A few years ago, I had the chance to realize one of my childhood dreams: to do a photo safari. I was living in Mayotte back then, and the opportunity once came up. I have already told you in a first article my impressions and feelings about the Lake Manyara National Park, the first park we had the opportunity to see as we arrived. I present you here the continuation, the Ngorongoro Crater safari, still in the North of Tanzania, on the highland of the country.
A safari in Africa remains a unique experience, an exceptional trip, and this is clearly impossible not to be amazed by all this wildlife and magnificent landscapes. The African continent scares a lot of people away, yet it promises a discovery of nature like nowhere else. A real immersion off the beaten track. I often say that the Ngorongoro Crater is one of the most beautiful national parks I have ever see so far in our travels, one of the wonders of the world, hosting a very large concentration of wild animals. In this caldera lies a savannah in which many herds come to graze. Its ecosystem is extremely rich, and you will certainly be able to meet many mammals on this grassy plain.
The Ngorongoro Crater is part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, located south-east of the famous Serengeti National Park (you know, the one you often see in the African wildlife night programs!). Located in the middle of the African Rift, this crater is surrounded by high peaks and several lakes, including the very famous Lake Natron and its flamingoes, in the northeast. This large park is indeed classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It speaks for everyone, right? The crater area has the defining feature of having been formed following the collapse of an ancient volcano more than two million years ago.
Today, it is considered to be the world-largest crater on the surface of the earth, with an area of about 326 Km². For those who don’t realize, it is a hole 22 kilometers wide and 610 m deep!
It can be reached by a superb spectacular dirt road (basically, you eat dust for hours), from where you can admire breathtaking scenery and a very rich surrounding fauna.
What strikes you the most when arriving at this park is the climate, that really changes from what we could have had in the Lake Manyara National Park or even in the Serengeti. We arrived at the end of the afternoon and I remember having taken out the fleece jackets in the evening because it was really not that hot. As a reminder, we are here at more than 2000 m high above sea level and the average temperature is much lower.
Arrival at the camp is already great. An endless breathtaking view, as I rarely saw, is right in front of our eyes. We just have to enjoy! We feel perfectly ready to continue this safari in the Ngorongoro Crater!
The safari begins with a 5am sunrise and an ascent to observe it from this huge crater. Honestly, this is something you have to do at least once in your life if you have the opportunity. I’m sure you will not be disappointed! The power of the sunrise overlooking this immensity is extraordinary: a rewarding moment. We spend a quarter of an hour there with our small group, to observe this momentary paradise.
After this splendid sunrise, we got going on the descent in this magnificent crater. Lights in the early morning are simply superb. A perfect moment to observe the first animals waking up, while being able to take beautiful pictures. Giraffe, gazelle, zebra, elephant: it’s honestly magical. It is even possible to approach many of these animals.
All along the road, we can observe the local fauna of the crater: zebras, antelopes, hyenas, wildebeest, buffaloes etc. After a while, we cross a magical area of forest, with lush vegetation and huge trees. It almost looks like a plantation in the middle of a meadow.
The rest of the day will consist of riding our 4×4 vehicle on the dirt tracks of the crater, quietly observing the local fauna. The landscapes are breathtaking, far beyond what one could imagine or what the pictures could show (although I am rather proud of some of them).
While having a break, we saw something in the distance catching our eyes. It is a group of crows ripping a dead wildebeest apart. The scene is incredible, we felt like we were in a documentary on TV. But with the smell as a bonus!
We were lucky enough to even meet a wild rhino in the crater, not far from the lake’s shores.
Between us, this is frankly part of the Top 2 parks of this trip in Tanzania. I’m not even sure the Serengeti National Park is “better” to be honest. It is different, grandiose, but from another angle. This day of safari in the Ngorongoro Crater has been extraordinary in every way and please don’t hesitate to include it in your trip while preparing your itinerary. It’s even an obligation: don’t miss this park!!!
In the previous article on the Lake Manyara National Park, I had already given you an overview of safari good ideas. I won’t repeat everything here, but I’ll summarize the most important things you need to know to go on a Ngorongoro Crater safari. If you would like more details about my recommendations, then have a look at the article about safari in Lake Manyara.
Here are a few tips to save money on your safari:
- Don’t go through a big safari agency which are really expensive,
- Go as a group (ideally with friends, a couple or family),
- Take a local independent guide (we chose Moses Cliff Mwanga) or even a local agency,
- Go camping rather than staying in a safari lodge!
As mentioned above, we left with a local Tanzanian guide (Moses Cliff Mwanga). The experience was great in every way. It is a “low cost” safari, manner of speaking, compared to big agencies you will find around. Good to know:
- You will sleep every night in a tent,
- You will eat simple but copious meals,
- You’ll be also eating dust, for a whole week!
We had opted for a type 3B safari, namely: Lake Manyara National Park, Serengeti Park (2 days), Ngorongoro Crater, and finally Tarangire Park.
Here is what you should remember about international flights:
- The main entrance gate for a safari in the Ngorongoro Crater is the city of Arusha, in northern Tanzania,
- The easiest way is to land at the Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO), not to be confused with the local airport of Arusha (ARK).
I always recommend having a look on this flight comparator to found the cheapest ones.
You can quite frankly go there all year round, but depending on the season, you will have more or less heat and more or less rain.
A Tanzania safari, which period to choose?
The ideal period is from May to September/October. This is the great migration period (Tarangire and Ngorongoro mainly): best time then to see all the animals. It is also the least rainy season.
It is between January and March, which is also the dry/hot season and the beginning of the rainy season in the area. We opted for this season (February 2015) and we did not have any rain!
The rainy season?
The rainy season spreads from March to May basically. The tracks are less accessible, and the wildlife more difficult to observe.
A safari between October and December in Tanzania?
It is the wet season, so showers and rains are possible. This period is often referred to as the “short rainy season”.
That’s it, I hope this safari trip in the Ngorongoro crater will have made you dream a bit and that you now want to discover this beautiful area! What about you, have you already done a photo safari in the country? Or in another one, like Kenya? Maybe Botswana? I would be curious to have your feedback and your feelings!
If you liked this article, then you’ll love the one about my safari in the Serengeti National Park. I’ll also write one about the Tarangire National Park soon. I invite all the Africa lovers to discover the beautiful island of Ibo, in Mozambique.
If you have any question about our guide, the organization of the trip or anything else, leave me a comment at the bottom of the article!
Whatever you choose to do, I very often advise (as travel guides do) to finish your trip of the Tanzanian steppes by a week on Zanzibar island, with its beautiful paradisiacal beaches. At the edge of the Indian Ocean, this island is perfect to rest after your week in a 4×4 and enjoy the sweetness of the lagoon. It will also be one of the highlights of your trip to Tanzania.
See you soon,