Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater has an unusually dense population of African wildlife and is one of the top stops in Tanzania’s northern safari route.

Ngorongoro Crater Long-Crested Eagle  Feeding

The Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania isn’t quite what I’d expected. The overall size is about what I’d expected, but there’s no lush forest. Instead, nearly the entire crater floor is remarkably flat and covered with short grass, very different to nearby Tarangire National Park. It’s basically a giant paddock. This is precisely why the local Maasai bring their cattle down to the crater to graze.

They’ve been given special dispensation for that. Ngorongoro Crater is a part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (or NCA), a World Heritage Site and now separate from the Serengeti National Park. The NCA is a zone of 8,292 square kilometers established in 1959 incorporating not just the crater but also Serengeti plains along with archeological zones where some of the evidence of the earliest humans has been found, and catchment areas. The distinction is to allow this one exception of mixed-use but to otherwise protect the native wildlife and plant life. A national park wouldn’t allow such things. No one is allowed to actually live in the crater, though—at least, not humans. Until fairly recently, the Masai living on the rim were allowed to bring their cattle down to the walls to the crater floor, heading back up in the evening. But, since 2015, they’re no longer allowed to do so.

The crater was formed when a volcano much like Kilimanjaro collapsed in on itself two to three million years ago, creating a nearly perfectly flat caldera. The walls of the rim are steep, but not so steep as to eliminate all migration. Some animals still migrate to and from the crater, but one of the reasons there’s so much wildlife here is that there’s not much need for migration. There’s regular water and food year-round.

And that’s why Ngorongoro Crater has an unusually dense population of wildlife, including lions, zebras, wildebeest, Thomson’s gazelles, ostriches, buffalo, hippos, hyenas, and flamingos. There’s a small bush area in one corner with some elephants. And there’s a large salt lake in another corner where flamingos gather. The crater is famous for its rare black rhinos, but they’re notoriously shy, especially on cool mornings. But you won’t find giraffes, at least not on the crater floor (but you can sometimes find them on the outside of the rim). And there’s a swampy area, popular as a tourist picnic area, where hippos swim in a small lake fed by underground springs and that other animals also use as a water source.

Like the national parks, visiting the crater requires permits, fees, and a guide. So apart from one designated lunch spot next to a hippo lake, you’ll spend all your time in a safari vehicle dash across the dirt roads that criss-cross the crater looking for animals. And when one car finds something of interest–some male lions sleeping or an eagle devouring a small rabbit–others will swarm to it. So you can end up with quite a traffic jam even in this wide open space. But one way or another, you’re going to find lots of animals here. There’s a reason, after all, that it’s one of the most popular stops on Tanzania’s northern safari tour.

Photos from Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater Panorama
A panorama taken from the crater rim looking down into the crater. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Stars with the Milky Way from Simba Campground
The Milky Way from Simba Campground on the crater rim. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Zebras and Landscape
On the crater floor. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Lion
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
The Floor of Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania
The floor of the crater as seen from up on the rim, with narrow waterways etched into the crater floor. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Dirt Track and Safari Vehicle
Dirt tracks = lots of dust. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Close-up of a Zebra at Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Hippos and Tourists
Hippos can be dangerous, but there’s an area in the crater that’s designated as a lunch/stopping area where you’re allowed to get out of the trucks and wander around. It’s next to a small lake with hippos. This shot uses a long telephoto lens, so it looks like the two women are closer to the hippos than they actually were. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Picnic Area
A wider view of the designated picnic area. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Thomson's Gazelle
Thomson’s Gazelle. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Hippos at Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania
Some hippos grazing. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Wildlife
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Safari Vehicles Open Tops
When one guide spots something interesting and pulls over, it attracts others to rush over, and, oddly, you can end up with traffic jams even out here. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Salt Lake and Wildebeest
Blue wildebeest (also known as blue gnu) moving across the edge of a salt flat. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Thomson's Gazelle at Stream
Thomson’s Gazelle. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Salt Lake
A salt lake. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Stream
A swampier area. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Thomson's Gazelle and Wildebeest
A young Thomson’s Gazelle with Blue Wildebeest. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Wildebeest
More Blue Wildebeest (or Blue Gnus). Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Watering Hole
Even in this enclosed crater, there’s a mix of landscapes. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Thomson's Gazelle Young
A young Thomson’s Gazelle. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Herd of Wildebeest Resting at Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania
A herd of Blue Wildebeest (Blue Gnus), obviously not too worried that there might be predators nearby. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Traffic Jam
One of the traffic jams as guides rush over to something interesting by the road. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Dusty Road
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Safari Trucks
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Grass
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Plains
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Water Buffalo at Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania
Water Buffalo. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Mountains and Clouds
Evening clouds swirling over the crater rim and catching the sun’s last rays. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Wildebeest Grazing
Blue Wildebeest (Blue Gnus). Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Wildebeest Crossing the Road
Obviously, the wildlife has right of way. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Safari Vehicle
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Wildebeest Herd
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Bush
My guide took me through this lightly wooded area in the hope of spotting some rhinos, but we didn’t come across any. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Thomson's Gazelle's Grazing
Thomson’s Gazelles grazing. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Dusty Road
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Ngorongoro Crater Overlook
The view from the crater rim looking down into the crater floor. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com

What To Know Before You Go

Ngorongoro Crater is a protected area. You can only enter for a designated time period (and must exit the park during those designated periods). There’s no accommodation on the crater floor, but there’s a handful of options up on the crater rim, from camping to a luxury lodge.

There are fees involved with entering the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

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David Coleman / Photographer
by David Coleman

I'm a freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my gear reviews and tips here. More »