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
This post may include affiliate links.
Click here for more information.

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. Which 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. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Stars with the Milky Way from Simba Campground
The Milky Way from Simba Campground on the crater rim. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Zebras and Landscape
On the crater floor. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Lion
[license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
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. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Dirt Track and Safari Vehicle
Dirt tracks = lots of dust. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Close-up of a Zebra at Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania
[license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
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. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Picnic Area
A wider view of the designated picnic area. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Thomson's Gazelle
Thomson’s Gazelle. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Hippos at Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania
Some hippos grazing. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Wildlife
[license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
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. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Salt Lake and Wildebeest
Blue wildebeest (also known as blue gnu) moving across the edge of a salt flat. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Thomson's Gazelle at Stream
Thomson’s Gazelle. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Salt Lake
A salt lake. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Stream
A swampier area. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Thomson's Gazelle and Wildebeest
A young Thomson’s Gazelle with Blue Wildebeest. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Wildebeest
More Blue Wildebeest (or Blue Gnus). [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Watering Hole
Even in this enclosed crater there’s a mix of landscapes. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Thomson's Gazelle Young
A young Thomson’s Gazelle. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
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. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Traffic Jam
One of the traffic jams as guides rush over to something interesting by the road. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Dusty Road
[license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Safari Trucks
[license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Grass
[license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Plains
[license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Water Buffalo at Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania
Water Buffalo. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Mountains and Clouds
Evening clouds swirling over the crater rim and catching the sun’s last rays. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Wildebeest Grazing
Blue Wildebeest (Blue Gnus). [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Wildebeest Crossing the Road
Obviously, the wildlife has right of way. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Safari Vehicle
[license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Wildebeest Herd
[license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
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. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Thomson's Gazelle's Grazing
Thomson’s Gazelles grazing. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Dusty Road
[license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]
Ngorongoro Crater Overlook
The view from the crater rim looking down into the crater floor. [license topic=”Ngorongoro Crater”]

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.

Where to Next?



Travel Advice for Tanzania

You can find the latest U.S. Department of State travel advisories and information for Tanzania (such as entry visa requirements and vaccination requirements) here.

The British and Australian governments offer their own country-specific travel information. You can find the British Government's travel advice for Tanzania here and the Australian Government's here.

Health & Vaccinations

The CDC makes country-specific recommendations for vaccinations and health for travelers. You can find their latest information for Tanzania here.

Guidebooks for Tanzania

If you're looking for a guidebook to make the most of your visit, these are some of the most popular ones currently for Tanzania. Some are available in both paper and e-book formats.

Lonely Planet Tanzania 7 (Country Guide)
136 Reviews
Lonely Planet Tanzania 7 (Country Guide)
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
Tanzania Safari Guide: With Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar and the Coast (Bradt...
25 Reviews
Tanzania Safari Guide: With Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar and the Coast (Bradt...
  • Briggs, Philip (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
Fodor's the Complete Guide to African Safaris: with South Africa, Kenya,...
140 Reviews
Fodor's the Complete Guide to African Safaris: with South Africa, Kenya,...
  • Fodor's Travel Guides (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Travel Insurance For Your Trip to Tanzania

I never travel without travel insurance, and I've run into several situations where I've had to make claims. I consider it essential.

But shopping for travel insurance can be a pain and confusing. Thankfully, there are some travel insurance comparison sites that show you a wide range of plans, make it easy to compare coverage, and can save you money at the same time. And the coverage can be much better tailored to your specific needs than the checkbox offering at travel booking sites or through your credit card.

These are some good places to shop for travel insurance for your next trip to Tanzania :

Hopefully, you won't need it, but if something goes wrong, you'll sure be glad you have it!

Location
On This Page