Masai Mara is "The" park of parks in Kenya. Its grass-carpeted smooth hills, the
chocolate Mara river waters with frolicking hippos, as well as the rich faunal
diversity, fulfill the expectations of any visitor searching the African
landscapes portraited in motion pictures such as "Out of Africa" or "Mogambo".
Save particular tastes or special requirements, this is the park on top of the
"must" list in the country: no trip to Kenya would be complete without a visit
to Masai Mara. True that it's not the best park for birdwatching, and true that
some species are not easily found. However, leopards and rhinos abound, and with
more than 450 bird species, the reserve should not be envious of Samburu or the
great Kenyan bird sanctuaries. Albeit, in an area only slightly smaller than the
State of Rhode Island and with a diverse and complex geography, getting lost is
far easier than finding a leopard or sighting a given bird species in its
The reserve, gazetted in 1961, is located west of the Rift Valley and is a
natural extension of the Serengeti plains, in Tanzania. The Mara river, the
reserve's backbone, traverses north to south heading for its westbound way unto
lake Victoria, through the Tanzanian park. This course is the natural barrier
crossed every year by the large migratory herds of wildebeests and zebras which
march across the two parks. As explained below, more than one million
wildebeests and 200,000 zebras move in a quest for the best pastures, finding
along the way the crocodile-crowded river. When the herds ford the stream, many
animals die flattened or drowned and leave their bones by the Mara banks. From
July to October, Masai Mara is at its peak, with the seasonal visitors
populating the vast grasslands.
Masai Mara's location and altitude, above 1,500 m, yield a climate which is
milder and damper than in other regions. The grassy landscape and the nutrient
wealth for the great herds are mantained by the abundant rains, which here last
from November through June, as a fusion of the two rain seasons (long and short)
typical in other Kenya areas. Night storms are frequent. In the hills and
plains, grasslands are scattered with acacia woods and bush. The riverbanks of
the Mara and of the multiple tributary streams are bordered by dense riverine
forests with a good chance to find some of the reserve's bird species.
The long distance to the country's main urban centers poses a difference that
allows this reserve to keep one of the features which is becoming today an
oddity in African parks: wildlife roams in complete freedom, without fences or
other obstacles around. Animals make no notice of the borders drawn on the
papers, not only those which split Kenya from Tanzania but the limits of the
protected area as well. The reserve is surrounded north and east by the
so-called dispersal area, inhabited by the Maasai but otherwise similar to the
territory within the limits, with equal or even higher opportunities to spot
wildlife than at the reserve itself, frequently overcrowded by tourists arriving
and wandering around by car, minibus, airplane, balloon or microlight.
Since it is protected as a reserve and not as a national park, Masai Mara is
not managed by Kenya Wildlife Service but by the local authorities, namely
District Councils. The problem appears with the administrative divisions,
defined by the Mara river. The eastern sector belongs to Narok District, whereas
the western side lies in Transmara District. This detail, apparently irrelevant,
is actually something to bear in mind: in theory, the fees paid at the gate
cater for visiting the sector under the jurisdiction of the district through
which the visitor has accessed. In practice, this condition is usually
overlooked, but just in case you'd better leave the park through the same
district you entered.
And in this wildlife webwork, where do the Maasai fit? The nomad pastoral
tribe, formerly feared because of their warrior attitude, inhabits these lands
from old. When in 1911 chief Lenana signed an agreement with the colonial
government, he accepted selling the Maasai's territories and moving southward,
for the sake of Nairobi's urban development. But the Masai Mara region had
already been deserted over the 19th century, when epidemics and tribal warfare
decimated the Maasai people and drove them to a decline which they are still
expecting to recover from. Thus, an ancient Maasai prophecy which forecasted the
arrival of the foreigners also foresaw a future that would bring back the old
When the reserve was inaugurated, in 1961, it was done so as to protect
animals in a deserted and wild country, in which wildlife was coming to an end
due to massive killings committed by white hunters. The protection of this area,
among other factors, favored re-population of the territory by the Maasai, who
by virtue of the reserve status were put in charge of the reserve's management
through the District Councils. Though land conflicts are still about, the chosen
formula for preserving this natural space attempts to render some reward to the
Maasai by means of trade with tourists, both through campsite management,
handicraft selling and visits to villages. All of it provides a permanent income
source, albeit scarce and fluctuating, for this people who fight for preserving
their traditions against progress. Their aspect and legend has made them become
over time a mythical tribe that sparsely corresponds with the romantic image
forged around them.
The truth is that the Maasai struggle between their classical conservationism
and the temptation to join the files of industrial revolution seeking a more
buoyant life. Their tendency to take a grip on tradition has granted them
sympathy and admiration from tourists longing for picturesque scenes, but also
rejection from the more progressive Kenyans, who believe that a nomad pastoral
tribe in the 21st century's global economy is condemned to poverty. Today, many
Maasai customs are restricted by law, such as lion hunting, while others like
traditional nurturing on blood and milk fall into oblivion little by little.
Meanwhile, tourists expect to find at the same time the Orzowei's Maasai and a
safe and peaceful country, devoid of poaching, with no cattle in the reserves
and without muggers. An impossible combination, save obliging the Maasai to
become something similar to thematic parks' employees, youngsters wearing jeans
and eating hamburgers that at night dress up in their parents' attires to
perform their tribal millenary dances. After all, some of it can be found today
in the pierced ears of many lodges' waiters and cooks.
May these latter iconoclast paragraphs be like one of those outdated spears
we could see in that old Martin and Osa Johnson's movie, "Simba" (1928), where a
group of Maasai moran chased a lion. In this case, I throw my spear
against the monster of standardisation imposed from the Western World, and for
the defense of a better future for all the Maasai, which may allow them to
freely choose their own destiny away from the give and take they are
Masai Mara is located 270 km west of Nairobi, at a remote southwestern corner of
the country, right at the edge of the Tanzanian border. The fact that there is
no major road to the reserve, joined to Masai Mara's geography itself, split
into two by the river, makes it advisable to study the route for each particular
situation. The optimal way for each case will depend not only on the place of
departure, but on the destination as well, whether it lies outside or inside the
reserve, and in the latter case, whether at the eastern or western sector.
Of course, the road conditions is another factor to take into account, and
you can not tell this on the maps. Speaking generally, no access road to Masai
Mara is in good condition. The range varies from acceptable to abominable. This
without adding the rain factor, which during the wet season quagmires the tracks
and makes driving even tougher.
Because of all, a large number of visitors chooses to travel to the Mara by
plane. Air Kenya offers two scheduled flights daily from Wilson Airport in
Nairobi. The trip lasts a mere 45 minutes, for the six hours plus that the road
traveller will bear, obligatorily in a 4WD vehicle. Not to talk about buses,
which only cover the distance to the town of Narok, still far off the reserve.
