Africa

Ngorongoro Crater Safari Guide

Without any doubt, the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania is one of the most amazing places I have ever visited.  Nowhere else in this world can you find such an abundance of wildlife, all within a relatively small location, to view all year round.  Beyond the sheer beauty of the crater itself, that is what makes the Ngorongoro Crater so special.  More than anywhere else, you are almost guaranteed to see the wildlife you came to see when you visit Ngorongoro.

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Descending into the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania.

Unlike other wildlife regions across Africa, the Ngorongoro Crater is unique because there is water present inside the crater year round.  This means that the grazing animals that are found inside the crater are mostly resident, and do not migrate.  Because there are grazing animals that stay year round, there are also predators inside Ngorongoro year round.

In fact, the crater is such a unique and providing environment, many of the bull elephants in the region spend a majority of the year feeding inside the crater.  They will only migrate out of the crater to mate and then return to the crater after they have finished.  Some of the biggest elephants that we saw while on safari in Tanzania we saw while inside the Ngorongoro Crater.

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A view of the Ngorongoro Crater from just inside the rim.

In this guide, I am going to give you all of the information you need to plan your trip to visit the Ngorongoro National Conservation Area and the Ngorongoro Crater.  l discuss the best times to visit this beautiful place, what you need to be aware of before you visit, the best things for you to bring along with you on safari, how much you can expect to pay to visit, the best places to stay, as well as what amazing sites and animals you can expect to see within the park.

Before You Visit

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Safari caravan descending into the Ngorongoro Crater.

Going on safari in Africa is a big deal, and in the excitement of starting to make your plans, it is easy to overlook some important details that can make-or-break your trip.  Before you leave for Tanzania, you will want to make sure you read this section so that you don’t run into any issues with travel or your safari.

Immunizations

Before you leave for your trip to Tanzania, you need to make sure you have all of the proper vaccinations.  Not only to protect yourself, but to protect others.  In fact, depending on where you are visiting from and whether you are making any stops before visiting Tanzania, you might not even be allowed in the country without the proper vaccinations.

If you have questions on what immunizations you will need and what to look out for when you go to get them, below are some general guidelines I can pass on to you from experience.

  • Most specialized travel clinics will not accept insurance, so you will have to pay for your travel consultation and immunizations and then request reimbursement from your insurance company later.
  • Some immunizations aren’t accepted by every insurance company, so check with your insurance provider before getting your immunizations.
  • Check with your regular doctor first, as often they can do a travel consultation for you and write you the necessary prescriptions for your immunizations, even if they aren’t able to give them to you.  This way you can ensure that at least your travel consultation will be covered by your insurance up-front.
  • Check with Walgreens or other drug stores that give flu shots to see if they have any of the immunization shots that you require before going to a specialized clinic that doesn’t accept insurance to get them.  Walgreens is able to give you many of the immunizations necessary for international travel, and they accept insurance up-front.
  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website can be a great resource for answering any travel immunization questions that you have.

In case you are unsure of what travel vaccinations you might need, I have compiled a list below of some of what you might expect your physician to recommend.

  • Antimalarial (Aralen, Qualaquin, Plaquenil, Mefloquine, or Doxycycline).
  • Typhoid (either a shot, which is good for 2 years, or live virus pill, which is good for 4 years).
  • Yellow Fever (be aware that some countries require a yellow fever vaccination if you are traveling from another country that is high risk, even if your stay in that other country was short).
  • Hepetitis A & B (if you haven’t had them).
  • Tetanus (if you aren’t current).
  • Rabies (if you are going to be working in close contact with animals).
  • Dukoral (gives you 3 month protection against travel diarrhea).
  • Flu Shot

Yellow Fever Vaccination Requirements

Depending on which country you are arriving from, you may need to have a Yellow Fever vaccination to enter the country.  If you are travelling to Tanzania from another country in Africa, please use the US Centers of Disease Control (CDC) website to determine if you will be required to have proof of the Yellow Fever vaccination to enter.

Passport Requirements

Please keep in mind, you will need your passports handy in order to purchase a permit to enter the Ngorongoro National Conservation Area.  You are going to need to make sure you bring your passport with you when you go on safari.  If you are taking a guided safari, your guide should alert you to this and help coordinate the purchase of the necessary permit(s).

What to Bring

If you are visiting Africa and going on safari for the first time, you might not be sure of what to bring with you on safari.  To help you with these questions, I have developed a handy Safari Packing list and a Photographer’s Guide to Taking Pictures on Safari that will help you make sure you have the gear that is essential to make your trip a success.

