Do you like to roughen things up during your travels? Do you enjoy beating the crowds and driving off-road on dusty, bumpy back roads? If the answer is yes - Roadtrip Africa recommends including a visit to Lake Natron in your Tanzania self-drive itinerary. Visit this area for its remoteness, spectacular scenery and hiking up to Oldoinyo Lengai, an active volcano.
What is unique about Lake Natron?
Lake Natron lies northeast of the Ngorongoro Crater, close to the Kenya border. The lake is located on the lowest point of the rift valley – 600m above sea level – and is probably the world’s most acidic 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 too 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 shore.
Few predators can survive at Lake Natron, resulting in a safe breeding ground for the millions of flamingos who return here annually to nest. They feed on algae with red pigments.
Visiting Lake Natron | Things to do
Activities in the Lake Natron area focus mainly on hikes and enjoying the fascinating scenery. We recommend walking across the baked mud to the shores of the Great Soda Lake - in which algae and zooplankton thrive – to watch the flamingos line up on the shore.
Another great walk is the one leading up to the Engero Sero Waterfalls. It will guide you through a shady gorge (very welcome in the heat) and between various 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 volcano. To avoid the heat, this climb usually starts at midnight, and guides you to spectacular views and a stunning sunrise in approximately six hours. Oldoinyo Lengai is a very tough climb, and not one to take lightly.
How to get to Lake Natron
Not everyone is aware of the driving times to and from Lake Natron. We recommend spending at least two nights, preferably three, in the area, as it takes a travel day to get there and back.
A visit to Lake Natron is included in Roadtrip Africa's Northern Circuit - off-the-beaten-track itinerary. The most logical route is to visit the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti first, then continue to Lake Natron. On your way back, you can reach Arusha by driving via Mto wa Mbu. Another option is to drive via Longido to the West Kilimanjaro Area, which is close to JRO International Airport.
Directions from Serengeti to Lake Natron
Travelling from Serengeti to Lake Natron offers a picturesque journey. Note that attempting to cover the distance from central Serengeti (Seronera) to Lake Natron in a single day is neither advisable nor practical. We advise breaking up the trip by camping or lodging near Kleins Gate, located in the northeastern corner of the Serengeti. From Kleins Gate, it's a 4-5 hour drive to reach Lake Natron.
The route contains a tarmac road from Kleins Gate to Wasso town, followed by an all-weather gravel road from Wasso to Sonja. However, the final 20 km leading to Engaresero, the entry point to Lake Natron, involves navigating a rough road.
Directions from Lake Natron to Arusha / JRO Airport
For the return journey from Lake Natron to Arusha or JRO Airport, you have two route options:
- Southern Route via Engaruka and Mto wa Mbu: Take the southern route through Engaruka to Mto wa Mbu village, approximately a 2.5-hour drive. From Mto wa Mbu, it's about another 2.5-hour drive to Arusha and an additional 90 minutes to reach JRO Airport.
- Western Route via Longido and West Kilimanjaro Area (Matadi): You'll find a more scenic drive when you take the western route through Longido, driving tarmac back roads and all-weather gravel roads via Longido, Oldonyosambu, and Engare Nanyuki. This route requires around 7 hours to complete.
The best time to visit Lake Natron
The most pleasant time of the year to visit Lake Natron is from June to August. The temperatures during this time are still warm but tolerable. It's very warm at Lake Natron during the rest of the year.
If you want to see flamingos in action, December and January are the best months to visit Lake Natron. This is the time when most of their eggs hatch, and the shores of the lake are filled with flamingos.
Lake Natron permits and fees
Natron is part of 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 when visiting Lake Natron.
There's a small office in Engaresero, the gateway town to Lake Natron, where you can obtain the WMA entrance permits, payable by credit card or cash. As the GPS signal is weak in this area, we advise bringing some cash in case their payment terminal is down.
For a clear overview of the entrance fees to Lake Natron, Serengeti and other national parks in Tanzania, we gladly refer you to our Tanzania National Park Fees & Permits - page.
Taking off on your Lake Natron self-drive adventure
Are you ready to rent a car and visit Lake Natron during a self-drive trip? Get in contact with our experienced team at Roadtrip Africa to check availability, and secure your 4x4 now!