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Ngorongoro
The usual approach to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is from the town of Arusha, about 180 kilometers (112.5 miles) to the north. The first 80 kilometers (50 miles) are on good tar road, but the rest is on rather poor quality gravel road. The gravel leads to the village of Mto-wa-Mbu, on the edge of Lake Manyara National Park. Petrol and diesel are available in the village. The road climbs to the top of the rift wall, passes through densely populated agricultural land and enters Ngorongoro at the Lodware Gate.

The only other official entry point into the area is from the Serengeti National Park. The distance by road from the park's headquarters to the headquarters of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is 152 kilometers (95 miles) on a fairly good, all-weather gravel road, although this is corrugated in parts. Entry into the Ngorongoro Crater is by four-wheel-drive vehicle only, and all side tracks elsewhere are unsuitable for two-wheel-drive vehicles. Various tracks, largely impassable during the rainy season, enter the area from the north and southwest. These numerous tracks are in remote areas and can be confusing; it is therefore not advisable to negotiate them without being accompanied by a guide. Special permission is required if you enter by any of these alternative routes.

It is also possible to fly in to the airstrip on the crater rim, some three kilometers (1.8 miles) from the headquarters. Details of the various safari companies that offer this service, as well as tours of the northern Tanzanian parks and conservation areas, can be obtained from a travel agent. Most companies offer transport, accommodation or camping, and collection from the airport. Those visitors using their own aircraft can hire vehicles with drivers at the headquarters. Ndutu Lodge, overlooking Lake Ndutu on the Serengeti border, has its own airstrip and several strips for light aircraft lie outside the conservation area.


Entry Requirements

All visitors need a valid passport to enter Tanzania. All visa requirements should be checked with your travel agent, or the Tanzanian representative in your country. If you are travelling with your own vehicle into Tanzania, you will require a carnet de passage, insurance cover and an international driver's license. It is also necessary to purchase a foreign vehicle road permit at the border and pay a road toll tax. It is advisable to check on all your documentary requirements well before the trip.

It is not necessary to make reservations in advance to enter the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and entry permits may be obtained at the Lodware Gate, the Naabi Hill Gate in the southern Serengeti, and the conservation area headquarters at Ngorongoro. Non- Tanzanian residents are required to pay any fees in US dollars. If you intend going into the Ngorongoro Crater, you are obliged to take an official guide with you at an additional fee. Guides are based at the conservation area headquarters. All entrance fees are valid for a period of 24 hours only. If you leave only an hour or two after the expiry of the 24-hour period, you will be charged the full amount once more. The gates into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area open at 6:00 a.m. and close at 7:00 p.m., but movement is allowed after dark between the campsites and the lodges. Take your rubbish away with you, or leave it at one of the lodges. Remember that potentially dangerous animals roam throughout the area, so it is advisable to be cautious. If you photograph Maasai people, you must first ask permission, and you will be expected to pay.

Most visitors to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area include a visit to the adjacent Serengeti National Park in their itinerary. This is a vast conserved area, covering almost 15,000 square kilometers (9,375 square miles), and together with Ngorongoro, Masai Mara and adjoining game reserves, forms a block of land that is critical to the wellbeing of the great herds of game and the ever-present predators. The western plains of Ngorongoro are a natural extension of the extensive Serengeti Plain, and it is within this system that the wildebeest, plains zebra, topi, hartebeest and gazelles undertake their seasonal movements.

There are two principal entry points into the Serengeti National Park, the most heavily used at Naabi Hill Gate between Ngorongoro and the park, and the other into the western corridor at Ndabaka Gate close to the eastern shore of Lake Victoria. On most maps the Bologonja Gate, at the border between Serengeti and Masai Mara, is marked but entry here is not recommended. People have been turned back at the border, as it is no longer an official crossing point.


Accommodation and Facilities

Simba is the Conservation Area Authority's only campsite on the crater rim. It has pit toilets and showers that are usually overworked, very little shade and the campsite is frequently very crowded. Nevertheless, it is a nice location, and a short walk away from excellent views into the crater. Buffalo, elephant and lion frequent the rim woodlands, and you should move with caution. The camping fee is steep, but is still considerably cheaper than staying in the lodges. If you stay at the Simba campsite, you can visit the lodge bars and restaurants after dark, but drive with caution, as many animals move through the area at night. There are two privately run camps, one near Olduvai and the other in the vicinity of Ndutu, both of which charge double the rate of the conservation authority camp. To stay at these campsites it is necessary to book in advance with the tourism office at the conservation area headquarters.

