What comes to your mind when Turkana is mentioned? Hunger, insecurity, underdevelopment, poor infrastructure? Home to Lake Turkana – the world’s largest permanent desert lake, and also widely regarded as the ‘the Cradle of Mankind’, Turkana is positioning herself as a major tourist destination, opening up her attractions to the outside world.
Here’s a list of 10 tourist attractions in and around Turkana
1. Central Island
Visit Central Island, one of the gazetted national parks in the region. Despite being surrounded by an arid landscape that appears devoid of life, the Island is teeming with it. The island is famous for its unique volcanic landscape and teeming bird life, home to hundreds of species of birds native to Kenya and also an important flyway passage and stopover for migrant birds from northern Asia and Europe. The birds are essentially supported by plankton masses in the lake, which also feed the fish. A total of 84 water bird species, including 34 migrants, have been recorded here, huge colonies of nesting egrets, storks, cormorants as well as a crater lake which is home to tens of thousands of flamingos.
Depending on weather conditions, it is a 1.5 to 2 hours boat ride from Kalokol beach. The island has three crater lakes, Flamingo Lake, Tilapia Lake and Crocodile Lake (reputed to have the highest density of crocodiles in the world). There are numerous walking trails around the island. A hike further uphill along the trails to the highest elevation in the Island affords you the sweeping views below over the two crater lakes and majestic Lake Turkana.
2. Hike at the hills in Lodwar
Get to climb one of the many hills and enjoy an uninterrupted view of Lodwar town and its environs. As you get to the hill close to the catholic mission, a colossus of a statue, Turkana’s rendition of the famous Rio’s Christo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) beckons you. The hike to the top is a relatively easy gentle ascent with staircases leading to the top.
3. Kenyatta House
The Kenyatta House is a landmark of Kenya’s struggle against British imperialism. The house is referred to as Kenyatta House because it served as a detention camp for five of the Kapenguria six, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Ramogi Achieng Oneko, Kung’u Karumba, Paul Ngei and Fred Kubai as they served their sentence in Lokitaung prison. Kenyatta remained in prison until 1959, when he was detained in Lodwar under house arrest for two years.
4. Eliye Springs
With its expansive stretches of deserted sandy beaches, fringed by palm groves, and lapped by the warm waters of Lake Turkana, Eliye Springs is probably the best base to enjoy the lake and explore the area. Once you are there, get to unwind, chill and swim in the inviting waters of Lake Turkana which are said to have remedial qualities.
Enjoy the excellent food. There is fresh fish from the lake, and the chicken and goat is raised nearby. The atmosphere is excellent with and ambiance and sheer remoteness that no doubt gives this place its charm.
Savor the beautiful views of the lake including the gorgeous sunrises, sunsets and night sky. Spend the night under the sky, transformed into a vast canvas of indigo, blue, purple and black hues resplendent with stars and shooting stars. Nothing connects you to the earth more than whiling away on the beach stargazing under a constellation of stars.
5. Namoratunga Standing Stones
Approximately 15km southwest of Kalokol and some 50m off on the south side of the road, the Dancing Stones of Namoratunga are undoubtedly one of East Africa’s most intriguing archaeological sites. The site, consisting of a small cluster of cylindrical stones is believed by some to have functioned as an ancient kind of stellar observatory.
Although the site is almost next to the road, they are easy to miss, especially as the stones – which are positioned vertically – resemble from a distance sacks of charcoal. To the Turkana people Namorutunga is a sacred place until today, like a miniature Stonehenge, the pillars are a spiritual focus and the scene of a major annual gathering of Turkana clans.
6. South Turkana National Reserve
Like many of the reserves in Kenya, South Turkana National reserve has something special to offer. This vast expanse of harsh brown terrain, is definitely hotter than most, but still teeming with wildlife. Home to elephant, gazelle, warthog, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, leopard, hyena and a smattering of avian species such as the Kori bustard which occurs in higher numbers than anywhere else in Kenya making it ostensibly the park’s unofficial mascot.
The vastness and purity of the South Turkana landscape will make every visit a unique experience. Enjoy great views of Mount Mtelo and Mount Nasolot in the west. In the center of the national reserve rests Kailongol Mountain which at 2067m is one of the highest points in the region and can be climbed on foot. Expect to camp on the mountain as there are no regular tracks yet and it is a tenous bush walking through dense shoulder high thickets. On the eastern side of the mountain there are salty springs that attract herdsmen from the neighboring Pokot County and game alike.
Visit Kalokol town, a cluster of palm thatched traditional dwellings straddling along an expanse of beach at the edge of Lake Turkana. The town has grown significantly in recent years thanks to a robust fishing industry offering plenty of jobs. The catch is sold fresh, dried or processed and ferried to distant markets such as Eastern D.R. Congo and Rwanda. The town is also a base for boat trips to Central Island.
8. Ferguson Bay
To the south of Kalokol lies the Ferguson Bay, a vast landscape of mud flats and salt swamps with myriads of pelicans, flamingos and other birds. In between, fishermen land their catch with simple rafts and wooden boats. Make sure to be here early morning or late evening, and witness the sunsets and sunrises as they illuminate the surroundings in magical splendor.
9. Lokichar Hills
Driving from Lokichar to Katilu at the banks of Turkwel River in southwesterly direction, the impressive patchwork of hills that is the Lokichar Hills dominate the landscape, offering an inviting climb for adventurous visitors.
Nariokotome, a couple of kilometers inland from the shores of Lake Turkana, right off the southeastern tip of Lapurr Range is famous for the famed discovery of the Turkana Boy – a nearly complete skeleton of African Homo erectus dating to approximately 1.5 million years ago.
Nariokotome offers much more than archaeological finds. Right on the beach, there is a small lagoon where flamingos and other waterfowl feed. You get an exceptionally good view to Northern Island from here. On a small ridge towards the Lapurr Range lies the Catholic mission station of Nariokotome often paraphrased as ‘Little Spain’. The missionaries are experimenting with growing dates, olives, wine and, yes even coconuts! You can divert from the main road to pay the mission a visit. Behind the altar opens a window permitting to view the lake. The church’s bell bears inscriptions in four languages: Turkana, Kiswahili, English and German.
Around 70% of Turkana County’s population are mainly pastoralists and are still steeped in their traditional ways of life.
Turkana borders Samburu County in the southeast, Baringo in the south, West Pokot in the southwest, Uganda in the west, South Sudan in the northwest, Ethiopia in the north and the shores of Lake Turkana in the east.
Turkana County covers 77,000kmsq which makes it the second biggest in the whole of Kenya. It is also one of the least densely populated counties with only 13 inhabitants per sq km.
The County capital Lodwar lies in the center of Turkana. With a population of about 50,000 people it is the biggest settlement, followed by Kakuma (slightly below 40,000 inhabitants) and Lokichogio with almost 20,000 inhabitants. Other major settlements are Kalokol at the shores of Lake Turkana and Lokichar.
How to get there
There are daily flights out of Wilson Airport including Silverstone Air which is the most convenient way to get to Lodwar directly.
From Nairobi dive through the Rift Valley to Turkana County, past Nakuru, Lake Bogoria and Lake Baringo which offers plenty of attractions. You can stay at Lake Baringo overnight and start early in the morning using the new tarmac road between Loruk and Nginyang.
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