Ngorongoro Conservation Area is referred to as the ‘source of life’. This area with its world-famous volcano crater probably has the highest density of animals per square meter in all of Africa. It’s one of many old volcanoes here. This area is also where there was a discovery of extremely ancient bones of our ancestors. It’s also home to the Hadza peoples, as well as the Masaai.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a remarkable nature reserve, and it includes so much more than just the crater. Its history is incredibly exciting: there are not only ancient bones here, but also 3 million-year old footprints, proving that there were hominoids here that long ago. It might even be the origins of modern humans…

But its history goes even further back. Scientists have calculated that around 20 million years ago (some even claim it was 35 million) this landscape started to crack. This was a result of several tectonic plates that started moving independent of each other. A process that, over millions of years, moved India away from Africa towards Asia.

Part of the land is slowly moving eastward, making the earth’s crust very thin in some parts. This process continues to this day. This area is now also known as the Great Rift Valley. In some parts, the lava melts the surface land and breaks through the earth’s crust and flows freely, which also created many volcanoes.

Besides Ngorongoro, there are many other volcanoes in the area, such as Lemagrut, Sadiman, Oldeani, Olmoti, Sirua, Empakaai and the 3,600-meter high Lolmalasin. These are all older than the Ngorongoro. This imposing line of volcanoes is located in a very fertile area, that continues on from the Serengeti. Masaai Mara belongs to this area as well.

Despite the beautiful names of all the other volcanos, Ngorongoro remains the most  impressive. Scientists believe it was once as high as the Kilimanjaro (5.895 metre), and they think that the crater wasn’t created by an eruption, but that the lava simply flowed out of the crater. Erosion, in the form of rain, did the rest. It’s location at 2.286 metre makes it tricky to get to, also because the steep crater’s edge is around 600 metres high and surrounds the entire area.

A black rhino in Ngorongoro
A black rhino in Ngorongoro. Stuart Barr

The soil at the bottom of the crater is incredibly fertile, which attracts many herbivores. Its good vegetation means it’s on the famous migration route of wildebeest, zebras and Thomson’s gazelles. The animals leave in search of fresh grass when the climate gets to dry, and they travel across the Serengeti, the Maasai Mara plains and through the Ngorongoro crater.

It’s interesting to note than not all animals migrate like that. It’s estimated around 20.000 animals live in the crater all-year-round, and it’s double during the migration. And where there are herbivores, there are predators in the form of lions, cheetahs and leopards. And where those creatures roam, scavengers such as hyenas and vultures are never far away. That’s how this relatively small area has such a wealth of wildlife, which is fairly easy to spot thanks to the limited vegetation. Not just within the Ngorongoro crater, but in the entire area.

Most tourists in this area are here to experience nature. Of course, they’d like to see the Big Five: elephant, buffalo, (black) rhinoceros, lion and leopard. The Ngorongoro crater itself is by far the most popular attraction. But more and more people are also interested in meeting the intriguing Hadza people, who have lived in this area for centuries. Many travellers visit in tour groups, but private safaris are also becoming popular, because you can plan your own itinerary with your driver and guide.

Best times:
You can see plenty of animals all year round. But if you do a bit of planning, you’ll be able to see the migration of the wildebeest, zebras and Thomson’s gazelles. The migration starts in December, and the animals will come to the Ngorongoro crater. They move on in June, looking for greener pastures.

From March to May you can expect lots of rain here, and in November there are a lot of thunder storms.

Please Note!
It can get very busy here with many four-wheel drives, especially in July and August. Despite the government’s attempts to regulate traffic here, there can be traffic jams, especially when a rhino is spotted.

Most days it’s busies between 9 am and 4 pm, so it’s smart to head out early in the morning.

More information: www.ngorongorocrater.org

Volcanoes