My visit to Ngorongoro Crater followed an exhaustive attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. The night’s sleep following the descent from the mountain was one of the best I had experienced in a long time. It didn’t hurt wake up to a bright blue-sky morning with the view of Mount Kilimanjaro, as we would say goodbye to this part of Tanzania.
The day started with an early pick up by our guide from Zara Tours. It was a reprieve from the work of my muscles in the legs to be off my feet and allow the Land Rover to carry the entire load. The next stage of our journey to the greater was to make her way to Arusha where we would pick up a travel partner from the Tanzania Tourist Board. This included a trip to the grocery store for drinks and snacks to accompany us on the journey.
We were officially on our way. The only challenge that slowed our encounter with Ngorongoro Crater was the road construction between Arusha and the crater. We were frequently off the road and on temporary dirt paths making our way towards the adventure. The dirt paths and passing vehicles meant that dust in the air something to try and avoid.
Day One in Ngorongoro Crater
We arrived at the Ngorongoro Crater gate where we registered our vehicle and signed the appropriate guest books. Then it was up the crater rim to the first lookout over the world’s largest unbroken caldera. It was beautifully green and lush with blue skies and water below adding to the serene overlook. This was a second trip to the crater for me and all the new signs of life were a fresh welcome and rather inviting.
We checked into the Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge situated inside the crater rim. The lodge features one of the most spectacular views of the crater. After checking in we were treated to a chef specialty as we sat on the balcony and awe of what we could see. After finishing lunch, we were tempted to just sit on the balcony and enjoy the view of the crater. However we were excited to get down to the floor and experience the wildlife we knew the crater offered.
We knew we were in store for something special as we got down to the crater floor and immediately discovered that it was baby season. The first thing I encountered was a baby wildebeests. It wasn’t long until we discovered baby zebra and baby warthogs. One of the best times to experience Ngorongoro Crater is late January and early February when it is calving season for the wildebeest. Our timing was right with the opportunity to see many new babies experience the life of the crater for themselves.
Even though we knew we were only going to have a couple of hours in the crater, it didn’t take long to know that this was going to be a fantastic two hours filled with lots of encounters with wildlife. One of the early highlights was finding a pride of lions and getting an up close and personal encounter with the King of Beasts. The lion is one of the most majestic creatures on earth and it was incredible to realize how close we could get without being a zoo.
The lion was certainly a highlight, but the crater had so much more life to share. Here is a glimpse at just some of the few animals we encountered during our short afternoon in the Ngorongoro Crater.
Ngorongoro Crater: Day 2
The wildlife encounters from only two hours in the crater the afternoon before elevated anticipations for what a full day would look like. Breakfast and lunch would both be on the road dining experiences because the day started before the sun was even up. However this, in and of itself, would be a special treat because as we made away around the crater rim to start our way down, we were presented with a beautiful sunrise.
We made our way to the far north side of the crater. This was an area that we did not even begin to explore the day before. As we headed that direction we saw many more wildebeest, zebra, ostrich and warthog. We were in a secluded part of the crater floor that was some part of the marsh. As we looked across the grassy area we saw loan bull elephant making his way through the marsh. He was too far away for good picture, but we were excited to see one of the Big 7. We had seen lion, hippopotamus and now the elephant made 3 of the 7.
We made our way around the marsh and over a dry riverbed only to discover another pride of lions. We have permission from the chief warden to get off-road which allowed us to get right on top of as they lay there sleeping. Here is an intimate close-up of a sleeping lion.
The chief warden called our guide and let him know that there was news media looking for an interview and directed us to a place to meet up. He also advised that the Park Ranger would be there to show us some additional wildlife. We high tailed it across the crater floor to meet up with these folks.
Once the interview was over, the park ranger invited the media to follow all of us to a remote part of the park. They took us off road and made our way to an area that fell between the lake and the forest. It was kind of a ravine that made for a more interesting off-road experience. However the reward that was waiting us was a thrilling outcome.
The off-road adventure led to 7 different sightings of rhino. We would be in for more fun as the park ranger also took us on a walking tour of the lake allowing us to get closer to the flamingos. When you take thousands of flamingos and place in one area, you can count on some stench. It was still incredible to listen to them and watch them circle the lake. It was almost like a busy airport with fighter planes taking off for an operation with each having plenty of wingmen.
Breakfast was on the road as we were driving through the crater floor. Lunch was a scheduled stop at one of the main watering holes in the crater floor. When we made the stop, there were probably around 50 or so safari vehicles there as well. “Where did all these people come from?” As you make you way on safari through Ngorongoro Crater, you really don’t feel like you see that many other vehicles. It is a testimony to how really big the crater is.
Our Land Rover was acting up, so I walked around the lake eating lunch and taking in the view. You had to make sure that you kept your lunch covered because birds were circling above looking for opportunities to fly down and scoop a sandwich right out of the hands of unsuspecting travelers. There were some hippos in the small lake, but this was a place to do more bird watching and taking in the serenity.
It looked like the Land Rover was in a fix. We had to be cautious not to turn it off or we might not get it started again. This created a bit of a challenge and it added unwanted engine noise as you sat and watched wildlife. However, it didn’t cancel our ability to still have an intimate encounter with nature.
After lunch we made our way towards to the forest area. As we were getting close it started to drizzle a bit. We didn’t know how this was going to affect the rest of the afternoon, but as we were talking about it – there they were. Two bull elephants, affectionately known as “Great Tuskers,” were there to greet us as we arrived to the forest area.
We pulled over and parked the vehicle amongst them and watched them graze around us for 20 to 30 minutes. It was like we were one of them. No one else was around. It was just us and these two elephants – we were one with nature. They would casually walk towards the vehicle just to check us out a bit.
The mist was happening most of the time we sat with the elephants, but it actually added to the tranquility of the experience. It never rained hard enough to interfere with elephant engagement. As they moved on and we decided to venture into the forest, the rain stopped. We didn’t see much wildlife while driving through the forest of Ngorongoro, but it is one of my favorite parts of the crater floor. I wanted to get out and hike through the area and maybe act like Tarzan a bit.
We made our way out of the forest area and continued our safari throughout the crater floor. Seeing wildlife in Ngorongoro is not a question. The only questions are where will you see them, what will they be doing when you do and which ones do you look at. On numerous occasions we had varying wildlife on both or all sides of our vehicle. The biggest challenge was “Do I look forward at these or turn around and watch those?”
I have had the opportunity to go on safari in a handful of different places. Without question, I can say that Ngorongoro Crater is one of the most unique and special places in all of the earth. It is now wonder that this caldera is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Africa. Let me close out with a few more images from the wildlife that blessed me during my exploration of the crater:
We left Ngorongoro Crater and made our way towards the Serengeti. We still had wildlife waiting to show off her beauty. While still inside the Ngorongoro protected area, but out side the crater rim, we camp upon this gentle giant. He was actually one of several in the area.
Ngorongoro Crater is one of the most spectacular places to experiences the animals and wilds of Africa. It really is an intimate encounter. Off to the Serengeti.