Kenya Rift Valley Attractions

Kenya Rift Valley attractions include national parks and you get to visit Kenyan Maasai and Samburu, a people who have largely retained cultural traditions.

Amboseli National Park

The name “Amboseli” comes from a Maasai word meaning “salty dust”. Located about 200km south-east of Nairobi and accessible by road or air, Amboseli National Park covers 392km² (151miles²) and has a mixed topography of plains, acacia woodland, rocky thorn bush, swamps and marshes. Streams from Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa’s highest mountain at 5,895m), surface in the centre of Amboseli, creating wetlands that support a rich diversity of wildlife.

The low scrubby vegetation and open grassy plains, makes for easy game viewing of animals that include the lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, spotted hyena, giraffe and cheetah. For the bird watchers, Amboseli National Park hosts a list that tops 300 species of birds found in Kenya, both large and small. Safari nature lovers can explore five different habitats here ranging from the dried-up bed of Lake Amboseli (a dry Pleistocene lake basin that houses a temporary lake, after the rains), wetlands with sulphur springs, the savannah and woodlands.

Tourists can visit the local Maasai community who live around the park and experience their authentic culture. Accommodation is available at several luxury safari lodges and you’ll explore the park on game drives, horse-back safaris and guided nature walks.

Lake Nakuru National Park

Lake Nakuru National Park:Nakuru means “Dust or Dusty Place” in the Maasai language. Lake Nakuru National park is located 140 km (90 miles) northwest of Nairobi on the floor of the Great Rift Valley, surrounded by wooded and bushy grassland in Nakuru County. Covering 188 square kilometers (73 square miles), the Park is one of two National Parks in the Premium category of Kenya’s 23 parks, along with Amboseli National Park. Lake Nakuru National Park supports a wide ecological diversity and varied habitats and is an ornithologist’s paradise. The park is a sanctuary for the Rothschild’s giraffes and both the black and white rhino. Safaris in the park uncover pink-frosted shores and sky-mirrored waters which yield some of the most evocatively beautiful photo images in Africa. Visitors can also enjoy the surrounding escarpment and picturesque ridges.

Lake Nakuru National Park is ideal for bird watching, hiking,picnic and game viewing safari drives. Established in 1961 and originally protected as a bird sanctuary, the park hosts over 400 bird water, fish-eating, terrestrial and migratory species that include the pelican, fish eagle, secretary bird, heron, egret, hammerkop and grebe. It is an important stop on the African-Eurasian Migratory Flyway. The number of flamingos on the lake vary with water and food conditions and the best vantage points are from the Baboon cliff, Lion Hill and out of Africa Hill where seasonally, you can watch one to two million lesser and greater flamingos dip their curved bills into the warm, alkaline water of the lake.

Visitors to Lake Nakuru National Park are sure to catch a glimpse of hundreds of plains game which graze the shoreline throughout the year including buffaloes, Thompson’s and Grant’s Gazelles, the rare long-eared leaf-nosed bats, Colubus monkeys, rock hyraxes, hippos, leopards, lions, rhino, waterbuck, impala, striped hyena, wild cat and the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe.

Hell's Gate National Park

Hell’s Gate is the most recent of Kenya’s National Parks and covers an area of 68.25 square km situated in the environs of Lake Naivasha about 90 km from Nairobi. It is named for the intense geothermal activity within its boundaries and Olkaria Geothermal Station is located inside the National Park. Safaris in the park unveil spectacular scenery including towering cliffs, water-gouged gorges, stark rock towers, scrub clad volcanoes and belching plumes of geothermal steam which make it one of the most atmospheric Parks in Africa.

In the park is a high jagged volcanic plug named Fischer’s Tower after the German explorer, Gustav Fischer, that remained of an ancient volcano. According to the local Maasai tradition, the rock is the petrified figure of a chief’s daughter who turned around, against the dictates of tradition to take one last look of her village before leaving to be married.

