Adventure in the North: #ExploreTurkana – Part 1

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Turkana is often portrayed as a desolate land, with nothing but desert land, hungry people and dying livestock. We can’t deny that there is a perennial drought in the area, and that it’s people are suffering, but that’s not all that Turkana is made of.

Thanks to the County Government of Turkana, Safarilink and our hookup, TurnUp Travel, I got to explore one of my dream destinations.

Beach walk along Lake Turkana. Pic by Brian Gatimu
Beach walk along Lake Turkana. Pic by Brian Gatimu

At first I was a bit bummed – the group left 3 days ahead of me, as I couldn’t get out of work. So I had to live through 3 torturous days of pictures shared on Instagram and Whatsapp by the likes of Liz and Lyra. To the point that I asked them to stop tagging me, or I would block them – not that they did anyway.

Day 1:

Finally, Thursday came along and I hopped onto a Safarilink flight to Lodwar, with one stop at Kapese.

I’m used to taking a flight west into Kisumu, but have never had a chance to fly over the North West. You get to see Mt. Longonot on the left, and the Aberdares and Mt. Kenya on the right, then take a northerly route as soon as you pass Lake Naivasha. From there on, the landscape changes to a savannah, cut across by different rivers and hills such as the Kapedo hills, which are so beautiful to view from above.

Hoppity hop via Safarilink! 1 hour 15 mins should get you to Lodwar, from Nairobi
Hoppity hop via Safarilink! 1 hour 15 mins should get you to Lodwar, from Nairobi

Checking into Lodwar, the heat soon envelopes you, and this is when you appreciate AC, sunscreen and the shade from your hat. These are essentials that you can’t travel without, unless you’re a local and acclimatized to the heat. The sun is strong at 10am, and soars up into the high temperatures close to 40 on some days.

I got to stay at the Cradle Hotel through the trip, about 5 minutes from the airport and the town center. The tented rooms are very spacious, cooled by air conditioning and very clean. The hotel also has amenities like a swimming pool, large restaurant and a bar. The stewed tilapia was my favorite and only meal I chose through the stay, as I love eating freshly caught seafood. Since the team was out for the day, and it was impossible to catch up with them, I spent my morning chilling and enjoying the hotel facilities.

The Poolside at Cradle Hotel is the best sight, especially if you choose to drive to Lodwar
The Poolside at Cradle Hotel is the best sight, especially if you choose to drive to Lodwar. Pic by Muriuki Murithi

Day 2:

After catching up with the group, some had to leave on Friday, and our team reduced to three. Since they had seen most of the sights in the area, I chose to first head out to Lake Turkana and catch a glimpse of the so called Jade Sea. Driving to the lake from Lodwar town is a 1 hour trip, and you need a 4-wheel drive (with AC, drinks and good music if possible), and a great driver/guide who knows the terrain and routes. If you don’t get a great driver/guide, you will get lost.

The best way to get around Turkana.

Eliye is a beach on the west side of the lake, and is filled with lots and lots of white sand; the coast has nothing on the sand here. There are several camps on the beach and you have a great choice – we stayed at Jade Sea Camp, right on the beach and a few hundred meters from the water.  Nothing prepares you for the spectacular sight of such a vast amount of water in a desert – the lake is the largest permanent desert lake.

Sunrise on Anam Ka'alakol. Pic by Muriuki Murithi
Sunrise on Anam Ka’alakol. Pic by Muriuki Murithi

Lake Turkana, or Anam Ka’alakol as known to locals (sea of many fish) is amazingly beautiful, and earned it’s nickname from the turquoise color reflects off it’s waters. that One of the locals, Lokosh (manager at the Jade Sea camp) told me that depending on the day, you get to see the color as the sun moves along. I was snoozing on a hammock outside, cooling off from the unbearable heat with the fast breeze that skims across the waters. The color is actually from algae that rises to the top of the lake in calm weather.

I did manage to glimpse the color as the waters calmed down in the afternoon, and it was magical to see it change from jade to just regular. You’ve got to see it yourself to believe it.

Cooling off in the warm lake. Bliss
Cooling off in the warm lake. Bliss

Later, splashing in the warm water (the sun is so hot, the water heats up to a nice lukewarm), you realize that the sand in the water is black while that on land is white. I can’t explain why – but here’s some history: the local Samburu used to call the lake ‘Basso Narok’, or ‘black lake’. Could it be the dark sand, or is it the eruptions of the still active Central Island volcanoes that gave it this name?

Got to get that one picture right during your travels. Model: Muthuri. Pic by Muriuki Murithi
Got to get that one picture right during your travels. Model: Muthuri. Pic by Muriuki Murithi

Speaking of islands – the lake hosts three inner lakes, situated on Central Island National Park. Crocodile Lake, as the name suggests, is full of these reptiles, and serves as an vital breeding ground for the species. Flamingo Lake hosts the graceful birds and they dance along to the water waves, clinging to the shores. Tilapia Lake is smaller, and serves as a breeding ground for the fish that populate the lake, and will probably land on your dinner plate at some point.

Flamingoes on ... well, Flamingo Lake, on Central Island, on Lake Turkana
Flamingoes on … well, Flamingo Lake, on Central Island, on Lake Turkana

I didn’t get a chance to explore the wild island but the team did get you the best view! Click to play the video

In the next blog post, I’ll tell you all about Turkana Boy, Kakuma and more.


Getting there

  • Drive to Kitale, then take the road on to Lodwar. You will need armed escort at some point, which is available at Kainuk.
  • Fly direct to Lodwar daily on Safarilink, with flights available from Wilson Airport, Nairobi. You can also catch a flight from Kitale on some days.

Where to stay:

  • Cradle Tented Camp in Lodwar, arguably one of the best spots in town. Their staff is pleasant and the food is fresh and made with lots of love. The swimming pool seems to be the weekend getaway for most families and it does get packed and noisy, but makes a great spot to people watch and relax.
  • Jade Sea Camp is nestled just off the shore of the lake, and is basic. You won’t need a room though – just plonk your tent on the beach, or doze off in one of several hammocks around the camp, and sleep beneath the stars. Best feeling ever!

Essentials:

  • Never forget your sunscreen and hat.
  • Get a car with AC if possible.
  • Always drink water, fresh bottled water is available in most places, and the best, natural spring water is available at Eliye Springs on the shores of the lake.
  • Don’t walk around in the heat if it’s not necessary, watch out for sunstroke.
  • bankelele

    Great stuff. Hope to visit there with the oil folk soon

    • Naomi Mutua

      Don’t forget the sunscreen..

      • bankelele

        My settings are pre-set