This is what Tropical Trails is known for: as operators of the most invigorating and rustic trekking safaris in Tanzania. We pioneered our crater highlands treks from the plains of Ngorongoro to the shores of the lake in Empakai Crater, down the Great Rift Valley wall to spectacular Lake Natron, where a swim in the cool waterfall pools awaits you.
It can be done in 3, 5, 6 or 7 days depending, and we will be more than happy to incorporate a few trekking days into your safari!
These treks get you close to nature and allow you the chance to get an authentic taste of the local culture as you trek with Maasai guides and your belongings are transported on pack animals in the traditional way-just as tribesman have done for centuries. While this trek is not necessarily physically demanding - it does require a fit and healthy individual with the stamina to walk 4 - 11 hours a day through some rugged terrain, but once you're through - you'll find it worth the sweat!
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Safari with Crater Highlands Trek 7 Days Sample Itinerary
Arrive in Arusha and overnight in a lodge (included on a BB basis).
Drive from Arusha and then descend into the Ngorongoro Crater for a crater tour. This 100 square mile natural amphitheatre is host to an astonishing array of wildlife and you may be lucky enough to see rhino, elephant and lion, as well as large herds of zebra and wildebeest. A picnic lunch will be taken in the Crater before returning to the lodge. Stay a second night at Simba Camp on the rim of the Crater.
Day 2- Ngorongoro Crater to Olmoti
Drive to the Ngorongoro Crater and descend into the Crater for a second game drive. Then exit the Crater and drive to Nainokanoka. Take an afternoon trek at Olmoti, which takes you through the rain-forested slopes of Olmoti Crater to the rim viewpoint. The trek winds down to the grassy plains of the crater floor and to Mungwe Falls, named after the distinctive white flourish of the Colobus Monkey tail.
Day 3- Olmoti Crater to Empakai
The trek continues to the distant Empakai Crater. On this day the trek covers open grassland through a natural amphitheatre created by encircling volcanoes. Masai rush out of their traditional homes (Manyattas) to greet trekkers as they pass by. The steep walk up Empakai affords awe-inspiring views, especially from the top where the sheer sided sunken crater can be seen. We camp on the Crater Rim, with Empakai on one side and Ol Donyo Lengai, the holy Masai volcano, on the other.
Day 4 - Empakai to Nayobi
From the overnight camp, we scramble down the sheer-sided slopes of Empakai onto the crater floor for a foot safari. Empakai Crater is a sunken volcano with a soda lake covering most of the crater floor. Flamingos nest here during the day to escape the blazing heat of the Rift Valley. A large forest on the western shore is home to antelope, buffalo, leopard and lion, with large seasonal zebra and wildebeest populations when they pass through on their migratory circuits.
Day 5 - Nayobi to Ngaresero
The Masai Mountain of God, Ol Donyo Lengai looms out of the sunrise as we head out early to avoid the African heat. We arrive at the escarpment, the sheer wall that looms out of the Rift Valley floor, to admire one of the finest views in Africa. Sweeping vistas of the Rift Valley 1500ft below, and the scattered active volcanoes, primitive rock formations, glimmering soda lakes and clustered Masai bomas are all in front of you to behold.
The final six kilometers are across the tough uncompromising terrain of the valley floor in extreme heat. Our shaded camp is perched above a refreshing stream, a half-hours walk from a paradisiacal waterfall.
Day 6 - Ngaresero
Very early morning an optional climb of Ol Donyo Lengai
(2878m), an active carbonate volcano with spiritual significance to the Masai. (Please see below)
A visit to Lake Natron (short afternoon visit if Ol Donyo Lengai trek is taken), one of the soda alkaline lakes that jewel the East African Rift, where there is an array of water birds including hordes of resident flamingos. There is also the opportunity to walk up a gorge carved into the Rift Escarpment to a waterfall to wash off five days of dust.
