There are lots of companies that organize day excursions out of Nairobi and I have been yearning to go, but I had never gotten round to it until last month. I follow one of this companies on Twitter, @FunTravelKe and after seeing a poster for an upcoming trip to Magadi I decided that they would be the first I review.
What attracted me to the trip was 1. It was rather cheap at only 1500 shillings ($14) and 2. I had never been to Lake Magadi.
Monday the week of the trip I called one of the numbers on the poster, to inquire if there was any room left. I paid for the trip later that day via MPesa after which I got an SMS confirming that they had received my payment and that I should await more information regarding the trip.
Come Saturday, day of the trip I was up earlier than usual. The bus was to be there at 7:45 am and depart at 8:30 am. I got there with more than enough time to spare, I managed to shop for snacks and even got to go browsing at the nearby Maasai Market. By the time I got back the bus still looked empty so I asked what time we’d leave. I was informed that we would leave at 8:45 whether or not everyone had shown up. 8:45 came and went, in the end we left an hour after the indicated departure time.
So far things had obviously not gone according to plan but I was still excited, we made one stop to pick up someone just before Kiserian and another for a loo break at Olepolos Country Club.
I was aware the road to Magadi was bad but nothing had prepared me for what was to come. From Kiserian the road is very narrow and there are potholes after every meter.
Given our choice of vehicle, progress was painfully slow. The organisers had promised great views of the Great Rift Valley but there really was not much to see on the way there. In most of the places the earth looks like someone sucked it dry. As usual there are people and animals resilient enough to call the place home. You will pass a few Maasai villages. A few people tried to stop us; we only stopped for one boy who was herding cattle. He was very specific about what he wanted, juice and biscuits.
Five hours later we arrived at our destination. For a five hour journey the view was underwhelming to say the least. You will first spot the lake from afar, it is a large shallow mass with barely any water, and you wonder why it is called a lake. As you approach it your disappointment is confirmed, it looks no better up close. You begin to wonder if you endured that horrid journey for this.
Lake Magadi is a saline, alkaline lake, approximately 100 square kilometers in size that lies in a basin formed in the middle of 2 faults. The lake is an example of a “saline pan”. The lake water is dense sodium carbonate brine.
Lake Magadi was not always so saline. Several thousand years ago (during the late Pleistocene to mid-Holocene), the Magadi basin held a freshwater lake with many fish, whose remains are preserved in the High Magadi Beds, a series of lacustrine and volcaniclastic sediments preserved in various locations around the present shoreline. Evidence also exists for several older Pleistocene precursor lakes that were much larger than present Lake Magadi. At times, Lake Magadi and Lake Natron (in Tanzania) were united as a single larger lake.
Fun fact:T he final scenes of the movie The Constant Gardener, based on John le Carre’s novel, were filmed on the shoreline of the lake, when in fact the location in the story was Lake Turkana.
We drove into the town after stopping at the guard station. To get into the town itself you need to drive on a causeway across the lake. There is a rather unpleasant smell from the factory that fades as you get further into the town. The town owes its existence to Magadi Soda Company which produces soda ash.
After paying for the tickets we stopped by the Sports Club, ordered food then we drove off to the hot springs. I had thought it would be walking distance but it was yet another long drive. We had picked up a guide, the road to the hot springs has no signs and in some places you will have to drive on the lake so to be on the safe side just get a guide.
The hot springs were the most exciting part of the journey. They are just hot enough to be tolerable, it also helped that we had gotten there later in the day and the weather was not as hot. We found some guys there; they informed us that the hot springs cure all kinds of diseases, e.g asthma. I wouldn’t know how.
If you decide to take a dip be prepared to look super ashy afterwards, the salt will leave a white cast on your skin
Right next to the hot springs there are smaller ponds of water that are home to the Lake Magadi tilapia is the only fish species that survives (and thrives) in the highly alkaline (pH 10) and waters of Lake Magadi
We did not spend too much time at the springs. Carry money to buy jewellery from the Maasai women, a bracelet goes for ksh. 100 ($0.9).
I was able to spot a couple of baboons and some flamingos.
Despite having ordered the food at the Sports Club before we had left for the springs we still had to wait a while before it was brought. I ordered fries and chicken wings, my friend ordered ugali and beef. There was nothing special about the food, I’d describe it as edible . Each meal cost 350 bob ($3)
Swimming had been part of the itinerary but on arrival we were told to pay an extra ksh 500 ($4.5). I wouldn’t lay the blame squarely on the organizers but it would have been nice if they had found this out beforehand as the fee I had paid for the trip had the cost of swimming included. I really wasn’t bothered at this point; all I could think about was the long journey back.
The changing room wasn’t the cleanest; the floor was wet and dirty. Carry a pair of slippers if you want to swim
After my meal I was ready to leave but I seemed to be among the minority. Most people were quite content to sit in the bar and watch football. After waiting for a while my friend called the organiser to ask if we could hurry things up.
We ended up leaving at 6:30 just as the sun was setting. The journey back seemed even longer. We made a couple of stops but the most annoying one was when we stopped so that one of the guys could go to his house and change clothes.
I ended up getting home at 11pm, tired to the bone. Fortunately I didn’t need to go back to the CBD as where I live was just off the route we used.
Would I travel with them again? Probably not. They seemed to have no regard for people’s time and there is nothing I hate more than someone wasting my time.
Hot springs entrance:
Residents/citizens Kshs 500 for adults Kshs 350 for kids
Non- residents Kshs1000 adults Kshs 500 for kids
Students Kshs 100 for primary Kshs 200 for secondary
Saloon cars Kshs100
Off-road vehicles Kshs500
Tour guide fee Kshs1000
Dress for warm weather.
Carry water, lots of it. Bring a cooler box along too unless you don’t mind drinking warm water. You can buy refreshments at the town but you will need some for the journey.
On your way there is no network more often than there is.
An overnight stay is probably better than a day trip, you’ll have more time to explore the lake and its surroundings.