Yellowstone-1733 The Essential Safari Packing List
Yellowstone-1733 Tips for Photography on African Safaris

Getting to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

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The Ngorongoro National Conservation Area in Tanzania.

The Ngorongoro Crater is part of the Ngorongoro National Conservation Area, which sits just South of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.  Located due East of the major city of Arusha, and just South of the Kenyan border, the Ngorongoro National Conservation Area is in the heart of wildlife territory in Eastern Africa.

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In addition to being located just South of the Ndutu Plains of the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro National Conservation Area is also located in close proximity to a number of other national parks and wildlife areas in Tanzania and Kenya.  Lake Manyara National Park, Tarangire National Park, the Maswa Game Reserve, Arusha National Park, and Kilimanjaro National Park are all close enough to work into one safari adventure trip.  In addition, the Masaai Mara in Kenya is located just North of the Serengeti National Park, which means that it can also easily be incorporated into a safari trip to the area.

Travel-Pic Arusha National Park Safari Guide
Travel-Pic Lake Manyara National Park Safari Guide

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There are two main gates by which to enter and leave the Ngorongoro National Conservation Area.  There is the Naabi Hill Gate, which is located just below the Ndutu Plains to the North and the Lodware Gate, which is located just West of Lake Manyara National Park in the South.  If you are coming to Ngorongoro from the Serengeti, you will use the Naabi Hill Gate.  On the other hand, if you are coming from Lake Manyara National Park, Tarangire National Park, or one of the parks near Arusha, you will use the Lodware Gate.

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The Rhino Lodge on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater.

There are several very nice lodges inside and just outside the Ngorongoro National Conservation area to stay at, and I have highlighted the most popular options for you below.  When we visited, we stayed at the Rhino Lodge, which is located just outside the rim of the crater.  This allowed us to get up bright and early and have plenty of time to see the wildlife inside the park.  Really, you can’t go wrong with any of these options as they are all very nice, but if you have an option I would choose one of the lodges just outside the rim.

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Ndutu Safari Lodge
Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge
Lake Manyara Hotel
andBeyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge
Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge
Ngorongoro Rhino Lodge

Park Fees

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The Lodore Gate to the Ngorongoro National Conservation Area.

Important:  Make sure you read the section below carefully so that you understand how long your permit for the Ngorongoro Crater is good for.  I have read a lot of stories about people who had their trips ruined because they did not properly understand the rules.

If you are interested in knowing what the fees to visit the Ngorongoro National Conservation Area are, I have highlighted the fees (as of 2018) for you below.  Keep in mind, once you enter the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, your permit is good for 24 hours.  Because of this, I would make sure you plan your time inside the conservation area wisely.

For instance, if you arrive in the Ngorongoro National Conservation Area at 2pm and then check into your lodge expecting to have a full day of wildlife viewing inside the crater the next day, you will be surprised to find that your permit is only good until 2pm that next day.  You can stay longer than 2pm, but you will need to pay for an additional full day permit.  So make sure you maximize the time that you have.

If you are taking a guided safari, your safari guide is well versed in the rules and regulations, and they are very good at working out the logistics to make sure you have ample time inside the crater.  Just make sure you listen to their instructions as they know what they are doing.  This may mean you need to leave a different park earlier than you would have thought, but there is likely good reason for that.  It’s likely to maximize the time spent on safari in other parks.

Entrance fees: Adult Non\Resident: US$60, Children: US$20
Crater Service Fees: Non EAC Citizen US$250
Walking Safari: Non EAC Citizens US$15 per person per day
Motor Vehicle Fee: Up 2000kgs: US$40, 2000-3000kgs: US$150, 3001-7000kgs: US$200, 7001kgs and above: US$300

Best Time to Visit

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The Ngorongoro Crater is much bigger than you would think.

Because the Ngorongoro Crater has available water year-round, the wildlife viewing inside the crater really is spectacular year-round.  Furthermore, because most of the crater is comprised of open plains and water, you don’t need to worry as much about lush vegetation obstructing your view of the animals.  It really is a sort of wildlife utopia for wildlife enthusiasts.

However, you should take into account the weather when planning your trip to the Ngorongoro Crater.  The wet season in Tanzania is between March and May, and Tanzania can get quite a bit of rain during that period of the year.  This is especially true for the month of March, which is the height of the rainy season.  Most of the roads in the conservation area and the crater are made of dirt and gravel, as you can see in the picture above, and these roads can get quite sloppy when it rains quite a bit.

