Introduction

The desert land in the north of Kenya is still unknown by most. It is a region marked by cultural richness and ecological diversity. Home to various ethnic groups, still holding unique traditions and lifestyles, living in extremely remote areas with little influence on the “modern world.”

Due to its lack of infrastructure, the north of Kenya remains one of the most challenging remote places to reach. This region houses several incredible places to visit, such as Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake.

Lake Turkana, located in the Great Rift Valley of Kenya, is renowned for its unique beauty and ecological significance. Often called the ‘Jade Sea’ due to its striking blue-green waters, supports a diverse range of flora and fauna. It’s an important habitat for crocodiles, hippos, and several bird species, and its surrounding regions hold invaluable archaeological sites tracing early human history.

Picture of one part of Sibiloi seen from far ilimunated by the sunset. The land is orange and the lake is blue dark, the sky is orange near the land and blue light on top.

What are the Pros and Cons of visiting Lake Turkana?

It is one-of-a-kind scenery, from striking blue-green waters from the lake contrasting with the arid desert surroundings to mountains with savanna landscape.

You will have unforgettable cultural experiences engaging with the local tribes and gaining firsthand experience of their unique traditions and lifestyles.

The region of Lake Turkana holds archaeological treasures, including Koobi Fora (Sibiloi National Park), famed for its hominid fossils, providing insights into early human history.

Given its role as an essential habitat for crocodiles, hippos, and many bird species, Lake Turkana provides a remarkable experience for travelers who value wildlife encounters.

It remains one of the few authentic travel experiences where one can avoid the usual tourist crowds and enjoy a more solitary and unique exploration.

Lake Turkana is located in a highly remote part of Kenya, making the journey challenging, requiring planning to avoid potentially high travel costs and flexibility for unexpected changes.

The region has minimal tourist facilities, which can complicate the journey, especially for people used to luxury. In some towns, you won’t be able to find supermarkets; the further you go, the more remote it becomes.

It presents a challenging climate, with scorching temperatures during the day and powerful winds at night.

Certain areas around Lake Turkana may present safety concerns due to intermittent tribal disputes; we recommend you remain updated on local conditions and take precautions as everywhere else.

We took this photo on a boat in the Turkana lake, you can see land very close and the landscape is like an African safari but in green mountains.

Brief Summary of Lake Turkana

Lake Turkana measures about 290 km (180 miles) long and 32 km (20 miles) wide at its broadest point. The lake’s total surface area is roughly 6,405 square kilometers (2,473 square miles).

Aside from its record as the world’s largest desert lake, it also hosts the world’s largest population of Nile crocodiles. Rich in fish, the lake is a lifeline for the local tribes, including the Turkana, El Molo, and Dasanach, whose lives intertwine with the rhythms of this unique ecosystem.

Additionally, the lake is a significant example of how climate change and human activities interact, reminding us the importance of adopting sustainable practices to safeguard this incredible ecosystem. Sadly, the water shortage in such a harsh environment is life-threatening, seriously affecting the survival of people living in and around this area.

Photo taken from another angle on the water in the crater of the central island and Lake Turkana in the background. The blue color of the water in the crater is darker than that of the lake. Around the crater there are small green bushes and the rock path.

What can I do in Lake Turkana?

Lake Turkana, the world’s largest alkaline lake, has plenty to offer regarding sightseeing. Here you can find some examples of what to do during your trip.

Wildlife: Visit and explore Lake Turkana National Parks, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Consisting of Sibiloi National Park and two islands, Central Island and South Island, are home to diverse wildlife. This includes crocodiles, hippos, and a variety of bird species (in the islands). Cheetahs, lions, hyenas, and more at Sibiloi. 

Visit the Tribes: El Molo Tribe is the smallest and least-known ethnic group in Kenya living on the shores of Lake Turkana. You can learn about their unique culture and way of life.

Astronomy: With clear skies away from light pollution, Lake Turkana is an excellent location for stargazing.

