Expert Reviews – Lake Turkana

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Kenya’s Ultimate Adventure
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Let’s get some of the ‘boring’ factual stuff out the way first. Firstly, Lake Turkana per se isn’t a national park. However, there are three parks on or bordering the lake: these are Central Island National Park, South Island National Park and, on the northeastern shores of the lake, Siboli National Park. Secondly, as far as large mammals, or in fact animals of any type, are concerned this is a disappointing area to visit. But, but, but for me, Lake Turkana vies with the Masai Mara for honours of the best safari experience in Kenya. It’s just that for Lake Turkana the reward isn’t in the wildlife but is all in the journey and the encounters en-route to the lake and once there. Located right in the far northwest of Kenya and touching the Ethiopian border, Lake Turkana, known more romantically as The Jade Sea, sits in a blistering hot desert bowl of shattered lava rock.

Although you can fly from Nairobi to Lake Turkana that’s the least interesting way of getting there. For me the way to get the most from Lake Turkana is to give yourself 10 days to 2 weeks and go overland. There are three overland routes to the lake. The easiest, but in my opinion least rewarding, is the route up the western side of the lake to the drab town of Lodwar. Far better is to do loop to and from the lake travelling via the bird filled Lake Baringo, the cool, green highland town of Maralal, the fascinating Samburu village of South Horr and on to the lakeside village of Loyagalani. For the return journey, head over the blank sands of the Chalabi desert through little North Horr with its camel herders and nomads, to the forested mountain town of Marsabit before heading south to the rest of Kenya via the Samburu Reserve. The going on this route is very tough, roads are dreadful, distances long, accommodation and food primitive but my oh my what rewards. After years of travel across much of Africa I can safely say that there are few areas on this continent that are as exciting to travel. This is a genuine wilderness experience of ever changing landscapes and, despite me saying this wasn’t a wildlife safari as such, there are some animals (north Kenya is actually the only part of eastern Africa where I have seen elephants strolling about outside of any protect area) with the lake itself being home to a massive population of Nile Crocodile which are easily seen on Central Island where they nest. But it’s the people that are of the real interest here. Numerous tribal groups, living largely traditional lifestyles live up here: the Samburu, Turkana, Rendile, Borana and more all call the north home. Over the years I have spent months exploring Lake Turkana and the far north of Kenya and everytime has been a real adventure. I’ve snapped my jeeps drive shaft twice on the terrible roads, climbed mountains with feather bejeweled Samburu moran, seen a baby elephant no more than an hour old in a forest clearing, had men with Kalashnikovs and spears pour tea leaves and soap into my jeep radiator at three in the morning (don’t ask!), chewed miraa (a leafy stimulant commonly consumed in the north of Kenya) with Somali truck drivers, slept in Samburu and Turkana villages, followed goat herders about their day and ridden boats out to desert islands populated with zillions of giant crocodiles. A journey to Turkana won’t appeal to everyone but for those in search of a totally different kind of ‘safari’ experience and who are willing to face up to real, unpackaged, genuine adventure then a safari to Lake Turkana will leave you with unforgettable memories – it certainly has for me.

Average Expert Rating

  • 3.7/5
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