Hi travelers! Welcome to my article on Ngorongoro Conservation Area. In this article, I would like to share with you my experiences at this incredible destination as well as provide some key recommendations for your visit. But before I do so, please allow me to introduce myself.
My name is Jeff Satterfield (@jeffacrosstheworld). I’m 38 years old and grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia called King of Prussia. This suburb is actually known for having the second largest mall in the United States!
Eventually, I went to college at Towson University and fell in love with Baltimore. I took a job and moved there almost 15 years ago. Despite moving a bit, I have stayed in or around the Baltimore area the whole time.
I never traveled internationally when I was younger, except for two family vacations to Niagara Falls and Toronto and one high school French class trip to Quebec City for the Winter Carnival. I honestly didn’t have much of an interest in travel when I was young. It sounded cool but was never really a priority. I never had anyone that wanted to go with me, so I never did it.
A lot of my love for photography and travel started in the early 2000s when I traveled in the US playing in ultimate frisbee tournaments with friends. At one frisbee tournament one of my friends asked me to take some pictures while he was playing and handed me his Nikon d60 to take photos.
I loved using it so much that I bought one of my own and started to bring it with me everywhere. So a lot of my early pictures are actually sports photography. Eventually I took it along to a tournament in Hawaii, where I first started taking some landscape photos that I really loved.
My First Solo Backpacking Trip
My early international travels were inspired by a friend of mine who one day decided he wasn’t going to go to grad school. Instead, he was going to spend a year backpacking around Europe. When he came back the following year his stories of the places he saw and people he met inspired me and made me think it was something I wanted to experience.
Fast forward a few years, when I decided I really wanted to make some important life changes. I wasn’t happy in my job and thought it was finally time to take this solo backpacking trip I had wanted to take for so long.
So I told my roommates I was moving out, sent all my stuff to my parents, bought a one way ticket to London and a three month rail pass in Europe, which was how long I thought I could afford. But I wanted to give myself the flexibility to come home which explained the one way ticket.
The first few weeks were kind of rough. I was enjoying the places but kept getting lost. I wasn’t good at meeting strangers and therefore felt lonely. But I’m nothing if not stubborn, so I kept going. I got better at reading maps. And when I got to Venice, I found a social hostel populated by a lot of people like me – solo backpackers who just wanted to make friends.
I got better at looking for the right hostels and finding things like pub crawls and walking tours where I could meet people. My love for travel was born. I ended up staying for three months. Eventually I went back to Baltimore and re-established my life, but a backpacking trip every summer became my yearly tradition and travel started to define my life.
It’s funny looking back and thinking about my logic when it came to photography on that trip. I didn’t want to bring my Nikon because it was too big. So I brought a small point and click camera and was happy using that and my iPod. Yes, I said iPod! Not even an iPhone which I didn’t have at first. I wish I could go back and tell myself to bring a better camera!
I still got some nice pictures but nothing compared to what I like to do now. It’s funny how I ended up upgrading my camera. After four years of travel, one of my friends remembered my love of my Nikon and tried to convince me to buy a Sony a6000. He was thinking of buying one himself and he probably wanted to see how I liked it before spending the money.
So he spent months selling me on the camera, the specifics and how light it was to carry around. He reminded me of my love for taking pictures at ultimate frisbee tournaments and told me to just think of the pictures I could take traveling. He could not have been more right! I ended up buying the camera and taking it on my summer trip to Japan and South Korea.
I loved the pictures it took. I used it so much that it became an extension of me. I have changed lenses over the years but I have had that same Sony body for six years now. He actually never bought the camera himself!
Over the years I have taken a lot from the people I have met traveling. They were the ones who convinced me to sign up for Instagram and to use filters. This led me to learn how to edit using Snapseed and then switching from Snapseed to Lightroom, which I use now on my phone and laptop.
Visiting all Seven Continents and over 100 Countries
I have been to all seven continents and 102 countries. For the longest time I didn’t count countries but I knew I had been to a lot. I always had a tendency to move quickly. I would try to maximize the amount of time spent in each city without taking time to relax, but that is the way I liked it.
When I did my first count I was in the 40s after six years of travel. My 50th country was memorable for all the wrong reasons. I went to Trinidad and Tobago. It was beautiful and I wish I had spent more time there, but my primary reason for going was to see the US Men’s National Team qualify for the World Cup. When they failed to qualify, the trip turned awkward!
When I eventually decided I was going to take a longer hiatus from my career to travel, I set up two goals to make it to all seven continents and over 100 countries. The continent goal wasn’t too challenging. I had already been to five and I knew I wanted to go to both Africa and Antarctica.
The country goal was more challenging because I didn’t want to sacrifice too much time from the countries I wanted to see. So I started looking for smaller countries that I could either visit on a day trip, like Lesotho, or island countries that I could use as a place to just relax, like Jamaica or Mauritius.
