Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) in northern Tanzania is home to one of the most spectacular safari experiences on the continent.
Part of the Serengeti ecosystem – definitely one of Tanzania’s must-see places – the landscape of this 829,200-hectare UNESCO World Heritage Site ranges from short-grass plains, grazed by dazzles of zebra and large herds of wildebeest, to placid crater lakes and volcanic peaks wreathed in cloud.
The famous Ngorongoro Crater — one of the new Seven Natural Wonders of Africa and the feature from which the NCA takes its name — is the world’s largest inactive and empty volcanic caldera, formed 2 to 3 million years ago. Around 25,000 large animals live in the 30,000-hectare crater, including lion, black rhino and elephant.
Spend a day on safari in the crater, pausing for a special lunch in the bush. Visitors can also hike up the Olmoti volcano, trek down to the Empakaai Crater lake (where pink flamingos flock in the shallows) or visit a Ngorongoro village to learn about Maasai culture.
The NCA is a year-round destination, though birders may want to visit when the migratory birds are in the area and photographers, around the rains, when the landscape tends to be more photogenic.
The NCA has a mild, temperate climate. Due to the altitude, it’s possible for night-time temperatures to drop below freezing. Even during the day, the crater never gets very hot, so make sure to bring layers.
June to October
During the dry season, you’ll find the vegetation in the crater to be less dense, making wildlife spotting much easier — especially when it comes to big cats. At this time, a lot of the animals clustered around permanent water sources, again resulting in more frequent sightings.
The days are usually sunny without being too hot; the crater floor only reaches a high of 20˚C (68˚F). The afternoons tend to be quite dusty, which results in a soft light that can make for beautiful photographs.
With more than 25,000 large animals and hundreds of bird species, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area lives up to its reputation for incredible wildlife viewing. The Ngorongoro Crater is home to wildebeest, zebra, buffalo and Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle. From the crater rim, watch the herds journey across the base in long columns. Keep an eye open for black rhinos in the bushes and old bull elephants with long, majestic tusks around the Gorigor Swamp. Leopards lurk in the Lerai forest, while prides of lions prowl the plains. On the northern flank of the Olmoti volcano, you may spot buffalo, zebra and hyena. Hike down to the Empakaai Crater to see thousands of pink flamingos around the edges of the soda lake.