Everyone knows about the Serengeti (thanks for that, Toto) and Kilimanjaro, but do you know about the Ngorongoro Crater, another awe-inspiring destination in Tanzania?
The UNESCO World Heritage Site is the largest inactive and unfilled volcanic caldera in the world. Home to over 30,000 animals, the crater was created when after a volcano erupted and then quickly collapsed. The result is a stunningly beautiful area that has earned the accolade of being one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa.
The name, Ngorongoro comes from the indigenous Maasai people who were the original inhabitants of the area. It means “The gift of life” and historians believe that this is because of its striking appearance in the landscape.
Read on for a complete guide to plan your visit to the Ngorongoro Crater.
When to Visit
One of the biggest considerations when planning your Tanzanian Safari and trip to the Ngorongoro crater is when to visit.
There are a few different factors that will affect your decision such as what you want to see on safari and how much you want to spend on your accommodations.
The peak season runs during the dry season from June through until September. During this season, you can see the iconic Wildebeest Migration from Tanzania to Kenya. Many people dream of seeing the herd at a river crossing, and you can see these at the Grumeti or Mara Rivers.
As with any destinations, traveling at this time means large crowds and more expensive accommodations.
It’s certainly not for everyone, but some travelers actually prefer the rainy season during April and May.
One benefit is that the cost of lodging drops significantly. However, for most people traveling during this season, it’s because they want to take advantage of being able to spend time in the park when it’s not so full of people.
This rainy season is also a favorite with nature photographers who are hoping to capture the lush greens and vivid blues of the Ngorongoro Crater in all their glory.
You’ll probably want to avoid camping if you go during these months!
How Long Should Your Visit Be?
Assuming you plan to visit some of the other landmarks in Tanzania, we would recommend planning for one day at the Ngorongoro Crater.
The Ngorongoro Crater is just 100 square miles and because it’s a crater, there are limited places to hide. The Serengeti National Park, by comparison, covers 12,000 square miles leading the Maasai people to give it a name meaning “endless plains”. The whole place comes alive in striking tones of green and blue. Truly a sight that you wouldn’t want to miss!
Where to Stay While Visiting the Ngorongoro Crater?
While visiting the Ngorongoro Crater, you have two options for where to stay. You can stay on the rim of the crater which offers beautiful views and quick access to the crater itself at the beginning of the day, although lodges on the rim of the crater are more expensive. Alternatively, you can stay at Karatu in nearby in the Ngorongoro Highlands and just leave your lodge early to get to the crater in time when animals are still active.
While none of the accommodation options is cheap, there are options for a range of budgets when you’re planning your safari.
On the low end of the luxury spectrum, you can camp in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. There are companies that offer a full set of camping equipment as well as a chef. The camping areas share a communal bathroom and kitchen facilities.
At the midrange, you can have a truly unforgettable experience glamping in one of the many tented camps. These camps offer private bathrooms, hot showers and of course, delicious food cooked up by an onsite chef.
Finally, if you’re looking to splurge, check out one of Tanzania’s luxury lodges. The stunning properties at some of these hotels will leave you in awe and make for a truly memorable experience while you’re visiting the Ngorongoro Crater.
What Will You See While Exploring the Ngorongoro Crater?
The landscape of the Ngorongoro Crater makes it perfect for game drivers. The wide-open expanse means that you can easily see the animals wandering across the valley of the crater.
While visiting the Ngorongoro Crater, you can expect to see The Big Five as well as many other animals.
The Big Five
These are Africa’s most iconic animals, once recognized for how difficult they were to hunt. The Big Five includes elephants, lions, leopards, rhinoceroses and cape buffalo.
Since seeing these animals is easier at the Ngorongoro Crater than anywhere else in Tanzania, you’ll want to begin your game drives as early in the morning as possible while the animals are still active.
Later in the day, they prefer to hide in the shade making them much more difficult to find. Additionally, they prefer to avoid the large crowds.
There are bright pink flocks of flamingos that can be seen in the Ngorongoro Crater although they are more common at the nearby Lake Natron.
If you opt to visit during the rainy season instead of during the peak season, you may see (and smell!) hippos during your safari. Be sure to admire these ferocious animals from a safe distance!
Finally, you’re pretty much guaranteed to the bold patterns of giraffes and zebras while you’re on safari in Tanzania.
You Should Book a Tour of the Ngorongoro Crater
While you are allowed to self-drive the crater if you’re determined, we highly recommend booking a tour with a driver, vehicle and tour guide. If you opt to self-drive, you need to pay a $295 vehicle fee on top of the daily fee for being in the park of $71 per person.
Important to note, all fees for the Ngorongoro Crater and Ngorongoro Conservation Area need to be paid in advance at either a CRDB bank in Arusha or Exim Bank in Arusha or Karatu. The park does not accept cash or card payment on site.
There are many benefits of booking a tour, starting with the vehicles that the tour companies use. Their vehicles have pop-up tops so that you can stand and get a panoramic view of your surroundings from the comfort and safety of the vehicle.
The tour guides are also not only incredibly knowledgeable about the wildlife and know where to look to find each animal, they also radio to one another to communicate that they have found something exciting.
It’s a good idea to meet with your guide in advance so that they have some ideas about the animals that you’re excited to see. And remember, try to get out there as early as possible!
What to Pack for Your Tanzania Safari
We know packing for any trip can be stressful and that’s when you can still purchase anything you’ve forgotten from a nearby shop.
We’ve put together a checklist to help you get everything ready for your upcoming safari.
- comfortable clothes to wear while you’re on safari
- a light sweater
- a waterproof jacket
- sturdy walking shoes
- a collared shirt or dress for the evening
- sunglasses and/or a hat
- sunscreen and insect repellent
- camera, phone, and chargers
- a flashlight
On top of the above, some people also keep first aid kits on hand just in case. If you decide to pack one, you’ll want to carry things like antihistamines, painkillers and rehydration medicine.
If you decide to travel during the dry peak season, keep in mind that these are the winter months in Ngorongoro. You can expect daytime highs to be in the mid to high sixties and nighttime temperatures in the midteens (all temperatures in Fahrenheit). You may want to bring a scarf along as well, if you get cold easily!
Paying for Things While You’re At the Ngorongoro Conservation Area
As previously mentioned, park fees need to be paid in advance if you’re doing a self-drive. You will need to carry US Dollars with you for purchases while you’re in the park.
While most tours include the basics like park fees, meals, game drives and your accommodations they exclude any extras such as souvenirs, snacks, and alcoholic beverages.
Much like the states, tipping is expected in Tanzania. As a rough guide, you should be paying around $15 per day to your cooks, and $ 40 to your driver guides. If you’re having an amazing time, we encourage visitors to be generous with their tips since these make up a significant portion of their income.
Now You’re All Set For Your Trip to Tanzania!
Planning a safari may seem daunting when you’re first setting out.
So we hope this guide has helped answer some of your questions about when to travel and what you need to bring with you.
Contact us for more information about tours of the Ngorongoro Crater and planning your Tanzanian Safari!