Day 5: Ngorongoro Crater


We left Ganako Lodge around 8:30am with our boxed lunches and made our way to the Ngorongoro Crater. We first had to stop at the entrance gates to pay the park fee. The fee is 24 hours inside the Ngorongoro Area which includes the time you enter the gate until you leave the area (make sure to factor that in when leaving the Crater if driving towards the Serengeti or you could be stuck with an extra day’s fee by forgetting to include the couple hour drive on the other side). While our guide was taking care of that, we wandered around the visitor centre looking at a map of the area and animal information boards. Our next stop was a viewpoint overlooking the Crater. The Ngorongoro Crater is a UNESCO Heritage Site and is definitely an impressive natural wonder. The crater itself is the world’s largest intact and unfilled volcanic crater. Most of the animals within the Crater are permanent residents, though some of the herds do move about. Two animals absent from the crater floor include giraffes (hard for them to walk down the steep crater walls and not many trees to provide cover for them) and impala (though no reason is really known as to why they are absent). We absolutely loved every minute we spent in the Crater!

Crater viewpoint

There is basically only three roads down to the crater floor. One road is supposed to be for ascent only, one for descent only, and another road by the Sopa Lodge (where we stayed) that allows travel in both directions. We had what felt like a long drive halfway around the crater to the descent road. It really wasn’t that long, but we were all anxious to see animals which made it seem like a long drive.  Once on the crater floor itself, the amount of wildlife in any direction was unbelievable. You could look in any direction it felt like and see some type of animal. If you want to be guaranteed to see wildlife, Ngorongoro Crater is definitely the place to be.

Warthogs eating


Baby wildebeest



Then we had a very interesting sequence of events and if any of them hadn’t occurred, we likely wouldn’t have seen this one once of a lifetime scene. It started when our guide veered away from where a herd of elephants was (much to my initial disappointment given my love of elephants) and headed towards a bush area. Once we pulled up, we saw a large pride of lionesses lying around in the grass. After observing them for a while, we realized the pride had not just a couple cubs, but lots of cubs sleeping around them. Though all they did was poke their head up from time to time so fast, that it took awhile before we were able to actually get a picture of the cubs themselves.



As we were watching the lionesses and the cubs, we were also keeping an eye out to the horizon as there was some ominous looking dark clouds creeping closer and closer.

Rain is a comingLionesses with a cubLionessesA bunch of cubs!As the rains rolled in and started more than just drizzling, the lionesses grew more and more restless. Since by this point it was almost lunch time, we decided to close the top of the jeep so we didn’t get soaked, and we opened our boxed lunches and ate right there in the car while we were watching the lionesses and the cubs. For the rest of the lion pictures, some are not of the highest quality due to the dark clouds and rain (very heavy at times), but some are just too epic to not post, even if not the best quality pictures.

Shaking off

Getting restless


A whole group of lionesses

Lionesses and cubs

At this point, most of the lionesses got up and started heading for the hills, leaving a couple lionesses as the babysitters over the cubs while the rest of the group went hunting! We were pretty far away from the action, but we saw their hunting formation and approach before they disappeared. It also didn’t help that it started completely down pouring and it got very hard to see anything and we had closed the top of the jeep to keep things somewhat dry. Our guide said there was a “road” back behind the bushes were the lionesses had disappeared so we went slipping and sliding through the mud to get closer. By the time we got back there, we were only one of a few cars who had ventured back, the lionesses had gotten a kill of some sort (we realized later it was a baby water buffalo most likely) and were all huddled together sharing the meat.

On the moveEnjoying the kill

Enjoying the kill

At this point, it started raining again and our guide was afraid we’d get stuck in the mud so he headed back around to the other side of the bushes to where the cubs were. After a couple minutes of observing the cubs, the babysitters and the cubs took off back to where the rest of the lionesses were. Our guide started giggling (which he did whenever he got excited about something we were seeing) and was like ‘Let’s go watch the cubs’. So off we went back around the bushes again. Watching all the lion cubs play in the mud was a highlight for me. They looked like they were having so much fun rolling around in the mud and chasing each other.

All the cubs

Cubs playing

Cubs playing



Then in the midst of all the lion cub cuteness, all of a sudden they go immediately still and several of the lionesses become hyper alert. We turn to the other side of the jeep and spot a lone water buffalo sauntering down the hill and it does not go unnoticed by the pride of lions. The hunt is on and the poor water buffalo doesn’t really stand a chance. A whole pack of water buffalos is usually safe from lions, but this one was way outnumbered. It was hard to watch, and I’m glad it wasn’t a baby animal as I’m not sure I could have handled that as well. But in the moment the adrenaline gets going and you don’t really think about what is happening. The interesting part is that the lionesses used the 3 or 4 safari vehicles that were around as a cover to sneak up on the water buffalo. Soon after the actual kill, many more safari vehicles made their way over, but we had a front row seat for the whole thing. Our guide later said that he had seen many kills in his 12 years of being a safari guide, but this was the first time he had seen the cubs join in like they did for the kill.

Getting ready to hunt

Lioness ready to huntA lone water buffalo Ready to take off Start of the huntChase is on

Chasing the water buffalo Jumping onto the water buffalo Lioness chasing the water buffalo Hunt about over

Poor water buffalo

Circle of life

Lion cub

Enjoying their kill

Pretty lioness resting after the kill

Cubs enjoying the kill

Enjoying the kill

Super cute

Lionesses and her cubs By the time we left the area, it seemed like all the safari vehicles in the crater were either by the lions or were making their way there. We eventually had our fill of watching them eat and moved off to let other vehicles have a chance to get closer. By this time the rain had luckily cleared up and it was amazing to see how much greener the grass became after the showers. The rest of the afternoon we saw a variety of other animals, but nothing quite lived up to the excitement of watching the lions.

Kori Busturd



Hyena and her cubsZebras didn't seem too concerned about the hyena Hyena and her cubNursing baby zebraLions resting between matings Start of mating Lion matingAfter the mating Vervet monkey Marabou stork Black rhinos

Now that I’m done bombarding you with picture after picture of just a small portion of all the animals we saw at the Ngorongoro Crater… We had an amazing time inside the crater. My recommendation if you have limited time to spend on a safari, would be to fly from Arusha into the NCA as you will be guaranteed to see a wide variety of animals. The other parks we visited were great, but involved some driving between animal sightings. We felt like within the Crater it was just animal after animal every direction we looked.

We made our way up the Sopa Road to our lodge for the night, the Sopa Lodge on the crater rim. The view from the lodge was out of this world amazing. We had an excellent dinner at the lodge and while this was definitely the most corporate and largest of the lodges we stayed in, we still enjoyed our one night there.

Sunset over the crater rim

Animals we saw today:
Antelope (many varieties), Black Rhinos, Elephants, Hippos, Hyenas, Jackal (far off in distance), Kori Busturd, Lions (including about 11 cubs and 3 male lions), Marabou Stork, Vervet Monkey, Warthogs, Water Buffalo, Wildebeest, Zebra

Money spent today approx. (2 people):
Souvenirs: 16,000 TZS (tea, postcard)
Tip at lodge: 20,000 TZS

Day 4

Day 6

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