Trekking the Crater Highlands

The best way to explore the Crater Highlands is on foot, although because of the logistics and multiple fees involved, trekking here is expensive: from US$350 per person and up (less if you have a large group) for overnight trips. Treks range from short day jaunts to excursions of two weeks or more. For all routes, you’ll need to be accompanied by a guide, and for anything except day hikes, most people use donkeys or vehicle support to carry water and supplies (though vehicles can’t go everywhere the donkeys can).

Nearly all visitors arrange treks through a tour company. Many Arusha-based companies can take you up Ol Doinyo Lengai, just outside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) boundaries, as can the accommodation places in Lake Natron or Engaruka.

There are no set routes, and the possibilities are numerous. Good two-day trips include the Ngorongoro Crater rim, Olmoti to Empakaai, and Empakaai to Lake Natron. These three can be strung together into an excellent four-day trip: start at Nainokanoka ranger post to make it three days or extend it one day to climb Ol Doinyo Lengai.

If you base yourself at Ngorongoro Crater or Karatu, there are some good day hikes that let you experience the area on a lower budget, such as climbing Makarot or Oldeani, or walking along the Empakaai or Olmoti craters. Apart from transport costs, these involve only the US$70.80 NCA entry fee and US$23.60-per-group guide fee. Oldeani is the least complicated option, since the climb starts at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority headquarters. From Oldeani, it’s possible to camp and continue on down to Lake Eyasi, where there’s public transport.

Climbing Ol Doinyo Lengai

As one of the best climbs in East Africa, Ol Doinyo Lengai is at once challenging and extremely beautiful.

With a midnight start, a trek from the base village of Engaresero at Lake Natron is possible in one long haul. You'll usually be back down by mid-morning. The climb is not for the faint-hearted, but the rewards are considerable: the sunrise views out over Lake Natron, the escarpment and beyond are among the best in Tanzania.

There are, however, some things to take into account when preparing your ascent. It's strongly recommended that you take a helmet – there are often baboons on the higher slopes and they frequently dislodge gravel and sometimes larger stones; other wildlife to watch out for includes leopards and klipspringers. It's also extremely steep near the summit – although it's a trek rather than a technical climb, in places you'll be close to vertical. And throughout the climb, the loose ash along most of the path makes it difficult going when ascending, and it can be an even tougher, often painful, descent.

Climbing Ol Doinyo Lengai costs between US$60 and US$100 per person, depending on how many are in the party. Guides can be arranged through your lodging or through the community-run Engaresero Tourism Office at the southeastern entrance to Engaresero.