The Ngorongoro Conservation Area spans vast expanses of highland plains, savanna, savanna woodlands and forests. Established in 1959 as a multiple land use area, with wildlife coexisting with semi-nomadic Maasai pastoralists practising traditional livestock grazing, it includes the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest caldera. The property has global importance for biodiversity conservation due to the presence of globally threatened species, the density of wildlife inhabiting the area, and the annual migration of wildebeest, zebra, gazelles and other animals into the northern plains. Extensive archaeological research has also yielded a long sequence of evidence of human evolution and human-environment dynamics, including early hominid footprints dating back 3.6 million years.
Ngorongoro Crater: At 19km wide and with a surface of 264 sq km, Ngorongoro is one of the largest unbroken calderas in the world that isn’t a lake. Its steep walls soar 400m to 610m and provide the setting for an incredible natural drama, as prey and predators graze and stalk their way around the open grasslands, swamps and acacia woodland on the crater floor. It’s such an impressive sight that, other vehicles aside; you’ll wonder whether you’ve descended into a wildlife paradise.
Gol Mountains: Some places are so far off well-travelled routes that there are no tracks other than those left by wildlife and traditional herders. The remote and rarely visited Gol Mountains area, northwest of Ngorongoro but still within the boundaries of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, is just such a place. This remains one of the most traditional corners of Tanzania, home to Maasai who still kill lions as their rite of passage into warriorhood, and who still live outside cash society.
Wildlife: A real special of the crater is the black rhino. Rhino is hard to see in Tanzania, and black rhino is typically very shy – sticking to thick vegetation. This is not so in the crater, where they have a predictable routine of spending the night in Lerai forest, and the day in open grassland. Black-backed and golden jackal is equally common in the crater.
Getting there: Coming from the Seronera area in the Serengeti, the distance to the crater is about 140km/90mi and the driving time is about three hours. This can obviously take much longer allowing for wildlife viewing along the way. The 80km/50mi drive from Lake Manyara to the Ngorongoro Crater takes about two hours, and the 180km/110mi drive from Tarangire takes about four hours.
The best option to get to Arusha is to fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO), which is situated about 46km/29mi from Arusha. It is also possible to fly into Julius Nyerere International Airport (DAR), near Dar es Salaam and flies on to Arusha Airport (ARK) or Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO). A third option is to book a cheaper flight to Nairobi in Kenya and take a shuttle bus to Arusha.
Where To Stay: To exemplify some of the options available to you, you can choose the premiere luxury at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge as your Safari Tier 1 option, a surreal experience, combining Rococo decor worthy of a French chateau with all the trappings of personal butler service and international cuisine. Opt for deluxe Gibbs Farm at Safari Tier 2, which comprises of 17 cottages and a farmhouse set in beautiful gardens, alive with birdsong, but also an hour’s drive from the Ngorongoro Crater gate, or settle for comfort value Ngorongoro Rhino Lodge at Safari Tier 3 up on the crater but where power is limited and hot water is available morning and evening.