Obviously, travelling by air is costlier than the road trip. If you are not
convinced by this choice, neither am I. The following paragraphs attempt to
synthesize the diverse options for accessing Masai Mara according to the place
of departure. Most of the routes converge in the B3 road, which runs east-west
parallel to the Tanzanian border and is the starting point for several tracks
down to the reserve. Afterwards, and so that you can make up your mind as to
what is your best bet, I will make an overview of the road communications within
the reserve and the routes connecting both sectors.
Don't be deceived by the 270 km distance from Nairobi: it will take you some
six hours just to the eastern side of the reserve, to which you should add -if
this is your case- the driving time within the limits. In Nairobi, take the A104
road toward Naivasha and Nakuru. After passing the Kikuyu Escarpment, holding
your breath with the Rift Valley views and descending to the bed of Kedong
Valley, at Maai-mahiu take the left turn-off toward Narok along the B3 road.
Some 15-20 km past Narok, the road reaches Ewaso Ngiro, where there is a
crossroad. From here there are two possibilities for accessing the reserve:
this is the most frequent route, leading to the
eastern sector of the park, where Keekorok Lodge is located. At Ewaso Ngiro,
turn left to the C12. Some 40 km ahead the road divides. Both tracks lead to
Masai Mara, but to different gates, and converge within the reserve at Keekorok
Lodge. The one at the right is the main access, leading to Sekenani Main Gate.
The left route reaches Ololamutiek Gate crossing a collapsed bridge (1998), but
it is passable for a 4WD vehicle.
less used because of its worse conditions and mud
abundance after the rains. At Ewaso Ngiro, go straight ahead along the B3 some
40 km more up to Ngorengore. At this town turn left to the C13. From here there
are two further choices. The first one is driving straight to Oloololo Gate and
Kichwa Tembo Camp, at the western side of the reserve. The second option is
turning left at Aitong to the E177. This track leads to the eastern sector
through Talek Gate.
If you depart from Naivasha you have two main routes for reaching Ewaso
Ngiro, from where the two options mentioned under "from Nairobi" apply.
take the main A104 road heading for Nairobi. At
Maai-mahiu, turn right to the B3 towards Narok and Ewaso Ngiro. This is the
preferred access because it uses a stretch of the main highway.
just south of the lake, take the right turn-off to
the C88. This track crosses the Mau Escarpment and offers beautiful sights, but
becomes heavily muddy during the rains. It finally reaches the B3, which you
will take right heading for Narok and Ewaso Ngiro.
The Nakuru case is similar to that mentioned for Naivasha. Basically there
are two possibilities, one is more straightforward and scenic but more
complicated, and the other one uses a stretch of the main A104 highway to
Nairobi. Both routes reach Ewaso Ngiro, at the B3. From here the route is the
same as in "from Nairobi".
take the main A104 highway to Naivasha. See "from
in Nakuru, take the road heading south to Njoro
and Mau Narok across the Mau Escarpment. This track is a quagmire during the
rains. The road finally leads to the B3 at Narok, then turn right to Ewaso
From the north (Kericho):
Take the C23 southward heading for Kisii and turn left at Litein to the paved
road that covers some 40 km before reaching Bomet. Here, turn left to the B3.
From this track you can drive down to Masai Mara taking the C13 at Ngorengore
(some 40 km off Bomet) or either the C12 at Ewaso Ngiro, as explained under
From the west (Kisii):
take the main A1 highway heading south for
Tanzania. Past Migori, at Suna, little before reaching the border, there is a
left turn-off toward Lolgorien and Masai Mara. This track crosses the Soit
Ololol Escarpment and is very steep in places. You will enter the reserve
through Oloololo Gate, at the western sector (Transmara).
from Kisii take the B3 eastward to Keroka and
Sotik. Head on along this road passing Bomet and Kapkimolwa to drive down the
C13 from Ngorengore or the C12 from Ewaso Ngiro, as explained under "from
This option is possible only if you travel in your own vehicle, since the
renting companies do not generally allow for it unless there is a previous
express agreement under special circumstances. There is in fact a gate to Masai
Mara from Serengeti, Sand River Gate. This access is seldom used and there is a
12 km distance between both countries' border posts. If you enter Kenya from
here, you will initiate the immigration paperwork that you will need to complete
I've heard of some case in which someone has crossed the border in a rented
car using what they call "green arguments", that is, plain and simple bribe.
Please, avoid this practice, do not support corruption, otherwise you will lose
the right to complain about it or about any abuse you might suffer.
How to move around in Masai Mara:
A first important consideration is the location of your chosen lodging. Many
visitors who opt for an accommodation outside the reserve don't even get to
cross the limits. Masai Mara is one of the most expensive parks and, conversely
to what happens in others, animals abound outside the protected grounds. The
dispersal area north and east of the reserve is equally rich in wildlife, with
the only difference that there are Maasai settlings. The only problem for those
choosing this option is that south of the B3 road there are no communications
connecting the different tracks leading to the gates, therefore a vehicle coming
from Nairobi must make a detour to reach the northwest of Masai Mara without
entering the reserve. In fact, the route from Kericho is frequently used in such
cases, since remains passable even during the rains.
In any case, all roads lead to Masai Mara and within the reserve it is
possible to pass easily from one sector to the other, albeit making a long
detour, since the crossing is at the south limit of the reserve and the country.
This New Mara Bridge is located along the reserve's main road, the E176, which
connects Keekorok Lodge with Oloololo Gate. There is a second bridge over the
Mara, but it lies outside the reserve, northwest of the limits shortly after
Keekorok Lodge, where the E176 dies, is the main crossroads in Masai Mara.
From here three roads spread to Talek Gate (E177), Sekenani Gate (C12) and
Ololamutiek Gate (E301), respectively. The C12 comes from Ewaso Ngiro and does
not end at Keekorok, but it follows southward past the lodge to Sand River Gate,
at the Kenya-Tanzania border.
Apart from this main network, there is a web of minor roads in different
conditions, some of them passable all the year round and others flooded during
the rainy season, specially at the northwest. Off-track driving over the years,
in addition to damaging the substrate, has caused the sprouting of wheel-track
tangles that are hard to discern from the authorised roads. Though the maps
available are generally far from perfect, this makes their utilisation even more
complicated. This and the vast reserve's surface make it easy to get lost in
Masai Mara, unless you use a GPS and you are armed with a good collection of
waypoints. As a general advice, if you are convinced that you see a road, use
it, but bear in mind that you might not find it in the map. Keep a record of
your movements in a log book: if you get lost, you will want to be able to trace
your steps back. Getting lost, but knowing how to "find yourself" again, is the
best way to leave the beaten tracks for discovering landscapes and wildlife in
The extension of the regions to explore will depend on the time you devote to
the reserve, but if your visit is short, you might pay special attention to the
areas highlighted in the next section, according to your particular preferences.
In general, lodges are equipped with a filling station. They usually keep a
good fuel provision, but drought might affect the regularity of supply.
Masai Mara boils in wildlife. During the dry season from July to October, when
the big herds roam through these grounds, wildlife spectacle is unparalleled all
around the world, evoking what Africa must have been in the old days of the
"great white hunters".
