Practical Travel Guide: Ngorongoro

Self drive Ngorongoro: everything you need to know

As self-drive safari experts, a question we get asked a lot at Roadtrip Tanzania is whether it's possible to visit the Ngorongoro Crater without booking through a tour company or going with a tour guide. If you're more of an independent traveller, Roadtrip Tanzania has the best tips on how to arrange your NCA park permits, avoid paying double entry fees, and where to stay for a better Ngorongoro experience. 

Covered in this guide to self-drive in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area: 

  • How much do I need to budget for a visit to the Ngorongoro Crater?
  • How do I arrange the Ngorongoro entrance permits for my self-drive safari in Tanzania?
  • Can I explore the Ngorongoro Crater without hiring a driver?
  • I'm designing my Tanzania itinerary.How many days should I reserve for the crater?
  • Camping and the best places to stay in Ngorongoro.

Roadtripper marveling at the crater rim of the Ngorongoro

How much do I need to budget for a visit to Ngorongoro?

Visiting Ngorongoro is always an unforgettable experience, both because of the unrivalled amount of wildlife you get to see in one day, and the high costs to see it...

When planning your safari, take into account the following entrance fees:

Fees are quoted per person incl VAT, per single entry up to 24 hours. 

  • The fee for the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is $70.80 per person 
  • The vehicle entry fee for your Roadtrip Tanzania rental car (locally registered vehicle) is 23,600 TSH ($10) per day for the RAV4 and 41,300 TSH ($20) per day for the Landcruiser.
  • If you want to enter the crater, you have to pay the additional Crater Service Fee of $295 per vehicle each time you go down the crater.
  • Public campsites are $35 per person/night. Special campsites are $50 per person/night.
    For a detailed cost overview, check the official Ngorongoro Crater website.

For a detailed cost overview, check the official Ngorongoro Crater website

If you are planning to visit the Serengeti and just transit through the NCA, you still have to pay the NCA fee twice: on your way going to the Serengeti and on your way back from the Serengeti. The only way to avoid paying the NCA fee twice is by exiting the Serengeti via Klein's gate on the North East, on your way to Lake Natron. Its a very scenic route from Kleins Gate to Lake Natron, but not for everyone. Its a solid 7-9 hours drive through remote area, and the road is at some sections rough and bumpy. If you want to visit Lake Natron on your roadtrip in Tanzania, we advise to take the Mto wa Mbu route. From the village of Mto wa Mbu, which is opposite Lake Manyara National Park, its' a 3-4 hour ride. From Karatu, it will take about 5-6 hours to reach Lake Natron.

Self driving the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania

Can I explore the Ngorongoro Crater on a self-drive safari?

Yes, you can do a self-drive safari in the Ngorongoro Crater. The park wardens at the NCA entrance gate will advise you to take a ranger-guide, but this is not compulsory, and not needed in our opinion either. The safari tracks on the carter floor are well maintained and sign posted, and its basically impossible to get lost.

How do I arrange the Ngorongoro entrance permits for my self-drive safari in Tanzania?

For the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, you need to obtain an entrance quote first, before you can go to the gate to actually pay for the park entrance. The NCA office is based in Arusha and Karatu and open Monday - Friday. For individuals, it's not possible to arrange an NCA entrance quote online, you have to visit their office in person. Only tour companies have access to their online reservation system. In case you are short in time, Roadtrip Tanzania is happy to arrange the Ngorongoro quote on your behalf. This is an option you can select in the online reservation form when you book a car with us.

I am designing my Tanzania itinerary. How many days should I reserve for the crater?

The Ngorongoro Crater permit is valid from 6 AM to 6 PM. A half to full day is enough to cover the main tracks in the crater. Apart from the world famous Ngorongoro Crater, the Highlands of the conservation area provide some great opportunities for breaking up a vehicle-based safari and stretching your legs. So linger around for a few more days, beat the crowds, and allow for some off the beaten track exploration.

The Bradt Travel Guide which comes with your Roadtrip Tanzania car rental is a great source of information; very detailed, up to date and covering off the beaten track places to visit. Herewith we highlight a few lesser known sights to explore inside the Ngorongoro Conversion Area: 

Empakaai Crater: the stunning but relatively unknown Empakaai Crater lies some 40km north-east of its famous neighbour, the Ngorongoro Crater. From the moment you arrive at Empakaai, you will be treated to splendid views of the Empakaai Crater as well as a glimpse of Oldoinyo Lengai, Tanzania’s most active volcano. Its a 45 minute descent into the crater through thick, mountainous forest. Down on the crater floor, there’s superb birding around the lake, and the chance to see flamingos as well as some big game like buffalo, hyena and elephant. 

If you are interested in ancient history, visit Olduvai Gorge (aka Oldupai) one of the most important palaeoanthropology sites in the world. It is renowned for the early hominin fossils discovered here, stone tools and plant and mammal fossils. There is a small museum. At Laetoli, hominid footprints of our genetic ancestors have been found in sedimentary rock of 3.7 million years old. A 30-minute drive from Olduvai you can find a curious phenomena, a shifting sand dune. This dune is formed from fine volcanic ash, which due to its high iron content is highly magnetic. This means that the dune clings together, and acts as a single unit as it slowly moves across the landscape.

Gol Mountains, meaning Mountains of God, provides a surreal wilderness environment of stark, pink cliffs, enclosing the Angata Kiti pass, providing a bottleneck for the annual Great Migration of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra. This remains one of the most traditional corners of Tanzania, home to the Masaai, who still kill lions as their rite the passage into warrior hood, and who still live oustdie cash economy. Don't think you can go one a ''cultural tour, visiting the Masaai'' as if they are some kind of bucket-list item to visit, and have a genuine experience. But if you go on a (multiple) guided walking safari  with a good tour guide, you for sure will learn a lot about this spiritual place. 

Driving times to the Ngorongoro are as follows:

  • Arusha - Loduare Gate (NCA entrance) / crater rim: 3-4 hours
  • Loduare Gate to Ngorongoro Crater entrance: 1.5 hours.
  • Ngorongoro Crater entrance to Naabi Hill Gate (Serengeti entrance): 2.5 hours.
  • Note that it's about a 3-4 hours drive from the NCA Simba Public Campsite to Naabi gate Serengeti (which is also the exit of the NCA). So if you want to avoid paying the NCA twice, whilst staying overnight in the NCA, you have to time your visit wisely and take the 3-4 hour drive into account to exit the NCA.

Best maps of the NCA:

  • Harms Verlag (IC) Ngorongoro Conservation Area Map  

Packing for your safari

Camping and the best places to stay in the Ngorongoro

Karatu is a nice and affordable place to base yourself from when visiting the NCA and the Ngorongoro Crater. We have covered tips on where to stay in Karatu on our accomodation page. If you want to stay inside the NCA, the most affordable option is Simba Public Campsite A, on the crater rim.

The rest of the campsites on the crater rim are so-called 'special campsites', largely reserved by private safari companies, who bid on them for the season. As an individual traveller, you won't be able to stay there. The less interesting special campsites are not taken by the safari companies and are available for booking by individual travellers. Read more about how to secure you special campsite permits here.

The most affordable lodge on the crater rim is Rhino Lodge - it doesn't have a view though. All the other lodges are very expensive; Roadtrip Tanzania's top choice among these would be Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge.

Happ roadtrippers on a camping safari in Tanzania

All pictures on our website were taken by ourselves or fellow roadtrippers. The pictures in this post were all taken in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Do you have a nice picture to share? Bring it on!