Enjoy the Lake Turkana Cultural Festival: If your visit coincides with the annual Lake Turkana Cultural Festival (typically held annually in May in Loiyangalani), you’ll witness traditional dances, songs, and other cultural displays from fourteen ethnic communities.

Visit Craters: You can see different craters along the islands. Nabiyotum crater is a striking sight for tourists—a saline, alkaline lake located in a volcanic crater in the southern part of Lake Turkana. 

View of Moite's village. You can see a lot of typical small rounded houses made out of branches and palm leaves. There are just two modern constructions in the picture, one on each side. The land is arid and mainly rocky.

What is the difference between the Central and South Islands in Lake Turkana?

Both islands are remote and require visitors to come prepared with sun protection, food, water, and other necessities. The islands are part of a National Park, so respect for the local wildlife and environment is crucial.
Below you can find the main differences between each other.

Central Island: Known as a refuge for the Nile crocodiles and despite being smaller, this island stands out with its abundance of craters. It also holds the advantage of being more easily reachable for visitors.

South Island: Marked by the notable Nabiyotum Crater, this island is larger and offers a more solitary and remote experience due to its seclusion.

Beautiful sunset at lake Turkana. The sun is almost touching the water. The color of the sun is orange and you can see super small clouds on the top and the look like pink because of the light reflection

What can I do on Central Island?

Situated in the heart of Lake Turkana, Central Island, also known as Crocodile Island, is a volcanic landmass. Despite its small size, covering just about 5 square kilometers, it is home to over a dozen craters and cones, three filled with small lakes. The highest point on the island, with a summit elevation of 550 m, is a tuff cone at the south end.

The island’s alkaline lake was once a thriving breeding ground for Nile crocodiles, but the number strongly decreased. The main reason for the declining number of Nile crocodiles on the island’s alkaline lake is the increased illegal fishing activities, causing many of them to leave. Due to the potential presence of crocodiles, swimming is not recommended. Moreover, the island is a haven for various bird species, housing colonies of great white pelicans and cormorants, among others.

Important information to consider

Before your visit, you must pay the entrance fee at the Kenya Wildlife Station in Kalokol (22 USD for foreign non-residents and 2.15 USD for local residents). Please note that there are no administrative offices on the island itself, and you should also pay for your guide/s entrance.

You can camp in the area for an additional charge (30 USD), but remember to carry all the necessary equipment. Solo camping is not permitted; a guide must always accompany you.

You must come prepared with sun protection, plenty of water, food, and extra equipment you consider necessary for your trip. Remember that you will be in a completely remote area with a harsh climate. Bring extra water and food not only for yourself but also for your guide.

Picture of central island's crater full of water and the reflection of the crater and the sky in it. You can see the green hills and the clouds from the sky.

What can I do on Southern Island?

South Island is larger and less frequented compared to Central Island, offering a more remote experience. It’s more challenging to reach, but it is an excellent place for those seeking solitude and communion with nature. You can do the same activities as on central island, which includes hiking, bird watching, and camping. The main attraction is the Nabiyotum Crater, a visible reminder of the area’s volcanic history.

The same supplementary guidelines as Central Island are applicable here. A guide is mandatory for your visit, including if you choose to camp (30 USD). Before arriving, you must pay the entrance fee (22 USD for foreign non-residents and 2.15 USD for citizens) at the nearest Kenya Wildlife Service office (we recommend the one in Loiyangalani).
You must bring all the necessary supplies and equipment with you as facilities may be limited.

Photo we took before reaching the central island. You can see the shore with black sand and the main crater , its green.

What can I do in Sibiloi National Park?

Due to the wealth of prehistoric discoveries in the Koobi Fora deposits, Sibiloi National Park is often called the “Cradle of Mankind.” These deposits have yielded numerous fossil specimens of early hominins (early human ancestors) and other mammals, providing critical insights into human evolution.

This park hosts a range of wild animals, including lions, cheetahs, and hyenas (among others), is expansive in size, making it impractical to explore on foot. If you plan a game ride, you must bring your own vehicle and access the park overland since the park doesn’t provide game rides or other transportation options.

