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.
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. When you arrive at the rim of the Empakaai Crater, the views are magnificent and you will realize 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 dominates the landscape. From the crater rim, the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano near Lake Natron is clearly visible in the distance.
As you begin to hike, you will be accompanied by local Maasai guide expert 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 are in clear sight, though they maintained a comfortable distance. Being able to experience the serenity and tranquillity on the crater floor is 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 is upon you. During this uphill climb you begin to feel the altitude. However, hiking at a leisurely pace will make it more enjoyable, with the added incentive of having a picnic lunch waiting for you 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 you to get a true understanding of the tribe and their daily life.