The jewel in Ngorongoro's crown is a deep, volcanic crater, the largest un flooded and unbroken caldera in the world that isn’t a lake. It is home to approximately 30,000 animals at any one time. The Crater rim is over 2,200 metres high and experiences its own climate. From this high vantage point it is possible to make out the tiny shapes of animals making their way around the crater floor far below. Swathes of cloud hang around the rocky rim most days of the year and it’s one of the few places in Tanzania where it can get chilly at night. Its steep walls soar 400m to 610m and provide the setting for an incredible natural drama, as prey and predators graze and stalk their way around the open grasslands, swamps and acacia woodland on the crater floor. It's such an impressive sight that, other vehicles aside, you'll wonder whether you've descended into a wildlife paradise.
The crater floor consists of a number of different habitats that include grassland, swamps, forests and Lake Makat (Maasai for ‘salt’) - a central soda lake filled by the Munge River. All these various environments attract wildlife to drink, wallow, graze, hide or climb. Although animals are free to move in and out of this contained environment, the rich volcanic soil, lush forests and spring source lakes on the crater floor (combined with fairly steep crater sides) tend to incline both grazers and predators to remain throughout the year.
Pros & Cons
Best Time for Wildlife Viewing
Wildlife viewing is excellent in the crater throughout the year. The scenery of the crater is most spectacular in the Wet season, from November to May, but at that time the grass might be long in places. This can interfere with seeing some of the smaller animals. March and April are the wettest months. The star attraction of the Conservation Area is the Ngorongoro Crater: an extinct volcano teeming with wildlife. All major animals are easily seen. The only exception is giraffe, which is present in the Conservation Area, but not in the crater because of the steep descent. Elephant are common, including some very big tuskers, and all the big cats are prominent as well.
Weather & Climate
Conditions at Ngorongoro vary depending on the altitude. Higher up, at the crater itself, it can get quite cold at night, particularly up on the rim. But down in the greater conservation area it stays quite warm. During the area’s Dry season (June to October) there’s barely a cloud in the sky. In the Wet season (November to May) you’ll confront two periods of rain separated by a brief dry spell. Ngorongoro Conservation Area has a mild, temperate climate. The area experiences two Wet seasons. From October to November are the 'short' rains, followed by the 'long rains' from March to May. Rainfall is usually experienced in the form of short showers. The crater never gets very hot during the day, but the crater rim gets cold, and it can freeze at night. Warm clothing for early morning game drives is a necessity.
The Ngorongoro CA is a vast area with altitude ranging from 1,027 to 3,522m (3,369-11,555ft). Most people only visit the Ngorongoro Crater. They spend the night in a lodge or campsite on the crater rim and visit the crater floor for wildlife viewing. Both the rim (about 2,300m/8,530ft) and floor (about 1,700m/5,577ft) are at higher altitudes and are colder than the overall conservation area. Temperatures drop by about 6.5°C for every 1,000m you climb (or 3.5°F per 1,000ft). The difference is more noticeable during the night. Afternoons on the crater floor will be pleasant, but it can freeze on the crater rim at night. The rim also receives quite a lot of rain.
June, July, August, September & October – Afternoon temperatures are usually around 19°C/66°F on the crater floor. Sunny, cloudless skies are normal, but if the 'short rains' arrive early, they could begin in October. It gets cold at night, and it can freeze on the crater rim.
It gets warmer during the day when compared to the Dry season, but mornings are still cold. Afternoon temperatures are usually around 23°C/73°F on the crater floor, while night temperatures are around 6°C/43°F on the crater rim. November & December – 'Short rains' – These rains are highly unlikely to impact your safari as it won't rain all day. Showers usually happen in the afternoon. The 'short rains' last about one month and can occur anytime between October and December. January & February – It isn't possible to guess when it will happen with accuracy, but there is usually a time of dry weather between the Wet seasons. March, April & May – 'Long rains' – It often rains, but it rarely lasts the entire day. April and May could experience very chilly conditions due to cold fronts.
Best Time to Visit
You can spot wildlife down on the crater floor at any time of year. But the viewing is better in the Dry season (June to October) when the undergrowth has receded and animals tend to gather conveniently around waterholes and rivers. The only advantages the wetter months offer are fewer people and low-season accommodation rates. Wildlife viewing inside the Ngorongoro Crater is superb at all times. However, grass on the crater floor is short in the Dry season (June through September) and this makes animal spotting easier. The scenery is lush and spectacular in the Wet season months (from November to May).
Wildlife is easier to spot since the grass is shorter in the Dry season. Rain is little to none and sunshine is abundant. Chances of contracting malaria are slimmer, as there are fewer mosquitoes. The Ngorongoro crater gets very crowded. Mornings and nights get very cold. Chances of contracting malaria are slimmer, as there are fewer mosquitoes. The Ngorongoro crater gets very crowded. Mornings and nights get very cold.
Ngorongoro Crater offers excellent wildlife viewing, even in the Wet season. The scenery is green and beautiful. Low season occurs in April and May – tourists are fewer, and there may be better rates. Birding is in its prime due to the presence of migratory birds. Except for in March and April, rains are mostly short afternoon storms and seldom interfere with your trip. March to April is the peak of the Wet season. It is cold during the nights and mornings, so it is important to pack warm clothing.