Ngorongoro Crater Safari: Wildlife & Lava

A 7 day trip to Tanzania 
4.25 out of 5 stars
4 reviews

There is quite simply no way to gain greater intimacy with the bush than on foot. This weeklong tour of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area provides intrepid hikers with an unprecedented wilderness experience as they hike through the crater’s many regions. Follow ancient farming trails between numerous Masai villages, before eventually summiting an active volcano for panoramic views of the plateau and the crater floor. This journey provides unparalleled and deeply personal opportunities to not only see, but also hear, smell and feel this special corner of Tanzania. 

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General Information

Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Arusha, Mount Lengai Volcano, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Naiyobi Village, Lake Natron, Mount Oldonyo Lengai, Great Rift Valley  

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Welcome to Ngorongoro! Drive from Arusha to Explore the Crater before Setting up Camp

Welcome to Tanzania! This morning your plane will descend into the city of Arusha, between Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru. Wasting no time at all, a representative will meet you in the arrivals hall and drive you out of the city towards the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. You will dive right into the heart of this prehistoric looking region with a game drive on the crater floor; your Tanzania vacation and safari has begun! As you weave down the rain-forested slopes, the excitement will build as you peer between the branches in search of leopards, monkeys and prolific birdlife. The crater itself was formed over two-million years ago, when an ancient volcano collapsed in on itself. Today, it remains the world’s largest inactive volcanic caldera and acts as a natural enclosure for Africa’s most famous wildlife. You will drive across the crater floor towards the large central lake – which may just be the perfect first picnic location. As you eat lunch surrounded by herds of ungulates, pause to imagine the hike that lies in front of you.  

After lunch, you will drive towards the Nainokanoka Village – your first camp. The campsite is located on the edge of an authentic Masai village. After setting up camp, take a gentle walk to the edge of the Olmoti Crater. This seldom-visited crater neighbors the Ngorongoro Crater, and offers those who wander this way a great sense of solitude and independence in the wilderness. Peer over the crater lip with a pair of binoculars, and work to spot wildlife on the plains below. Walk around the edge and pass by the Munge River as it plunges over the crater wall, creating a stunning and powerful waterfall. Return slowly to the campsite where you will enjoy a fire-cooked dinner served under the stars. After a long day of travel, adventure and exhilaration, you will undoubtedly retire early tonight.

Day 2: Hike Along Cattle Trails Through the Embulimbuli Depression, Arriving at the Kamnana Campsite

Rising early to a bush breakfast and steaming hot coffee, you and your team will depart on a daylong hike towards Kamnana Village. Today you will follow ancient cattle trails used by generations of farmers as you gradually walk through forests and grasslands. You will move towards the Embulimbuli Depression – the grassy basin where the slopes of Olmoti, Empakaai, Lomalasin and the Losirua volcanoes intersect with the outer edge of the Ngorongoro Crater. Stand in the center of this volcanic amphitheater, admiring the sheer power of the landscape around you. Tomorrow you will climb to the top of a rim for unbelievable views of the region – but today will be all about standing at the feet of these ancient mountains. In the late afternoon, you will arrive at the Kamnana Campsite, located in the bush just outside the Kamnana village.

Day 3: Climb the Crater to the Empakaai Rim for Unbelievable Views of the Floor Below

This morning you will begin a gradual climb upwards, eventually reaching the rim of the Empakaai Crater. Today will be one of the best days to spot herds of buffalo, waterbuck and reedbuck, so be sure to stay alert! Birdlife in this portion of the hike is also abundant, and binoculars would be a wise thing to keep in your backpack or around your neck. You will reach the edge of the Empakaai Crater midday, just in time for another delicious picnic lunch overlooking the 6000-meter wide crater. Look out across the horizon on a clear day for views of Mount Kilimanjaro, Lake Natron and Mount Oldonyo Lengai – which you will summit in the coming days!

After some rest and relaxation, you descend towards the crater floor. The floor is largely occupied by a deep alkaline lake, characteristic of the Great Rift Valley. Birds love these algae-filled waters, and ornithologists will be able to happily spend hours lakeside observing the multitude of species. Alternatively, you may wish to venture through the equatorial forests and grasslands in search of further encounters with various ungulates. As the sun begins to descend, climb back up to the rim to enjoy a cocktail as the sun sets over this stunning landscape. Enjoy another bush dinner before retiring to your tent where you might just fall asleep to the calls of flamingos flying back towards their breeding grounds on Lake Natron and Lake Manyara.

