Expert Reviews – Ngorongoro

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The Ngorongoro Crater – the lost world
Overall rating
5/5

Without a shadow of a doubt, the single most sybaritic moment of my life was spent lying up to my neck in a steaming hot bubble bath, with rose petals floating on the surface, an ice cold gin and tonic close at hand, a full-length picture window at my feet. The view? The clouds at sunset chasing across the Ngorongoro Crater. The place? The Ngorongoro Crater Lodge after a long hot dusty day gameviewing in an open jeep down inside the crater. The day, the game-viewing, the bath and the panorama were all sublime.

The conservation area stretches far beyond the rim of the crater across the rolling grasslands right to the borders of the Serengeti, covering 8,094.4 sq km (3,125.3 sq mi) in all. It also includes the world-famous archaeological site of Oldupai Gorge. But it is the giant volcanic caldera – the largest still intact in the world – that holds everyone’s attention. Formed 2-3 million years ago, its steep, forested walls are 610 m (2,000 ft) high and the flat grassy floor is about 20 kms (12 miles) across and covers 260 sq km (100 sq miles). Also on the crater floor is a soda lake, Lake Magadi. As you descend into the enclosed arena it is like entering Conan Doyle’s Lost World (with added tourists – this is definitely on the beaten safari track). There are said to be over 30,000 animals living within the crowded crater, including the Big 5, making it some of the most densely populated wildlife territory in the world. There are also over 600 species of bird within the conservancy. The wildlife sightings are superb and unusual. I saw hyenas hunting as a pack and a pride of lions then chasing them off to take over the kill. Totally the reverse of normal behaviour. The Masai are allowed to graze and water their cattle in the crater but must leave each night. It is nearly perfect, losing only a single point because there are so many other tourists there which takes away a little from the wilderness experience.

The Safari of a Lifetime
Overall rating
5/5

Sure there will be plenty of other tourists and vehicles bumping and bouncing around inside the crater with you, but there is good reason for this: Ngorongoro is an incredible wildlife area. If you are allergic to crowds and the thought of joining the safari hordes makes you quake in your proverbial boots, then this might not be the best destination for you; but, for everyone else, this will surely be the safari experience of a lifetime. This is a Big Five reserve that offers so much more … The views from the lodges perched on the crater rim are superlative, a vast array of wildlife carpets the floor below and, while on safari, the backdrop of lush green walls climbing skywards is jaw-droppingly impressive. I saw elephant bulls here that must be amongst the biggest tuskers in all of Africa; when they stopped to relax, they simply dropped their heads and rested their long tusks on the ground! It’s not unusual to see lion, cheetah, elephant, rhino and a host of other species in a single drive here. First-timers will love this place, but Ngorongoro Crater should blow even the most hardened and experienced safari goers clean out the water. (Apart from its popularity, my only other negative comment would be that like most other Tanzanian reserves, this is a game drive only park and the lack of alternative safari activities might disappoint the more active and energetic safari goers).

Wildlife-filled Crater & Magnificent Vistas
Overall rating
5/5

Ngorongoro Crater is expensive, but the scenery, and the density and variety of the wildlife, are unparalleled. With its quintessential East African vistas awash with wildlife, and surrounding landscapes graced by the local Maasai, it is one of the most unique and rewarding places on the continent for wildlife watching. I highly recommend it as a destination, especially if it’s your first safari.

The journey to Ngorongoro is half the fun, climbing up first through patches of forest to the crater rim, and then descending into the crater itself. On clear days, the views from the rim are breathtaking. Plan your visit for as early in the morning as possible to minimise crowds and to take advantage of the more favourable morning light. Once in the crater, all of the 'Big Five' are present, including the usually elusive black rhino. You'll also almost certainly see hyenas and hippos, and the birding is wonderful. Once away from Ngorongoro Crater, the rest of Ngorongoro Conservation Area offers fine hiking and stunning terrain.

The best scenery and best chance to see rhinos in Tanzania
Overall rating
5/5

At 19km across and up to 600m deep, Ngorongoro Crater is one of the largest unbroken calderas in the world, and the view from above is one of the most stunning vistas in Africa. It’s one of the few places I've visited where seeing pictures or video before seeing the real things did nothing to diminish the magic of the moment. But, it’s not the scenery that makes Ngorongoro the most visited destination in Tanzania, it’s the unrivalled abundance of wildlife inside the crater; in particular predators, for which this is the highest density of any single spot in Africa. Even more thrilling is the high likelihood of seeing black rhino. This would make for a relatively easy Big Five day if it weren’t for the fact that Ngorongoro’s leopards mostly stick to the forested fringes of the crater and are rarely seen.

