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Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania
Pick a superlative amazing, incredible; breathtaking they all apply to the stunning ethereal blue-green vistas of the Ngorongoro Crater. But as wonderful as the views are from above, the real magic happens when you get down inside and drive among an unparalleled concentration of wildlife, including the highest density of both lions and overall predators in Africa. Put simply, this is one of Africa’s premier attractions and this world-renowned natural wonder is deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sights & Activities
Crater FloorAt 19km wide and with a surface of 264 sq km, Ngorongoro is one of the world’s largest unbroken calderas that isn’t a lake. Its steep, unbroken walls soar 400m to 610m and provide the setting for an incredible natural drama as prey and predators graze and stalk their way around the open grasslands, swamps and acacia woodland on the crater floor. It’s such an impressive sight that, other vehicles aside, you’ll wonder whether you’ve descended into a wildlife paradise.
There are plenty of hippos around the lovely Ngoitoktok Springs picnic site, and Lake Magadi attracts flocks of flamingos to its shallows in the rainy season. Lerai Forest (also known as Lereal Forest, which has a less appealing picnic site, and is the starting point for the Lerai Ascent Road) is good for elephants, of which there are around 200 to 300 in the crater. Predators include around 600 spotted hyenas, 55 lions (at last count) and both golden and black-backed jackals. These predators are sustained by large numbers of resident herbivores, with wildebeest, zebras, buffaloes and Grant’s gazelles the most common. Less commonly seen are elands, warthogs, hartebeests, bushbucks, waterbucks and Bohor’s reedbucks. Around 20% of the wildebeest and zebras migrate annually between the crater and the Serengeti. Another huge draw card is the chance to see the critically endangered black rhino – around 30 inhabit the crater floor, and they’re most often seen between the Lerai Forest and the Lemala ascent-descent road.
The reason for all this abundance is the presence of water, from both the permanent springs that sustain the swamps and the permanent streams and rivers fed by run-off from the crater rim forests.
The main route into the crater is the Seneto descent road, which enters the crater on its western side. To come out, use the Lerai ascent road, which starts south of Lake Magadi and leads to the rim near headquarters.
The Lemala road is on the northeastern side of the crater near Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, and is used for both ascent and descent. The gates open at 6am and close for descent at 4pm; all vehicles must be out of the crater before 6pm. officially, you’re only allowed to stay down in the crater for a maximum of six hours, but this is rarely enforced – when we drove out of the crater on the Lerai ascent road, there was no one checking vehicles.
Crater RimA sealed road encircles all but the northern section of the crater rim and there are stunning views through the trees at various points along the way. Apart from the vantage points offered by the various lodges, the best views are from the head of the Seneto descent road above the crater’s western end, and where the road reaches the rim after climbing up from Lodoare Gate.
There’s wildlife outside the crater, but not as abundantly as in most other parks. Still, you might see elephants and leopards along the rim road.
Unlike national parks where human residents were evicted, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) remains part of the Maasai homeland and over 40,000 Maasai live here with grazing rights. You’ll see them out tending their cattle and goats, as well as selling necklaces and knives alongside the road. Many children wait along the road to pose for photos, but note that most of them are skipping school or shirking their chores, so it’s best not to stop. There are cultural bomas, too.