Ngorongoro Highlands, Lake Natron and Lengai


12-days: Ngorongoro Highlands - Lake Natron - Lengai - Lake Manyara

This itinerary is a recommended example to truly enjoy what this remarkable part of Tanzania has to offer. On request, modifications are possible, such as upgrade of accommodation (where available) to lodges.

Day 1: Arrival / transfer to Arusha
Pick-up from airport or bus terminal and transfer to the hotel. Meeting of the group, presentation of the program and group dinner. Overnight at a uniquely designed and owner-managed lodge just a few minutes from Arusha town, situated in private grounds within a quiet residential area known as Sekei, with views of Mt. Meru (the 5th highest mountain in Africa, at 4,655 m). Pool and comfortable lounge with an excellent bar and dinner menu, complemented by staff who are friendly and attentive.
Acc.: hotel (upper mid-range) in Arusha (D)

Day 2: Arusha - Lake Manyara - Ngorongoro Highlands
We depart across the Maasai Steppe into the vast Tanzanian bush, passing mud and stick Masai manyattas (dwellings) along the way. At the Makyuni junction we toward the famous soda lake Lake Manyara, as we approach the Rift Valley escarpment, an impressive 600 m wall that snakes thousands of km as a volcanic rift through East Africa.
Lake Manyara, located at the bottom of this rift, is fed by water from the highlands above. We enter the lush park - a kingdom of undisturbed forest with giant fig trees, tamarind, mahogany and albezia. The Park offers enormous topographical variety and abundant wildlife: monkeys, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, ostrich, elephant, hippos, bushbuck, aardvarks and the occasional leopard, while the lake attracts over 380 species of birds such as flamingos, pelicans, storks, cormorants, Egyptian geese, and spur-winged geese, monkeys while elephants can often be seen on the slopes of the escarpment amongst the baobab trees.
We have a picnic lunch in the park, then in the mid afternoon we depart into the Ngorongoro Highlands. The landscape changes dramatically to one of fertile wooded hills and farms. After 1 hour we reach the the entry to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The paved road ends and we proceed toward the crater, into a lush and verdant rainforest. After 30 minutes we reach the rim of the crater and gape down onto the vast crater floor below. The sight of it is unforgettable.
Acc.: campsite (or lodge) near the rim of Ngorongoro crater. (B, L, D)

Day 3: Morning game drive in Ngorongoro - hike to Olmoti volcano
We start early to watch the sunrise into Ngorongoro crater. We proceed onto the crater floor (1 hr drive) for a second game viewing drive with picnic lunches.
After lunch, we drive to Olmoti volcano (ca. 1.5 - 2 hr) and hike to the crater rim, to peer out over the grassy plains of crater floor. Here you’ll find herds of shy eland, along with gazelles and zebras interspersed with Maassai cattle. We hike down to waterfalls at the inner crater, and back to find dinner ready and our camp set up.
Acc.: campsite at Olmoti volcano (B, L, D)

Day 4: Hike from Olmoti to Empakai
Today, we hike mostly through open grassland and the spectacular, vast Embulbul depression bounded by geologically interesting fault scarps that divide the different volcanic massifs around us. We pass Maassai bomas, large Maassai herds of cattle, as well as zebras, gazelles and other animals.
By mid afternoon we suddenly arrive at the rim of Empakai crater, where breathtaking views onto its caldera lake from high above await us. During the day, thousands of flamingos are often present at the lake; from high above they are just tiny red dots. By the time we arrive at the campsite on the rim, the camp will be already set up (our vehicles can drive ahead).
Note: This is a long but very easy and scenic hike, but if you wish you can drive half way (or all) with the car (total walking distance ca. 20 km, ca. 6 hrs walking time.)
Acc.: special campsite at Empakai (B, L, D)

Day 5: 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 flamingos. We have a picnic lunch by the lakeside, and then hike around the lake shore 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.
For the walk to Empakai Crater floor, carry your own picnic lunch box in your day packs, 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.
Acc.: as before (Empakai) (B, L, D)

Day 6: 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. The Maasai trekking guide carries a VHF hand-held radio for emergency contact uses. You will carry your own picnic lunch box in your day packs, to eat en route.
Acc.: Acacia special campsite at Rift Valley escarpment (B, L, D)

Day 7: 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).
1) You will carry your own picnic lunch box in your day packs, 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.
Acc.: well-equipped, comfortable campsite near Lake Natron or private tented lodges (B, L, D)

