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Lake Natron & Ol Doinyo Lengai


of the lake 1,254 km² (525 mi²)

Thought to be created

1.5 million years ago

Best time to visit

all year round

Leave the rest of the world behind

Stunning vast landscapes await at Lake Natron on Tanzania’s northern border. On this remarkable stop off on the Northern Safari Circuit, visitors can witness flamingos arrive en masse to breed in the shallow, alkaline water that is toxic to other animals. Spectacularly, the lake turns blood red during the dry season, a phenomenon seen from space. Overlooking the lake is the unmistakable conical form of the volcano, Ol Doinyo Lengai, the holy mountain of the Maasai tribe. Although it's hot and dusty, the area’s picturesque landscapes and a hiking trail that leads to a stunning waterfall make it perfect for nature enthusiasts.

Ol Doinyo Lengai and Lake Natron

Lake Natron & Ol Doinyo Lengai: A soda lake, a live volcano and humankind’s earliest days

Lake Natron is a huge alkaline lake on the border of Tanzania and Kenya. Although Arusha (214km) is in the vicinity, it’s a wild and isolated area on the famous Northern Circuit. Yet, Lake Natron can be easily visited in conjunction with  Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti National Park.

Lake Natron experiences a hot desert climate year-round, and its alkaline water is deadly to most birds and animals. Moreover, the roads are bumpy, and the air is dusty. So why does Lake Natron attract so many visitors?

Lake Natron is a destination for nature lovers, solitude seekers and photographers. This incredible lake, which turns red in the dry season, dominates the stunning scenery, and Ol Doinyo Lengai, an active volcano, creates a spectacular backdrop. The deep ochre colours and unique landscapes feel unreal at times.


Ol Doinyo Lengai

The Maasai say the volcano is home to their god, Ngai. In fact, in the Maa language, Ol Doinyo Lengai means “Mountain of [the] God.” A guided trek up this mountain departs at midnight to avoid the heat. However it is an incredibly steep and challenging hike, but the dawn views from the crater rim are incredible and are the reward for the steep ascent.


Engare Sero

15 km (9 mi) from Ol Doinyo Lengai, evidence of humankind’s earliest days can be observed at Engare Sero. Four hundred preserved human footprints crisscross the ground and give us a glimpse into the lives of people who lived in the area from 5000 to 19000 years ago, which is a humbling experience.



From September to May, Lake Natron becomes a breeding ground for ~2.5 million Lesser Flamingos, an incredible wildlife spectacle. This is one reason why Lake Natron is considered a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance. They breed in the shallow waters in the middle of the lake to protect their young from hyenas and jackals. You can also see them moving through the water in large, choreographed groups. However, the most common behaviour to observe is the flamingos feeding on the lake’s shoreline.

An additional ~250 bird species make birdwatching a popular attraction. Along with the Lesser and Greater Flamingo, you can see the common ostrich, sacred ibis, Egyptian goose, pelican, crested francolin, kori bustard, bare-faced go-away-bird and many others.

Lake Natron does not have vast numbers of wildlife. However, the shoreline is home to zebra, wildebeest, kudu, oryx, and gerenuks, while golden jackals and hyenas are among the few rarely seen predators.


What to do at Lake Natron?

One highlight is a short 45-minute guided hike to Lake Natron’s waterfall, which is a marvel in such a hot environment. Walks commence in the afternoons, and when you enter the steep sided Ngare Sero River gorge, you instantly feel relief from the heat. Hip high water crossings add to the cooling effect. Moreover, you can swim behind the cascading torrent of water at the waterfall – an unforgettable experience.

Visit a Manyata (homestead) to learn more about the Maasai, their gods, and their nomadic culture.

Lake Natron is an off-the-beaten-track destination for nature lovers looking to leave the rest of the world behind.

Lake Natron map


Millions of flamingos flock here to lay their eggs from September to May. The harsh soda water helps to keep predators away from their young.



This remote area on the popular Northern Safari Circuit feels secluded even during peak season. Take a detour to experience a few days off the beaten track.



