Discovering the secrets of the Empakaai Crater
Tucked away in an Eastern pocket of the Ngorongoro highlands, far from the crowds and the gaze of tourists, there exists a magical attraction, untouched by humans, and seldom visited. This is our journey to the Empakaai Crater.
One of the most unique aspects about the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is that the local Maasai tribe live in harmony with wildlife, something that is facilitated by a law demarcating Ngorongoro as a Conservation area, rather than as a National Park. Unknown to many, are the variety of experiences that can be enjoyed within the greater Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
Our adventures took us on a scenic drive through the Ngorongoro highlands, passing through various volcanic peaks and mostly uninhabited areas, with the exception of the occasional Maasai village. A mixture of cattle along with zebra and impala can be spotted on the open grassland as you drive from the Ngorongoro Crater for about 80 km towards Empakaai. As we arrived at the rim of the Empakaai Crater, the views were magnificent and we realized that the famous Ngorongoro Crater is not the only intact volcanic caldera in this region. The large alkaline lake covering three quarters of the crater’s floor dominated the landscape. From the crater rim, the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano near Lake Natron was clearly visible in the distance.
As we began our hike, we were accompanied by our expert local Maasai guide as well as an armed ranger, qualified to lead walking safaris in this area. Potential wildlife sightings include buffalo, bushbuck, blue monkey and a variety of birdlife including barred tailed trogon, eagle, greater and lesser flamingo.
The easy hike down to the bottom of the crater goes through the lush forest and provides scenic views of the crater and lake beneath. Upon arriving on the crater floor, flamingos were in clear sight, though they maintained a comfortable distance. It was unbelievable that we were the only visitors on this particular day, in such a scenic area. The majority of visitors to the Ngorongoro area have no idea that this hidden gem is only a short drive away. Being able to experience the serenity and tranquillity on the crater floor was a definite highlight, especially since it is only accessible on foot, unlike the Ngorongoro Crater, which at times can feel overcrowded with vehicles.
After a 30 minute break admiring the views and enjoying the scenery, the challenge of hiking uphill to the top of the crater was now upon us. During this uphill climb you begin to feel the altitude. However, hiking at a leisurely pace made it all the more enjoyable, with the added incentive of having a picnic lunch waiting for us at the top. Though the ascent and descent trail passes through the same route, the breath-taking scenery more than makes up for it.
Hiking the Empakaai Crater can be combined with an additional hike at Olmoti Crater or a visit to an authentic local Maasai Village to make a full day active and cultural itinerary. The Maasai in this area are far away from the tourist trail and therefore the experience interacting with them is less commercial, allowing guests to get a true understanding of the tribe and their daily life.
So the next time you are looking to break the routine of being in a safari vehicle, plan an extra day in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and enjoy a walking safari in this amazingly scenic yet private area of Tanzania. Empakaai Crater, a true hidden gem.
Empakaai Crater Useful Information:
Distance from Ngorongoro Crater (Sopa/Lemala Gate): 1.5 hour scenic drive
Elevation: 2,500 meters at the rim
Width of the crater: 6 km
Height of the crater: 300 meters
Difficulty of hike: Medium (steep ascent / descent)
Descent hike duration: 1 hour
Ascent hike duration: 1.5 hours
Optional additional hike around the lake on the crater floor: 2 – 3 hours
What do you need: Sun hat, sunscreen, water, comfortable walking shoes and a light fleece.
Contact us for more ideas on this region and to find out how to best incorporate a visit to the Empakaai Crater and Ngorongoro Highlands into your next safari adventure in Tanzania!