Introducing Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Pick a superlative: amazing, incredible, breathtaking…they all apply to the stunning ethereal blue-green vistas of the Ngorongoro Crater. But as wonderful as the views are from above, the real magic happens when you get down inside and drive among an unparalleled concentration of wildlife, including the highest density of both lions and overall predators in Africa. And this world-renowned natural wonder is just a single feature of the 8292 sq km Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), a Unesco World Heritage Site. The Crater Highlands (to which Ngorongoro Crater belongs) warps along numerous extinct volcanoes, calderas (collapsed volcanoes) and the dramatic Rift Valley Escarpment on the park’s eastern side, while vast savannah stretches out across the west. Out here is the Oldupai (Olduvai) Gorge, where many important fossils have been unearthed.
Unlike national parks where human residents were evicted, the NCA remains part of the Maasai homeland and over 40,000 live here with grazing rights; though no permanent agriculture is allowed. You’re sure to see them out tending their cattle and goats, as well as selling necklaces and knives alongside the road. Many children wait along the road to pose for photos, but note that most of them are skipping school or shirking their chores so it’s best not to stop. There are cultural bomas too, which charge US$50 per vehicle.
There’s wildlife outside the crater, but not in the abundance of most other parks. Still, you might see elephant and leopard along the rim road and the western plains are full of wildebeest, eland, topi, gazelle and zebra herds on the southern stretch of their endless migration between January and March. Trekking here at this time, before the long rains begin, can be awesome. Good easy day-trek spots are Markarot, Little Oldupai and Lake Ndutu. With more effort (and money) consider a multiday visit to the remote and rarely visited Gol Mountains where you’ll meet Maasai who still live outside cash society.
With high concentrations of wildlife offering close-range viewing opportunities, Ngorongoro is one of East Africa’s most visited destinations. At about 20km wide it’s also one of the largest calderas in the world. Within its walls you are likely to see lions, elephants, buffaloes and flamingos; and there’s also a chance of seeing black rhinos.