Rift Safari
Traveling along the Rift Valley: Ngorongoro Conservation Area


Ngorongoro and its highlands offer unusual volcanic scenery and a fashinating variety of microclimates which make this region one of the most interesting of northern Tanzania deserving to be visited not only for the famous crater but also for hiking and trekking.

In 1978 the area was declared world heritage and in 1981 International Biosphere Reserve.

Ngorongoro it is not a national park but a conservation area which means that the Masai people were granted the right to continue to live there.

The territory of jurisdiction of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area can be subdivided into 4 different zones:

• The Ngorongoro crater
• The eastern higlands
• The western highlands
• The northen savannahs which are part of the
.. Serengeti ecosystem.

Each zone is discussed below. At the bottom of this page you will find the highlands weather chart and average temperature.

Mappa di Ngorongoro Kisima Ngeda Tended Lodge Ndutu Lodge Kifaru Farm Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge Ngorongoro Crater Lodge Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge Tree Lodge Kirurumu Tended Camp Gibbs Farm


Coming from Karatu and passed over Lodoare Gate you will enter the Oldeani forest characterized by tall trees [often covered by a thick moss] lianas and african olive trees until the view will open up on the the crater of Ngorongoro or more precisely on the enormous caldera formed about 2.5 million years ago when the inactive volcano collapsed on itself. Its diameter is approx. 20 km and the walls are 600 meters high. dimensions leading to presume that Ngorongoro was originally much higher than Kilimanjaro.

Thanks to the variety of habitats [long and short grasses savannahs, acacia forest, woodland, clearings, swamps, freshwater and soda lakes] it hosts year round about 30.000 animals including buffalos, elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos, cheetahs and a great variety of bird such as ostriches, eagles, buzzards, hawks and flamingos ... virtually the complete cast of wildlife except giraffes.

De facto the crater offers your almost unique opportunity to encounter rhinos [there are populations of rhino also in Serengeti, but the areas they inhabit are protected ones and off limits to vehicles therefore even if you are lucky to see them it is usually a distant view. Our drivers have reported sightings of rhino nearby Moru Kopjes, in Serengeti Mara and Bologonja]. Serval cats and huge elephants bulls are also frequently sighted inside the caldera although the change to meet these two species in other parks is not so low.

The mistake you should not do is to consider Ngorongoro the focal part of your safari which is and should remain the Serengeti.
Due to its small size Ngorongoro can be compared to an "open air zoo" This is not to say that its lacks of wildness .. far from it but we find the crater is lacking the emotion of boundless open spaces and of discovery that one feels in the Serengeti when finding an animal.

Apart from the above the weakness of Ngorongoro is the traffic. While in Serengeti a careful planning allows to take advantage of the excellent game viewing skipping the traffic in Ngorongoro there's no way to avoid it not even departing very early in the morning. The only facility located on the crater rim with immediate access to the caldera is Lemala Camp Ngorongoro. Since the camp is set beyond the easter access gate it gives a 30 minutes advantages on vehicles entering from the western gate.

We believe that the crater of Ngorongoro do absolutely deserve to be visited but we do not recommend to descent twice. A second day on site is definitely better spent visiting the eastern or southern highlands.

There are several facilities on the crater rim with a view.
Also the nearby town of Karatu offers a variety of options and according to your specific itinerary we are keen in arraging a night somewhere here.

Accommodation in Ngorongoro and Karatu

Migration in Ngorongoro crater


The highlands of Ngorongoro are commonly associated to the majestic crater but as soon as you move away from it a stunningly beautiful and wild landscape opens out in front of you and the visitors traffic drops dramatically. They extend eastwards of the Ngorongoro crater, are are bounded southwards by the Great Rift Valley and northwards by the Serengeti's savannahs. They include the crater of Olmoti, Mount Loolmalasin, the crater of Empakaai up to the active volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai [the mountain of God], a perfect cone sacred to the Masai. If you wish to spend a second day in Ngorongoro then you should not think of a second descent into the crater, but rather to a full day to explore this area.