Hell’s Gate is a truly panoramic picnic site, camping stop over and an ideal venue for a day trip from Nairobi where, in addition to the bio-diversity that includes raptors, visitors can enjoy mountain biking, rock climbing and a natural spa. In the undulating grasslands, safari enthusiasts can walk alongside herds of buffalo, zebra, ostrich, giraffe, eland, hartebeest and Thompson’s Gazelle.

Brooding over the gorge and itself a national park is Mt. Longonot, which is responsible for fine ash which covers the park and forms hillocks of ash and tephra seen to the east of the park. Hell’s Gate National park is an important home of the lammergeyer (The Bearded Vulture) and has a unique bird viewing hide which allow visitors to view and photograph birds of prey at close range. The hide is booked at a small fee via the park warden.

Lake Naivasha

Lake Naivasha is a freshwater lake in Kenya located about 100 kilometers north west of Nairobi with the town of Naivasha being on its north eastern shore. The name derives from the local Masai name Nai’posha, meaning “rough water” because of the sudden storms which can arise. Lake Naivasha is at the highest elevation of the Kenyan Rift valley at 1,884 metres (6,181(ft) in a complex geological combination of volcanic rocks and sedimentary deposits from a larger Pleistocene era lake. Apart from transient streams, the lake is fed by the perennial Malewa and Gilgil rivers. There is no visible outlet, but since the lake water is relatively fresh, it is assumed to have an underground outflow.

Lake Naivasha has a surface area of 139 square kilometers surrounded by a swamp covering an area of 64 square kilometers although this can vary largely depending on rainfall. The lake has an average depth of 6 metres (20 ft), with the deepest area being at Crescent Island, a wildlife conservation area at a maximum depth of 30 metres (100 ft). Njorowa Gorge used to form the lake’s outlet, but is now high above the lake and forms the entrance to Hell’s Gate National Park.

Lake Naivasha fish population include the Black bass, Tilapia and Crayfish which attract a variety of fish-eating birds such as the Long-tailed and Great Cormorants, along with Fish Eagles, Pelicans, and various types of Kingfishers. Naivasha is a good place to see the Grey-backed fiscal which replaces the Long-tailed Fiscal in areas with higher rainfall. The Black-lored Babbler found in Naivasha has pale tipped feathers on the head which gives their appearance a somewhat frosty or haloed effect and is believed to be the result of hybridization with Northern Pied Babblers at some point in the past.

The lake has a sizable population of hippos and a small islet on the lake is home to a number of wildlife. Visitors can enjoy boat ride safaris as they view wildlife and birds from the tranquil lake. A private ranch located in the area (Kongoni Game Sanctuary) is home to lions, leopards, cheetah and some translocated Gravy’s zebras .

There are two smaller lakes in the vicinity of Lake Naivasaha: Lake Oloiden and Lake Sonachi (a green crater lake). The Crater Lake Game Sanctuary lies nearby, while the lake shore is known for its population of European immigrants and settlers.

Elsamere Conservation Centre is a haven for nature lovers set in the middle of a huge Acacia forest on the banks of Lake Naivasha. It is the former home of the late Joy Adamson who, together with her husband George, became world famous for their pioneering conservation work and relationship with the Lioness Elsa, as told in her best-selling book and subsequent film: Born Free.

Mount Longonot

Mount Longonot is located 60 kilometres northwest of Nairobi and is a stratovolcano thought to have last erupted in the 1860s. It lies south east of Lake Naivasha in the Great Rift Valley and it rises to a height of 2,776 m. Its name is derived from the Maasai word “oloonong’ot” which means “mountains of many spurs” or “steep ridges”. The area is protected by the Kenya Wildlife Service as part of Mt. Longonot National Park. A trail runs from the park’s entrance to the crater rim and continues in a loop encircling the crater. A forest of beautiful trees covers the crater floor as small steam vents are found spaced around the walls of the crater.

