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What You Can Do at Lake Natron?

If you are planning to visit Tanzania for an Africa safari, Lake Natron is one of the places you must visit. Located in a remote area near the northern border of Tanzania and Kenya, Lake Natron offers some amazing activities for travelers looking for adventure.

If you’ve never heard of Lake Natron and are wondering what can you do at Lake Natron, or what activities are there for travelers, this article is for you.

Where is Lake Natron?

To begin with, Lake Natron is located in a remote area of Northern Tanzania. It can be reached from the Ngorongoro Area or through Arusha, but is a 4-5 hour drive in either direction.

For this reason, the area sees fewer tourists than places like Serengeti or Manyara National Parks. However, it also means that Lake Natron remains one of the ‘untouched’ places in Tanzania, where you can see and experience the beautiful wilderness away from the crowds.

Top Activities in Lake Natron

The top activities in Lake Natron include trekking an active volcano, seeing historical sites, learning first-hand about the Maasai culture, and seeing the largest nesting grounds of Lesser Flamingos in the world.

Visit Lake Natron

Lake Natron is the common name for the collective area, as well as the official name of the alkaline lake. 

While the town is actually named Engare Sero, it is commonly known as “Natron Town” throughout Tanzania. If you plan a trip to Lake Natron, don’t be confused if your itinerary says generally “Lake Natron”, this refers to the general Lake Natron area.

A Deadly Lake

Lake Natron is often considered the most deadly lake in the world. It’s worth a visit just to say you’ve seen the unique (potentially fatal) water of the deadliest lake in the world.

Lake Natron is a Salt and Alkaline Lake

The lake’s intense salinity and high alkaline levels make the waters of Lake Natron on par with the chemical ammonia (nearly ph 11). The water can burn off human skin and is undrinkable for animals and birds alike.

It is believed that the high levels of sodium carbonate from lava of the nearby volcano have contributed to the unique chemical make up of this lake.

Further, a specific algae grows in this lake, known as cyanobacteria (also called spirulina in health food stores). This algae flourishes in the alkaline waters, but can cause fatal nerve damage for creatures that drink it.

Hot Water

Finally, the temperature of the lake’s water sits at around 100 – 140F, year-round. That’s hot enough to prevent many types of aquatic life and to even burn human skin, if you submerged a hand in it for several minutes.

Does Lake Natron turn animals to stone?

While some misleading photos have represented that the waters of Lake Natron can turn animals to stone, this is merely a myth. The incredibly high salt content of the water actually mummifies animals that have already died.

While it can kill a creature and burn off the skin, Lake Natron does not turn animals to stone.

Can you swim in Lake Natron?

No, you cannot swim in Lake Natron. 

The hypersaline and high alkaline water can cause chemical burns and the intense heat is dangerous too.

The one activity you cannot do at Lake Natron is swim in the lake.

There is a freshwater river with a waterfall in the town of Engare Sero, however. It is safe to swim there.

Climb Oldonyo Lengai

Tanzania’s only active volcano is pretty incredible, and certainly worth the trip to climb this sacred mountain.

Named “The Mountain of God” in the local language, this volcano erupts pretty frequently. According to the Tanzania-based climbing operator Altezza Travel, which leads treks to Oldonyo Lengai, as well as Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru, this volcano has erupted 15 times in the past 100 years. The most recent eruption was in 2013.

Some facts about Oldonyo Lengai

  • It is the only active volcano in Tanzania
  • It is the only volcano in the world that spews out ‘natrocarbonatite lava’, which is rated as the ‘coldest’ lava in the world (still burning hot, though! Don’t touch) which results in this lava being brown, not red.
  • Ol Donyo Lengai is the sacred mountain to the local Maasai tribe. Your trek will be led by a Maasai warrior who will likely carry a spear and as you climb, will share with you about his culture and the way the community approaches the mountain.

Upon descent, you may participate in giving thanks for a safe climb, if you so choose.

  • This is a night climb. Your trek will commence around midnight and you will climb overnight, in the dark (with the aid of a headlamp or other light) to reach the summit in time for sunrise.

Visit the Hominoid Footprints

Near the Lake Natron lakeshore is a small, enclosed area with what appears to be a slab of cement, covered in the dust of a thousand years.

However, it is not cement, but rather hardened lava from Oldonyo Lengai, and there within, you can see very clear footprints of both humans and cows.

The footprints are some of the most well-preserved and easy to see anywhere in the world and have been recognized by National Geographic, the Smithsonian Institue, the Leakey Foundation, and the American Museum of Natural History, many of which have supported the excavation and preservation of the footprints.

Despite the research that has been conducted, scientists, historians and archeologists still do not know how humans walked through lava, leaving these incredible footprints to be fossilized for history. 

You can see them for yourself only in Lake Natron, Tanzania.

The Flamingo Experience in Lake Natron

Another favorite activity in Lake Natron is to see the largest breeding and nesting grounds of Lesser Flamingoes in the world.

Where do these beautiful pink birds lay their eggs? Surprisingly, in the deadly waters of Lake Natron itself.

One of the only creatures that can survive in the alkaline lake is the Lesser Flamingo. These birds have adapted to not only survive but even prefer to reside at this lake. Since the waters are so dangerous for other creatures, there are no natural predators to threaten the birds or their eggs.

Furthermore, flamingos eat the cyanobacteria that is so toxic to other creatures, it’s what gives them their incredible pink color!

Only at the shore of Lake Natron can you see hundreds of thousands of stunning beautiful pink flamingos live in the lake, making for some impressive photos. What’s more, is that three-quarters of all the Lesser Flamingoes in the world are believed to have hatched from eggs laid in the waters of Lake Natron – somewhere between 2 and 3 million of these unique and beautiful birds.

More activities at Lake Natron:

For even more adventures around Lake Natron you can learn about the Maasai culture, see wildlife and go on short treks.

Learn about the Masaai Culture

Reach out to your tour operator about planning an afternoon to visit a local Maasai home and learn about the culture. You can enjoy a roasted goat, see the beautiful handmade beaded jewelry and even learn how to ‘jump like a Maasai”.

If you’re looking for a good tour operator that’s familiar with this remote area, contact Altezza Travel, our preferred Tanzania-based operator for both treks and safaris.

Wildlife viewing

As you drive to or from the lake, ask your driver to take a quick detour to the small grove of acacia trees. It’s common to see a family of giraffes feeding in the shaded acacia grove.

You’ll also likely see animals such as zebras, ostriches, wildebeests and gazelles during your drive to and from Lake Natron

  • Short Treks

Another (much shorter) trek you can do while in Lake Natron is hike to the Engare Sero River’s waterfall. It’s a shallow river and easy to cross, and there are refreshing pools around the waterfall where hikers can take a dip.

This trek takes approximately 2 hours to complete. You can make it longer if you swim and have a picnic lunch at the waterfall.

Summary: 

There is plenty to do at Lake Natron: climb, do wildlife viewing, photograph the flamingoes, go on a hike and experience a new culture. The only thing you cannot do is swim in the deadly waters of this lake – photograph it instead.

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