The Ngorongoro Conservation Area covers 8,300 square kilometers. As you just read it is not a national park, but a conservation area. The difference between the two is that the latter is administered by the tribes of the area, not by the government; in these areas the environment is preserved and the right to settlement of the Maasai is recognized. It has been a UNESCO heritage site since 1978 and International Biosphere Reserve since 1981.
This area of Ngorongoro has various ecosystems such as forests, meadows, and vast grass expanses bordering the Serengeti National Park. Here you can see the famous Ngorongoro Crater, with an area of 265 km2, the Olmoti volcano, the Empakai Crater and the Ngorongoro Plains. The plains are an essential part of the Serengeti ecosystem, as they play a crucial role in the Great Migration between December and April.
The Ngorongoro Crater environment is unique in the world, being what remains of an old volcanic cone whose summit collapsed 2.5 million years ago, creating the current caldera – a truncated cone that has a “pan” 16/20 km in diameter. The perimeter raises about 600 meters over the bottom and its edges reach an altitude of 2300m above sea level, offering magnificent views.
The crater’s inside has developed into a savannah, where now over 25,000 large animals live; every species lives within the crater, except for giraffes, which cannot find food there. It is a real paradise, a perfect place to end our safari. It could be argued that the charm of safaris is lost here, due to its orographic formation, a little wide plain protected by steep walls, the animals are here resting, and the seeking experience is lost.
Because of everything mentioned above and the fact that the whole area can be covered in six hours, it is advisable to devote only one day to exploring the crater day.
This is a lake located south-east of the Ngorongoro plateau. The Hadzabe bushmen live in the outlying region and are a very interesting group, because they are the last civilization that doesn’t know metallurgy, ceramics, livestock and agriculture. Their lifestyle relies on hunting with bow and gathering wild fruits and berries. For thousands of years their style of living has not changed, they are organized into groups of about twenty people. They are a nomadic tribe, heir to the homo sapiens, who settled along the Rift Valley around 200,000 years ago. The opportunity of enjoying a hunting day with them, and seeing their primitive way of living for yourself is an unforgettable experience.
The Datoga can be found in this region as well, a tribe dedicated to livestock. This is a polygamous tribe coming from Africa’s Horn, who arrived to this area in search of pasture for livestock. You will also have the chance, as with the bushmen, to visit their village and see the blacksmith’s shop. There you will see the ancient techniques for the production of everyday objects, jewelry, arrows, etc, for their Hadzabe neighbours, who pay them with leather or honey. Finally, we should mention that few travelers visit this region, but those who do so, come back completely impressed.
Lake Natron is an alkaline lake in a depression of the Rift Valley, a region of lava desert in northern Tanzania, which covers an area about 50 kilometers long and 25 wide. This lake is a nesting site of pink flamingos. These birds have this pink hue from a high concentration of cyanobacteria in the lake.
This is a desert area dominated by the sacred volcano for the Maasai, Ol Doyno Lengai, which is considered the dwelling of the Lengai God. It has an altitude of nearly 3000 meters and is the only active volcano on the planet that contains natrocarbonite lava. This lava is rich in sodium carbonate, which is not very dense and has a lower temperature other volcanoes’ (between 500 and 590º). After the eruption, when in contact with water, the natrocarbonatite lava rapidly changes from dark to white, making the top of the volcano look like wrapped in snow.
The last eruption was between December 2007 and January 2008 and this is a volcano that erupts every 7 or 8 years so the next eruption must be close. The last eruption hindered the ascent and it became more complicated. With the next one on its way, the rest areas may also change.
Although the road to reach Natron is quite long, it’s a journey offering the chance to find Maasai communities and quite a lot of animals (zebra, giraffe, wildebeest …). Apart from the climb to Ol Doinyo Lengai, other activities are offered, such as walking along the lake to see the concentration of flamingos or trekking along the Sero Engare river (five hours) on the rocky gorge. We will arrive at its wonderful source, close to several waterfalls where we may freshen up.
This is the closest park to Arusha. Here we can find very different environments: forests where Colobus monkeys with black and white and fringed hair and blue monkeys live; the spectacular Ngudoto Crater, where we may find buffalos and wild boars, and in the Momela Lakes we may find pink flamingos. All this scenery is under the reign of Mount Meru, and on clear days you can also see the snowy white summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, which is 50 km away.
Tarangire National Park is 2600 km2, 30 km from east to west, 100 km from north to south and its landscape is completely different from other parks in northern Tanzania.
Tarangire is the park of giants; it protects immense baobabs, many herds of elephants, lions, antelopes, wildebeest, leopards, buffaloes and hundreds of species of resident and migratory birds.
The center for life in this populated park is the river, although in the dry season it becomes a swamp, since it is the only source of water one can find. Tarangire’s hills have a rough and wild look, the scenery is certainly impressive.
The most famous and renowned park in Tanzania and the world is undoubtedly the Serengeti. This park is home to over 1.5 million wildebeest, 300,000 zebras and 500,000 Thomson’s gazelle, over 2,700 lions, 1,000 leopards, 500 cheetahs and large herds of elephants. There are also impalas, genets, waterbucks, giraffes, elands, ostriches, and the streams are dotted with crocodiles and hippos. In addition to this, there are more than 400 species of birds.
The 15,000 kilometers of Serengeti National Park are just the main part of a larger ecosystem, which also includes the Ngorongoro and Masai Mara Plains (located in Kenya). The largest migratory movement of wild animals in the world takes place here – the famous great migration of the Serengeti. The route to be followed every year cannot be precisely determined as it is closely linked to the evolution of rainfall and water.
We must also say that a population of residents and non-migrating herbivores may be found along the river. Moreover, gazelles, antelopes and giraffes are more sedentary, and are concentrated in scarce water areas during the dry season, which results in group of lions and other felines.
December to April: After the short rainy season, huge herds gather in the rich and nutritious low grass plains, located in between Ngorongoro and Southern Serengeti. January to March is also the calving season – 80% of the births happen at this time, and the big cats anxiously wait for this moment. The period from December to March is considered high season, just as from July to September.
May to June: After the rainy season and after running out of pasture in the low grass plains, the herds start moving towards the north through different routes, to Central Serengeti and the Western Corridor. During the month of May, ungulates increasingly gather along the Grumeti River. This doesn’t look like anything bigger than a stream, but it is filled with Nile crocodiles, and herbivores must cross to reach the northern Serengeti common grazing area during this period.
July to September: The herds move even more to the north, towards northern Serengeti. It is amazing to witness the epic crossing of the Mara river, where huge crocodiles live.
October to November: With the short rainy season coming, the herds start moving down south, crossing the areas of Wolf and Klein’s in northeastern Serengeti.
The park of Lake Manyara, located south of the Rift Valley,has an extension of 300 square kilometers being the lake itself being 200 of them. It is host to very different landscapes even if it is small compared to the other parks. The environment ranges from dense forests to savannas, including wetlands. There are many species of animals, such as baboons, vervet monkeys, elephants, giraffes, 380 species of birds … And among the birds we must highlight the flamingos, who are here from December to March and then migrate to Lake Natron between June and October. We can also see many predators, like leopards and lions; the latter is particularly interesting here because they have grown accustomed to climbing trees due to the soil’s moisture.