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Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater:
Wildlife Encounters
Unlike Anywhere Else in the World

Story by Fyllis Hockman
Photographs courtesy of A&K

hat do Bill Gates, Hillary and Chelsea, Martina Navratilova and Prince Charles have in common? They've all taken an Abercrombie and Kent safari in Tanzania. I figured that's a pretty good recommendation.

As little as five years ago, some Americans still thought of Tanzania as an exotic destination; now more and more are choosing it as a vacation alternative to Kenya. And when most people think Tanzania, they think Serengeti. They picture millions of wildebeest and zebras stretching endlessly across the plains in their annual migration during the dry season.

wildebeest in Tanzania

Although A&K's Tanzania Wildlife Safari includes the Serengeti, as well as Lake Manyara, I'd trade those "Endless Plains" for the relatively tiny expanse of the nearby Ngorongoro Crater.

Lake Manyara

Spanning only 102 square miles, this 2 1/2 million-year-old volcanic crater is a virtual microcosm of all East Africa. Just about every conceivable species of wildlife is represented, which makes the Ngorongoro Crater the only place of its kind in the world! Unlike the other parks, the Crater is the only place to see and photograph the wealth of wildlife without high-powered binoculars or large telephoto camera lens.

Despite the many animals visible alongside the road in all the parks, for the most part it's a constant quest for viewing privileges, necks craned, eyes strained, heads bobbing from side to side hoping to be the hero in the jeep to make the next sighting.

The Crater, instead, is Mother Nature's Zoo – a huge expanse of wild creatures surprisingly willing to share their open spaces, with each other as well as us. From the hatched-roof vehicles, designed for ultimate sightseeing, we leer, gawk, ooh, ah, jump up, sit down, jump up again, all the while snapping picture after picture, while the animals pretend to ignore us. It's hard to describe the wonder of a leviathan elephant whose tusks almost reach the ground, a black-maned lion baring his teeth or half-a-dozen adolescent zebras cavorting around a waterhole within feet of the jeep. Home to some 30,000 animals, I felt I had climbed into the Discovery Channel.


The highlight of the Crater is the endangered black rhino, of which only 26 are left. As in the days of Hemingway, when he and his hunting cronies were obsessed with tracking down The Big Five – rhino, elephant, lion, leopard and cape buffalo – poaching remains the biggest threat to the future of the rhino population. Not unlike Hemingway, the goal of many safari participants is also to pursue these most elusive, and dangerous, of prey. Their sport, however, is to shoot photos, not rifles. My safari mates and I – 11 of us total – saw all five beasts, an accomplishment in which we took great pride.

Considering its menace, the rhino doesn't seem to do much. I guess when you're the second largest animal around, there's not all that much incentive to move. In contrast, the graceful loping antelope is a much more spirited animal.

black rhinoceros

Little did I know prior to my trip that an antelope is not itself an animal but a generic term that covers a wide range of creatures, ranging from an 11-pound dik dik to a 2000-pound eland. Also springboks, riverbucks, hardebeest, wildebeest, impalas, topis and gazelles among others, with horns from curved to straight, twisted to rippled, rounded to wavy. The list goes on as far as the antelope can run.

The imploded crater, the largest of its type in the world, provides both temporary and permanent residence for its vast hordes of wildlife dwellers. So many animals peacefully coexisting – at least on the surface. Hyenas, zebras, wildebeest, ostriches, elephants, lions, warthogs, hippos, baboons, cheetahs, leopards – and that's just for starters! The latter two, especially, are rare safari finds – and among the most sought after by experienced safari-goers.

We novices got lucky. Not only did we see two leopards virtually indistinguishable from the tree branches they were wound around, but also a family of cheetahs frolicking nearby. I was mesmerized by the four cubs romping and rolling over each other, periodically returning to mom for a little grooming and reassurance.

She, on the other hand, was eyeing several gazelles about a quarter-mile away. We watched, some more anxiously than others, while they played a little cat and gazelle game, as mama debated whether or not to go and bring back lunch. Prey and predator eyeing each other, each evaluating its position, flirting with danger one moment, retreating the next. You can feel the tension, irrevocably caught up in the life-and-death dance that forms the very essence of their existence. I was both relieved and disappointed when mama decided against take-out.

And sometimes success – depending, of course, from whose perspective – is obvious. Case in point: the lion whose matted mane was so close, I could see his whiskers tremble, his stomach visibly distended, clearly indicating how well he had feasted the night before. Our guide, Joseph's input: thirty to forty pounds of raw meat will satiate him for 4-5 days. What a way to live! I, on the other hand, was ready for lunch.

One of the most intriguing photo ops was of a vast flock of flamingoes, numbering in the thousands, occupying most of Lake Magadi, a shallow soda lake on the bottom of the crater. They resembled a feathery pink blanket stretched out along the shoreline.

Through Joseph's well-trained, eagle-eyed and extremely knowledgeable tutelage, we were soon all amateur zoologists, identifying a previously generic starling as a Ruppells long-tailed glossy or the ubiquitous antelope as a hardebeest or Grant's gazelle. By the sixth day, it was "Don't bother getting up, it's just another herd of elephants!"

A travel story is often enhanced by the obstacles overcome, but on this particular trip, I was out of luck. The sun was brighter, the accommodations nicer, the food better, the flies less bothersome, the dust lighter than I had been led to expect. Although I understand this to be rare, I actually returned to my hotel with clothes still resembling the color they started out with. Be forewarned, this is not always the case.

The roads were another story, a definite obstacle that can't be overcome unless you walk – which is definitely frowned upon in the wild! Anyone with back problems, or allergies for that matter, should probably not even consider the trip.

