This, what should be lifeless, environment is what makes Lake Natron such a site to behold and is the very lifeblood of the flora and fauna that thrive on it. The Lakes salt content is a perfect environment for the extreme cyanobacteria that produces the deep red (photosynthesizing pigments) colour of the open lake water and the orange colors of the shallow parts of the lake. The alkali salt crust on the surface of the lake is also often colored red or pink by the salt-loving microorganisms that live there. This eco-system creates an environment that simply looks weird a lot of the time and gives flamingos their famous colour.
Lake Natron is little known among the regular safari circuit and it is best taken in as a more interesting, and less congested, route between the Serengeti and Lake Manyara National Parks. Scenic walkways are the main attraction to Lake Natron. 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. In the background to the South, Ol Doinyo Lengai dominates the area. Standing tall in amongst rolling hills and flat plains. Its ash-grey colour and smoking top remind you that this is still very much an active volcano. This walk is best done in the very early morning or late afternoon out of the heat of the day
Whilst here, take the chance to walk up to the Engero Sero Waterfalls. This walk winds up through a shady gorge between steep cliffs, a welcome break from the heat. There’s a bit of gentle scrambling involved, and you’ll also cross the river a few of times. However, 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.
For avid climbers, a Lake Natron visit can be combined with a climb of Ol Doinyo Lengai itself. Getting to the crater summit is best done however with an organised walking safari with Masai guides that can take between 6 and 9 days, but allows you to glimpse many small Masai villages as well as local wildlife. The climb of Lengai itself only takes about half a day in the morning before the scorching Sun, void of shade and life but full of unique geographic splendor.
Lake Natron Highlights
- Kisumu city by the lakeside
- Kakamega Forest National Park
- Ngamba Island orphaned chimpanzees.
- Luo tribal Villages: Stay at the Mfangano Island Camp for a guided walking tour of the closest village and the tribe’s prehistoric art tucked deep in nearby caves.
- Just chilling out by the Lakeside, regardless of the pollution the surrounding areas of the Lake are stunning and the whole site is one to behold in majesty.
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Lake Natron Flora & Fauna
Lake Natron provides a good nesting sites for species including flamingos, pelicans, and geese, and another 350 different species spotted on record. The area around Lake Natron is home to some mammalian wildlife, you might see the occasional giraffe or zebra, but generally this is not the best place to see game.
That said, the lake itself is home to a fascinating eco-system which thrives in this harsh environment. The lake is home to a plethora of extremophiles including colonies of Cyanobacteria – a salt loving, photosynthesising micro organism. As the lake increases in salinity, so does the population of bacteria. The lake also supports a vast population of Spirulina, a blue-green algae with red pigments, on which the large population of Lesser Flamingos feed on.
The lake is an extremely hostile environment and most other organisms are not able to live here. The alkalinity levels of the lake can become so concentrated, that they almost approach that of straight ammonia. Few predators can survive here, and the result is a safe breeding ground for the flamingos who return here annually to nest. In fact, Lake Natron is the only regular breeding ground for the 2.5 million lesser flamingo in East Africa.
Lake Natron Location
Located in the Gregory Rift, Lake Natron lies within the Arusha Region of Tanzania North of the “Strangest Volcano on Earth”: Ol Doinyo Lengai, which rises to 2,330 meters. Lake Natron is part of the immense Great Rift Valley where it is nestled between stunning volcanic hills and craters.
Lake Natron is best reached along the way to Ol Doinyo Lengai which can take up to two days to get to from Kilimanjaro International Airport, the nearest airport where regular KLM flights from Amsterdam land as well as new Qatar and Turkish Airlines routes. From the airport it will take around 1 hour to get to the town of Arusha. However, Arusha is served by its own regional airport (ARK) that can be reached via Dar es Salaam’s Julius Nyere International Airport, or by Kilimanjaro International Airport. From Arusha, head on the road to the west for 116 km to reach Mto-Wa-Mbu (River of Mosquitos). From there, take the dusty road North to Lake Natron, via 4×4 only and not during wet season.