But even though some of these countries were places I was going just to reach my goal, I still had some amazing experiences. I made great friends in Paraguay, Samoa was one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited, and the Seychelles ended up being the perfect place to end my trip to just unwind, recharge and get ready to return to my old life.
It would be nice to visit every country but I don’t think that will ever become my goal. The list of places that I want to go back to is also massive, especially a lot of those European countries I visited earlier in my travels. I would love to go back and see these places with a far better camera.
Since I hit my goal of getting to 100 countries, I would now like to take more time in each place and see as much as I can. But I never say never – maybe if getting to all of them does seem like something I can realistically do, it will become a goal. I guess it would be an amazing feat!
Ten Awesome Days in Tanzania
In order to make things like transport and lodging easier, I booked a group tour with G Adventures that went all through Africa. I made sure the tour I chose had a good amount of time in Tanzania. We spent ten days there.
Firstly, we went to Dar es Salaam. Then we had three days in Zanzibar. Then we went to Bagamoyo and Arusha en route to the Serengeti, where we spent three days between the Serengeti and Ngorongoro.
After that we left for Kenya. We camped almost the entire time, with the exception of our beach resort in Zanzibar. I spent the majority of my three months in Africa camping. From the beginning, Ngorongoro felt unique.
It was a bit cloudy and hazy, so as we descended into the crater it felt like we were entering another world. I will never forget the vast wide open spaces, with the lake seemingly at the center of it all. You could see herds of wildebeests and zebras all over. It felt like we were guests in their own magical world. Ngorongoro truly was a wonderful place!
Safari Adventures in Ngorongoro
My experience in Ngorongoro was all based around our safari. We camped just outside of the crater. Viewing wildlife is absolutely the best thing to do in Ngorongoro. Camping is always the best way to go in Africa. It’s the ultimate way to experience the unbelievable nature on offer.
It gets a little chilly at night, especially in July. But I have so many fond memories of sitting around a campfire having a few beverages and bonding with new friends. This is the best way to experience Africa’s star-filled night skies, devoid of pollution and see the Milky Way. You never know what wildlife might drop by for a visit. We had a zebra visit our camp!
Wildlife Encounters in Ngorongoro
It was July when I visited Ngorongoro, so wildebeest and zebra were abundant. You will never see more in your life. I took videos of our vehicle traveling past what felt like thousands of them. You can also see the Big 5 within the crater. We saw four of the five. The leopard was the only animal we didn’t see. I would love to come back to see leopards!
The rhinos were off at a distance and hard to get a good picture of, but the lions came right up to our vehicles and walked past us. I had never seen one so close. I got one of my favorite photos of a male lion stopping to roar or yawn. They look similar but it always makes for great pictures.
We saw hyenas stalking, elephants poking through the trees to say hello and announce their presence, and flamingos. I also loved the cranes in the crater. I took some pictures I loved of a crane spreading its wings to either assert dominance or show off. I’m not quite sure but it was impressive!
Favorite Experience at Ngorongoro
My favorite experience of the day was when we stopped for lunch. There was a little picnic spot down by the lake. It’s a popular spot. I have seen other people take pictures in the same location. It’s scenic and the area is populated by hippos. You can see a lot of them and they are intimidating.
Out of all the animals you may encounter in Africa, hippos are the most dangerous. So we were just sitting there eating lunch with this large group of hippos in the water seemingly staring at us. They were far away enough that you didn’t feel in any danger but also close enough that it made you wonder if they were eyeing your food. Or perhaps eyeing you as food!
They are sneaky creatures, submerging themselves in the water to the point where you can only see their eyes. So knowing what you know about hippos, you start to convince yourself that they are eyeing you. You start to wonder if they are getting closer or if your eyes are playing tricks on you.
Of course, the area was probably safe. They wouldn’t just let you stop and eat there if it wasn’t. So the whole thing becomes kind of funny. On our way leaving from lunch that day I took one of my favorite photos of Africa when we saw what I assumed was a mother hippo and her calf wandering around in a field close by. It was the first time I saw a baby hippo.
The baby hippos were so adorable! It was rare to see the calf hippos out of the water and even more rare to see the baby so close by. I thought it was a special picture to be able to take. You can see that amazing photo below.
Tips for your Visit to Ngorongoro
My advice for people who want to visit Ngorongoro is to book a lot of time! I wish I had spent more time in Tanzania and Ngorongoro. There is hiking and visits with tribes you can do, neither of which I got to experience.
The best way to see all the wildlife is to take as many safari drives as you can. You never know what you might encounter just around the corner or through the bushes. I developed such a love of watching and taking pictures of the wildlife while I was there. The best way to get great photos is to just give yourself as many opportunities as possible to see the wildlife.
July was an absolutely great month to visit as well. It’s not too hot, it’s dry season, and it’s migration season – so the sea of wildebeest and zebra is something to experience. I really hope to make it back someday!