From a safari standpoint, the rest of the park is pretty much just what you have to pass through on the drive to Serengeti National Park, except for the January to March migration season, when the famous herds of wildebeest, zebra, topi, eland and more roam down the conservation area’s western edge. But besides wildlife, Ngorongoro is an excellent trekking destination and also home to over 40,000 Maasai, plus the Oldupai Gorge, where many important fossils of early human ancestors have been found, cuts across the west.

Life in the Caldera
Overall rating
5/5

I felt completely spellbound on my first trip to Ngorongoro Crater. The rim was shrouded in cloud but as we descended the 600 metres down to the crater floor, this vast caldera opened up before our eyes absolutely teeming with animals – a truly spectacular vista. Roughly 30,000 animals share the 260 sq km of verdant grassy plains, including all the Big Five. Giraffes however are absent, mainly because there’s little food for them at tree level but also because the rim is said to be too steep to descend. It’s almost a Disney-esque scene here – the wildlife is so used to humans, it can sometimes seem totally unconcerned by us, although this isn’t necessarily the case and care should be taken not to cause distress. The downside is the number of tourists in safari vehicles that want to do exactly what you’re doing. They can be avoided by going very early in the morning or by visiting in the wet season, provided the roads are passable.

Tanzania’s Garden of Eden
Overall rating
5/5

I would wager that anyone who has been to Ngorongoro Crater will never forget their first view of it from the rim some 500 feet above: the dense green forests, the saline Lake Magadi coruscating in the sun at the heart of it, the myriad colours and contours of the crater’s walls and floor.

Inside the walls of this extinct volcano there are a staggering 25,000 mammals in an area roughly half the size of Cape Town. As you descend along the windy track from the top of the rim, tiny black dots will gradually become vast herds of buffalo, zebra and wildebeest stretching across the flat crater floor.

There’s probably nowhere in Africa you have a better chance of seeing the Big 5 in a single game drive. At one point on our first drive inside the crater, there were 3 young male lions passing close to our car on one side, four big bull elephants on the other, two black rhino dead ahead and a spotted hyena behind. More than once inside the crater I didn’t know which way to look.

The crater has a reputation for being over-crowded with tourists but when we were there it was surprisingly quiet – Tanzanian tourism has taken a considerable knock in the past 12 months thanks to terrorism across the border in Kenya and (misinformed) concerns about Ebola. There’s probably no better time to visit this incredible feat of nature.

A spectacular wildlife extravaganza in the densely-packed Ngorongoro Crater
Overall rating
5/5

Ngorongoro is everything you would expect, and there’s a staggering amount of game, which is so used to the army of minibuses with camera-touting tourists poking out the top, they practically stand to attention. I’ve had some amazing animal encounters here – black rhino and buffalo have nodded their heads politely, elephants have casually thrown back their heads to shake their giant tusks, a leopard jumped down from a tree in the middle of the day and padded past swinging her hips, and a whole pride of lion casually ambled over and flopped down in the shade of our minibus, their whiskers grazing the glass of the hurriedly shut windows. Admittedly a safari here is about taking a photo and moving quickly on to the next, and I prefer the larger and slower-paced ecosystem of the Serengeti, but you can’t beat watching the animals’ magnificent stage presence in Ngorongoro.

Top of the Bucket List
Overall rating
5/5

It was my childhood dream to see the Ngorogoro Crater, and I feared it would not live up to my expectations. However, it spectacularly exceeded them – truly taking my breath away. I realise this is a well-worn phrase, but the Ngogorgoro Crater should be on everybody’s Bucket List. Having said that, of course the disadvantage are the queues of vehicles snaking down the crater access road. Try and stay in a lodge as close to the descent road as possible and get up early, to be near the front of the queue in the morning.

But it is so worth it, descending into the Eden-like bowl, full of wildlife. It feels like entering Jurassic Park. There is surprisingly great wildlife too, with lots of big game including lion and cheetah, a lake rimmed with flamingo and one of the best places in Africa to see the endangered black rhino.

Ngorongoro: The Lost World
Overall rating
5/5

There’s nowhere on earth quite like Ngorongoro. Looking out over (or descending down into) this vast crater soon after dawn is like experiencing the Africa of childhood imaginings, a place where human beings are very much secondary. It is the umbrella acacia silhouetted against the deep green of the crater’s steep walls. It is the 30 black rhinos that range across the valley floor. And it is the daily battle between lion and hyena (with both black-backed and golden jackals never far away) in their pursuit of prey. In fact, in my experience, this is one of the easiest places in Africa to see hunts and/or predators on a kill. It is that combination of staggering wildlife densities and views of staggering beauty surrounding the austere salt lake in the crater’s heart that make Ngorongoro one of Africa’s most rewarding safari experiences.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.4/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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