Location and How to Get There.
Prior to entering the Serengeti is one of the seven natural wonders of the world: Ngorongoro Crater. It is about a 3-hour drive from Arusha to the crater.
History and Highlights.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is where a high concentration of Maasai lives and grazes their cattle. Within the Ngorongoro Crater and the area surrounding it, the Maasai people share their resources with their animals. This area includes Oldonyo Lengai, a Maasai holy site which remains an active volcano to the northeast of Ngorongoro Crater. It also includes Olduvai Gorge, famous for being the location where the oldest human footprint on Earth was located in the 1950’s by the Leakey’s.
Ngorongoro derives its name from the Maasai who have lived in the Rift Valley area for the last three hundred years. Referred to as the “crown jewel” of the Serengeti, Ngorongoro’s breathtaking views overlook a 2,000-foot drop to its volcanic caldera floor formed over 3 million years ago when its volcano erupted. A caldera forms when the land collapsed following a volcanic eruption. Ngorongoro Crater’s caldera is unique as it is 100 square miles, 10,000 ft elevation from its rim to its floor (5,400 ft elevation), making it the largest caldera in the world.
Wildlife and Natural Highlights.
The Ngorongoro Crater includes a unique eco-culture within it as it is home to most of the animal species found in East Africa. This ecosystem is defined by the rim of the Great Rift Valley wall escarpment, making it difficult for animals to migrate out of the crater easily, due to its natural enclosure. The Ngorongoro Crater is inhabited by 30,000 animals during the dry season. Cool breezes at its rim create ideal conditions within the crater to keep animals cool during hot days, which encourages animals into entering it.
Early morning is an especially good time for game viewing. Ngorongoro Crater has 5 different points of pride of lions within it and 3 pride along with its rim. There are 7 clans of hyena within it of which 3 hunts mainly at night, providing 80% of the lions’ food. Its diverse species of wildlife drink from on the caldera floor and other water sources flowing into the crater. There is a high probability of seeing the endangered black rhinos drinking from Lake Magadi.
When the Ngorongoro erupted 3 million years ago, it deposited volcanic ash containing phosphorous throughout the Serengeti, growing short grasses grow that contain high concentrations of phosphorous. As every cell of the wildebeest requires phosphorous, the wildebeest thrive on them during the short rainy season as they help to produce the milk for their newborns during calving season. As the young wildebeest grow strong grazing on the short grasses they are prepared for the migration season ahead.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area includes Olmoti Crater. It is a medium size crater visitors can hike into by foot. The climb to the crater floor is uphill and armed guards accompany visitors. En route to the crater floor is spectacular flowering plants. At the base of the crater is a waterfall tourist can visit and is often inhabited by eland and buffalo.
Empakaai Crater is arguably the most beautiful place within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. From its rim, visitors can see the active volcanic mountain, Oldonyo Lengai to the northeast. Looking down into the crater it appears pink from the vast number of flamingos drinking from the lake on its crater floor. Along the walls of the crater are a variety of colorful flowers. Hiking to the floor of the crater takes about a half hour and the hike back up takes about an hour. Hikers must be accompanied by armed guards.