The color of Lake Natron in Africa’s Great Rift Valley almost seems to warn. The world’s most caustic body of water is this brilliant crimson lake, but not to everyone. The lake gets its color from salt-loving bacteria that flourish in its alkaline waters, and an unusual type of fish called the alkaline tilapia thrives along the borders of the hot spring inlets.
1. Lake Natron and Flamingos
Lesser Flamingos who eat on the algae and rear their young here receive the red colors from the blue-green algae spirulina. A network of soda lakes that are unfriendly to most creatures has been created by the accumulation of volcanic ash from the Great Rift Valley in nearby lake basins.
Millions of flamingos use Lake Natron as their ideal nursery thanks to the ominous surroundings; potential predators stay away from the salty lake and leave baby birds alone.
However, flamingos must employ caution because the lake might become lethal to them as well. Its alkalinity can be as high as pure ammonia depending on rainfall, and when hot subsurface water floods the lake, its temperature can soar to a scorching 60 degrees Celsius.
2. Lake Natron: 5 Best Things to Do
Even during the typically burning summers, Lake Natron has never dried up despite having shallow waters. Natural springs that surround the lake provide valuable water to numerous bird species and other wildlife.
The delicate ecosystem of the lake will be readily apparent to visitors. More than 300 differentbird species, including the great white pelican, may be found at Lake Natron, which also serves as the only breeding ground for lesser flamingos in East Africa.
The secluded Lake Natron in Tanzania is a must-visit location because of its exceptional biodiversity and beautiful splendor. And if you’re unsure how to enjoy this location to the fullest, we’ve compiled a list of our top picks for thrilling activities around Lake Natron and nearby.
2.1. Trek on the Great Rift Valley
The Great Rift Valley is an amazing geological and geographical formation that spans all of eastern Africa from Ethiopia to Mozambique. It is also known as the East African Rift and is made up of several connected trenches that were created when the African tectonic plate split into two different plates.
The rift valley wall offers breathtaking vistas of broken valley walls that spread as far as the eye can see to hikers who make the short diversion from Lake Natron and climb it. The walk lasts about 6 hours, therefore, we advise you to set out early in the day. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at the top of the ridge and get ready for a spectacular view.
If you like watching birds, you’ve hit the jackpot. A more ideal location could not exist to view one of the largest concentrations of vibrant lesser flamingos in their natural environment.
You can go up close to these pink-feathered companions for observation or take photos when you visit the lake. As previously noted, visitors can enjoy seeing certain types of ostriches, storks, and even the bateleur, a member of the eagle family, among the more than 300 species of birds there.
2.3. Hike on Ol Doinyo Lengai
The only active volcano in Tanzania is called Ol Doinyo Lengai (the Maasai’s Mountain of God), and it is located at a height of 10,459 feet. A well-liked trekking peak, the summit offers breathtaking views of the Tanzanian lowlands that extend to Mount Kilimanjaro.
Any fit hiker may reach the summit in 4 to 5 hours with an early start and the right tools. Don’t forget to bring your trekking poles, appropriate clothing, a jacket, and a quality camera to capture the scene. For additional information, see our guide to trekking in Tanzania.
2.4. Visit Maasai
Various Maasai tribal towns can be seen as your safari travels around Lake Natron. Travelers can interact with and learn about the Maasai people and their way of life as part of the safari experience.
You are welcome to go to their communities and take part in local activities. Additionally, there will be opportunities for you to shop and purchase souvenirs like genuine, handmade necklaces made from beads and other knickknacks.
2.5. Footprints of Man
We hope you take advantage of the opportunity to participate in the guided stroll around Lake Natron. You can see for yourself some of the earliest humans’ (hominids’) best-preserved footprints here.
These prehistoric fossil records, which range in age from 5,000 to 12,000 years, provide fascinating evidence of how early humans developed. Even more recent study raises the possibility that some of these traces may be 120,000 years old.
3. Why Is Lake Natron Deadly?
Located in the unstable eastern rift of the East African Plateau, Lake Natron is a hypersaline lake with high alkaline content. There are at least four alkaline lakes in northern Tanzania, although Lake Natron is the most well-known.
