The Ngorongoro Conservation Area, named after the Ngorongoro Crater that lies within, is a World Heritage Site and one of Tanzania’s premier safari destinations. The area is located 180 km west of Arusha in the Crater Highlands area of Tanzania.
Ngorongoro Crater and the surrounding area attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year for amazing safaris in the bush. Wildlife spotting here is world-class, with the chance to see the Big Five as well as wildebeests, zebras, hippos, and more.
The highlight for many visitors is the crater itself, a vast highland area with the famous 600m (2 000ft) deep crater, formed when a volcano erupted millions of years ago before caving in. Some claim that before it erupted, Ngorongoro Volcano would have been higher than Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa.
Today, Ngorongoro Crater holds the record of the largest intact caldera in the world!
It’s a destination worth visiting if you are planning a safari in the Serengeti.
How to Get to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area
To get to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area requires a bit of effort. The journey usually consists of a flight or a 3-4 hour drive to reach the area.
There are two International airports servicing the region:
- Kilimanjaro International Airport, located 3.5 hours from Ngorongoro Crater, and
- Arusha Airport, located 2.5 hours from Ngorongoro Crater
If you’re looking for a cheaper way to reach Ngorongoro, you can fly into Nairobi instead and take a bus to Arusha before heading west to the crater.
A number of airlines also operate twice-daily scheduled flights from Arusha to Lake Manyara Airstrip, located about 1.5 hours from Ngorongoro Crater. Those arriving into Lake Manyara Airstrip can be collected from the airstrip by their accommodation.
Self-driving is not allowed inside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, so visitors are required to join a licensed operator for any Game Drives inside the crater.
Wildlife in Ngorongoro
While on your Ngorongoro Crater safari, you’ll have the chance to spot some incredible animals, including all of Africa’s “Big Five.” An estimated 25 000 large mammals reside inside the Ngorongoro Crater, including a population of approximately 6,000 resident wildebeest, 16 rare black rhino and around 70 lions. You’ll also see thousands of gazelles, zebras, buffalos, and even hyenas and wild dogs.
Wildebeests are also a huge highlight of animal watching in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The crater is on the route of the famous wildebeest migrations, so if you come at the right time of year, you can see them on the move in staggering numbers.
One animal you won’t see on your Ngorongoro safari is the giraffe. It’s thought that the edges of the crater are too steep for them to walk down, but you will find them around the crater’s rim and beyond.
Activities in Ngorongoro
Go on a Game Drive
Game drives are an essential activity in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. There’s no better way to spot incredible flora and fauna than from the comfort and safety of your safari vehicle, with the help of an expert guide.
Visit Lake Magadi
The huge lake in the middle of the crater is one place you must visit on your Ngorongoro safari. The lake is especially well known for its huge population of pink flamingos, hippos, crocs and many birds.
Explore the Lerai Forest
The Lerai Forest inside the crater is one of the most unique wooded areas in the world. Made up mostly of straight, yellow/green fever trees, this forest is otherworldly. When in bloom, the trees produce bright yellow flowers. Animals, especially elephants and baboons love this forest and can often be spotted here in great numbers.
Where to Stay: Best Ngorongoro Lodges
Ngorongoro Serena Lodge
The Ngorongoro Serena Lodge is an amazing place to stay on the crater ridge. You can soak up the views from the stunning pool or while enjoying a drink by the fire. The lodge is decorated in a cozy, rustic style that pays homage to the animals and the culture of the region.
In addition to being an excellent choice for a Ngorongoro lodge, the Serena Lodge is also one of the best eco-lodges in the Serengeti.
andBeyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge
If you’re looking for something really special, andBeyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge is just the ticket. This all-inclusive luxury lodge has won numerous awards and offers some of the best views of the caldera.
The lodge has 3 intimate camps of 6-12 suites in each camp. Each suite features beautiful decor and a fireplace. Guests can enjoy the services of a private butler and indulge in decadent dining on-site.
Lemala Ngorongoro Tented Camp
If you are not able to splurge on a lodge, a tented camp, like the Lemala Ngorongoro Tented Camp can offer a comfortable full-board experience that’s a bit more gentle on the wallet.
Set in a delightful ancient acacia forest close to the rim of the magnificent Ngorongoro Crater, the Lemala Ngorongoro Tented Camp is located just 10 min drive to the crater floor, allowing Lemala guests to be the first ones inside the crater.
9 spacious tents, carefully positioned to provide privacy and with minimal impact on the pristine forest environment, offer a simple yet comfortable stay, even on the cold nights at the crater rim. The spacious en-suite bathrooms contain a dressing area, flush toilet and a large safari-style shower.
The common area is beautifully furnished and in the evenings guests can enjoy the campfire to exchange tales of the day’s safari followed by a sumptuous hearty meal.
Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge
The Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge is an excellent choice if you’re willing to spend a little more for some of the best views on the crater. The lodge is tastefully decorated and is located right on the main road that leads down into the crater.
Ngorongoro Rhino Lodge
The Ngorongoro Rhino Lodge is a great option if you’re on a tight budget. The accommodations are basic but comfortable. There aren’t any great views here since you’re on the opposite side of the road from the crater.
How to Ensure a Sustainable Visit to Ngorongoro
Stay at a Sustainable Ngorongoro Lodge
Before booking the lodge for your Ngorongoro safari, make sure to do a little research on their websites. Most lodges and hotels that make sustainability a priority say so on their website. Search for words like “eco,” “impact,” “sustainability,” or “giving back.”
Choose Sustainable Tour Operators
Just as you would look for a sustainable Ngorongoro lodge, you should also research in order to find a sustainable tour operator. They, too, should have sustainability practices listed on their websites if they follow any.
Participate In Local Activities Beyond Drives
Companies, like Lemala, offer visitors an opportunity to participate in cultural activities beyond the game drives. We particularly loved their “Sunday Cultural Tour” that allowed us to explore the local villages, craft markets and banana plantations near the crater and to learn more about community projects in this area.
Buying Local Crafts and Goods
Whenever you can support the local economy with your tourist dollars. Buy things that were handmade by locals and support vendors and natives in the area.
A Ngorongoro Crater safari is truly a once in a lifetime adventure. There are few places in the world as dramatically scenic and filled with life. You’ll have the chance to spot some rare and endangered animals, such as black rhinos, while surrounded by the tall rim of the massive caldera.
In the evenings, you can relax at your Ngorongoro lodge and watch the sun go down over the valley. This incredible work of nature is one that is not to be missed while traveling in Tanzania.
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