Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Located in Northern Tanzania west of Arusha city, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is one of the most popular safari destinations in Africa. The protected conservation area offers incredible wildlife sightings across the stunning and scenic Ngorongoro crater. Ngorongoro Conservation area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was named after the Ngorongoro crater which is a dramatic massive volcanic caldera situated within the conservation area and the largest unbroken caldera in the world. The conservation area is famously known for its abundant presence of wildlife throughout the year and is home to the Big Five in Tanzania.

The dominant feature of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the Ngorongoro Crater which covers an area of 260 square kilometres and the crater is the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera. The striking beauty of the Ngorongoro Crater with its spectacular scenery and abundance of wildlife has led to it being declared as one of the natural wonders of the world. The other two sections of the conservation area encompass the Eastern crater highlands that comprise of volcanic mass and extensive craters while the other part of the conservation area consists of lower-lying plains in the Western side and is an extension of the Serengeti Eco system.

Wildlife in Ngorongoro Crater

The Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area is home to over 25,000 large animals including predators and a dense population of herbivores. The abundant wildlife encounters while in the conservation area make the Ngorongoro Crater a prime safari destination in Tanzania.

The Big Five animals are present in the Ngorongoro Crater and these include Lion, Elephants, Cape buffalo, Leopard and Rhino. This area is the best place to see the Black rhino in Tanzania that is often seen foraging in the plains of Ngorongoro Crater. Other Wildlife in the Ngorongoro Crater include Blue Wildebeest, Grant’s Zebra, Thomson’s gazelles, Common Eland, Grant’s gazelles, Warthogs, Spotted Hyenas, Water buck, East African wild dog, Hippos, Cheetah, Serval, Golden Jackal, Bush buck, Black-backed Jackal. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a prime destination for wildlife viewing and offers one of the best sightings of wildlife in Africa.

Birds in Ngorongoro Conservation Area

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a bird watcher’s paradise and over 500 species of birds have been recorded including seven species of vultures. The Ngorogongoro Conservation area offers incredible bird watching opportunities with chances of ticking off endemic species, montane forest birds, water birds and woodland specials. The most sought after birds while on an excursion are the Livingstone Turaco, Rufous-tailed weaver and the Kenya Rufous Sparrow which is endemic to Tanzania and Kenya.

Other birds in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area include Kori Bustard, Red-and-yellow barbet, Scarlet-chested sunbird, Speke’s weaver, White-eyed slaty Flycatcher, Verreaux’s eagle, Jackson’s widowbird, Northern anteater chat, African Spoonbill, Egyptian Vulture, Augur Buzzard, Black Kite, Lesser Flamingo, Hildebrandt’s Franclolin, Greater Flamingo, Capped Wheatear, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Rosy-throated Longclaw, Fan-tailed widow bird, Red-throated Tit, Hildebrandt’s Spurfowl, Black – winged lapwing, Lesser Kestrel, Fischer’s Lovebird, Karamoja Apalis, Cape Teal, African Rail, Whiskered Tern, Ruppell’s Griffon, Grey Crowned crane, African Jacana, Hamerkop, Superb Starling, Blach-headed Heron, Tawny Eagle, Little Stint, Bateleur, Secretary bird, African Fish eagle, African Stonechat, Long-tailed Cormorant, Lilac-breasted Roller, Malachite Kingfisher, Red-billed Oxpecker. Martial eagle, African Harrier-hawk, Pied Kingfisher, African Pied Wagtail among other species. The conservation area is a birding hotspot with diverse habitats that protect bird life.

Top Things to do in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Game Drives
What better way to explore the Ngororongoro Conservation Area that on a game drive. Game drives are most definitely the best way to experience Ngorongoro Crater with great chances of excellent game viewing with a mix of beautiful expansive views of the crater. Start out the day with a delicious early breakfast at the lodge then head out in search of the Big Five, large mammals, Herbivores, birds of prey and other wildlife in the crater area. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is famously known internationally for its excellent and rewarding wildlife sightings so prepare for a memorable experience!

Visit Olduvai Gorge
The Olduvai Gorge is an archaeological site that attracts visitors from across the world who are drawn to the site for its rich history and human evolution discovery. The Olduvai Gorge was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979 and is situated within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area making it a top attraction while on safari in Tanzania. The gorge derives its name from the Maasai word “Oldupai” which translates as “the place of the wild sisal” and this is because the East African wild sisal grows densely in the gorge area. It is also where the oldest archaeological discoveries were made by the British/Kenyan archaeological team of Mary and Louise Leakey and it’s believed that approximately 1.9 million years ago Homo habilis who are probably the first early human species, occupied Olduvai Gorge. The fossils discovered include extinct animals, oldest tools that the team classified as Oldowan tools and Stone Age man. A reasonably sized museum was established in the area containing excavated artifacts and remains and is available to tourists for viewing.

