The crater itself is actually part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) which is a protected region bordering the Serengeti, approximately 180km west of Arusha. It is one of Africa's most famous sites and is said to have the highest density of wildlife in Africa. But it's not just wildlife that can be found in and around the crater - humanoid fossils have been found dating back to 3 million years ago, making it a site of incredible historical importance.
Ngorongoro Crater is the world's largest intact volcanic caldera, with sides up to a mind-blowing 600 meters deep. The crater rim itself is over 2,220 meters high and has a viewpoint where travelers can stop to soak in the view before venturing down into the crater floor. The floor consists of a number of different habitats - including grassland, swamps, forests and a river, known as the Munge River which fills the only lake within the crater, Lake Makat (Maa word for 'salt'). These lush and fertile habitats, combined with the rich volcanic soil of the land, lure the animals to stay within this contained environment throughout the year. Even the wildebeest, which usually follow a migratory pattern, are sedentary within the crater for the best part of the year, escaping only for the rainy season.
It has been claimed that the NCA has the highest density of wildlife in Africa, hosting over 27,000 animals at any one time. From the viewpoint at the top of the crater it is possible to make out the shapes of animals grazing and exploring the crater floor far below. The vast majority of the animal population are ungulates - with hippos, zebra, eland, wildebeest and gazelles being the most common in the region. Lake Magadi, a large lake to the southwest of the crater, is often inhabited by thousands of flamingoes, which make it look pink from afar.
Naturally also predatory species can be found in the crater - such as lion, cheetah, leopard and wild dog.
Perhaps the most notable sighting of the crater is the Black Rhino, an extremely small and endangered population which thrives in this small and protected environment. Ngorongoro Crater is one of the most likely areas in Tanzania to see the endangered Black Rhino, as a small population is thriving in this idyllic and protected environment. It is currently one of the few areas where they continue to breed in the wild and is ultimately a last hope for the survival of the species.
Due to the high altitude of the crater, it is mostly much cooler than other regions of Tanzania during the day, and can actually get quite chilly in the evenings, so make sure to pack warm clothing.
As the Serengeti increased in popularity over the past several decades, the local Maasai tribes were diverted to Ngorongoro and, in an effort to preserve their environment, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area was created. The NCA hosts many Maasai tribes who, being a nomadic people, set up temporary villages throughout the year before moving onto the next area. These villages can all be seen whilst driving up to the crater rim, where you can see the circular architecture of the buildings which rely on warmth and energy from a fire burning at the heart of a cattle dung dwelling with no chimney. These proud people are unfortunately no longer allowed to build villages inside the crater, however this doesn't stop them from accompanying their cattle there to graze and drink.
Best Time to Travel
Mid December - May