Northern Kenya Travel Guide

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The northern half of Kenya is a vast, sparsely populated desert. The dry shrub lands and rocky wasteland is home to some of Kenya’s most interesting people, such as the Turkana, Samburu, Marakwet, Pokot, and El Molo tribes. These tribes have been influenced very little by the west, and unlike the Maasai, have had very little contact with tourists as well. They live as they did years ago by herding livestock and fishing. The people as well as the awesome scenery make Northern Kenya a nice place to visit.

The current atmosphere between the tribes of Northern Kenya is very touchy, and tribal violence has become quite common. Livestock raids between Marakwet, Pokot, and Turkana have turned violent due to use of automatic weapons, and a vicious cycle of revenge killings has emerged. This is mainly a problem with tribes west of Lake Turkana, but violence is also common east of lake, where bandits roam. The danger of bandits is so real that no one goes north of Samburu National Reserve without an armed escort.

Don’t let this prevent you from seeing some of the most spectacular parts of Kenya, however.

Dispite the isolated tribal violence, the area west of the lake is still quite safe for tourists, although you may pass a few goat herders with AK-47s. From this side you can visit the town of Lodwar and camp on the shores of Lake Turkana.

The road north from Marich Pass (which continues into Sudan) is in deplorable state.  Once it was tarred but now it is pitted and potholed so the experience is slow and bumpy but the scenery is wild and rugged and devoid of buildings.  You will see a few Turkana herders with their flocks of goats and camels but not much else.  There are buses from Kitale which go to Lodwar, several times a day, journey time about 6-8 hours due to the present state of the road.  From Lodwar, it is about an hour's drive to the shores of the Lake at Kalakol where the Kenya Wildlife Service is based (here you pay your fee/arrange your boat trip to Central Island).  There are no facilities here but KWS will usually let people camp in their compound - you need to be totally self-sufficient in terms of food and water.  Also from Lodwar, on a different road, it is about an hour's drive to Eliye Springs.  This is a far more attractive part of the lake and much nicer for camping.  Again you will need to be self-sufficient but it is possible to use water from the spring or to order things such as chapatis from the locals if you are prepared to take the risk!  Here there are lovely shady doum palm groves, sandy beach, safe bathing in the lake, security guards (it used to be a luxury lodge), toilets and a shower.  Trips to local villages can be arranged and there is a small curio market.

Central Island is HOT!  There is absolutely no shade on the island and, as you will also be out on the lake for several hours getting there and back, make sure you are well protected - take an umbrella or good sunhat and cover up!  Take plenty of water - it is not unknown for boats to break down or for the sailing conditions on the lake to suddenly change and delay your return journey.  However, the island is beautiful with crater lakes full of crocodiles and, at certain times of the year, hundreds of waterfowl including flamingoes.   It is possible to camp on the island - you need to bring everything with you as there are no facilities (except one pit latrine).

The only way to get east of the lake used to be with a tourist company, which travelled with an armed escort. The companies offer safe 8-day trips, which include visits to several national parks and some of the most extraordinary desert scenery in the country.  It is also possible to do this trip in your own vehicle or by getting transport to Loyangelani. 



March 13, 2007 change by tiastravels (1 point)

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