After climbing the Kilimanjaro and cycling from Moshi to Mto wa Mbu, Franklin was ready for a day of nothing. Just relaxing and reading a book. But I cannot sit still for too long, so we decided to meet in the middle and go on a little adventure.
The idea: cycling from Lake Manyara to Lake Natron in one day. After asking around in the town if this was a feasible plan, we got the impression that we could make it, but that it would not be an easy ride.
So how did it turn out? These thoughts summarize our feelings quite well:
“At this point I would rather cycle up the Stelvio 3 times, than continuing on this shitty road.
“This is like cycling through a dry river mixed with sand dunes.”
“Now it for sure cannot get any worse, but we said the same thing one hour ago… and it got WAY worse!”
But we did not consider quitting or turning around. Because one thing we would know for sure: at some point we would reach our destination. Hopefully without a heat stroke and with some water left.
A smooth start of the day
The day started early, we planned to leave before sunrise. Of course with packing the tent, packing the bikes, arranging enough water, making breakfast, a quick shower… we left 1.5 hours later than planned. But around 07:30 we were on the way and smiling! It was quite chilly outside & we were hoping for the sun to come out soon.
To make sure we had enough food we bought chapati the night before at Brigit & we had cakes, dates and nuts. Super preparation. What could possibly go wrong?
After about 5 kilometers the asfalt road turned into gravel and it looked actually pretty good! Way better than expected. The scenery was beautiful and it started to get warmer as well. We passed two very small towns, Selela and Engaruka. In Engaruka, around km 55, we stopped to refill our water bottles and have some chapati.
The first 55 kilometers went super smooth, so we expected to reach Lake Natron around 15:00. We did not know that the road would change drastically right after this town.
Extreme heat and a rough road
The first kilometer after Engaruka is very sandy. With a gravel bike it is impossible to cycle through the sand. With a mountainbike it would probably be possible. A safari car passed & the guide told us that it would only be sandy for about 1 kilometer, so we decided to continue.
We had about 55km still to go, enough water (about 3 liters per person) and some spare tubes in case of punctures.
But from this point onwards the road got rougher. The stones on the road bigger, the stretches with a lot of sand longer & we cycled downhill into an area which looks like Africa from the movies. Super dry land with these beautiful Acacia trees. The temperature went up to above 40 degrees and the road has these endless little waving bumps because of the wind.
The only people we saw on the road were the Maasai kids with their herd. All of them asked for Maji (water) and came running from a distance to see if we could give them anything. Some of them even kept running with us for a while. But we were also running out of water and had no idea how long it would take us to finally reach Lake Natron. The lack of water actually started to turn into a real problem. It was so extremely hot, no shade anywhere and the water we did have was hot like tea. But then the same safari car passed and gave us 3 liters of super cold water and some food. They really saved the day!
This was probably the hardest ride we had done ever in our lives, but it was such an adventure. I cannot describe the views and the feeling of really cycling in the middle of nowhere. It was so incredabily beautiful.
At the point where we were almost done with it and the mood could have dropped to something slightly more negative… we saw zebras! Many of them, right next to the road. What a dream!
After 7.5 hours of cycling we finally reached the gate of the Lake Natron conservation area. Right before sunset.
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Eco Lodge and Campsite – Maasai Giraffe
After paying at the gate for entering the conservation area, we rode about two kilometers more to our campsite. The guide in the safari car advised us to come to Maasai Giraffe, which was a good decision. The owner of the campsite is very friendly, speaks extremely good English and was helpul to us.
The campsite is in the middle of the conservation area and feels like a small resort in the middle of the nature. If you are looking to relax a few days and read a book – this is the place to be. You can either bring your own tent, rent a tent or sleep in one of the rooms.
From the campsite you have a great view of the Ol Doinyo Lengai – the active volcano next to Lake Natron.
We had great dinner prepared by the chef who was also in the safari car who passed us on the way there. And we were extremely tired. The next day we would explore the area and hopefully see some giraffes. We had planned to have a relaxing day, which turned out to be the opposite. You can read all about that here…
Fees to stay in the conservation area
For any conservation area of National Park in Tanzania you have to pay fees. Also for Lake Natron. And most of the time these fees are not low & sometimes confusing.
Below an overview of the fees you have to pay for staying at Lake Natron. If you book with a tour, those fees are normally included, but if you go by yourself it is good to be aware. Also for the conservation fee it is advised to pay this upfront in Arusha, but for us it was no problem paying this in the village.
- Gate fee: one time 35 USD per person
- Conservation fee: 35 USD per person, per day
- Guide fee: one time 20 USD per person
- Climbing Ol Doinyo Lengai: 100 USD excluding transfer to moutain
Details around costs:
- Gate fee: the land around Lake Natron is from the Maasai. To generate an income from tourism which goes directly to the tribes, a gate fee is asked. This fee is 35 USD per person & for this you can stay as long as you want.
- Conservation fee: you also pay a fee to the Tanzanian Government, to maintain the conservation area. With this money water pipes in the area etc. are built. And probably part of it disappears because of some corruption. This fee is 35 USD per person – per day.
- Guide fee: In the Maasai village at Lake Natron many young men are tourist guides. They work with a rotation schedule and when guests arrive they are assigned to one of the guides. This guide will be there for your througout your whole stay. He will show you the lake, the waterfall, climb the mountain with you – everything you like. For this you pay 20 USD per person for all activities except climbing the volcano.
- Climbing Ol Doinyo Lengai: If you are adventures, this should definitely be part of your activities at the lake. The fee for climbing the volcano is 100 USD per person. This does not include the transfer to the start of the mountain and back & no food, drinks etc. But it does include the guide.
- Camping Maasai Giraffe: We paid 10 USD per person per night, and we brought our own tent.