Ngorongoro Crater is the largest inactive unflooded caldera in the world, located in Tanzania, Africa.
An adventurous 112 mile (180 km) drive west from Arusha–half of which is a gravel road–took us to the rim of the Crater, where we stayed for three nights.
Part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Crater was formed three millions years ago when a volcano exploded and collapsed. Crater info here.
Pronounced en-gor’en-goro, it is 2,000′ deep (610m), with a floor of 100 square miles (260 sq. km).
Although it has been occupied in past centuries by hunter-gatherers, and pastoralist groups, no humans live here now. Mammals, birds, and plants live inside the Crater–approximately 25,000 mammals, mostly ungulates.
NCA has formed a unique harmony here between wildlife, indigenous residents, and visitors to conserve this valuable land.
Local Maasai are allowed to bring their cattle into the Crater to graze, but only for the day. A limited amount of visitors are also allowed to visit, but only for the day, accompanied by guides.
Ten miles across, the Crater floor is open grassland; there are also acacia woodlands, and both fresh and alkaline lakes.
The rim elevation is approximately 8000′, and the descent into this unique ecosystem was majestic for its expansive, pastoral vista.
Some mammals migrate into the Crater, but mostly they do not come and go, because it is enclosed. Unlike the adjacent Serengeti plains, the savanna is not endless due to the Crater walls, so some animals (like impala and crocodiles) do not live here.
A few of the residents include: rhinos, hippos, buffalo, elephant, zebra, jackals, hyena, wildebeest, lions, and flamingos.
Due to the wild and dangerous nature of the animals, we stayed in the vehicles at all times, except for bathroom breaks and lunch time.
At lunch time the guides strategically parked the vehicles beside a hilly area, to have better sight of potential wildlife dangers. Even then we had to eat quickly because the hawks swooped close to our heads for our food.
To watch the lions stalking, the zebras dust bathing, hearing the buzz of hundreds of flamingos; listening to the howling hyenas in the dark morning — it’s remarkable.
Ngorongoro, a Maasai word, translates: Gift of Life. And it truly is.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander