The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is located in the Crater Highlands of Tanzania. Occupying approximately 8 300 square kilometres, it extends over parts of the Rift Valley of eastern Africa and contains a diversity of habitats and landscapes, including grassland plains, savannah woodlands, forests, mountains, a volcanic crater, lakes, rivers and swampland. Also located in the Crater are the major archaeological sites of Olduvai Gorge and Laetolil.
The area is part of the Serengeti ecosystem and, to the northwest, adjoins the Serengeti National Park and is contiguous with the southern Serengeti Plains. The Serengeti is Tanzania’s largest and most highly-recognised national park, with the ecosystem extending beyond the park to include several conservation areas and reserves, including the Maasai Mara in Kenya. A recently proclaimed seventh world-wonder, the Serengeti is famed for its annual great migration, when millions of hooves pound the open plains as zebra and Thomson’s gazelle join the wildebeest in search of fresh grazing.
The main feature of the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority is the Ngorongoro Crater. Situated within the plains of south-east Serengeti, this breathtaking natural wonder is approximately 20km across, 600 meters deep and has a surface area of about 300 square kilometres.
The Crater floor is mostly open grassland, home to lush green, rain-watered vegetation, as well as desert plants. The Crater bush is covered by open short-grass plains with fresh and brackish-water lakes, marshes, swamps, and two patches of Acacia woodland. The rolling plains to the west are grass-covered with occasional Umbrella Acacia and Commiphora Africana trees.
The Crater, once a gigantic volcano, is the largest intact caldera in the world. A number of highly-endangered black rhino are protected within its rim, elephants wander its forest, black-maned lions track its grasslands, and flamingos crowd its salty lakes. An estimated 25 000 large mammals are resident in this bowl, including a population of approximately 6 000 resident wildebeest, and 70 lions. Cheetah move in and out of the Crater, while leopard are most often encountered in the picturesque Lerai Forest.
The Crater is the starting point for the annual migration when wildebeest, zebra and gazelle gather here in their thousands before setting off on the first leg of their journey around the Greater Mara Ecosystem early in the year, only to end back here at the end of the journey at year end.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area has a mild, temperate climate. The area experiences two wet seasons. October to November are characterised by 'short' rains, followed by the 'long rains' from March to May. Rainfall is experienced in the form of showers and thunder in the afternoon, but it rarely rains the whole day. The crater doesn’t get very hot during the day, but its rim gets cold and can be freezing at night. The dry season extends from June to October.