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The Great Rift Valley Safaris

The Great Rift Valley is most famous for its alkaline and fresh water lakes

Running north to south through the heart of Kenya, the Great Rift Valley is home to a series of lakes which are found at various intervals – the vast Turkana in the north (known as the Jade Sea), followed by Baringo, Bogoria, Nakuru, Elmentaita, Naivasha and in the far south, Magadi. Lake Natron begins on the border with Tanzania and stretches away to the south.

The heavily alkaline lakes such as Bogoria, Nakuru, Elmentaita, Magadi and Natron are rich in blue-green algae which attracts vast flocks of greater and lesser flamingos, whilst the predominantly freshwater lakes of Turkana, Baringo and Naivasha are home to populations of hippo, crocodile and a wide range of water birds. The two lakes most commonly visited are Nakuru and Naivasha, both of which are accessible from Nairobi.

Lake Naivasha is the highest of the lakes, at 6000’ above sea level, and although surrounded by volcanic mountains, the lake is fresh water. It covers an area of around 115 sq.kms., and is one of the most picturesque in Africa. More than 300 species of birds can be seen. To the south of the lake lies the dormant volcano, Longonot (which can be climbed), and Hell’s Gate Gorge National Park, whilst to the west, numerous, infrequently visited, smaller crater lakes can be found. On the south shore of the lake is Elsamere, Joy Adamson’s former home and now a Conservation Centre. Naivasha is the centre of the Kenyan cut-flower industry.

Of all the Great Rift Valley Lakes, the 200 sq. km. Nakuru National Park is most associated with traditional big game viewing. The lakeshore and surrounding acacia woodland is a sanctuary for wildlife, especially both black and white rhino, and the rare Rothschild giraffe. However, the park is perhaps best known for the pink sheen which covers the lake – the flamingo population. Whilst Lake Nakuru is a beautiful park with great game viewing, its location (proximity to Nairobi and on the main route for safaris visiting both the north and Masai Mara) and small size does lay it open to being busy and over-crowded.

At the most southern section of Kenya’s Rift Valley, lies Lake Natron – a harsh environment, with high temperatures and months without rain. Just north of Lake Natron lies the Shompole Conservancy, an exclusive wilderness area flanked by Lake Magadi to the east (with its flamingo populations and incredible pink and red colouration) which is owned by the local Maasai community and offers a more specialist safari experience, including overnight photography hides.