Ol Doinyo Lengai sunset or sunrise

Hike Ol Doinyo Lengai: East Africa’s most challenging one-day climb

Oct 27, 2022
Reading time: 10 minutes

Ol Doinyo Lengai is an active volcano in northern Tanzania that offers fit and adventurous souls a very challenging night-time hike. The reward: a sunrise view of the volcano crater from its rim as well as a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape!

Climbing Mount Ol Doinyo Lengai under the moonlight in the remote savannah of northern Tanzania is a truly unforgettable experience. It's also a very challenging, steep climb that will reward you not only with epic views but also an immense sense of pride that you accomplished East Africa's most difficult one-day climb!

Ol Doinyo Lengai means “Mountain of God” in the Maasai language.

Where is Ol Doinyo Lengai?

Ol Doinyo Lengai sits just next to the escarpment of the Great Rift Valley. So it's part of the intersection between the highlands and the great plain below. It's also only a stone's throw from Lake Natron and the Ngare Sero waterfall.

Northern Tanzania national parks map, Lake Natron

Map showing the location of Ol Doinyo Lengai in northern Tanzania

How high is Ol Doinyo Lengai?

Mount Ol Doinyo Lengai is an active volcano in northern Tanzania, and so has a large crater at the summit. The highest point of the crater rim is 3,188 m (10,459 ft) above sea level.

You start the climb at an elevation of roughly 1,100 meters (3,600 ft). This means you climb two vertical kilometres to reach the top!

What’s the climb like?

The climb involves a fairly straight climb to the crater rim, followed by a long descent back to the starting point. It's a very steep climb and ascent, and so isn't for the fainthearted!

Ol Doinyo Lengai is also quite unusual for being a night-time climb. Only the descent is down in the daylight. As we discuss in a bit, this is done to avoid the worst heat of the day. Setting off at around midnight adds an extra layer of adventure to the whole affair!

Looking inside Mt Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano mouth

The rising sun illuminates the mouth of Ol Doinyo

Another special thing about an Ol Doinyo Lengai climb is that you're at the top of the mountain – or near to it – when the sun rises. From the rim you gaze down into the yawning crater mouth. The smell of sulphur can be strong. This is an active volcano, after all!

Why do we climb at night?

Ol Doinyo Lengai is very near to the Equator and so the region is very hot much of the time. The temperature often climbs above 30℃.

It's generally too hot to climb Ol Doinyo Lengai during the day.

To avoid climbing in the heat, you'll start the hike a little after midnight.

Everyone wears headlamps to help them navigate the climb, even when there's moonlight. The aim is to reach the top by sunrise, and enjoy the spectacular views brought on by the rising sun!

You'll then descend the mountain during the morning hours, usually reaching the base at around noon. The sunlight is helpful with the tricky descent.

You'll then trot on off back to your accommodation for a shower or swim followed by lunch and a nap during the highest heat of the day.

Ol Doinyo Lengai and the Great Rift Valley, Tanzania

The volcano sits alongside the escarpment of the Great Rift Valley

How long is the climb?

The ascent takes anywhere between four to six hours, depending on your fitness. The descent takes about the same length of time.

The whole climb takes around 8 to 12 hours depending on your fitness and pace.

Ol Doinyo Lengai wreathed in cloud with zebras in foreground

Ol Doinyo Lengai wreathed in cloud with zebras in the foreground

How hard is it?

It’s hard!

First of all, there's the steep incline – very steep in places. Not only is this tiring on the ascent, it can also test your nerves on the descent. We recommend bringing trekking poles to help you navigate certain sections.

There are also sections of the mountain where you're dealing with scree and volcanic ash, so there's the possibility of some slipping and sliding.

You need to be a strong, seasoned hiker with steely nerves to be comfortable doing this hike.

Ol Doinyo Lengai close up

Looking back up the mountain during the descent

Note that there are places on the ascent where you may well opt to go onto your hands and knees and scramble. And there are likely to be times on the descent where you choose to drop down onto your bum and wiggle, wiggle. But don't worry – you'll likely be in good company when you do!

Of course you'll also be doing the ascent in the dark. On nights with no moonlight, you can only see a few feet ahead of you – as far as the light from your headlight can illuminate. (In some ways this can actually be helpful, as you can't get wigged out from looking upwards and seeing how far you still have to climb!)

Most people, however, agree that the descent is the harder part of the climb. This is because of the steepness as well as the scree and ash making for slippery footfalls.

Hiker standing on rim of Ol Doinyo volcano, Tanzania

A tiny hiker on the volcano's enormous rim

Is it worth it?


The view from the rim of the entire Lake Natron area is just incredible! Not only is the view outwards incredible, but you'll get to gaze into the volcanic crater. How many opportunities does one ever get to do that?

Sometimes, of course, there's cloud encircling the mountain or shrouding the summit (mountain weather dynamics and all that). But even then, you should be able to enjoy great views from other parts of the mountain, and down into the crater from the rim.

