Great Rift Valley | Kenya Safari Guide

Game drive out of Governors Camp
Game drive out of Governors Camp

There can be no geographical feature on earth that affects the environment around it more than the Great Rift Valley running along the eastern side of the African continent. Described by British explorer John Walter Gregory in the late 1900’s the Rift Valley, with all its fascinating features, has become part of African safari travel folklore.


What is the Great Rift Valley?

Formed by the movement of the earth’s crust the Great Rift Valley plays host to the greatest wildlife preserves on earth.

Stretching from the Arabian Penninsula into the southern African country of Zimbabwe the Great Rift Valley of Africa was formed – and is still changing – when the great land mass of Gondwanaland began to split into separate continents. The Rift is visible from space and is one of the earth’s great geographical features.

Sunrise over the Rift Valley at Sweetwaters Tented camp

The East African Rift, which is the most celebrated part of the Great Rift Valley, splits in Northern Kenya into the Eastern Rift and the Western Rift – also known as the Albertine Rift – before coming together again at the top end of Lake Malawi. With many defining ecological features the Great Rift Valley hosts one of the greatest species diversities in the natural world.

Volcanoes, lakes, mountains and endless plains make up one of the earth’s most dramatic wilderness regions. From lions and elephants to the mighty apes, gorillas and chimpanzees, the Great Rift Valley supports Africa’s greatest safari destinations.

Africa’s Great Game Sanctuaries

Sundowners at Mbweha camp. Lake Nakuru

East Africa is home to many of Africa’s iconic names in safari. Names like Serengeti, Kilimanjaro – Africa’s highest point and the highest free-standing mountain in the world – and Ngorongoro [Masai Mara] have been written into African folklore. This is the Africa of legend, of Hollywood – postcard Africa – and it has been shaped by the Great Rift Valley.

Ngorongoro Crater is Africa’s most unusual wilderness area. The crater that is Ngorongoro was formed by the volcanic explosion and collapse of a Kilimanjaro-like mountain millenia ago. Over time wind-borne earth and seeds collected in the crater – the seeds germinated and an Edenic wilderness took shape. Today 24 000 animals inhabit the Ngorongoro crater at any one time.

Sundowners at Mara Serena

The great plains of the Masai Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti in Tanzania host the epic Great Wildebeest Migration where almost two million wildebeest, accompanied by zebra and gazelles, move across the grasslands in search of grass and water. [See great wildebeest migration]

The lava from the great explosion of Ngorongoro carpeted the southern parts of the great plains known today as Serengeti. In time earth covered the lava and seeds took hold. Due to the lava the earth cover is very shallow and this ensures that all the nutrients are kept in the upper soil layer. The grass is very nutritious on the southern plains because of this and the great herds gather here to give birth every year.

Great Rift Valley Lakes

View over Lake Nakuru from Sarova Lion Hill Lodge

The Kenyan Rift Valley is the eastern rift of the Great Rift Valley – the African section known today as the East African Rift Valley – that runs down the eastern side of Africa. Kenya’s spectacular landscapes and wilderness areas are products of this natural phenomenon. From Africa’s second highest peak, Mount Kenya, to the flamingo-filled lakes such as Nakuru and Naivasha, the Kenyan Rift Valley is a veritable wonderland.

Lunch at Governors Camp

Of the Great Rift Valley’s most attractive features are the many lakes that the valley is renowned for. Names such as Tanganyika, Victoria, Manyara, Nakuru and Malawi are legendary and are the source of many legends and adventures.

The lakes support many aquatic species and the shores echo to the calls of birds and other wildlife, including chimpanzees. The Mahale Mountains on the shores of Lake Tanganyika provide some of the best chimpanzee activity on the continent. Much of what is known of our closest ancestors today was learned through studies at Mahale and through the life’s work of Jane Goodall in Gombe Streams to the north.

Lake Naivasha on a game drive from Loldia House

These lakes, some of them national parks, are renowned for the millions of flamingos that feed in shallows, creating a profusion of pink and providing one of the most memorable sights in Africa. Lake Nakuru National Park is not only famous for the flamingos that grace the shallows but is also home to the endangered Rothschild giraffe and white rhinos. Lions, elephants and herds of buffalo are also found in the park.

If the plains of the Rift Valley are about a multitude of animals then the lakes are about birds, and in particular flamingos, millions of which paint the edges of many of the lakes in a pink hue. Birds in their multitudes gather in the shallows of the lakes formed by the Great Rift. From a distance it seems as though the lake shores are washed in blood but closer inspection shows flamingoes in their millions carpeting the edges.

Birthplace of Mankind

Links to our earliest ancestors have also been unearthed in the Rift Valley, leading many scholars to believe that the valley is the cradle of humankind.

Olduvai Gorge on the Serengeti Plains is one of the world’s best known hominid sites with many famous discoveries coming from the area. Standing on the edge of Olduvai and looking out across the landscape

Kenya Rift Valley Highlights:

  • Spectacular scenery - Valleys, lakes and mountains are all part of this natural wonder
  • Flamingos - The sight of millions of flamingos will live in your memory forever
  • Mount Kenya - Africa’s second highest mountain and considered the best for climbing
  • Rare wildlife - Parks that protect rare animals such as the Rothschild giraffe and white rhino



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