If you were thinking of taking a dip in Lake Natron – think again. 

Lake Natron, one of the most serene lakes in all of Africa, is located in northern Tanzania and nestled in the East African Rift System. This 35-mile long and 15-mile wide lake is a salt lake; water flows in, but not out, and as the water evaporates, it leaves behind high concentrations of salt and minerals. The salt causes the lake to be highly alkaline, sometimes reaching a pH of 12 out of 14! Lake Natron’s temperature can reach up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius), which, combined with the extreme salinity, makes it an inhospitable place for most animals. The lake essentially sends a message with its bright red color, warning those who cannot tolerate the hostile conditions to stay away.

Despite its apparent inhospitable conditions, salt-loving organisms that can withstand the lake’s high temperatures thrive in Lake Natron, including endemic algae, invertebrates, and birds. The lake’s cyanobacteria are responsible for the lake’s red color. Some fish species can survive along the lake’s edge, where the water is less salty and hostile. Surprisingly, Lake Natron is also a sanctuary for lesser flamingoes, who use the lake as their only regular breeding area. The lake’s extreme salinity acts as a protection from predators, enabling the flamingoes to breed without fear of predation. 2.5 million lesser flamingoes rely on this lake, and their dependence on this single location has earned them the status of “near threatened.” 

A lake that is unfit to support most organisms is also highly unsuitable for swimming. The water is so corrosive that it can calcify and preserve animal remains, burn the skin of unadapted animals, and strip the ink off of printed materials. It’s best for humans to leave the lake to the flamingoes and observe from the shore.

The peculiar nature of Lake Natron has lured curious travelers to visit the region. After waking up from your campsite by the lake, explore the Rift Valley with an adventurous day hike. You will be rewarded with spectacular views of the lake and the Rift Valley, as well as thousands of flamingoes. If you are eager to visit this fascinating lake, be sure to let us know when you start planning your trip!