The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a really special part of the world. One of those things that just shouldn’t exist, yet does. It is listed as an official UNESCO world heritage site, a spectacular natural wonder of the world. A safari in the Ngorongoro Crater is something really special. Here’s what you need to know.
Millions of years ago, Ngorongoro was a volcano. About 2 to 3 million years ago, Ngorongoro erupted and collapsed onto itself, forming into a caldera. The crater Land here is lush, with large grasslands, a lake, and two forests. The name Ngorongoro Crater is somewhat incorrect, as a crater implies that it is a derelict land. This is simply not the case! Ngorongoro is a caldera.
Ngorongoro translates in Maasai to “Gift of Life”. It certainly is. It’s the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera and it’s also home to the highest density of big game in Africa. All in one 260km2 area.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a large park. When entering, you’ll immediately notice that feeling of driving through a forest in a cloud. You’re now at 2,410m altitude. It feels like Jurassic Park, just trade dinosaurs for elephants and giraffes and you’ve got the right idea.
Along the road, you’ll notice uneven, jagged walls. These are from elephants, using their tusks to dig. Wildlife own and roam these grounds, they have no limit. This is their space.
You’ll also find another inhabitant of this conservation area, Maasai. The Maasai people live in the Ngorongoro Conservation area in hundreds of tribes. Originally, the Maasai people lived in the Serengeti, amongst the animals. However a few years ago, they were forced out by the government in the name of conservation. Therefore, you’ll notice quite a lot of Maasai tribes and Maasai walking around. When you stop to take a photo of the scenery or animals, they will come and say hello. Just be careful and don’t take a photo, they will demand money in return. If you give them food, make sure it’s not in a plastic wrapper, as they will drop it which will in turn damage the animals.
Eventually, the road stops and you need to turn either left or right. Straight ahead is the Ngorongoro Crater. There are spectacular viewpoints along the rim of the crater. The rim is 360 degrees, allowing for amazing photos. If you find yourself there in the morning, the clouds will curl around the edges of the rim.
The view here shows a beautiful salt lake in the middle. Images from other travellers will show an entirely green field surrounding the lake after the rainy season. Mine may be yellow, but it still takes your breathe away. It is simply stunning.
Before we knew it, we were already seeing animals – even along the rim. Don’t worry if you are driving through to get to the Serengeti. You’ll still see things! We saw plenty of Zebra, Giraffe and Ostrich.
Inside the crater is what I call nature’s zoo. The tall height of the crater rim creates a natural boundary, meaning most of the animals simply don’t go up and stay within the base of the crater. This means there is an abundance of animals roaming around.
You can see 4 out of the Big 5 here. Lion, Elephant, Buffalo and the all important Rhino! The Rhino are the unique wildlife here. The Tanzanian government decided that in order to protect the Black Rhinoceros, they would move them from the Serengeti where they were incredibly vulnerable to poachers, to the Ngorongoro Crater. This has worked well and has somewhat recovered the population of rhinos.
In Ngorongoro, animals are much more protected thanks to the Crater. Access for poachers is difficult as the base of the crater is 610m lower than the rim. This means the steep edges are only navigable on pre established roads. Therefore they can’t easily poach as they will be seen. Whilst moving the animals out of their natural environment is not something to be overly happy about, keeping them safe is.
I’ve heard a lot of things about Ngorongoro. To some, it was the absolute highlight of their trip, seeing an insane amount of animals. However, for me, the Serengeti showed much more than Ngorongoro. Perhaps it was just the weather. We saw a lot, but not as much as I’d heard others had.
CAMPING IN NGORONGORO
We camped at the only public camp ground in Ngorongoro, Simba camp site. The camp is quite large, featuring a large kitchen, eating hall and two bathroom blocks. As with previous camp sites, there is no fence here. Animals are free to roam. However, as you’re at altitude, you don’t really need to worry about anything too dangerous coming your way; it’s too cold for them! In addition, this campsite is also patrolled by rangers, so you’re absolutely safe. Regardless, you’ll find Zebra and Buffalo throughout camp.
A pleasant surprise was the electricity and free Wi-Fi! You can finally charge your devices! With electricity also comes another advantage, hot water! Of course, hot water is on limited supply, so you may still miss out, but it’s a possibility! The hot water is definitely a nice treat as it gets quite cold at night. It can drop as low as 5 degrees. A warm shower even at this temperature is a huge luxury.
I used the ladies bathroom block behind the main eating hall. This block was much less crowded than the block at the edge of the field, and had endless amounts of hot water! So much so, I washed my hair three times. It was probably the most memorable shower of my life. One small trickle of hot water after 3 days of no showers, I could not contain my happiness.
And incase you didn’t bring a hair-dryer, nature had the answer for you. Light a camp fire, problem solved!
Overall, the camp really is quite big so it wasn’t quiet at night. There was always some kind of noise from people packing up their tents or the kitchen crew singing whilst preparing breakfast. That said, my sleeping bags heat was finally matched, and had the most comfortable sleep yet thanks to the colder air temperature.
We woke up to 8 degrees and thick fog.
Ngorongoro is a great game Park, fulfilling almost everything one would want on safari. You won’t find as many big cats here, they are all mostly in the Serengeti. Make sure to read up on my Serengeti post about health recommendations. If you’ve only got 1 day for safari, the Ngorongoro Crater is the place to be.