Day 7 - Ngaresero to Arusha
A long driving day returning back to Arusha. Overnight Arusha included (on BB)
Optional Trek of Oldonyo Lengai
An optional climb of Ol Donyo Lengai (2878m), an active carbonate volcano with spiritual significance to the Maasai, is offered.
This is a very demanding trek, which starts around 3 am in the morning so as to avoid the fierce midday heat. There is no shade on the mountain, and the terrain underfoot consists of tough scree, lava and volcanic ash, with steep furrows and gullies to negotiate.
At the summit, there are two craters (one of which is still active) which can be explored, with due care, and the views across the Rift and towards Lake Natron are breathtaking. This trek is recommended for serious trekkers in good physical condition. A large water intake and a sunhat are strongly advised.
This trek can be added onto our Rift Valley Trek, for the ultimate wilderness trek across some of the most primeval, spectacular, unvisited landscapes on Earth.
Some Missives of one of our own
Crater Highlands - An Incredible Journey
By Brittany Stephen
Imagine a journey through the heart of Tanzania not unlike the romantic accounts of Ernest Hemingway. Gently rolling hills bathed in soft, gentle breezes and knotted trees blanketed in Spanish moss. Mottled mountainsides punctuated by misty mornings followed by blazing daytime heat and nippy evenings, all against some of the world's most spectacular backdrops.
This is the Crater Highlands trek.
Working for a safari company definitely has its perks, so when it was decided that I should embark on a familiarization trip for this journey, I was more than willing. I was even more thrilled when two very close girlfriends could join me and my wonderful Maasai guide, Ole Supuk, in the adventure.
What ensued over the next five days was an expedition that we likened to that of Frodo and Sam in J.R.R Tolkien's beloved, Lord of the Rings (albeit without the threat of eminent demise, of course). And while one may chuckle at the zealous comparison, the trek's vast and ever changing terrain, mystical sweeping vistas of distant jagged peaks, and rather ethereal feel definitely convey the feeling that one is indeed somewhere magical.
The trek begins on the lush forested rim of the Ngorongoro Crater where the trees are thick with birds, where stealthy buffalos roam and the air is damp and cool. The walk continues to the nearby Olimoti Crater in which there is a small waterfall whose appearance is compared to that of the bushy Colobus Monkey's Tail, and named thereafter. From there, the trek resumes across a substantial valley, over rolling hills and finally up an abrupt incline to the Jurassic Empakai Crater where views of distant hills and impressive mountains swathed in purple haze loom.
Then, there is the walk down the crater itself. It is a giant bowl of stone where a volcano once stood. The walls are a melange of jade colored fig trees and draping vines that pave the way to a large soda lake whose spectacular shoreline is occupied by thousands of pink flamingoes. From this point, the path is no longer accessible by car and equipment must be loaded onto tenacious donkeys lead by Maasai.
From Empakai - the walk continues across the rift valley's escarpment ridge. Suddenly, Ol Donyo Lengai, an active volcano whose muffled rumblings and minor eruptions are the sole active reminders of a time since past, becomes visible. Its presence is both glorious and ominous. The walk continues slowly around this "Mountain of God" as it is known to the Maasai and finally leads to a scramble down the escarpment wall of the Great Rift.
Once down, the Rift Valley opens up to a dramatic landscape velveteen slopes, serrated peaks and undulating valleys created lifetimes ago by aggressively shifting tectonic plates. Maasai children adorned in brilliant shukas (signature Maasai blue and red clothing) and jingling jewelry run over brimming with curiosity to greet trekkers with smiling faces. The sounds of cowbells resonate across the valley floor where waving Maasai men lead their cattle to greener pastures. In the distance lay Lake Natron, glistening in the sunlight like a mirage - our (triumphant) Mordor.
At this point, the trek crosses a vast stretch of desolate, sun baked Earth. Respite comes when the Kamakai campsite is reached and a trip to a rushing waterfall waits. This supplies instant gratification in the form of fresh, cool water where the journey's dust can be cleansed away.