Hiking the mountain is an exciting experience. A trail runs from the park’s entrance to the crater rim and continues in a loop encircling the crater. The mountain can be navigated either by a straight ascend to the top and back down or reaching the top and circumnavigating the crater rim. The crater has a circumference of 7.2Km and the walking trail runs from the park entrance up to the crater rim, and continues in a loop encircling the crater. The hiking is about 8–9 km long but very steep, which takes around 3 to 4 hrs. A forest of beautiful trees covers the crater floor as small steam vents are found spaced around the walls of the crater. The mountain is home to various species of wildlife, such as the zebra, giraffe and buffalo. Leopards have also been reported but are extremely difficult to spot.

Lake Magadi

This is the southernmost lake in the Kenyan rift valley located 77 kilometers from Nairobi and lies in a catchment of faulted volcanic rocks. It is a saline, alkaline lake, 80% covered by soda during the dry season and is well known for its wading birds, including flamingos and pelicans. The lake is recharged mainly by saline hot springs with temperatures of up to 86°C, that discharge into alkaline “lagoons” around the lake margins, there being little surface runoff in this arid region. Magadi town lies on the lake’s east shore and is home to the Magadi Soda factory, a company owned by Tata India since December 2005. The factory produces soda ash, which has a range of industrial uses.

Many hot springs lie along the northwestern and southern shorelines of the lake. During the rainy season a thin layer of brine covers much of the saline pan, but this evaporates rapidly leaving a vast expanse of white salt that cracks to produce large polygons. A single species of fish, a cichlid Alcolapia Grahami, inhabits the hot, highly alkaline waters of this lake basin and is commonly seen in some of the hot spring pools around the shoreline where the water temperature is less than 45°C.

Lake Magadi was not always so saline. Several thousand years ago, the Magadi basin held a freshwater lake with many fish, whose remains are found preserved in the High Magadi Beds, a series of lacustrine and volcaniclastic sediments preserved in various locations around the present shoreline. Lake Magadi is also well known for extensive deposits of siliceous chert. There are many varieties including bedded cherts that formed in the lake and intrusive dike-like bodies that penetrated through overlying sediments while the silica was soft. Most famous is “Magadi-type chert”, which formed from a sodium silicate mineral precursor magadiite.

A causeway that crosses the lake provides access to the area west of the lake (Nguruman Escarpment). Some wildlife found around the lake include giraffes, antelopes, ostriches, zebras, wildebeests, hyenas, and a few lion families only seen very early in the morning or at night when the temperatures are low.[/Section]This stretches from Jordan in the north to Mozambique in the south. It is more clearly defined in Kenya where in places it is as wide as 80km across with escarpment walls rising up to 600 meters. A chain of several shallow lakes is scattered along the floor of the Rift Valley. Several of these lakes have no outlet and some extremely alkaline because of the deposits from many volcanoes in the valley.

Lake Bogoria

Located about 230 kilometers from Nairobi, Lake Bogoria lies in a trough below the Ngendelel Escarpment, a sheer wall 600 metres (2,000ft) high and covers 32 square kilometres (12square miles). It is geothermically active on the western shore, with geysers and hot springs. J.W.Gregory, a geologist, described the lake in 1892 as “the most beautiful view in Africa”.

Lake Bogoria reserve is in a semi-arid area. The only major river feeding the lake is the Waseges River, which rises on the northern slopes of the Aberdare Range. The Waseges river runs through productive agricultural land higher up, through bush and scrub used for grazing, and then through very dry bush before entering the lake at its northern end. It is surrounded by grasslands dotted with bushes with an acacia-ficus woodland to the south and a papyrus swamp to the north. It is home to the endangered umbrella tree, which is one of the few trees whose branches meet at right angles. The tree is used to make racks for hanging coats and is traditionally used to hang beehives.

The safari is a bird watchers’ paradise. The lake has no fish due to high salt levels but its waters contain blue-green algae which attract thousands of flamingoes seasonally and turn the shores pink. Raptors such as tawny eagles prey on the flamingoes and about 135 species of bird including little grebe, pratincole, swift, little bee-eater, cape wigeon, yellow-billed stork, African spoonbill, augur buzzard, gabar goshawk, water dikkop, great tit, starling, hornbill and crombec have been recorded. In the bushy grasslands surrounding the lake, visitors can spot a variety of animals including the buffalo, zebra, impala, greater kudu, leopard, gazelle, caracals, klipspringers and dik dik. Visitors may also bathe in the beautiful and captivating hot springs, which form a natural spa.

