Ngorongoro travel tips

lion wildlife 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. In theory, 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.

  • A day trip to Ngorongoro Crater is worth planning carefully. 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.

credit the highlands ngorongoro tanzania safari 4x4 drive 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. Either way, 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.

Our Recommended Itinerary

Affordable Ngorongoro and Serengeti Safari (6 days)

day 1 to 2

  • Affordable Ngorongoro and Serengeti Safari (6 days)
  • Affordable Ngorongoro and Serengeti Safari (6 days)
  • Affordable Ngorongoro and Serengeti Safari (6 days)
  • Affordable Ngorongoro and Serengeti Safari (6 days)
  • Affordable Ngorongoro and Serengeti Safari (6 days)
  • Affordable Ngorongoro and Serengeti Safari (6 days)

day 3 to 4 to 5

  • Affordable Ngorongoro and Serengeti Safari (6 days)
  • Affordable Ngorongoro and Serengeti Safari (6 days)
  • Affordable Ngorongoro and Serengeti Safari (6 days)
  • Affordable Ngorongoro and Serengeti Safari (6 days)
  • Affordable Ngorongoro and Serengeti Safari (6 days)
  • Affordable Ngorongoro and Serengeti Safari (6 days)

day 6

Departure

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Ngorongoro in November

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…

Oldupai Gorge

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…

Lake Ndutu and the Serengeti plains

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,…

Lake Natron and Ol Doinyo Lengai

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…

Ngorongoro in 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…

Empakaai Crater

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…

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