East Africa, Tanzania

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Giraffes at Ngorongoro Conservation Area

A great moment in a traveller’s life: Winding up the forested flanks of the long-retired volcano, up to its very rim, and suddenly, 2,000 feet below, a stunning, world-unique view of the great caldera, undiscovered until 1892.

The Ngorongoro Crater is one of our solar system’s greatest geographic ornaments, a gorgeous natural Eden the size of 75 Central Parks, home to 30,000 free-roaming animals. And, as geologic masterpieces go, Ngorongoro has had quite a career. It’s been a gigantic peak, perhaps a rival of Kilimanjaro, and, after it blew its snowy top in what must have been a rather impressive explosion (our forefathers over at the nearby Olduvai Gorge, busy getting their humanoid act together, probably saw it), Ngoro­ngoro spent many millennia as an alternately quiet and occasionally bubbling lava lake. Now in an extended pacific mood, the crater is about as close as we’ll ever get to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World —which, it must be said, lacked the creature comforts of our luxury lodges, not to mention the ease and comfort of descending to the crater’s lush floor for some of Africa’s finest gameviewing.

How did the hippopotamus find its way up into the Crater Highlands, to blunder into the water of Ngorongoro? Today one sees them there with wonder, encircled by steep walls….

Peter Matthiessen, The Tree Where Man Was Born

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