The Ngorongoro Conservation Authority area boasts the world-famous crater at its heart, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area extends over a massive 8,300 square kilometres. It is located within a range of volcanic mountains in northern Tanzania, bounded to the east by the Great Rift Valley and to the north and to the west by the Serengeti National Park, and it includes several other extinct volcanoes (even an active one) and habitats that range from grasslands, swamps, lakes and rivers to woodlands, forests and desert-like dunes.
Other than the Ngorongoro Crater, there are other, smaller craters in the Conservation Area to explore, most notably Olmoti crater and Empakaai Crater which are accessible. Empakaai is probably one of the most scenic locations within these volcanic highlands, with eye catching views down to the deep soda lake that covers about half the crater floor, and others east to the snow-clad peak of Mount Kilimanjaro and to the north-east is the Oldoinyo Lengai which is an active volcano, the Maasai people's 'mountain of God' that still bellows, bubbles and belches steam and ash from its top.
Another two volcanoes, declared extinct but landmark peaks for travellers winding their way down from the Ngorongoro highlands westward to the Serengeti Plains. These are Lemagrut and Sadiman, and it was ash discharged from the Sadiman volcano that preserved the fossil hominid footprints and animal tracks at Laetoli further west and gave modern man an insight into his predecessors and other prehistoric inhabitants of this area. But even more has been learned about early hominids at Oldupai Gorge, at the base of these hills.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area has alot to offer but the jewel in its crown is without reasonable doubt the reason for the name of the crater. 'It is impossible to give a fair description of the size and beauty of the Crater which has no comparison. It is one of the wonders of the world.'
Declared a World Heritage Site in 1978, Ngorongoro Crater is undoubtedly one of the most impressive attractions of Tanzania and Africa as a whole, and one of the world's greatest wildlife locations. The view from its rim into the 260-square-kilometer caldera could even rank as the most inspiring view Africa has ever possessed
The Ngorongoro crater floor is home to one of the highest densities of lions in Africa, with numbers estimated to alternate between 80 and 100. Black rhinos, and elephants are a common sight here – in fact, this is perhaps the best place in Africa for viewing them in their natural and intact wild habitat. The leopard, is seen quite frequently in the woodlands of the Lerai Forest, whilst spotted hyenas are both common and numerous. Other predators you are likely to see include serval, black-backed and golden jackals, and bat-eared fox.
Of the large wildebeest population in the crater, some join the annual migration to the Masai Mara but plenty of others remain all year round. Buffalo, topi, reedbuck, Grant's and Thomson's gazelles, Coke's hartebeest (kongoni), zebra and hippo all occur in good numbers but notably absent from the crater floor are woodland species such as the impala and the giraffe.
For bird watching enthusiasts the opportunities are countless, with a large variety of raptors, waterbirds and others present at any time. Keep a lookout for the majestic augur buzzards that are common in these highlands. Lesser and greater flamingos fill the shores of the soda waters of Lake Magadi at the heart of the crater floor, creating a colourful spectacle when they are present in large numbers. The flamingos, which breed at the neighbouring Lake Natron, visit Lake Magadi to feed in its nutrient-rich waters.