Day 8-9: 2 full days at Lake Natron: waterfalls, the salt lake, Lengai volcano, Maassai etc
You have two full days to explore the exceptionally interesting area around Lake Natron: the lake itself area with its pink flamingos and the salt flats. 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!).
Acc.: as before (Lake Natron) (B, L, D)

Day 10: Lake Manyara game drive
In the morning, we drive back through the Rift Valley to Lake Manyara National Park, where we will go on an exciting game drive in the afternoon.
Acc.: guesthouse or lodge at Lake Manyara Natl. Park (B, L, D)

Day 11: Return to Arusha - night in Arusha
Transfer to Arusha (ca. 2 hrs), end of service
Acc.: hotel (upper mid-range) in Arusha (B, L, D)

Day 12: Departure or extension program
We bring you in time for your connection to the airport or the bus terminal, or to the starting point of your own extension.
Acc.: none (B)

Custom and group dates only

Additional info:


  • All accommodation (prices based on shared room/tent) in hotel (2 nights in Arusha), guesthouse (1 night at Lake Manyara) and in camps (8 nights)
  • All transfers according to program: 4x4 in good condition, equipped with animal guide books, driver guide, max 5 clients per vehicle, roof-hatch access and window seats for each guest (i.e. max two clients per seat row)
  • No km limitation for excursions in the visited areas
  • Supply vehicle (to carry the camp) from 3+ pax
  • Two game safaris in Ngorongoro
  • Full board, all meals from dinner on day 1 to breakfast on last day
  • 3 liters of bottled drinking water per person per day
  • Cook(s) and camp hand(s) to prepare all your meals, set up & break camps
  • Full camping equipment incl. spacious dome tents, thick mattresses and liners, dining tent, table, chairs, washing water basin, towels
  • Frame beds in tents
  • Private services of a professional English-speaking safari guide(s) and a Maassai walking guide
  • Donkeys and donkey handlers
  • An armed Ngorongoro Park Ranger for the walks in Olmoti and Empakai Crater
  • All park fees and camp fees (Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro, Lake Natron + transit fees) and eco-tourism fee

Not included:

  • Flight/ticket (+attached costs) to/from tour destination and transfers to Arusha if necessary.
  • Transports from and to airports can be arranged separately at a small extra cost (depending on location)
  • Single tent/room supplement
  • Alcoholic drinks/spirits
  • Insurance(s)
  • Visa & vaccinations
  • Departure taxes
  • Tips for local staff

Physical requirements:
Generally, the level of difficulty on the hikes on this tour is easy to moderate, with distances of up to 20km during a day (but with the possibility to shorten part of it by car...), maximum climbing efforts of 5-600 m.

Arrival info:
The tour starts and ends in Arusha, a friendly, mid-sized town that is the main starting point for excursions in the area. See also the "Getting There" section further below.

Accommodation is based on double room or tent occupancy shared by the same sex (unless this is no problem or requested).
In some locations, you may opt for upgrades to stay in upscale lodges,- although we honestly believe that camping is the best way to enjoy nature and fits with the character of this hiking tour.
Accommodation in Arusha: You stay in a comfortable hotel with clean, spacious rooms, a swimming pool, an excellent restaurant and modern facilities.
Lake Manyara: simple guesthouse or camping (upgrade on request)
Ngorongoro: Public campsite on the crater rim (upgrade on request)
Olmoti: Simple campsite at the base of the cone of Olmoti (no upgrade possible)
Empakai: Special (private) campsite inside NCA, no facilities (no upgrade possible)
Elerai Forest, Acacia Camp: Special (private) campsite as per agreement with Nayobi village, no facilities (no upgrade possible)
Lake Natron: comfortable, well equipped campsite with unlimited supply of fresh water from the Rift Valley escarpmet, a bar and grand views on Lengai volcano (upgrade to tented lodges at campsite possible)

Customized tours:
The presented itinerary is a recommended suggestion, but this tour can be fully customized according to your preferences.

Preceding / additional days:
On request, we can arrange additional days in the same hotel in Arusha, as well as excursions from there (e.g. to Arusha Natl. Park).

Suggested tour extensions:
Tanzania offers vast possibilities for exciting travels. You can combine this tour with other safaris or tours, e.g. Kilimanjaro, Serengeti etc. If you're interested in any of these, please get in touch with us.