It must be made clear that Masai Mara is a reserve for mammals. Though the
number of bird species is well above 450, the dispersed geography makes
birdwatching here a less rewarding experience than in places where birdlife is
more concentrated, such as Samburu or the great lakeside sanctuaries. In spite
of all, in this section we will review as well the main bird species to be
In such a vast territory, it is useful to know where to look at and when. The
second question has an easier answer. Dusk, and better dawn, are the best
moments for wildlife watching. Specially at sunrise, nocturnal mammals are still
active, while the diurnals enjoy the cool hours to move around or chase their
prey. It is at this time when it is likely to witness a kill, or simply watch
the big cats wandering around the grasslands, before the sun plummets over the
plains and it is time to look for a shade to ease the day out.
During the central daylight hours, the excessive heat imbues the bush with a
state of lassitude that shows up in the animals' behaviours. Movements are slow,
racing is out of the question and wildlife flees for a shade beneath the nearest
acacia. This is why safari companies schedule their game drives for dawn and
dusk, leaving tourists at their lodges for the rest of the day. Albeit actually,
the central hours are also very interesting for the wildlife watcher. First, the
few tourists allows for a quieter enjoyment devoid of the hectic minibus races
searching for lions at dawn. Besides, felines are the only diurnal animals you
might find difficult to spot at full daylight (not actually true, scan the
trees' shades). The remaining wildlife is visible also at this time and, unless
you are only interested in watching the reality show of the kill -an attitude
grossly similar to attending the bullfights or the "tablao flamenco" in Spain,
making the gondola trip in Venice, or boarding the "Bateau Mouche" down the
Seine in Paris, i.e. things that may be done but are not all these places have
to offer-, you will enjoy your drives at any time of the day. Further, if this
is not enough of an incentive, you can also witness a kill at daylight: many
animals don't easily admit encroachment by human visitors and have modified
their habits accordingly. It is becoming progressively frequent to watch cheetah
killing at midday, which requires from them a much bigger effort and reduces the
output of their races, but this is the only moment when these shy and solitary
cats can perform their speedy chases without the annoying interference of
Regarding "when", it is also worth to make a mention of the seasonality. A
frequent question is whether during the dry season there are less animals at
sight. It is all the way round: the dry season is optimal for wildlife watching.
Many animals usually like to remain hidden so long as it is possible, prey for
not being chased and predators for not being adverted. When water abounds,
animals seclude in the bush or woods, where any small puddle serves as a
waterhole. During the dry season, seasonal water sources dry up and the
inhabitants of bush and forest are bound to the permanent waterholes, easily
located both by human visitors and for predators, the latter patiently hiding
close at hand.
We had a pending issue, where to look for animals. The answer to this
question is not so straightforward, but here you will find some general
guidelines both from my experience and from other sources. Obviously, it doesn't
mean to be dogma, but just likely possibilities.
The plains from Mara river to Soit Ololol Escarpment (Esoit Oloololo or
Siria), at the west part, is a favourite haunt for Masai Mara's famous
black-maned lions, which usually walk these grasslands searching for prey and
doze beneath the scattered acacia trees during the day. This area holds
beautiful scenics, the flat topped trees vanishing in the haze before the
backdrop of the far-off bluish mountains. Another place to find lions is Musiara
Swamps, which actually remain dry for a great part of the year. Lions are
probably the major attraction in Masai Mara: it is nearly impossible to leave
the park without spotting some of them, since their population here is the
largest in Kenya.
Cheetah can also be found between the Mara and Oloololo, as well as in the
Talek area, along the Sekenani-Talek road. The solitary prairies near Sand River
are also a good place to spot these beautiful animals lying beneath the acacia
Leopards abound in Masai Mara, but their nocturnal and tree-climbing habits
make them difficult targets, usually camouflaged among the high branches on top
of the acacia canopy, not far away from the water courses. In Masai Mara there
are uncountable trees and plenty of streams, reason why sightings are not an
everyday routine. You may find their prints on the sandy Mara riverbanks at the
north end, outside the limits of the reserve.
The spotted hyena's ungraceful silhouette can be seen romping about at
anytime. They usually drop by the big herds, coveting the remains of the lions'
or cheetah's banquets. But far from this cliché which has granted them the
general dislike -partly enhanced by the Disney factory-, the truth is that
hyenas also earn for a living, but usually kill by night. It wouldn't be
atypical that the carcass you find at dawn surrounded by a lion pride really
corresponds to prey killed by hyenas during the night. On the other hand, and
despite their ugly look, watching the activity in a hyenas' den makes a very
Hippos remain submerged during the day in the plentiful Mara pools, specially
around Mara Serena Lodge and next to the New Mara Bridge at the southern limit.
At the latter place there is also a basking crocodile colony. If night falls
while you are still on the road, which is unusual due to the time restrictions
for driving, you may sight the elephantine shadow of a hippo crossing the road
with a dancer's agility that hardly fits its gawkish image. By night, these
animals graze quietly -or not so- on the grasslands and embark themselves in
long treks across the plains, making the illusion that they pop up spontaneously
in every waterhole as if they had fallen from the sky with the rains.
Herbivores can be seen anyplace at the reserve. Elephants feed on the foliage
beside the rivers and they can be sighted in family groups marching through the
plains, as well as around the Musiara Swamps. Black rhinos are a hard prey for
the photographer, since they hide amongst the bush to browse the trees and
shrubs, but it is possible to get a glance of their far-off silhouette standing
out against the shrubbery over a hill at Rhino Ridge. Now the park also hosts a
couple of white rhino imported from South Africa. Elands, with their corpulent
ox-like aspect, can be observed around the bushlands and at the hills' slopes.
Wildebeests, zebras, Thomson's and Grant's gazelles, Maasai giraffes, Coke's
hartebeests or Kongonis, impalas, warthogs and buffalos inhabit nearly every
region in the park.
Masai Mara is the home of some mammalian species sparsely found in other
Kenyan parks. The topi, a bluish antelope with a glossy coat and resembling a
Kongoni, is seldom seen in other parks except the Mara. Highly gregarious, topis
make up big herds which usually appoint a sentinel on duty. Other species with
limited distribution is Roan antelope, a voluminous animal with a proud standing
and thick and long curved horns that in Kenya can only be seen at the
southwestern sector of Masai Mara, at Shimba Hills reserve and at Ruma national
park (formerly Lambwe Valley). Finally, the bat-eared fox, a nice pet with
unmeasured ears, is quite a common sighting, since its bulky lairs are easily
I mentioned above that I wouldn't forget the birds. Raptors monopolise the
starring with more than 50 species. Vultures are omnipresent, flying in circles
above the herds stalked by predators, on the ground at a cautious distance from
the lions and their fresh prey, or finally dipping their beaks and their whole
heads into the prey's viscera, once lions and hyenas have enjoyed the most
exquisite portions. Marabou storks, probably the weirdest and ugliest birds in
the universe, also prowl around carrion. Looking at their badly disfigured faces
so strongly reminding the murderer of the wax museum's crimes, it is hard to
believe that their feathers were once a luxury article for high-cradle ladies
and high-bed starlettes. Other prey birds populating the grassy plains are the
secretary birds, with their civil servant look wearing visor and oversleeves,
wandering about with their "arms" at the back looking for reptiles. The crowned
cranes roam around the marshes, as do many species of migratory waterbirds,
specially during the rains. The riverbanks shelter beautiful Schalow´s and
Ross's turacos, Pel's fishing owls and nervous flocks of crested Guinea fowls.