Bird watching in Ngorongoro Conservation Area
For the specialist birder, Ngorongoro Conservation Area offers incredible bird watching opportunities as the area is home to over 500 species of birds. Chances of seeing a variety of species including forest birds, water birds, woodland specials, endemic and nearly endemic species are very high. The conservation is an Important Bird Area (IBA) and a key destination for ornithologists from across the world. Areas of birding in Ngorongoro Conservation area include the Crater rim for montane forest birds, Lake Lagaja for water species, Masek at the western end of Olduvai Gorge, a lake in the Empakai Crater and Gorigor which is a fresh water swamp on the eastern side of the Crater floor. With Ngorongoro, bird watching stars right from the moment you enter the conservation area at the gate to the lodge and then to the key birding areas so always be on the lookout for different species of birds.

Hot Air Balloon Safari
The hot air balloon safari is a unique way to explore the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as it offers one an opportunity to watch the wildlife from a bird’s view. The balloon safari is magical as it takes you over the crater and you are able to view the wildlife from above and also experience the sections of the crater that aren’t accessed by car. The balloon safari begins quite early at around the hour of 6 am and is a worthwhile safari adventure offering stunning views from atop.

Visit the Empakaai Crater
The Empakaai Crater is a 540m deep crater that is also a major crater aside from Ngorongoro and is part of the conservation area. The crater is less known but a very rewarding site worth visiting as it has one of the most stunning views in East Africa, the view from the crater rim offers great picturesque moments. The Empakaai Crater was formed by the volcanic collapse that shaped the crater highlands and features a 60m deep soda lake which covers half of the crater area. The soda lake attracts a large flock of flamingos which like to feed on the algae found in the alkaline lake. The hike up to the Empakaai crater rim is a perfect and alternative way to spend time exploring the diverse Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Visit the Maasai
The Maasai are a famous ethnic Nilotic-speaking tribe in Tanzania and known for their fearsome warrior culture. A visit to a Maasai village brings you closer to the local people and also offers you a glimpse in to their culture and way of life. The Maasai are also known for their colourful traditional wear that consists of colourful sheets and beaded jewellery as well as their interesting traditional dance that involves jumping up high. The Maasai live outside the Crater but the management of the conservation area allows them to graze their animals around the crater rim. The Maasai are majorly pastoralists and have a strong attachment to their livestock. This visit involves visiting their homesteads that are dotted with grass thatched manyattas, spending time talking to the elders and visiting their communities.

Sun downers and Bush Meals
The Ngorongoro Crater is a perfect destination for bush meals amidst the conservation area. With its massive crater and open grasslands, the crater offers perfect spots for bush breakfast, a private picnic or bush lunch all while enjoying expansive views of the conservation area. Sun downers are also another great way to spend your time in Ngorongoro especially after full day game drives in the conservation area, you get to end the day watching the sunset while sipping on your favorite drink.

Hiking in Ngorongoro Conservation Area
For adventure enthusiasts the conservation area offers a number of hiking trails depending on the numbers of days one is spending in Tanzania. There are hiking trails that can take up to six days exploring Ngorongoro and hiking trails that can be short and take up to two days. The Ngorongoro hiking include the trail that connects Lake Eyasi in the south to Lake Natron in the south and running west across the grassland plains towards Laetoli and Lake Ndutu and then northwest to Oldupai Gorge. One can also choose to hike to Mount Lolmalasin which is the third highest mountain in Tanzania, the Olmoti Crater or the less explored Gol Mountains. The Gol Mountains are known for the famous Nasera Rock which is a major highlight while hiking along this trail. For the hiking traveller, Ngorongoro offers incredible hiking opportunities that involve spectacular views from the summits and crater rims in the conservation area.

Lerai Forest
A visit to Lerai forest is a worthwhile adventure as it is one of the top attractions within the Ngorongoro Crater. The forest is a diverse area with large acacias, yellow fever trees and lush green vegetation. The Lerai forest is the best place to spot black rhinos that like to forage in the forest as well as rest under the acacia trees which provide shade for the animals from the scorching sun. The forest also attracts animals like elephants, bushbucks as well as a variety of bird species including forest specials.

Best Time to visit the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Ngorongoro can be visited and is open to visitors throughout the year however the best time to visit is during the dry season/months. The dry months run from June to September, during this season the crater floor has shorter grass and this offers easy opportunities to watch wildlife from across the open grassland plains of Ngorongoro. The dry season also has less muddy areas in the crater area. The wet months of November to May are also fulfilling as the scenery is lush and green during the wet months. The wet season also works well for visitors who want a more private safari as the number of visitors is less than the dry season.

Getting to Ngorongoro Conservation Area

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a 3 hours’ drive from Arusha town which is the main base and starting point for safaris in Tanzania. Since it is situated in Northern Tanzania and part of the Northern Safari Circuit so it is often combined with a visit to the spectacular Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. The conservation area can also be accessed by charter flight and usually the arrangement is flying from Arusha Airport or Kilimajaro International Airport to the Lake Manyara Airstrip which is the arrival and departure point for Ngorongoro. On arrival one is transferred to the safari lodge for overnight.

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