kilimanjaro local guides

Tanzania national Parks

Tanzania National Parks – Combine the Best Experiences

Tanzania national parks can broadly be divided into North, South and West amongst which are the most famous safari destinations but also a few hidden gems.

19 Tanzania national parks and nature reserves in Tanzania cover about 37% of the country. These 155,000 square miles of protected areas are home to an incredible 310 mammal species, including the Big Five and over 910 different types of birds.

Lake Natron

Where is Lake Natron?

Lake Natron is in northern Tanzania, just over a 100 km northwest of the city of Arusha. The elongated lake is 56 km long from north to south, and 24 km wide. A small portion of the lake – its northern tip – lies over the border in southern Kenya. 

6 amazing Lake Natron facts

Here are some facts you’ll want to share with others for the wow factor!

  1. Phantom rain: Lake Natron receives only 400 mm of rain a year, and much of that is ‘phantom rain’ – rain that evaporates before hitting the surface. This is because the lake is in a desert.
  2. A volcano-fed lake: The lake has no outlets, and receives most of its water from springs and episodic streams. Because the water coming into the lake leaches through the volcanic material of nearby Mt Ol Doinyo Lengai, the lake’s water is highly alkaline. 
  3. The lake’s water is poisonous: Lake Natron contains large salt, soda and magnesite deposits. This is a good environment for the growth of a kind of bacteria that damages the innards of the organisms that drink it.
  4. Flamingoes thrive where others perish: Flamingos aren’t negatively affected by the bacteria in Lake Natron that harms most other birds. The lake is actually the largest breeding ground in the world for lesser flamingoes!
  5. The water sometimes turns red: The water of Lake Natron sometimes turns red (or orange-red) because of the algae that thrives in its hypersaline environment. This red tinge to the water can even be seen from space!
  6. The lake is really hot : The lake’s temperature can rise to 60 °C (140 °F) in summer! There are also hot springs on its eastern shore.

 

Mt Ol Doinyo Lengai soars above Lake Natron and its countless water birds

Why is Lake Natron deadly?

The water of Lake Natron is very high in cyanobacteria. This is an algae that releases a chemical which in turn damages the cells, nervous system and livers of most of the organisms that have consumed it. Many of the birds and animals that drink from Lake Natron wind up dead as a result.

The animals, birds and bats that die in the water are calcified, and turn into mummified versions of themselves. The talented artist Nick Brandt has taken many of these petrified animals and placed them in lifelike poses, before snapping their photo. His series is titled Petrified.

Natron is hydrated sodium carbonate, and Lake Natron has a high level of sodium carbonate, hence its name.

View of the southern tip of Lake Natron, looking northwest | Image by Clem23

Why is Lake Natron red?

Parts of the lake often appear a deep red or orange. The cause of the colours is a type of algae.

A type of bacteria that flourishes in soda lakes often creates ‘algae blooms’, which in turn colour the water. The algae blooms of Lake Natron wax and wane, such that the lake’s redness is not a fixed hue. The fringe of the lake also often looks more orange than red.

Pinks too

Only those who’ve never spent any real time in desert landscapes think of them as being simply dry, brown places. Because in reality, almost every desert is awash with many colours. Lake Natron and its surrounds are particularly hot on pinks and reds.

Consider that not only do you get the abundant red algae that is one of the claims to fame of the lake, but also: 

  • The local Maasai communities have a tradition of wearing scarlet robes
  • The indigenous desert rose trees found in the area have gorgeous, deep pink blooms
  • The lake supports enormous, crowded stands of pink-and-white flamingoes
  • In summer, pinkish white soda crystals form a cracked crust over parts of the lake
  • The pink-and-red sunsets that only deserts can produce often crown the sky

 

A desert rose (or impala lily) tree with Mt Ol Doinyo Lengai in the background

Mt Ol Doinyo Lengai

Mt Ol Doinyo Lengai (or Oldoinyo Lengai) is a perfectly conical, active volcano just to the south of Lake Natron. The highest point of Ol Doinyo Lengai is on its crater rim, and is 3,188 m (10,459 ft) above sea level. The crater itself is over 200 m deep and the lava inside it bubbles away at around 500ºC.

The name Ol Doinyo Lengai means “Mountain of God” in the Maasai language.

A cloud-shrouded Mt Ol Doinyo Lengai with Maasai huts in the foreground

Summit hikes

An exciting challenge on offer to the ambitious hiker is summiting Mt Ol Doinyo Lengai. As it’s so hot to climb during the day, many choose to hike it overnight. Starting at 10 pm, your Maasai guide leads you up the mountain. The hike to the summit takes about six hours, and the descent takes about the same. You should be back at the base of the mountain mid morning. You’re then driven back to your camp for a hearty breakfast and well-earned splash in the pool! 

