Top 10 Amazing Facts about the Ngorongoro Crater
Three million years ago, there slumbered a massive supervolcano in what we now call Northern Tanzania.
The mountain stood higher and mightier than nearby Mount Kilimanjaro. Its summit scraped the ceiling of Africa and its slopes were so vast they directed their own weather patterns and water flow. All was well with this sleeping sentinel until one day the mountain woke up. Then it fell down.
The volcano erupted with a blast so ferocious that it caved in on itself, an implosion creating a caldera spanning a hundred square miles: 12 miles wide and 2,000 feet deep. What had once claimed the highest peak on the continent was now a mere impression, inverse to its former glory.
But the glory returned. Over the course of a few million years this geologic divot filled with life. First, it caught pockets of fresh water. Second, lush vegetation developed, and third—you guessed it—the wild ones arrived.
Abundant water and grasses attracted ungulates, large predators, and countless bird species. Because of its enclosed topography, animals would descend into this bowl-shaped place and never leave. This was where the party was.
Over time the caldera teemed with sustenance, while also providing grazing lands for human tribes living along its edge. And so began the story of one of our planet’s most beautiful places, an unprecedented coliseum of biodiversity. Welcome to the Ngorongoro Crater.
Your 60-Second Ngorongoro History Briefing…
Think of the Ngorongoro Crater as hyper-condensed action, like bringing all the best in safari to boil. Here everything bubbles closer, tighter, and louder. Peer inside this primordial caldera and what you see is a petri dish density of wildlife, more predator-prey interactions per capita than almost anywhere on the planet.
Amazingly, human footprints have also been discovered in and around Ngorongoro as far back as 2-3 million years ago. Following these earliest scattered bands of hunter-gatherers, Mbulu pastoralists would arrive on the scene followed by the Datooga, and most recently, the Maasai.
The first European explorers came to the crater in 1892, and a few decades later Ngorongoro saw its first waves of foreign travelers. Deemed a fragile zone of biodiversity, the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area was established in 1959 and, by 1979, it was protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area sees over a half million annual visitors.
Top 10 Facts About the Ngorongoro Crater you Should Know…
So you’re sold. You now understand what all the hype is about, that Ngorongoro is ground zero for a millions-year-old volcano that blasted off like a rocket, was supplanted by a huge caldera and stuffed with more lions and rhinos and wildebeest than you could ever possibly imagine. You’re in.
But before you drop into the Ngorongoro Crater, here are ten essential factoids you should know. Cram these in your noggin before arriving and your awe for this place will quadruple, promise.
1) It’s One of the Largest Unbroken Calderas on the Planet (That’s Not a Lake).
A caldera is a “cauldron-like” depression created when a volcano emits large amounts of magma in a short amount of time, and the volcano caves in like a sinkhole. There are only a handful of calderas around the globe, but the Ngorongoro is special because it’s the world’s largest fully intact caldera that hasn’t yet turned into a lake. (Source)
2) Over 25,000 Wild Creatures in the Caldera (Gulp.)
Drumroll please…7,000 wildebeest, 4,000 zebras, 3,000 eland, 3,000 gazelles, 600 hyena, 200-300 elephants, over 60 lions, 30 rhinos, and many others. In all, over 25,000 wild creatures call the Ngorongoro Crater home. That is a whole lot of wild.
3) More Prides Per Capita (PPC) than Anywhere on Earth.
This single caldera contains 55-65 permanent lion residents on the crater floor, one of the highest densities of lion prides on Earth. Whoa. We like to say that the PPC (Prides Per Capita) is about as high as it gets here in the Ngorongoro.
4) Your Best Chance to Spot a Black Rhino (And Complete your Big 5!)
Seeing a black rhino for the first time kind of feels like you’re traveling through Jurassic Park. With two large horns and a hooked upper lip, these creatures look as if they’re from a different epoch. Rhinos were brought to the brink of extinction but now their populations, due to conservation efforts, have bounced back to over 5,000 worldwide, 30 of which live in Ngorongoro Crater. This will be the best place to complete your Big 5 list, too!
5) Our Earliest Human Ancestors Lived Here.
Within the greater Ngorongoro Conservation Area exists the Oldupai Gorge, a steep ravine in the Great Rift Valley where paleoanthropologists Louis and Mark Leakey famously discovered traces of homo habilis, our first known human species, reaching back 2 million years. Two million years? Mind blown. Read more here: Source
6) The Birding is Crazy Good.
For friends of the winged ones, look no further. Within this caldera you will find 500 bird species. Ostriches, kori bustards, secretary bird…you name it. Visit from November to April and witness the myriad migratory birds that take up residence here. For more info about birdlife in Tanzania, click here!
7) Best Time to Visit? May to October.
Anytime is a great time to catch wildlife in the Ngorongoro Crater, but from May to October it’s drier and grasses aren’t as abundant, so wildlife tend to come closer together. Overall, here’s our take on the best time to visit Tanzania.
8) You Can Sleep on the Caldera Rim
If the primary attraction to Tanzania is wildlife, the second might just be its unbelievable accommodations throughout the country. Easy Travel constantly researches the finest digs to rest your head after a long day, and Ngorongoro’s lodges are some of our favorites. Imagine watching the sun set behind the caldera from the deck of your bush lodge! Take a detailed look at one luxury lodge here.
9) A Million Wildebeest Might Pass Through (Literally).
The Great Wildebeest Migration (the largest migration of ungulates on the planet – source) passes right through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, more specifically Lake Ndutu, from December to March. With over 2 million wildebeest, zebra, and gazelles, this monster migration is a sight to behold. Don’t miss it.
10) It’s One of Africa’s Seven Natural Wonders
The African continent includes a lot of pretty incredible natural wonders: The Nile River. The Sahara. The Okavango Delta. So, to make it on the list of seven natural wonders of Africa is a huge deal, and for good reason.