The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and International Biosphere Reserve, covering almost 8,300 sq km with altitudes ranging between 1,020m to 3,577m. Frequently referred to as the eighth wonder of the world, the area encompasses a blend of landscapes, archaeological sites, people and abundant wildlife that is unsurpassed in Africa. Featuring volcanoes, grasslands, waterfalls and forests, it is home to the nomadic Masai.
The centrepiece, and major landmark, of the Conservation Area is the breath-taking Ngorongoro Crater, a natural amphitheatre surrounded by steep walls rising over 600 metres from the crater floor. It is one of the world’s greatest natural spectacles whose magical setting and plentiful wildlife never fail to thrill. The crater is a natural sanctuary for some 30,000 animals including the ‘big five’ of buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino. It is also home to cheetah, hartebeest, hippo, hyena, jackal, reedbuck, serval, warthog, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra and a great many bird and insect species.
Reedbuck, waterbuck and huge herds of both Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle are easily seen on the crater floor. Thanks to anti-poaching patrols, the crater is now one of the few places in East Africa where visitors can be certain of seeing black rhino, Close to the Ngorongoro Crater there are two less famous, and less visited, craters ideal for walking and hiking safaris. Empakaai Crater is about 6 km wide with steep walls rising to almost 300m. Nearly half of the crater floor is covered by a deep salt water lake. The trail down to the crater floor offers spectacular views of a still active volcano, Oldoinyo Lengai, and, on a clear day, the snowy peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro.
On the way down to the lake there are buffalo, bushbuck, blue monkeys and rare birds, such as sunbirds and turacos. Olmoti Craters’ floor is shallow and covered with grass where, in addition to the Maasai and their livestock, buffalo, eland and reedbuck may be seen. The Munge River crosses the crater before falling hundreds of metres in a spectacular waterfall.
Leopard may occasionally be seen in the trees of the forest surrounding the crater while cheetah are also present but rarely seen. Large herds of giraffe live on the rim of the crater and will be seen on the drive to the nearby Olduvai Gorge and the Serengeti. Countless flamingo form a vast pink blanket over the soda lakes while more than 100 species of birds not found in the Serengeti have been spotted here.
Getting there: A three-hour drive, or one-hour flight, from Arusha. A two-hour drive from Tarangire or some 90 minutes from Manyara.
Located in the Great Rift Valley, Olduvai Gorge in Ngorongoro is a must for those interested in understanding the early origins of humankind. The Gorge is the place where Louis and Mary Leakey on July 17, 1959 discovered the remains of the earliest man ever found.
The Zinjathropus boisei was nicknamed “Zinj” or “Dear Boy” was one of the early hominids that eventually became extinct. The upright walking man with the brain half the size of ours walked the Earth 1.75 million years ago. It was occupied by Homo Habilis, a hominid believed to be the fore bearer of Homo Erectus. The discovery of Zinj fossils, skeletons and tools are evidence that early human evolution happened in Tanzania. There is a fantastic new on site museum with incredible panoramas representing the species that made the gorge their home. Olduvai Gorge is a perfect stop when traveling between Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. There is a Zinj Tower along the Ngorongoro to Serengeti Road. Guided tours to the museums and the archaeological sites are available. Professional lectures are given at an open air amphitheatre.
Getting there: A four drive or one-hour flight from Arusha. A two hour drive from Lake Manyara or Tarangire.