Formed millions of years ago, the Ngorongoro Crater closed off its borders to man with the help of walls that rose to heights of 400 to 600 meters.
As a result, nature was allowed to run free here and create some of the most exotic species of plants and animals that the world has ever seen. This is one of the few places where you can see the Big 5 in a single day and it also hosts the endangered black rhino.
Attractions in Ngorongoro
- Lake Magadi
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.
- Lerai Fever Tree Forest
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, bush-buck, hyrax, and hundreds of birds.
This 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 Go rigor 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.
- Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli
Lake Ndutu and Lake Masek are also on the migratory route in the Rift Valley, not far from Olduvai Gorge, where the ancestors of mankind began the journey towards civilization, with the fabrication of the earliest tools and the building of the first human settlements.
At Laetoli, hominid footprints of our genetic ancestors and their relatives have been found in sedimentary rock of 3.7 million years old.
No Tanzanian safari would be complete without a guided tour of the excavations and modest pale anthropological museum at Olduvai where you can also see evolutionary fossils. But we are their descendants, and in making our mother tour of Africa, we are returning to our ancestral home.
- Shifting Sands
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.
- Olmoti Crater and Empakaai Crater
Your Ngorongoro safari holds endless riveting possibilities. 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 sun-birds and red-crested turaco.
- Gol Mountains
To the north-eastern zone, the primeval Gol Mountains provide a surreal wilderness environment of stark, pink cliffs, enclosing the Angata Kiti pass, a bottleneck for the annual Great Migration of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra, searching for mineral rich grasses as they return to their ancestral breeding grounds in southern Serengeti and the Ndutu wilderness.
- Nasera Rock
Rising 80 meters from the foot of the Gol Mountains, monolithic Nasera Rock is home to mountaineering klipspringers, baboons and varied birds. It is also the location of a Stone Age human shelter, excavated by the Leakeys.
- Salei Plains and Ol Karien Gorge
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.
- Oldeani Mountain
To the southwest of Ngorongoro crater, bamboo-clad Oldeani Mountain feeds the stream that supports the Lerai Forest, whilst seasonal Lake Eyasi is a lodestone for archaeological and cultural safaris in East Africa. Palaeolithic sites include Mumba cave and nearby Nasera Rock.
- Hadzabe Tribe
Lake Eyasi, close to Ngorongoro is still home to the Hadzabe Bushmen of East Africa who subsists 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 Doinyo Lengai & Lake Natron
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 sulphur 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.
Where to Stay
There is a varied choice of accommodation for bush tours in Ngorongoro, depending on your taste. Lodges, eco-lodges, country cottages, tented camps, bush camps, mobile camps reflect the different Tanzanian safari vacation experiences you are seeking, from total comfort, supreme luxury, and superlative service, with world-class decor, flair of international cuisine and every modern amenity, to an authentic bush wilderness experience with minimal ecological impact and few amenities.
Each accommodation is unique balancing accommodation against food, amenities, activities, guided standards, location, service and privacy to standardize variable value across the entire range.
Ngorongoro lodges consist of several cottages or chalets clustered around a central complex of reception, dining room, bar and lounge.
To exemplify some of the options available to you, you can choose the premiere luxury at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge as your Safari Tier 1 option, a surreal experience, combining Rococo decor worthy of a French chateau with all the trappings of personal butler service and international cuisine.
Opt for deluxe Gibbs Farm at Safari Tier 2, which comprises of 17 cottages and a farmhouse set in beautiful gardens, alive with birdsong, but also an hour’s drive from the Ngorongoro Crater gate, or settle for comfort value Ngorongoro Rhino Lodge at Safari Tier 3 up on the crater but where power is limited and hot water is available morning and evening.
The rooms are basic and small but cheerful and clean with an en-suite bathroom and cozy wood-burning stove. Other excellent value options accommodations are Ngorongoro Farm House and Plantation Lodge sited on the lowlands outskirts of the conservation area close to Karatu.
Ngorongoro tented bush camps are small and intimate such as the deluxe Lemala Ngorongoro, which consists of only 9, traditional, beautifully furnished tents and king-sized beds, integrated unobtrusively on the volcanic rim amongst beautiful shaded acacia trees, and ideally suited for early access to the crater, well before the main body of visitors flock to the crater floor.
Lemala offers a very fine standard of comfort and client-centered service with an authentic colonial safari ambience and yesteryear amenities, butler attention, friendly service, exemplary guides and international standards of cuisine, thus ensuring the ultimate mid-range in canvas accommodation for your dream safari in Tanzania.
Accommodations both in Ngorongoro Crater and Karatu suburbs are generally larger to maximize on occupancy numbers, but some still boasts meticulous attention to detail and access to local communities and organized activities. The choices of smaller accommodations are limited.
Mobile bush camps are seasonally setup, for limited use during the year, made with custom contractible and portable canvas tents supplemented with use of locally available materials – these accommodations supremely environment friendly, merging gently into wilderness, with flush toilets, comfy beds, basic lighting, open-air or in-tent showers and tasteful campfire meals.
The seasonal Kirurumu Ngorongoro Camp at Safari Tier 3 is an admirable authentic option for a small bush camp, comprising of only 7 tents, but more limited in amenities, is situated an hour’s drive from Ngorongoro highlands down an unmade road.
Bush cookery is a delightful feature of this distinct camp. Fused value accommodations at Tier 3, such as Rhotia Valley Tented Lodge, are for more budget conscious guests but are nothing like rough back-packing.
Designed to support the orphan children of Rhotia, the thatched-tented accommodation is deeply embedded in Tanzanian society.
Here, you live as an honored guest, in a beautiful landscape, appreciated for the benefits you bring to a thriving cooperative community. Whatever your dream may be, you can realize it on your photographic trip to Ngorongoro.