A Day in the Crater
It’s quiet on the rim of the crater. The guests recline around the sunken fire-pit of the camp perched on the edge of the Ngorongoro crater; waiting for the sun to dip behind the ridge. The sky melts from blue, to pale pink, to orange. Earlier, large clouds had drifted above casting large shadows over the valley below. Hands hold cool bottles of Serengeti lager - slick with condensation in the fading heat of the day.
It’s sunset in the caldera.
Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera and one of Tanzania’s most iconic safari destinations. Located in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Northern Tanzania, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to an incredible variety and high concentration of wildlife, including the Big 5, making it a fantastic destination for first time safari-goers. We have drawn up what a typical day on safari in the crater would look like.
Mountains border the crater and clouds hang over the edge of the rim; almost tumbling into the valley below.
A dirt track carved into the mountainside winds 610m to the crater floor which stretches out for kilometers in every direction. The greens, yellows and browns of the adjoining wetlands, grasslands and woodlands run into one another. Forests spill down the side of the surrounding mountains. It’s rumoured that hard-to-spot leopard hide in the tree line. The blue waters of Lake Magadi glint in the morning sun; closer inspection reveals hundreds of flamingoes standing languorously in the soda lake’s water.
The Ngorongoro area has been called “the gift of life” by the Maasai. Local Maasai tribes continue to live in the area and its not uncommon to see the Maasai herdsmen with their cattle moving through the crater. The crater itself has been nicknamed the ‘unconventional Garden of Eden’ as it was formed millions of years ago after the collapse of a volcano which created the crater – also known as a caldera – and is home to thousands of species of wildlife today.
A morning safari will feature some of the 25 000 large animals that roam the 300km2 area. Elephant, cheetah, wildebeest, zebra, hyena, hippo, and buck - to name a few - coexist year round. Not to forget the hundreds of species of birds that swoop through the Acacia trees. A real pull for many visitors is the chance to glimpse the elusive black rhino who wander across the Ngorongoro crater.
Traversing the track into and across the crater is best left to skilled drivers and four-wheel drive cars. After a bumpy but breathtaking descent, vehicles can make their way onto the tracks that snake across the short-grass plains. Lion wander close to the dirt roads; some might even stop to lounge in the shade of the cars. Elephants can cause small traffic jams while they cross the tracks in their herds.
Lunchtime in the Ngorongoro Crater brings the chance to stretch any safari-stiff legs. There are two picnic spots; the Lerai Forest and the Ngoitokitok Springs. The springs are a popular stop due to the nearby hippo pool. Packed picnic lunches are enjoyed accompanied by hippo grunts and the splash of animals cooling off in the water. Another few hours of game viewing will fill the afternoon with the sights, sounds and feeling of Africa.
The Ngorongoro Crater is hugely popular and brings in on average 450 000 visitors a year. This means the crater is definitely on the tourist route. High season runs from September to October as it isthe best time for wildlife viewing. Late March to May is the crater’s rainy season that leaves the landscape lush and green and is a draw for people who don’t mind the wetter weather in exchange for smaller crowds.
At the end of the day, anybody wanting another vantage of the crater can take a crater rim walk. The walk starts 5km from Rhino Lodge along the crater rim. Beginning in a forested area, the walk leads to grasslands with spectacular views over the crater and the surrounds. Engitati Hill in the north-east corner offers an incredible viewpoint minus the walking.
As the sun moves west and the cars climb back out of the crater, those staying the night on the rim return to lodges and campsites to spend a night on the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater.
Camp chairs surround the fire pit. Smoke tendrils twist up into the sky and warm the receding day. Guests watch as the sun drops lower and lower; the sky a riot of colour through the wisps of clouds. They stand; quietly taking in the last daylight vistas of the Ngorongoro Crater. The fading light turns the surroundings to silhouettes. Birds, insects and small animals in the bush provide a background chorus.
The sun sets in the caldera.