The driest lands are the habitat for ground hornbills and Jackson's and
The Great Migration:
Let us face it. Africa frequently seems not any more what it used to be. Human
encroachment of traditional wildlife haunts, together with development
associated to modern times, have erased the ancient image of wild animals
roaming free through unspoiled and savage wilderness. Today, many national parks
and reserves in Africa are fenced, both to prevent poaching and to safeguard the
human settlers from the occasional raging raids by hungry animals. Fencing is
expensive and to some extent disrupting, but it may be the price to pay for
preserving nature while favouring the much needed progress in African countries
that struggle to move forward.
Still, some places retain the charisma of an open and limitless land. Masai
Mara National Reserve, located at a remote southwestern corner of the Kenyan
territory, is one of the only places in Africa that yet show wildlife
concentrations evoking the days of the great white hunters, when the whole East
Africa was a free and wild hunting ground. The reserve is unfenced, hence
animals find no obstacles to move at their whims, as long as permitted by their
mates' territorial demarcations. No other limits exist, not even the national
boundaries: wildlife wanders about through the 1510 km2 encompassed within the
protected area, but also in the so-called dispersal area, north and east of the
reserve, as well as in the adjoining Loita Plains and Hills, and further into
the Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania. All of it builds up what is
known as the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, comprising a 25,000 km2 worth piece of
Wildlife movements are highly conditioned by climate. The vast plains of
Serengeti, which allow a wide dispersion of the large herbivore herds, receive
seasonal precipitations that are not enough to support an all-year-round
provision of forage. The wettests area of the ecosystem is the Masai Mara
region, blessed by rains from November through June, with frequent storms
throughout the year and the permanent water source of the Mara river. Thus,
Masai Mara is a strong magnet for the large herds seeking fresh pastures, and
this is the spark that triggers the great migration. Each year, up to 1.5
million wildebeest (or white-bearded gnu), 250,000 Burchell's zebra and half a
million Thomson´s gazelle trek through the Serengeti-Mara complex along a cyclic
march that covers annually some 1,800 miles.
The migration is a relatively recent phenomenon. Before the 1960's, seasonal
treks were observed by Dr. Bernhard Grzimek, who first described a definite
pattern in the migratory moves. The wildebeest population boomed in the 60´s and
70´s, peaking from some 250,000 to the current nearly one and a half million,
making the migration a massive display that could well rank top in a list of the
world's nature wonders. Meanwhile, the native Maasai people try to rear their
livestock in direct competition with what they call "the wild cattle", which
they consider a calamity, since they transmit diseases to their own cattle and
poison the waters with their foetal sacs.
When and where does the migration start? Strictly, the migration has not a
start nor an end, each wildebeest's life in the Serengeti-Mara is a constant
pilgrimage that is never over until the animal dies. Thus, the only beginning to
consider is birth. During the wet season, Serengeti is a nice place to live in.
Grass abounds on the southern plains and in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area,
where the animals find a safe and sound place to graze and drop their calves.
From late January to mid-March, along a six week period, 400,000 newborn
wildebeests see their first light. Many are grabbed by jackals and hyena early
after birth, and will never have the chance to experience their hiking fate.
Survivors have scarce time to strengthen their legs, since the trek starts in
April. By then, the rains are over in southern Serengeti and the plains have
dried up. The great herds then gather and face the long march northwards and
The solemn procession will not travel alone: a constellation of carnivores
will follow closely, mainly lion and hyena, whilst the vulture squadrons overfly
the parade. Thousands of weak or ill animals will end up devoured during the
trek, and only one out of three calves will ever see the Serengeti again.
Under the command of a mysterious shepherd God, the lawn mowers abandon the
exhausted grasslands of southern Serengeti to head for the tall grass of the
Western Corridor, near the shores of Lake Victoria. Compenetration between
wildebeest and zebra is perfectly accomplished and biologically favoured, since
zebras enjoy the long woody stems that wildebeests refuse.
In late May, the herds leave the Western Corridor to take the northern
Serengeti plains and woodlands, where they exhaust the prairies smelling the
rains that are falling northward, at the other side of the humans' border, in
Masai Mara. The fresh, tender and mineral-rich pastures are the irresistible
bait for the wild cattle to finally invade the Kenyan reserve, an event which
usually starts in late June to early July. The troops coming from the south meet
here another migratory contingent: the resident wildebeest herds of the Mara
region. These animals, adding up to 100,000, reside in the Loita Plains and
Hills, northeast of the Mara, until the dry season brings the tougher days and
it is time to seek the evergreen Mara basin.
Throughout the month of July, the herds cross the Sand River, a mostly dry
tributary of the Mara which roughly follows the boundary line between Kenya and
Tanzania. The parade thus takes the eastern sector of Masai Mara, surrounding
the Keekorok Lodge area. The trek follows westward, leading the herds to face
the major challenge along their quest: crossing the Mara river and frequently
also its tributary, the Talek. By then, the rains at the Mau Escarpment, where
the Mara rises, have fed the stream to its highest levels. The steep banks are
populated with trunk-looking basking crocodiles that seem almost to be expecting
their annual banquet.
The operation of fording the river is the most delicate along the migration,
and as such seems to plunge the gnus in a state of anxiety that only relieves
when the whole herd has crossed. It is a very enjoyable experience to observe
the highly social and gregarious behaviour of these animals, resembling more a
flock for its coordinated movements. The trekkers walk along the left (eastern)
bank of the Mara looking for a suitable point to cross. There are plenty of
preferred crossings along the course, which are easily identifiable by the lack
of vegetation, the depressed slopes and the deep grooves carved by the animals'
hooves. These are the most secure places to ford the river, those that ensure a
minimal mortality. Nonetheless, the apparent programming of the whole process
sometimes seems to collapse, and the nervous herds occasionally choose places
where the banks are too steep and many of the animals break their legs down the
cliff or fall flat into the waters.
The herds gather at the suitable points and wander around nervously, their
grunts sounding loud in the air. Eventually, one animal takes the lead and
approaches the rim, scanning the opposite edge to analyze if any danger awaits
after the crossing. When it finally dives into the stream, this seems to haul
the rest of the herd. More animals follow in a single line across the river,
while the lagged ones throw themselves towards the stream until the rearguard
pushes the troops to a frantic race that ends up with some animals trampled to
death, lying aside the course.
