The Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera, holds Africa’s Big Five in the continent’s most dramatic setting.
Fantastic cats, as well as huge tusker elephants and a large population of black rhino, are the major highlights. Located in northern Tanzania, the Ngorongoro Crater is one of Africa’s most famous parks.
Two to three million years ago, this ancient volcano, supposedly as high as Kilimanjaro, imploded, leaving the world’s largest intact caldera, complete with 600m-high walls. Over the years, the fertility of the volcanic soil and year-round water supply has attracted one of the highest concentrations of game in Africa.
Today, Ngorongoro is a truly stunning site and has some of the best of anywhere we operate safaris.
Where else can you go on safari in an extinct volcano packed with the Big Five?!
Can I see the Big Five in Ngorongoro Crater?
The Ngorongoro Crater is one of the best places in Africa to see the Big Five (buffalo, lion, leopard, elephant and rhino). With approximately 70 lion, huge buffalo herds, 40 rhino and some of the largest tusker elephants left in Africa today, the only somewhat tricky Big Five sighting is leopard. As elusive as ever, nevertheless leopards can be found in the Lerai Forest and even seen openly on the Crater rim. As the Crater has 600m-high walls on all sides, it has created its own self-contained ecosystem. The vast majority of animals live in the Ngorongoro throughout the year, choosing not to migrate but to rely on the Crater’s remarkably fertile grazing grounds and water supply. As a result, game viewing is reliably brilliant throughout the year. General game viewing with its sprawling plains, soda lake and acacia woodland, it is well able to support a wealth of wildlife. For good reason, it is known as ‘the garden of Eden’ and ‘the cradle of life’!
Cats that roam the Crater floor include plentiful prides of lion and leopard as mentioned, benefiting from the influx into the area of wildebeest, Burchell’s zebra and further game species throughout the winter months. In fact, the Crater boasts the highest density of lion worldwide! As mentioned above, leopard like to spend their days around the rim and can often be seen around the Lerai Forest. Cheetah numbers are very low, but the small population can often be sighted. The real prizes for cat lovers, however, are serval, caracal and golden cat. The last two are very rarely in evidence, but serval are often seen on game drives. In addition to wildebeest and zebra, the Crater is home to black rhino, Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles, eland, topi, spotted hyena, hartebeest, jackal, black-faced vervet, baboon and warthog!
The lake and its tributaries attract hippopotamus, waterbuck and many other species, while the higher regions are populated by mountain reedbuck, Cape buffalo and elephant. The elephant numbers are not overwhelming, but some of the oldest and largest tuskers have taken up residency here. With tusks hitting the floor, it is well worth looking out for these exceptional creatures. The birdlife is excellent in the Crater, with over 200 species to keep avid birdwatchers busy! A particularly spectacular sight is the congregation of vast numbers of common and dwarf flamingo in the Crater’s soda lake, feasting upon crustaceans and algae. The area has many raptors, such as marsh harrier, augur buzzard, black kite, tawny eagle and white-backed vulture. Other feathered beauties comprise avocet, hoopoe, black-bellied bustard, cattle egret, ostrich, fan-tailed widow-bird, grey-rumped swallow, little grebe, red-billed firefinch, speckled pigeon and wattled starling. Make sure you pack your binoculars!
When to go for game?
Due to the massive concentrations of loads of species you are guaranteed a wonderful show at any time of year. Mainly due to the fact that the animals here do not leave the Crater floor, you can have outstanding game drives at any time of year. The only problem with Ngorongoro is how busy the park can become, which has an adverse effect on the quality of game viewing on offer. July and August are incredibly busy months, as is Christmas and much of February. But the reality of Ngorongoro is that game viewing should be seen as a bonus – it is the sheer beauty of being on safari in an extinct volcano that should be your reason to travel here.
Crater Activities in the Ngorongoro Crater are limited to game drives only. Walking safari as well as night safari is not permitted. There are picnic areas on the Crater floor, but the main activity is daytime game driving.