The entrance fee is 22 USD for foreign non-residents and 2.15 USD for citizens. You can camp for 30 USD (with your own tent) or rent a lodge for 80 USD per night. Remember that you must pay for every person accessing the area (including your guide/s); it also applies if you decide to stay. It’s important to know that you will pay the entrance fee for every day you choose to stay.

Picture of a Lake in Sibiloi National Park. The lake is located at the right and you can also see two cabins directly on the shore. The rest is green land and far away you can spot some trees.

Which Tribes can you see in the North of Kenya?

As we mentioned before, there are eight tribes living around Lake Turkana. 

1. El Molo– This tribe is located on the southeastern shore of Lake Turkana, specifically around the El Molo Bay near Loiyangalani town.

2. Samburu– They live in Northern Kenya (Rift Valley province), stretching from Lake Turkana to the south of Mount Kenya. The Samburu National Reserve is located within their territory.

3. Gabbra – The Gabbra primarily inhabit the Chalbi Desert between Lake Turkana and the Ethiopian border, particularly in Marsabit County in northern Kenya. 

4. Rendille – The Rendille tribe is located in the arid regions of northern Kenya, particularly in Marsabit County, bordering Lake Turkana to the west and the Chalbi desert to the east and southeast.

5. Turkana – The Turkana tribe resides within Turkana county, situated in the northwest part of Kenya. Uganda surrounds this area on the west, South Sudan and Ethiopia to the north and Lake Turkana at the eastern edge.

6. Dassanach – Primarily residing in the southern extremity of Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, the Dassanach people also have communities in Kenya. Specifically, they are found in the northern territories of Lake Turkana, particularly within the region known as the Ilemi Triangle.

7. Borana – The Borana primarily live in southern Ethiopia and parts of northern Kenya, including Marsabit and Isiolo counties.

8. Burji – The Burji people primarily live in southern Ethiopia, in the Burji special district in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR). In Kenya, they can be found in Marsabit County.

Picture of the village in the middle of Koobi Fora region. The small houses are surrounded by a fence made out of branches. The houses are also made out of branded and palm leaves.

How long does it take to reach Lake Turkana?

Driving non-stop from Nairobi to Lake Turkana (Lodwar way) could take approximately 12-14 hours under ideal road conditions. However, due to the length of the journey, road conditions, and potential delays, it’s more realistic to plan for about 16-20 hours of driving, especially if going by public transportation.

From Lodwar, you will need to arrange transportation (possibly a hired vehicle or another bus) to the town of Kalokol, which takes an additional hour. From there, a boat ride to Central Island on Lake Turkana could take another 3 hours, depending on the specific location and weather conditions.

Keep in mind that these timelines are rough estimates and can greatly change due to different factors. We recommend allowing room for potential delays (and extra time for changing transport modes) or waiting periods during your journey.

Picture of a boat sailing on lake turkana while sunset. You can see some islands on the left.

How much does it cost to go to Lake Turkana?

The expense involved in visiting Lake Turkana can greatly depend on the activities you plan to do there. The boat ride represents the most significant expense. The more people you can share the boat costs with the cheaper it gets. Here you can find a list of general costs per person (USD) to give you an idea.

Option 1: If you go through Lodwar

Fixed costs

  • Boat ride (total, including guide, negotiable): ~$100
  • Park entry fee for Central Island (per person, foreign non-resident, fixed): ~$22 + 2.15 USD for your Guide
  • Park entry fee for Central Island for local residents (remember you need to pay it too for you guide): ~$2.15 USD

Optional if you want to visit Sibiloi additionally

  • Boat ride (total, including guide, Central Island & Sibiloi, negotiable): 400 USD
  • Park entry fee for Sibiloi (per person, foreign non-resident, fixed): ~$22 + 2.15 USD for your Guide

Variable costs

  • Accommodation Lodwar: Decent accommodation availaible from 30 USD per night
  • Camping: If you want to camp in one of the national parks you have to pay 30 USD per night (+ the entry fee again for every extra day)
  • Public transportation from Nairobi to Lodwar:  ~20 USD

Note: Eliye Springs Resort can also organize a boat ride from Eliye Springs (close to Lodwar) and back, but their prices are significantly higher.