Although many of the guidebooks indicate that camping is allowed at designated sites on the crater floor, this is in fact no longer the case. They were closed due to disturbance of the wildlife. There are no plans to reopen them. Camping is not allowed elsewhere in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area without special permission, and if granted, you will probably be obliged to take a guide. There are currently four lodges around the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater: Crater Lodge (Windsor International Hotel Ltd, PO Box 751, Arusha, Tanzania), Wildlife Lodge (Tanzania Hotels Investment, PO Box 877, Arusha, Tanzania), Rhino Lodge (Rhino Lodge, PO Box 792, Arusha, Tanzania) and Sopa Lodge (Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, PO Box 1823, Arusha, Tanzania). Near the descent road into the crater is the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge, which was still under construction at the time of writing. Ndutu Lodge (Ndutu Safari Lodge, PO Box 6084, Arusha, Tanzania), the only other lodge in the conservation area, lies in the northwest, bordering on the Serengeti National Park.

Although advance booking is recommended at the lodges, the casual visitor probably stands a good chance of securing accommodation. It is unlikely that all of them will be filled to capacity at anyone time. If you are entering the conservation area from Arusha and you wish to break your journey, there are three alternatives. The Lake Manyara National Park offers "rondavels" and cooking and ablution facilities, as well as a campsite at the park entrance. The park headquarters lie just beyond the village of Mto-wa-Mbu and are clearly signposted. The Lake Manyara Hotel (Tanzania Hotels Investment, PO Box 877, Arusha, Tanzania) is situated above Lake Manyara, on the edge of the escarpment, and has excellent views over the lake and plains. The approach road is badly corrugated and it is necessary to pass through a squalid curio 'village' on the way, but the hotel is pleasant. Gibbs' Farm (Ngorongoro Safari Lodge, PO Box 6084, Arusha, Tanzania) lies on the outer slopes of Ngorongoro among coffee plantations and forest. It offers 30 beds. The turnoff is clearly posted from the main road.

In the Serengeti National Park there are two large lodges, the Seronera Wildlife Lodge and Lobo Lodge. The former is centrally situated and the latter is located some 70 kilometers (43.75 miles) to the northeast. They have been built among granite outcroppings and offer impressive views of the grasslands. They have 150 beds, with full catering and en suite facilities. There is a swimming pool at Lobo Lodge. Bookings for each of the lodges can be arranged through Serengeti Safari Lodges Limited, P.O. Box 3100, Arusha, Tanzania.

There are four campsites at Seronera, one at Lobo, one at Morn Kopjes and one each at Naabi Hill Gate and at Kirawira. Some have pit toilets but none have water. Most are pleasantly located but visitors must always be aware that none of the camps is fenced and that potentially dangerous game, such as buffalo and lion, frequently passes through.


When to Go

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is open throughout the year, but during the rainy season (from November to May), movement may be restricted. Within the crater, itself high densities of game are present all year round, but on the plains, the quantity of game is dictated by the availability of food and water. Even during the height of the dry season (from June to October), you can still expect to see a wide variety of resident mammal and bird species on the western plains. It is during the rains that many game species drop their young, and it is also the best time to see migrant bird species. Each of the seasons has plenty to offer the visitor.


Currency

Non-Tanzanian residents will be expected to pay park and lodge fees in foreign currency, usually US dollars, but food, alcohol, fuel and other purchases can be made in Tanzanian shillings. Currency should be changed at the state banks as they generally give the best rate. Do not change money on the street as it is illegal police traps are common and the penalties severe. Most of the major credit cards, such as Visa and MasterCard, are accepted at the lodges but the majority of retail outlets insist on cash.


Getting Around

As previously mentioned, there are numerous safari companies that take clients into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, usually as part of a tour package. If you have no experience of African travel, an organized tour is highly recommended. Apart from the big operators, there are several smaller, more personalized safari outfits available that cover Ngorongoro, Serengeti and Masai Mara.

If you are driving yourself, follow the established roads and tracks. Qnly if you have secured permission and are well equipped (preferably with two vehicles) should you head for such locales as the Gol mountains, Nasera Rock and the western Salei Plains. Most excursions from the main roads should be restricted to the dry season. The main, all-weather roads are in reasonable condition, but corrugated in parts and flash floods can wash away the roads. If you intend to explore, take sufficient fuel, water, food and spares, as a breakdown away from the principal routes could leave you stranded for several days. Permission to camp away from the designated sites must be obtained from the conservation area headquarters.

