The Ngorongoro Highlands are situated within the designated Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which protects the land of the area and the traditional Masaai way of life within it. Of course the Crater itself is the main attraction of the Conservation Area, but equally amazing are the highlands that roll on around the Crater. This is a vast, undulating volcanic landscape, dotted with craters and lakes and oozing minerals and fertile soil. This area should not be missed on a northern Tanzania safari.
As the highlands are not within a national park, the usual national park rules and restrictions do not apply. Therefore, various activities are possible - including opportunities for exploring the area on foot with long hikes up into the mountains. From this perspective the expanse of impressive volcanic landscape is mind-blowing, and there is the potential for sighting wildlife, although this is not as game-focused as a typical walking safari.
The Ngorongoro Crater floor
The Ngorongoro Crater rim is over 2,200 metres high, and swathed in cloud most days of the year. By contrast, the crater floor is a unique habitat where the rich volcanic soil and year-round water supply have resulted in a rich and healthy ecosystem supporting approximately 25,000 of Africa's big gamemaking it a must on a Northern Tanzania Safari
The Lerai Forest and Lake Magadi, along with the famous hippo pool, are surrounded by vast plains that cover a crater floor which is up to 20km wide in places. Even though some of the animals do leave the confines of the Crater, Ngorongoro is the perfect habitat for many species, inclining both grazers and predators to remain throughout the year.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area
On the Western side of Africa's Great Rift Valley, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a striking range of volcanic craters that make up one of the most dramatic areas of Africa.
The Ngorongoro is by far the area’s main attraction, but for people spending longer in the area there are other craters such as Empakaai - far off the tourist track and excellent for walking trips, albeit with a fraction of the game viewing available at Ngorongoro. On days with clear skies you can catch an impressive glimpse of Lake Natron or even the peak of Kilimanjaro. We arrange hiking trips in the area and include expeditions to Oldonyo Lengai, a currently active volcano known by the Masaai as the Mountain of the Gods.
Olduvai, a misspelling of the Masai word Oldupai, is one of the area's main attractions, and the site of numerous prominent archaeological finds. Made famous by Louis and Mary Leakey, the site has thrown up discoveries which date back nearly 2 million years, giving Olduvai the title of the 'Cradle of Mankind'. Today a small museum gives visitors an introduction to the area and guides are available to walk you into the gorge. Copies of the famous Laetoli footprints, found nearby, are on display.
Ngorongoro Highlands: where to Stay
Halfway between Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater is the village of Karatu, which offers various comfortable accommodation options on the border of the Conservation Area. This is the best position from which to explore the surrounding area, with traditional homesteads, lush plantations and working farms. The lodges round here are all colonial-style farm houses, with open tropical gardens and ancient leadwood trees. Plantation Lodge
is made up of little cottages amongst glorious gardens and Gibbs Farm
offers a 10 acre fruit and vegetable garden. Stays in this area are usually two or three nights depending on your itinerary but you will need a day to visit Lake Manyara National Park and a day for the Ngorongoro Crater. A third day can be spent exploring the highlands and the working coffee plantations, hiking or mountain biking.
Ngorongoro Highlands: when to go
This area is not seasonal and you will have a great experience here all year round. The Crater has the big five throughout the year and Manyara remains scenic and picturesque whatever the month, with similar animals at any given time. Activities such as hiking and mountain biking may be affected during the rainy season.
Ngorongoro Highlands: activities
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area offers daytime game drives and walking in the highlands in certain areas. Lake Manyara National Park allows day game drives, and night game drives from certain lodges. Beyond these areas, typical highlands activities are available such as mountain biking, hiking and plantation visits.
While we try and make our website as comprehensive as possible, if you would like some more background information on the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, or Tanzania in general, have a read through the Cadogan Guide to Tanzania and Zanzibar
, written by our director Annabel. The most recent edition was published in 2005 so some of it might be slightly dated but generally it’s as comprehensive as they come.