The jewel in Ngorongoro’s crown is a deep, volcanic crater, the largest un flooded and unbroken caldera in the world. About 20kms across, 600 meters deep and 300 sq kms in area, the Ngorongoro Crater is a breathtaking natural wonder.
The Ngorongoro Crater is one of Africa’s most famous sites and is said to have the highest density of wildlife in Africa. Sometimes described as an ‘eighth wonder of the world’, the Crater has achieved world renown, attracting an ever-increasing number of visitors each year.
You are unlikely to escape other vehicles here, but you are guaranteed great wildlife viewing in a genuinely mind-blowing environment. There is nowhere else in Africa quite like Ngorongoro!
The Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera. Forming a spectacular bowl of about 265 square kilometres, with sides up to 600 metres deep; it is home to approximately 30,000 animals at any one time.
The Crater rim is over 2,200 metres high and experiences its own climate. From this high vantage point it is possible to make out the tiny shapes of animals making their way around the crater floor far below. Swathes of cloud hang around the rocky rim most days of the year and it’s one of the few places in Tanzania where it can get chilly at night.
The crater floor consists of a number of different habitats that include grassland, swamps, forests and Lake Makat (Maasai for ‘salt’) – a central soda lake filled by the Munge River. All these various environments attract wildlife to drink, wallow, graze, hide or climb.
Although animals are free to move in and out of this contained environment, the rich volcanic soil, lush forests and spring source lakes on the crater floor (combined with fairly steep crater sides) tend to incline both grazers and predators to remain throughout the year.
Ngorongoro Crater: Wildlife Highlights
Ngorongoro Crater is one of the most likely areas in Tanzania to see the endangered Black Rhino, as a small population is thriving in this idyllic and protected environment.
It is currently one of the few areas where they continue to breed in the wild. Your chances of encountering leopard here are also good, and fabulous black-maned lions. Many flamingos are also attracted to the soda waters of Lake Magadi.
Ngorongoro Crater: Maasai village trips
Part of the reason behind the Ngorongoro Conservation Area has been to preserve the environment for the Maasai people who were diverted from the Serengeti Plains. Essentially nomadic people, they build temporary villages in circular homesteads called bomas.
There are possibilities to visit a couple of these now, which have been opened up for tourists to explore. Here you can see how the huts are built in a strict pattern of order according to the chronological order of the wives, and experience what it must be like to rely on warmth and energy from a fire burning at the heart of a cattle dung dwelling with no chimney.
These proud cattle herding people have a great history as warriors, and even though they are no longer allowed to build villages inside, they continue to herd their cattle into the crater to graze and drink, regardless of the predators nearby.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area History
Ngorongoro was part of Serengeti National Park until 1959 when the two were separated into two different Protected Areas with different conservation status. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area was established as a multiple-land use area, where wildlife could co-exist with the semi-nomadic Maasai, who move from one place to another insearch of water and pasture.
The Maasai are a pastoral tribe that has managed to preserve its culture over hundreds of years, living in harmony with the wild animals. The Ngorongoro Conservation area was therefore established as an experiment to maintain a balance between pastoralism, conservation, and tourism.
Before the arrival of the Maasai in Northern Tanzania in the 1800s, the Area was occupied by other tribal groups, beginning with hunter-gatherer tribes that were replaced by groups of pastoralists earlier on. During the colonial period, the Area was mostly a hunting ground to European hunters. In 1928, hunting was prohibited in the crater.
The National Park Ordinance of 1948 (implemented in 1951) created the Serengeti National Park, of which Ngorongoro was part thereof. This, however, caused problems with the Maasai, resulting to the split of the two protected areas.
The 1959 ordinance also created Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority, an administrative body to manage the Area as a parastatal organisation. The authority is under the supervision of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (MNRT).
The multiple land use policy has made the Ngorongoro Conservation Area a unique Protected Area in Africa. The Natural and cultural endowment account for the reasons UNESCO accorded the Area the status of a World Heritage Site in 1979, and an International Biosphere Reserve in 1981. In 2010, UNESCO inscribed Ngorongoro Conservation Area as a property in the list of the Mixed World Heritage Sites.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the Kilimanjaro (the Highest peak in Africa) and Serengeti National Park made Tanzania the capital of Africa’s New Seven Natural wonders since 2013.
Ngorongoro has another UNESCO recognition, gained in 2018: it is part of a large geographical area in Northern Tanzania recognised as Ngorongoro-Lengai UNESCO Global Geopark.
According to UNESCO, global geoparks are single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development. Currently, the Ngorongoro Lengai Geopark boast of 117 attractions.
The main geological features in the Ngorongoro-Lengai UNESCO Geopark are the Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Natron, Mount Oldonyo Lengai, Empakai Crater, Grimezk grave, Rim Forest, Malanja Depression, Serengeti Plains, Olduvai Gorges, Leakey Camp, Soitoo Quartzite hills, shifting sand, Bao Site, Nasera Rock, An’gatakiti Hills, Olkarien Gorge, Natural Stone Bridge, Ruppell’s Vulture colony, Accacia Rim Site, Gol Mountain, Lake Eyasi, Sacred Tree etc.