language. Who knows.  In 1892, Oscar Baumann was the first European explorer who visited the Ngorongoro crater. In the 1930s, the Germans controlled the area.

The first tourist lodge was built at that time. The Massais freely occupied the great outdoors. In 1956, the Massais came into conflict with the authorities of the Serengeti national park (to which the Ngorongoro was then attached). The idea of ​​the zoologist Professor Bernhard Grzimek was simple ( “A national park must remain absolutely wild and pristine in order to exist).

No man, even a native of this land, should live within its limits. This is how the protected region of Ngorongoro was created in 1959. The Massais, who had their pastoral habits in the bottom of the crater (they came there with their herds but did not live there), were driven out to make it look as natural as possible.

In 1978, Unesco listed it as a World Heritage Site. Pioneers in the defense of wildlife in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro, Bernhard Grzimek and his son, Michael, have marked the history of the region. Their conception of the protection of nature still prevails today.

Before In 1959, while filming the movie Serengeti Shall Not Die with his father, Michael was killed in a plane crash after hitting a vulture. His father alone completed the film and a book of the same name. In Frankfurt, he created the Frankfurt Zoological Society. He passed away in 1987. His last wish was to be buried near his son. Their graves are at the edge of the trail, not far from the Crater Lodge. The Grzimek are the only Europeans to rest in the protected region of Ngorongoro.

Best Time to Visit Ngorongoro Crater

Dry season:  From mid-May to the end of November.

Shortly after the end of the rainy season, in the month of June, it is almost ideal because everything is green, and there are flowers everywhere, Also, at the very beginning of the dry season, it can get cold . And that may come as a surprise.

Wet season: From late November to mid-May and in April and May, the slopes are wet and slippery but passable and the grass are very green.

Weather at Ngorongoro Crater

Due to the altitude, the heights of the crater are often shrouded in thick, cold fog that obstructs the view sometimes and does not dissipate until late morning. On the other hand, at sunrise (5 am) as at sunset, the rays illuminate the bottom of the basin. There is an exquisite temperature. Dawn and dusk are also the best times of day for photos, due to the quality of natural light.

In the evening and at night: at an altitude of 2,300 m, on the rim of the crater (where most of the lodges are located), the temperature can drop to 6 C at night. Bring warm clothes (a big sweater or a jacket).

Getting to Ngorongoro Crater

  • From Arusha: 190 km. Duration: 3 hrs 30 mins.
  • From Lake Manyara: 60 km. Duration: 1 hour.
  • From Tarangire park: 155 km. Duration: 2 hrs 15 mins.
  • From Lake Ndutu: 90 km. Duration: 1 hour 15 minutes.
  • From Seronera Lodge (Serengeti Park): 145 km. Duration: 2 hrs 30 mins.
  • From Ikoma Gate: 200 km. Duration: 3 hrs 30 mins.
  • From Lobo Lodge (Serengeti national park): 255 km. Duration: 3 hrs 45 mins
  • From Musoma: 390 km. Duration: 6 hours
  • From Mwanza: 470 km. Duration: 7 hrs 30 mins

To these travel times, add another 30 minutes to reach the very bottom of the crater and Only vehicles equipped with four-wheel drive are allowed to descend into the bottom of the crater. Simple minibuses cannot go there.

Animals you can observe when visit the Ngorongoro crater

The Ngorongoro Crater is one of the place in Tanzania where you can see the "Big Five" (elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo and leopard) gathered in one place. On the other hand, we cannot see giraffes, impalas, topi or cheetahs. There are between 20 and 25,000 large mammals. See the “Wildlife” section of this guide further on, which gives detailed explanations of each animal.

Elephants: There are around 300 at the bottom of the crater, mostly males. Their ivory tusks, more beautiful here than elsewhere, are long and harmonious, due to the quality of the grass they eat. The males make a few forays into the crater and come out to join the females who live in the forests outside.

Rhinoceros: Ngorongoro Crater is one of the last places in Tanzania where black rhinos live. In very small numbers, around 30, the number increased after surveillance by the rangers. 

Lions: There are around 5 lion clans in Ngorongoro, each living in a well-defined area. In 1962, the lions were wiped out by a deadly epidemic carried by flies, they are now 75 and they are reproducing normally.

Buffaloes: Very numerous to see. Arrived in the crater in the mid-1970s, as the Massais and their herds were leaving the crater.

Leopards: Rare, but there are some. You can, with a little luck, see them along the course of the Munge and on the wooded slopes.

Other observable animals: hippos, wildebeest, zebras, Thomson's gazelles, Grant's gazelles, Cape elands, hartebeest, warthogs, ostriches, predators such as jackals, hyenas and some cheetahs. Many species of birds: ducks, geese, herons, ibises, plovers, bustards, crowned cranes ...

This wild splendor, Ngorongoro Crater has already toured the world through films and animal reports. So do not expect to be there alone like Adam and Eve on the first day of the world. The Ngorongoro is frequented visited by tourist. More and more visitors are on the slopes. But in front of the dazzling spectacle of nature and wildlife, you will end up forgetting the humans and the 4x4 safari jeep. 

Plan a perfect Trip to Ngorongoro area today with Shzi safaris and experience the best of wildlife in Tanzania.