The Northern Rift Valley – Bogoria and Baringo, the uneven twin lakes
North Rift seems to be distant from a Nairobi perspective but it really is not that far from the city. Thus, Bogoria and Baringo, the two lakes of the North Rift region make a fantastic weekend getaway with the most diverse experiences and unforgettable impressions. Although both lakes lie on approximately the same altitude, they couldn’t be more different. While Bogoria is an alkaline lake protected as a National Reserve, Baringo is one of the two sweet water lakes in the Kenyan part of the Rift Valley.
What about stretching your limbs at night under the stars in a pool full of warm mineral water? Or boiling an egg in a steaming geyser? Have you ever seen the mysterious airshow of the flamingos at Lake Bogoria or their enchanting ballet? Come and explore the islands of Lake Baringo by boat during the daytime but beware of encounters with its hippos come night ! This and more is what you can experience when exploring the unmatched lake sisters of the Northern Rift Valley, the place where the idea of the 50 Treasures of Kenya was born …
The lighthouse attraction
A ballet of thousands of slender, red-socked legs dance in the warm light of the setting sun as dresses of light pink feathers move to a symphony of sounds from innumerable flamingo bills. In the backdrop, Gregory Rift rises dramatically into the sky. What a stunning show it is to see countless flamingos feeding in the jade coloured waters of Lake Bogoria!
It was this flamingo flamenco of the Lake Bogoria ensemble back in 2009 which triggered the idea of the 50 Treasures of Kenya. Travel writer and photographer Hardy Fiebig could not believe he had the privilege to be the only one enjoying this natural wonder, thwarting the widespread image of Kenya being a destination where you would have to share your nature experience with a frenzied pack of safari seekers. As a matter of fact it is estimated that 75 % of Kenya’s surface is still unknown in regards to tourism.
And so Hardy started dreaming about a photobook on all the unknown places he had visited in the country while doing research for his guidebook, an opus magnum of almost a thousand pages. When he realized that Kenya would turn fifty in four years down the line, an exciting idea struck: To proclaim the most beautiful regions, the known and unknown, as the 50 Treasures of Kenya, a single treasure for each year of independence! This was still far from establishing the charitable 50 Treasures of Kenya Trust but it was the kick things needed to start to slowly unfold.
When the sun has set and the western skies shine in the glowing orange, pink clouds of flamingos raise from the water. The birds circle higher and higher into the evening skies with the thermal winds before finally starting to fly in spectacular formations in huge flocks that are nothing less but fancy. What triggers the air show of the flamingos at Lake Bogoria is not known, neither what purpose it serves. Only a handful of people have had a chance to witness it so far anyway, for most of the visitors leave the park in the late afternoon before the spectacle starts.
Once you visit Lake Bogoria for yourself it becomes easy to understand what makes the lighthouse attraction of the North Rift so inspiring. Lake Bogoria is simply out of this world. Hot springs, steam clouds and gushing springs as well as the skeletons of drowned trees give visitors the feeling of a different planet altogether. Where else can you find a place where to boil eggs in bubbling water that comes straight from the ground? It is the intriguing rumbling and grumbling of Mother Earth which has formed and influenced the spectacular features of the park more than any other force. It shows in a number of hot springs and gushers pumping fountains into the air, in lava fields, a half drowned crater in Southern Bay and the massive Siracho Plateau forming a 600 metres drop off that borders the National Reserve in the East.
The flamingos, too are here because of tectonic movements and volcanic activities underground. The minerals pumped to the surface and into the lake from below nourish myriads of algae and crustaceans which again are the staple of the flamingos.
What makes the National Reserve especially impressive is the fact it is one of the few Kenyan wildlife havens you may enter on foot or on a bicycle! This guarantees you an unfiltered, impressive encounter with the multiple landscapes ranging from papyrus swamps on the Northern tip of the lake to dry forest, acacia bush and commiphora trees as well as desert roses that resemble bonsai baobabs. Where you can admire the exuberant bird life with its hornbills, bee eaters, kingfishers and birds of prey.
There are also myriad of game such as zebras, buffaloes, dik diks, impalas, warthogs, vervet monkeys, baboons, rock hyrax (that look like a ground hog but in fact is closely related with elephants) and most notably the greater kudu which is more common in Lake Bogoria National Reserve than almost everywhere else in Eastern Africa.
Lake Bogoria is a 30 km2 alkaline lake which lies in a ditch of the Rift Valley 50 km north of Nakuru. It hides itself so well that the first European researcher to the region, the renown Joseph Thompson passed by it without noticing it altogether. Two years later in 1885 Bishop Hannington brought it to notice; hence the lake was named after him during the colonial era.
Lake Baringo – the other of the twin lakes of the North Rift region – lies North of Lake Bogoria near the end of the tarmac. It is one of the only two sweet water lakes in the Kenyan part of the Great Rift Valley! The disrupted wall of the rift forms the dramatic backdrop on the Eastern side while in the West the Tugen Hills rise to the sky. The colours of Lake Baringo change hourly displaying red, yellow, brown and even purple hues. A colour range that would match with any of the famous expressionist painters.
The lake hosts seven islands, each of them worth a visit as they all own unique features. Kokuwa Island, the biggest of all islands boasts a number of hot springs and is inhabited. As is Baromolok Island which is home to only one family of an old man married to five wives! There is also the Samatian Island and Ngiteng Island which at times gets submerged during rainy seasons. Rongena Island is famous for fishing and offers nice sundowner views as well as Laskut which is also known as the Devil’s Island. Last but not least there is Ruko Island. It has been turned into a sanctuary to small herbivores like Dikdik, rabbits and nocturnal birds and two giraffes.
