Ngorongoro Conservation Area: Everything You Need to Know

Ngorongoro crater

If Tarangire and Lake Manyara are the shiny white jewels in the crown of the Tanzanian Northern Circuit, then Ngorongoro is like the big green emeralds that sit next to the main stone. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area covers an area of 8,288 sq km and it has a variety of experiences to offer. The conservation area has Africa’s personal Garden of Eden, the Ngorongoro Crater, and the very Cradle of Humanity, the Olduvai Gorge. It will provide you with a cultural experience with visits to the Maasai village at the base of the crater, but it will also give you the opportunity to have an adventurous time by going on hikes in the Ngorongoro highlands. The region has also recorded a variety of bird species so those interested in studying birds can go on an expedition to find and document the birds of Ngorongoro.


1. Wildlife

2. Birds

3. Vegetation

4. Things to Do And Places to Visit in Ngorongoro

5. Weather and Climate

6. When to Visit

7. Accommodations

8. Location and How to Reach

9. Fee Structure

10. Safari Tours

11. Frequently Asked Questions

Rhino Ngorongoro


At any given time, there are around 25,000 animals present at the base of Ngorongoro Crater itself.

In the past, there was a tall active volcano in the place of a crater. However, around 2 million years ago, when the volcano exploded, its roof collapsed leaving behind a crater. But because of the volcanic activity in the region, the soil was left rich and fertile with nutrients which gave it the capability to support a variety of vegetation and ecosystems. Within the conservation area, you can find short grass plains, savanna woodlands, catchment forests, moorlands, and long grass plains. Because of this, multiple animals were attracted to the area and now the region is one of the most important biodiversity conservation areas in the world.

Ngorongoro can boast about something that only a few places in Tanzania can boast about: it has all the big five. Lion, Buffalo, Leopard, Elephant, and the Rhino. In fact, according to UNESCO, Ngorongoro has the highest density of mammalian predators and the densest concentration of lions anywhere in Africa! Along with the big cats, the real special animal found at the base of the crater is the endangered Black Rhino. Once found in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Black Rhinos have been poached to near extinction, and Ngorongoro is one of the few spots where we can spot these creatures. And to add to the Rhinos, other endangered species such as Golden Cats and Wild hunting dogs are found in Ngorongoro as well. This reinforces its position as a rather important location for environmentalists, naturalists, etc.

Besides the big cats, Ngorongoro has a lot of ungulates. Wildebeests, hartebeests, gazelles, elands, and zebras can be found on the floor of the crater, but when it comes to the giraffes you’ll mostly find them up in the highlands. Many of these zebras and wildebeests don’t even take part in the annual migration but have made a permanent home on the crater floor. However, if you visit the Ndutu region of Ngorongoro during the right time, you will be able to see the migration and witness the calving season! This usually happens from January to March, and about 8,000 calves are born every day in the grasslands!

All in all the list of animals present here is very long. There are hippos, jackals, hyenas, elephants, and many more. Most people who visit Ngorongoro are never disappointed when it comes to spotting wildlife.


The wide variety of vegetation and multiple water bodies, including Lake Magadi at the base of the crater also attract a variety of bird species.

Birds migrate from Europe and Asia to Africa, and many of them find homes in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area including other national parks. Swallows, Harriers, Bee Eaters, Flamingos, and European Storks are some of the birds that visit Ngorongoro.

At the base of the crater, one can find Ostriches, Kori Bustards, Grassland Pipits, and Larks.

Rufous Tailed Weaver is one of the famous bird species endemic to East Africa. If you wish to find them in Tanzania, then Ngorongoro is again a good spot. Other endemic species Ngorongoro is home to are, black-winged lapwings, rufous-winged sunbirds, and Usambara weavers.


Due to the variation in landform and altitude of Ngorongoro, the climate from one region to another can differ a bit too, which in turn impacts the vegetation.

The high open moorlands and steeps of Ngorongoro receive plenty of rainwater, so they are covered in evergreen trees and grasslands. In these moorlands, you can find trees and plants such as Yellow-Wood, Peacock Flower, and Sweet Olive.

Different mountains found in the region have their own varieties of vegetation. Stretches of bamboo can be found on Oldeani mountains, and pencil cedars on Makarot mountain.

The upland woodlands of Ngorongoro are also colonised by Red Thorn and Gum Acacia.

The crater floor has marshes, lakes, and two primary woodlands; The Lerai and the Laiyanai Forest. You can find the Yellow Fever tree, Pillar Wood, and a wide variety of Acacia, including the Umbrella, Blackthorn, and Lahai.

In the grasslands and swamps too you will find a wide variety of grass and sedge thriving. The short grass is especially vital for many ungulates as it is their main food source.


Things to Do And Places to Visit in Ngorongoro

Ngorongoro Conservation Area has multiple attractions that would appeal to people of various interests.

