When you hear the word Ngorongoro, what is the next word that comes to your mind? Crater, perhaps? Yes, indeed the Ngorongoro Crater is rightly renowned for its outstanding natural beauty and abundance of wildlife. However, there is a lot more to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area than just the Crater, and many visitors leave the area without having had the opportunity to see more of what is on offer. The surrounding highlands include seven extinct volcanoes full of outstanding beauty and spectacular scenery. The best way to appreciate these attractions is by walking. Even a short walk of only an hour or two can be very rewarding and there are also many opportunities for longer hikes. After spending days sitting in a vehicle, some visitors do say that they would like to stretch their legs.
Crater Rim Walk
Drive to the starting point on the Crater rim about 5 km from the Rhino Lodge. The walk is along the western rim of the crater past the Oloirobi viewpoint. There are patches of forest at the beginning, which later opens up to thickets and grasslands. You’ll have beautiful views down into the crater on your right, and eventually you’ll come upon a view over the Olduvai Gorge, the Serengeti and the Gol mountains to your left. This is an easy-paced walk with no arduous climbs, just a few short gradients. It’s about 2 hours long, and can be done at any time of day. A good time would be either early morning before your game drive departs, or late afternoon after a day out on safari.
Drive t0 the starting point on the road to Endulen. This open grassland gives beautiful views of Mount Oldeani to the left, and Makarot to the right. You will see several Maasai villages dotted around the valley, and you may well encounter men herding their cattle and goats. You’ll climb gently upwards for about 45 minutes along the shoulder of Mount Oldeani, eventually reaching a spectacular viewpoint where the land falls away to Lake Eyasi, the western wall of the Rift Valley, and the Serengeti plains. This walk can also be done at any time of the day, and takes about 2 hours.
To get to Mt. Oldeani from the Eyasi viewpoint, you’ll walk directly uphill. This is a stiff climb of about 2 hours. You’ll climb about 900 meters, eventually reaching a height of 3,200 meters at the top. As you progress, you’ll see a difference in the vegetation, the plants and the birdlife. It is all open grassland with no forest or thickets of dense bush. At certain times of year, the profusion and color of the wild flowers will surely amaze you.
Eventually your hard work is rewarded by a spectacular panorama from the top with magnificent views in every direction: the crater to the north, the Serengeti and Lake Eyasi to the West, Lake Manyara to the South, and the crater highlands to the East. This walk can be done in about 4 hours if you continue at a steady pace, and don’t make frequent stops – except at the top. However, it can be easily expanded into a more leisurely, half-day excursion with a picnic lunch.
Drive north-west along the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, past Olmoti Crater, the village of Nainokanoka, and the Embulbul Depression where you’ll find good views of Mt. Loolmalasin on your right. At 3,648 meters, this is the third highest mountain in Tanzania. The drive is through open grassland dotted here and there with Maasai villages. You will see a lot of cattle, and a few wild animals such as zebra.
After about an hour and a half, you’ll reach the eastern rim of the Empakaai Crater. With a diameter of only 6 kms it is smaller than Ngorongoro, but beautiful all the same. This is a little-visited area, and the only way to access to the crater floor is by foot. The walls are steep, and thickly-forested. The walk down, along a good path, takes about 30 minutes, and includes a decline of about 300 meters through patches of forest.
Be on the look out for the two huge strangler fig trees as you approach the crater floor, which is mostly occupied by an 85 meter-deep soda lake. Depending on the season, you may encounter a great number of flamingos, which congregate to feed along the edge of the lake. This is also the home of black-winged stilts, little grebes, and cape teal. You may not see many animals, but the tracks of leopard, hyaena, baboon and buffalo give evidence of their presence. If you’re feeling energetic, you may enjoy a walk along the edge of the lake around the entire crater floor. This takes 2-3 hours, and gives you a chance to soak up the quiet beauty of this magical place.