Option 2: If you go through Loiyangalani

Fixed costs

  • Boat ride (total, including guide, Southern Island, negotiable): 120 USD
  • Park entry fee for Southern Island (per person, foreign non-resident, fixed): ~22 USD + 2.15 USD for your Guide

Variable costs

  • Accommodation Loiyangalani: Decent accommodation availaible from 10 USD per night
  • Camping: If you want to camp in Southern Island National Park, you have to pay 30 USD per night (+ the entry fee again for every extra day)
  • Public transportation from Nairobi to Loiyangalani:  ~20 USD

Best recommendation for visiting Lake Turkana

Our top recommendation for exploring Lake Turkana is very adventurous but absolutely rewarding. We suggest starting in Lodwar, then taking the boat from Kalokol to Central Island. After that, continue the trip to the other side of the lake to Moite (Google Maps Link), a small tribal village, where you can either sleep on the beach or pay a small fee to stay with a local. You can continue your journey the next day to Loiyangalani and from there, arrange transportation via Marsabit back to Nairobi.

Bear in mind there is no public transport from Moite to Loiyangalani. Occasionally, Rangers travel between these places but don’t count on that. Your only way to continue your trip is to catch a ride with a local villager on a Boda-Boda, an intense 3-4 hour ride costing around $20-30 USD per bike. If you have oversized luggage, this trip is not possible. Also, they will only accept one person per bike. The boat from Kalokol to Moite, with a stop in Central Island, costs around 100-150 USD (negotiable).

This trip is very exhausting and better suited for experienced travelers. Still, we strongly advise this route, as it provides the best experience of the local area, its people, and the natural wonders of Lake Turkana.

Ensure you have plenty of time. While you could make this trip from Lodwar to Loiyangalani in a day, you may need to stay overnight before you find transportation to your next stop. Plan for at least one night in Moite and another 2-3 nights in Loiyangalani. For more details about our experience, click here to listen to the story.

What can I do on one day trip to Lake Turkana?

For a quick taste of Lake Turkana, consider starting in Lodwar and taking a day trip to Central Island. We don’t recommend visiting both Central Island and Sibiloi in one day. Due to the long boat ride you will spend most of the day in the boat while paying a lot.

If you’re beginning in Loiyangalani, visiting South Island could be an option. However, it’s important to note that it’s not a typical tourist location, and the terrain might be challenging with access restrictions. Be prepared, as both sites lack amenities, so bring all required supplies with you.

Picture of the crater seen from an angle that resembles a thin piece of land that divides it from the lake. The water in the crater is dark blue and the lake is light blue. You can see a small island not so far away. The land is full of rocks and small bushes.

How to organize a boat and a guide for Lake Turkana?

If you self-organize your trip, visit the KWS office in Lodwar (Google Maps Link) once you are there. Usually, it’s enough if you show up the day before your trip to the office. They’ll inform the KWS office in Kalokol, where you have to pay the entrance fee for Central Island National Park, that you are coming. Furthermore, they can help you arrange a local guide with a boat (they don’t charge a commission). They were very helpful and friendly when we visited them.

How to get to Lake Turkana?

Lake Turkana, approximately 800km north of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, can be reached by several routes (depending on the area of the lake you wish to explore). We will outline two of the most frequently used paths, including the route we took.

Option One: From Nairobi to Kolkal through Lodwar

How to get to Lodwar from Nairobi?

By air

Nairobi to Lodwar

Flights from Skyward Express depart from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) and sometimes from Wilson Airport. Depending on the specific flight, the duration is approximately 1.5 to 2 hours. The ticket is around 74-120 USD per person. Remember that air travel schedules and availability can change, so it’s always a good idea to check with the airlines directly for the most up-to-date and accurate information.