Nighttime chats around crackling campfires, uninhibited starry skies with sporadic falling stars and warm meals in the open air…sunsets with steaming cups of cocoa, birdsongs in the morning amidst a backdrop of water-colored sunrises and the satisfaction of a job well done
Oldonyo Lengai - A Climb into the Mouth of God
The Maasai call it "the mouth of god", for not only do they believe their ancestors descended from it; they believe God lives atop it. It rises sharply and proudly out of the Great Rift Valley with jagged edges and carved angular slopes…as regal as is ominous, as beautiful as is rare…we call it Lengai. "Lengai" [pronounced: lang - eye] rolls trippingly off the tongue conjuring images of mythical lands. It is, in actuality, an active volcano; the only active sodium carbonate volcano in the world.
Lengai is situated in one of the most spectacular and underrated areas of Tanzania. Lake Natron is a natural alkaline soda lake that, from a distance, looks like a great, expansive puddle that covers the valley floor and glistens in the sunlight. The environment, however, is hostile; temperatures of the mud can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius and the alkaline level can reach a pH of 9-10.5! Natron's edges are dotted in a pink tinge created by the thousands of flamingos that migrate there. They are some of the only creatures who can thrive in these conditions, the caustic environment actually acting as a barrier against predators. The fringe of the valley is composed of emerald green hills and mountains that create scenery unrivaled anywhere else in the world. Among this naturally pristine spectacle sits Lengai.
Waterfall (Kamakai) Campsite
We arrived at the riverside base camp dusty from the hours of rambunctious off-roading. The site was minimalist and cozy, complimented by the grandiose of the looming mountain that overlooked us. A few meters walk from where we set up our tents was a small river winding its way out of the ravine. We were told it lead to water falls, so we decided to take the short hike. After about 30 minutes of trekking in and out of water along the rocky ledge we reached the fall situated between two cliffs blanketed in moss and flora. The noon sun made rainbows in the mist of the fall and we all swam in and out of it and basked on the shore rocks like sirens as we lazily ate our lunch. The scene was something of enchantment.
The hike began at midnight. As our vehicle clamored along the road to her base we could just make out a faint tableau in the moonlight. We began trekking and immediately the effects of the 45 degree slope were felt. We laboriously climbed higher through aromatic fields of mountain heather, dense grasses, rocky crevasses, and burned bush, resting temporarily to break our sweats and cool off. As soon as we stopped moving, however, the chilled howling wind would penetrate our layers and force us on our way where we would begin to sweat again. It was virtually impossible to find a level of temperate comfort between the cold wind and the body heat generated by the climb.
As we neared the top the landscape changed from difficult to hostile, the earth covered in jagged rocks and loose volcanic debris. The slope continued to get steeper still and parts of the climb were done on all fours. Moments when one had to brace themselves against a fall were often thwarted by a giant blast of air that wailed down the incline like a banshee.
From the distance, Lengai looks like her peak is exactly that, a peak. In reality, however, her ashen and barren cavern is vast and plain-like. The peak resembles the surface of the moon, its lunar landscape covered in a white, molten crust with individual peaks (formed by mini-eruptions) that jut out in sharp, sporadic disarray. As you wander its vastness you feel a sense of tremendous accomplishment. In certain areas, your feet crack through the crust setting free sulfurous smoke that rises out of the footprint as a reminder of the natural supremacy of where you are.
The wind is a constant howling force at this elevation and a trip to the edge offers a spectacular view: a sweeping panoramic of the entire region. The sloping rift slips effortlessly into the valley and from this vantage point looks like a massive green velvet curtain that ripples to the floor. Clouds fly past your face and fall down the side of the mountain with no hesitation like they've been poured out of a carton. Summiting Lengai is one of those experiences that remind an individual that we are just specks on a landscape and a part of something much bigger and powerful than ourselves.