Tanzania Safari – Part 4: Ngorongoro Crater

Panoramic View of Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera that formed when a volcano as tall as Kilimanjaro exploded and collapsed on itself. It also is where you can see animals interact with each other up close and personal — the crater measures about 100 square miles across and 2000 feet deep. The inside of the crater houses over 25,000 large animals consistently while other animals, the wildebeests, and zebras migrate yearly through the crater. The best way to see the bottom of the crater floor is to schedule a safari tour, and the Ngorongoro Crater was the second stop on my Tanzania safari with Great Escape Publishing.

Driving to Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Driving to Ngorongoro was an adventure in itself from Tarangire National Park. Instead of taking the highway, our guides drove our jeeps along the back roads. And when I say back roads, I mean no visible roads that I could see. Along the way, we saw remnants of the wildebeest migration with skeletons scattered throughout the barren plain. I also saw members of the Maasai tribe moving their herds in the distance. The landscape of Tanzania keeps amazing me as I traverse more into this beautiful country.

Ngorongoro Serena Lodge

View of Ngorongoro Crater from room

Ngorongoro Serena Lodge BedroomWhen we arrived at the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge (same company as the Arusha Serena Hotel), the staff had welcome drinks waiting for us, orange juice this time and of course the cold, wet washcloths to wipe the grime off of our faces. Serena Lodge rooms have a safari motif and are pleasantly set up to make the most of your stay. They have a separate dressing/luggage area along with the bedroom and bathroom. The rooms vary on their view to the outside though. My room had a breathtaking view right outside my deck (see photo above), while others in our group had a large tree in the middle of their deck. I enjoyed waking up and stepping outside to hear all the bird and cricket noises and at night when the sky was clear you could see millions of twinkling stars overhead. They even offer turndown services and close the windows for you (It gets cold here at night).

The Ngorongoro Serena Lodge designed to look like it was built right into the rocks, also includes a restaurant, bar, spa services, and conference rooms. With the lodge situated at 7,546 feet high in altitude, it feels like I’ve been jogging for an hour while just walking down the hallway. Be careful of altitude sickness and drink plenty of water while you visit. You don’t realize how high you actually are.

Ngorongoro Crater 

View of Ngorongoro Crater on the way outDriving down the crater walls is a bit harrowing because of how steep it is, but the views are magnificent. The terrain is so different than Tarangire National Park. Not a lot of trees, but you can find some green and trees close to the water sources. Otherwise it is plain brown grass as far as you can see. Our guides from Topguides Safaris wanted to make sure we were one of the first jeeps to be at the entrance to the crater so, we were fortunate to see some remarkable sunrises over the crater a couple of days we were in Ngorongoro.Sunrise in Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater Game Drive

View inside of Ngorongoro CraterIt started a bit slow on seeing animals, the first one we saw was a Grant’s Gazelle just watching us drive by in the jeep. This was something I couldn’t comprehend is how the animals ignored the safari jeeps driving through their habitats. Some of the animals were skittish if you got too close, but for the most part, it was like we weren’t even there.Grants Gazelle looking at the camera

So, while we drove further into the crater looking for animals to photograph, it was hard not to be impressed with how this crater came to be formed over three million years ago. The magnitude of the explosion to cause this is beyond comprehension. But, what it has left is indeed an oasis for these animals and a prime spot to photograph them and some incredible scenery. With the area that we initially went by having little activity, it was great to get some pristine water reflections. I even managed to capture this little guy, a Black-winged Stilts, and his reflection.Reflection of the Crater wall

Black-winged Stilts reflection in water

Ngorongoro Safari Animals

Flamingos in Lake MagadiFrom the earlier posts, you know I took thousands of photos of animals. Most people going on safaris, probably won’t be shooting this many photos. But, as I was on a specific photography expedition with Great Escape Publishing, taking a lot of pictures was the goal. The group also had a professional photographer, Carli Davidson, along that gave us tips on how to make the most of animal photography especially in the wild. We also had photo reviews after every couple of game drives. This experience has been invaluable to me in that it has given me the motivation to leap to become a professional photographer. I hope that you enjoy my photos as much as I did in capturing them. If you are interested in having any particular animal photo for yourself, send me a note, and I’ll make it available on my photography site if it isn’t there already. So without further ado…here are the animals from Ngorongoro Crater.Wildebeests running around zebras

Ngorongoro Crater Birds

Gray-crowned Cranes kissing

I was sharing a jeep with a couple of bird aficionados. So, I learned a lot about birds, recognizing the cues before they take flight, and learning how to capture them in motion. You can read more bird tips in Tanzania Safari – Part 2: Tarangire National Park.

