Travel to Lake Turkana – Earth’s Largest Desert Lake
At Kenya’s far Northern frontier lies one of the natural wonders of the world. Lake Turkana is a massive inland sea, the largest desert lake in the world (6,405 sq km). This single body of water is over 250 kilometres long – longer than the entire Kenyan coast.
It is widely known as the Jade Sea, because of the remarkable, almost incandescent, colour of its waters. After a long journey through the sweltering deserts and lava flows of Northern Kenya, the sight of this vast body of bright turquoise water comes as an unearthly, ethereal vision.
This remarkable area was first explored in 1888 by Teleki and Von Honel, who made the epic crossing of the deserts and laval plains, naming the great lake “Rudolf” after their Archduke and the patron of their expedition. The name Turkana was adopted during the 1970’s.
The Lake is a source of life for some of Kenya’s most remote tribes. The Turkana, with ancestral ties to Uganda, live a semi-nomadic existence around the Lake. The country’s smallest tribe, the El Molo, live a hunter-gatherer existence on the shores, in villages of distinctive rounded reed huts.
Turkana also has one of the longest living histories on earth, and recent fossil evidence unearthed at Koobi Fora has led to the Lake being referred to as ‘The Cradle of Mankind’. The site lies at the heart of the Sibiloi National Park, a place of stark beauty and prehistoric petrified forests.
Remote and breathtakingly beautiful, the lake has the largest population of Nile crocodiles in Africa. This statistic is easy to believe when you arrive at the lake shore. There are an estimated 22,000 here and they are often seen basking on the Lake shore or swimming in the shallows. In some places huge specimens measuring up to 2 metres are found.
The Lake also has a large hippo population. Boat trips are the best way of seeing hippo and crocodiles.
Central Island is well worth visiting. This rocky island is a nesting place for many waterbirds, and home to some very large crocodiles.
In Sibiloi National Park on the North Western Shore, there are seasonal populations of Grevy’s zebra, Gerenuk, Giraffe, Kudu, Ostrich and Lion, Hyena and Cheetah.
Turkana is also an important bird area, frequently visited by specialist birding safaris. Species of interest recorded here include large populations of Pink backed Pelican, Greater Flamingo, Sur winged Plover and the Little Stint as well as rare species such as the Saddle billed Stork, Banded Snake Eagle and the African Skimmer.
The Jade Sea is an area of great importance in terms of human culture. It is possible to visit the prehistoric site at Koobi Fora on the far North shores of the lake near Sibiloi. There is an ongoing excavation here that has produced a great wealth of fossil evidence. Access to Koobi Fora is by air charter.
On either shore of the Lake there is always plenty of space to walk and explore. There are plenty of villages to visit, and hills provide good views of the wide Jade waters of the Lake.
On both shores of the Lake, boats can be hired for fishing, exploring the lake, or visiting islands. This offers a whole new perspective of the beauty of this region.
The El Molo tribe, who live on the southern shore of the lake are renowned basket weavers. Their baskets have a distinct shape and style, and are available in villages in this area. The Turkana people produce very attractive handicrafts, including eggshell necklaces, bone pipes, neck pillows and wrist knives, traditionally worn during combat.
There is an abundant supply of fresh fish available locally.
The East and West Shores of Turkana are accessed completely separately, and are physically separated by the vast uncrossable Suguta Valley south of the Lake. The east shore is reached via Maralal and Marsabit with the central point of access being the small oasis town of Loiyangalani.
The west shore is accessed via Kitale and the central point of access is Lodwar. There are very few defined roads around the Lake. Boats are available for hire in villages along the shore, and this is the best way to explore the lake.
- Turkana is Kenya’s ultimate destination for an adventurous wildlife safari.
- Visit the local villages for a chance to meet Samburu, Turkana and El Molo tribes.
- Explore the lake by boat to get a close up encounter with some of the thousands of hippos and crocodiles.