Only three meters below and 22 kilometers wide, this lake. It receives its water from Kenya’s Southern Ewaso Ng’iro River. During the Pleistocene epoch, lava from the slopes of the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano flowed into the lake in an uncommon variation with a substantial amount of sodium and potassium carbonates.
Cyanobacteria are present in great abundance in Lake Natron’s water. The majority of the species that have fed this alga suffer cell, brain system, and liver damage as a result of the chemical it releases into the environment. As a result, many of the creatures such as birds and mammals that drink from Lake Natron pass away.
The dead fish, birds, and bats are calcified into duplicates of themselves, which are then preserved. Many of these preserved creatures were placed in lifelike stances before being photographed by the great artist Nick Brandt. Petrified is the name of his series.
4. Why is Lake Natron Red?
The lake’s salinity has attracted cyanobacteria, salt-loving, halophilic microorganisms that depend on photosynthesis to exist. Cyanobacteria typically possess a variety of colors. Their pigment turns the water at Lake Natron an eye-catching shade of crimson.
Somehow, the lake supports a few different fish, invertebrates, and algae species. Some alkaline tilapias, a cichlid family member, may survive in the lake’s cooler regions. However, Lake Natron can be a death trap for some creatures, particularly birds. They are duped into plunging into the crimson waters in search of food by the mirror-like surface. They calcify both inside and out as they sink into the poisonous concoction.
By arranging photographs of the mummified carcasses of the unfortunate animals around Lake Natron, wildlife photographer Nick Brandt garnered media attention in 2013. The positions were so gruesome that it appeared as though Medusa’s finger had touched them. That immediate impact is not nearly present with the lake.
5. Lake Natron: 5 Interesting Facts
One of the things that we like most about Lake Natron is how drastically different it is from the nearby attractions. It has a wide variety of wildlife, including camels, as well as breathtaking scenery that frequently appears incredible or strange.
5.1. Dazzling Rain
On average, Lake Natron receives only 400 mm of precipitation each year, and a major amount of that is “phantom rain”—rain that disappears before the water reaches the surface. The lake’s deserted setting explains this.
5.2. Flamingoes Thrive Where Others Perish
The bacterium in Lake Natron that kills most other birds does not damage flamingos. Lesser flamingos’ main nesting grounds worldwide are actually in the lake!
5.3. Water is Poisonous
Lake Natron contains sizable amounts of soda, magnesite, and salt. In this environment, a specific type of bacteria that damages the internal organs of species that feed it can thrive.
5.4. Water Becomes Red
The hypersaline environment of Lake Natron encourages the growth of algae, which occasionally causes the water to turn red (or orange-red). You can see the water’s reddish color even from orbit!
5.5. Lake Fed by Volcano
The lake has no exits; the majority of its water originates from springs and occasional streams. The lake’s water is extremely alkaline because the water entering the lake leaches through the volcanic material of nearby Mt. Ol Doinyo Lengai.
6. How Would Things Turn out if You Dove into Lake Natron?
Humans are a touch too soft and squishy to do as well in the water compared to flamingos, which have strong, scaly skin that protects them. The first problem is the heat, with Lake Natron’s water occasionally reaching a scorching 60°C (140°F).
If you had any scrapes or breaches in your skin, the severe salinity of the soda lake would sting like hell but wouldn’t turn you to stone like a glance from Medusa. It would be similar to that but much worse if you stepped into the salty ocean with a graze.
The longer you stayed in the water, the more burnt you would become from the near-bleach alkalinity. The pH can vary depending on rainfall, but at its worst, you could get acidic burns.
7. Wrapping Up
Lake Natron is located in northern Tanzania, approximately 100 kilometers northwest of the city of Arusha. The lake is 56 kilometers long from north to south and 22 kilometers wide. Across the border in southern Kenya is a small portion of the lake, notably its northernmost portion.
The lesser flamingos that casually wade in Lake Natron’s waters, which have a pH of approximately 12 and are similar to the strength of household bleach, are among the animals that call the lake home. The fact that predators can’t live in its waters for very long makes it a hunter-free area, which is part of the reason it is so well-liked by the sturdy flamingos.
At the base of the volcanic volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai in northern Tanzania, Lake Natron is remote and only home to a few Maasai communities. It goes north-south along the Great Rift Valley’s Eastern Rift portion at a height of 2000 feet above sea level.