Though it can be quite wet between March and May, this is also the offseason for tourism in Tanzania, so there is typically less crowds to deal with during this time.  This means less safari vehicles parked around the animals, which means better viewing opportunities for you.  If you are willing to roll the dice with the weather, then planning a trip during this time can have some big rewards as well.

Lake Manyara Best Times to Visit

June thru October

  • There is typically a lot of sun and very little rain.
  • Because the weather isn’t as wet, malaria carrying mosquitoes are less prevalent.
  • You will want to dress warmly as the mornings can be cold at this time of year.

November thru May

  • It is typically the least crowded in April and May, which is the park’s low season.
  • Bird watching is best as the migratory birds are visiting the park at this time.
  • There may be a lot of mud on the roads because of heavy rains.
  • March is the height of the rainy season.

The Wildlife

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Lions resting in the mid-day sun inside the Ngorongoro Crater.

The Ngorongoro Crater is such a special area because few other areas in Africa, if any, offer such a large variety of animals in such a small space.  While leopards can be more difficult to spot inside the crater, they are elusive animals and are difficult to spot pretty much everywhere you go.  The other animals in the “Big Five” of Africa (elephants, lions, rhinoceros, and cape buffalo) are pretty hard to miss.  It is absolutely crazy how much wildlife you see when you descend into the crater.

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In addition to the Big Five, other animals you can expect to see in the park include spotted hyenas, zebras, and wildebeest, which are very abundant in the park.  It is not unheard of to see giraffe inside the crater, but you are most likely to see them just outside the rim of the crater, which is where we spotted them when we visited.  However, you do stand a relatively good chance of seeing hippos, Thomson’s gazelles, waterbucks, warthogs, osterich, jackals, and a variety of other small animals in the park.

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A bull elephant feeds near the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater.

As I mentioned previously, the bull elephants in the area tend to spend a great deal of their time in the Ngorongoro Crater, which means that you also have a great chance to see some very large and impressive elephants when you make your visit.  We spotted the big guy above feeding on the hills near the rim of the crater.  You are going to want to make sure you bring binoculars and long lenses with you when you visit, as these guys don’t typically hang out near the roads inside the crater.  I cover this and some other helpful tips in the Safari Tips section below.

Safari Tips

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A baby zebra sticks close to its mother inside the Ngorongoro Crater.

When you are on safari, especially in the Ngorongoro Crater where animals seem to be everywhere around you, it is easy to get lost in the experience.  Being on safari is such an amazing experience and you should enjoy every single second of it.  However, if you aren’t careful, you might not get everything out of the experience that you could have.

In order to make sure that you get everything out of your safari experience in the Ngorongoro Crater that you possibly can, I have provided some general safari tips below for you to review.

  • Be Patient and Open Minded – When you are on safari, everything isn’t going to go according to plan.  The weather, the animal’s behavior, and other factors are going to impact where you go and what you see.  The Ngorongoro Crater provides some of the most reliable wildlife viewing opportunities in Africa, but even in the crater you have to be ready to adjust your plans if necessary.
  • Safety First – It is really easy to get caught up in the safari experience and want to get the best pictures you possibly can.  However, safety should always be the primary concern.  To give you some help in how to remain safe while on safari in the Ngorongoro Crater, I have outlined some general safety tips for you to review later in this guide.
  • Don’t Get Stuck Behind Your Camera – Everyone wants to get great pictures while on safari, and you should absolutely bring your camera and take a lot of pictures.  However, if you spend your entire time in the Ngorongoro Crater looking thru your camera, you are going to miss out on some of the experience.  I would recommend setting your camera down every-once-in-a-while and just enjoy being in such an amazing place.
  • Ask Lots of Questions – Make sure you ask your safari guide a lot of questions while you are in the Ngorongoro Crater.  It is easy to get caught up in the moment and forget to ask which type of animal you are looking at or why they are doing what they are doing, but your safari guide is there to answer these questions for you.  And believe me, they enjoy answering these questions.  Don’t get home and regret not asking those questions.
  • Be Conscious of Time – You are going to see some amazing things while you are on safari in the Ngorongoro Crater.  However, as I mentioned before, the time that your daily permit is good for is limited.  Don’t get too caught up in one place within the crater for too long as you might regret not having time to do other things later.  By no means am I suggesting that you should rush thru the crater, but you might not want to linger watching one thing for hours-upon-hours either.
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Black Rhinos graze inside the Ngorongoro Crater.