The crater floor is of course one of the best places to visit. Wildlife, birds, water bodies, forests, crater floor has it all. So you can arrange for a game drive to the crater floor, go bird watching, and even find a safe picnic spot in a scenic location.

At the base of the crater, you will find a soda lake, Lake Magadi, which is a shallow alkaline water body. Blue-green algae flourishes within this lake which in turn attracts birds. Flamingos are famously known for feeding on this algae, so you should spot them too while visiting the lake. The dry open floodplains with short grass are also inviting for herbivores like zebras and elands, whereas carnivores like Golden Jackals are lured in too by the presence of birds. If you are lucky you might also find rhinos near the lake shore. All in all, Lake Magadi is quite a scenic and serene location one would enjoy while they are in the lap of nature.

Lerai Fever Tree forest is another good spot to visit on the crater floor while looking for animals. The forest is dominated by yellow-barked acacias and frequented by animals who feed on the foliage here. These trees are a particular favourite of the black rhino, so if you are specifically looking for them Fever Tree Forest is a good place to try your luck. Besides rhinos, you can also find elephants, hyraxes, bushbucks, and various birds.

But Ngorongoro, as we know, is so much more than just forests and wildlife. It has the very Cradle of Humanity: the Olduvai Gorge. Olduvai Gorge is a 14 km long ravine where the oldest settlements and tools created by our ancestors have been found. You can visit the excavation site where these remains were found and the museum located there where you can see some stunning evolutionary fossils. Similar to Olduvai Gorge is a location nearby by the name of Laetoli. Laetoli is another important location for enthusiasts of human history and evolution, as the region contains some brilliant fossilised footprints of our hominid ancestors. These fossils are actual proof of the development of bipedalism in humans!

Adventurous and educational experiences aside, you may also go for a cultural experience in the Ngorongoro Highlands. There are Maasai villages located near the Crater rim that you can visit and take part in the daily activities of Maasai people, visit their schools, or explore the highlands with them. However, it must be noted that since Ngorongoro is a famous tourist spot, the villages here are staged and the tribesmen follow a pushy sales approach which can get uncomfortable for some. For a more authentic Maasai village experience, you can visit the villages near Lake Natron or Tarangire. To get more information about Maasai village tours, click here.

If you wish to explore more natural regions within the conservation area, then you may also visit the Empakaai and Olmoti Crater. They are some great locations if you wish to go for a hike. While the size of Empakaai Crater cannot be compared to the size of Ngorongoro Crater, it is a beautiful place in its way. Most of the crater floor is submerged under the lake but you can go for a walk on the rim of the crater and absorb the natural scenery. You might even catch a few birds here. Olmoti Crater is a similar place but it is even shallower. It acts as a source for the river Munge, and you might be able to spot hippos in the pools here along with some water birds like the Herons.

If you are in the mood for going to places that are not explored often and will be less crowded then the Gol Mountains at the very edge of Ngorongoro Conservation Area are an option. These formed even before the Ngorongoro Crater and are home to some traditional Maasai tribesmen who still follow the tradition of hunting a lion as a rite of passage for a man. The Gol Mountains also has the Olkarien Gorge which is a breeding site for Ruppell’s Griffon Vultures, so it would be a place of interest for those interested in studying Raptors.

There are multiple other locations within and near the conservation area that you can visit such as Mount Makarot, Lake Natron, the magnificent mountain of Ol Doinyo Lengai, and Lake Eyasi. Near Lake Eyasi, you can visit the Hadzabes, a hunter-gatherer tribe, while Lake Natron is again a good spot for viewing birds. Mount Makarot and Ol Doinyo Lengai, the only active volcano in Tanzania, are places for adventurers. You may choose to go for hikes in these places.

Weather and Climate

Ngorongoro is in a temperate location, so the temperature is usually consistent throughout the year. It goes only as high as 25°C / 73° F during the warmer months which are November to May. These are the wet months. The dry months are from June to October, and during this time temperature goes as high as about 20°C / 66°F.

It must be noted that, since the crater rim and the crater itself are a bit at a higher altitude their temperatures may vary a bit compared to the rest of the conservation area. The weather on the crater rim does not get hot even during the day, but the crater rim will be colder and will even become freezing at night and early morning. During the dry season, you can expect the weather at the crater rim and floor to go as low as about 6°C / 43°F. During the wet season, it can go as low as about 10°C / 50°F.

When to Visit

What would be the best time to visit Ngorongoro for you depends on your preferences. The peak season is the dry season which is from June to October, and the low season is the rainy season which is from November to May.

During the dry season, the grass is going to be shorter and drier so it will be easier to spot the wildlife. And since animals tend to concentrate around the remaining water bodies during the dry season, you can go to specific spots to find the animals. People have also had an easier time spotting rhinos during this season. Although, the crater can get really crowded during the peak season, so it might be a bit bothersome for some tourists.

