Megan. Samuel at Ngare Sero waterfall

Ngare Sero waterfall hike – a must when visiting Lake Natron

Oct 25, 2022
Reading time: 8 minutes

The Ngare Sero waterfall hike in the Great Rift Valley is a true fan favourite. Everyone who does it just loves it. ❤️ And while it's only a short hike, it packs a massive reward: swimming in the waterfall's pool in a spot that is a magical oasis!

Right next door to Lake Natron is Ngare Sero gorge. This 600 metre-deep crack in the Great Rift Valley has a pretty waterfall that you can hike to by walking up the river. The waterfall is part of a beautiful, small oasis where hikers love to swim.

Standing under the powerful waterfall and swimming in its pool is the perfect reward for hiking in the heat to get there!

A fabulous lil' hike

The first hundred metres of the Ngare Sero waterfall hike doesn't look like much. But once you enter the gorge proper, you quickly realise you're in for a real treat!

Smiling young man on Ngare Sero waterfall hike

Our client Dean near the start of the hike into the gorge

The hike takes you along the bottom of the gorge. Mostly you walk over the rocks alongside the Saitoti River, but you also often crisscross the river. And sometimes you simply walk right on up the riverbed!

Look for desert roses

Ask your guide questions should you like to know the names of the plants you see during the hike.

And look for desert roses early on (before the gorge's walls grow too steep).

A desert rose tree with Mt Ol Doinyo Lengai in the background, Lake Natron

This desert rose bush – a big one – is growing not far from the gorge

Desert roses flower in the dry season (May to October), and their deep pink blooms are just beautiful. The plant's bulbs are poisonous, however. Interestingly, the Maasai (back when they were hunters) used the bulbs' juice to coat their arrows.

The waterfall

The highlight of the hike is most certainly reaching the Ngare Sero waterfall and spending time there.

Nowhere else in this savannah region can you find such deep greenness! The palm trees seem wonderfully out of place. This spot really is a sanctuary.

looking up at Ngaro Sero Waterfall, Tanzania

Ngare Sero waterfall and its iconic palm trees

Depending on when you visit, you may well have the whole pool – indeed, the entire gorge – all to yourself! This is a very remote region, and not all who visit Lake Natron make the effort to do the hike.

Swimming in the pool

Standing beneath the waterfall, you discover that it's surprisingly powerful. VERY powerful, in fact. It's like receiving a pummelling from the world's strongest massage gun. You can't stand under it for too long, as a result. But it's an incredible experience!

Man in swimming trunks standing under waterfall at Ngare Sero

The waterfall is surprisingly powerful!

The Ngare Sero waterfall doesn't actually form part of the canyon's Saitoti River. Rather, it drops down into Saitoti from the side.

You can actually walk a few metres upstream from the waterfall (to the left in the picture above). There you'll discover another smaller, but much wider and more powerful, waterfall. This waterfall prevents you from hiking up the river any further.

How long is the hike?

The hike from the trailhead to the waterfall takes about 25 to 45 minutes each way depending on your pace.

How hard is the hike?

You gain only a little elevation during the Ngare Sero waterfall hike – around 300 metres. So it's really not difficult in terms of steepness. Nor is it long, as mentioned above. Overall, it's a pretty easy hike.

It's slippery

The only potentially tricky aspect is the slipperiness of the rocks. Often you must walk or clamber over the volcanic rocks, which can be slick.

Ngaresero waterfall hike, river, Tanzania safari

You can see how slippery the rocks are

Note that everyone doing the hike must do so in the company of a local Maasai guide. This being the case, remember that your guide is there to lead you via the best route, so follow in his footsteps. He can also assist you – maybe carry your backpack or even hold your hand – if you find you're struggling or are nervous over the slipperiness.

Wear water shoes if possible

Your feet are wet for most of the hike. So we recommend wearing water shoes if you have them. Waterproof boots aren't much use as you actually have to wade through the river at points, as mentioned above.

We do, however, recommend that you start the hike in proper walking shoes. The terrain at the start – before you reach the river – is dry and rocky. Your guide will tell you when is the right moment to switch into your water shoes. Just pop your hiking shoes into your backpack to keep them dry and out of the way.

Hike to Ngare Sero waterfall, Tanzania

Just two more bends till the waterfall ...

At times you wade up the river

Depending on the water level when you're there, there are almost always short sections of the hike where you'll need to walk up the river itself. It's never normally more than waist high though. But it's worth noting this beforehand if water makes you nervous.