Lake Turkana

Located in the Kenyan rift valley with a surface area of 6,405 square kilometers, Lake Turkana was originally called Lake Rudolf, named after Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary by the Hungarian explorer, Count Sámuel Teleki de Szék, and his Austrian partner, who were the first Europeans to record its existence in 1888. It was renamed Lake Turkana in 1975 by the Kenya Government to reflect the predominant ethnic tribe living on its Kenyan shores. The lake is at an altitude of 360 meters, whilst the surrounding basin’s elevation varies between 375 and 914 meters and is surrounded mostly by volcanic rocks.

Located next to the lake are the Koobi Fora deposits, rich in fossils and various remains that contribute to a deeper understanding of the local environment. In 1972, a group of scientists led by Dr. Richard Leakey, a Kenyan paleoanthropologist, found a 2-3 million year old skull which they named Homo Rudolfensis, and twelve years later another group of scientists came across the “Turkana Boy”, a nearly complete skeleton of the Homo Ergaster. Dr. Leakey’s wife, Meave Leakey discovered “the flat-faced man of Kenya”, believed to be 3.5 million years old.

Lake Turkana is the 4th biggest salt lake and the 24th greatest of all the lakes in the world. The climate is arid with temperatures averaging between 28-30 degrees Celsius. The lake lies at the heart of the Sibiloi National Park, a place of stark beauty and prehistoric petrified forests. Two large islands on the lake, Central and South Island are National Reserves, and together with the Sibilioi National Park, the whole expanse was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

Lake Turkana is widely known as the Jade Sea, because of the remarkable, almost incandescent, color of its waters caused by algae that rise on top of the lake when the water is calm. After a long journey through the sweltering deserts and lava flows of Northern Kenya, the sight of this beautiful vast body of bright turquoise water comes as an unearthly, ethereal vision.

The Lake is a source of life for some of Kenya’s most remote ethnic tribes. The Turkana, with ancestral ties to Uganda, live a semi-nomadic existence around the Lake. The country’s smallest tribe, the El Molo, live a hunter-gatherer existence on the shores, in villages of distinctive rounded reed huts. Turkana also has one of the longest living histories on earth, and recent fossil evidence unearthed at Koobi Fora has led to the Lake being referred to as ‘The Cradle of Mankind’.

There is plenty of space to walk and explore on either shore of the Lake. The shores on the Eastern part are predominantly rocky (offering perfect habitats for scorpions and vipers) and there is an extinct volcano, called Mount Kulal, with a height of 2,285 meters. In addition, there are plenty of villages to visit and the hills provide good views of the wide Jade waters of the Lake.

Boats can be hired for fishing, exploring the lake, or visiting the islands. Surprisingly for such a large lake, there are relatively few fish species. Of about 50 known species living in the lake, 11 are endemic with the others originating from the Nile.

The lake basin is home to hundreds of native Kenyan birds and offers a flyway for migrating birds. The most commonly seen birds are: wood sandpipers, little stints, african skimmers, white-breasted cormorants and the greater flamingo.

Safari adventures uncover a remote and breathtaking beautiful lake with an estimated 14,000 Nile crocodiles, often seen basking on the Lake shore or swimming in the shallows. The Lake has a large hippo population as well as a large population of water turtles that can be seen, mainly around the Central Island.

The grassland is home to a number of mammals, including zebras, the East African oryx, Grant’s gazelle, the topi, the reticulated giraffe, which are all hunted by lions and cheetahs. Elephant and rhino populations are believed to be extinct in the area.

