Our trip to Ngorongoro Crater was my first African safari experience. Due to the uniqueness of the crater and fantastic views seen in photos – this place was number 1 on my safari wish list. And it didn’t disappoint.
First, a few facts
- Ngorongoro Crater is one of the seven natural wonders of Africa and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- It is the largest unbroken volcano caldera in the world. It was formed 2-3 million years ago when the volcano exploded and collapsed into itself. Scientists believe that prior to the eruption, the volcano may have been taller than Mt. Kilimanjaro.
- The crater floor is 100 square miles and inhabits 25,000 large animals including: hippos, lions, elephants, wildebeest, zebras, gazelles, waterbucks, crocodiles, impalas, and the critically endangered black rhino. Add in the smaller creatures and you’ll find around 40,000 animals in all.
- The name Ngorongoro comes from the Masai word “Ilkorongoro” – this is the age group of the Masai warriors who fought the previous occupants, the Datong, for the land. Masai used to reside across all the Serengeti plains, but then in 1959 the Ngorongoro Conservation area was formed separate from Serengeti National Park. At that time it was decided the Masai would only be allowed to live within the Ngorongoro area. And you still see them there today.
Living in Tanzania does have its perks
Typically, to go on safari you would need to book through a tour company, and to be cost effective, you would go with a group. We would have done it this way, but our friend Michael set us up “local style”. We rented the car, purchased the gas and hired his friend, a tour guide in training, to take us. Because we did it this way we were able to go on a private trip and by comparison, I’d say we had ALOT more fun. I mean, being able to drink beer on safari didn’t hurt…
Our trip started a bit rocky
About two minutes after we crossed the gate, the jeep broke down. Luckily, we were still in cell phone range and not yet among predators. And because our local friend Michael knows everyone in town, we had a replacement vehicle in about an hour.
Back on Track
Before you go down into the crater you drive along the rim and are able to catch magnificent views.
Did I see a lot of animals?
Yes – and right from the time we entered the crater. Now, I’ve been to the zoo a million times and have seen a lot of the same animals I saw on safari – but seeing them in their natural environment is about 100 times more awesome.
Instead of providing a list, let’s imagine I was handing out imaginary awards to the animals:
Most Fun: Zebras
These guys were having the best time out of all the animals. They were the main ones running around and playing among each other.
Most Abundant: Wildebeest & Buffalo
There was a ton of them. Everywhere. The two animals looks similar but I think the first image is a wildebeest and the ones below it are buffalo — they have the funny horns that resemble a bad wig.
Most Graceful: Gazelle
They seemed to have a certain air about them – I’m not sure if it’s grace or snobbery?
Cutest: The Warthog Family
Mom, Dad, and Baby were rolling around in this mud puddle. And like monkeys tend to do, acted just like a little family.
Most surprising: The Hyena
I thought I knew what a hyena looked like, but after seeing one, I’m not sure I did. You can’t tell from this picture, but from certain angles they looked like little bears.
Most Disappointing: The Lioness
Okay…she really wasn’t disappointing. I was just disappointed I didn’t get to see her male counterpart. I really had my sights set on the king of the jungle and his big mane of hair. I didn’t.
Honorable Mentions: The Elephant & Black Rhino
They only get honorable mentions because we didn’t see many and they weren’t very close. I want to mention both because A). I think African elephants are way cooler than their Asian counterparts (not to be racist…it’s the big ears and tusks) and B). It was exciting to see a black rhino as they have become so rare, (mostly due to poaching).
Next month I’ll be going on my second safari in Tarangire National Park. Tarangire is known to have an abundant number of elephants & giraffes, and I’ll have another opportunity to see the coveted lion. Plus it’s pretty close to where we live, an added bonus.
Best time to go: Animals are in the crater all year so you can go anytime. The best time of year is dry season, June – Oct and the least desirable time is March & April due to rain. I happened to go in March and didn’t have a problem.
Cost: Entry into the park is $50 per person and access to the crater floor is $200 per vehicle. The crater fee makes this park one of the most expensive, however, if you don’t go onto the crater floor, I wouldn’t bother going. Also be aware that you can only enter with a guide who has a permit, so going trough a tour company will be additional.
What to Wear: Do not buy a full set of safari gear. You don’t need it and locals might make fun of you. You may want to avoid really bright colors, but otherwise, just wear something comfortable. Let me be clear…you do not need a khaki vest with 12 pockets.