Words Alia Fawaz

There are plenty of exceptional safari destinations throughout Africa that are worth exploring. One of them is the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, which is found within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It is the greatest self-contained wildlife sanctuary in the world, and it is unlike anything else on the African continent. Once a gigantic volcano, the Ngorongoro Crater is a massive, fully intact caldera (collapsed volcano) that extends for 20 kilometers bordered by steep slopes that are 600 meters tall. On the base of this crater is a stunning and dramatic landscape of golden savannah plains and spectacular lakes fed by freshwater springs. Here you will find a huge diversity of wildlife, including species that are not present in the neighboring and more famous Serengeti plains.

Some experts believe that before the volcano mountain erupted, it would have been higher than Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. Long since having collapsed and eroded, this three-million-year-old caldera is teeming with life, protected by the high crater walls and the moderate climate. It houses towering euphorbia clinging to the crater walls, while fever and fig tree forests on the crater floor provide shade for an incredible array of animals, with plentiful water and grass for them to feed on.

A diversity of wildlife

You don’t have to look hard for wildlife as an estimated 25,000 large mammals call it their home.  Plenty of black-maned lions can be spotted on the grasslands, while buffalo can be seen from miles away, stampeding in their glorious herds. The more elusive leopards and cheetahs may be seen sprinting for prey or sitting perched on the rocky kopjes. The giant tusked elephants are usually nestled in the forests at the crater’s rim feeding on the bark of the acacia trees. And by the edge of the soda lakes, a crowd of pink flamingos comes to rest and quenches its thirst. You can also spot the smaller animals such as the golden and black-bared jackal and the serval, which can be seen during the day, despite being nocturnal animals.

Africa's sanctuary2

Human ancestors

Not far from the heart of the wildlife – in the Great Rift Valley, between the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti National Park – lies the Olduvai Gorge, another famous landmark. Paleoanthropologists flock here, as the site holds the earliest evidence of human ancestors. Hundreds of fossilized bones and stone tools in the area dating back millions of years have been unearthed.

Experts believe that Homo habilis, the first early human species, occupied this area approximately 1.9 million years ago. There is also a fascinating museum at the site where you can learn more about the discoveries made in the early 20th-century. These discoveries provide important insights into our very distant ancestors, who evolved in Africa. From the earliest human life to the most spectacular collection of wild animals, Ngorongoro is steeped in history and awash with natural beauty. No doubt it is one of those magical destinations that should not be missed in a lifetime.