When you get to Lodwar, reaching Lake Turkana’s edge takes another hour. You can choose between Kalokol and Eliye Springs. Kalokol is a better fit for budget-minded, self-guided travelers. Eliye Springs usually has more structured tours, which can be pricier. See the next section (Step two) for tips on how to get to Kalokol.

By road

Step one: How to get to Lodwar from Nairobi?

The distance between Nairobi and Lodwar is roughly 800 kilometers; you can either take private or public transport.
If you rent a car, getting to Lodwar will take 10-14 hours or 14-16 hours by bus but remember that these estimates can vary.

Some examples of bus companies that operate this route are Guardian Bus and the Eldoret Express. Usually, they offer overnight buses departing from Nairobi city center in the evening and arriving in Lodwar the next day. The ticket cost around 15 USD. Confirming the departure location when you buy your ticket is always a good idea.

Since it’s a long trip from Nairobi, consider staying for a night in Eldoret or Kitale before continuing the journey to Lodwar. If you stay in Kitale, we recommend visiting Mount Elgon National Park. You can read our article here on everything you need to know before visiting Mount Elgon National Park. You can first take a Matatu from Nairobi to Kitale and then on the next day another one from Kitale to Lodwar. They are going very frequently.

Step two: How to get to Kalokol from Lodwar?

The distance is about 70 kilometers (approximately 43.5 miles); you can go by shared pick-up car, Boda-Boda or arrange a taxi for this 1-hour drive. The cost should be around 4 USD for the shared ride.

The new road between Lodwar and Kolkar has significantly enhanced transportation options and made travel more affordable.

Upon reaching Kalokol, you have to visit KWS office to pay the entrance fee for Central Island National Park before starting your boat ride. As mentioned, you should first visit KWS Office in Lodwar so they inform the office in Kalokol about your arrival date and time.

Koobi Fora zone, you can see some trees and palm trees but small and its mostly flat the terrain. You have some reflects of water but there's not really any water.

Option Two: From Nairobi to Loiyangalani through Marsabit

By air

There are no direct commercial flights from Nairobi to Loiyangalani.

By road

Step one: How to get to Marsabit from Nairobi?

The journey from Nairobi to Marsabit is about 560 kilometers (around 350 miles) and can take approximately 10-12 hours by bus. These buses leave frequently from downtown Nairobi. Some of the bus companies that serve this route include Moyale Liner and Moyale Raha. Most of the buses are heading to the Ethiopian boarder an pass on the way through Marsabit.

The ticket from Moyale Liner costs around 17 USD per person for the VIP and 14 USD per person for the normal one.

Picture of a typical village in the shores of Lake Turkana. You can see the rounded small houses made of branches and on top they are covered with a type of canvas or some clothes.

Step two: How to get to Loiyangalani from Marsabit?

The distance from Marsabit to Loiyangalani is approximately 230 kilometers. The drive can take between 6 to 8 hours, depending on road conditions and the type of vehicle you are using.

From Marsabit, you can catch a shared pickup truck to Loiyangalani, the usual type of transportation. There are no Matatus because the road conditions are very poor between Marsabit and Loiyangalani. Transportation has become more frequent these days, and the pickup truck usually leaves once a day in the morning. However, sometimes the only way to go is by Lorry in case there are not enough passengers for the pickup truck. You can still be stuck in Marsabit for a night or two if you are unlucky, but you should usually find daily transportation.

The ticket should be about 4 USD per person. Once you reach Loiyangalani, it will be easier for you to reach the South Island.

If you plan to stay in Loiyangalani, we recommend staying at Palm Shade and ask Mr. Gabriel for guidance or help to arrange the boat tour or any other activity or tip.

Picture of the Lorry in a sand path. There's a lot of African people on top of it as well as down trying to enter. Some dried bushes behind.

What should I bring to Lake Turkana?

We advise you to pack light but smart for your visit to Lake Turkana. Essential items include a generous water supply and clothing suitable for desert weather – think (extreme) warm for daytime and (extreme) wind-resistant for evenings. Opt for durable, non-perishable food items, perhaps snack bars, and remember to consider provisions for any guides accompanying you. Lastly, place a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Remember to get the supplies latest in Lodwar or Marsabit if you are coming from the other side. There are no supermarkets in Loiyangalani, Moite, or Kalokol, only tiny local shops (you can usually find water there).

