Ngorongoro Crater Safari

The ultimate guide to your Ngorongoro Crater trip

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    Everything you need to know about the Ngorongoro Crater

    Welcome to Discover Africa’s Ngorongoro Crater guide. Exploring the unique Ngorongoro Crater – surrounded by the towering volcanic walls on every side and blessed with prolific and extremely well-habituated wildlife – almost feels like you’re driving through a zoo; only the surrounding crater scenery is jaw-droppingly impressive. With the greater Serengeti ecosystem so blessed with wildlife and scenic beauty, it is hard to imagine it could have anything more to offer, but the great East African migration steals the show.


    Affordable Ngorongoro & Serengeti Safari

    Begin your journey in northern Tanzania at the pristine Ngorongoro Crater, an extinct volcano that collapsed millions of years ago, creating one of the world’s biggest calderas. As a result of this natural phenomenon, the fertile rich soils have attracted incredible amounts of wildlife and birds. Your next stop is the northern Serengeti, the most epic place to see the Wildebeest Migration, the Mara River crossings into Kenya being the most thrilling. Another highlight of this tour is the chance to meet the warm guardians of Tanzania & Kenya; the Maasai people. Two world-famous destinations in under a week!

    • elephants in ngorongoro

      Day 1 to 2

      Your journey begins with a flight from Arusha Airport to Lake Manyara Airstrip, on arrival you will be tranferred to Sanctuary Ngorongoro Crater Camp, where your luxury safari tent will be waiting … Your days will be spent on crisp morning and late afternoon guided 4x4 trips in and around the Ngorongoro Crater, where you will get up close and personal with the disctinct wildlife of the area. Experience large numbers of endangered Black rhino, plenty of big cats and even groups of Maasai herdsmen tending to their cattle on the outer rim of the crater.
    • wildebeest migration safari tanzania

      Day 3-5

      Your arrival at Kogatende airstrip, followed by a transfer to the Sanctuary Kichakani Serengeti Camp is all it takes to get to your next destination … The stars of this seasonal path are wildebeest, zebra, Thomson’s gazelles, and the predators that this migratory journey attracts. Cheetahs are a highlight, along with wild dog, giraffe, waterbuck and impala. Enoy these incredible sights on guided game drives during the day and refreshing sundowners as the African sun sets.
    • hippo wildlife ngorongoro crater tanzania safari

      Day 6

      The end of your adventure sees you on a transfer to Kogatende airstrip, where you will return to Arusha airport. … It might be the end of your time in Tanzania, but your special memories will have you returning again and again. We wish you a safe flight from Arusha airport to your next destination.
    • ngorongoro crater landscape tanzania safari

      View the complete tour

      The end of your adventure sees you on a transfer to Kogatende airstrip, where you will return to Arusha airport. … It might be the end of your time in Tanzania, but your special memories will have you returning again and again. We wish you a safe flight from Arusha airport to your next destination.

      Where to go

      Where to go and Highlights

      • Heroes Point

        naona moru camp tanzania safari ngorongoro
        Credit: Naona Moru Camp

        Coming from the direction of Arusha, the road from Lodware Entrance Gate to the crater rim switchbacks uphill through fertile slopes swathed in Afromontane forest to Heroes Point, which is where most visitors catch their first breathtaking view to the crater floor. It is here that German conservationist and filmmaker Michael Grzimek (son of the legendary Professor Bernhard Grzimek of Serengeti Shall Not Die fame) was buried in 1959 after his tragic death in an aeroplane crash over the Serengeti at the age of 24. Look closely at the crater floor below and you should pick out a few hundred-strong herds of wildebeest, zebra and buffalo moving across the crater floor, as well as elephants on the edge of Lerai Forest or flamingos in the shallows of Lake Magadi.

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      • Ngorongoro Crater

        game drive ngorongoro crater tanzania safari

        People visit the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is to see the eponymous crater. Ngorongoro is the world’s largest intact and unflooded caldera, the relict of a massive volcano formed by the same tectonic activity associated with the creation of the Great Rift Valley. In its prime, Ngorongoro would have towered as high as Kilimanjaro does today, but it collapsed in on itself around one- to two-million years ago, leaving behind a gaping caldera that extends across some 260 square kilometres and is hemmed in by steep but lushly vegetated walls that rise up to 600m above the floor to a maximum altitude of 2,388m. The views over the crater from the various viewpoints and lodges that line the forested rim are truly immense. But the crater also doubles as one of Africa’s most iconic and photogenic Big Five safari destinations, providing sanctuary to elephant, lion, leopard, black rhino and buffalo along with a host of other safari favourites: large herds of wildebeest and zebra, significant numbers of cheetah and spotted hyena, yawning pods of hippos, and a wide variety of antelope.

        hippo ngorongoro crater tanzania safari

        Casual visitors are almost certain to encounter three of the so-called Big Five on any given game drive in the crater. Large herds of buffalo are common and might well be seen from the rim, marching ant-like along the crater floor even before you make the descent. The fever trees of Lerai Forest and the nearby Gorigor Swamp are the favoured haunt of the crater’s legendary population of veteran elephant bulls and their outsized tusks. An ample supply of prey means that the crater floor supports one of Africa’s densest concentrations of lions, with up to 100 very relaxed individuals scattered across various prides in suitable conditions. Black rhinos are a less certain attraction, but Ngorongoro is still one of the best places in East Africa to look for these endangered creatures. An altogether more elusive member of the Big Five is the leopard, which is resident on the crater floor as well as on the forested rim, but seldom seen due to its furtive nocturnal habits.

