For nearly four million years, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area on the eastern edge of the Serengeti in Tanzania has been the homeland of mankind’s earliest ancestors—and of the wildlife that continues to draw visitors to East Africa. At its center is Ngorongoro Crater, the largest unbroken, inactive volcanic caldera on earth. The crater’s walls rise steeply to form a unique residence on the crater floor for 25,000 large animals, 90% of which never leave this unique natural ecosystem. (You’ll need some warm clothing no matter when you visit. The crater floor is well over a mile high and the rim, where the lodges are situated, soars to 8,000 feet.)
One Place Fits All
Visitors traversing the hundred square miles of grasslands and forests within the crater have an opportunity to see virtually all the species that lure safari-goers to East Africa. In a single day, in a single place, it’s possible to view lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, buffalo (Africa’s Big Five), plus zebras, hippos and scores of other frontline attractions.
Luxury lodges and camps with extraordinary views line the rim. The descent through misty forests into the crater for game viewing is a rugged hour’s ride down rutted roads. It’s worth the haul. This UNESCO World Heritage Site can be particularly rewarding for lovers of lions. Although the number of lions roaming Ngorongoro Crater is a scant sixty or so, this represents the densest population of lions in the world.
You’re very likely to see lion prides in the grasslands here, often lazing about, paws in the air, perhaps relishing their latest kill, as there’s plenty to feast upon within the confines of the crater. Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles graze nervously, zebras race with their young, wildebeests parade by the thousands, hyenas and jackals stalk the kills of leopards, and even a few cheetah, evading lions, pace these expanses. It’s African wildlife taken to the extreme.
Don’t ignore some of the smaller and rarer creatures, such as serval cats, or the bird life, from the flashy crown cranes to the nest-knitting weaver birds. You’ll look in vain, however, for several animals that don’t thrive in the crater ecosystem at all, including crocodiles and giraffes.
There are humans here, too. The Masai tribesmen, clothed in red, are allowed to graze cattle and sheep on the crater floor, but during daylight only. You’ll see their distinctive villages with the round huts as you drive in and out of the crater. Masai number 20,000 within the greater Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and they tend upwards of 275,000 livestock.
The main picnic ground in the crater is at Ngoitokitok Spring, a swampy area favored by hippos and elephants. Lunches are spread out on the hoods of safari vehicles circling the pool, and travelers are free to stretch their legs. Another water stop on the crater floor is salty Lake Magadi, breeding grounds for expansive flocks of flamingos.
For those who dream of Africa, Ngorongoro rings true from top to bottom. Stride offers you a choice of tour operators capable of delivering a once-in-a-lifetime safari into the wildest crater on earth.
Once you’re on your way...
- Get to the crater floor as near to sunrise as possible, to get a jump on the armada of safari vehicles, to view the animals while it’s still cool and to spend as much daylight as possible game-watching in the caldera.
- Keep an eye peeled for the movement of lion prides in the distant grasses. The lion population in the crater is denser than in any other animal preserve in Africa, and the lions are well supplied here with game.
- As a buffer against hour after hour of driving the jolting roads, consider bringing a seat cushion along. Some safari-goers even equip themselves with back braces. Cameras take a beating, too, especially from the dust (protective plastic bags help). As for keeping the camera steady in a safari vehicle, a tripod is best but bean bags (if supplied by your driver/guide) fit easily across the edge of roof openings and reduce shake.
- If a lunch stop at nearby historic Gibb’s Farm is on your itinerary, be sure to take an hour’s hike through the sloping farmlands, followed up with a bathroom stop. The spacious facilities, with private garden-views, represent the most upscale plumbing in East Africa.