When: October 2019
Where: Tanzania – Ngorongoro Crater
The Ngorongoro Crater feels like no place else on earth. It’s like a unique environmental holding cell for all the animals who wandered to the bottom and now call it home. It was the second stop on our honeymoon safari tour of Tanzania and had some of the most dramatic landscapes you’ll find in the country.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t briefly explain the unique geological factors at play in the crater. Nearly three million years ago a massive volcano exploded and then collapsed in on itself, thus creating the world’s largest, inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera. It covers 100 square miles and sits 5,900 ft above sea level.
Over 25,000 large animals live in the Crater, including lions, cape buffalo, zebra and hippos.
Places to Stay:
Ngorongoro Farm House – Catering primarily to safari goers, this boutique hotel is a fully functioning coffee and produce farm. A short ride to the Crater Conservation area, it was the perfect place to relax after a long day of safari. The rooms are cottage style with huge bathrooms, comfortable 4 post beds with mosquito nets and unlimited home grown coffee.
The lounge area had a large veranda with comfortable seating overlooking the farm and mountains. All meals were served buffet style and they provided picnic lunches to take with you during the day. Additionally, they had a beautiful pool where we we could cool off and get a tan.
Things to Do:
When planning our safari adventure, we wanted to go through the Ngorongoro Crater for its unique ecological features and get up close to the variety of wildlife in this smaller area (compared to the Serengeti). However, there are other activities to enjoy that involve getting out of the jeep!
The coffee farm where we stayed offered a tour of the grounds and a tasting of their home grown brew. We joined another couple and hiked around the property which included their vegetable, fruit and flower crops. Our tour guide, Philip, was incredibly knowledgeable about the area and shared his own inspiring story. He taught himself English via the internet and was able to break into the tourism industry. He left his village and continues to expand his skills and tours, as a result he is able to pay for his younger siblings’ education.
He taught us about the different stages of coffee bean growth, how it’s grown on the farm, as it’s actually a very delicate crop, and finished up with a coffee tasting on the veranda overlooking the grounds as the sun began to set.
After our first stop in the Serengeti with Game Watchers, we were anxious to see more wildlife! After a very early wake up call and buffet style breakfast, we grabbed a brown bag lunch and hit the road at 7 am. It’s about an hour scenic drive from Katura to the top of the crater. The morning can be chilly and foggy since you’re at the higher elevation so we were layered up. We pulled up to the entrance to retrieve our passes with our guide and walked through the small museum and gift shop area.
We passed through the gates and were stopped by the toll booth collectors. This consisted of an adorable troop of baboons who just had to inspect the front of the car and show off their assets.
Once the troop was satisfied with their search, we went onward on the muddy zigzag road and began the descent to the bottom of the crater. On the way, keep an eye out for wildlife in the dense bushes. We saw quite a few giraffes and cape buffalo munching on the leaves. Interesting to note are the giraffe patterns which differ based on the species. The Northern Giraffe, Masai Giraffe, Southern Giraffe, and the Reticulated Giraffe are the four different species. The jagged like pattern below is the Masai giraffe and is most common in Tanzania.
We continued to drive down the windy switch backs until the bottom of the crater suddenly opened up before our eyes. It seemed to stretch on for miles and there were herds of grazers across the grassy landscape. We saw wildebeests, ostriches, zebras, warthogs, hyenas and gazelles all just standing a few feet from our jeep going about their day!
Exploring the area more we drove through a small forested area, the Lerai Forest, that smelled like sweet oranges and was filled with bird calls. This is supposed to be a popular area for the rhino since there is thick brush for coverage. There are 14 rhinos in the crater. We did have a sighting but the rhino was laying down and was very difficult to see. We stayed to watch for awhile hoping Mr. Rhino would emerge but he seemed to be very content staying out of sight so we carried on the safari to the hippo pools.
The Ngoitokitok Spring creates a large hippo pool where safari visitors can pull up close to the water’s edge and watch as the hippos laze about in the water. They do barrel turns and flip their tails and generally just have a very relaxed afternoon. Keep your eyes peeled to see the baby hippos too!
After lunch other notable encounters included a hyena family scraping over an animal hide and a few amorous ostriches enjoying some afternoon delight. The sights and animals are plentiful!!
After a full day exploring the crater we began to make our way back to the top but before we began the climb we saw four female lions observing some grazing zebra. These lions were hungry and we pulled over to see what would happen. We watched the four lions strategize and silently split into two groups to stalk their prey from different angles. We watched as they tiptoed their way closer to their lunch with the wind in their favor. Suddenly, the lions launched their attack and took down an adult zebra within 10 seconds.
As an animal lover, it was difficult to watch this beautiful zebra die but our guide quickly brought us back to reality. Lions need to eat and such is the circle of life. So we focused on how lucky we were to see a pride of lions hunt, which is incredibly rare! We even managed a good laugh when we saw the male lion sprinting out of the bush to grab a bite now that the ladies did all the work!
It was an eventful day. We stopped at the top of the rim to take in some last views of the Ngorongoro Crater and said our goodbyes to this exceptional place! We were on our way to the next and final stop on our safari adventure to Tarangire National Park.