        Big Game is the main attraction of the crater, but it also hosts an impressive bird life, most memorably the flamingo flocks that provide a pink tint to the fringes of saline Lake Magadi. Other Ngorongoro ‘specials’ include the handsome auger buzzard, the hulking Kori bustard, seasonal concentrations of grey crowned crane and various migrant storks, and the gorgeous rosy-throated longclaw and locally endemic rufous-tailed weaver. By contrast the crater rim is known as a good place to seek out such colourful highland forest birds as bar-tailed trogon, cinnamon-chested bee-eater and golden-winged sunbird.

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      • Empakaai Crater

        the highlands ngorongoro tanzania safari
        Credit: The Highlands Ngorongoro

        The second-largest crater in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Empakaai is almost 8km in diameter and its floor is dominated by a saline crater lake and enclosed by sheer 300m high walls that rise to an elevation of 3,200m on the eastern rim. On of East Africa’s most underrated and seldom-visited scenic gems, the crater lies about 90 minutes’ drive northeast of Ngorongoro Crater via the Embulbul Depression, a grassy bowl that which dips to below 2,350m at the base of the 3,260m Mount Losirua and 3,648m Lolmalasin (the highest point in the Crater Highlands). The view from the forested crater rim is fabulous, whether you look inward to the emerald green crater lake, its shallows frequently tinged pink by thousands of flamingos, or east across the Rift Valley to the ashen slopes and smoking fumaroles of volcanic Ol Doinyo Lengai, a scene that also takes in Lake Natron and snow-capped Kilimanjaro on a clear day.

        Empakaai offers a welcome opportunity to break the safari regime of twice-daily game drives with a stiff steep guided hike to the crater floor. The steep but scenic descent along a tolerably well-maintained footpath takes 45-60 minutes, longer if you’re looking out for the plentiful birds that inhabit the forested crater walls, and there’s also a chance of spotting bushbuck, buffalo, blue monkey and even elephant. Good walking shoes and a reasonable level of fitness are recommended.

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      • Northern Safari Circuit

        ngorongoro crater hike olmoti tanzania safari
        Credit: Travel Buckhead

        Another dramatic relic of the volcanic activity that shaped the Crater Highlands over the past ten million years, Olmoti - a Maasai name meaning Cooking Pot - is a sunken caldera whose rim is reached along a 30-minute footpath from the ranger post at Nainokanoka. Covered in grass and bisected by a river valley, this shallow crater doesn’t quite match Ngorongoro or Empakaai for scenery, but it is very pretty, and it offers good grazing to the local Maasai cattle and various antelope. Look out for pairs of augur buzzard cartwheeling high in the sky, and the cliff-loving Verreaux’s eagle. From the main viewpoint, a short footpath leads to the seasonal Munge Waterfall, where the eponymous river cascades out of the crater.

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      • Maasai Visits

        maasai people tanzania safari

        Ngorongoro Conservation Area is one of the last places in Africa where large herds of wildlife still roam alongside people. The people in question are the pastoralist Maasai, staunch traditionalists renowned for their ongoing adherence to a cattle-herding lifestyle and distinctive attire of toga-like red blankets, ochre-dyed hair and beaded jewellery. Several Maasai ‘cultural villages’ scattered in and around Ngorongoro Conservation Area now cater to tourists, and while these manyattas admittedly offer a slightly contrived the experience, all are longstanding Maasai settlements whose inhabitants live a largely traditional lifestyle - and the opportunity to meet, interact with and photograph these proud and charismatic people (whose traditional respect for the local wildlife is the main reason why so much of it still survives in Maasailand) is not to be missed.

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      • Oldupai Gorge

        pouncing serval cat wildlife ngorongoro tanzania safari

        Two million years ago, the landscape of Ngorongoro Conservation Area looked very different to how it does today. Ngorongoro itself would have been an active volcano, taller perhaps than Kilimanjaro is now, and the seasonally parched plains at its western base were partially submerged beneath a seasonal lake that formed an important watering hole for our hominid ancestors. The fluctuating nature of this ancient lake led to a high level of stratification, one that accentuated by sporadic deposits of volcanic ash from Crater Highlands, creating ideal conditions for the fossilisation. Then, tens of thousands of years ago, fresh tectonic activity caused the land to tilt, leading to the formation of a new lake to the east and the creation of a seasonal river that cut through the former lakebed to expose layers of stratification up to 100m deep and a continuous archaeological and fossil record of life on the plains over the past two million years.

        amed after the Maasai word for the wild sisal that grows in the area, Oldupai Gorge is one of the richest palaeontological sites in East Africa. First excavated in 1931 by Professor Louis Leakey, it was here, in 1959, that Louis’s wife Mary Leakey unearthed a critical landmark in the history of palaeontology: the discovery of a fossilised cranium that provided the first conclusive evidence that hominid evolution stretched back over more than a million years and had been enacted on the plains of East Africa. Nicknamed ‘Nutcracker Man’ in reference to its bulky jawbone, the cranium belonged to a robust Australopithecine that had lived and died on the ancient lakeshore around 1.75 million years earlier, and while its antiquity would later be superseded by more ancient fossils unearthed in Ethiopia and Kenya, it rewrote the perceived timespan of human evolution, shot the Leakeys’ work to international prominence, and led to an a series of exciting new discoveries, including the first fossilised remains of Homo habilis. At nearby Laetoli, in 1976, four years after Louis’s death, Mary Leakey discovered footprints created more than three million years ago by a party of early hominids that had walked through a bed of freshly deposited volcanic ash – still the most ancient hominid footprints ever found.

        nutcracker man oh5 tanzania history fossil

        Today, the original diggings can be explored with a guide, but the main attraction is an excellent site museum that lies a short distance off the main track connecting Ngorongoro Crater to Serengeti National Park. Displays include replicas of some of the more interesting hominid fossils unearthed at the site as well as the Laetoli footprints, along with genuine fossils of a menagerie of extinct oddities: a short-necked giraffe, a giant swine, an aquatic elephant and a bizarre antelope with long de-curved horns. Outside the museum, look out for colourful dry-country birds such as red-and-yellow barbet and purple grenadier.

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      • Lake Ndutu and the Serengeti plains

        calving season wildebeest migration tanzania safari

        Ngorongoro Conservation Area is essentially an eastern extension of the vast Serengeti-Mara ecosystem - indeed, it formed part of the original Serengeti National Park as it was gazetted in 1951 but was split off shortly afterwards to appease Maasai protests against being evicted from their traditional grazing lands. Today, the southeast of the conservation area, around Oldupai Gorge, remains an important component of this migratory ecosystem, a fact of which you will be in no doubt should you pass through the area en route to the Serengeti National Park during the rainy season (late November to early May), when large herds of wildebeest and other ungulates disperse across the short grass plains and calve en masse in February. At other times of year, the area is a good place to look for cheetah, bat-eared fox, eland and ostrich. The game viewing centrepiece of the region is Lake Ndutu, which straddles the Serengeti-Ngorongoro boundary at the epicentre of the wildebeest dispersal, when it offers truly dramatic game viewing.

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      • Northern Safari Circuit

        lake eyasi tanzania safari

        Bounding the southern Ngorongoro Conservation Area at the base of the Rift Valley Escarpment, remote Lake Eyasi is a shallow soda lake prone to large fluctuations in area and level depending on local rainfall. Possessed of a certain desolate beauty, the surrounding dry savannah is home to the Hadza, or Hadzabe, a tribe of nomadic hunter-gatherers that numbers fewer than 100 individuals today and speaks a similar click language to the San people of Southern Africa.

        The overgrown village of Mang’ola is the most important settlement in the area, and the base from which it is usually possible to visit a family of these traditional nomads, who resolutely refuse to be coerced into a more settled agricultural or pastoral lifestyle, and join them on a hunting expedition in search of baboons, dik-dik or even mice, all of which are despatched with a traditional bow and arrow.

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      • Lake Natron and Ol Doinyo Lengai

        lake antron flamingos tanzania safari

        Set within the Rift Valley on the eastern border of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Natron is perhaps the most starkly beautiful of all the Rift Valley lakes south of Turkana. Almost 60km long but nowhere more than a metre deep, this primordial alkaline sump is renowned for its caustic and unusually viscous waters, which are enclosed by a crust of volcanic ash and salt, as well as a few isolated swamp patches fed by bubbling hot springs. There is some large wildlife in the area, but Natron’s main faunal claim to fame is as the only known breeding ground for East Africa’s 2.5 million lesser flamingos, which congregate at an inaccessible part of the lake between August and October. Natron also attracts up to 100,000 migrant waders during the European winter.

        The main attraction close to the Natron is Ol Doinyo Lengai, the Maasai ‘Mountain of God’, a textbook volcano that rises more than 2km above the surrounding Rift Valley floor to an altitude of 2,960m. Probably the most active volcano in East Africa, Lengai has erupted at least a dozen times in the past 150 years, experienced almost continuous low-key activity over the last past century and a half, the most dramatic in recent years being over 2007, when it emitted an ashen steamy plume that travelled almost 20km downwind. The steep ascent of Lengai, ideally undertaken overnight to avoid sun exposure on the black shadeless slopes, is a popular hike with fit and adventurous travellers, at least when the volcano is sufficiently placid. It should only be undertaken with an experienced local guide, ideally leaving shortly before midnight to reach the crater rim for sunrise.

