Practical Travel Guide: Lake Natron

Eat some dust on your way to remote Lake Natron

Do you like to roughen it a bit? Do you like to beat the crowds in Tanzania, enjoy some off road driving on dusty and bumpy roads? If the answer is yes - than Roadtrip Tanzania highly recommends a visit to Lake Natron, an out of space experience. Visit this area for its remoteness, spectacular scenery and the possibility to do a challenging night hike up to Oldoinyo Lengai, an active volcano.

This area lies north east of the Ngorongoro Crater close to the border of Kenya. Lake Natron sits at the lowest point of the rift valley – 600m above sea level – and is probably the world’s most caustic body of water. The alkalinity levels of the lake can become so concentrated, that they almost approach that of straight ammonia, and the water is often viscous to touch. Yet the clear water surface misleads birds who happily dive in the water, after which their skin burns and they tragically die. Due to the high presence of natron ( a mineral salt) in the lake, these birds undergo a natural process of mummification, and you can come across stoned birds washed up along the lake shores…

Few predators can survive here, and the result is a safe breeding ground for the millions of flamingos who return here annually to nest. They feed on an algae with red pigments.

Lake Natron, an off the beaten track highlight in Tanzania

Things to do around Lake Natron

Activities in the Lake Natron area focus mainly on walks and enjoying the fascinating scenery.You can walk out across the baked mud to the shores of the great soda lake itself, in which algae and zooplankton thrive – which in turn attract the flamingos that line the lake’s shore.

You can walk up to the Engero Sero Waterfalls. This walk winds up through a shady gorge (very welcome in the heat) between steep cliffs. After a few hours you’ll reach a beautiful natural swimming pool surrounded by steep rock walls – showered by cascades of spring-water and overlooked by palm trees.

The fit and brave might like to try and climb Oldoinyo Lengai, an active vulcano. This climb usually starts at midnight, to avoid the heat, and you climb for around six hours, through the night, to reach the spectacular views of the top by sunrise. Oldoinyo Lengai is not a climb to take lightly, its a very tough.

Best time to visit Lake Natron

The cooler months here (June, July and August) are hot but bearable; the rest of year has very high temperatures.In December and January, the lake shores swarm with flamingos, as then is the time most of their eggs hatch.

Where to include Lake Natron in my Tanzania travel itineary?

The most logical route is to visit the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti first and than continue to Lake Natron and return to Arusha. Not everyone is aware though of the driving times to Lake Natron. Bear the following in mind: coming from the Serengeti, it's a long and full day drive to Lake Natron Conservation Area. Best it to camp the day before at Kleins Gate (1,5 hours from Seronera). From Kleins Gate its 7-8 hours drive on rough roads to Engaresero, where you find most accomodation. So at least spend 2 nights at Lake Natron, which is effectively only one day, otherwise you have only been driving in your car. 

That said, Roadtrip Tanzania recommends taking the route from Mto wa Mbu. This touristy little village lies on the main road from Arusha to Karatu, opposite Lake Manyara National Park. Coming from Karatu ( the gateway to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area) it will take you about 5-6 hours. Coming from Mto wa Mbu, it takes you about 3-4 hours. You take the same route back to Mto wa Mbu, and continue your roadtrip in Tanzania.

A Toyota RAV4 is not allowed to take to Lake Natron. A Landcruiser is required. Bear in mind that Lake Natron area is remote, and providing back-up support is challenging and takes a while. So in case something happens with the car, patience and a cooperative attitude is required from your side as well.Do you know why Natron is the only place where can find flamingos in Tanzania?

Lake Natron permits and fees

Natron lies in a Wildlife Management Area.These are countrywide conservation areas, established to benefit and help local communities throughout Tanzania. A Wildlife Management Association (WMA) permit is required, and these need to be reserved and paid for in advance in Arusha before driving to Natron. Roadtrip Tanzania can organise your WMA Lake Natron permit. This is an option you can select in the bookings form, when you rent a car with us. 

Refer to the Tanzania Practical Information section, for an up to date overview of the entrance fees of all Tanzanian Parks.

Best places to stay at Lake Natron area

Maasai Camp is an budget place to stay in Lake Natron Area