Ngorongoro Crater Ostriches

Female Ostrich in grass

Ostriches are interesting birds. We were able to witness a mating ritual between two males vying for a female ostrich. Although it didn’t go as planned for the female as she played coy with them. While two males fluffed up their feathers to get her attention which she ignored. Both of the males eventually gave up and moved on to another female that was seen in the distance. Typical male behavior. :p

Ngorongoro Crater Hippopotamus

Close-up of Hippo partially above water

There is quite a collection of Hippos in the crater. We found a group of them resting in the mud in a smaller water source. But, the majority of them were over by Ngoitokitok Spring a.k.a. The Hippo Pool. This area is also the only area in the crater where you are allowed outside of the jeeps and can enjoy a picnic. Our guides set up a fabulous spread as we enjoyed the sunshine and all the animals around.Hippo Pool in Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater Zebras

Close up of zebra head

I love zebras! They are so easy to photograph. I think it is because of the unique black and white patterns. There is nothing else to distract you. Simple and beautiful!

Ngorongoro Lions

Lioness relaxing

These trio of lions in the Ngorongoro Conversation Area were interesting to watch as they were laying about quietly until the herd of elephants walked by. Then they all perked up and watched them closely. But, have no fear the elephants were watching them just as closely!

Another fascinating interaction happened inside the crater. We were tracking a little jackal for a bit and what a character he was. As tiny as he was, he showed no fear facing off against a lioness. Such courage in a little thing! We all should be that brave in life! Although the lioness wasn’t moving very fast. Even after the jackal left, she was slow to get up and meander off.Jackal facing off against lionessLioness checking out the landLioness on the prowl

With this being their hunting ground for food I was completing intrigued on how the animals behaved when a predator was near. Our guides let us know that if you saw animals frozen and staring in a specific direction chance was that a lion was there even if you couldn’t see it, they did. Sometimes these animals could stay unmoving for hours if that was needed to keep them alive. Hartebeest and Wildebeest watching a lion in the distanceLion surveying his land

Zebras watching the lions

Lionesses make a move

We were also fortunate to witness a lioness giving chase and walking calmly back with her trophy in her mouth.Lioness with her kill

Ngorongoro Elephants

Close up of Elder elephant walking toward camera

We were fortunate to run across this family of elephants first playing in the water and mud then walking over and rolling around and covering themselves in the dirt. The baby elephants were so enjoyable to watch. And I especially loved the interaction of the younger elephants with each other. They just had to be siblings because they would kick the other in the head when they got annoying. So familiar!

Mwanza Flat-headed Agama

Mwanza Flat-headed rock Agama

These little guys are known as Spider-Man because of their color. The males are the colorful ones while the females are not, which is pretty typical in animals. Females just don’t need to show off as much as the males do!

Ngorongoro Crater Waterbucks

Group of Waterbucks

These waterbucks are so cute with their heart-shaped noses.

All the Rest of the Animals

Giraffe running through the grass

Buffalo grazing

Golden Jackal

Bird resting on top of buffalo

Warthog searching for food

Hartebeest scratching itself

The Landscape Around the Crater

View of Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Crooked tree in Ngorongoro Conservation Area

 

Outside view of Ngorongoro Crater

 

Maasai village in Ngorongoro Conservation Area

The beauty inside the crater was also seen on the outside in the Ngorongoro Conservation area. This is also the home of many of the Maasai tribe. In Part 5, I will be sharing my visit to one of the chief’s family village and all the beautiful photos I came away with along with extraordinary memories of that visit.

Summary Highlights

My highlights from the crater game drives were plenty but, these were my favorites: the hippos in the water – they sound like whales breaching the surface; taking photos of the skeletons; witnessing a tiny jackal face off against a lioness; watching another lioness run to get a kill and casually walk back with it; and riding with the wind blowing through my hair while standing up through the roof of the jeep. What were your favorite animal photos from the safari so far? I would love to hear your thoughts!

This was a fantastic safari through the Ngorongoro Crater, and I highly recommend this to be added to your bucket list if it isn’t on there already.

If you want to continue reading about my African safari here are the shortcuts:

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