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      • Ngorongoro travel tips

        lion roars ngorongoro crater tanzania safari
        • Ngorongoro Conservation Area can only realistically be explored in a solid 4x4. The 150km road from the northern Tanzanian ‘safari capital’ Arusha to Lodware Entrance Gate, the only access point along the eastern border, is now surfaced in its entirety, and can be covered in less than three hours. All roads within the conservation are unsurfaced, however, and most - including the bumpy descent and ascent tracks to the crater and corrugated strip of fine compacted ash running west to Serengeti National Park - are pretty rough going.
        • Tanzania’s safari industry is not really geared towards a self-drive approach, and the roads are unsuited to large coach tours, which means that almost all visitors to Ngorongoro either join a bespoke or small-group safari with a local driver-guide, or fly from Arusha to a camp offering a package inclusive of game drives.
        • Ngorongoro Crater could be visited on a standalone one or two-night safari out of Arusha, but in practice it usually forms part of a longer (5-14 day) safari taking in some or all of the other highlights of the northern Tanzania safari circuit i.e. Serengeti National Park, Lake Manyara National Park, Tarangire National Park and Arusha National Park.
        • Vehicles are forbidden from entering the crater before 07h00, and they must leave before 18h00, and a hefty ‘crater service fee’ is payable every time a vehicle enter the crater. This combination of rulings has forged a situation where most safaris breakfast at their lodge before going on a game drive and carry a picnic lunch. Far preferable, however, to take a packed breakfast and lunch, allowing you to get down into the crater as early as possible, partly because early morning offers the best photographic light, but also because the place is at its most magical before the tourist hordes descend, with the main procession usually starting the descent from 08h00 onwards.
        the highlands ngorongoro tanzania safari
        Credit: The Highlands Ngorongoro
        • The conservation authority forbids tourists from staying overnight within Ngorongoro Crater. But several tourist lodges and tented camps are perched on the lofty crater rim, offering fine views over the floor and its teeming wildlife, and there is also a campsite. Plenty of accommodation is also available in and around the town of Karatu, which straddles the main surfaced road from Arusha about 15 minutes’ drive from Lodware Entrance Gate. The lodges on the crater rim are preferable in terms of views and for placing you as close as possible to the heart of the action, but accommodation in and around Karatu tends to offer better value for money.
        • The elevated altitude of the crater rim and Karatu largely negate their near-equatorial location and nights can be decidedly chilly, so bring plenty of warm clothing to wear in the evening and early morning game drives.
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      When to go

      Weather in Ngorongoro

      giraffe acacia tree ngorongoro crater tanzania safari

      Although Ngorongoro and the Crater Highlands stand in the heart of the tropics less than 200km south of the equator, the high elevation (mostly above 2,000m) means the climate is surprisingly cool, seldom rising above 25°C by day and more often than not dropping to below 10°C by night. It tends to be sunny by day, but cloudy weather is far from unusual and the gap in altitude between the crater floor and rim usually results in a significant build-up of mist in the early mornings. Ngorongoro’s tropical location means there is relatively little seasonal variation in average minimum and maximum temperatures

      You can visit Ngorongoro at any time of year and there are several more compelling factors in deciding your timing than climate. Because the crater can get quite crowded with safari vehicles during peak seasons, those seeking a relatively untrammeled atmosphere might consider aiming for April and May, which are the quietest months for tourism, not only both in Ngorongoro but in all the other reserves along the northern Tanzania safari circuit.

