With walls that stretch nearly 2,000 feet up into the great East African skies, the Ngorongoro Crater can seem like a world unto itself. The caldera is just about 10 miles wide, but it includes most of the ecosystems found in the greater Serengeti.
On a single game drive you’ll pass through yellow-barked acacia forests, cruise around the shores of a great lake, skirt the edges of several seasonal swamps and watch the wind ruffle the grassy plains. The crater’s rich volcanic soil and year-round water supply, a rarity in these parts, make it an ideal habitat for an incredible number of animals.
The Ngorongoro Crater is one of the easiest places in all of Africa to spot the Big Five. Head to the acacia and quinine tree forests early in the morning to spot the endangered black rhino. Nearly hunted to extinction in the ’70s, the park’s resident black rhinos are now watched over 24 hours a day by rangers. Massive tusked bull elephants also inhabit the area around the forest, as do the crater’s only leopards.
The waters of Lake Makatare are home to thousands of migratory flamingos, while the swamps are the spots to look for hippos wallowing in the cool mud. On the grassy plains, you’ll probably see buffalos, zebras, gazelles and wildebeests. Lions and cheetahs stalk their prey, while hyenas and jackals scavenge on what the big cats leave behind.
Because of the crater’s small size—only 100 square miles—you can see it all in a short period of time. And with nearly 25,000 animals, there’s a lot to see. The abundance of prey also makes spotting a kill, or just some very well-fed lions, much easier than in other parts of East Africa.
But your experience in Ngorongoro Crater is much more than just what you see. With its wide range of ecosystems, incredible diversity of animals and otherworldly setting, the crater can at times feel like the most elaborately constructed game park in the world. The longer you remain in this magical place, the more likely you are to stop worrying about how it all came about—and start simply appreciating the majesty of nature laid out before you in an continuous cycle of life, death and rebirth.
We visit the Ngorongoro Crater on our Around the World luxury jet expeditions.