Empakai to Lengai trekking - day by day itinerary
Day 1: Arusha - Ngorongoro Highlands - Empakai crater
You are picked up at your hotel in Arusha and from here drive to Ngorongoro. The first view into this huge caldera is unforgettable. After a picnic lunch on the crater rim you'll continue to drive through the highlands until you reach Empakai crater where camp is set on the crater rim.
Overnight: campsite on crater rim of Empakai. (L, D)
Day 2: Full day at Empakai crater
We have a full day to explore Empakai Crater. Following a narrow trail we descend on foot into the thickly forested Empakai Crater. As we descend through the vines and over roots, we get glimpses of the emerald green soda lake which covers about a quarter of the crater floor. The lake is a haven for flamingoes. We have a picnic lunch by the lakeside, and then hike around the lakeshore and back to camp (4-6 hours total).
Hot showers will be available, and then dinner, as we listen to the flamingoes pass overhead on their nightly journey toward Lake Natron. Oldonyo Lengai glows in the afternoon sun, poking its steep sloped top above the depths of the plains which surround its base well below the Rift Valley Escarpment, our next destination.
Overnight: as before (Empakai) (B, L, D)
Notes: For the walk to Empakai Crater floor, carry your own picnic lunch box in your daypacks, to enjoy at the lakeside. This evening each person will need to prepare a “light” bag for the donkey trek portion of the next etappe.
Flamingos around the crater lake of Empakai
View onto the Empakai crater lake
One of our Maassai guides at Empakai lake
Day 3: Hike from Empakai crater to the Rift Valley rim
We depart from our camp around 10am. Donkeys will carry your light bag (for one night only), plus the sleeping bags and sleeping pads to the next campsite. The walk leads us upwards along the crater rim, then steeply downward steeply on a foot trail along a ridge looking out over the highlands to the north. The top of Ol Doinyo Lengai juts into the sky, its steep slopes piercing the horizon created by the highlands atop the Rift Valley Escarpment wall. Along the road we pass Maassai women walking to the crater rim with donkeys in search of long grass to cut for their cows, and for roofing for their bomas (huts). We walk down into the small village of Nayobi, a center of trading ‘center’ for the local community. We continue on a cattle trail downward into scrub-woodland and groves of yellow barked Acacia (Fever Trees). The private campsite is set under yellow-barked acacia trees, with a stunning view of the top of Lengai. You arrive at about 3pm to the campsite for snacks and drinks.
Overnight: Acacia special campsite at Rift Valley escarpment (B, L, D)
Notes: The Maasai trekking guide carries a VHF hand-held radio for emergency contact uses. You will carry your own picnic lunch box in your daypacks, to eat en route.
Masai boma (village), en route from Empakai to Acacia Camp
Heading towards Lengai volcano...
Our campsite under acacia trees
Day 4: Hike into the Rift Valley, base of Ol Doinyo Lengai mountain
After breakfast, set off early, we continue our trek into the Rift Valley: First, we follow the edge of the escarpment wall. Lake Natron shimmers in front of us, while the massive stratovolcano Lengai is close by on our right, a deep chasm of air between the steep escarpment walls and the steep slopes of Lengai. The trail turns sharply downward along an ancient trading route to the foot of Lengai… (for centuries the Maasai on the lower plains have traded their goods with the Maasai in the highlands).
We stop midway along the trail to eat lunch in the shade of a canyon. The temperatures grow quite hot, and areas of shade are oases from the heat. Once we reach the base of the escarpment, we’ll be picked up and driven over to our camp (ca. 45 min drive).
Overnight: well-equipped, confortable public campsite near Lake Natron (B, L, D)
Notes: 1) You will carry your own picnic lunch box in your daypacks, to enjoy en route. You trek to the bottom of the escarpment, where at the pickup point, the passenger vehicle(s) will meet you and take you to the your private campsite.
2) At the Lake Natron campsite, you have the option to upgrade to stay in the luxurious tented lodges instead of the tent.
Bizarre landscape of the Rift Valley escarpment
Lunch break in the welcome shade of a canyon
Dinner at the campsite
Ad-on option: Climb Lengai volcano
Although we don't really recommend it, there is an option to hike to Lengai volcano up and down on the same day: rest during the afternoon, and go to bed early. You’ll be woken at 12am with a cup of tea or coffee, and then drive to the starting point of the hike, about 45 minutes from camp. The start point is at (3500 ft / 1065 mt.)), an dit takes 4-6 hours to reach the summit (9,900’). The trek begins at about 1am, through scrubby bushes, and becomes increasingly steep as we trek through the night. By dawn, you should reach the steep rocks at the edge of the crater rim, to step into another world. Lengai is an active volcano, and the sights, sounds and smells here will forever enchant you. From the summit you can see the sun rise over Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru, while tall lava chimneys vent sulphuric gases and black oily lava into the air. The descent (which takes 2.5 – 4 hours) is the most gruelling portion of the trek, and it is quite dangerous due to the excessively steep terrain. The temperatures soar by mid-morning, and there are no trees to protect you from the hot sun. A vehicle will take your weary body back to camp where you can rest. The total trekking time is about 8 to 11 hours. A mountain rope, VHF hand-held radio, and snacks (hot chocolate & cookies & fruit) are included in the add-on price for Lengai. A rain shell, a hat which covers the ears,and a light pair of gloves are needed for Lengai. Trekking poles are recommended.
Instead of going up and down Lengai on the same day, we recommend to add at least one or two days to the itinerary: then you can climb Lengai and stay on its summit for at least 1 or better 2 nights. Please contact us if you are interested in this option.
Day 5: Full day at Lake Natron, bath in waterfalls
This day is dedicated to the exceptional Lake Natron area with its pink flamingoes and the salt flats on the lakeshore. Lake Natron is one of Tanzania’s Great Rift Valley soda lakes. The alkali salt crust on the surface of the lake is often colored red or pink by the salt-loving microorganisms that live there. The lake is also the only breeding area for the 2.5 million Lesser Flamingoes, who flock along saline lakes in the region, feeding on Spirulina (a blue-green algae with red pigments). The theme here is definitely “pink”. In the heat of the afternoon we explore an area called ‘Engare Sero’, meaning “endless water” in the language of the Maasai. There is a clear, cool waterfall emanating from a fissure in the Rift Valley escarpment wall, and year-round river flows into the barren salt flats. We hike into the Engare Sero Gorge to the waterfall. where we can take a refreshing bath (water-shoes required, and swimsuits!).
Overnight: as before (Lake Natron) (B, L, D)
Day 6: Drive back to Arusha
After breakfast, you leave Lake Natron and drive along the savannah at the bottom of the spectacular Rift Valley back to the main road and to Arusha (ca. 6 hrs driving). The last night in a nice hotel in Arusha is included.
Overnight: hotel*** in Arusha (B, L, D)