Ngorongoro Crater is the main highlight of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania which is covering an area 8,292 square kilometers. Considered to be the 8th natural wonder of the world, the Ngorongoro Crater is a geological phenomenon of unparallel proportions. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979 and one of Africa’s greatest conservation areas, the flat, open plain within the immense caldera of an extinct volcano contains a population of approximately 25,000 large animals including the highest density of mammalian predators in Africa, which live permanently in the crater.
The crater formed when a giant volcano exploded and collapsed on itself some two to three million years ago, creating a nature enclosure measuring is 610 m deep and a floor which covers an expansive 260 km. Within this crater lies every type of ecosystem, including ravine forests, open plains, freshwater and alkaline lakes which attract a number of wildlife and Africa’s Big Five which can be seen on a Tanzania safari.
Olduvai Gorge known as the cradle of mankind, it is one of the most prominent paleoanthropologist sites in the world. Some of the findings here have shaped our understanding of early human evolution. At Laetoli, west of the Ngorongoro Crater, are humanoid footprints, preserved in the volcanic rock. They are thought to be over 3.6 million years old and represent the earliest signs of mankind so far that has been found in the world.
Best time to visit Ngorongoro
Wildlife viewing inside the Ngorongoro Crater is superb at all times. However, grass on the crater floor is short in the Dry season (June through September) and this makes animal spotting easier. The scenery is lush and spectacular in the Wet season months (from November to May).
Weather and climate in Ngorongoro
Ngorongoro conservation area has a mild, temperate climate. The 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 never gets very hot during the day, but the crater rim gets cold, and it can freeze at night. Warm clothing for early morning game drives is a necessity.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a vast area with altitude ranging from 1,027 to 3,522m (3,369-11,555ft). Most people only visit the Ngorongoro Crater. They spend the night in a lodge or campsite on the crater rim and visit the crater floor for wildlife viewing. Both the rim (about 2,300m/8,530ft) and floor (about 1,700m/5,577ft) are at higher altitudes and are colder than the overall conservation area. Temperatures drop by about 6.5°C for every 1,000m you climb (or 3.5°F per 1,000ft). The difference is more noticeable during the night. Afternoons on the crater floor will be pleasant, but it can freeze on the crater rim at night. The rim also receives quite a lot of rain.
How to get to Ngorongoro Conservation area
Most people will visit the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as part of a bigger package, including a visit to the Serengeti from Arusha or Mwanza city, which is 2hrs drive to Serengeti National Park. Conveniently, the conservation area lies en route and is only a three-hour drive on tarred road from the town of Arusha, the starting point of all safaris in northern Tanzania.
From Arusha, you can hop around the parks of the northern circuit by small aircraft on chartered or scheduled flights, or you can drive and do the whole circuit by safari vehicle. A popular option is to fly into the Serengeti and make your way back by safari vehicle via the Ngorongoro crater, or the other way around. In most cases, African Diurnal Safaris will pick you up from the airport.
Coming from the Seronera area in the Serengeti, the distance to the crater is about 140km/90mi and the driving time is about three hours. This can obviously take much longer allowing for wildlife viewing along the way. The 45km drive from Lake Manyara to the Ngorongoro Crater takes about 1hour, and the 95km drive from Tarangire takes about 2hours.