The second-largest crater in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Empakaai is almost 8km in diameter and its floor is dominated by a saline crater lake and enclosed by sheer 300m high walls that rise to an elevation of 3,200m on the eastern rim. On of East Africa’s most underrated and seldom-visited scenic gems, the crater lies about 90 minutes’ drive northeast of Ngorongoro Crater via the Embulbul Depression, a grassy bowl that which dips to below 2,350m at the base of the 3,260m Mount Losirua and 3,648m Lolmalasin (the highest point in the Crater Highlands). The view from the forested crater rim is fabulous, whether you look inward to the emerald green crater lake, its shallows frequently tinged pink by thousands of flamingos, or east across the Rift Valley to the ashen slopes and smoking fumaroles of volcanic Ol Doinyo Lengai, a scene that also takes in Lake Natron and snow-capped Kilimanjaro on a clear day.
Empakaai offers a welcome opportunity to break the safari regime of twice-daily game drives with a stiff steep guided hike to the crater floor. The steep but scenic descent along a tolerably well-maintained footpath takes 45-60 minutes, longer if you’re looking out for the plentiful birds that inhabit the forested crater walls, and there’s also a chance of spotting bushbuck, buffalo, blue monkey and even elephant. Good walking shoes and a reasonable level of fitness are recommended.