During the ford, if only one single animal detects any danger, it will jump
back pulling the rest of the herd to a general retreat that sometimes brings
panic and triggers a crazy stampede. When the line breaks, the animals that have
successfully crossed will not follow their trek until the whole herd has passed:
they will remain at the opposite bank, grunting at their mates as if encouraging
them to cross. Occasionally it is the zebra minority who takes the
responsibility of keeping the herd´s cohesion, even though these animals are
clearly infrarepresented. In fact, zebra are not actually herd animals, rather
they form small groups headed by a dominant stallion, but during the migration
they seek the herd's protection, mixing themselves up with the wildebeests to
such an extent that they seem to be fully identified with their white-bearded
pals. Finally, once the herd has resumed the crossing, the leaders head on
towards their unknown destiny.
The fording has finished and some animals have died, smashed to pieces by the
crocodiles' jaws or trampled by their mates. The crossing, as determined by the
wildebeest's survival instinct, ironically brings many of them to an end.
Vultures and marabou storks become then permanent dwellers of the river banks
where carcasses decay. The disgusting massacre landscape, that literally stains
in red the chocolate waters, is nothing but one more step in the circle of
nature, actually it is not a scene of death but one of life, since the abundance
of meat feeds a great lot of species and controls the herbivores' populations.
Along the boreal summer, the crossings repeat over and over, and the
survivors graze peacefully on the Mara Triangle grasslands unless disturbed by
the early-morning and late-evening hunts of lion and cheetah, the latter preying
on the calves. At night there is an additional threat: hyenas, which despite
their fame of carrion-seekers, gather in groups to siege the herds, frequently
losing their prey to lions after the sunrise.
By October, the rains are heading south back to Serengeti. This is when the
pace of the march reverses, bringing the herds to face once more the quest for
the southern grasslands. The rite of fording the river is again part of nature's
call. In the last days of October, the migration is on to the vast plains of
southern Serengeti, where a new generation of calves will be born to start the
cycle of life all over again.
From July to October, the image of the wildebeest columns traversing the
plains is one of the most beautiful the visitor can watch in Masai Mara. The
large herds populate the grasslands while we drive along the reserve's roads and
tracks, and any lookout conveys the superb display of the lines crisscrossing
the landscape in different directions. The choreography reaches its top
splendour when seen from above, from one of the balloons that fly with the first
The banks of the Mara are flanked by tracks from where, with a little bit of
luck and a good dose of patience, you can catch a thrilling glimpse of the herds
crossing the river. The right (western) bank is bordered by a track that starts
in the north, near Oloololo Gate, and follows the stream southward through Mara
Serena Lodge to the New Mara Bridge, at the south limit. At the left (eastern)
bank there is a track from Governor's Camps that borders the Mara down to the
junction with the Talek. A brief study of the columns' movements through the
grasslands will give you a hint on possible fording sites. Once you have located
an area in which animals concentrate, look for a point where the traces of
crossing are evident. If possible, choose the "departure" bank rather than the
arrival one, since wildebeests will never cross if they detect any danger
awaiting at the opposite side, and a vehicle is certainly a threat. If you are
bound to the "arrival" bank, choose a vantage point above a bend of the river, a
place that allows you to watch the crossing from behind. Hide your vehicle among
the bush, get your camera ready, sit back and enjoy.
Besides the overwhelming accommodation list, Masai Mara offers a large number of
campsites, but with the flaw that most of them are in the periphery or outside
the reserve. This peculiarity, disturbing for camping fans and low-budget
travellers, may be originated by the atmosphere of exclusivity which is
progressively growing around the Mara. The abundance of luxury lodges and tented
camps including game drives in their full board rates, as well as the remote
location of the reserve, seem to invite an increasing number of visitors to fly
to the reserve instead of using ground transportation, therefore campers may be
a bit mistreated. Anyway it is not actually a big deal, since wildlife abounds
outside to a similar extent than inside the reserve.
The total figures usually speak of 25 campsites, but as in all other parks
and specially in the largest ones, the number varies depending on the source and
most maps don't record every site. In theory, they should be booked in advance,
but for public campsites it is possible to do it right at the reserve. Camping
fees are paid at the gates, but if you want to hire a Maasai askari, you will
pay his services directly to him.
There are campsites close to every gate. The one near Oloololo displays a
nice view of the mountains. The Musiara campsite is very popular for being a
safe area, shaded and with plentiful wildlife -lions included. Near Talek there
are 10 campsites located east of the gate, bordering the river at the north
bank, which at the same time is the reserve's limit. Several of them are nearly
always booked up by safari companies. West of Talek Gate there is another
campsite called Riverside Campsite.
Still near the gates, in Sekenani there are 4 campsites, placed half a
kilometer from the gate, outside the reserve. Finally, the Sand River Campsite,
next to the gate of the same name, is located by a waterhole usually visited by
animals at night.
Except for the latter, which is equipped with toilets and tap water,
campsites are devoid of facilities, save perhaps drinking water.
In addition to those located by the gates, there are other campsites such as
the Crocodile Campsite, a private site close to the outer limits; Naunerri
Campsite, 3 km off Sand River Gate; and the Mara River Campsites, 4 of them, by
the east riverbank outside the reserve. One of them is located right south of
Mara Camp. Finally, near Olkurruk Mara Lodge there is another site, overlooking
the plains from the mountains.
Lake Nakuru NP
Nakuru is one of the alkaline Rift Valley lakes and a fantastic bird sanctuary,
its shores populated at times by more than one million flamingoes. The famous
ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson defined it as "the greatest bird spectacle on
earth". The fortunate sentence has now become a cliché and is used up to
fed-up-ism for promotional purposes. Sadly, along the past years flamingoes have
vanished sporadically to reappear later in a similarly weird way, but flocks are
now greatly reduced.
The park was gazetted in 1968, but since 1961 there was a bird sanctuary at
the lake's south sector. With the support of the World Wildlife Fund, Kenyan
government started a plan to purchase the adjacent grounds in order to widen the
protected area. In 1964 the sanctuary yet included the whole lake, whose surface
varies from 5 to 40 km², in addition to a shore strip. Since its gazetting as a
national park, both authorities and conservation organisations have kept on
winning the battle to private property and human settlings, further broadening
the park limits in 1968 and 1974 to its current extension of 188 km².
Although the pictures on this page don't let it show, the truth is that the
park lies only 4 km off the populous Nakuru town. This poses various
consequences, almost all negative for the conservation of this natural area.
After Nairobi National Park, this is the second most accessible park, since
Nakuru is the fourth city in the country and the headtown of the Rift Valley.
Hence the park receives a high visitor number, more than 100,000 every year, of
which a great proportion corresponds to Kenyan citizens and residents.
But traffic is not the only nor the biggest of the threats: uncontrolled
dumping from the nearby city produces a strong environmental degradation, to
such an extent that at critical times flamingoes have completely vanished from
the park. In 1994-95 there were massive flamingo deaths caused by water
poisoning with heavy metals and toxins, due to a combination of climatic and
human factors that favoured the overgrowth of cyanobacteria and toxic blue-green
algae. This resulted in the start up of a program aimed at processing Nakuru's
industrial and urban residues, water and pollution monitoring and protection of
the lake basin.