Animals stay at Ngorongoro throughout the year, so you will be able to find wildlife any time you go, but the task of finding animals during the wet season will comparatively take a longer time. The animals are not going to be concentrated around specific water bodies as water is going to be everywhere. The grasses and shrubs will also grow taller which can hide the animals from your view. But the Conservation Area will look beautiful because of the lush green scenery. Since it is the low season, the area won’t be crowded either. You are also likely to spot more birds during this season.

For tourists who are interested in catching the migration during the calving season, you may visit Lake Ndutu in Ngorongoro in months from January to March. You must talk to your tour operators for confirmation on whether you will be able to find calving wildebeests or not while visiting.


Section to be updated.

Location And How to Reach

Ngorongoro is located in northern Tanzania and west of the city of Arusha.

After arriving in Arusha, you can travel to Ngorongoro Conservation Area by road which will take about 3 and a half hours.

There are also multiple airstrips in Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Charter flights are flown to and out of these areas with tourists on a regular basis, so if you wish to fly into Ngorongoro you should contact your tour operator.

Fees Structure

The entrance fee for Ngorongoro Conservation Area is 71$ per adult. This fee is valid for the next 24 hours.

For visiting the Ngorongoro Crater you need to pay separately. The fee is 295$ per vehicle. One vehicle can carry up to 7 people maximum.

Safari Tours

We offer various itineraries that include safari tours to Ngorongoro Conservation Area. To view some of our popular tours, click here


How many days do we recommend for Ngorongoro Crater?

One day is enough for the Crater tour. The Crater is about 20 km in diameter and can be properly covered within four to five hours.

What can you do on top of the Crater in Ngorongoro Conservation Area?

On top of the Crater rim, you can go for a hike. You would be able to spot giraffes there, find and follow animal footprints, or enjoy the plants.

Can you see all of the big five in Ngorongoro Crater?

Ngorongoro Crater is home to all the big five, but all those animals behave differently. Lions, Elephants, and Buffalos will be very easy to spot. For Black Rhinos on the other hand there will be a 60 to 70 percent chance. Your chances of spotting a Rhino will increase from October to February, however. Leopards are the trickiest to find. They prefer disappearing into the woodlands, and most of the Crater floor is an open grassy field so it will be quite difficult to find them. They also live in the forests outside of the crater, but game drives are not conducted in these areas. But if you are extremely lucky, you might spot them while traveling around Ngorongoro.

What accommodations do you recommend for views of the Crater?

Serena Lodge, Shopa Lodge, Lemala Lodge, Lions Paw, and Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge are accommodations that give the best view of the Crater.

What accommodations do you recommend for quick access to the Crater floor?

The lodges located on the rim with great views of the crater also give you quick access to the Crater. From Lemala Lodge it will take only 10 minutes to reach the floor. Besides Lemala, from Serena it will take 20 minutes, from Lions Paw it will take 15 minutes, and from Shopa Lodge it will take 30 minutes.

Besides these, from Rhino Lodge and Ang’ata Camp, which are outside the crater rim, it will take 30 minutes. And from Tortilis Camp it will take an hour.

What are the chances of seeing Rhinos in the Crater?

From October to February your chances of seeing the Rhinos will be around 90 to 95 percent. For the rest of the months, it will be 60 to 70 Percent.

What are the chances of seeing Leopards in Ngorongoro Crater?

While the Leopards do stay within the Crater the chances of spotting them are really low. Most of the Crater is a grassy field and Leopards prefer woodlands. To add to that they are great at camouflage and prefer leading solitary lives, which makes it difficult to find them.

Can you stay on the Ngorongoro Crater floor overnight?

No, you cannot stay on the Ngorongoro Crater floor overnight.

Can you hike on the Crater floor?

No, it is not possible to go for a hike on the Crater floor.

Is there a time limit for visiting Ngorongoro Crater?

There is no time limit for visiting Ngorongoro, but you must leave by 6 P.M. if you are living close to the Crater floor, and leave by 5 P.M. if your accommodations are a bit far.

Is the Ngorongoro Crater tour better in the mornings or evenings?

There is not much difference in the tours between morning and evening, but the sunsets over the Crater floor look very beautiful, so if you are one for the sunsets, then you might prefer an evening tour.

Which is the nearest airstrip to Ngorongoro Crater?

The nearest airstrip is the Ngorongoro Airstrip which is 20 minutes away from the Crater floor. But it is not often used as it is surrounded by mountains and it can get cloudy which is not good for flights.

There is the Lake Manyara airstrip which is an hour away from the crater floor and is mostly used by tourists. And there is an airstrip near Lake Ndutu, but it is preferred by people who specifically wish to view the migration and breeding of Wildebeests.


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