Visiting the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania is an absolutely remarkable experience for many different reasons. Although it is called the Ngorongoro crater, it is really a giant caldera with steep mountains covered in lush rainforests on all sides. The actual floor of the crater covers roughly 100 square miles and is very flat, making it easy to see the entire expanse of grasslands from any point inside of the crater. We were there as the wildebeest were migrating from Ngorongoro up to the Serengeti National Park and eventually into Kenya and the Maasai Mara. We saw many unique animals during our all day game drive in the crater, but the highlight was certainly seeing six of the eight black rhinos that live in the conservation area, especially since they do their best to avoid humans.
Our day started bright and early as we had to go to a local clinic to take another COVID PCR test in order to be able to go back into Kenya in a couple of days. Fortunately our guides made arrangements with the clinic to get us in before their normal hours, which allowed us to get our tests done quickly and still make it to the crater at dawn. There were heavy clouds hanging in the tropical rainforests as we drove over the mountains and down to base of the crater. The drive very much reminded us of our time driving in Bolivia and going down the famous “Death Road” and we were all happy when we made our way to the flat grasslands, especially our guide Shabani.
Seeing the herds of wildebeest with their ever present partners along the migration trail, the zebras, was truly fascinating. We would also get to see more lions relaxing in the tall grass and getting to see one of the black rhinos close to our Land Cruiser was also a special treat. This would be our first of many days learning what it really means to be on safari. Since the vehicles are restricted to the various roads that traverse the parks and conservation areas, it takes a little bit of luck, lots of patience, and keen eyesight to see many of the different animals. For us, seeing a Caracal, which is a medium size cat that is rare to see, as well as a white tailed mongoose were as amazing as seeing the hippos, rhinos, lions, and other large animals that live in the crater.
All of the guides have radios in their vehicles and when a unique animal sighting is found by one of the guides, they radio the other guides so that they can bring their guests to the location to see the animals as well. This cooperative attitude helps ensure that everyone has the best opportunity to see the various animals, especially when one of the big cats like the lions are spotted as well as rare sightings such as the black rhino. One of the rangers in the park actually used his vehicle along with another guide’s vehicle to move a lone black rhino towards the location on the road where several of us were located. At a certain point the rhino decided that it was tired of being herded and it just stopped before heading back to an isolated area, but not before we were able to get some wonderful views of these amazing animals.
By the time our day ended, the skies had cleared and we were able to get a true sense of the actual crater walls that surrounded us. Although there were still far fewer tourists on safari than under normal circumstances, we probably saw the most other people at the Ngorongoro Crater than anywhere else on safari. It probably has as much to do with the limited size of the crater as well as its popularity, but there were still many hours where it was just us and the hundreds of animals that were grazing in the grasslands. As our guide went into the ranger station to register that we were leaving the park, he made sure to close the roof as there were many baboons in the area. Unfortunately, he forgot to roll the passenger window all of the way up, and within a couple of minutes of him going into the station, a curious baboon jumped onto the hood of our Land Cruiser and was trying to climb in through the window. We had to use our guide’s duffle bag to block the baboon while frantically rolling the window up. The baboons will steal anything that they can get their paws on and we saw another baboon grab a shiny bag from another vehicle and climb into the trees above the parking area.
We finished our third full day on safari by going to the Bougainvillea Lodge where we had them light a fire in the fireplace in our room. It would turn out to be our last night in something other than a tent for several days. For the next several days, we would start by waking up around 5:00 am and getting into the back of our Land Cruiser by 6:00 am. Although it is possible to go out in the morning, returning to the camps for lunch, and then going back out in the afternoon, we spent our entire day on safari. We would become quite comfortable bouncing around in the back of the vehicle as we drove along the rugged roads of the different parks that we visited.