On the other hand, encroachment of the environment by the surrounding
population and of the rhinos by poachers urged to fence the park perimeter with
74 km of metal wire. The first fence was erected in 1976 and reinforced ten
years later with a sun-powered electric fence, thanks to the cooperation of the
British Rhino Rescue Trust.
The different measures are directed to protect an exceptionally important
area for wildlife conservation, not only birdlife diversity which inspired the
park creation but also a great lot of mammal species, native or introduced,
which live and breed successfully in the park. Among the latter are rhinos. The
park was declared a sanctuary for the protection of these voluminous and
endangered animals in 1987. From then on, re-introduction of specimens of both
species, black and white, has made Nakuru become one of the main rhino refuges
in Kenya and the place where the visitor can easily find two of the five rhino
species surviving in the world.
The park covers the lake and a land strip around the northern, eastern and
western shores, whereas southward the grounds extend farther to Makalia Falls,
which define the south limit. The shores are surrounded by swamps, that during
the driest seasons disappear to give rise to huge white salt crusts. The
riverine forest opens up southward in a bush and acacia tree savannah. The
eastern and western shores are framed by ridges that offer splendid lookouts
over the lake: Lion Hill, Baboon Cliff and Out of Africa. At the west shore,
Baboon Cliffs are the preferred habitat for some of the park's species, while at
east, a part of Lion Hill is covered by a magnificent Euphorbia or candle tree
forest, giving the landscape a prehistoric look. The park hosts several picnic
areas and some hides have been erected nearby the lake for bird observation.
In addition to birds and rhinos, the park is home for a large number of
mammals, including carnivores such as lions and leopards.
The short distance to the city and the frequent conflicts between environment
conservation and development of the local communities have prompted a number of
projects aiming at improving life conditions in the area and providing the
residents a chance to meet this unique wildlife refuge. Kenya Wildlife Service
has financed programs for health and education, namely for building classrooms
and dispensaries, purchasing equipment and books, etc. On the other hand, the
park owns a bus which offers low-priced guided tours to the park for Nakuru
The lake and the city of Nakuru are located on the bed of the Rift Valley, 156
km northwest of Nairobi. The road connecting the two cities, the A104, is a
tarred and busy route, since it is the main communication artery other than
railroad between the country's capital and the valley. The heavy traffic makes
it also a dangerous route with a high accident rate, so if you drive, drive
The Nairobi-Nakuru road is the starting route for many safaris. Therefore,
plenty of visitors get their first sight of the Kenyan landscape from here. Not
a bad place. Suddenly, at the turn of a bend at the highlands' rim, the earth
opens up to the huge Rift Valley emptiness. Beside the stands offering their
curios, a wooden lookout with a weak look displays a breathtaking view. The
visitor obtains here a first impression of the primary role of the Rift Valley
in East Africa's physical geography. Some hundreds of meters below, the
acacia-scattered Kedong Valley bed conveys a neat and archetypical snapshot of
the African landscape. Farther away, you get a glimpse of Mount Longonot, Hell's
Gate national park and Lake Naivasha.
From the viewpoint, the road falls down hanging from the steep slopes of
Kikuyu Escarpment. Meanwhile, trucks drive up slowly and heavily, and you will
witness some impossible overtakings in which you'd better not get involved. Once
down the valley, you will leave Longonot and Hell's Gate parks behind, border
Lake Naivasha, cross the town of Gilgil and glance Lake Elmentaita before
finally reaching Nakuru.
The town of Nakuru is very well communicated with Nairobi. The train, the
famous Lunatic Express, also calls here, or precisely all the way round, the
city grew at the edge of the railroad, just as many of the major Kenyan towns.
Plenty of buses and matatus cover the distance from Nairobi to Nakuru and back,
as well as from the Rift capital to the most important towns in the valley and
Due to the proximity to Nakuru town, this is one of the only parks which can
be visited in a taxi, though it is definitely not the best way to travel a
Naishi airstrip offers the chance to fly from Nairobi right to the heart of
the park, but only during the dry season.
Obviously, Nakuru is accessible as well from Nyeri via Nyahururu, bordering
the Aberdare Range (170 km), from Kisumu at the Lake Victoria shore (116 km), or
from Naivasha on the main Nairobi road (65 km). If your trip includes a
Nakuru-Masai Mara journey or viceversa, you can use the road that joins both
towns via Mau Narok traversing the Mau Escarpment (100 km), though during the
rains this track may become a quagmire.
The most frequent way for accessing the park is the Main Gate, 4 km south of
Nakuru downtown, next to the park's headquarters, where you can reload your Smartcard.
From Kenyatta Avenue, take Moi Road and turn
left to Stadium Road, which will lead you right to the gate. Here there is also
a map showing the spots of the latest animal sightings.
If you come from Nairobi and you want to avoid the Nakuru fuss, you can enter
the park through Lanet Gate, though signposting is deficient. Before reaching
the city, take the left turn signposted "Lanet Gate", right in front of the Stem
Hotel and ahead the railroad bridge. Just after take the right turn-off that
runs parallel to the A104. This track will lead you directly to Lanet Gate.
Finally, Nderit Gate lies at the east side of the park, close to Lake Nakuru
Lodge. This is a suitable way for visitors arriving from Mau Narok or Lake
The park's tracks are usually well-kept, still you may find some mud during
the rains. The main road circles the lake completely. The north drive is very
busy and is hence less interesting for wildlife viewing. The biggest stretch of
land in the park is located south of the lake. There is a track network here
which is much less visited and where you will have the chance to meet some of
the park's herbivores, such as Rothschild's giraffes, the elusive black rhinos
and the bulky elands.
In this brief trip through Nakuru's wildlife, we must by all means start with
the flamingoes, traditionally the main attraction in the park. However, nowadays
rhinos compete with flamingoes for tourists' attention and photo shots.
Lesser flamingoes gather at the lake shores to filter the water through their
beaks and obtain their food, the blue-green algae Spirulina platensis,
which proliferate in this aquatic alkaline environment. The birds use up
annually 250 tons of algae in each lake hectare. Greater flamingoes also visit
the lake, in smaller numbers than their shorter relatives. Flamingoes have
likely reached two millions at best times, but sadly over the past years these
birds suddenly disappear to return on a cyclic basis, always in smaller flocks.
Occasionally and due to pollution, cyanobacteria and some toxic species of
blue-green algae thrive in the lake waters and poison the lesser flamingoes.
This is the price nature and wildlife are bound to pay for the hard coexistence
with the human milieu. Albeit efforts targeted to prevent and avoid these
deaths, sprouts regularly happen while flamingoes fly around looking for the
cleanest habitat. On the other hand, climatic alterations in one or other way
strongly impact the birds' populations: excessive rains reduce the water pH and
thus slow down the growth of nutritive algae, whereas severe droughts have
occasionally dried the lake up. For some strange reason, flamingoes never form
breeding colonies at the lake.
