The jewel in Ngorongoro's crown is a deep, volcanic crater, the largest un flooded and unbroken caldera in the world. About 20kms across, 600 meters deep and 300 sq kms in area, the Ngorongoro Crater is a breathtaking natural wonder.The Ngorongoro Crater is one of Africa’s most famous sites and is said to have the highest density of wildlife in Africa. Sometimes described as an ‘eighth wonder of the world’, the Crater has achieved world renown, attracting an ever-increasing number of visitors each year. You are unlikely to escape other vehicles here, but you are guaranteed great wildlife viewing in a genuinely mind-blowing environment. There is nowhere else in Africa quite like Ngorongoro!
The Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera. Forming a spectacular bowl of about 265 square kilometres, with sides up to 600 metres deep; 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.
The crater floor consists of a number of different habitats that include grassland, swamps, forests and Lake Masek (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.
Olduvai Gorge and Laetolia
Olduvai Gorge is a site in Tanzania that holds the earliest evidence of the existence of human ancestors. Paleoanthropologists have found hundreds of fossilized bones and stone tools in the area dating back millions of years, leading them to conclude that humans evolved in Africa. Olduvai is a misspelling of Oldupai, a Maasai word for a wild sisal plant that grows in the area. The gorge is located in the Great Rift Valley, between the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti National Park. It is 30 miles from Laetoli, another fossil-rich area. Olduvai Gorge was formed about 30,000 years ago, the result of aggressive geological activity and streams.
The steep ravine is about 30 miles (48.2 km) long and 295 feet (89.9 meters) deep, not quite large enough to be classified as a canyon. A river cuts through several layers to form four individual beds, with the oldest estimated at about 2 million years old. At Laetoli, west of Ngorongoro Crater, hominid footprints are preserved in volcanic rock 3.6 millions years old and represent some of the earliest signs of mankind in the world. Three separate tracks of a small-brained upright walking early hominid. Australopithecus afarensis, a creature about 1.2 to 1.4 meters high, were found. Imprints of these are displayed in the Oldupai museum.
More advanced descendants of Laetoli’s hominids were found further north, buried in the layers of the 100 meters deep Oldupai Gorge. Excavations, mainly by the archaeologist Louis and Mary Leakey, yielded four different kinds of hominid, showing a gradual increases in brain size and in the complexity of their stone tools. The first skull of Zinjanthropus, commonly known as ‘Nutcracker Man’ who lived about 1.75 millions years ago, was found here. The most important find include Home habilis, Zinjathropus and the Laetoli footprints.
Ngorongoro Crater: Wildlife Highlights
Ngorongoro Crater is one of the most likely areas in Tanzania to see the endangered Black Rhino, as a small population is thriving in this idyllic and protected environment. It is currently one of the few areas where they continue to breed in the wild. Your chances of encountering leopard here are also good, and fabulous black-maned lions. Many flamingos are also attracted to the soda waters of Lake Magadi.
Ngorongoro Crater: Maasai village trips
Part of the reason behind the Ngorongoro Conservation Area has been to preserve the environment for the Maasai people who were diverted from the Serengeti Plains. Essentially nomadic people, they build temporary villages in circular homesteads called bomas. There are possibilities to visit a couple of these now, which have been opened up for tourists to explore. Here you can see how the huts are built in a strict pattern of order according to the chronological order of the wives, and experience what it must be like to rely on warmth and energy from a fire burning at the heart of a cattle dung dwelling with no chimney. These proud cattle herding people have a great history as warriors, and even though they are no longer allowed to build villages inside, they continue to herd their cattle into the crater to graze and drink, regardless of the predators nearby.
Over the last thirty years or so, it has become increasingly apparent that Africa is probably the "Cradle of Mankind". From Africa they spread out to populate the rest of Earth. Remains of the earliest humans were found in Oldupai Gorge.