Lake Baringo

Lake Baringo lies about 285 kilometers northwest of Nairobi. It is one of the two freshwater lakes in the Rift Valley in Kenya the other being Lake Naivasha. It has a surface area of about 130 square kilometres (50 sq miles) and an elevation of about 970 metres (3,180 ft). Surrounded by large arid plains, Lake Baringo looks like an oasis in a desert. Water flows into the lake from the Mau Hills and Tugen Hills and is fed by several rivers, Molo, Perkera and Ol Arabel. With no obvious outlet, the waters are assumed to seep through lake sediments into the faulted volcanic bedrock.

Small islands found in the lake include Ol Kokwe Island, an extinct volcanic centre related to Korosi volcano north of the lake with several hot springs and fumaroles, some which have precipitated sulfur deposits. A group of hot springs discharge along the shoreline at Soro near the northeastern corner of the island. The spectacular hotsprings attract large numbers of visitors annually.

The main town near the lake is Marigat, with other smaller settlements being Kampi ya Samaki and Loruk. The area is inhabited mainly by pastoralists including Il Chamus, Rendille, Turkana and the Kalenjin.

The lake is an ornithologist’s paradise since it houses over 470 species of birds attracted here because the lake is filled up with a variety of rare fish species. The largest of the heron species, called the goliath heron can be located on a rocky islet in the lake known as Gibraltar.

Lake fishing is important to local social and economic development and the lake provides an invaluable habitat for seven freshwater fish species. One tilapia subspecies, (Oreochromis niloticus baringoensis), is endemic to the lake. While stocks of Nile tilapia continue declining, the marbled lungfish (Protopterus aethiopicus), a species introduced to the lake in 1974 now provides the majority of fish output from the lake and continues to succeed.

Hippos, crocodiles and many other mammals and reptiles also find the ecosystem favorable along the shores of the lake. The rock hyrax is one animal that you should not miss in your adventure.

Lake Elementaita

Lake Elmenteita is an alkaline lake located between Lake Naivasha and Lake Nakuru in the the Great Rift Valley about 120 kilometers northwest of Nairobi Kenya. Also spelt Elmenteita, the word is derived from the Masai word muteita, meaning “dry and dusty place”. At the southern end of the lake are the “Kekopey” hot springs, in which Tilapia grahami breed. It is very popular for bathing and the reed beds nearby are fishing grounds for night herons and pelicans. The lake is a protected area due to its birdlife fame and has been named as one of the heritage sites by UNESCO together with Lake Nakuru and Lake Bogoria. It has been a Ramsar site since 2005.

The lake is normally very shallow (less than 1 meter deep) and bordered by trona-encrusted mudflats during the dry seasons. Over 400 bird species have been recorded in the Lake Nakuru/Lake Elmenteita basin. The lake’s crustacean and insect larvae and its suspended blue-green algae attracts visiting flamingoes, both of the Greater and Lesser varieties, which feed on them. Tilapia were introduced to the lake from Lake Magadi in 1962 and since that time the flamingo population has dwindled considerably. Tilapia attract many fish-eating birds that also feed upon flamingo eggs and chicks and over a million birds that formerly bred at Elmenteita are now said to have sought refuge at Lake Natron in Tanzania.

The lake’s shores are grazed by zebra, gazelles, elands and families of the warthog. Other species of plains game commonly sighted are steinboks, duikers, bush pigs and bushbucks. Lake Elementaita is home to the tufted-eared caracal, golden and striped jackals and other smaller predators.

Lake Elementaita is the only lake located on private land. Many activities in the lake include day and night game drives, walking safaris, birding excursions, hiking, visits to geological sites. The scenery is spectacular with a backdrop of broken caldera walls of several volcanoes. One of the caldera is locally known as ‘Delamere’s Nose’ because the land was originally owned by Lord Delamere (one of Kenya’s first white settlers/farmers).

Sibiloi National Park

Sibiloi National Park is in Northern Kenya and lies on the northeastern shore of Lake Turkana. The area is characterized by a semi-desert habitat and open plains flanked by volcanic formations including Mount Sibiloi, where the remains of a petrified forest can be seen. Established in 1973 for the protection of wildlife and palaeontological sites, it covers 1570 square kilometers and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The ethnic communities surrounding the park, the Turkana, the Gabra and the Dassanach have a very rich and unpolluted traditional cultures.