More than anything else, the best tip I can give you is to just have fun.  Visiting the Ngorongoro Crater should be a trip of a lifetime, and you should enjoy every single second of this adventure.  Don’t get caught up on the little things that might go wrong.  Before you know it you will be back at home and left with just the memories and pictures of your adventure.  Make those memories great ones!

Lake Magadi

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Lake Magadi inside the Ngorongoro Crater.

One of the most notable landmarks within the Ngorongoro Crater is Lake Magadi, which is a permanent, year-round lake that supplies water to the animals of the crater.  There are no crocodiles in the Ngorongoro Crater, but there are plenty of hippos.  Lake Magadi is one of the crater hippos favorite spots to hang out and avoid the sun.

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A hippo peeks its head above the surface of the water in Lake Magadi.

There is also a picnic site near Lake Magadi, which makes it a popular lunchtime stopping point for most safari tours inside the crater as well.  When you are out of your vehicle near the picnic site, make sure you always listen to your safari guide and keep safety in the top of your mind.

Safety Tips

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Lions will often use the safari vehicles as shade inside the Ngorongoro Crater.

Being on safari can be an amazing and exciting experience, but it can also be a very dangerous experience if you don’t follow the proper safety rules.  In order to ensure that your safari experience is a memorable and safe one, I have outlined some general safari safety rules for you to review below.

  • Obey your safari guide at all times – The most important safari safety tip of all is to listen to your safari guide and obey them at all times.  They are there to keep you safe, so let them.
  • Don’t stick anything out of the safari vehicle – It is never a good idea to stick anything outside of a safari vehicle.  Whether this be your arms, your feet, or your camera as you try to get a great picture, keep them inside the vehicle at all times.
  • Don’t make a lot of sudden or frantic movements in the vehicle – When you are in the safari vehicle, the animals tend to think of the vehicle and everything associated with it as one homogeneous entity.  However, if you make sudden and frantic movements, or do something else to make you stick out as a part from the vehicle, you may become an object of interest to them.
  • Never get out of the vehicle unless your guide says you can – This point cannot be stressed strongly enough. Never, and I mean never, get out of your safari vehicle unless your safari guide explicitly instructs that it is safe.
  • Never leave your tent or lodge room at night – This is another point that I cannot emphasize strongly enough.  You should never leave your tent or lodge room at night without a chaperone.  The African bush can be a dangerous place, especially at night, so make sure you follow whichever procedures your safari guide gives you for getting assistance at night.  If they don’t mention this, make sure you ask ahead of time.
  • Walk, never run – If you do find yourself outside of your vehicle and confronted by an animal (hopefully this never happens), then make sure that you stay as calm as possible, walk away slowly (never turning your back on the animal), and NEVER, EVER run away.
  • Never swim in lakes or rivers – Unless you are explicitly told by your safari guide that the waters are free of hippos and crocodiles, you should never attempt to swim in a lake, river, or pond.  Even then, I would think twice about doing it.  Hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal, and crocodiles are not far behind on the list, so you always have to be safe when even approaching bodies of water.

On Safari in the Ngorongoro Crater

Being on safari in the Ngorongoro Crater is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  If you would like to get a sense of what it is like, we put together a short video of our safari experience in Ngorongoro for you below.  Come along with us as we explore this amazing place!

Photo Gallery

The Ngorongoro is both beautiful and special.  With both beautiful landscapes and amazing wildlife surrounding you, it is a wildlife photographer’s dream.  Below is a gallery of just some of the images we were able to capture while on safari in the Ngorongoro Crater.

Ngorongoro Crater
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2 replies »

  1. Thanks a bunch for this. I am too old now to go to Ngorongoro but I had my fun seeing wildlife in Africa ‘while on the job’ for the World Bank, like driving almost into a hippo crossing the small airport road at night near Bujumbura, seeing elephants in the Wild Life corner of Central African Republic, Congo Braza and Cameroon, or having to visit the CAR rainforest. In Zimbabwe, I nearly missed a huge elephant who had elected to use an asphalted road as its pathway. And I visited some parks in Tanzania and Kenya as well. Most striking were the crocodiles (caimans they called them) in the groove around Houphouët’s palace in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivire, not exactly a zoo, but still wild as they devoured a gardener once who fed them. johnschwartzauthor.com/blog

    • You are very welcome!! Sounds like you have had some absolutely amazing adventures! That is what is so wonderful about travel!

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