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Sea of salt and soda

Lake Natron is one of the last truly authentic destinations on Tanzania’s northern circuit, but the forces of change are bearing down on it and tourism is set to burgeon. Go there before the masses do, urges Christopher Clark

The air seems hotter and drier with every passing minute. The golden savannah and flat-top acacia trees, images so synonymous with a Tanzanian safari, soon give way to parched, rocky semi-desert. In the back of the Toyota Land Cruiser we’re slowly wilting like old spinach.

We pass a number of Maasai bomas, with fences of thorny branches wrapped around them in perfect circles. These enclosures bear testimony to the semi-nomadic people’s centuries-long defiance of this harsh and inhospitable environment. Long lines of cattle and goats kick up clouds of dust around us. Barefoot children run towards the car in excitement as we pass.

When we stop to stretch our legs, we are instantly enveloped by a crowd of women who seem to have materialised from the earth beneath our feet. They hold up colourful beads and cloth for sale, and ask us to take photos of them in their traditional garb in return for a small fee. One woman pulls a baby from her back and thrusts it towards me shouting, “Baby picture! Baby picture!”

It quickly becomes apparent, then, that although the Lake Natron area remains irresistibly isolated, we are not the first tourists to tread here. Nor will we be the last. A growing number of tour operators are looking to tap into Lake Natron’s hitherto underexplored offerings and have started to include it on their northern circuit itineraries. We are, after all, just a few bumpy hours’ drive from safari icons such as the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, as well as the ever-expanding transport hub of Arusha.

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About Travel Africa

50 Secrets about Botswana • Riding in the Pearl of Africa • Walking with camels in northern Kenya • Diving Lake Malawi • Portraits of Addis Ababa • Tanzania's Lake Natron • Lions in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park • Namibia's Etosha National Park • South Africa's wild flower route in spring... and much more!
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