Ngorongoro Crater, at a glance
The park was established as a conservation area for wildlife and the semi-nomadic Maasai population that reside in it.
The caldera is an important landmark for human history, as well as an essential habitat safeguarding animal diversity. Despite its small area, the caldera has excellent bio-diversity, and several globally threatened species live on these plains. These plains form part of the route of the Great Migration.
The caldera is of scientific importance as important discoveries were made here that shed light on the path of human evolution.
Aside from the main caldera, there are two other volcanic craters: the Olmoti and Empakai. The Olmoti is famed for its beautiful waterfalls, and the Empakai is known for its deep lake and lush green walls.
Another amazing site is the Olduvai Gorge, a 14km long ravine. In order to protect this incredible natural wonder, visitor numbers are closely monitored, and you must obtain a permit to enter the crater and the gorge.
The crater was formed around 2.5 million years ago when a volcano – thought to be roughly the same height as Kilimanjaro – erupted and collapsed in on itself. Now dormant, the volcano’s crater is 610 metres deep and 20km wide, making it the world’s largest inactive caldera.
What to do in Ngorongoro
Famous around the world for the Ngorongoro Crater, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) also has much more to offer the curious visitor. This 8,288 km² expanse in northern Tanzania comprises the highlands between the Serengeti Plains and the Great Rift Valley.
From world-class safaris to exhilarating hikes and cultural immersions, the NCA is a treasure trove. Here’s our pick of the top seven things to do while visiting the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
Activities in Ngorongoro Crater:
Seronera is one of many world famous attractions in the Central Serengeti. Seronera Valley supports a much greater diversity of resident wildlife than anywhere else in the Serengeti including elephant, giraffe, impala, waterbuck, hippo, topi, reedbuck, buffalo and baboon. This resident prey in turn attracts the highest concentrations of large predators in Africa (lion, hyena, leopard and cheetah) and a multitude of smaller predators (mongoose, jackal, serval and bat-eared fox).
Stretching across to Lake Victoria, the Western Corridor (or West Serengeti) is a remote, little-visited area of the national park famed for the thrilling river crossings of the Grumeti River during the Great Migration between May and July.
A huge valley bordered by hills that ends in Lake Victoria, the Western Corridor is made up of open savanna, woodlands, floodplains and riverine forest which are home to a great diversity of year-round wildlife, including elephant, giraffe, hippo, giant Nile crocodiles, rare Colobus monkeys and the localised kongoni antelope.
The Northern Serengeti offers a chance to escape the crowds: this region of the park – wedged between the Central Serengeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve to the north – is remote and relatively inaccessible, which means it sees fewer visitors.
Travellers who make it to this corner of the Serengeti will be rewarded with gorgeous landscapes of green rolling hills, granite outcrops and acacia woodlands dotting open savanna, incredible wildlife, and most importantly, with massive herds of wildebeest and zebra making dangerous crossing of the croc-infested Mara River during the Great Migration in June and July and again in September, October and November.
This sector of the park is also home to the greatest concentration of elephant in the Serengeti, as well as good numbers of lion, leopard, cheetah and hyena and diverse resident animals such as giraffe, topi, eland and hippo.
Grassy plains studded with granite kopjes extend endlessly across the scenically beautiful Southern Serengeti, which stretches from the bottom of the Central Serengeti to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Maswa Game Reserve.
It’s one of the best areas to see the animals of the Great Migration: visit between December and May to see the huge herds of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle arriving to calve, and then at the beginning of the dry season making their way northwards again in search of green grass.
February is a particularly good month to visit the Southern Serengeti to see thousands of baby wildebeest taking their first steps on the savanna – and being targeted by hungry lion, cheetah and hyena, which are in abundance in the region.
This world renowned extinct volcanic crater covers a simply enormous 260km sq and is the largest intact volcanic caldera on the planet, but visitors don’t come here merely for the geology (although first views of this crater, from one of the viewpoints as you drive into the park, will leave you speechless) but for what has to be, alongside the nearby Serengeti, the greatest wildlife show in Africa. The floor of the crater is a flat carpet of lush grasses and eternal pools of fresh water and this has attracted animals in their thousands including all of the Big Five. It’s been said before but driving down the tightly forested crater walls onto the floor of the crater itself really is like entering a lost world and while you’re driving around down here the animal action comes on pretty much non-stop.
When is the best time to visit Ngorongoro Crater
Although the roads around the caldera can get rather muddy, the best time to visit the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania is during the April to May rainy season. There are far fewer visitors this time of the year, and the crater is wonderfully lush and green compared to the dusty dry-season landscape.
High visitor numbers can be expected during the July to September peak season, and again during the December to February calving season that follows the November rains.
With Ngorongoro’s wildlife remaining in the steep-walled crater all year round, the question of when to go on Ngorongoro Crater safaris is less about optimising your game viewing experience and more about how many other people and vehicles you want to share the crater with.