Day 4: Circle the Crater Rim, Traveling to the Northwest Side and Naiyobi Village

This morning you will begin the day by following footpaths around the crater rim towards the northwestern sides. This gentle hike will give you countless panoramic views of both across crater and the magnificent surrounding landscape. The trail eventually descends a rocky scramble towards the marshy crater floor. You will have another opportunity to approach the massive soda lake on foot, walking amongst the substantial flamingo and pelican populations. The pink and white colors of these flocks stand in stunning contrast to the deep green hue of the water, making for great photo opportunities. Do keep an eye in the surrounding woodlands as well, since this region falls on the migratory path for some zebra and wildebeest populations. Buffalo, leopard and antelope also favor this western shore and woodland, revealing themselves occasionally to hikers and onlookers. In the afternoon, you will make your way to the next campsite just outside Naiyobi Village.  

Day 5: Leave the Highlands as You Walk Downhill towards the Mwongoni Campsite

Today’s journey will carry you downhill away from the crater highlands and towards a Masai village. Having spent the past days amidst the lush and tangled forests of the varied craters, today’s scenery will change dramatically as you hike into grass and grazing land. In the late afternoon, you will reach the Mwongoni Campsite. Located beside an authentic Masai bomayou might wish to rest your legs while you learn about this unique semi-nomadic pastoralist culture. Masai warriors are among Africa’s most distinguished and recognizable tribes, with their red-checkered blankets and intricate beaded jewelry. Famed for their remarkable jumping abilities, often associated with rite-of-passage ceremonies, you will have the chance to learn about the culture, beliefs and history of these individuals. A cultural performance towards the end of the afternoon, complete with traditional song and dance, is always a highlight – as is the opportunity to shop at a local craft market.

Day 6: Hike to River Ngare Sero at the Base of Mount Lengai

Early this morning, you will wake up to hike across the volcanic rocks and lava soil into the foothills of the still-active Mount Oldonyo Lengai Volcano. The mountain is of great cultural significance to local Masai communities, who still worship it as one of their gods. Upon crossing the River Ngare Sero, you will arrive in another village where you will set up camp. This river is the perfect place for a mid-afternoon dip at the base of the sacred waterfalls. We strongly recommend joining the team on a hike up the volcano in the morning, in which case today will be spent quietly relaxing in anticipation. Enjoy an afternoon of swimming and sun tanning on the banks of the river, occasionally venturing off to explore the bush.

Day 7: Climb Mount Lengai for Sunrise, then Return by Road to Arusha via Lake Natron

Early this morning, intrepid and adventurous hikers will have the option of summiting Mount Lengai. In order to reach the tip of the volcano for sunrise, we will depart at roughly 2AM. At 9,200 feet, this hike will carry you to one of the best vantage points in the area where you will be able to witness one of Tanzania’s best sunrises. Enjoy breakfast and a rest, before setting out to explore the active center of the volcano, where hot lava can occasionally be seen!

Spend a few final moments checking out Mount Lengai, before descending to the base for midday. Here, a private vehicle will await your arrival. Before parting with the bush, spend some time driving around Lake Natron enjoying a picnic on the shores. The lake itself is very shallow, and has a shockingly high pH level (9 – 10.5) which often leaves large quantities of salt on the shoreline. The lake was made famous in 2013 when a photographer stumbled upon what appeared to be a number of mummified animal corpses washed up along the shoreline. While the lake does in fact support a wide number of endangered lesser flamingos through the resident algae population, these waters are in fact deadly to animals that drink it directly. Stand on the eerie yet intriguing shores of this harsh lake, and gaze up towards Mount Oldonyo, which you summited only yesterday.

As the afternoon draws to a close, begin the journey back towards Arusha. Should you be departing on an evening flight, your driver will carry you straight to Kilimanjaro International Airport in time for your outbound departure. Otherwise, accommodation will be organized for the evening, enabling you to catch a flight the following morning.

However, after this extensive hiking trip, consider adding a few days on the tropical shores of the Indian Ocean to your trip. The islands of the Zanzibar Archipelago are world-renowned for their beauty, and your body may just be craving a few lazy days on the palm-fringed shores. Should this, or any other extension, be desired, a representative will gladly work with you to design that.  Take a look at reviews of Tanzania safaris for some ideas and to see what travelers experienced while in Tanzania.


Starting Price 

This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.