Lake Baringo and the surrounding cliffs are world famous for their exceptional bird life – more than 450 specimen have been identified so far, amongst them the uncommon Jackson’s and Hemprich’s Hornbills. And on one of the seven noteworthy islands of the lake lives the biggest colony of goliath egrets in Eastern Africa. Hippopotamus make their abode all around the lake. Luckily they normally don’t leave the water before 2 am. If they do, they have to be treated with respect. Because of their long teeth and their choleric nature they are said to be the most dangerous of all African animals causing the highest figures of fatal human wildlife encounters. Furthermore, the lake is home to a huge crocodile population, to monitor lizards and other reptiles.
The shores of Lake Baringo are the traditional land of the Njemp or Il Chamus people of nilotic-cushitic descendance. Although being closely related to the Masai, the Njemp people live mostly of agriculture and fishing. On the South side of Lake Baringo there is an elaborate irrigation system to be found which originates from their ancestors. Since trees have always been scarce in the dry lands bordering the lake, the traditional boat of the Njemp resembles pharaonic papyrus ships since it is bound from the twigs of the ambatch tree which produces a very light wood.
Mogotio Equator Station:
The little town of Mogotio on the tarmac road to Lake Baringo is the perfect entry point to the area as most visitors come from the direction of Nakuru. The equator passes just outside of Mogotio a little to the North. On the left hand side there is an impressive equator station with a huge metal globe, a gangway of flags and a ramp to display your car right on the equator. Attached to the equator station is an information centre where you can obtain details on what to see and what to do in the North Rift region. If you are from abroad, bring a flag of your country to be mounted on a pole next to the colours of other nations!
PRACTICAL TRAVEL INFORMATION
How to get there
The easiest and cheapest to get from Nairobi to Marigat and beyond is by Matatu from Nakuru if you don’t have private means. The stretch is tarmacked all the way though you will have to watch out for speed bumps, cattle and potholes. You will find a petrol station in Marigat should you require the services.
Private cars are not always within the financial reach of much of the population, there is however an astonishing array of buses and “matatus” (Nissan minibuses) available on all routes. These will get you to wherever you want to go cheaply and quickly. You can maneuver your way between Mogotio, Marigat, Lake Barigo and Lake and Lake Bogoria quite easily by public transport.
You can also opt to sample The Great “Trans-Rift Trail”. This is a trekking route across Kenya’s Rift Valley region which echoes some of the old migratory routes of the Tugen peoples.
It is also the route that Africa’s great explorers used as they searched for the source of the Nile including James Hannington, Joseph Thompson, and Count Teleki von Szek. It is relatively a new tourism product developed through the efforts of William Kimosop, The Chief Warden Lake Bogoria National Reserve.
Explore North Rift
Lake Bogoria National Reserve
Besides game viewing the reserve offers wonderful cycling opportunities for those who have their own bike) and hiking. The most spectacular hike leads you down the escarpment and along the lake shores. Bring along enough water for the 3-4 hours of walking before getting to Fig Tree campsite with its wonderful shady trees where your driver can pick you up.
The hot gush springs are tempting for boiling eggs and if you are up for it you can do a natural sauna in the hot steam clouds.
Entry fees for residents: 300 Ksh, non residents: 50 US$. Camping for residents: 500 Ksh, citizens 300 Ksh, non residents 15 US$.
There are many options to do a boat ride to see hippos, crocodiles and plenty of birdlife at Lake Baringo. Apart from all the hotels there is a Boat and Excursions Community Group in Kampi ya Samaki offering boat trips. How about a sundowner trip to one of the islands? The lake offers also angling opportunities.
The local community charges a small conservation fee of 100 Ksh for citizens and residents and 200 Ksh for foreigners.
If you drive from the Kampi ya Samaki turn-off towards Loruk you can’t miss the cliff on the lefthand side which offers nice views over the lake and is famous with bird watchers for its avi fauna. However, you will enjoy an even better view over the lake and its magnificent landscape if you turn of in Loruk towards the Laikipia plateau. After a few kilometers, the track climbs on some hills from where you have a great panoramic view.
Where to stay
The Lake Bogoria Spa Resort lies a couple of hundreds of meters outside the main gate at the Northern tip of the National Reserve and surely is the best place to stay at Lake Bogoria. The hotel is currently undergoing renovations, upgrading and extensions, none the less it still offers fair comfort and service.
Especially worth mentioning is the wonderful swimming pool filled with warm spring water which you can also use at night. It is an unforgettable experience to float in the warm water, stare at the stars and think about the universe. The resort also owns a beautiful nyama choma place which is surrounded by a lush garden. Close by, there is also the Zakayo Hotel, a local guesthouse with bar close to the gate of the National Reserve. Inside the Reserve there are a couple of public campsites which are available to the visitors.
Robert’s Camp offers a lush riparian plot with lots of shade for camping. Besides there are some clean cottages which don’t have any luxuries. The outside restaurant and bar are gorgeous and at night you have a good chance to even encounter hippos, just beware though.
The Soi Safari Lodge in the former fishing village of Kampi ya Samaki is one of the good hotels facing the lake. The house is of proper standard and boasts a big swimming pool. Ostriches and crowned cranes stroll around the garden. The Bahari Lodge is a rather simple guesthouse where there is a bar and a restaurant annexed. The most exclusive accommodation in the region is the Samatian Island Lodge which is under the same ownership like Robert’s camp. The camp has five cottages and you can only reach it by boat. That grants you absolute serenity, surrounded by the stunning landscapes of the lake.
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Until the next time its many thanks from the 50 Treasures of Kenya Trust for every contribution in this feature with special mention made to Mr.Harmut Fiebig for the wonderful photography and most of all to you our treasured audience for your company.
You are highly treasured.