Seated on my hotel balcony at 7:30 a.m. the last morning, I listened to a concerto of birdcalls as I observed two Thompson's gazelles romping about with a topi. A small flock of guinea hens grazed within 50 yards, assiduously avoiding a passing wart hog.

But what especially struck me was the presence of all the other animals, hidden in grass and shrubs, that I knew I was not seeing. Occupying those omnipresent endless plains were millions of hoofed animals continually on the move in search of pasture for survival, constantly watched and pursued by the many predators whose own survival depends on feeding off them. For a while, I watched for the slightest movement, as a hungry predator might do as it seeks its next meal. Then, I reluctantly left for home, knowing that this strange combination of imposing terrain, tenuous commingling of wildlife and inevitable brutal killings will continue long after I'm gone. Welcome to the harsh – and wonderful – realities of nature. For more information, visit or contact Abercrombie & Kent at 800/554-7094.

Related Articles:
Trekking Mountain Gorillas In Uganda; Chimps in Uganda; Uganda Safari; Namibia: Where Arid Desert Meets Frigid Sea (Part 1); Namibia Part II: Where Wild Women Meet Wildlife

(Posted 11-5-2016)

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Let Fyllis know what you think about her traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Gullah Culture

I think a lot of the plantation enslaved Africans began with a variety of African languages and little contact with English speakers. Even today some of the speech patterns of modern descents of the enslaved hold onto this language or some of the patterns even after being away from the area for generations. That's what we heard in N Carolina.

-- Barbara, Mill Creek, WA

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Thank you for your extensive and accurate story of a remarkable, resilient culture!

-- Marlene O'Bryant-Seabrook, Ph.D. – Charleston, SC

And Marlene – thank you so very much for your comment. Nothing makes a writer feel better than hearing something like that!!!


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Nice story thanks, however there are also Gullah speak in southern Belize and Honduras coast to Trujillo, been all over both thanks.

-- Michael Johnson – Myrtle Beach, SC

Hi Michael,

Thank you so much for your comment. However, I think what you're referring to in the Belize/Honduras region is more accurately characterized as the Garifuna culture and language, which somewhat parallels the Gullah. If you'd like more information about that, please read my November 2011 story in about the Garifuna.


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Toooooooo cooooooool Now I want to go to Florida!!!!

-- Kathy Marianelli – Columbia, Maryland

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Feedback for Ha Long Bay in Vietnam

I'm a Vietnamese and I can't help but went through all of your pictures. They are beautiful, both the couples and the natural sceneries. Vietnam is such a beautiful place, I love it. I have been to Ha Long Bay once, in fact, I have been too all places that you took pictures of. I love your pictures and certainly will comeback for more. Thank you for these wonderful images of Vietnam and its people.

-- Quyen

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Feedback for Family Magic in Orlando

Great article!!! Makes me want to go back and experience it ALL all over again.

-- Ariane – Chicago

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Feedback for Mohonk

I love your signature and the writing (in "Mohonk: Sumptuous Old-World Flavor Tastefully Wrapped in Casual Elegance")... but the place is a bit expensive... more like the Romney types! Is Vic a "photographer" or does he just take pretty good pictures?

-- John Strauss – Campton Hills, IL

Hi John,

Thanks so much for your kind comments. Much appreciated! Yes, I do know Mohonk is expensive -- as is true for so many of the fine resorts -- but it is a historical structure that has been in operation for so many years and offers so many activity options for the whole family without nickel and diming the guest, that for those who can afford it, it actually is somewhat of a bargain.

And no, Vic is not a "real" photographer as much as he is a travel writer in his own right, but sometimes, as he says, he does get lucky.

Again, thanks for your feedback.


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Feedback for the Road to Hana

We enjoyed seeing the Road to Hana from a helicopter! After you get to Hana you've still got to make the return journey. Thanks but no thanks!

-- Betsy Tuel – Rosendale, NY

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Feedback for Dominican Republic

Thank you, Fyllis, for this engaging tour. For years I thought the Dominican Republic was all-tourists, all-the-time. You just made me want to go there! (those waterfall adventures look like great fun)

-- Richard F. – Saugerties

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Feedback for Traveling the Canadian Rockies

We (our family) also took The Rocky Mountaineer (gold leaf) in early June 2011. Great memories! Great food! Great service! I am sorry to hear about this labor dispute, as clearly, the attendants were a HUGE part of the experience. They felt like friends by the end of the trip. Good luck to all employees!

-- Susie – Hana

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Hi Fyllis,

I am one of the locked out onboard attendants. I enjoyed reading your lovely writing based on the trip you took with the level of service that was delivered until June 22, 2011. It is misleading to share this review at this time. Many current guests are dismayed when they experience the low level of service which does not live up to what this blog post boasts. The company is not even responding to the complaints of their guests who have paid top dollar, and are now consistently ignored when they write to ask for a refund. If you do not believe me, go to Trip Advisor and read the recent reviews. There are a few good ones, and they are almost all from pre-lock out dates. Many of those are from complimentary trips and the company seems to be pressuring them to post positive reviews. If you are unaware of what is happening, please consider visiting a site which has many news stories and letters of support from guests and local politicians.

--- City: onboard – Vancouver

Can I ask when this article was written? One of the managers onboard would have been travelling on it for more than 6 years by now...last I heard Shauna was in Edmonton.

--- tnoakes – Edmonton, Alberta

Dear Whomever --

I am so very sorry to hear about the lockout and the bad feelings that have been engendered between management and employees. It was not a situation I knew anything about and realize the timing of my article indeed was unfortunate.

What I wrote about was based totally on my personal experience and only reflects my trip at that time. Please accept my apologies for the difficulties current and former employees are now experiencing and the apparent disparate levels of service experienced by me and more recent guests. It was not something I had any knowledge of.

Fyllis, TravelingBoy

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