Nakuru national park was declared a rhino sanctuary in 1987, when there were
only two resident black rhinos. A further 16 were introduced from Solio Ranch,
followed by four specimens brought from Nairobi national park in 1990. The first
two white rhinos were introduced in the park from Lewa Downs. In 1995, a bigger
group of 10 was brought from South Africa. Secure from poachers' attacks thanks
to the electric fencing, the rhino population at Nakuru progresses positively
and it is easy to find the white rhinos grazing on the clearings by the lake.
The browser black rhinos feed on the bush and forest areas, therefore it is
unfrequent to sight them in the open field. Both species are not different in
colour, in spite of their confusing denomination; both are greyish. Actually,
the "white" epithet is a wrong understanding of the afrikaaner term "weit",
which does not mean "white" but "wide". The Dutch settlers named this rhino
after its wide and flat snout, suitable for grazing, as opposed to the
triangular prehensile lip of the black rhino that serves for browsing.
Other species have been introduced in Lake Nakuru's protected environment. In
1974, Rothschild's giraffes from the Soy Plains, in Eldoret, where they had
invaded the wheat farms, were released in the park. These animals have thrived
here to such an extent that in 1996 some specimens were donated to Uganda and
Soysambu Estate at Lake Elmenteita.
Besides rhinos and giraffes, the park hosts a plentiful mammal life which
accounts for more than 50 species. Among the large herbivores you can find both
common and Defassa waterbucks, which can be distinguished by the white mark on
the rump, a hollow circle in the former and a blurry patch in the latter;
impalas, Thomson's and Grant's gazelles, buffalos, plains' zebras, elands,
warthogs, dik-diks, duikers (bush and black-fronted), klipspringers, bushbucks
and reedbucks (Bohor and mountain). A small hippo herd inhabits the northeastern
part of the lake (Hippo Point) and at night grazes around. Other small
herbivores include hares and rock hyrax.
Primates are represented by baboons, vervet monkeys and black and white
colobus. Stare at the latter with your binoculars. Don't they have a human face?
Predators, lions and leopards, introduced from other areas, have successed at
the park in such a way that leopards are becoming a quite common sighting. Some
40 lions populate the park; even if you don't get to see them, since the park is
small if you prick up your ears you may hear them roaring from the lodge by
night. The two species of hyaena (spotted and striped), mongooses (slender and
egyptian), African wild cats, civet cats, silver-backed jackals and bat-eared
foxes are present as well. Otters swim at the streams that die in the lake. The
rare leaf-nosed long-eared bat is a park oddity, though a sighting is unlikely.
Besides the flamingoes, more than 450 bird species populate the park. Fishing
birds are present thanks to the abundant fish in the lake. Graham's tilapia,
adapted to the saline waters, was imported from Lake Magadi in 1956 and serves
as food for great white pelicans, great cormorants and African fish eagles. The
best time for bird watching is the rainy season and during the boreal winter,
when the lake hosts a wide range of European migratory species. In addition to
those already mentioned, among the water birds outstand the little grebe, white
winged black tern, avocet, black winged stilt, cattle egret, great white egret,
ducks, hammerkop, yellow billed stork, sacred and Hadada ibis, Egyptian goose,
blacksmith plover, sandpipers, grey heron, African spoonbill, African snipe,
king fishers and African Jacana.
Among terrestrial birds are the ostrich, secretary bird, marabou stork,
ground hornbill, Guinea fowls, starlings, ox pecker, bee eaters, fiscal shrike,
Kori bustard, martial eagle, European roller, drongo, mourning dove, augur
buzzard, yellow necked spurfowl and tawny eagle.
The nearby Nakuru city offers several choices for accommodation, but no top
category hotels. There are two lodges within the park limits:
Lake Nakuru Lodge:
Lake Nakuru Lodge is located at the southeastern end of the park, close to
Nderit Gate, on top of a hill overlooking the landscape around the south shore.
The place used to be a farmhouse belonging to the vast Lord Delamere's
properties. It was purchased to broaden the park limits and was transformed into
a lodge. There are 120 beds in attached huts, swimming pool, restaurant and bar.
In front of the terrace there is a waterhole where some animals may be found.
Sarova Lion Hill Lodge:
The lodge belonging to the Sarova chain is located near the eastern shore, above Lion
Hill and the Euphorbia forest. Formerly it was a tented camp, which was re-built
as a lodge. It has 65 rooms chalet-style, swimming pool, sauna, bar and
restaurant, as well as an excellent service and a privileged location.
Naishi House is a self-service lodge belonging to Kenya Wildlife Service. It
is composed of one house and an adjacent cottage, both fully furnished. The main
building hosts two bedrooms, each with a king size bed and a single bed, plus an
equipped kitchen, dining room and an outside terrace with pergolas. The
maintenance staff takes care of cleaning and providing firewood, but guests must
carry their own food. On the other hand, the cottage has only two single
bedrooms, thus it is conceived as an annex to the main house and not an
There are three public camp sites inside the park. All of them have water and
latrines. The Backpackers Campsite is close to the park's Main Gate, near the
HQ. It is a very popular and usually crowded place, therefore you can expect
everything but repose. It has full toilets. The second one, Njoro, is located
next to the Njoro river, 1 km off the Main Gate. Finally, the Makalia is at the
south end of the park, far off the lake and close to the waterfall. Actually
there are two camp sites here, at both sides of the falls. They are much less
used than the former two.
The number of special camp sites varies upon demand, but so far seven are
usually available. The most popular ones, frequently used by safari companies,
are Nyuki and Nyati, both beneath the acacia trees at the northeast shore, past
the Hippo Point when driving from the Main Gate. The latter is smaller. Other
sites include Soysambu, Naishi, Reedbuck, Chui and Rhino.
Lake Baringo is part of the Great Rift Valley, the Earth's great scar, which in
Kenya is fringed by a string of lakes. After the huge Turkana, Baringo is the
northernmost and the largest, with 130 km². Together with Naivasha, Baringo
offers the only freshwater shallow in the Kenyan Rift.
The lake is not officially ranked as a protected area, but it is the shelter
for more than 400 bird species that give the area its main attractive. The lake
is -or used to be- a quiet and solitary oasis embedded in the abrupt and arid
land that foresees the northern deserts. Until the end of the 19th century,
Baringo and Bogoria were only visited by the slaves caravans; the remains of
Fort Baringo, dating back to these years, are still visible there. The lake was
first described by Joseph Thomson in 1883. Nine years later, in 1892, the
English geologist J.W. Gregory explained the Rift Valley creation from his
observations at Baringo.
Tourism in the area has increased over the past years, hence Baringo is no
longer a place off the beaten track. Still, at the lake's shores you can enjoy a
peaceful mood very different from the most crowded parks. Its chocolate waters,
stained with the region's soil, change in tonality along the day and depending
on the sky's colour. After the sunset, the visitor can watch the hippos emerging
from the water to graze in noisy groups at the moonlit pastures.
