Hidden in the highlands region of the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area (NCA), there are some hidden gems that most visitors in Tanzania will completely overlook. A 40-kilometer drive north of the famous Ngorongoro Crater is the equally impressive Empakaai Crater. This makes for some perfect off-the-beaten-path exploration to some truly incredible natural attractions like the Empakaai Crater. It is best explored by a short trek down to the lake where you can encounter wildlife including baboons, buffalo, elephants, and flamingos. We were the only tourists in the crater when I visited, so you definitely feel like an explorer as you immerse yourself in the wild surroundings of the crater.
EMPAKAAI CRATER HIKE DETAILS
Hike Distance: The total distance of the hike is 5km out and back (return trip)
Hike Duration: The hike can be completed in about two hours depending on how long you enjoy the views while lake-side in the crater rim
Hike Difficulty: This trail is quite basic as it is only 5 kilometers in distance. However, the trail is quite steep down the side of the crater rim with 300m of elevation on the way up. The other component to consider is that you may be doing much of this trek exposed to the sun so it may not be for everyone but it isn’t a huge undertaking and most who are capable of walking for 1-2 hours will be fine.
Hike Incline: 295 meters.
My Strava Map Upload: Empakaai Crater Hike
WHERE IS THE EMPAKAAI CRATER
The Empakaai Crater is in the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, which is a five-hour drive from Arusha. Most people visiting the Empakaai Crater do so as part of a tour including a safari in Ngorongoro Crater and the nearby hikes of Olmoti Crater and/or Ol Doinyo Lengai (Mountain of God). I hiked Empakaai Crater as part of a four-day expedition of several hikes in the region with Altezza Travel. Below you will find the map location of the crater but it is important to know (I will add the details in the section below) you cannot enter the crater by yourself without a ranger.
GUIDES, RANGERS AND PERMITS FOR EMPAKAAI CRATER
To enter Empakaai Crater, you will need to have done prior organization and it isn’t a hike you can do independently. Firstly, you will need to pay the park fees and permit to enter the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. As I mentioned earlier, most people visit several attractions in the area to get value out of their permits. A safari in the Ngorongoro Crater, hiking Olmoti, and visiting the Maasai villages can all be included in your itinerary to maximize your time in the region.
In addition to the park permits, you will also need to employ the services of one of the park rangers because you will be leaving your vehicle in a zone where wild animals rule the land. Our park ranger, Simon, took us on two hikes in one day. First, we did a small 3-kilometer round-trip hike of Olmoti Crater and then we drove to Empakaai Crater and he led us up and down. Your ranger will be experienced, well-trained and armed in case of an emergency or dangerous animal encounter.
The last part to consider about reaching Empakaai Crater is that you will need a 4×4 vehicle, which is capable of handling the tough terrain of the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. I hiked Empakaai Crater as part of a four-day expedition of several hikes in the region with Altezza Travel and we had a driver with a 4×4 vehicle for the entirety of our trip.
MY EXPERIENCE ON THE EMPAKAAI CRATER HIKE
The morning began with a beautiful little adventure to the Olmoti Crater for sunrise. After that, we had a bumpy one-hour drive from Olmoti Crater to Empakaai Crater. Along the way we passed countless herds of Maasai cattle and the young boys following behind, herding their livestock to new fields.
As we reached the rim of Empakaai Crater, we began to get some beautiful views down into the crater where we could see the lake. Steep walls covered in vegetation made it hard to believe that we would be able to find a route down. It’s surprising that the animals such as elephants and buffalo also make the journey down into the crater, especially considering it is a salt lake. Our guide stopped at the top of the crater rim so we could jump out and enjoy the view before we began our hike.
After enjoying the views from the crater rim we parked the car. Our guide stayed up top and kept an eye on the car while we headed off on our hike down to the lake. The hike is just 2.5 kilometers down to the crater but is quite steep. Along the way you will dip in and out of the thick forest vegetation, often passing underneath ancient trees and thick vines. Keep your eyes out for buffalo, baboons, and birdlife as you pass underneath the canopy on your way down to the lake.
Once you reach the lake, it truly feels like a prehistoric land. All alone in a huge crater, the exploration vibe continued as we walked around the edge of the lake. As we perused the lake we came across flamingos, a huge troop of baboons, and some antelope. Our trek inside the crater finished at a white rock, which is used as a landmark within the crater. Here we had a short snack break and took a seat to soak in the peaceful atmosphere of the Empakaai Crater.
The journey back up to the crater rim was a little challenging but short-lived. The ascent portion of the return to the crater rim is just over one kilometer but has a 295m elevation gain so it will definitely have you raising a sweat under the midday sun.
I hope you enjoyed this hiking guide for the Empakaai Crater in Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, Tanzania.