An Impala stands on a kopje near the base up Ol Doinyo Lengai

The lower portion of the trail mostly consists of loose soil. Higher up you’re tackling some grass tufts, compressed ash, hardened lava and loose gravel. Note that the top half of the climb is very steep. Very steep. And you’re climbing in the dark, guide by the light from your headlamp. So it’s not at all a hike for the anxious! Trekking poles are useful for the descent.

Mt Ol Doinyo Lengai is one of East Africa’s most challenging one-day climbs!

Standing on the metre-wide crater rim and gazing into the fearsome, sulphur-emitting crater is both a heady and mesmerising experience. And the expansive views from Ol Doinyo Lengai of the Rift Valley as the rising sun illuminates the landscape are absolutely amazing.

If you’d like to read a personal account of the Mt Ol Doinyo Lengai summit hike, we can recommend Passport and Pixel’s photo-rich blog post.

Crater of Mt Ol Doinyo Lengai as seen from the rim in January 2011 | Image by A. Backer

Lake Natron flamingoes

Flamingoes are among the few birds that aren’t harmed by the cyanobacteria of the lake. In fact, the one known side effect of their consumption of this particular bacteria is their pink hue! Certain other water birds, like storks, are also unaffected by the lake’s cyanobacteria, and so can be found flourishing at Lake Natron.

Not only are flamingoes unharmed by the lake’s cyanobacteria, they actually flourish because of the presence of a different bacteria, which is their food source. They thrive on the lake’s algae-rich water so much, in fact, that at times there are over a million flamingoes at the lake! 

Flamingoes love to make a big racket when flying, emitting their hoarse calls

Algae-chomping flamingoes

The flamingoes eat the lake’s microscopic diatom algae. They eat upside down, in a sense, because they drop their heads down into the water and suck in the algae-rich water, which they filter for their food. The ’emptied’ water is passed back out through their bills.

You can find both greater and lesser flamingos at the lake – in other words, the largest and smallest of flamingo species, and the only two species found in the Old World. The graphic below shows all of the different types of flamingoes.

To see swathes of the lake turn pink from the sheer enormity of the colony of flamingoes spread across its surface is an incredible sight!

Greater flamingoes can be found in many parts of the Old World, but lesser flamingoes live only in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and a small section of northwest India.

The greater and lesser flamingoes are the only Old World species of flamingoes – the rest live in the New World (i.e. the Americas)

An important lesser flamingo breeding ground

The lake’s flamingoes mate between August and October. Their nests can be found in the soda flats on the lake’s southeastern shore. Made from mud, they look like miniature versions of the nearby volcano, Mt Ol Doinyo Lengai! Each flamingo lays one chalky white egg, which rests in its mud nest.

When the flaminglets are old enough to walk and swim, they form crèches, which are groups of young flamingoes. These crèches can reach 300,000 individuals. They’re still only fed by their parents, but unrelated adult flamingoes help to look after them.

Lake Natron is the largest breeding ground in the world for lesser flamingoes.

Flamingoes thrive on Lake Natron, even though the alkaline water is poisonous to most animals

Lake Natron birds

Some of the other birds to look for while visiting Lake Natron are the:

  • Common ostrich
  • Marabou stork
  • Kori bustard (Africa’s largest flying bird)
  • Secretary bird (top-heavy bird of prey)
  • Bateleur (orange-beaked eagle)
  • White-back vulture
  • Chestnut-banded plover (gorgeous)

A great white pelican on the shore of Lake Natron

Lake Natron animals

The region surrounding Lake Natron isn’t somewhere you go specifically for game viewing. Nearby Serengeti and Ngorongoro are the spots for that. 

Rather, you go to Lake Natron to see the landscape: the desert lake, with its unusually coloured water, the flamingoes and other water birds, and the nearby volcano and escarpment.

But while there, do of course keep your eyes open for:

  • Zebras
  • Giraffes
  • Wildebeests
  • Gazelles
  • Golden jackals
  • Fringe-eared oryxes
  • Lesser kudus
  • Gerenuks
  • Dromedary camels

3 DAYS VISIT LAKE NATRON

A min stay of 2 days is recommended, but 3 days are best to make most of this wonderful place! and time of the year will directly impact your lake natron tour.

Why we like it:

  • Some of the most amazing and photogenic scenery in the world!
  • Cradle of mankind with hominid footsteps and history on man.
  • Flamingo’s and some wildlife in and unique and intriguing landscape.
  • Varied activities second to none, including a day hike up Lengai!
  • Fantastic eco-lodge and best natural swimming pool!

Prices depend on group size  :

  • 1 person: 1300 USD / person.
  • 2 people: 900 USD / person
  • 3+ people: 850 USD / pers.

Included

Excluded