      • January
        kusini camp serengeti wildebeest migration safari
        • Ngorongoro Crater has a temperate climate characterised by rather chilly nights throughout the year but January is one of the warmest months, with an average daily maximum of 23°C and average minimum of 10°C.
        • January generally marks the end of the so-called short rains, so it shouldn’t be all that wet, but the landscape retains a lush green appearance and the air tends to be crisp and clear.
        • Ample resident mammal populations in the crater are further boosted by migrant herds of wildebeest as they disperse into the south of the Serengeti-Ngorongoro ecosystem, and the month also offers top notch bird watching thanks to the presence of large numbers of Palaearctic migrants and the tendency for many resident birds to display colourful breeding plumages during the rains.
      • February
        wildebeest calving seasonhysena wildlife ngorongoro crater tanzania safari
        • As with January, February is one of the warmest months in this temperate destination, with an average daily maximum of 23°C, but night time temperatures typically drop around 10°C on the crater rim, so be prepared for cool evenings.
        • February is the main cusp month between the so-called short rains and long rains, so rainfall is relatively low (the monthly average is 55m) but the landscape is lush and green.
        • February is also the main calving season for the million-plus wildebeest that congregate in Serengeti-Ngorongoro border area at this time of year, and event that is not only spectacular in itself but that also tends to attract high concentrations of large predators.
        • The one drawback of visiting in February is that this combination of positive factors attracts a high influx of tourists and corresponding volume of safari vehicles in the crater floor.
      • March
        zebra pair ngorongoro safari wildlife
        • March is a relatively warm month in Ngorongoro, and one of the wettest. The average daily maximum is 22°C, night time temperatures on the crater rim typically drop to around 10°C, and the average annual rainfall is 135mm, though this tends to fall mostly in stormy bursts rather than long bouts of drizzle.
        • The crater floor is lovely and green at this time of year, and there is plenty of wildlife around, not only on the carter floor itself, but also in the more westerly Serengeti border area, where the wildebeest migration is still concentrated in the immediate aftermath of the main calving season.
        • For birders, most of the Palaearctic migrants are present, and many resident species are sporting colourful breeding plumages.
        • Tourist volumes tend be slightly down from February
      • April
        tarangire national park tanzania safari landscape
        • April is the wettest month in most parts of Tanzania, and Ngorongoro is no exception, with the crater rim receiving an average monthly rainfall of 220mm. This has no direct effect on wildlife viewing - on the contrary, wildlife populations within the crater are very high in April - but it does mean that a significant proportion of game drives are likely to be partly rained.
        • Tourist numbers on Tanzania’s northern safari circuit tend to bottom out in April, which makes it an excellent time to experience Ngorongoro and the Serengeti at their least crowded.
      • May
        serengeti ngorongoro tanzania safari
        • The long rains that peak in April usually continue into early to mid-May, but overall it tends to be a lot dryer that the two months that preceded it.
        • Wildlife viewing is usually excellent, and the scenery is lovely and green, though the wildebeest that amass in the west of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area usually start to head northwest and deeper into the Serengeti at some point before the start of June.
        • Tanzania is all about the northern safari circuit, May is a pretty good choice, as it tends to be very uncrowded, many hotels and lodges offer discounted rates.
      • June
        hyena ngorongoro wildlife tanzania safari
        • June is arguably the optimum month to visit Ngorongoro Crater. The long rains should be over, but the scenery will still be green and lush, and the safari circuit remains relatively uncrowded, as peak tourist season only starts to kick in towards the end of the month or into July.
        • The crater rim will be pretty chilly (average daily maximum 19°C and nightly minimum 8°C) and the avian variety is relatively low.
      • July
        mara river crossing wildebeest migration safari
        • July is a good month to visit Ngorongoro Crater. The long rains will be a distant memory, but the crater shouldn’t have dried out completely, and wildlife is prolific as ever.
        • Those hoping for an uncrowded safari should be aware that July usually marks the start of the high season in northern Tanzania.
        • Together with June, it is the chilliest month on the crater rim (average daily maximum 19°C and nightly minimum 8°C) but this shouldn’t be a deterrent - just bring plenty of warm clothing.
      • August
        zebra wildlife ngorongoro crater tanzania safari
        • August is one of the driest months in Ngorongoro Crater, and with the long rains having ended two to three months ago, the landscape will be looking parched, yellow and dusty. This makes it easier to see predators on the open plains, so it is great for wildlife spotting, but the hazy skies and starker scenery tends to be less rewarding than wetter time of year for photography.
        • It is also peak safari season, with the wildebeest migration now dispersed along the Mara river in the northern Serengeti and plenty of wildlife activity in Tarangire National Park.
        • August is the one of the chilliest months on the crater rim (average daily maximum 20°C and nightly minimum 8°C) so bring plenty of warm clothing.
      • September
        rhino wildlife ngorongoro crater tanzania safari
        • The dry season that started in May or June should continue into August, leaving parts of the crater floor looking like a dust bowl and the remaining grassland all parched and yellow. The low vegetation is great for spotting animals, with predators being at their most conspicuous, and wildlife tends to congregate close to the few remaining sources of drinking water.
        • This is peak safari season in northern Tanzania - as is the case in August, the wildebeest migration will be concentrated around the Mara river in the northern Serengeti and there’s plenty of wildlife activity in Tarangire National Park.
        • The crater rim is quite chilly in September (average daily maximum 21°C and nightly minimum 8°C) so bring plenty of warm clothing.
      • October
        giraffe wildlife ngorongoro crater tanzania safari
        • October is a month of transition in Ngorongoro Crater. The start of the month is the height of the long dry season, and much of the crater floor resembles a barren dust bowl of fine volcanic soil, while what grass remains will be low and yellowing, making it easy to spot larger predators, while grazers tend to congregate close to the few remaining sources of drinking water.
        • The first of the short rains usually fall towards the end of October, providing welcome alleviation to the dryness, but unlikely impact negatively on tourist activities.
        • Ngorongoro tends to be quite crowded during this time. The crater rim is warms up a bit in October (average daily maximum 22°C and nightly minimum 9°C) so you should still bring plenty of warm clothing.
      • November
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        • Ngorongoro Crater tends to be relatively warm and wet in November, with an average daily maximum temperature of 22°C, a nightly minimum of 10°C, and around 110mm of rainfall.
        • These short rains are usually not so heavy as to have a negative impact on tourism, and they create an spring-like aura of regeneration to the landscape following the long dry season.
        • Wildlife is plentiful, with the migrating herds of wildebeest and zebra pouring into the Serengeti-Ngorongoro border area after spending the dry season further north, and many animals start breeding at this time of year.
        • For birders, the first of the Palaearctic migrants usually arrive in November.
      • December
        • The short rains that started in October continue into December, which is actually the third wettest month in Ngorongoro, receiving an average annual rainfall of 135mm.
        • It is also relatively warm, with average daily temperatures ranging from a minimum of 10°C to a maximum of 22°C. Coming after the long dry season, the rain tends to feel rejuvenated, lending a fresh spring-like feel to the crater and initiating plenty of breeding activity among mammals and birds alike.
        • Wildlife is plentiful, with the migrating herds now concentrated in the Serengeti-Ngorongoro border area, and the influx of Palaearctic migrants is delightful for birders.

