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Lake Natron & Ol Doinyo Lengai

Size

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 landscapes and a beautiful feeling of solitude and isolation await you at Lake Natron. Located on Tanzania’s northern border, it makes an excellent stop-off on the northern-safari-circuit. Flamingos come here to breed in the shallow water that is naturally toxic to other animals. Ol Doinyo Lengai the holy mountain of the Masai overlooks the vast and wide landscape. While generally hot and dusty, you can also find waterfalls and hiking trails at Lake Natron.

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, at the border of northern Tanzania and Kenya. It may be a short distance from Arusha (214km) but it’s considered an off-the-beaten track spot on the popular northern safari circuit. You can visit the area in conjunction with Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti National Park.

Lake Natron has a hot desert climate all year-round. If animals or birds drink the lake’s soda-water, they die from the effects of algae that thrives there. The roads are bumpy, the air is dusty. So why does Lake Natron attract any visitors at all?

It’s a destination for nature lovers and solitude seekers. Put frankly, Lake Natron is stunningly beautiful. The scenery is dominated by this incredible lake that turns red in the dry-season and a conical-shaped active-volcano called Ol Doinyo Lengai creates an incredible back-drop. The deep ochre colours and unique geographic landscape will 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 is possible. However, it is an incredibly steep and challenging hike that departs at midnight to avoid the heat. The dawn views from the crater rim reward for the steep ascent – they are incredible.

 

Engare Sero

About 15km (9mi) from Ol Doinyo Lengai, you can see testament to the earliest days of humankind at Engare Sero: More than 400 well-preserved human footprints of our ancestors crisscross the ground. They tell tales of humans 5000 to 19000 years ago. A stunning and humbling experience.

 

Flamingos

From September to May, Lake Natron becomes a breeding ground for ~2.5 million Lesser Flamingos. This is a wildlife spectacle like no other. Here you can watch the flamingos moving through the water in what seems like large, choreographed groups. They breed in the shallow waters in the middle of the lake to protect their young from hyenas and jackals. You can see flamingos mainly while they are feeding on the lake shore. Lake Natron is considered a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance.

With ~250 bird species residing here, bird watching is the main wildlife 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 is not home to vast numbers of wildlife. However, the shoreline is home to zebra, wildebeest, kudu, oryx and gerenuks. One of the few predators here are the rarely seen golden jackal as well as hyenas.

 

What to do at Lake Natron?

One of the highlights is a short hike to Lake Natron’s waterfalls. Walks generally start in the afternoon. Relief from the heat occurs as-soon-as you enter the steep-sided Ngare Sero river-gorge to start the 45-minute walk. A guide will show you where the several river-crossings are (water-levels are hip-high at most). At the waterfall, you can swim in the plunge pool and behind the cascading torrent of water. All this fresh water in such a hot environment is a marvel.

For those interested in learning more about the Maasai, their gods and their nomadic culture, you can visit a Manyata (home-stead).

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

Lake Natron map
flamingo

Flamingos

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

Remoteness

Remoteness

The area is a remote and secluded spot on the popular and sometimes busy Northern Safari Circuit. Take this detour to experience a few days off the beaten track.

waterfall

Waterfalls

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

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 salinity-levels in the lake, which creates 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. From mid-November to February the area should be avoided if you do not like very hot weather. You can visit during the rainy season, from March to May, however parts of the lake are 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 area green and the dilution of the lake water takes away the red-tinge.

Why to go

An unexpected hiking destination

Likely not what you’d expect, but this dry and hot area offers some amazing hiking opportunities: Accompanied by a local guide, you can walk along a gorge until you reach a waterfall where you can take a refreshing dip in a natural pool. If you have a bit more time, you can go on multi-day hiking trips from the Ngorongoro Highlands to Lake Natron – a magical experience off the beaten track for active travellers seeking a new adventure. If you’re an experienced hiker, you can also climb Ol Doinyo Lengai, the Mountain of God – a steep and sometimes tricky hike, rewarding 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 July and August. Waterfall hikes are possible all 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
Walks

Take a walk along the lake shore.

Things to do

An incredible landscape to explore

Lake Natron and surroundings are not a classic safari destination – you won’t be going on game drives here. Instead, you can explore this off-the-beaten track destination 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

Location

Lake Natron is only 214km away from Arusha, but due to its year-round very hot weather, the area is less visited and considered a bit of an adventure. Most people stop here on route to the Ngorongoro Crater or the Serengeti National Park. The walk to the waterfall starts south of a small town called Engare Sero. The majority of the accommodation can also be found in this area. It is an off-the-beaten track location giving you a real sense of isolation and solitude on the popular northern safari circuit.

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

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