Sibiloi National Park is also known as the “cradle of mankind”, being home to important archaeological sites including Koobi Fora where fossil remains have contributed more to the understanding of human evolution than any other site in Africa. The most famous remains from the park are the Australopethicus and early Homo fossils which have since been moved to Nairobi although fossil non-humanoids are displayed in the museum.

Sibiloi has plenty of game and the Grevy’s zebra, Gerenuk, Giraffe, Greater Kudu, Grant Gazelles, Lions, Leopards, Stripped Hyenas, Beisa Oryx, Cheetahs and the Northern Topi among others have all been sighted in the park. The park is also an important bird area, with 350 species of aquatic and terrestrial bird having been recorded. It serves as a stop over for migrant waterfowl and other species of interest recorded include large populations of Pink backed Pelican, Greater Flamingo, Sur winged Plover and the Little Stint as well as rare species such as the Saddle billed Stork, Banded Snake Eagle and the African Skimmer.

The Maasai Mara

Maasai Mara is the 7th wonder and the 4th most preferred tourist destination in the world. It is located about 224 kilometres (139.2 miles) from Nairobi and covers an area of 1,510 square kilometers (583 square miles) lying at an altitude of 1500-2180m in south-western Kenya. The entire area of the park is nestled within the enormous Great Rift Valley that extends from the Mediterranean Sea to South Africa. It is globally famous for The Great Wildebeest Migration involving wildebeest, Thomson’s gazelles, topi, elands and zebras followed along their annual, circular route by predators, most notably lions and hyena to and from the Serengeti every year from July to October. During the migration the whole reserve is dotted with herds of visiting wildebeest mingling among smaller game such as warthog, jackal, hyena, mongoose and the bat-eared fox. All members of the “Big Five” (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and the rhinoceros) are also found here.

Maasai Mara is a hilly, humid and fertile region crossed by the rivers Mara and Talek which carry water the whole year round. The banks of the rivers are covered in thick forest which gradually make way for bush and grassland with abundance of water and excellent availability of food. The terrain is primarily open grassland with seasonal riverlets and clusters of acacia tree. Wildlife tend to be most concentrated on the western border because the swampy ground allow for good access to water and human disruption is minimal. Large groups of crocodiles and hippos are found in the Mara and Talek rivers. The plains between the Mara River and the Esoit Siria Escarpment are probably the best area for game viewing particularly the lion and the cheetah.

Maasai Mara is one of the best plains’ game reserve with a congregation of all sorts of animals in a five-mile radius: A pride of lions can be spotted ready to make a run for a gazelle, a cheetah and its cub taking a nap on a rock, a pair of ostriches walking the open stretches of the savannah or a gazelle giving birth. Herds of elephants wallowing at a water pool or a herd of buffaloes feeding, crocodiles down hunting the migrating wildebeest or the migrating gazelles. Other live feeding expeditions may include a herd of hyenas fighting for a hunted meal, the vulture tearing the carcasses and the giraffes galloping as they feed on top leaves of acacia trees. It may be impossible to prepare the first time visitor for the great number of animals they may see.

More than 470 species of birds have been identified in the park, many of which are migrants, with almost 60 species being raptors. Other birds to be found include vultures, marabou storks, secretary birds, hornbills, crowned cranes, ostriches, long-crested eagles, African pygmy-falcons and the lilac-breasted roller.

The Maasai people have lived amongst these wild animals peacefully for centuries and both people and animals are wary about crossing each other’s path. In the Maasai Mara it is possible to enjoy a hot air balloon ride. The balloons take off at dawn to avoid the heat which develops as the day progresses. They drift high over grazing herds which cannot be accessed by vehicles. After approximately an hour’s flight, a gentle landing is followed by a champagne-style bush breakfast on the landing site, where pilots and passengers toast yet another memorable experience. In recent years, the Maasai Mara has been host to the “Big Cat Diary” which features the life of prides of lion, families of cheetah and the leopard.