Key information: Empakaai Crater
- Hike 300m down to the floor of this dramatic collapsed volcano in Tanzania's remote Ngorongoro Highlands.
- Gaze over the colourful salt lake (6km across) that fills the bottom. Study the tens of thousands of flamingoes that line the shore.
- The cliffs around the caldera are lushly forested, and home to buffalo, hyena, occasional elephant and an assortment of birds.
- This walk is in remote mountains, where you will have to be self sufficient. Come prepared.
- Walkopedia rating86
- Natural interest18
- Human interest0
- Negative points0
- Total rating86
- Length: 3-5 hours
- Maximum Altitude: 2,740m
- Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
The superb but relatively obscure Empakaai Crater lies some 40km north-east of Tanzania's famous Ngorongoro Crater.
This extraordinary caldera (collapsed volcano) consists of a ring of cliffs encircling, some 300m below, a salt lake around 6km across. Its colours range from vivid turquoise to sparkling marine to pewter, depending on the time of day and the mood of the cloudscape.
A well-constructed path winds down the eastern rim, through the lush montane forest that clothes the crater walls. Marvel at some magnificent specimens, some organ-piped strangler figs in particular. You may meet buffalo (scary), hyena or the occasional elephant; as well as an assortment of birds.
The wildlife highlight here is, however, the multitude of flamingoes that form a salmon-pink band around the shore for most of the year. Bring binoculars: they are fascinating but are shy and stalk off or even take to the air if you get too close. Watch them parade en masse, feed and (most remarkably) fly. The rasping buzz of their massed ranks can be heard back into the forest.
Other than the proximity of the flamingoes, the shoreline is perhaps a tiny bit disappointing after the views from above. The salt crust by the lake is too flimsy to let you get near the water. The tough short grass is a bit depressed. The far shore can look very distant and the hillsides a bit hazy. But it is nonetheless a remarkable place.
The walk down will take around half an hour. Allow at least an hour on the floor - it takes around 4 hours to walk round the lake. It will take 45mins to 1 hr back up the steep path.
It takes around 3.5hrs on rough roads from the main Ngorongoro village to Empakaai, so it is a long days expedition. Or you can camp here and take a two-day donkey trek toward Lake Natron.
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Tanzania and Zanzibar -Cadogan Guides - Annabel Skinner
Tanzania- Lonely Planet Country Guide Mary Fitzpatrick
North of South: An African Journey- Shiva Naipaul
The Zanzibar Chest: A Memoir of Love andWar - Aidan Hartley
Filosofa's Republic- Thursday Msigwa
West With The Night Beryl Markham
Maps can be obtained locally, or on http://www.stanfords.co.uk/(There are no detailed maps available.)
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Between June and early October. Avoid the high rainy season (April and May) and be aware that the weather can be unpredictable (and views misty) late October to March, although things are greener during this period.
Generally fine in season, but come prepared for unpredictable weather and cold nights.
How you get to Tanzania will depend on your origin and plans. The nearest international airport is Kilimanjaro International Airport, near Arusha.
You will need a visa to enter Tanzania.
There is no public transport to Empakaai and the road is very poor, so a 4WD (best with a driver) will be necessary.
Those on organised expeditions will be transported from/to arranged start/departure points.
A well-maintained path down the eastern rim. About 30 mins down and 45mins to an hour up. You can walk round the lake in around 4 hours.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
Mountain weather: Rain, cold and wind are possible at any time of year. Come prepared.
Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
Dangerous or unpleasant animals of all shapes and sizes, including snakes, stinging/biting insects and plants. Take all appropriate precautions.
This is a remote country: You will have to carry all your food and other supplies and help will be hard to get if things go wrong.
Health risks: This is a relatively under developed country and you will not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. There are many potential problems, including malaria. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems:All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to Important information for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
You can do this walk independently, but will need some sort of guided expedition (or an experienced driver) to get there.
Expedition organisers include:
- Natural High Safaris http://www.naturalhighsafaris.com/- we used them for our 2008 Tanzania trip and were delighted. Not cheap (nowhere is) but reasonable value.
- Explore! - http://www.explore.co.uk/- reputable and experienced organisers.
- Great Walks of the World http://www.greatwalks.net/(combined with Kilimanjaro).
- Klub Afriko Safaris http://www.klubafriko.com/
- Gametrackers (K) Ltd http://www.gametrackersafaris.com/
- Abacus African Vacations http://www.abacusvacations.com/
- Walks Worldwide http://www.walksworldwide.com/
There is now serious accommodation in the vicinity, so some form of camping will be necessary if you are staying in the area.
Other information and tips
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with information on this walk. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
- http://www.wikipedia.org/ Empakaai Crater and Ol Doinyo Lengai.
Other things to do in the area
- Mts Kilimanjaro, Meru and the lesser known Hanang.
- Empakaai to Natrontrek. The superb and very active volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai.
- A new trail on the rim of the caldera of Ngurdoto Crater.
- Udzungwa Mountains National Park is tough but beautiful.
- Walking safaris (within a day or, better still, overnight) are the best way to experience the reality of "nature red in tooth and claw". This can be the only option in some of the southern national parks, but it is not allowed within the northern ones. However, superb treks can be made outside the national parks.
- Boating safaris
- Riding safaris
- Driving safaris
Shopping, if you must
We are not a shopping website. But, anything bought from local people must be of some help to this desperately poor area. So, wallets out but try to avoid the more obvious rip-offs and big tourist-focussed set-ups.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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