The Ngorongoro Crater is actually the world’s largest intact caldera, a massive geographic sinkhole caused by a volcano imploding instead of erupting. The Ngorongoro volcano collapsed in on itself three million years ago, leaving behind a dip in the Earth measuring over a hundred square miles. It is twelve miles across and just over 1900 feet deep. Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area was established in 1959 and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Approximately 500,000 visitors come each year to observe this rare natural phenomenon. The Conservation Area is open from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM and has several picnic areas and restroom facilities available for convenience. Like all national parks in Tanzania, one must remain on authorized roads and stay inside your vehicle at all times except at designated picnic areas.
The wildlife found at the crater is the main attraction for those visiting the area. Most of the fauna in the crater is perennial and does not migrate out of the crater except for many of the bird species. For those wanting to see the “Big Five” (i.e. lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo) Ngorongoro Crater offers the chance to see four of them. Lion, black rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo can all be found here. Zebra, Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelle, wildebeest, hippopotamus, and spotted hyena can also be seen in good numbers. The lucky visitor might even be able to spot the less-common serval (Leptailurus serval). This medium-sized wild cat weighs between 20 and 40 ponds, has the longest legs of any cat relative to its size, and is usually found alone in its natural habitat. A highlight of my 2017 trip was seeing four of these elusive felines in the span of two hours on my last day there, though I struck out in my subsequent safari. Absent from the crater, however, are giraffes and impalas. Leopards are native to the region but are rarely seen in the Ngorongoro Crater area.
Bird life abounds in the crater with a list of about 285 recorded species. The highlights include twenty-nine birds of prey including secretary bird, bateleur, and martial eagle. Besides them, the area is home to other large birds like the gray crowned crane, the ostrich, and the kori bustard, the male of which is the heaviest flying bird on earth weighting as much as forty pounds. Capped wheatears, rosy-breasted longclaws, and little bee-eaters make up a significant portion of the smaller species of birds in the vicinity. There are even malachite kingfishers and Eurasian moorhens, which can be found in the company of hippos if conditions are right.
Whether you are a casual observer of wildlife or a serious photographer, Ngorongoro Crater will offer you a view of the natural world unlike most other places on the planet. The abundant wildlife, which is very visible as you drive throughout the park, is much the same as it was more than a hundred years ago. From one of the several lodges located on or n