Lake Natron

TANZANIA
Lake Natron Itinerary

Mesmerizing architecture and foodie haven

Duration: at least one week

We quickly lost ourselves wandering the narrow streets of Zanzibar’s cultural heart: Stone Town. Strolling through the maze of winding alleys, you will experience a colorful hustle and bustle. In addition to the hundreds of small shops, historical architecture seems magical.Zanzibar is so different from mainland Tanzania. It even could be an entirely different country. We’ll probably forever remember Stone Town’s impressive buildings and the
most delicious food. Despite beautiful beaches, Zanzibar offers plenty of things to do.

A promising journey

The journey is the destination. For Lake Natron, this is even truer. The ride was rough but stunning. Precisely as our following days with Papakinye’s family. We drove through dry savage vegetation, and climbed or jumped over dried-out rivers while spotting herds of zebras and giraffes. The journey itself was already bearing the promise of an unforgettable time.

Wander through the maze of alleys

Waterfalls by the Ngare Sero river

Massai and Papakinye proposed to visit the “nearby” waterfalls along the Ngare Sero river. What we didn’t know back then: You can entirely rely on Masai people with anything BUT their definition of “nearby.”

Their semi-nomadic lifestyle accustoms them to walking long distances under the burning sun of the African savannah. So, equipped and prepared for a “short” walk, we started walking in flip-flops with very little water. We quickly earned our new nickname, “pole & pole,” which translates into slow.

The walk through the dramatic landscape of a savage was impressive. But we were excited to cool down after 2 hours of sweltering heat. It’s almost unreal to see such a powerful and high waterfall after walking through absolute dryness for two hours. We dived right into the freshwater pouring down on us. Looking back, we should have enjoyed the water a bit longer. It was the last time for days that we had access to water.

Trying to protect our feed from the hot sand, we quickly began to recognize the virtue of Masai shoes. Masai shoes are often crafted from old tires. They are constructed to keep the hot sand from burning your feed. Walking through the golden savannah, we encountered kids as young as five years herding goats.

Lake Natron hike along Ngare Sero river to waterfalls
Masai Boma at Lake Natron, Tanzania

Learn about Maasai culture

Even though there is one village, a hub for the surrounding Masai tribes, which offers some places to get food and one hostel with western standards, we decided to stay with Papakinye and his family.

Maasailand Tanzania

Lake natron 1

The Maasai: Where do they live?

It had become pitch black when we arrived at what seemed the side of an unpaved road. Only the stars offered some light. For a split second, we were confused until we could see flashlights coming towards us.

The Masai lead a semi-nomadic life in which cattle and the seasons dictate the course of life. Traditional Masai settlements consist of bomas, tiny houses made of cow dung.

Lake Natron: Papakinye's Masai family

Arrival at the boma – Meeting Papakinye’s family

Suddenly, we were surrounded and warmly greeted by Papakinye’s family members. Greetings are essential in the Maasai culture, so it took some time till we walked back to their bomas.

The traditional cow skin under the African sky would become our bed for the following days. Exhausted from the travel and the impressions, we unfolded our sleeping bags on the cow skins right in front of the boma. That night we quickly fell asleep under the stars. The rising sun woke us the following day. We rose to see the boma for the first time.

Thorny acacia branches were wrapped around the bomas in a circle. In the middle, we found another circle of branches home to the cattle during the rainy season. Beyond that, there was nothing. Nothing. We have landed in the middle of nowhere.

Maasai 1

The jumping dance of the Maasai

On our second night, we were sharing a coup of porridge when we heard the whistling sounds come closer. We joined the group and followed them to the next bigger boma. Walking through the night, our excitement rose. We have heard of the typical Masai dance and its mesmerizing music.

But never did we expect to be invited to such an occasion. More and more warriors gathered. Soon they formed a circle and started to sing in a chorus. One after another entered the middle and jumped as high as possible while the others continued with the mesmerizing rhythms. We were overwhelmed and entirely in awe by this ritual.

Climb Ol Doinyo Lengai – Maasai's "Mountain of God"

The active volcano offers a dramatic, picturesque backdrop. Ol Doinyo Lengai is unique in the world. From a distance, the summit looks as if covered with snow. But the impression is deceptive. Instead, it is the only volcano that spits white lava during the eruption. The whitish color is caused by lava consisting of sodium carbonate, which also gave the soda lake its name.

Ol Doinyo Lengai means “mountain of God”. The Maasai believe that the holy volcano is the residence of their god. The volcano can be climbed with a tour guide and offers an adventurous journey, far away from any tourism. The ascent to the volcano, with its steep, rough rock ramp, is quite challenging. We decided against it but are convinced that the hike can be an exciting and unique trekking experience for every enthusiastic and well-equipped mountaineer. The cost for the ascent with a tour guide is $100.

Ol Doinyo Lengai – Masai’s “Mountain of God”
Lake Natron: Tausende Flamingos sind hier zuhasue

Hot springs and flamingos

However, it becomes home to millions of migrating flamingos of magnificent pink color. Even though the mysterious Lake Natron, with its surreal and drastically varying landscape, is located close to Arusha, it was spared by mass tourism. Visiting Lake Natron was one of our highlights!

Besides feeding into the lake, the up to 50 degrees hot springs provide warm, mineral-rich water, which is ideal for the growth of salt-loving microorganisms devoured by millions of flamingos. In fact, over three-quarters of the world’s population breeds here because food is plentiful and nesting sites abound. They built their nests on islands of evaporated salt. We spotted beautiful pink flamingos as we walked across the dried lakebed and came close to the shoreline.

Washed up along the shoreline, one can discover the bizarre calcified corpses of all kinds of birds and bats. According to National Geographic, the creatures presumably died of natural causes and were salt-encrusted after death. Lake Natron is indeed a surreal place!

Get ready to travel Tanzania

How to get to Lake Natron

There are two direct buses from Arusha to the Lake Natron area. One of them takes you on a bumpy ride through the African savannah. The bus takes only 3,5 hours, but it’s likely to be your life’s most thrilling bus ride. We passed zebras and giraffes while getting an in-depth “African massage.” The other route is far more comfortable as you drive on a paved road. The six hours ride takes you through cute little villages.

Best travel time Lake Natron

The best time to Lake Natron is during the dry season, from July to October. From June to November, you can enjoy the impressive natural spectacle of the flamingos. More than three million magnificent birds gather around the pink lake.

Money

It was close to impossible to get a matchstick. So, you can imagine that there is no ATM anywhere close. So, make sure to bring sufficient funds with you, especially if you plan on doing tours. They quickly become more expensive than imagined.

 

Entrance fees Lake Natron

Remember that as a foreigner, you must pay gate fees to enter the Lake Natron area. In addition, the “district fees” of $35 are collected at the entry gate. But you’ll also need a conversation permit, which you can get in Arusha. Plus, potentially some other fees, which are subject to change.

The red color of Lake Natron

Online you’ll find most pictures of the lake with red water. However, during the dry season, the lake is only red under particular circumstances and times of the year.

Tap water

You can not drink tap water in Tanzania without risking becoming sick. Bring your Lifestraw and enjoy cool drinks while avoiding plastic pollution.

Biggest challenge for the responsible traveler

Trash: To avoid plastic wrapping, choose to buy your food at the bus stations and have them put it in your collapsible container. Bring your Lifestraw Pro to avoid having to buy bottled water.

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Packing List Tanzania

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Check out our packing list to prepare for all Tanzania has to offer. You’ll find anything from clothing to travel gadgets and eco-friendly toiletries.

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