Ngorongoro Attractions | Things to Do
The Ngorongoro Crater was so-named by the Maasai people, the original inhabitants, to mean the gift of life. It’s so lush and green, with jungles along the crater rim and green grasses in an otherwise savannah-like Rift Valley, it’s no surprise they chose this name.
The crater is the world’s largest inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic caldera, and was named of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. Approximately 25,000 animals live in the crater, and it is one of the best places in Tanzania to see the critically endangered black rhino.
Attractions around Ngorongoro:
The Maasai are proud pastoralists who live in Kenya and Tanzania. The 60,000 Maasai living in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area originally occupied the Serengeti Plains. They were relocated to make way for Serengeti National Park. They live traditionally in mud huts with their cattle, sheep and goats nearby. The Maasai in the NCA have many restrictions on their lifestyle as a result of residing in a multi-use area.
They are probably the most famous indigenous tribe if the east and a visit to their village is definitely an experience worthy of taking. During the visit, you will be able to meet Maasai men and women, enjoy dancing and listening to their native melodies, be entertained with a dramatic enactment, and maybe even try on their red cloaks! What makes this experience enriching is that you get to see an authentic social side of Africa and a glimpse of the rich Maasai culture.
If you love archaeology or you even if you just want to see important paleontological records related to human evolution, Olduvai Gorge is the place to go. It is one of the most important paleoanthropological sites in the world and gives us a good understanding of early human evolution.
The main attraction, which is the Crater, is pretty small. It stretches at 8,292 km2 (3,202 sq mi) and goes for about 610 metres (2,000 feet) deep. The great thing is, animals are just in plain sight with nowhere to hide. Hence, you can see it one day. You can even make a quick side trip to Olduvai Gorge if you wish! If you think about it, you get to see A LOT in even just half a day. Every direction you look, you can spot zebras, lions, elephants, wildebeests and if you’re lucky, black rhinos, too! So if you are on a tight schedule, it would definitely be very easy (and wise) to squeeze a Ngorongoro Crater safari in your itinerary.
There are so many memorable places to visit on nature vacation in Tanzania. Within the Ngorongoro Crater itself, Lake Magadi, shallow, azure blue, fiercely alkaline from sodium carbonate, is fringed by hundreds of long-legged pink flamingos. Most are lesser flamingos, distinguished by their dark red bills, which eat blue-green spirulina algae. But there are also many greater flamingos with black-tipped pink bills, slightly bent to facilitate sifting shellfish from the rich bottom mud.
The lake shrinks noticeably in the dry season, leaving thick, crystalline salt pans used as licks by jackals, hyena and other animals to supplement their diet. Outside the Ngorongoro Crater (view map), but still within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, are many other regions well worth visiting on your AfricanMecca expedition tour of Tanzania.
The Lerai Fever Tree Forest, which consists of tall, slim yellow barked acacias forming an airy, lace-canopied wonderland of glades, is much frequented by elephant, rhino, eland, bushbuck, hyrax, and hundreds of birds. These foliage are the preferred food of the rare, black rhinoceros, but the old forest is regenerating slowly, because of damage by elephants, which tear off whole branches rather than merely grazing.
However, seedlings are spreading through the Gorigor Swamps, home to hippopotamus and wading birds, and favored drinking place of thousands of ungulates during the dry season. A younger Fever Tree forest is now forming new groves at the base of the Ngoitokitok Springs, home ground of the famous Tokitok pride of lions, film and television personalities in their own right.
Ash from Ol Dionyo has formed Shifting Sands – a black dune of moving sand hundred meters in length, and nine meters high, which ingeniously moves slowly across the plains at a rate of 15 meters every year.
You can take gentle, guided walks to two other nearby craters. Olmoti Crater is a shallow, grassy hollow, very quiet and lovely, where Maasai pasture their cattle alongside eland, bushbuck, reedbuck and an occasional buffalo. From the south wall of the caldera, the Munge stream forms a delightful waterfall, plunging several hundred meters into the Ngorongoro crater to feed Lake Magadi.
Empakaai Crater is half-filled by an unusually deep soda lake. From the rim, you can look across an exhilarating panorama of volcanic craters and depressions towards Ol Doinyo Legai, the Great African Rift Valley, and even, in super clear weather, snows on the distant Uhuru peak of Kilimanjaro. You can walk for many kilometers around the lushly forested green bowl, frequented by blue monkeys, brilliantly colored sunbirds and red-crested turaco.
