Wedged between the Serengeti and the Great Rift Valley in northern Tanzania lies the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a sweeping landscape of grassy plains, forests, and volcanic craters, including Ngorongoro and Empakaai Craters.
At the heart of this wilderness, andBeyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge sits on the southern rim of the 2,000-foot-high walls of its 10-mile-wide namesake crater, the world’s largest intact caldera. An astonishing 20,000-plus animals populate the open grassland that spreads across the caldera’s floor. UNESCO calls the stunning combination of the landscape and its wildlife concentration “one of the greatest natural wonders of the planet.”
This shallow soda lake attracts huge flocks of pink flamingos to feed on the blue-green algae that flourishes in the alkaline waters.
Some 45 miles northwest of Ngorongoro Crater, this primeval archaeological site holds as many layers of history as it has layers of volcanic ash and lava. On a National Geographic-sponsored excavation in 1959, Louise and Mary Leakey unearthed from these sediment beds a hominid skull dated at 1.8 million years old—at the time, the oldest known human ancestor. Visitors can explore ongoing excavation sites with a guide, and a small museum explains the site’s paleoanthropological discoveries and displays casts of significant fossil finds.
Near Olduvai Gorge, a pair of mysterious, magnetic volcanic ash dunes hold their crescent shape as they slowly creep across the landscape in response to prevailing winds. Local Maasai people believe the ash came from the sacred cone-shaped Ol Doinyo Lengai mountain.
This sister crater to Ngorongoro is four miles wide, free of cars, and half covered by a lake. Bird-watchers flock here to spot barred-tailed trogons, grey-headed negro finches, greater and lesser flamingos, steppe eagles, and crowned eagles.
Bordered by palm trees on the floor of the Rift Valley, this beautiful lake attracts huge flocks of flamingos and pelicans during the wet season (June to November).
The region’s human presence dates back some 3.6 million years. For thousands of years, various pastoralist tribes have populated the area around the crater. Today, more than 40,000 Maasai people continue their traditional way of life here, and grazing their cattle, donkeys, goats, and sheep in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The Hadza, an ancient hunter-gatherer people who speak a unique clicking language, live on the land near Lake Eyasi.
The wildlife density of Ngorongoro Conservation Area is rivaled by few other places on the planet. The walls of the crater harbor critically endangered black rhinos; giant-tusked elephants, buffalos, spotted hyenas, and leopards wander the forests. Around 70 lions stalk the grasslands of the crater floor, and pink flamingos crowd the soda lakes. Cheetahs move in and out of the crater. Thousands of zebras, gazelles, and wildebeests permanently reside here, while the legendary annual migration brings a whopping 1.7 million wildebeest, 260,000 zebras, and 470,000 gazelles through the area. More than 500 bird species have been recorded with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, including the ostrich and the Kori bustard, the world’s heaviest flying bird. Guests don’t even need to leave the lodge to spot elephants or buffalo, which sometimes wander the grounds.
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