on May 6, 2009
Ngorongoro Crater is classified as a World Heritage Site and appears on top 10 lists of the world's greatest natural wonders. But it's often number 10. It's probably not as impressive as the Grand Canyon, which I have not seen. It's not even as scenic as Bryce Canyon, which I have seen. But Bryce Canyon doesn't have lions, zebras, wildebeests, elephants and hyenas roaming around it either. Consequently, the Crater is both an interesting geological formation measuring about 8 miles in diameter and a unique wildlife habitat. There are two entrance roads into the Crater. One is at the Sopa Lodge; the other one that most people use has an iron gate across it topped by on old water buffalo skull. The hand-written sign says you must be out of the Crater by 6PM. (I'm not sure what happens if you're not, but you probably don't want to find out.)We took an afternoon trip into the Crater and one the next morning. The road into the Crater is VERY rutted and it can take a half-hour or more to make the descent. Near the bottom you will see a giant acacia tree with many weaver-bird nests hanging from it and you might also see a Secretary Bird and nest on the top. (I'm thinking they should now be called Administrative Professional birds!) On our morning tour we were the first vehicle into the Crater and it was nice to drive around and not see any other tourists for awhile. The animals also seemed more energetic, including a galloping herd of zebras heading for the water hole and a herd of over 30 elephants, some of which were playfully jousting. This was also the only time we saw a rabbit on our safari. So if you can only go once, try to do it in the early morning.Yes, apparently some people complain the Crater is like a zoo. But there are no fences and you would not want to get out and walk around - except at the hippo pool and picnic area where it is allowed. The animals are used to safari vehicles and ignore them and nobody feeds them so they don't approach the vehicles either - except some daring weaver birds at the picnic area. I really didn't think the animals in the Crater acted any differently than those at Lake Manyara or in the Serengeti. So what's more natural - for the animals to act like you're not there or for them to run in panic? I'll take being ignored.What seems particularly amazing about the Crater is the number and diversity of animals living there and how a balance is maintained between predator and prey. And the flatness of the Crater floor allows you (or more likely, your guide) to spot animals from far away, including the rare black rhino. There is also an incredible diversity of birdlife. So, if you had only one day and one game park to visit in Northern Tanzania, Ngorongoro Crater should be your choice.
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