The Ngorongoro Conservation Area was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1979, with its special feature of being the only place on this planet where wild animals can co-exists with humans. The Conservation Area started out as comprising a part of the Serengeti National Park (set up in 1951), but it became an individual entity in 1959. Today, it is well-known for the amazing crater than can be visited, as well as the incredible diversity of wildlife that can be seen here.
- +Impressive diversity of wildlife
- +Bird watching
- +The wildebeest and zebra migration
- +Walking safari
About Ngorongoro Conservation Area
What makes the Ngorongoro Conservation Area so distinctive and impressive at the same time is that it is the only such area in the world where wildlife, as well as humankind, live together in perfect harmony in what is called a Man and Biosphere Reserve. This is just one of the many incredible attractions the Ngorongoro Conservation Area has to offer to any person who chooses to visit this very special place tucked away in Tanzania, Africa.
Wildlife is certainly outstanding here, with more than 25,000 large animals, including 3,000 eland, 7,000 wildebeests, 3,000 Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles, but also significantly more special – and rare – animals, such as black rhinoceros, of which there are 26. Leopards, lions, hyenas, elephants, cheetahs, buffalos, zebras and many others are also present and can be seen around the area.
That doesn’t mean that the vegetation does not offer sights to behold. On the contrary, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area offers plenty of beautiful plants and various forms of vegetation, from desert plants too moorland to short grass meant for grazing to green, hydrated vegetation to grasslands and forests. You can find dove-weeds, pure bamboo, as well as Gum Acacia and Red Thorn Acacia, and plenty of others.
But regardless of vegetation and wildlife, one of the most breathtaking sights in the Ngorongoro Conservation are is, without a shadow of a doubt, the crater. It was formed when a massive volcano crashed roughly 3 million years ago, after exploding. What resulted was the 6th largest unbroken caldera in the world, with a base area of 260 square kilometers and a depth of 610 meters. Had it not collapsed, experts say the volcano could have been as massive as Kilimanjaro, with an estimated 4,500-5,800 meters in height.
At the foot of the mountain, you can find something if not equally impressive, at least entertaining and worth seeing: the largest flamingo breeding ground in East Africa, around Lake Natron.
In order to get to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, you need to arrive at Moshi, via Kilimanjaro International Airport, which is located in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. Then, a shuttle service, a taxi or a charter flight are all viable options, with Arusha being at a distance of around 55 km.
Alternatively, you can also get there by road. It is a two-hour journey on a 160 km long road from Arusha to the final destination of Lodoare Entrance Gate. The roads are not all graveled (except for the main ones), so you will need a vehicle suitable for off-road, should you venture into the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
When to Go & Weather
There is a wet season (November-May) and a dry season (June-September) to be expected, according to Tanzania’s subtropical climate.
- June-September: this period is the dry season, which is the best for visiting, because it has the most sunshine and the most animals can be seen
- November-May: this is the wet season with both “long rains” and “short rains”; the temperatures are higher, but the game viewing is not as good as during the dry season
Mild temperatures characterize the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, with a typically Tanzanian subtropical climate. That means that is has two rainy seasons: long rains – March-May and short rains – October-November. As far as temperatures go, it’s hotter during the day and colder at night, with May to August being colder and September to April benefiting from higher temperatures, but the difference is not exceptional. The Crater is significantly colder, with 14°C between June and August and a slightly higher average of 16°C between October and April. Nights are colder, averaging at around 10°C.
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The Maasai know Ngorongoro as “El-Nkoronkoro”, which translates as “gift of life”. They make up the majority of the population in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, after immigrating here from Central America. Olduvai Gorge offers evidence that several species of humans have existed here, dating back to 3 million years ago.
Several thousand years ago, pastoralists took the place of hunter-gatherers, with the Datooga settling here around 1700 and the Mbulu much earlier – as far as 1300 years before. However, the Maasai drove them away in the 19th century. The Lerai Forest contains several fig trees that are held sacred by the Datooga and
the Maasai. It is believed that a couple of them may stand on the place where a Datago leader was buried in 1840.
We have no evidence of Europeans having reached the Ngorongoro Crater up to 1892, the year when Oscar Baumann visited the region. Aside from him, Friedrich and Adolph Siedentopf, two brothers from Germany, were farmers in the Ngorongoro Crater right up until World War I started. They are known to have attempted to shoot the wildebeest away from the crater in the time while they were settled in the area.
Large mammals live in the crater, ranging across several species and 25,000 animals. This includes the hippopotamus, the African buffalo, the black rhinoceros, the Cape buffalo, the common eland, the blue wildebeest, Thomson’s gazelles, as well as Grant’s gazelles, Grant’s zebra, or Waterbucks. The African leopard, Tanzanian cheetah, and East African wild dog are also present, but not seen very often, while giraffe, crocodiles, topis, impala, and oribis are missing altogether.
During the wet season, a large portion of the zebra and wildebeest populations leave the enclosure, while eland and buffalo rise in numbers in this period of heavy rains.
Both desert plants and green vegetation occurs in Ngorongoro, the latter of which is watered during the wet season’s rains. The region presents a grazing potential, with its short grass, as well as highland forests, uncultivated lowland vegetation and open moorland. Among highland trees, you can find Sweet Olive, Peacock Flower, Kousso, and Yellow-Wood. Pencil Cedar and pure bamboo (Oldeani Mountain) can also be admired. As for the crater basin, there you can see marshes, Acacia woodland, and short grass.
The different forests are rich in Acacia, in particular, albeit different species. The vegetation in Ngorongoro is rich, wild, uncultivated and it plays a vital role in sustaining the animal population.
The first step towards preserving and conserving the area was taken in 1921, when hunting was restricted only to allow holders of permit to engage in it. That was the first of several game preservation ordinances to come. A few years later, hunting had become illegal in most parts contained by the crater rim, while the 1848 National Park Ordinance was the one to create the Serengeti National Park. Following some issues with the Maasai people, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area became independent from the park. The region achieved UNESCO World Heritage Site status in the year 1979.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the only place in all of Tanzania that holds both humans and wildlife. This co-habitation is possible thanks to strict regulation, like prohibiting the cultivation of the land, for example, at various levels other than subsistence. Even though it has been separated from the Serengeti National Park, it is still part of their ecosystem, and it is still connected with the park. Wildlife is free to roam the plains from one park to another; this is achieved through the Maasai practicing transhumance pastoralism.
- Besides the well-known Ngorongoro Crater, the Conservation Area also contains the Empakaa Crateri, which is not as famous, but still impressive.
- The Ngorongoro Conservation Area contains Olduvai Gorge and it can be found in the plains. It is known as “the seat of humanity” because the oldest specimens of humans, including Paranthropus boisei and Homo habilis were found here.
- The name Olduvai Gorge comes from “Oldupaai”, which the Maasai people use to say “wild sisal plant”.
- It is believed that a few million years ago, there was a lake where Olduvai Gorge stands today; its shores were supposedly formed through several volcanic ash deposits. However, some 500,000 years ago, it is said that seismic activity diverted the stream, and it started revealing the seven layers of sediments in the gorge’s walls.
- That is why this area is considered to be one of the world’s key prehistoric sites; it contributed majorly to our understanding and information of human evolution, particularly in its early stages. Louis and Mary Leakey started excavations on this site in the mid-20th century, and their family is continuing their work nowadays.