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Ngorongoro Crater Safari Tours & Holidays

A Ngorongoro Crater tour is usually combined with a safari in neighboring Serengeti National Park. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area protects the volcanically formed Crater Highlands, which are dotted with deep volcanic craters of which the best known, Ngorongoro, is the world’s largest intact caldera and a natural wildlife reserve with few peers. Ngorongoro safari tours offer your best chance in Tanzania of spotting all the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and black rhino) in one game drive. The crater is also notable for the spectacular scenic combination of the verdant plains of the lake-studded crater floor and imposing 600m-/1,968ft-high cliffs that enclose it on all sides.

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1-20 of 1,454 trips, packages and vacations to Ngorongoro Crater

8 Questions About Ngorongoro Safaris

Answered by Philip Briggs

When is the best time to visit?

“It is worth booking Ngorongoro safari packages for any time of year. June to October is the Dry season, which offers good visibility and wildlife viewing, but the crater is at its most beautiful in the wetter months of November to May, a period that broadly coincides with the arrival of large numbers of migrant water-associated birds from the northern hemisphere. Most of the crater’s more charismatic wildlife – elephants, rhinos, lions – are more-or-less resident, but volumes of migrant grazers, such as wildebeest and gazelle, tend to be higher in the rainy season. May is traditionally the lowest season, but it is actually a great time for Ngorongoro holidays due to the relatively low tourist numbers. Ngorongoro safari prices may also drop over April to June as lodges offer discounted rates to attract more business.”

More about Ngorongoro's best time to visit 1

What opportunities are there to meet local Maasai people?

“Ngorongoro Conservation Area is not a national park but a biosphere reserve where a diversity of wildlife lives alongside the iconic Maasai. These traditional pastoralists are recognizable by their trademark toga-like red checkered shuka cloths and fondness for elaborate beadwork jewelry. You’re unlikely to spend long in Ngorongoro without encountering bands of Maasai cattle herders walking alongside the road, but if you want to interact with Maasai people, and especially to photograph them, it is customary to visit one of several manyattas (villages) that now welcome tourists for a fixed fee. Sadly, many visitors tend to disparage these manyattas as touristy, but this assessment is way off the mark. In most cases, the Maasai manyattas visited by tourists are longstanding pastoral settlements whose inhabitants still live a traditional lifestyle but are also very poor by any measure other than cattle ownership, and derive a substantial portion of their living from tourist visits.”


Is there accommodation inside the crater?

“No. It is forbidden to overnight on the crater floor. The best base for Ngorongoro safari tours is the crater rim, where options range from simple campsites through to mainstream Sopa and Serena lodges to a handful of exclusive tented camps and the legendary ‘bush baroque’ of the unique &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. Alternatively, an ever-growing cluster of lodges and hotels can be found immediately outside Ngorongoro in the pretty hills around Karatu. Accommodation on the rim is typically more scenically located (the views over the crater are amazing) and better positioned for game drives, but the premier location means they tend to charge a lot more than lodges around Karatu.”


What animals can I see as part of a Ngorongoro safari?

“In a word, lots. There are few places where you can so reliably see such large concentrations of wildlife, including all the Big Five, with a bit of luck, all year. The crater floor credibly claims to support the densest concentration of predators in Africa, with lions and spotted hyena being particularly plentiful. Leopards are also seen regularly, but require a bit more luck. The fever-tree-covered Lerai Forest and adjoining Gorigor Swamp are the main haunt of the crater’s elephant population, which is dominated by old male tuskers. Ngorongoro is the one place in Tanzania where black rhinos are regular, usually seen in the vicinity of Lake Magadi. The open grassland that covers most of the crater floor also supports large concentrations of wildebeest and zebra, and smaller numbers of buffalo, Coke’s hartebeest, and Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle. Lake Magadi normally harbors large flocks of flamingos, while other less-salty bodies of water are home to plentiful hippos.”

More about the Wildlife of the Ngorongoro Crater 4

How long is the drive to the crater?

“The 150km/93mi road from Arusha to the main gate of Ngorongoro Conservation Area is surfaced in its entirety and can be covered in two hours or less. The short ascent to the crater rim and associated lodges is unsurfaced but in reasonably good condition (allow 30 minutes to an hour from the gate, depending on the location of your lodge). The descent and ascent roads to the crater floor are short but very poorly maintained and require a 4WD and some caution behind the wheel. Many people break up the drive from Arusha with a night or two in the vicinity of Lake Manyara National Park, which makes a great addition to Ngorongoro safari trips.”


Does it get cold while camping on the crater rim?

“Yes. Despite the equatorial location, most of the camps and lodges on the crater rim stand at an altitude of around 2,300m/7,545ft, and can be very cold at night. You’ll feel it most if you are camping or staying in a tented camp. However, most accommodation on the crater rim comprises built-up lodges and fires are lit at night to keep it warm and cozy. Still, don’t forget to pack some warm clothing.”


How is Ngorongoro different from other parks?

“The park’s wildlife-viewing showpiece is the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera, comprising 260km²/100mi² of moist savannah hemmed in by sheer 600m-/1,968ft-high walls topped by a cover of dense montane forest. Even without the wildlife, the crater would rank among the world’s most stunning natural wonders, but it also doubles as a unique sanctuary within a sanctuary whose prolific wildlife and immense scenic scale regularly draws comparisons to the biblical Garden of Eden. There is nowhere else in Africa quite like it.”


What lodges or camps do you recommend for a Ngorongoro tour?

“If your budget stretches to it, try to stay on the rim, as it is better placed for game drives and offers a more immersive Ngorongoro experience than staying outside the conservation area. Of the built-up lodges, I tend to favor the Sopa as a base for Ngorongoro safaris, not because it is inherently better than its competitors, but because it lies very close to a combined descent and ascent road that is very convenient for early morning game drives. If you prefer to sleep under canvas, Lemala Ngorongoro stands close to the same road and has a wonderful location in a stand of lichen-stained flat-topped red-thorn acacias. For unrestrained all-inclusive luxury (including excellent guided activities), &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge is hard to beat. Of the many – mostly cheaper – lodges located outside the park, personal favorites include the upmarket Gibbs Farm, the mid-range Rhotia Valley Tented Lodge, the more affordable Eileen’s Trees and the few-frills but very budget-friendly Karatu Forest Tented Camp.”