Now it’s time for the hardest part – the climb back up to the rim! A picnic lunch can be eaten either in the crater or on the rim from where you get a beautiful view northwards to Oldonyo Lengai, a still-active volcano of great religious importance to the Maasai. This excursion can be done in half a day if don’t choose to walk around the lake. If you do, then it will take about 7 hours.
This is also shown on some maps as Mt. Lemagarut. It’s best to depart after breakfast, and drive down the road to Endulen as far as the village of Misigiyo. The walk starts here in an acacia-filled valley, from which you’ll emerge into scrub and grassland. It’s a stiff 2-hour climb to the peak, where you’ll have good views back down of Lake Eyasi, and Endulen.
From there you continue for another half an hour through some beautiful, high-altitude forest. You may see signs of animals such as buffalo, and baboons along the track. Eventually, you’ll have to scramble up another 200 meters to reach the Makarot peak itself at 3,130 meters. From there, you’ll be rewarded with an outstanding view, and the feeling of standing on the roof of the world. In front of you, the ground falls away to the Lake Eyasi, the western wall of the Rift Valley, Lake Ndutu, Olduvai Gorge, and the plains of the Serengeti. In the distance you can see the Gol Mountains. To your left you can see Mt. Oldeani, and to your right the western part of the Ngorongoro Crater.
Depending on the time of year, the beauty and variety of wild flowers is remarkable. You can eat the lunch you so wisely packed while admiring the view from up here. Then you’ll descend either by the same way you came, or down the northern slopes of Makarot towards the Serengeti plans, and rendezvous with your car on the road to the Serengeti. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area offers many opportunities for walking, but this is possibly the very best in terms of scenic beauty. The total walk lasts 5-6 hours.
1.This walk requires a reasonable level of fitness and bear in mind that you will be at altitudes in excess of 2,500 metres.
2.In some areas there are stinging nettles. It is advisable to wear long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt.
Endoro River Nature Trail
This is a 5km round trip, starting and finishing near Gibbs Farm, situated just to the north of the small town of Karatu. The walk takes you gently uphill into the Northern Highland Forest Reserve, where you’ll see the the elephant caves (created by elephants digging up and eating dirt to take advantage of the vitamins and minerals in the soil), and a 150m waterfall. From the top of the trail you’ll get beautiful views over the agricultural country around Karatu.
The forest is home to elephant, buffalo, leopard, waterbuck, bushbuck and vervet monkeys, plus a variety of birds. This is montane forest, not tropical, and is a vital source of water for the wildlife, and as well as the farming communities to the south. The trip should take about 2 hours to the elephant caves and back, and can be done before entering, or after leaving the Ngorongoro Conservation Area en route from/to Manyara.
General Notes on the walks: All walks must be accompanied by an armed ranger from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority. Although the risk of coming into contact with a dangerous, large animal is not very great, it is a law that you are accompanied by a ranger, just in case! In order to ensure availability of a ranger, it is preferable to book walks in advance. A Maasai Elder who has been born, and has lived in the Ngorongoro his entire life can accompany you and your group on the walk and provide a cultural perspective of the area. It may occasionally happen that adverse weather conditions (low cloud and rain) make it impossible to do the walk. We also recommend good walking shoes or boots, a sunhat and a waterproof jacket – just in case of a shower of rain. During these walks small numbers of animals will be seen but the main attraction of the walk is the natural beauty of the scenery, not the game viewing.
Costs: Please enquire with us as costs depend on the number of persons in a group.
At Nature Bound Africa we would be more than happy to organize any walk you desire. Even a short walk of only an hour or two through this area can be very rewarding, and there are also many opportunities for longer hikes. Shorter walks can be done as a simple add-on either at the beginning or end of a day of game-viewing to one of our Tanzania Wildlife Safari Trips. Longer hikes of either a half-day or full-day will require adding an additional night at Ngorongoro. The above are just a sample of the many options Nature Bound Africa is happy to organize for you.