Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, the Ngorongoro Crater has easily earned its fabled reputation as one of Africa’s greatest natural wonders. The habitats on the floor of this crater are diverse, wildlife is varied and the concentration of animals is especially dense.
Short-grass plains thrive on the mineral-rich soil of the bowl’s floor providing nutritious grazing for numerous herbivores. These large mixed herds in turn attract an impressive density of predators.
The variety of flora and fauna is so impressive here that rewarding sightings can be enjoyed from almost anywhere; right from the flamingo-fringed waters of Magadi soda lake to the leopard-frequented yellow fever trees of Lerai Forest. The only surprising absentees from the crater floor are giraffes and impalas but that is more than compensated for by good populations of eastern black rhino, large elephant herds and improving numbers of cheetahs.
There is no accommodation inside the Ngorongoro Crater itself, but you can access the crater floor from the lodges and camps dotted around the crater rim and further to the south on the Rift Valley escarpment slopes. Some of the lodges and camps overlooking the crater floor have spectacular views but it is also worth considering their proximity to the crater’s entry points. The lodges and camps scattered further afield all make comfortable bases whereby many are uniquely designed and full of character too.
Various walking options in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and in the nearby Olduvai Gorge offer further enticements for visiting this area. Hiking areas include the Empakai and Olmoti craters both of which have breathtaking panoramic views. One of the world’s most important prehistoric sites, the Olduvai Gorge offers fascinating insights into the early species of human-like hominin who once lived here.
The showpiece of this conservation area is undoubtedly the Ngorongoro Crater which was created when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 and is the largest intact volcanic caldera in the world. It measures about 16-19km in diameter with walls of 400-600m in height. No matter how you how you look at it, the Crater is a strong candidate for any list of the world’s greatest natural wonders. It is renowned both for its geological splendor and for being a natural reserve which is home to some of the densest large mammal populations found anywhere in Africa.
Due to the enclosed nature of the crater, it has virtually formed its own ecosystem. Besides the stunning scenery, one of the main attractions of this area is the variety of flora and fauna found in a remarkably compact area all year round. In the South west corner, there is the Lerai Forest, which is mainly comprised of yellow fever trees (a member of the acacia family). To the north of the forest is a shallow soda lake called Lake Magadi and to the east you will find Gorigor Swamp and the Ngoitokitok Springs where pods of hippo are found in plenty.
The northern side of the crater is much drier and consists of open grasslands which characterize the Crater floor and this is where majority of the resident game resides.
You are guaranteed to see large concentrations of game on any Ngorongoro safari. The mineral-rich floor of this spectacular bowl is largely flat, open and covered in nutritious grasses – much to the liking of large herds of zebra and wildebeest, which graze here. These extensive open plains are also home to herds of buffalos, Thomson’s gazelles, Grant’s gazelles and Tsessebe (often called Topi). You’ll also find East Africa’s best population of black rhinos here and which are often seen in open grasslands. Breeding herds of elephants pass through the Ngorongoro Crater itself only rarely but you will see a scattering of old bulls including some of the biggest tuskers left alive in Africa today. The only surprising absentees from the Crater are Impalas and Giraffes. It is thought that this is perhaps due to lack of open woodlands and browsing species of trees which these two species of animals tend to thrive on.