You have to make sure to bring enough cash with you (and top up your MPESA account if you use this). You can only find an ATM in Lodwar and Marsabit. There are no ATMs in Loiyangalani, Moite or Kalokol.

How is the internet connection and signal in Lake Turkana?

The more remote areas of Lake Turkana, such as the islands and parts of Sibiloi National Park, don’t have any network coverage. However, in Lodwar or Loiyangalani, mobile network coverage is good and provides reliable 4G internet access to work (stable enough for video meetings), making it a suitable place for digital nomads to stay for a few days. As usual in Kenya, there are frequent power cuts, so bring a strong power bank if you need to work.

Camels running in the dry land from Lake Turkana. There's a lot of rocks on the path and some small green bushes

Is it safe to travel by public transportation in Kenya?

Yes, public transportation in Kenya is considered safe overall; still, we encourage you to always take basic precautions to ensure your safety.

Safety can depend on several factors: Location, time of day, individual drivers’ habits, and the vehicle’s general condition. While many people use public transport in Kenya without any issues, there have been reports of reckless driving and overcrowded matatus or buses. Also, bus stations are usually very hectic and crowded, so watch your belongings closely and avoid staying there at night.

Is Lake Turkana safe?

Lake Turkana, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is generally considered safe for visitors. The journey to the lake typically involves extensive road travel through remote areas, and the roads can be rough. If you’re driving, ensure your car is well-maintained and suitable for the journey.

Plan for possible delays or schedule changes due to weather or road conditions, and ideally, have a buffer of two or more days. It’s important to remember that political and security conditions can chance fast, so staying informed is vital. Lastly, it’s essential to respect and follow local regulations and guidelines.

Picture of two motorbikes in the middle of the arid terrain. You can see two people in one and another one looking down at the bike. There's no trees just kind of like rocky sand.

Is it safe to visit the North of Kenya?

The level of safety depends on the place you plan to visit in North Kenya. Some unstable regions exist, but Northern Kenya’s touristy sides are usually safe places to visit. Safety conditions vary enormously across different parts of Kenya. Some areas can be prone to incidents of banditry or inter-tribal conflict, and infrastructure and services are limited in more remote areas. While many travelers visit northern Kenya without issue, staying updated on current conditions is essential, as situations can change.

Is it worth going to Lake Turkana?

Despite being one of the most remote places we’ve visited, and despite the challenges faced, we wouldn’t change a thing about our experience. It was immensely rewarding and enlightening, marking Lake Turkana as one of our all-time favorite destinations. Without a doubt, we will be back.

View of the shore of Moite at Lake Turkana. You can see some people on a boat at the shore. The rest is lake and on the right side you can see a little bit of a hill and a tree down.

Is it worth going to Central Island?

Absolutely! Although it can be quite remote and hard to reach, a trip to Central Island can be easily made in one day. As we mentioned before, this volcanic island is home to three crater lakes and a breeding ground for the world’s largest population of Nile crocodiles. We assure you that this journey offers an enriching experience beyond the thrill of its difficult access.

Is it worth going to Sibiloi National Park?

Sibiloi stands out as one of Earth’s most remarkable sites. However, it might be challenging if you’re not planning to travel with your own vehicle and are short on time and budget. You can still appreciate the stunning landscape if you take the boat to the other side (Moite). We would love to return with more resources and time to write a proper article about this place. However, if you are coming from Kalkol, the boat trip costs around 400 USD and takes very long so we don’t recommend it as a daytrip destination as you’ll only see animals if you arrange a game drive there.

Picture of Sibiloi National Park. The land is green with no trees, you can see the hills far away and spot two cabins in the middle of the field.

Are you also planning to visit Diani Beach in Kenya and maybe even work remotely from there? If yes, then we strongly recommend you to read here our full Digital Nomads Guide to Diani Beach.