      Why visit the Ngorongoro Crater?

      The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the largest unbroken, unflooded volcanic caldera in the world. It is a scenic showstopper that extends across an astonishing 260 square kilometres. The crater is hemmed in on all sides by sheer craggy walls that rise up to 600m above the floor. The view from the lushly forested rim is utterly stupendous and would justify a visit to Ngorongoro in its own right. But this spectacular crater also stands as one of Africa’s most alluring safari destinations, supporting solid populations of all of the Big Five (elephant, lion, leopard, black rhino and buffalo), plus a host of other iconic large mammals, in a lush and scenic landscape that frequently draws comparisons to the metaphorical “Garden of Eden”.

      rhino crater floor wildlife ngorongoro crater tanzania safari

      Extending eastward from its border with the Serengeti National Park, the 8,292-square-kilometre Ngorongoro Conservation Area forms part of the greater Serengeti ecosystem, and its western plains lie along a migration route followed annually by some 2,5 million wildebeest and other ungulates. The eastern part of the conservation area comprises the Crater Highlands, a geologically spectacular region of volcanic peaks and craters formed by the same tectonic forces that created the Great Rift Valley below. Most of the crater highlands stand above the 2,000m contour, and while the loftiest peak, Lolmalasin, only ranks third among Tanzania’s mountains (after Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru), there is no higher summit in any of the dozen African countries that lie to its south.

      ndutu safari lodge tanzania lake
      Credit: Ndutu Safari Lodge

      Ngorongoro Conservation Area was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. It is one of only 38 such sites worldwide to be listed on mixed natural and cultural criteria. In addition to its staggering volcanic scenery and profuse wildlife, the conservation area contains many archaeological sites of great international importance. Most notable among these is Oldupai Gorge, where Richard and Mary Leakey discovered the game-changing , 1,75 million-year-old fossil jawbone nicknamed Nutcracker Man in 1959. Nearby, the three-million-year-old Laetoli footprints are the most ancient hominid tracks ever found. Another striking feature of Ngorongoro Conservation Area is that among African game reserves of comparable stature, it still supports significant human communities, comprised mainly of traditionalist Maasai and Datoga pastoralists and Hadza hunter-gatherers, all of whom co-exist reasonably harmoniously alongside the prodigious wildlife.

      Wildlife

      hyena serengeti wildlife safari

      The game viewing centre piece of Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the grassy floor that stands at an altitude of 1,800m. The crater is dominated by a cover of open savannah that looks lush and green during the rainy season but is altogether dustier and more windswept during drier months. Important micro habitats within the crater floor include the fever-tree forest at Lerai, the shallow saline Lake Magadi, the lush reed-fringed Gorigor Swamp, and a permanent hippo pool fed by Ngoitokitok Springs.

      The open grasslands of the crater floor is home to immense concentrations of grazing antelops all year through, with numbers peaking between December and May, the main rainy season. Most common are blue wildebeest and Burchell’s zebra, resident populations of which are estimated at 10,000 and 5,000 respectively. Wildebeest and zebra are commonly seen together and/or in the company of other grazers such as the diminutive Thomson’s gazelle, the larger and longer-horned Grant’s gazelle, and the rather doleful looking topi and Coke’s hartebeest). Other less numerous antelopes include the handsome Defassa waterbuck (which differs from the common waterbuck in having a redder tinge to the coat and a full white rump), the secretive bushbuck, and the massive eland, all of which are most commonly seen in the vicinity of Lerai Forest or swampy areas.

      Animals

      The crater floor supports significant populations of all the Big Five. Most commonly the African buffalo, large herds of which are often seen marching across the crater floor in search of grazing or water. Least likely to be seen is the leopard, which is resident on the crater floor, but only in small numbers due to a lack of suitable habitat, and tends to be retiring and secretive.

      Ngorongoro Crater serves as something of a retirement ground for old elephant bulls, many of which sport outsized tusks to dimensions now seldom seen in parts of Africa that have suffered from commercial poaching in recent decades. Lerai Forest and the nearby Gorigor Swamp are the favoured haunt of these mighty male tuskers, up to 70 of which are resident at any given time. Oddly, no elephant breeding herds are resident on the crater, though females and family herds do pass through from time to time.

      elephant group ngorongoro crater tanzania safari
      Golden winged sunbird

      Ngorongoro Crater is one of the best places in East Africa to look for the black rhino, an endangered species with a very restricted presence in Tanzania. Between 1964 and 1992, the crater’s resident population of these cumbersome beasts decreased from an estimated 100 individuals to no more than 10 as a result of poaching. Since then, the local rhino population and the diversity of the gene pool has been boosted by the introduction of several individuals from South Africa, though the authorities are reluctant to publicise actual numbers. All the crater’s rhinos have been fitted with a tracking device in their horns, in order to monitor their movements and to discourage poachers. They tend to range between the Lerai Forest and Lake Magadi, browsing in the latter by night and then moving into more open terrain by day. Their unusually pale coloration is attributable to a predilection for bathing in saline Lake Magadi and rolling in the fringing salt flats.

