Lake Turkana in Kenya has an allure for intrepid travellers that is hard to resist. European aristocracy, British royalty, journalists and adventurers have visited the Jade Sea and marvelled at its unique features.
The Jade Sea is all the more astonishing because it is found in the midst of a desert. This massive body of iridescent, blue-green water is surrounded by spectacular volcanic formations and dark pink hills. An island in the lake has an active volcano and the entire region including a number of national parks is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Lake Turkana is the largest of the Great Rift Valley soda lakes and the presence of algae (cyanobacteria) in the water imparts the characteristic colour.
Lake Turkana stretches for miles over what appears to be a desolate area on the wild northern frontier of Kenya and the border with Ethiopia. On closer inspection visitors will find many hidden treasures, from archaeological discoveries and wildlife diversity to scenic wonders, lake activities and definitive cultural interaction. There are few places that can combine such a range of attractions in one area.
The lake has probably had many names for it is truly ancient, as evidenced by its geological structures and the prehistoric discoveries made in the area.
But the first European explorer to record a visit here proclaimed it should be known as Lake Rudolf. Count Teleki of Hungary made an arduous trek across East Africa to the lake and named it after his friend and benefactor the Crown Prince of Austria in 1888. The Kenyan Government renamed it in 1975 after the predominant tribe living in the area.
This remote lake can be windswept and moody or gloriously calm and peaceful, but in any case it is very hot and dry and the night skies are crystal clear. Travelling around the lake by boat or outings on foot and in a vehicle, should be undertaken with a knowledgeable guide at all times. Air transfers may be required to visit top attractions.
Excursions by boat are a great way to explore and sight-see or visit various attractions. Catching giant Nile Perch is a top activity by boat or you can fish from the shore. There are about 50 fish species in the lake.
Lake Turkana has the biggest Crocodile population in the world and you can see many of them on this amazing island. Central Island has a number of volcanic features with 3 small jade coloured lakes - images of it taken from the air are often displayed in connection with Lake Turkana.
Fossils, a Petrified Forest and wildlife are what you will find here. You can explore the origins of man and see giant fossils of pre-historic creatures amongst thousands of other animal remains. There is a museum and tours can be arranged in advance. Wildlife in the park includes Nile Crocodile, Reticulated Giraffe, Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Grevy's Zebra, Beisa Oryx, Hippo and more.
Lake Turkana is home to hundreds of local bird species (at least 350) as well as a rich variety of migrants which arrive in the summer. African Skimmers, Flamingos, Pelicans, Cormorants, Fish Eagles, Ibis and also Spoonbills are just a few of the species you can spot.
Going to Lake Turkana is like stepping back in time - the local tribes continue with their traditional way of life despite the modern world. Visitors often feel like they have seen the true Africa as it was in the days of the great explorers. The tribes of this region are fascinating to say the least and meeting the local people in their colourful attire is a highlight for any visitor.
An expedition to Lake Turkana is not for the faint hearted. The journey by road from Nairobi can take days and going on a guided safari with an expert guide is highly recommended. Even at the lake visitors should keep an open mind and harness their sense of adventure.
There are 2 road routes to the lake - the road to the east travels via Maralal and Marsabit and then onto Loiyangalani, an oasis town with freshwater springs. The road to the west travels via Kitale and then onto Lodwar. There is a valley south of the lake which cannot be crossed except by air. The quickest travel option is to fly to the lake on a chartered aircraft.
There is an airstrip at Loiyangalani (east) and Eliye Springs (west) near Lodwar.
by Heather Willowmore