At 77,000 square kilometres Turkana County is the second largest county, covering more than 13% of Kenya’s surface. The vast land in the northwest of Kenya is an awakening economic giant, for beneath its surface lie huge oil deposits that are currently explored and will see extraction in an industrial scale during the years to come – a windfall for a county with a population of slightly over 1 million.
Turkana area boasts plenty of wind, sun, flowing water and underground steam for geothermal power which could make it literally a powerhouse in sustainable energies, too. Turkana County shares borders with Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda and the Kenyan counties of West Pokot, Baringo, Samburu and Marsabit. Turkana Land offers great attractions and opportunities in developing manifold holiday activities.
With a population of approximately 60,000 people, Lodwar is the capital and by far the biggest settlement of Turkana County. It stretches on both sides of Turkwell River; a chain of black-red-ish coned hills is setting the backdrop of town in an otherwise levelled surrounding. From the narrow, busy Turkwell Bridge you enjoy a beautiful sunset view over the palm fringed banks of the river.
Visitors can climb one of the many hills to enjoy an uninterrupted view of the town and its surroundings. The hill near the Catholic mission is crowned by a huge Jesus statue, just as if it was the Turkana edition of the world famous one in Rio de Janeiro. There are staircases leading you up to the viewpoint.
Kapedo lies at the southern boundary of Turkana Land which is shared with Baringo County. Its setting is scenic, framed by Silali volcano in the east and the foothills of Tiati Mountain to the west. Kapedo’s major attraction is an area with two hot waterfalls which merge with Suguta River, creating a huge natural spa with mineral water which is said to cure many skin ailments. A bath in the warm water at night or early in the morning is an absolute delight and an unforgettable treat.
As its name suggests, Central Island grows out of the water in the middle of Lake Turkana. Being of volcanic origin, the island owns three crater lakes, one being home for tilapia fish, another one for thousands of flamingos and the third one for crocodiles. Central Island is also an important breeding place for crocodiles and a diverse avid fauna, and this is why it is protected as a national park. You can explore the island on foot; it takes only about one hour to climb the highest point from where you enjoy unrivalled vistas over Lake Turkana. If equipped with a tent you may also stay overnight which will give you the chance to watch the changing colours of marvellous sunrises and sunsets, and the glittering of myriads of stars. As you have to share the island only with a few rangers, thousands of birds and an unknown crocodile number, and because the volcanic landscape is so weird, be prepared to have an out-of-this world feeling … The ultimate place for lovers of birds, great landscapes and serenity!
4. Lake Turkana
This is the world’s largest permanent alkaline desert lake located in the north-western part of Kenya and covering an area of 6,405 square km. Its northern tip crosses into Ethiopia and is fed by three rivers – the Omo of Ethiopia, the Turkwel and the Kerio. The lake is also called the Jade Sea because of its azure-green colour from algae in bloom.
Lake Turkana became known after Count Teleki’s expedition struggled over incredibly barren and inhospitable terrain and reached its shore on 6thMarch 1888. Teleki named his discovery Lake Rudolf to honour the Crown Prince of Austria. In 1975 the Kenya Government changed the name to Lake Turkana to honour the lakeshore people. Some of the activities you can partake in here would be sport fishing, sailing, or Island hoping.
5. South Turkana Natural Reserve
When travelling from Kitale to Lodwar, most people drive past Turkana’s largest nature reserve without even sensing what they are missing. South Turkana National Reserve is probably one of the least visited nature reserves in the whole of Kenya but it is a hidden gem. Chances to meet other tourists there are minimal. So why not imagine it as your own private national park?!
You can explore South Turkana by 4WD or on foot. You may see Oryx antelopes, gazelles, warthogs, a wonderful birdlife, even lions and leopards and most prominently: elephants! Animals are shyer and harder to trace here than in the more popular parks of Southern Kenya, but as a make-up for that you don’t have to share them with a pack of tourist minibuses. The true adventure of South Turkana is the scenic beauty of vast plains with anthills of record breaking height and singular mountains all around.
6. Eliye Springs Beaches
Just 50 kilometres east of Lodwar lies Eliye Springs, is a small resort that, back in the 1970’s enjoyed astonishing popularity with the international jet set. These were the elite crowd who flew in from Nairobi with private planes to spend a weekend angling on the lake and partying on the beach. Eliye Springs is probably one of the greatest places on this continent to unwind: It has a very laid-back atmosphere, endless palm fringed sand beaches, a massive sand dune from which you enjoy a panoramic view of Lake Turkana, and a lack of mobile network.
Even Lodwar people come here on the weekend when they want to be unreachable and simply enjoy total peace and fun. Close to the name giving mineral spring there is a comfortable lodge with good food, and further down the beach you will find a number of basic campsites, all being fit to offer you total relaxation as you potentially end your Turkana safari.
7. Turkana Tobongu Lore Festival!
Last but definitely not least, one of the most awaited for events of the year is the Turkana Tobongu Lore Festival. The festival is a celebration of the rich culture of the Turkana people. Tobongu Lore means coming home and it is a celebration of Turkana people coming back home to celebrate their culture, food, music, etc. It is also a reference to the cradle of mankind. Thousands of people from Turkana, the neighbouring countries of Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia as well as Nairobi and from overseas flock to the annual Turkana Tourist and Cultural Festival which is held on the second weekend of August at Ekaleez Centre at the fringes of Lodwar. At night, when the air gets as smooth as silk, the festival grounds turn into a huge nyama choma area, where people sit under the sparkling stars, listening to music, talking, eating, laughing and making new friends until dawn – festival atmosphere at its best!
Travel info – This site Visiting Turkana gives a proficient directory of places to stay while you are there and their prices. Getting to Turkana overland is no mean feat. While it is possible to fly to the Lake in a Chartered aircraft (and indeed flying is recommended for the furthest Northern reaches) it must be said that flying to Turkana somewhat distills the adventure. One of the best ways to fly over is using Skyward Express.
This is place where the journey is very much part of the destination- and it is only by taking the long difficult road that a real sense of remoteness is gained. Most visitors make the long trip from Nairobi over a 2 or 3-day period and you pass Nakuru-Eldoret-Kitale-West Pokot-Turkana.
The trip winds through some beautiful country and travellers invariably encounter Rendille camel trains, and pass by tiny villages and nomadic encampments along the way. Make sure to check out Visit Turkana Land a whole website created to show the wonders and gorgeous attractions of Turkana.
Shingai is an upcoming writer with a passion for words and expression through writing. She lived in Zimbabwe as a child and has traveled to over ten countries. She craves adventure and hopes to be an inspirational writer. She is currently pursuing a degree in English Literature with a minor in Psychology at Daystar University.