      The floor of Ngorongoro Crater reputedly supports Africa’s densest concentration of lions, with up to 100 individuals present in suitable conditions. That said, lion numbers do fluctuate somewhat, due to a combination of disease (the closed nature of the crater makes its inhabitants particularly vulnerable to epidemics), emigration from and immigration to the surrounding highlands, and occasional pride takeovers that often result in the new dominant male killing all unrelated cubs and adolescents. It would be unusual to spend a day in the crater and not see any lions, which are generally very relaxed around vehicles, though they might be encountered just about anywhere so it is difficult to predict where you might find them.

      entamanu ngorongoro tanzania safari
      Credit: Entamanu Ngorongoro

      Other predators are well represented too. Most populous is the spotted hyena, which is Africa’s second largest carnivore after the lion, and tends to be less dependent on scavenging than is popularly assumed. An estimated 400 individuals are resident in the crater, so you are unlikely to spend long there without stumbling across one. If you specifically want to seek out a hyena, head to the eastern shore of Lake Magadi, where they often rest up during the day, occasionally trying to sneak up and snack on the flamingos that flock the shallows.

      The open grasslands of the crater floor are the perfect cheetah habitat, and there are also plenty of small antelope for these feline speedsters to feed on, so it’s a bit surprising that none were present as recently as the 1990s. The most likely explanation for this is competition with the dense populations of lion and spotted hyenas, both of which will routinely chase a cheetah off a fresh kill. Since 2000, however, cheetahs have recolonised the crater floor and they are now quite commonly seen stalking through the plains in search of gazelle.

      cheetah pair wildlife ngorongoro crater tanzania safari

      Other common predators are the golden jackal, black-backed jackal and bat-eared fox, with the former being most likely to be encountered due to its relatively diurnal habits. By contrast, giraffe and impala, both common on the surrounding plains, are totally absent from the crater floor. In the case of the giraffe, this is possibly attributable to a lack of suitable browsing fodder, or to the difficulty of descending the steep crater walls, but the absence of impala is a mystery.

      Birds

      A high proportion of the 550-plus bird species recorded in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area inhabit the crater floor. For casual visitors, a highlight is the large flocks of lesser and greater flamingo that aggregate in Lake Magadi, tinting its margins pink from a distance. Common grassland specialists include ostrich (the world’s largest bird), Kori bustard (the world’s heaviest flying bird, known for its spectacular mating dance) and a host of smaller ground birds including the exquisite rosy-throated longclaw, the babbler-like rufous-tailed weaver (a species endemic to the Tanzanian interior) and various larks, wheatears and pipits. Moist grassland often supports flocks of the lovely grey crowned crane and (in the rainy season) huge flocks of migrant white, black and Adbim’s storks. Lerai forest is the place to seek out striking woodland specialists such as Hildebrandt’s starling, green wood hoopoe and Fischer’s lovebird.

      african bird club rosy tailed longclaw ngorongoro crater tanzania
      Credit: African Bird Rosy-tailed longclaw

      Raptors are abundant. The most conspicuous species is the handsome augur buzzard, sometimes seen here in its unusual melanistic form, but always distinguishable by its reddish tail. The crater floor is ideal habitat for the secretary bird, an anomalous long-legged terrestrial hunter that stands up to 1.5m tall and feeds mainly on snakes, which it stamps to death in a bizarre flailing dance. The most interesting of seven vultures recorded in the crater is the Egyptian vulture, a localised species whose who know to crack open ostrich eggs by holding a stone in its beak, making it the only avian tool-user. Finally, on the subject of scavenging birds, watch out for the black kites that haunt the picnic site at Ngoitokitok Springs, swooping down on unprepared tourists to snatch the food from their hands!

      The Afromontane forest that swathes the crater rim supports a very different flora and fauna to the crater floor. Mammals are thinly distributed, but the forest does support a dense population of elusive leopards, plenty of blue monkeys and bushbuck, as well as the secretive bushpig and the localised tree hyrax (which is more difficult to see than the rock hyrax, but reveals its presence with an far-carrying eerie nocturnal call that sounds like it comes from a much larger creature). Colourful forest birds often seen in lodge gardens on the crater rim include bar-tailed trogon, cinnamon-chested bee-eater, baglafecht weaver, tacazze sunbird, malachite sunbird, golden-winged sunbird and Schalow’s turaco.

