Expert Reviews – Lake Bogoria NR

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Sometimes pink tinged lake shore
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Lake Bogoria is a tough one to review as so much depends on when you go and what the local weather patterns have been up too recently. Lake Bogoria is known as a holiday home for flamingoes and, when conditions are right, up to a million birds can turn parts of the lake pink. At such times this is one of the spectacular wildlife sights in East Africa. In addition to the flamingoes the lake is also characterized by bubbling, steamy hot springs and geysers.

When I visited in 2008 the park lived up to the hype with huge numbers of flamingoes present. However, on my recent visit in July 2014 things were very different indeed. In the two years leading up to my latest visit there had been a lot of rain and water levels in Lake Bogoria, (and in the beautiful neighbouring, Lake Baringo) had risen considerably. The rising waters had drowned the hot springs and geysers, flooded the surrounding areas and the deeper waters had caused the flamingoes to flee to waters more inviting. There were maybe fifty flamingoes present n the park. Possibly less. In addition to that the only other animals visible were the goats belonging to local villagers who had pretty much moved into the park. To make matters worse the local council who must surely have been aware of the complete lack of wildlife and he general dire state of the park had taken the bizarre step off doubling the cost of entry for tourists!

As it stand at the time of writing (late-2014) right now Lake Bogoria is a complete rip-off and a total waste of time. However, don’t dismiss it completely. Lake levels were slowly starting to fall and with luck the flamingoes will start to return and the local council will get to work making the park a worthwhile destination.

Lake Bogoria – letting off steam in the Rift Valley
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You really don’t go to Lake Bogoria to look at animals. There are plenty of places in Kenya, never mind the rest of Africa where the gameviewing is far far better. Spotting the odd zebra or buffalo wandering around on the water’s edge is a bonus, although there are good herds of greater kudu. What most people do is what I did – stop off en route up the Rift Valley to visit the extraordinary bubbling Loburu hot springs on the western shore of the lake. Be very careful how you go as the super-heated mud here can kill. Other worldly pools bubble gloopily and a series of geysers shoot steam 2.5-3m (8-10 ft) into the air. It is highly dramatic and scenically stunning, the rich colours of the volcanic minerals like an artist’s palette against the Rift Wall. It is also very smelly, with a strong odour of sulphur hanging in the air.

About 260 kms (162 miles) north of Nairobi), just about on the Equator, Bogoria is one of the smallest of the string of shallow brackish soda lakes that line the Rift Valley. No more than 3m deep, it has no outlet and is fed purely by rainwater pouring off the escarpment, so the size and salinity of the lake varies hugely from season to season. Like the other soda lakes along the line, it has no fish, but is rich in blue-green plankton that is the favourite food of flamingoes, attracting flocks of thousands to the area in season. With them come many other lake birds and predators from fish eagles to batteleurs.
The lakeshore is divided between two conservation areas, the Lake Bogoria National Park and the Lake Kamnarok National Reserve (named after the next tiny lake along the chain). Together they cover about 197 sq kms (76 sq miles). There is a lodge, proud home to Kenya’s one and only natural thermal spa (not 5-star de luxe) or there are campsites if you would like to stay longer to go walking or boating on the lake.

Lake Bogoria: The Flamingo’s New Home
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The massed flocks of greater and lesser flamingos – up to two million in a good year – for years made this one of the best lakes in the Rift Valley to see one of Kenya’s most memorable spectacles. Honking in the shallows and all but concealing the alkaline lake’s waters, the flamingos for the most part stuck close to the shoreline of this 34km-long lake. At the time of writing the flamingos have gone elsewhere but remember that these populations can shift from year to year. Other wildlife is scarce, although the endangered greater kudu (hunted to the brink of extinction in Kenya for its extravagant horns) is here and I was lucky enough to see a pair close to the shoreline before they crashed off into the bush. Other possible wildlife sightings around the lake’s southern shore are leopards and klipspringers. The western shore is also home to hot springs and the largest number of geysers of any lake in Africa.