It's also worth noting that in places the lightweight volcanic ash in the river will give way so that your foot simply sinks until it strikes the rock below. This can happen just a few inches away from where you had 'normal' (solid) footing. So while you were, say, ankle deep at one footfall, you may suddenly find yourself thigh deep at the next! It can certainly be entertaining watching others flounder around when this happens to them. 😜

How to get there

The Ngare Sero gorge is a stone's throw from the southern tip of Lake Natron. You can see the lake just next to the Kenyan border in the map below.

Northern Tanzania national parks map, Lake Natron

Map showing Lake Natron and other highlights of northern Tanzania

If you'd like to have a longer hike than that offered by the gorge alone, you could always opt to hike from your campsite to the start of the gorge and then back again. You should see some game like zebra and giraffe on such a hike. And this is a fantastic area for birding too. Look for egrets, bee-eaters, lapwings, vultures and eagles, among many others.

Coming from Lake Manyara

Most people drive to Lake Natron from Lake Manyara in the south. It's a long and bumpy journey that takes anywhere from three to four hours to navigate safely. And you have to travel in a sturdy four-wheel-drive to cope with certain sections, especially when nearing Lake Natron.

There are plans afoot to build a tarred road that would make accessing the Lake Natron region much easier, but for now it remains a hard-to-reach place.

Euphorbias and a 4x4 vehicle en route to Lake Natron, Tanzania

A hillside of euphorbias en route to Lake Natron

The drive is a fascinating one, however. You pass many rural Maasai settlements and even a few small farms. And you will pass many, many Maasai walking long distances on foot. The Maasai are known for their endurance; they regularly walk long, long distances that would make most foreigners feel faint at the thought.

For the entirety of the drive you travel parallel to the Great Rift Valley escarpment, which runs for 10,000 km (6,200 mi) from north to south! 🤯

There's also beautiful vegetation to appreciate, including countless acacias, euphorbia forests, milkweeds, sisals, and even ficuses by the streams. All of the rocks in the region are black because this is volcanic land.

View of small village with Mt Ol Doinyo Lengai in background, Tanzania

The road to Lake Natron with Mt Ol Doinyo Lengai presiding

As you get close to Lake Natron, you pass right by Mt Ol Doinyo Lengai (see above), which is the 'Mountain of the Gods'. It's an active volcano that you can hike on an overnight expedition. Keep your eyes open for antelopes and other wildlife when you reach the slopes of Ol Doinyo.

 Impala on kopje in front of Ol Doinyo Lengai, Tanzania safari

An impala stands sentry in front of Ol Doinyo Lengai

Coming from the Serengeti

You can also head to Lake Natron from the northern section of Serengeti National Park in the west. But this is only the case in the dry season – the road is impassable during much of the rainy season.

Flying in

If you have very deep pockets, you could look into flying to the lake's little airstrip. But the airstrip is mostly just the preserve of the region's flying doctor. Pretty much everyone – and everything – heading to the region comes in by road.

Where to stay

If you're keen to hike to Ngare Sero waterfall, then you need to overnight in the Lake Natron region. And note that because of the lake's remoteness, you'll want to spend at least two nights there. But trust us, once you get there, you'll be super glad that you're not rushing off the next day!

This is the sort of area you want to relax and sink into (pun intended, because you sink through the volcanic ash when you step on it).

There's a handful of really lovely accommodation options in the area ranging from budget to luxury.

View of tent in Lake Natron Camp with escarpment behind, Tanzania

The dining tent at Lake Natron Camp

The luxury glamping options of Africa Safari Lake Natron and Lake Natron Camp are close to the lake, and so require a drive of about 30 minutes to reach the start of the Ngare Sero waterfall hike.

Most of the other accommodation options like Maasai Giraffe Eco Lodge, Lake Natron Halisi Camp and Natron River Camp are closer to the gorge and so require a shorter drive (around 15 minutes). Or you can even just walk there.

Chalet at Natron River camp

A permanent tent at Natron River Camp

Note that some of the accommodations in Lake Natron are eco-friendly establishments. It's nice to know that you can stay somewhere that'll help you to minimise your eco footprint if you wish.

The meaning of Ngare Sero

Ngare sero means 'spreading waters'. As you can see below, when the Ngare Sero river flows out of the gorge, it enters a plain where it meanders in ribbons until it finally flows into Lake Natron.

Lake Natron waters, Tanzania

The delta of the Ngare Sero River

If you stay at Lake Natron Camp (our favourite), you can actually take a dip in the Saitoti River delta. Bliss. And little black fishies will come to nibble at your feet if you sit still for long enough!