Ol Doinyo Lengai is actually the only active carbonatite volcano on Earth!

This is also an extremely remote region that few ever get to see and appreciate. In the wet season, you'll see gentle green blanketing the surrounding landscape. In the dry season, you'll see the unforgiving terrain and maybe even a red Lake Natron (because algae turns the lake a deep red at times)!

Can I do the hike on my own?

No. You can only do the climb in the company of a local Masai guide.

Maasai man in traditional red robe with Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano in the background

The Maasai believe Ol Doinyo Lengai is a holy mountain

Is it safe to climb an active volcano?

Yes and no. Any mountain climb comes with risks. And a volcano is a volcano. But that said, your guide won't set out with you unless the weather conditions are conducive and the volcano is showing no signs of undue activity.

That said, note that on any climb, it's the guide who is in charge, always. If at any point during the climb he feels that the weather has become dangerous, or that the altitude is affecting you too badly, then he can call if off and you must descend the mountain. (You won't receive a refund in such an eventuality.)

How much does it cost?

The cost of an Ol Doinyo Lengai climb will depend on where you're staying, as each establishment will organise your climb for you and will have a different price. At Lake Natron Camp, the climb is actually free if you stay for three or more nights.


That said, you can normally expect to pay in the region of US$70 for an Ol Doinyo Lengai climb, provided you're not a solo climber. You're likely to pay around $100 for a solo climb. This fee should include a guide, food and drinking water, but always check on what's included beforehand.

Hiker in front of Ol Doinyo Lengai



Note that you may well be charged for your transport to and from the mountain. While Ol Doinyo Lengai is close to the accommodation options at nearby Lake Natron, you still need to drive a little ways along a bumpy dirt road. Your transport figure could well be the biggest one you pay for the climb. The more of you there are, the less you'll each need to fork out for the vehicle.


We also recommend bringing along some cash to tip your guide afterwards (provided, of course, that you were happy with the service). Tipping is customary in Tanzania and is always very much appreciated. We recommend somewhere around US$10 as an overall tip.

What hiking gear do I need?

The most important items of gear for the Ol Doinyo Lengai climb are:

  • Worn-in hiking boots
  • A warm windbreaker, gloves and a beanie as it can get cold and windy at night
  • A backpack for carrying your food and water
  • A headlamp for navigating your way in the dark
  • A sunhat, sunglasses and sunscreen for when the sun comes up in the morning

You might also like to bring trekking poles to help you with certain sections of the climb.

Note too that some establishments will also give you helmets for the climb as a safety precaution.

Giraffe in front of Ol Doinyo Lengai in wet season, Tanzania

A giraffe in front of Ol Doinyo Lengai in the wet season

Which is the best season to climb?

You can climb Ol Doinyo Lengai at any time of the year. The volcano is in an arid savannah region where there isn't too much rain.

As mentioned, the volcano is close to the Equator, so temperatures don't vary overly much from month to month. Daytime temperatures are usually in the twenties celsius, and regularly move above 30℃ between September and March. April tends to be the rainiest month.

June to August are the coolest and driest months, and so are popular months for climbing Ol Doinyo Lengai.

June, July and August are a little cooler, with an average daily high of 25℃. Many folks therefore enjoy this window for an Ol Doinyo Lengai climb. Nights can be chilly, with an average of around 14℃. The wind can also pick up when you're on the mountain, so you need to come prepared for a cold hike that can turn into a hot hike on the descent.

lesser flamingoes on Lake Natron

Flamingoes on Lake Natron with Ol Doinyo peaking above the clouds in the background

What's nice about the June to August window is that you might also get a red Lake Natron, which is a spectacular sight! You can learn why it turns red here.

If you're keen for gentle, green scenery with some flowers, then we recommend doing the climb between January and March.

Where do I stay?

There are a few lodges and luxury camps at nearby Lake Natron and Ngare Sero village where you can stay. You have a choice between budget and more luxurious accommodation, depending on your preference and the heft of your wallet.

Our personal recommendation is Lake Natron Camp, an eco-friendly establishment that offers glamping accommodation. Here you can take a stroll of just a few metres from your tent to cool off in a ribbon of the Saitoti River as it meanders towards Lake Natron. Heavenly!

Lake Natron and two hikers

Walking in the southern shallows of Lake Natron

How do I get there?

It will take around 30 minutes to an hour to drive to the base of Ol Doinyo Lengai from your accommodation near Ngare Sero village or Lake Natron. While the volcano is only about 20 km south of Lake Natron, the dirt road is in bad form and needs to be navigated slowly.

In terms of getting to Lake Natron, it takes around four to five hours to drive there from Lake Manyara in the south. In the dry season you can also drive there from the northern sector of Serengeti National Park in the west. This drive would would also take a few hours.

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