The flamingos’ holiday home
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The worth of this small reserve depends almost entirely on one factor – the number of flamingoes gathered there. I have visited it twice when there were few flamingoes around, and it was pretty underwhelming, with livestock being more numerous than wildlife, though the lovely setting at the base of the Rift Escarpment provided some compensation, as did the trio of primeval geysers that erupt in a searing sulphuric haze to feed a network of multihued channels on the western shore. But when the million-strong flamingo flocks associated with Nakuru relocate here – as they had on my most recent visit, in 2011 – it makes for a spectacular sight, whether viewed up close from the lake shore, or panoramically from the cliffs that rise to the immediate west. Bogoria other claim to fame is as the most accessible place in Kenya where the handsome greater kudu is common, but I have only ever seen one individual on three visits.

Geysers, hot springs and clouds of flamingoes
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Lake Bogoria feels truly wild and otherworldly. When I visited, there was no one else in sight. It’s rapidly growing in popularity, though, as this is one of the best places in Kenya to see flamingoes. Estimates suggest that flocks of up to 1.7 million birds congregate here, especially during the European winter, when migrants gather, creating a shimmering canvas of pink. Few other species tolerate the lake’s inhospitable conditions, but ostriches and greater kudu with majestic corkscrew horns are sometimes seen on the shore. Fiercely alkaline, the lake is visually dramatic even when the flamingoes are out of range, edged as it is with dark, volcanic rock. Natural hot springs steam and bubble on the western side.

The multi-coloured steaming hot springs of Lake Bogoria
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Bogoria, one of the Rift Valley lakes, is famous for its flocks of flamingos. When I visited the numbers weren’t very high, but this fluctuates depending on water levels and algae, the flamingo’s food source, present. There is only one road through the park, which follows the lakeshore and ends up at the impressive steaming and bubbling hot springs. Wildlife is scarce in the park. Although greater kudu is said to be abundant I didn’t see any. The birding is quite good, but aside from a good sized leopard tortoise and a couple of Kirk’s dik-dik, I didn’t see any other animals.

Flamingo heaven
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The hordes of flamingos that once inhabited the shallow waters of Lake Nakuru NP left sometime ago for another nearby lake – Lake Bogoria. I was stunned by the sheer numbers of these beautiful creatures wading delicately in the shallows of the picturesque lake, itself dwarfed by some humongous Rift Valley mountains. The flamingos form patterns of pink and white (greater and lesser flamingo are different colours) on the blue-green lake waters and it reminded me of ice skaters creating complex, rhythmic and graceful patterns on the ice. It was a remote spot but I am glad I made the effort to come – I will long remember these magnificent birds.

If you manage to drag your attention away from the flamingos covering the lake waters, you may also spot greater kudu, warthog, dik-dik, impala and grants gazelle lurking in the scrubby landscape. The drive in is rough, bouncy and dusty, but this really is a unique experience.

Currently the best place to see the Rift Valley’s flamingos
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In a deep bowl surrounded by steep hills, Lake Bogoria is approached via the B4 road north of Nakuru town. Since 2012, seasonal rains have swelled Lake Nakuru and altered the salinity of its water, and as such, the massed flocks of the Rift Valley’s flamingos have been favouring the more algae-soaked and alkaline Bogoria. This is now the best place to see the lake edges fringed with pink as tens of thousands of lesser flamingos feed in the shallows. There’s little other wildlife around, though on occasion I’ve seen greater kudu near the lakeshore and vervet monkeys and baboons at the gate and campsites. The reserve however has the unusual feature of the Loburu hot springs, a series of bubbling and steaming water spouts, and an impressively stark, rocky landscape thanks to the Rift Valley’s Siracho Escarpment rising sharply up on the eastern shore. Lake Bogoria isn’t a standalone destination, and seeing the flamingos doesn’t take long, so I have always combined my visits with the more interesting Lake Baringo a little further north; a distinctively different freshwater lake known for its peaceful beauty, rich birdlife and many crocodiles.

Average Expert Rating

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