Kenya Rift Valley Safari – Wonderful Central Rift Valley Safari
Nakuru, Baringo, Bogoria and the Kerio Valley in the Central Rift are packed with rich natural and cultural attractions to thrill any tourist. Nakuru is arguably the cheapest city among Kenya’s six major urban centers in terms of food and accommodation. The most prominent feature is the Lake Nakuru National Park, 5 km from the city center to the south. Waterfowl, especially the flamingo, congregate along the shorelines by the thousands. Nakuru was described as the world’s most fabulous ornithological site in the early 1960s and has yet to retain this prestigious title despite some conservation challenges that have seen the flamingo population decline. The park also has a variety of large mammals, including large herds of buffalo, impala, zebra, and the rare white rhino and Baringo giraffe, all of which are easily seen during a game drive. The park also has lions and leopards, but a lot of patience is required to see them.
There are two lodges within the park: Lake Nakuru Lodge and Sarova’s Lion Hill Lodge. It is recommended to book in advance at these hostels, especially during the holiday season, not to mention that they are a bit expensive. There are also public and special campsites. For special campsites, prior reservation is necessary. Others in Nakuru include the Meneganai crater, which can be accessed by a murram track, 5 km north of the city. Menengai is listed as the second largest crater in the world and offers a classic vantage point of the city of Nakuru and the lake, as well as the highlands of Laikipia and the farming settlements of Subukia and Dundori. The crater is a perfect place for a picnic, photography, and al fresco dining and drinks.
There’s the Hyrax prehistoric site just near the town and Lord Egerton’s Castle at Ngata, run by the National Museums and Egerton University. Accommodation outside of Nakuru Park is plentiful and varied to suit everyone’s desires and budgets. There are hotels, guest houses and private camps, all with a unique atmosphere and individual characteristics to suit various tastes and interests.
Travelers with little more time will find visiting Baringo a worthy experience. It’s about 100km from Nakuru and traffic is minimal, although the bumps and bumps in the road become increasingly unpredictable, especially after the equator. Important landmarks include the Lake Bogoria inlet on the right and the Kabarnet junction on the left a few kilometers ahead. Drive towards Marigat, and after passing the town, look for a turnoff from the road, after which you will enter the Kampi Ya Samaki shopping center, the commercial base of Lake Baringo. It is quite hot and humid, but it is a beautiful place to be. Here again there is something for everyone, from bird watching, water sports and cultural and historical sites. More than 450 species of birds have been seen around Lake Baringo, which is also famous for reptiles such as crocodiles, turtles, and snakes.
The story is told of how in the late 18th century, the Maasai and Samburu who had lost their cattle in raids came to settle this once fertile land. The Maasai called the residents I’I Chamus for their uncanny ability to anticipate raids. Towards the end of the 19th century, they stole and began to fish. The Europeans then gave them the name ‘Njemsi’ and today’s Njemps still raise cattle, fish and grow crops. The Njemps are a key attraction and a visit to them is made more exuberant by a boat ride on the lake. Hippos and crocodiles abound in this lake, so swimming is not recommended. The first European to see Lake Baringo was Joseph Thomson in 1883. He had to climb on a table to shoot an elephant because the grass was so tall! Permanent streams from the surrounding hills fed the lake, and the area was rich in wildlife. Today, the rivers have dried up and the human population has grown with its corresponding agricultural activities and settlements. However, the place retains a desert aura.
In the 1950s, David Roberts, a crocodile hunter for the Dragon Tanning Company, settled on the lakefront with his wife Betty and opened a fish factory before building Fish Eagle Camp for tourists. In 1963, the lake rose 20 feet, submerging his house and destroying the fish factory. In 1966, newly widowed Betty was left with six children, but she sold Fish Eagle Camp to Mike Skinner, who built the family lodge that is now part of Block Hotels’ Lake Baringo Club. Betty still lives above the defunct fish factory next door to the popular Roberts’ Camp. Lake Barinog Club remains one of the region’s leading tourist hotels offering full-board, self-catering accommodation in attractive cottages and cheaper bandas or tents. The Thirsty Goat restaurant has a well stocked bar and delicious food at reasonable prices.
It is convenient to walk along the shore of the lake and watch the birds. Hippos graze on the grass at night, while crocodiles can also be seen basking in the sun along the lake shore. Guests can swim in the Baringo Club pool for a small fee. For a slightly lower budget, the Soy Safari Lodge inside Kampi ya Samaki is a safe alternative. It sits beautifully next to the lake. One can get a view of the lake and its island in the distance. The hostel has a pool and offers boating around the lake and Njemps islands for a fee.
For those with heavy pockets and time, the Island Camp is worth the price. Advance booking is always recommended as it is a popular site and transport needs to be arranged from the lakeside. The visitor leaves the car on dry land and boards a hotel ship. The Island Camp is an exclusive luxury venue, which has won several national awards. From Baringo, you can visit the neighboring Lake Bogoria, which is equally popular. It is 15 km from the main road and about 20 km from Baringo. Lake Bogoria is famous for its rich bird life. It is the second home of the Kenyan flamingos, sometimes registering up to a million birds. This is in addition to many other waterfowl.
Another geographical feature to marvel at here is the hot springs. The hot springs have continued to fascinate visitors for generations. The Tugen myths surrounding the feature make the visit worthwhile. It’s fun to see how quickly hot water gushing from the ground can boil eggs. There are camping spots where picnicking families can spend the day enjoying this well-protected national park. If you’re lucky, you might see the rare antelope known as the Greater Kudu.
The Lake Bogoria Lodge, a three-star hotel in a pleasant setting on the outskirts of the park, offers accommodation. The hotel is a bargain lover’s paradise and one can swim in the naturally hot water drawn from underground springs. At the gate of the park is the Papyrus Hotel, a low budget place suitable for visitors who are only interested in a drink or nyama choma. Baringo has one of the most successful irrigation projects supported by the Pekera River, one of the rivers that feed into Lake Baringo. The Pekera Irrigation Plan produces watermelons, onions and tomatoes. Stop in Marigat, a municipality between Lake Baringo and Lake Bogoria, to buy these fruits and vegetables. However, a visit to Baringo is incomplete without a tour through the Kabarnet-Sacho circuit. Branches off after Marigat from Baringo to the right. As you do so, you will find the tastiest goat meat popularly known as koriema, after a village of Marigat and Kabarnet where the goats come from local wisdom that says the area has special medicinal plants that make up the diet of the local goat. Koriema meat is available at the Koriema shopping center just down the road or in the town of Kabarnet.
Kabarnet is located on the slopes of the Tugen Hills overlooking the spectacular Kerio Valley to the west and Lakes Baringo and Bogoria to the east. The Kabarner Hotel is only 2 km north of the city and is a pleasant stopover with beautiful gardens that are perfect for relaxing and having a bite or a drink. To see the Kerio Valley properly, drive a few kilometers west towards Iten. There are comfortable viewpoints from where you can take pictures. If time permits, a trip to the Kerio River at the bottom of the valley can enrich the experience. After Kabarnet, you follow the Sacho Route through the Tugen Hills towards the Eldama Ravine. This is one of the most scenic roads I have ever driven. It is very panoramic and is made even more picturesque by the beautiful natural vegetation. In Kiptangich there is another viewpoint and a campsite where a group can stop to take photos or eat. Not far from here is Sacho, the home of retired president Daniel Moi. The road takes you to Eldama Ravine, which leads you back to the Nakuru – Baringo road near Kabarak.