The Ngorongoro Crater – with its lush green plains, woodland trees and wildflowers – is one of the most popular travel destinations in Tanzania. A stunningly beautiful place, it’s often referred to as the ‘Garden of Eden’. Ngorongoro has been the site of numerous archaeological discoveries over the years, and it’s now one of the best places for safari in East Africa.
Millions of years ago, a volcano the size of Mount Kilimanjaro rose from the highlands of northern Tanzania. Its eruption formed the largest unflooded caldera in the world, the Ngorongoro Crater. Now inactive and filled with wildlife, the crater is a playground where you can enjoy game drives in search of the Big Five. Our Africa specialists have been on safari here and in the wider Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Using their own experiences, they can help plan your time in and around the crater.
The natural protection of the crater’s 600 m (1,968 ft) high walls helps many species to thrive. This is the best place in Tanzania to see critically endangered black rhino. Wildebeest, zebra, eland and gazelle carpet the short grassland, watched hungrily by lion, cheetah, wild dog and hyena. And the waters of Lake Magadi are often mottled pink by flamingos.
Although the roads around the caldera can get rather muddy, the best time to visit the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania is during the April to May rainy season. There are far fewer visitors this time of the year, and the crater is wonderfully lush and green compared to the dusty dry-season landscape. High visitor numbers can be expected during the July to September peak season, and again during the December to February calving season that follows the November rains.
January is a great time for visiting the Ngorongoro Crater because it’s breeding season for the wildebeest in the area. The herds have what’s known as a “mass calving” on the green plains just outside the crater, making for excellent photo opportunities of newborns struggling to get on their feet. The months of January and February fall between the two rainy seasons that the area experiences annually, and these months can offer a dry spell between the ‘short rains’ and ‘long rains’.
February is one of the drier months before the rains begin near the end of March in the crater. This is an excellent time for game viewing, especially for predator sightings of lion and hyena preparing to hunt the abundant herds.
March is considered one of the best times to visit the Ngorongoro Crater to avoid the crowds and take advantage of reasonable rates. The ‘long rains’ begin to fall near the end of March and continues into April and May, transforming the crater into an emerald paradise.
June is one of the best times to visit the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The ‘long rains’ have come to an end and game drives are relatively less crowded. Peak season for a safari in the Ngorongoro Crater only kicks off towards the end of June or in early July. The cooler weather is also ideal for climbing Kilimanjaro during this month, which is a popular add-on to a Ngorongoro safari.
When visiting the Ngorongoro Crater, July and August fall within peak season and accommodation around the crater is generally quite full during these months. The reason why people flock from all over the world during the dry season is the visibility of wildlife along the barren plains, and their high frequency visits to watering holes. This is when it is commonplace to see the likes of leopard, lion, rhino, buffalo, and elephant all in one day.
September marks the start of spring but still falls under the very popular dry season in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The crater can be chilly at this time of year. The dry weather over the past few months leaves parts of the crater floor looking like a dusty bowl and the turns the grasslands yellow.
October is a transitional time weatherwise in the Ngorongoro Crater, as the beginning of the month is the height of the long dry season and the ‘short rains’ begin just before November.
The Ngorongoro Crater is warm and occasionally wet during November and December. This is the period of the ‘short rains’ but the rain occurs in short bursts, usually as afternoon showers that rarely affect safaris. The first migrant birds arrive with the rainfall in November, making this one of the best times to visit the Ngorongoro Crater for birdwatching.
Whether you’re staying in a lodge on the crater’s rim or just visiting for the day, guided game drives give you a chance to explore the crater and its wildlife. You can opt to join a shared game drive or have a private guide who’ll tailor the drive to your interests.
You start the day from the top of the crater, where you can gaze over the rim and see the 25 km (15.5 mile) hollow in the Earth stretching before you. Evergreen forest clings to the slopes, and clouds cast rolling shadows over the grassland and pockets of acacia trees. Far below, animals move like tiny ants. As you descend, you begin to make out what they are: antelopes, buffalo, wildebeest and Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles.
Once on the crater floor, your guide’s knowledge of the land comes into play to get you close to animals both common and, if you’re lucky, rare. Sightings of black rhino are far from guaranteed, but you’re in the best place to find them.
A drive over to Gorigor Swamp is likely to give you views of large-tusked elephant and hippo, while in Lerai Forest you might encounter baboons and leopard in the branches of yellow fever and acacia trees.
While the crater is usually busy with other safari vehicles (especially during the dry season, between July and October), staying on its rim means you can be the first into the crater and the last out, with day-trippers limited to six-hour visits. Alternatively, you could travel here outside the peak months, when it’s much quieter but there’s more chance of rain.