After leaving the Serengeti, we headed to our campsite for the last night, at the rim of Ngorongoro Crater. The Crater is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is the world’s largest unfilled volcanic crater. At a depth of over 600 meters, the crater acts as its own ecosystem, with a majority of the wildlife living their entire lifespan inside the crater without venturing out.
The temperature at the rim of the crater was remarkably cooler than the flatlands of the Serengeti, and I found myself bundling up to keep warm at night. Even though we were warned that our campsite might be visited by wildlife as similar to the Serengeti, we did not hear anything during the night. When dawn broke and we exited our tents, we had 2 surprises-the first was a thick fog that enveloped the rim as well as the crater below; and the second surprise that we had another flat tire (our first one occurred as we were exiting the Serengeti the day before. Luckily, each of the 2 cars had 2 spare tires so we were able to get it replaced quickly.
After having breakfast we began our descent into the crater. There are only 2 roads in the crater-one leading in and the other leading out. The atmosphere during the descent made me feel like I was in Jurassic Park, with the lush vegetation and thick fog. When we reached the base of the crater, the fog luckily began to lift, and we were able to see the other side of the crater. It truly was a magnificent sight to see with the flat land surrounded by the steep sides of the crater.
After seeing so many animals the previous day in the Serengeti, I was a bit disappointed with the amount of animals in the crater. We once again saw plenty of wildebeest, although this time we were able to see a few of the males lock horns with each other, as they vied for mates.
We also were able to get good views of the hyenas, as they skulked around the crater.
We stopped to break for lunch by a large pond, where about 15 hippos lounged in the water only about 20 yards away. I have to admit that this was a little unnerving, as hippos are known to be one of the more aggressive animals to humans, and are prone to charging. We made sure to stay close to our vehicles, but luckily, the hippos seemed content in the water. We also had some other visitors in the form of hawks, circling the sky above us, as they eyed our food. As this was a popular spot to break for lunch, these hawks weren’t afraid to swoop down if they sensed they had an opportunity. Some of the others chose to eat lunch inside the vehicle, where they were assured that their lunches would be safe.
After finally sighting two of the black rhinoceros, we had completed seeing all of the “Big 5”. Unfortunately these two rhinos were far away grazing, and seemed content to keep their distance, So we had to resort to viewing them through binoculars. Also seen were zebra, antelope, buffalo, warthogs, ostrich, a few lionesses feeding in the distance, and one lone bull elephant.
We then had to make our way out of the crater and begin the drive back to Arusha. On our way out, we happened across the bones of an elephant! The bones were enormous, which was fitting for such a large creature. The road to the top of the crater involved a lot of switchbacks, which provided some nice final views of the crater below. All in all, it was a great four days with excellent sights, weather and company!