The Ngorongoro Crater in northern Tanzania is the largest arid caldera in the world. Its vast grassy steppe contains nearly every species of wildlife in East Africa, with 25,000 individuals.
The Ngorongoro Nature Reserve in northern Tanzania is located southeast of the famous Serengeti National Park just under 200km from Arusha. As one of our top 10 most beautiful national parks of Tanzania, Ngorongoro is also one of our top 10 sights of Tanzania. The game reserve spreads around the huge Ngorongoro Crater and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.
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Formation of the Ngorongoro Nature Reserve
Three million years ago, a mighty volcano that rivaled Kilimanjaro rose in what is now the Ngorongoro Nature Reserve. But when the vast East African Rift Valley formed, the volcano collapsed, forming the massive Ngorongoro Crater, nearly 20km in diameter, the largest dry caldera in the world. Within the crater basin, grassy steppes, forests, bogs and gorges support some 25,000 animals, representing nearly every wildlife species in East Africa.
The 8,300km² Ngorongoro Nature Reserve was established by the British in 1951, at that time as part of the Serengeti National Park. After ongoing land use conflicts with the Maasai, the African natives were expelled from their land by the British.
Today, the Ngorongoro Nature Reserve is inhabited again and can be used by the Maasai to a small extent as grazing land. The Maasai are allowed to let their domestic animals graze during the day, but must leave the crater again in the evening to make way for the nightly fight to the death.
The area around the Ngorongoro Crater has been inhabited by humans for 3 million years, currently inhabited by the Maasai who drove out the Datooga in the early 19th century. Some imposing fig trees, sacred to the Maasai and Datooga, still mark the grave of a Datoogo leader who died in battle with the Maasai in 1840.
The Austrian African explorer Oscar Baumann was the first European to arrive in what is now the Ngorongoro Nature Reserve in 1892. Until the First World War, the crater was used as farmland by two brothers from Germany, who drove the wild animals out of the crater and, together with German guests, repeatedly organized drive hunts for them.
Best time to visit Ngorongoro Crater
The Ngorongoro Crater is best visited from July to November. During these months the weather is driest and the gigantic herds of ungulates are on the move. However, the crater is then also populated with the most safari cars.
Even during the rainy season, only in the afternoons and evenings some sometimes heavy downpours are to be expected, otherwise it is also dry and the air is clean. The stars of the Ngorongoro Crater - the wild animals - are easy to observe all year round.
A crater full of African wildlife
Today, the vast grasslands of the Ngorongoro Crater are under strict protection, allowing the huge herds to pass unhindered on their way to the best grazing grounds and waterholes.
During the Great Migration, millions of wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebra and gazelles migrate south in December and north in June across Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya, always following the rains. Constant companions of the herds of ungulates are the predators that also follow their prey. Thus, one of the largest populations of predators in Africa lives in the plains of the Ngorongoro Crater.
Especially around Ndutu Lake hyenas, jackals, leopards, servals, cheetahs and lions can be seen hunting wildebeest, antelopes and gazelles. Rhinos, elephants, buffalo and hippos also live in the Ngorongoro Nature Reserve. Africa's "Big Five" rhino, lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo can thus all be found here. Migratory birds from Europe and Asia as well as many species of monkeys also make a stop here, as water is almost always available in the Ngorongoro Crater.
In the middle of the Ngorongoro Crater is Lake Magadi, a salt lake whose tiny crabs are feasted on by thousands of flamingos. Similar to the even more populated Lake Natron nearby, the salmon-colored plumage of the flamingos envelops the shores of the lake in a pink cloud when viewed from a distance.
Olduvai Gorge - The Cradle of Humankind
Within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in the eastern plains of the Serengeti lies the famous Olduvai Gorge, part of the East African Rift Valley. It is also known as the "Cradle of Humankind." This is where the oldest finds of early humans were made. Homo habilis, the first creature described as human, as well as other human-like creatures have been discovered here, including a 20,000-year-old skeleton of a Homo sapiens. Just over 40km long, Olduvai Gorge is one of the most important prehistoric sites in the world and provided groundbreaking information about human evolution.
Safari in Ngorongoro Crater
Inside the crater some lodges offer accommodation, in the hotels on the crater rim you have a breathtaking view - but also usually many tourists as company and the best places are also not cheap.
For a smaller budget, it is worth staying at the Serena or Sopa Lodge or in a guesthouse in the nearby village of Karatu. For a safari in the Ngorongoro Nature Reserve, you should take two nights, after which a further trip to the Serengeti National Park further north is recommended.
Tip: Although you are in the middle of Africa, the temperature can drop to as low as 0°C at night, so be sure to bring warm clothes too!