Lake Eyasi, close to Ngorongoro is still home to the Hadzabe Bushmen of East Africa who subsist entirely from the wild, communicating by clicks and whistles. Mbulu and Datoga pastoral and farming tribes, who were ousted centuries ago from lands now occupied by the Maasai, have now settled there.
Ol Karien Gorge is a sheer rock-sided ravine at the end of the vast, bare Salei Plains. It is a Mecca for twitchers, because ruppel’s griffon vulture breeds there in March and April, coinciding with the passage of the Great Migration to provide plentiful food.
Further north-east near the border of Kenya, Ol Doinyo Lengai casts its conical shadow across the plains from the edge of the Great African Rift Valley escarpment. Known to Maasai as “The Mountain of God”, it is still active, last erupting in 2007. Intrepid adventurers may climb its lava-encrusted slopes to stare down into its main crater and be perilously rewarded with sulfur fumes and occasional spurts of lava from smaller surrounding cones.
It was featured in the Lara Croft film, “Tomb Raiders II”, but has been more seriously researched and popularized by Chris Hug-Fleck and Evelyne Pradel. Lake Natron, far below, is fed by hot, mineral springs so heavily saturated with volcanic ash from Ol Doinyo Lengai that it provides a toxic, protective moat for Africa’s largest concentration of breeding lesser and greater flamingos. The lake itself shines like a jewel, sometimes green and blue with, sometimes blooming red with cyanobacteria and algae which provide their food.
How to get to Ngorongoro
Most people will visit the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as part of a bigger package, including a visit to the Serengeti. Conveniently, the conservation area lies en route and is only a three-hour drive on tarred road from the town of Arusha, the starting point of all safaris in northern Tanzania.
From Arusha, you can hop around the parks of the northern circuit by small aircraft on chartered or scheduled flights, or you can drive and do the whole circuit by safari vehicle. A popular option is to fly into the Serengeti and make your way back by safari vehicle via the Ngorongoro Crater, or the other way around. In most cases, your tour operator will pick you up from the airport.
Coming from the Seronera area in the Serengeti, the distance to the crater is about 140km/90mi and the driving time is about three hours. This can obviously take much longer allowing for wildlife viewing along the way. The 80km/50mi drive from Lake Manyara to the Ngorongoro Crater takes about two hours, and the 180km/110mi drive from Tarangire takes about four hours.
The best option to get to Arusha is to fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO), which is situated about 46km/29mi from Arusha. It is also possible to fly into Julius Nyerere International Airport (DAR), near Dar es Salaam and fly on to Arusha Airport (ARK) or Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO).
Where to Stay in Ngorongoro
There are 6 lodges along the crater rim, and 16 campsites. If you stay closer to the crater, you can often be the first to arrive at the crater the following morning, allowing for the best wildlife sightings and photo opportunities.
The Highlands is the one of the best accommodation options in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. With its stunning design, exceptional service, and beautiful views over the Ngorongoro plains, The Highlands has a tendency to over-deliver.
The Lemala Ngorongoro is a new camp on the rim of the crater. This area is known as Acacia camp because there are so many Acacia trees here. Each tent has a toilet and a traditional safari bucket shower with a dressing room. Thanks to its location on the rim of the crater, the camp is excellent for those wanting to get a head start the following morning.
The Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, built in 1939, has topped many ‘best hotels in the world’ lists over the years. The hotel describes itself as ‘Maasai meets Versaille’, and can be reached by aircraft via the Manyara airstrip. The communal areas are adorned with huge fireplaces and chandeliers.
The Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge is the only lodge on the eastern rim of the crater, and offers stunning views. The lodge retains a traditional African house style.
A more affordable option is the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge, which sits on the crater but is not quite as expensive as the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge.
The Kirurumu Ngorongoro Camp is an example of a mobile camp that sets down in some of the most beautiful and strategic locations in the Ngorongoro highlands. The camp has 7 customised camping tents with solar panelled lighting and a campsite area. The camp organises day trips to Empakai to see the flamingos, and it is a great base for hiking.