While in Africa for three months, I had plenty of opportunities to go on safaris. I managed to go on safari in at least five different countries – but there was a definite standout for me. Tanzania was truly jaw-dropping and the perfect safari experience. Within this great country, there was then one place that was an absolute must do: the Ngorongoro Crater.
In Tanzania, I went on safari in the famed Serengeti, probably the most famous destination of all – thanks, Lion King! We also saw Lake Manyara National Park. However, it was the Ngorongoro Crater that just blew my mind.
What is the Ngorongoro Crater?
It is, as you would expect, a volcanic crater. But, it is not just any crater – it is the largest unfilled, intact and inactive volcanic crater in the world. Inside the crater, the land is incredibly fertile and lush, making it a sort of Garden of Eden for Africa’s animals. Its name apparently comes from the Masaai phrase “the gift of life.” It is an incredibly fitting name for this gorgeous place.
What is so special about a safari in the Ngorongoro Crater?
There are an estimated 25,000 animals inside the Ngorongoro crater, which is not enormous. This means that the density of wildlife is jaw-dropping.
By contrast, in the open plains of Serengeti, you can drive for even an hour or two without seeing anything. In the Ngorongoro Crater, at any one moment you can expect to see dozens of animals of all different types, in all directions.
The diversity and density of animal life in the Crater is seriously astonishing. Due to the condensed environment they live in, the animals seem less fearful of each other – it’s not unusual to see Lions within what seems like easy striking distance of zebras. This also means you’re more likely to witness “the circle of life”.
What animals can you see in the Ngorongoro Crater?
What animals can’t you see in the Crater? You can expect to see the entire Big Five within an hour of entering the crater – I wouldn’t quite bet my hat on it, but I’d go close. You can expect to see lions, jackals, wildebeest, hyenas, elephants, zebras… honestly I could go on all day.
One of the most special sights in the Crater is the critically endangered Black Rhino. Outside Etosha National Park in Namibia, the Ngorongoro Crater is one of the best places to see them. A glimpse at the Black Rhino is stunning, but also saddening, to think what humanity has done to this beautiful creature.
Getting to the Ngorongoro Crater
We were based in Arusha, a popular setting off point for safaris in Tanzania. It’s a great place. The Crater is about 4 hours drive from Arusha, which is do-able if you get up really early (like before the sun is even thinking about waking up). You can also launch off from Lake Manyara, which in itself is a great safari destination. There are a few bush camps there.
I hate mornings, but you should really get to the Ngorongoro Crater as early as humanly possible. The sunrise here is going to be one of the best views you’ve ever seen in your life. I promise. I’ve been to 45 countries and I’m going to go out on a limb and put the view of Ngorongoro very, very close to #1. Photographs do not do it justice.
It is technically possible to self-drive, but I honestly think this is a bad idea. The safari vehicles are so much better fitted out for giving you a good view of the surroundings, and the local guides know all the best spots. If you are certain you want your own car, though, you can – just expect to pay $300 USD for a car permit + $70 per person in park fees.
Our guides were organised through Oasis Overland, and they were really good. However, there are endless guides on offer. You can book ahead online, or from Arusha.
When to Visit
Research tells me that June to September is best for wildlife, so that’s probably when the Crater sees the most tourists. We visited in February, which was just before the wet season of March to May. I have zero complaints about visiting at that time of year – I saw plenty of animals (although few babies), and the weather was glorious.
Where to Stay in Ngorongoro Crater
Given our tour of Africa was absolute budget basics, we did not stay in the Crater. At the time, I was not that disappointed, and obviously saving money in my budget allowed me to travel the vast continent of Africa for 3 months. However, if you have less time or more money – do it. I am sure it would be a truly fabulous experience.
There are a number of options of varying luxury – just take a look on your favourite hotel booking site. Obviously I can’t give any personal recommendations but if the views of &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge are as their website suggests, I’d give my right arm to stay there. Second honeymoon perhaps?
Final Thoughts on the Ngorongoro Crater
There’s a few destinations I’ve been in my life that have turned me into that annoying person who is insistent everybody must go there! The Ngorongoro Crater is one of them. Honestly, just thinking back to my day exploring the crater fills me with happiness and reminds me of why I love to travel so much.
It probably doesn’t hurt that it’s also where I fell in love with my husband and we got our first ever picture together!