The lake is also populated with crocodiles, considered harmless by the local
Njemps people, paranilotic fishers and shepherds related with the Maasai that
speak a dialect of the Maa language. The Njemps sail the lake in small boats and
dip into the water for fishing, while crocodiles wander about with the same
purpose. The locals state that fish abundance has supported the croc population
in such a way that the reptiles have forgotten the taste for mammal's meat. In
fact, the high fish concentration has accustomed the Njemps themselves to this
kind of food, which is not very frequent among the pastoral tribes.
It is true though that the lake's crocodiles are small and, therefore,
neither they are as dangerous as their bigger relatives nor they have been
hassled by hunters. In spite of all, in 1981 a presumed man-attacking reptile
was shot down.
Baringo fresh waters host a fish variety absent in the alkaline lakes, which
attracts a broad range of waterbirds. The rocky isle of Gibraltar, at the
eastern shore, is blessed with the largest Goliath heron population in all East
Africa. Another place of interest is the escarpment which lies next to the town
of Kampi ya Samaki, at the western shore, where a lucky watcher could find
Verreaux eagles, Hemprich's hornbills and bristle-crowned starlings.
In addition to bird watching walks and boat trips, with the guidance of a
professional ornithologist, the lake offers a range of activities which include
fishing, water sports (ski, wind-surfing), camel rides, day trips to the nearby
Lake Bogoria National Reserve or visiting a Njemps
village, where you can get a sip of the local handcrafts and dances. Activities
are mainly run by the lake's two lodges, Lake Baringo Club and Island Camp.
Local fishermen also provide boat trips, during which they usually spread fresh
fish as a bait for the fish eagles.
Accessing Baringo from Nairobi, 307 km away, in a single daytime is not the
wisest choice. The easiest daytrip is from Nakuru, only 125 km away and with a
good tarred road. Eldoret is 138 km off the lake, but the road is much worse. If
you make it from Samburu, the 300 km of rough to terrible roads bind you to a
midway overnight stop, for instance at Maralal reserve. Obviously, a comfortable
journey is from Bogoria, but the lack of accommodation here advices right the
opposite, make Bogoria as a daytrip from Baringo.
Driving from Nairobi, take the A104 heading for Naivasha, Gilgil and Nakuru.
Some 30 km past Nakuru you will turn right to the B4, toward Kampi Ya Moto,
Bogoria, Marigat and Kampi Ya Samaki, the latter town being at the lakeshore 2
km away from the main road. The road is tarmac up to the north tip of the lake.
From Eldoret, take the C51 heading northward to Cherangani Hills. 33 km
ahead, at the town of Iten, the road turns southeast. From there you will pass
the towns of Kamarin, Tambach, Chebloch and Kabarnet to finally reach the
junction with the B4 in Marigat, where you will turn left for Kampi Ya Samaki
and Lake Baringo.
Finally, from Samburu you will head north along the A2 past Archer's Post.
This stretch could perhaps be unsafe, you should better ask at the park gate
before driving off. 22 km past Archer's Post you will turn left to the C78
leading to Wamba, Kisima and Maralal. This route will shatter your wheels and
you will rather stay overnight at Maralal. The next day, take the same track you
used to access the reserve and head on to Kisima, where you will turn right to
the C77 heading southward for Rumuruti. After 33 exhausting kilometers, you will
turn right to the C77D. This road traverses Lerogi Plateau and borders Laikipia
Plains, rewarding you with an interesting journey through the Tugen and Pokot
lands and splendid vistas of Lake Baringo. The road passes Tangulbei and leads
to Loruk, at the north end of the lake. Beware, along this whole journey there
is petrol available only at Archer's Post, Maralal and Lake Baringo Club. In
addition, after the rains you will find plenty of mud along the roads.
From Nairobi and Eldoret there are several buses and matatus to Nakuru every
day. From here, there are two buses daily to Kampi Ya Samaki, but matatus only
The boats for Ol Kokwa island, where Island Camp is located, may be hired at
the jetty north of Kampi Ya Samaki.
Birds are the kings and queens of Baringo. More than 400 recorded species make
the visit to the lakeside a competition to achieve the highest numbers of
species sighted, the world record set at 342 species in 24 hours. The experience
is more rewarding during the rainy season, when many birds fly back to Baringo.
If you are not an expert ornithologist, you will enjoy it in any case with a
good field guide in your backpack and responding to the chants you hear.
Gibraltar Isle, at the eastern bank, hosts the largest Goliath heronry in all
East Africa, whereas the escarpment next to the west shore is the place for
watching, with a bit of luck, Verreaux eagles, Hemprich's hornbills and
bristle-crowned starlings. Among the multiple birds nesting on the lakeside
acacias, you will find several beautiful species of starlings, as well as
grey-headed silverbill, grey-headed bush shrike, curly-crested helmet shrike,
silverbird, West Nile red bishop and northern masked weaver.
Apart from the herons, waterbirds are represented by the fish eagles,
hovering over the fresh fish used as a bait by local fishermen, cormorants,
pelicans and even some flamingoes from the nearby salty Lake Bogoria.
Right south of Lake Baringo Club, walking along the road, there is a stretch
in which you may find rare species such as the male paradise flycatcher in its
white phase, the violet wood hoopoe, the grey-headed bush shrike and several
kingfishers species. In this area, it is not infrequent to see hippos grazing.
From Lake Baringo Club you can join bird walks under the guidance of the
resident ornithologist. Walks at 7 AM are led along an area next to the main
road, at the foot of the cliffs populated by baboons and hyrax. Here you will
find a variety of hornbills including Hemprich's, maybe a Verreaux eagle, and
the large Hamerkop nest, an engineering piece made up of wooden sticks near the
water and with a side entrance. At 5 PM there is another walk, this time by the
Lake Baringo Club:
The main advantage of bird watching is that sometimes the lodge itself is a
place of privilege, and this happens at the gardens of Lake Baringo Club,
property of Block Hotels. At the lake shore, a signpost warns that wild animals are dangerous.
Obviously it is not for the birds, but for the hippos, which also graze at the
Club's gardens after dusk. The lodge, with swimming pool, restaurant and bar, is
a luxury and tranquil place with activities targeted to know the local birdlife:
bird walks, film shows and audiovisuals.
Island Camp is the other only lodging option at the lake. More expensive than
Lake Baringo Club, this luxury tented camp with 25 double tents is located in Ol
Kokwa Island, right at the center of the lake. In addition to the usual
facilities of swimming pool, restaurant and bar, the place offers wildlife and
sport activities like waterskiing and wind-surfing.
There are some cheap and modest hotels at Kampi ya Samaki, the small town
bordering the lake. These include Papyrus Annex, Hippo Lodge, Bahari Lodge, Ushirika Lodge
and Lake View Lodge.