The beautiful drive toward Empakai crater and the hiking in site could perhaps make of this day one of the most rewarding one of your trip: after breakfast you will depart by 4x4 with armed ranger aboard and drive all along the dirt road that skirts the crater rim until you will reach Nainokanoka gate nearby the Olmoti crater. From here until you reach Empakai crater it is a very beautiful and scenic 2 hours drive through a volcanic mountain landscape with virtually no other vehicle except yours. You will encounter little masai settlements, children taking care of cows and goats flocks, masai warriors moving to destinations unknown to us, few women intent on gathering herbs and roots: real snapshots on their daily life. None of them will approach you to get something or to sell you something, none of them is after you they are simply after their day. Nearby Empakai you will leave the car and start walking through the pristine forest up to the rim and down into the crater where lays the soda lake often covered in flocks of flamingos. The hike can take 3 up to 4 hours depending on whether you decide to descent from the southern wall [1 km. 700 meters of altitude. 1,5 hr] or from the eastern one [2 km. 300 meters of altitude. 2 hr]. Both ways the crater's sides are steepy.

Trekking in the eastern highlands of Ngorongoro


Leaving the Ngorongoro Crater on your right and driving along the dirt road which passes beside a few Masai settlements you will reach the Irsimigiyo hills. If you have a full day time you can climb to the summit of Mount Lemagarut, if you have only a few hours you can walk in the meadows until you will reach the lookout point on Lake Eyasi escrpment .

Monte Lemagarut:
that is a tough hiking for well trained people. After breakfast you will depart by 4x4 with armed ranger aboard and drive west of the crater to Irmisigiyo hill, which you will reach in about 20 minutes. From here you will start hiking through woods, meadows and forest valleys untill you will reach the top of Lemagarut [3147 mt]. On a clear day the view can encompass the endless savannah of the Serengeti, Lake Eyasi at the foot of the rift escarpment and the Ngorongoro Crater That is a physically demanding hiking [4.5 km. 800 m. in altitude. 7 hours].

Walk to the lookout on Lake Eyasi escarpment: if after visiting the Ngorongoro crater you still have 2 or 3 hours of time left you can enjoy walking in the meadows reaching a point where the view opens up over the escarpment of the Rift Lake Eyasi, the Hadzabe Bushmen land.Since there are Masai settlements around it is very rare to encounter here harmful wildlife and you are more likely to sight masai herds and zebras. Anyway this is still part of a wild environment and you will be escorted by an armed ranger.

Zebras in the western highlands of Ngorongoro


The savannas north of the Ngorongoro Crater are under the jurisdiction of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area but as a matter of fact they are part of the Serengeti ecosystem and constitute a very important leg of the migration of wildebeest and zebras.
In December the migration should have reached these fertile plains where, unless rains stop,
herds will remain untill the end of March when calves should be ready for the long 800 km journey across Serengeti

