Overview – Lake Turkana

Anthony Ham
Expert
By Anthony Ham

Anthony is a renowned Africa expert and author of many Lonely Planet guidebooks, including the guide to Kenya.

Anthony is a renowned Africa expert and author of the Lonely Planet guide to Kenya.

Anthony is the author of the Lonely Planet guide to Kenya.

Lake Turkana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the largest alkaline lake in the world, and the largest lake of any kind in a desert. The area is inhospitable – but eerily beautiful – and the lake’s three islands are a stopover for migrant birds and a breeding site for crocodiles and hippos. Scenery, cultural visits and bird watching are the main attractions. There are big mammals in Sibiloi National Park on the shore of the lake, but this is not primarily a safari destination.

Best Time to Go June to September and January to February
High Season December to March and July to October (Not busy)
Size 6,405km² / 2,473mi²
Altitude 361-685m / 1,184-2,247ft

Pros & Cons

  • Un-touristy, remote destination
  • Beautiful lake and desert scenery
  • Breeding ground for crocodiles and hippos
  • Excellent bird watching with many waterbirds, including flocks of flamingos
  • Boat trips
  • Home of many tribal people
  • Paleontological sites in Sibiloi NP
  • Only basic accommodation and campsites
  • It is very hot and windy

Lake Turkana Safari Reviews

  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

Wildlife

Lake Turkana is not really a wildlife destination, but it’s famous for its crocodiles and bird colonies. Up to an estimated 120,000 Nile crocodiles breed on Central Island, which can be visited by boat. Sibiloi National Park protects the wildlife in the area, including some north Kenyan specials such as Reticulated giraffe, beisa oryx, lesser kudu, gerenuk and Grevy's zebra. Lion, leopard and cheetah are present, but rarely seen.

Scenery

Lake Turkana is surrounded by volcanic rock, and is subject to a brutally dry southeasterly wind. Vegetation is sparse and spiky. The lake is often called the 'Jade Sea' because of its size and turquoise waters. The water level of the lake fluctuates widely – it used to be 100m higher thousands of years ago.

Weather & Climate

Lake Turkana lies in the very dry, inhospitable north of Kenya. This is the hottest area of the country with daytime temperatures reaching up to 37°C/99°F. The annual rainfall is under 200mm/7in, but the ‘long rains’ peak in April and the ‘short rains’ peak in November, as elsewhere in the country. More info:

Best Time to Visit

Lake Turkana has a desert climate and rainfall is very low. The area can be visited at any time, but the scenery is most stunning after the rains, which peak in April and November. The wetter months should be avoided if you are driving up from Nairobi, as some tracks might become difficult to navigate.

Getting There

Lake Turkana is located in northern Kenya, 665km/414mi north of Nairobi. Loiyangalani on the southeastern shore is accessible by chartered flight or on organized truck trips. Charter flights are also available to Sibiloi. There are scheduled flights to Lodwar on the western side of the lake. There are several routes to the east and west sides of the lakes. There is no road connecting these two sides, but lake crossings can be organized at a hefty price. Some of the routes have become partially tarred, which makes the lake more accessible than it has ever been. Experienced 4x4 enthusiasts could undertake the trip independently, but ideally in a convoy of at least two vehicles. To get to the lake from Nairobi, you need to cross the Chalbi or Karoli desert.

Health & Safety

Please read our vaccinations and malaria page for Kenya, and our general wildlife viewing safety precautions page for more info:

Want to Visit Lake Turkana?

Lake Turkana Safari Reviews

  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding
Most Helpful Expert Review
Lake Turkana – water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink
3/5

When I say I went up to Turkana in the dry season, I am probably understating it a bit. It was in the thick of a drought. There hadn’t been rain for three years. Children were begging beside the road with empty Coke bottles. We had to...

Latest User Review
The last bit of Africa from childhood dreams
5/5

I have driven nearly 60,000 kilometres around Africa through 32 different countries. Nevertheless, it is the Turkana region that still stands out in my mind. This area is the cradle of humankind. Not only have some of the earliest humans...