Wildlife in the Ngorongoro
The star attraction of the Conservation Area is the Ngorongoro Crater: an extinct volcano teeming with wildlife. All major animals are easily seen. The only exception is giraffe, which is present in the Conservation Area, but not in the crater because of the steep descent. Elephant are common, including some very big tuskers, and all the big cats are prominent as well.
A real special of the crater is the black rhino. Rhino is hard to see in Tanzania, and usually sticks to thick vegetation. This is not so in the crater, where they have a predictable routine of spending the night in Lerai forest, and the day in open grassland. Black-backed and golden jackal are equally common in the crater and the density of spotted hyena is quite extraordinary.
Wildlife viewing is excellent in the crater throughout the year. The scenery of the crater is most spectacular in the Wet season, from November to May, but at that time the grass might be long in places. This can interfere with seeing some of the smaller animals. March and April are the wettest months.
How to get to Ngorongoro Crater
Most people will visit the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as part of a bigger package, including a visit to the Serengeti. 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, your tour operator 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 80km/50mi drive from Lake Manyara to the Ngorongoro Crater takes about two hours, and the 180km/110mi drive from Tarangire takes about four hours.
Casual, comfortable clothing is suitable throughout the year. Due to the high altitude on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater it can be cold at night (even in summer) therefore it is very important to pack warm clothing for the nights. The most practical items to pack are: Khaki, brown, white and beige colours.
Other than being the biggest intact (unbroken) volcanic caldera on Earth, the Ngorongoro Crater is also a natural sanctuary for some of the densest populations of large mammals in Africa. Due to its enclosed nature, the Ngorongoro Crater has effectively formed its own ecosystem.
Yes, most foreigners need a Tanzanian visa to visit the country. US, Canadian, British and most European citizens can simply obtain a visa upon arrival at the airport. The cost is $100 for US passport holders and $50 for others. US citizens do get a longer visa, however.
If you’re a citizen of a different country, please check with your embassy if you can obtain a visa upon arrival – of if you even need one. Certain African nationals, for instance, can enter Tanzania without a visa.
Please also note that you need a passport that’s valid for at least six months after your departure date.
There are no specific vaccine requirements for entry into Tanzania. However, be aware that the Government of Tanzania requires proof of yellow fever vaccination upon arrival if you are travelling from a country with risk of yellow fever.
While it’s not mandatory by any means, we suggest you talk to your doctor about getting the following vaccinations (which are standard in developed countries): Hepatitis A & B, typhoid, yellow fever, tetanus, polio, MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) and meningococcal meningitis (Africa and Asia).
While the Ngorongoro Crater can be explored in one full day, you may want to consider spending three or more days in one or various lodges and camps in the Serengeti. If visiting the Selous or Ruaha, give yourself a minimum of two full days to traverse these scenically different safari destinations
YES! Typically, you can see the African big five in various Tanzania national parks like Arusha, Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti national park, and Tarangire national park.
A question that is often asked if someone is on a tight timescale, which is better, a Serengeti or Ngorongoro safari in Tanzania? Personally, we think visiting both areas gives you the best all-round experience, however we understand that not everyone can spend over a week on safari at once.
Safari in Serengeti National Park
Without doubt, the epitome of an East Africa safari. The Serengeti provides the quintessential safari experience with vast, grassy plains and accommodation that follows the footsteps of mother nature’s longest mammal migration.
Home to the Great Wildebeest Migration, every month of the year offers something different. Whether the herds are risking their lives crossing the Mara River, or congregating on the Southern Plains for the calving season, there’s no dull moment amongst the millions of wildebeest that call the Serengeti home.
The Serengeti is so vast that each area also offers a different landscape. From forests in Seronera, to the undulating landscape of Kogatende, spending time in different areas will offer a diverse experience.
Safari in Ngorongoro
The Ngorongoro Crater on the other hand is small and easily explored within one day. It’s more accessible from Arusha (which may be a factor to consider), and you only need two nights in the area to experience the best of the Crater and its surrounds.
A safari on the Crater floor can almost guarantee four members of the big five, plus so much more. The density of animals is incredible, however the Crater’s accessibility and fame do come with a downside. Visitors around the world flock to the Crater to marvel at its beauty and scenery. For first timers looking to tick off some species, it’s ideal, but for the safari purists, we would recommend Tarangire National Park instead.
Why not go to both? Itinerary Ideas
To make the most of your safari, we certainly recommend heading to both the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. Around a week should be more than enough time to visit these areas and enjoy everything they offer.
Typically, we would suggest a night in Arusha, two nights by the Crater before then flying into the Serengeti for three or four nights.
For some inspiration, please see our itineraries page which gives a great overview of what is possible in both Northern and Southern Tanzania or preferably give us a call, and one of our experts will talk you through the different options.