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Lake Turkana – the Jade Sea

Lake Turkana – also called the Jade Sea, was originally named Lake Rudolph by Count Samuel Teleki and Lieutenant Von Höhnel in 1888 and was renamed Lake Turkana in 1975. The lake is famous for its greenish-blue colors and it is notorius for the strong desert winds making sailing on the lake a sometimes harzardous affair. At a length of 300 km long in North-South direction and a width of 50 km wide, Lake Turkana is the largest alkaline lake in the world as well as the largest lake in Kenya though Lake Victoria shared between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania is is much larger.

Lake Turkana is the largest alkaline lake in the world
View over Lake Turkana – the Jade Sea of Northern Kenya

At an altitude of only 300m above sea level lake Turkana is one of the hottest places in Kenya (and the world) with temperatures in the region often reaching 50 degrees C. The area is regarded by many as the birthplace of humanity and the fossil humanoid skulls discovered here by the Leakey family in the 1960s are around 2.5 million years old. In Sibiloi national Park on the lakes eastern shore you can visit some of the excavations and also you can see many different species of animals.

Northwards view over Lake Turkana
View over Lake Turkana looking northwards from Loiyangalani

There are a several ways to approach the lake; the most commonly used is the road from Nairobi going northwards to Isiolo, over Marsabit, Kalacha – across the Chalbi Desert to Loiyangalani at the south-eastern shore of the lake. Also there is a western route going from Kitale over Kapenguria to Lodwar eventually leading to Eliye Springs. Another option for the hard headed adventurous is a very rough road from Lake Baringo through the Kito Pass and across Kerio valley to Tot. From Tot the track leads through the Cherangani Hills but it should be noted that this road may be impassable after heavy rain.

Collecting firewood in a desert region
Collecting firewood at Lake Turkana

Of course you can also just fly in and save your back from pains from the long and grueling journey on some of the worst roads in all of Kenya, but we find that the road trip is a big part of the adventure as you really get a feel of the remoteness and exotique of this beautiful region by approaching the lake this way. Also when travelling by road you will see and meet some of the colorful tribal people travelling along the roadside. Since water is one of the most precious resources in this kind of environment it is a good idea to bring extra water with you in the vehicle to give out to some of the people you will see on your way.

Cormorants at the Jade Sea
The jade color of the lake is particularly visible in this capture in which cormorants in front of Lake Turkana and its barren vulcanic surrounding landscape come into life

There are three islands in Lake Turkana – South Island, Central Island and North Island and it is possible to visit them by boat from various take off points along the shore. Central Island is breeding ground of the worlds biggest population of Nile Crocodiles with an estimated number of 12,000 animals living in the lake.
It is believed that at that time the lake was much larger than it is today, supporting a richer and more varied plant and animal life. Yet today there are about 400 species of birds and the lake boasts 200-300 kg Nile Perch, making it a heaven for sport fishing.

Crocodile swimming in lake Turkana
Nile Crocodile in Lake Turkana

In many places along the shore of the lake there is a prolific bird life, particularly in March and April when thousands of European migratory birds make a stop here on their way back North. Also there are populations of hippo in the lake and in some places there is bilharzia (a microscopic parasite that can cause severe illness), so you should be cautious about swimming in the lake.

Prolific birdlife along the shore of lake Turkana
There’s a prolific birdlife along the shores of lake Turkana – here some yellow-billed storks, two herons, cormorants and some spoonbills sharing the same territory

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