The most interesting areas in the above mentioned months are the Salei plains, the le Gol Mountains, Lake Ndutu and Lake Masek:
The Salei plains and the Gol Mountains: While arid and deserted in dry season as soon as rains start the landscape become splendid. Along with wildbeest, zebras and gazelles you can expect to find here their predators and carnivores therefore to sight voltures [who nest in the nearby Olkarien gorge and Nasera Rock], lions, cheetahs, hyenas and with a bit of luck wild dogs. Resident game includes jackals, foxes, ostriches, honey budger. Thanks to the lack of trees and bush, kills should be easy to locate and extremely cruel if carried out by hyenas or wild dogs. Interesting as well the fact that the area is located inside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area extending to Loliondo which means you are very likely to encounter here some Masai people. Due to the fact that this area is very rarely visited by the majority of tourists encounters occur in a non-commercial context enhancing your experience. Depending on the track that you will follow you might expect to see as well the shifting sands or pass by Olduvai Gorge. The shifting sands consist of some anthracite color sand dunes whose electromagnetism prevent the wind to disperse them causing instead their slow sliding year after years. Olduvai Gorge is is an important prehistoric site where fossils of austeropiteco bosei, homo abilis and di homo erectus were found therefore demonstrating that the specieausteropiteco coexisted with the two species homo of but all most relevant archaeological findings have been moved to Dar Es Salaam Natural History Museum therefore unless specifically requested we tend to skip its visit. About 40 km away from Olduvai, precisely in Laetoli, in 1979, the foortprints of two adults and a child dating back about 3,5 milions year were discovered. At that time that was the oldest evidence for upright bipedal walking. Hhowever, the footprints have been covered againand the site is no longer accessible.
Lake Ndutu
and Lake Masek: they both pertain to the system of short grass savannahs. The area is characterized by the two alkaline lakes and by the surrounding marshes. Migration apart, resident game nearby the lakes and the swamps includes elephants, ostriches, giraffes, impala, gazelles, 2 lions prides [the Masek pride and the Ndutu pride], cheetahs, spotted hyenas, hippos, crocodiles, jackals and more than 400 species of birds. With the migration on site working as a catalyst, the presence of carnivores and predators intensifies: ruppels griffons and vultures come in together with other lions, other hyenas, other cheetahs, other jackals. If lucky you might also spot wild dogs, caracals and the most elusive striped hyena.

For further informations on the wildbeest migration and to understand how this area is normally planned into a safari refer to the Serengeti page and in particular the months from December to March and April.

Accommodation in Serengeti south and Ngorongoro north

volcanic dust in the Salei plains


The above chart and the below comments refers to the climate of the highlands. The northern savannahs are subject to a different climate being part of the Serengeti ecosystem.

The weather in the highland tend to be a good deal more unstable and variable compared to the weather of the lowlands which is due in part to the rain forest and there are significant temperatures fluctuations in between day and night.
During the day average temperatures are 26-27°but drop considerably if the sky is overcast. At any time of year you need to bring a good pile, wool socks, a pajamas and a cap for safari at dawn. In the coldest months [June, July and August] after dusk and at dawn temperatures can drop to 0-3 degrees.

January and February: both months fall within the green season that is supposed to start in November and stop within mid of May. However they tend to have little rain compared to the months that precede and follow them [respectively 10 and 4 rainy days per month and 8 and 10 sunshine hours per day out of approx. 12 hours daylight all year round].

March: usually by mid of march the long rains start. Despite an increase of the rainy days the amount of sunshine hours per day remains quite high and equal to 8 out of 12 hours daylight.

April: It is the wettest month of the year which sees rains for 17 days on 30. The average of sunshine hours is 7 hours per day out of 12 hours daylight and the sky tend to be overcast. We would recommend to avoid camping.

May: within mid of may rains usually stop and average of sunshine hours is 6 out of 12, basicly half of the day. The sky could be overcast.

June July and August: can be considered dry season and the average of rainy days drop to a minimun but the sky still tend to be overcast and there could be a good deal of mist which anyway never affect the crater floor. The situation improves by mid-August.

September and October: are dry month. Sunshine hours tend to increase along with temperatures. There should not be mist and the sky tend to be clear altough overcasting remain possible.

November: here on the highlands it is the wettest month of the year with possible showers during the day but also a good deal of sunshine hours and clear sky in between. The average is of 7 hours of sunshine out of 12 hours daylight.

December: here on the highlands it is the third wettest month of the year but it has at the same time the highest amount of sunshine hours per day with an average of 8 out of 12 total hours of sun light.

NOTE: The histogram above represents the statistical average of rainy days per month and sunshine hours per day for the highlands of Ngorongoro. In this regard, it must be said that as in the rest of the world in Tanzania as well the climate is changing and there are years in which, for instance, a month like April does not experience rains while traditionally dry months turn out to be wet. The chart and the above comments should be taken as a reference guide but with no absolute value.