A 45-minute guided walk into the steep sided Ngare Sero River gorge will lead you to a waterfall, where you can swim in the plunge pool and retreat from the heat.

Flamingos feeding on algae Lake Natron

Depending on the season you can see flamingos breeding on small islands and feeding in the shallow alkaline lake.

Holy mountain Ol Doinyo Lengai

Ol Doinyo Lengai is the holy mountain of the Masai. The area is a very remote part on the northern circuit.

Multi day hike with Lake Natron Camp

You can go on multi-day hikes from the Ngorongoro Highlands to Lake Natron.

Remoteness Northern Circuit Tanzania

The area promises a feeling of isolation in the best way.

Waterfall hike at Lake Natron

It gets very hot here. On waterfall hikes you can enjoy a refreshing dip and cool off.


When to go to Lake Natron & Ol Doinyo Lengai

The best time to visit Lake Natron is during the dry season, from June to October. Daytime temperatures are still hot but milder than during the rainy season, and hiking is more comfortable. Intense evaporation during the dry season increases the lake’s salinity levels, creating the perfect environment for the cyanobacteria to multiply rapidly. This process turns the lake red. Consequently, the best time to take incredible photos is the dry season. The area should be avoided from mid-November to February if you do not like very hot weather. You can visit during the rainy season, from March to May; however, parts of the shoreline may be inaccessible.

dry season

Dry Season

June to October

Ideal for hiking and to see the start of the flamingo breeding season.

rainy season

Green Season

March to May

Heavy rain turns the surroundings green, and the dilution of the lake water dissolves the red hue.

Why to go

An unexpected hiking destination

Lake Natron and Ol Doinyo Lengai are exceptional hiking destinations. On a guided hike, you can walk along a gorge until you reach a waterfall to enjoy a refreshing swim in a natural plunge pool. If you have more time, you can enjoy a multi-day hike from the Ngorongoro Highlands to Lake Natron – a magical experience few people have enjoyed. If you’re an experienced hiker, you can climb Ol Doinyo Lengai, a steep and challenging hike that rewards you with stunning dawn views from the crater rim.

The area is very hot from September to June. If you want to climb Ol Doinyo Lengai or go on a multi-day trek, we recommend the cooler dry season months of July and August. Nevertheless, a hike to the waterfall is possible year-round.

Rift Valley to Lake Natron hike with Lake Natron Camp
Feedback Lake Natron
If you have the time a detour to Lake Natron is well worth it. We drove through landscapes and met people, which we would not have seen elsewhere on safari. It is a longer but worthwhile journey.
Bianchi Family | Lodge Safari

Experience Lake Natron & Ol Doinyo Lengai

Waterfall hike at Lake Natron
Waterfall hikes

Walk through the steep sided Ngare Sero River gorge to the waterfalls.

Ngorongoro Highlands to Lake Natron hiking
Multi-day hiking

Go on a multi-day hike from the Ngorongoro Highlands to Lake Natron.

Lake shore walk Lake Natron

Take a walk along the lake shore.

Things to do

An incredible landscape to explore

Lake Natron and its surroundings are not a typical safari destination – you won’t be going on game drives here. Instead, you can explore this off-the-beaten-path location on foot and take in the incredible scenery around you.


Where to stay at Lake Natron & Ol Doinyo Lengai

Lake Natron Camp

Lake Natron Camp

Adventure Camping

Adventure Camping


Lake Natron and Ol Doinyo Lengai are only 214 km from Arusha. These remote destinations offer a genuine sense of isolation and solitude on a safari along the popular Northern Circuit. Thanks mainly to the hot weather year-round, the region is less visited, and stopping here is considered an adventure. For those who want to explore the path less travelled, this region is visited en route to the Ngorongoro Crater or the Serengeti National Park. To experience the walk to the waterfall, the start can be found south of a small town named Engare Sero. Moreover, most of the accommodation in the area is located here.

Lion paws closeup
Arno Snellenberg Tanzania Travel Expert
Tanzania-Experience safari vehicle

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