The Lake Natron
Lake Natron is located on the border between Tanzania and Kenya lays Lake Natron in the middle of a volcanic moonscape in the Rift Valley. The Lake covers an area 56 km (35 miles) long and 24 km (15 miles) wide, and is close to Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater.
Lake Natron is home to ancient hominid footprints, the largest breeding ground for Lesser Flamingo and to Ol Doinyo Lengai, and it’s the only active carbonatite volcano in the world.
Situated between its volcanic hills and deep craters, Lake Natron is at the lowest point of the rift valley 600m above sea level and is probably the world’s most caustic body of water. The lake is fed by the Southern Ewaso Ng’iro River and by mineral-rich hot springs. It’s less than three meters (10 feet) deep, so it’s very shallow, and it varies in width depending on its water level, which changes due to high levels of evaporation, leaving high concentrations of salt magnesite and sodium carbonate (natron) on its surface which looks like a pinkish-white soda crust.
The area surrounding the lake is hot and often very dusty and dry, which isn’t very conducive to travel, but the people who choose to visit Lake Natron are rewarded with some of the most visually compelling scenes in the world. The views alone are worth the journey! Home to the Maasai and over one million flamingos, Lake Natron is a perfect base for amazing adventures! The area around the lake offers different attractions like a large number of volcanic implosion craters, numerous waterfalls and ravines with nesting places for Ruppell’s griffon vulture the highest flying bird.
Lake Natron Weather
The weather at Lake Natron is primarily hot and mostly dry, and the coolest months are June through August. But some guests find these temperatures tropically warm as well since Tanzania is located just south of the equator. It also does get very windy at Natron.
You may choose to schedule your tour of East Africa during the rainy or dry season at Lake Natron. Since this area is not a wildlife destination, in the dry season does not see any concentration of wildlife. Simply because the lake is highly alkaline, and terrestrial and mammalian life does not drink its waters. You only want to visit during the dry season because it is an excellent time for the walking tours around the lake.
The wet spring season from November to May with the hot humid spells in January and February. The Flamingos lay their eggs normally during the end of the dry season in September and October. But the hatching starts in the wet season, and the climaxing by December. Although the costs associated with travel and safari activities do not change.
WILDLIFE AT LAKE NATRON
For many plants and animals, the saline waters make the lake inhospitable, yet the salt water marshes surrounding the lake are a surprising habitat for flamingos whose leathery skins make them able to withstand the deadly waters. In fact, the lake is home to the highest concentrations of lesser and greater flamingos in East Africa where they feed on the lake’s spirulina – a green algae with red pigments.
Because Lake Natron’s caustic environment is a barrier against predators trying to reach their nests on seasonally forming evaporite islands, it’s a safe breeding location. The pH and temperature levels in the water are so high that it can burn off the skin and eyes of animals that aren’t adapted to it. The most interesting, otherworldly thing about the lake is the solitary, mummified birds occasionally seen along the shoreline, calcified over a long period of time, turned into strange fossils.
The lake is also home to endemic algae, invertebrates and even fish that can survive in the slightly less salty water. Other animals which inhabit this area are zebra, ostrich, fringed eared oryx, gazelle, gerenuk, lesser kudu and golden jackal.
ACTIVITIES ON LAKE NATRON
Bird Watching & Flamingo Lake Walk
Across eastern Africa, the lesser flamingo feed on algae found in soda lakes but they choose to breed at Lake Natron almost exclusively. In fact, approximately 75% of the world’s lesser flamingos are born at Lake Natron. The best times to view these amazing birds are either at sunrise or at sunset when the heat isn’t so ferocious. The Lake Flats around the water’s edge contain small lakes, streams and hills providing a variety of hospitable environments for birds that thrive in the alkali oasis. There is nowhere else in Africa like Lake Natron, and the flamingos are especially popular with children, making it the perfect addition to a family safari in Tanzania.
Mountain Biking at Lake Natron
Experience Lake Natron on wheels. Hop on a mountain bike and go exploring around the local area with your guide. Please note that this must be booked prior to arrival. Tip: This is best done at sunrise or sunset when the weather is cooler.
Hominid Footprints at Lake Natron
Within the concession area you can walk to the hominid footprints where researchers have catalogued rare finds of well-preserved human footprints left in the mud between 5,000 and 19,000 years ago. No other site in Africa has as many ancient Homo sapiens footprints, making it a treasure trove for scientists trying to learn the story of mankind’s earliest days.
Lake Natron’s Natural Pools
Cool off in any one of the natural plunge pools at Lake Natron Camp and there’s also a deeper, larger pool where you can immerse yourself under shade netting out of the hot sun. But don’t be scared of the little fish! They may bite, but they’re very gentle. It’s more a nibble, really…
Ngare Sero Water Falls
To see these spectacular waterfalls, a decided favorite among our guests, we’ll arrange a walk up Ngare Sero gorge. The scenery is a unique blend of arid volcanic rocks and lush tropical palms. It’s a terrific spot to have lunch so please ask your guide for a packed lunch if you want to.
Rift Valley Day Hike (6 hours)
Hiking the Rift Valley is a great alternative to climbing Mount Lengai. This adventurous trek departs camp before dawn and you transfer to the base of the rift valley wall. You then climb the wall on foot, enjoying the dawn as you ascend close to the Ngare Sero Gorge. You’ll take a picnic breakfast with you to the top and you’ll enjoy being in one of the most dramatic viewpoints in the region. After breakfast you descend back down via another route, or, depending on time, you could come back the same way. You’ll arrive back at camp in time for lunch and then you’ll relax in the natural pool or enjoy a massage or both!
Ol Doinyo Lengai Volcano Climb
Make an overnight climb to the top of the “Mountain of God”. Climbing the 2,962 m volcano under the moonlight is a mystical and unforgettable experience. It isn’t for the faint of heart but it’s worth it for the magnificent views at sunrise from the top. On a clear day expect to see the tips of Meru and Kilimanjaro to the east as they break through the horizon. And if that interests you, read more about Mount Kilimanjaro and West Kilimanjaro. To the north you’ll be able to see the far end of Lake Natron, where its northern shore borders Kenya. To the west you’ll be able to see across the Sale Plains all the way to the Gol Mountains, a view that is so spectacular you’ll think it can’t possibly be real!
Conditions on Lengai can change daily so it’s important to understand that your guide will make the decision if the weather is not safe enough to start your climb. Once on the mountain, reaching the summit section is also based on daily conditions and guests should be aware there’s a possibility they may not reach the true summit, but unfortunately refunds will not be available. Fees for Mt. Lengai are governed by the Village Office and are subject to change. Please confirm prices with us before booking.
WHERE TO STAY IN LAKE NATRON
Here is our recommendations for nice places to stay around Lake Natron. The Moivaro Tented Camp, Maasai Giraffe Eco Lodge, and the Ngare Sero Camp both camps are located near the lake.
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