If you arrive on a motorbike or bicycle, or on foot, you will require permission to enter the conservation area, and this is not always forthcoming. Hitchhikers have been known to enter the area, relying on those visitors with vehicles to take them into the crater and elsewhere, but entry is not guaranteed.


What to Take

The clothing you need depends on the time of year you intend to visit Ngorongoro. During the early part of the dry season (June and July), it can be very chilly at night, particularly in the eastern highlands, and evenings remain cool until about October. For dry-season evenings, you will need a jersey and jacket, but the days are generally mild. During the rainy season, it is much warmer and frequently hot, particularly on the plains. At all times of the year you should wear a broad-brimmed hat and a sunscreen. All your clothing should be comfortable and cool cotton is recommended Take all your photographic film, spare batteries and cleaning materials; the latter are essential because of the fine dust that, if not removed, can ruin your equipment. If you are travelling independently ensure that you have adequate fuel supplies -- petrol and diesel are available only at the conservation area headquarters. Fuel is also available at Seronera in the Serengeti, and at Mto-wa-Mbu near Lake Manyara.


General Information

Poaching is an ever-present problem in any conservation area, but the Ngorongoro Conservation Area has fared considerably better than most, primarily because the nomadic Maasai pastoralists are not generally meat-eaters. There is, however, some subsistence poaching, although the problem is much greater in the western corridor of Serengeti. In recent years, a more worrying trend has taken hold, namely commercial meat poaching. Should you encounter any poachers or freshly butchered carcasses, report your observations as soon as possible to the area headquarters, one of the lodges, or a ranger post on your route. Never try to apprehend poachers, as they are armed and will usually not hesitate to shoot.

During the dry season, the visitor will encounter grass fires, either within Ngorongoro, Serengeti or fringing areas, and they could have one of several origins. The Maasai pastoralists light fires just prior to the rains in order to encourage the growth of grass for their cattle, but many game species benefit from this. There are also the fires started by cattle rustlers and poachers in an attempt to hide their tracks. These are wildfires that usually run out of control, and in an effort to limit the damage resulting from these burns, the authorities in both conservation areas occasionally conduct controlled burning.

When leaving your vehicle in the conservation area, it is important to follow a few simple rules, which are really just plain common sense. Never get out of your vehicle in dense undergrowth, as the bush could also be harboring such species as lion or leopard. Even in seemingly open terrain with minimal cover, it is essential that you check carefully that you are alone, as even a lion can blend superbly into the foreground. Do not climb out of your vehicle close to any game species, as you will only disturb them and they will move away.

Within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, you should never wander too far from your vehicle, as it is very easy to become quite disorientated and consequently lost. Walking should not be contemplated unless you are accompanied by a competent guide. Although this applies throughout the area, it is extremely important in the hill country, the Gol mountains and Olduvai.


Medical Information

The whole of northern Tanzania is a malaria area, and you should ensure that you are on a suitable course of anti-malaria tablets. Consult your doctor for the most suitable prophylactic before entering East Africa. You should also sleep under a mosquito net, use suitable insect repellents and wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers after sunset. Tsetse flies are known to be present in the lower lying woodland areas towards Serengeti.

Only drink bottled water, or water that you have boiled or treated with chlorine tablets -- do not be tempted to drink stream water, or water directly from taps. Beware of ice cubes and ice cream, salads and unpeeled fruits, as they are potential disease carriers.

Check with your doctor which immunizations are required for Tanzania; at the time of writing only yellow fever was essential, but your physician may recommend additional vaccinations such as polio and typhoid.

If you are on medication you should carry all your requirements for the duration of your trip. It is also advisable to carry a basic first-aid kit containing such basics as aspirin, plasters and an antiseptic, as medical facilities are limited. Although the chances of serious illness or injury are small, it is worthwhile taking out a reliable medical insurance that includes repatriation in an emergency.


About the Authors

Chris and Tilde Stuart are well known for the quality of their research in the books they have written. As founders of the African Carnivore Research Programme, which was recently expanded to the African Arabian Wildlife Research Centre, they are involved in research on African and Arabian carnivores and endangered species, and contribute widely on the subject in both scientific journals and popular magazines. The content in this section was originally printed in Great Game Parks of Africa: "Ngorongoro Conservation Area", Struik Publishers (Pty) Ltd., 1995

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