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Ol Doinyo Lengai

Ol Doinyo Lengai means ‘The Mountain of God’ in the Maasai language of the native people. The volcano is the only active volcano in this part of the Rift Valley and is often referred to as the strangest volcano on Earth.

Fast Facts

Major Attractions
  • The only natrocarbonatite volcano on earth
  • Spectacular and dramatic extruded lava forms
Activities
  • Trekking
  • Aerial safari
Size
  • Altitude 2960 metres(9711 ft)
Location
  • Ol Doinyo Lengai is an active volcano located in the north of Tanzania and is part of the volcanic system of the Great Rift Valley in Eastern Africa. It is located in the eastern Rift Valley, south of both Lake Natron and Kenya.

ABOUT

Ol Doinyo Lengai means ‘The Mountain of God’ in the Maasai language of the native people.The volcano is the only active volcano in this part of the Rift Valley, though there are many older extinct volcanoes in this region. It is often referred to as the strangest volcano on Earth.

Unusually cool, highly fluid lava produces a whimsical world of geologic fantasies that include extrusions that are frozen in flight. These natrocarbonatite flows have a chemical composition akin to laundry soap, and exposed to the atmosphere, the lave quickly hardens and decays. Unlike common basalt lavas, which are sticky with silica, Lengai’s lava are mostly slick sodium carbonate with the viscosity of olive oil. Volcanic froth rich in carbon dioxide can spew into the air as liquid lava and harden in mid air. Some of the big drops can form little parachutes, and look like silver flying through the air before hitting the ground with the sound of broken glass. The formations can crumble a day after they were born, and you can judge their age by their colour. Even raindrops accelerate the decomposition.

Ol Doinyo Lengai’s natrocarbonatite lava is a highly fluid lava that contains almost no silicon.  Natrocarbonatite lava is also much cooler than other lavas, being only 950 degrees F(510 degrees C) compared to temperatures over 2000 degrees F(1100 degrees C) for basaltic lava. Lava with a low gas content can flow like a whitewater stream, and actually has a viscosity near that of water. Natrocarbonatite lava glows orange at night, but is not nearly as bright as silicon-based lavas since it is not as hot.

WILDLIFE

There is little wildlife on this mountain beside small antelope, reptiles, and insects. Birdlife is quite extensive along the routes.

GEOGRAPHY

The present day cone of the volcano was constructed about 15,000 years ago. Historical eruptions have been moderate to small explosive events. In addition to its intermittent explosive activity at intervals of typically years or decades, numerous natrocarbonitie lava flows have been erupted from vents on the floor of the active summit crater.

WHEN TO VISIT

If intending to climb Ol Doinyo Lengai, it is best to do so in the dry season between July and October.