Ngorongoro Conservation Area

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The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is an awe-inspiring destination that ranks among the top safari destinations in Africa, alongside iconic locations such as Serengeti, Masai Mara, Kruger Park, Etosha, and the Okavango Delta. Recognized as Tanzania's third UNESCO World Heritage Site and the eighth Wonder of the World, it offers a rich cultural heritage, fascinating wildlife, and stunning landscapes. You can find accurate information to plan your first safari adventure to this incredible destination right here.

The Wonders of Ngorongoro

Exploring Ngorongoro Crater

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area, located in the north of Tanzania, is home to the impressive Ngorongoro Crater, the main attraction. The area spans 8,300 square kilometers (3,204 square miles), supports traditional Maasai communities, and promotes sustainable tourism. Visitors can witness the Maasai people grazing their livestock on the plains.

The Ngorongoro Crater is surrounded by smoking volcanoes and borders the north and west of the conservation area, connecting it to the Serengeti National Park. The Crater, which collapsed in on itself, was once a volcano that was likely taller than Kilimanjaro. Now, it forms a perfect basin.

Upon entering the Crater, visitors will feel like they are in a soup bowl with steep sides. The basin, with a diameter of 18 kilometers (11 miles), sits 500 meters (1,640 feet) below the rim, which towers about 2,200 meters (7,217 feet) above sea level. The Crater is estimated to have formed two million years ago and features various landscapes and natural features, including forests, peaks, craters, valleys, rivers, lakes, and plains. The Olduvai (Oldupai) Gorge, Africa's most significant archaeological site, is also located within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a few kilometers north of the Crater.

The journey down into the Crater begins in the forest, which looks like a rainforest and relies on the abundant mist and drizzle from the Crater. However, the experience can be marred by the number of safari vehicles that enter the Crater at opening hours, creating dusty conditions. Nevertheless, once visitors have passed the crowds, the beauty of the site gradually reveals itself.

The conservation area is also home to a lush highland forest that appears to be a rainforest, depending on the regular and abundant mist and drizzle from the Crater. Upon closer inspection, the mist particles can be observed swirling like raindrops among the ancient trees.

What to see, where to go

The forest has various trees, including pillar wood, figs, croton trees, evergreen highland Bersama, and wild tobacco purple flowers. The branches of these trees are covered in thousands of epiphytes, such as arboreal orchids and ferns, which cling to their hosts and absorb moisture with their aerial roots. The forest is also home to various animals, including monkeys, bushbuck, bushpigs, and elephants, but they are rarely seen. Gardeners can be seen working; sometimes zebras and buffaloes can be seen mowing the lawns at some crator lodge compounds. After dark, ungulates seek refuge from predators here, and the sounds of vigilant zebras and baboons can be heard.

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is home to a vast flamingo-filled alkaline lake that is surrounded by the highest concentration of predators in the world, including lions, hyenas, jackals, leopards, cheetahs, elephants, and enormous herds of ungulates. The predators in the area expend very little energy in hunting the massive herds of prey like Thomson's and Grant's gazelles, impalas, giraffes, zebras, and wildebeests. It is common to see bloated lions lying on their backs, paws in the air, fully stuffed and damaging their noble Kingly image.

Endangered rhinos are also found in the area, and spotting one in the wild is a real prize. The black and white rhino species can be seen on a game drive but are not easy to spot. The Ngorongoro Crator is also an excellent place to take a boat safari down one of the hippo-dense rivers. In addition to the various animals, the area is also home to some endemic bird species, including the Rufous-tailed weaver, Schalow's wheatear, and large flocks of the magnificent crowned cranes. If you are a bird enthusiast, let your tour operator know beforehand so they can assign you a guide that understands birds and where to spot them.

ESSENTIAL INFORMATION

Ngorongoro entrance fees are US$70.8 per person for foreigners above sixteen, while kids aged 5-16 pay $23.6. Resident foreigners pay $35.4 while their children pay $11.8. East African nationals pay 11,800 Tanzania shillings, and their kids pay 2,360 shillings.

To enter the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, cars pay a 24-hour pass of US$250, excluding V.A.T. These fees do not cater for activities inside the Crater like meals, walking safaris, etc. Your tour operator will include those in your package, or your accommodation will charge you accordingly.

If you're doing a self-drive, you'll need to pay for everything at either the tourism office in Ngorongoro, Lodare visitor centre or the tourism board office in Arusha. You will receive a Ngorongoro card, which you present as you enter the crater entrance. T.I.P. → You can pay in both USD and Tsh, but USD is preferred, and you will need to be accompanied by a licensed guide for this and Oldupai Gorge.

Ensure you pack layered clothing for thick early-morning mist all year round; it gets chilly in the crater rim.

If you are interested in evolution and human origins, Olduvai Gorge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world's most important paleoanthropology sites, is a must-visit. It's a 90-minute drive from Ngorongoro Crater on a dirt road.

The 48-kilometre-long Gorge is part of the Great Rift Valley, which stretches through East Africa. Its hominid fossils have contributed hugely to palaeoanthro­pologists' understanding of humanity's history dating back 2.5 million years. You can visit the quaint little museum at the Gorge, which doesn't really do justice to the magnitude of fossil discoveries made here.

Move on to the shifting sands, a remarkable dune of volcanic ash appearing utterly out of place on the short grassy plains. Constantly drifting dunes move across the landscape at the prevailing winds, and it's an intriguing phenomenon to watch.

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