      Flora

      gibbs farm ngorongoro crater landscape tanzania safari
      Credit: Gibbs Farm

      Elsewhere the crater highlands support a cover of open Afromontane grasslands where low volumes of grazers such as buffalo and zebra coexist with domestic cattle owned by the red-robed Maasai who still pursue their traditional pastoral lifestyle in the area. Game is rather more prolific in the relatively low-lying short-grass plains that stretch west from the base of the Crater Highlands to the Serengeti border. Indeed, this Serengeti-Ngorongoro border region is the main focal point of the annual Serengeti migration of more than two million wildebeest and other ungulates during the rainy season (typically from late November to early May) and it is also where the wildebeest calving takes place over February.

      Type of traveller

      Type of traveller

      • Solo travel to the Ngorongoro

        sancturay ngorongoro crater camp bush walk
        Credit: Sanctuary Ngorongoro Crater Camp

        Very few people visit Ngorongoro solo. The main reason for this is presumably because a solo safari in northern Tanzania works out to be so much more expensive per person than it does for a couple or a small group. That said, if cost is not an obstacle, there is absolutely no reason why you couldn’t do a solo safari to Ngorongoro and elsewhere in Tanzania.

        Those actively seeking company along the way might do best to fly between the sort of exclusive lodges that offer all-inclusive packages, shared game drives and a common dining experience.

        Those that prefer their own company might prefer to book a bespoke road safari with their own driver/guide throughout. Special interest groups for which a solo safari might be preferable to joining a group safari are photographers and birdwatchers who want to pursue their passion without having to compromise to allow for the requirements of more generalist safari goers.

      • Honeymoon safari in the Ngorongoro

        ngorongoro crater camp honeymoon tanzania safari
        Credit: Ngorongoro Crater Camp

        Bespoke safaris are the name of the game in Tanzania, and probably half of the open-topped 4x4s you see in Ngorongoro and elsewhere on the northern safari circuit are occupied by one couple. In many respects, the best way to explore the area is with a like-minded partner rather than a larger group with more divergent interests and temperaments. It is also a more spacious arrangement than cramming four or more passengers into one vehicle.

        For honeymooners, the Ngorongoro Crater rim must one of the most romantic and memorable settings imaginable. While long dusty game drives on a chilly highland morning watching lions devour gazelles or elephants depositing their heavyweight stools on the roadside might not be everyone’s cup of romance, the crater rim does boast a couple of lodges whose honeymoon facilities live up to the superb setting.

        A popular option with honeymooners to Tanzania is a few days on safari taking in Ngorongoro and the greater Serengeti area, or even a sojourn into Kenya if you have the time and budget.

      • Family safari in the Ngorongoro

        ngorongoro crater camp family holiday tanzania
        Credit: Ngorongoro Crater Camp

        Ngorongoro and the other reserves that comprise Tanzania’s northern safari circuit are well suited to family and small group safaris. Cost-wise, since almost all safaris are undertaken in 4x4s with pop-up tops, the optimum group size is four or five individuals, though larger groups can always be split between two or more vehicles.

        It is generally a good idea for groups to be reasonably compatible in terms of previous safari experience and special interests - repeat safari goers often have different priorities than first-timers, while passionate birdwatchers or photographers are likely to get up the noses of less dedicated fellow passengers. For this reason, unless your budget absolutely dictates it, we would recommend against joining a group safari with strangers.

      Ngorongoro safari costs

      • Budget Ngorongoro Safari

        weaver bird birding tour ngorongoro tanzania

        The Ngorongoro Crater cannot be considered a budget destination. The conservation authority charges a high daily entrance fee and crater service fee and access is only realistic in a sturdy and well-maintained 4x4 with an experienced local driver, and accommodation on the crater rim and in nearby Karati is all pretty pricey.

        The best way to keep down costs is to camp, either at the official campsite on the crater rim (stunning location, but expensive, with limited amenities, and very cold at night) or at one of several equipped but less attractive private sites close to Karati. It will also cut the price significantly if you join or try to put together a group of four of five like-minded travellers, so that transport-associated costs can be split between several people, bearing in mind that most itineraries would also take in a couple of other safari destinations, for instance Serengeti, Tarangire and/or Lake Manyara National Park.


        Try our African Safari Cost Calculator
      • Affordable safari in the Ngorongoro

        ngorongoro crater tree climbing lion tanzania safari

        Affordability is a relative thing when it comes to Ngorongoro and the other parks along the northern Tanzania safari circuit. All the parks are serviced by mid-range lodges but these tend to charge rack rates that would be considered upmarket in most other contexts.

        a good way to keep things affordable is to stay in or around Karatu - although it is less atmospheric than sleeping on the crater rim. Rooms in terms of quality are probably 50% cheaper outside the conservation area, and there are even a few genuine mid-range options that offer simple but comfortable accommodation at wallet-friendly rates.

        Accommodation and meals aside, most costs associated with an Ngorongoro or northern Tanzania safari (for instance, fuel, driver and conservation fees) are pretty much the same irrespective of whether it is labelled a budget, mid-range or upmarket safari, but the ‘per person’ cost of a safari will decrease significantly if these are split between a group of four or five like-minded friends or family rather than a solo traveller or couple.


        Try our African Safari Cost Calculator
      • Luxury safari in Ngorongoro

        wildlife buffalo game drive ngorongoro crater tanzania safari

         


        Try our African Safari Cost Calculator

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