Travel guideThe Ngorongoro Crater is part of a much larger area of interrelated ecosystems, which consist of the Crater Highlands and the entire Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), which is an 8,300 sq km Unesco World Heritage Site. Near to the centre of the region is Olduvai Gorge, one of the world's most famous prehistoric sites.
The ruggedly beautiful Crater Highlands are a range of volcanoes that rise from the side of the Great Rift Valley and run in a chain along the eastern edge of the NCA. The still-active Ol Doinyo Lengai (‘the Mountain of God' in Maa) stands at 2,878 metres above sea level, Empakaai 3,262 at metres, and Ngorongro at only 2,200 metres above sea level. The different peaks were created over many millions of years by a series of eruptions that heralded the birth of the Great Rift. Many of the older volcanoes have since collapsed to form the craters that give the range its name. The main residents of the area are the Maasai, who have grazed their cattle here for hundreds of years.
To the west of the crater lie the alkaline Lakes of Ndutu and Masek. In the east of the conservation area is a string of volcanoes and craters, most but not all of which are inactive. Further east, just outside the NCA's boundaries is the archaeological site of Engaruka and Lake Eyasi. North east of the NCA in the arid expanses near the Kenyan border is the alkaline Lake Natron.