The Ngorongoro Crater & Olduvai Gorge

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.

Olduvai Gorge

Olduvai is also an iconic site for the study of human origins. Located within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a short drive off the main road between Ngorongoro and the Serengeti. It was here that, in 1959, Dr Louis Leakey and his wife Mary discovered the 1.7 million-year-old skull of Australopithecus boisei, the ‘modern man’, and, the remains of Homo Hablis or “handy man” at that time regarded as mankind’s first step up the ladder of human evolution. Many more fossils have since been discovered including those of prehistoric elephants, giant horned sheep and enormous ostriches. A new Museum has just opened, where visitors can listen to an informative talk. The project includes the Laetoli footprints and a geopark. Laetoli, which is 60km from Olduvai, is home to four million-year-old footprints of human ancestors.

Getting there: A four-hour drive, or one-hour flight, from Arusha. A two-hour drive from Lake Manyara or Tarangire National Park.

For further information, contact:

The Conservator
Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority
PO Box 1, Ngorongoro Crater,
Arusha, Tanzania
Tel: +255 27 253 7019/06
Fax: +255 27 253 7007