Safaris & stories
Africa Geographic
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Africa Geographic Travel
Hippo, Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
© Glen Stephen

The vast Ngorongoro Conservation Area a staggering 8,292 square kilometres – is undoubtedly a popular attraction in Tanzania’s northern safari circuit, if not the most popular. Named by the Maasai pastoralists, Ngorongoro translates to ‘big hole’ or ‘black hole’ in English, and is truly the jewel in the Conservation Area’s crown. It is the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera in the world, measuring some 20 kilometres across, 600 metres deep and encompasses an area of 300 square kilometres. It was formed approximately 2.5 million years ago when a large volcano erupted and collapsed in on itself.

View of the Ngorongoro Crater from the rim, Tanzania
A view of the Ngorongoro Crater from the rim © Glen Stephen

Not only is it a geological wonder, it is also a haven for incredible animal and birdlife. In fact, it is estimated that over 25,000 animals and 500 bird species live within the crater, making it one of the most densely populated wildlife areas in the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site of global importance for its endangered species, the density of wildlife and for the annual migrations of over a million bearded wildebeest, Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelle, and zebra.

Wildebeest crossing the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Wildebeest crossing the Ngorongoro Crater © Glen Stephen

Six of Africa’s wild cat species (lion, leopard, cheetah, caracal, serval and African wildcat) can be found in the area year-round, as can the Big 5 including the highly endangered black rhino and even painted wolves (African wild dogs). Spotted hyena in large packs of 30 and more live on the crater floor as well as the special canine species, the African golden wolf. Along with an impressive population of lion – currently around 60 and growing – the crater floor teems with antelope species and hippo.

African golden wolf in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
An African golden wolf, also known as the Egyptian jackal or grey jackal © Glen Stephen

The Conservation Area was established in 1959 as a multi land-use area where today semi-nomadic Maasai pastoralists continue with age-old traditions of livestock grazing while coexisting with the flourishing and diverse wildlife. An interesting part of a safari to the Conservation Area is a visit to a Maasai village to hear about their stories and traditional ways of life.

Giraffe in the greater Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania
Giraffe in the greater Ngorongoro Conservation Area © Glen Stephen

The confluence of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the southern part of the Serengeti National Park is in the Ndutu region. Since the 1960s, Ndutu had been a favourite destination for many distinguished authors, filmmakers and wildlife biologists. Researchers Jane Goodall and Hugo van Lawick used Ndutu as a base for much of their research. The highland and open savannah plains, woodlands, forests and natural springs on the crater floor support a large variety of animals. As such, it is an area heavily visited and the crater itself can become crowded in the prime game-viewing months of June to September.

Cheetah in Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania
A cheetah surveys the plains © Glen Stephen
Photographer of the Year 2021


The key to a successful safari devoid of the maddening crowds is all about timing. You want to make sure you get to the gates of the Conservation Area as they open at 6am. Most lodges tend to take their guests in after breakfast; instead, travel with your guide with your own picnic breakfast as there is a well-run picnic spot next to an open stretch of water replete with hippo, well-maintained toilets and even Wi-Fi! From the gate, it is a good hour to the descent point into the crater floor, but if you are there first, you will be ahead of the crowds.


If you are feeling flush, the best spot is at andBeyond’s Crater Lodge, which is located on the rim so spectacular views of the crater are a given (even from your bathroom!). Access from Lake Manyara airport is about 1.5 hours. For those on a budget, we recommend Plantation Lodge outside the town of Karatu. It is only 15 minutes to the Conservation Area’s gate and 30 minutes from the nearest airport at Lake Manyara.

Photographer of the Year 2021
Liquid Giraffe

Liquid Giraffe is a safari tour company operating out of Maun and was born in 2006 out of seeing journeys of giraffe, galloping gracefully through the shallow waters of the Okavango Delta. Our mission is to provide an unparalleled and personalised booking service for visitors to Botswana and other select African countries.