Nakuru, Baringo, Bogoria and the Kerio Valley in the Central Rift are packed with rich natural and cultural attractions to thrill any holidaymaker. Nakuru is arguably the cheapest town among the six leading urban centers in Kenya in terms of food and accommodation. The most prominent feature there is the Lake Nakuru National Park, 5km from the town centre to the south. Water birds, especially the flamingo, congregate along the shores in their thousands. Nakuru was described as the most fabulous ornithological site on earth in the early 60s and it must still be holding on to this prestigious title notwithstanding a few conservation challenges that have seen a reduction in flamingo population. The park also has an array of large mammals, including large herds of buffalo, impala, zebra, and the rare white rhino and Baringo giraffe, which are easily seen during a game drive. The park also has lions and leopards but you require a lot of patience to see these.
There are two lodges within the park – Lake Nakuru Lodge and Sarova’s Lion Hill Lodge. Advance booking to theses lodges is advisable, especially during the holiday season, not to mention that they are slightly pricey. There are also public and special campsites. For special campsites, advance booking is necessary. Other interests in Nakuru include the Meneganai Crater, which is accessible by a murram track, 5km north of the town. Menengai is billed as the second biggest crater in the world and it offers a vintage point to view of Nakuru town and the lake as well as Laikipia highlands and the agricultural settlements of Subukia and Dundori. The crater is a perfect place for a picnic, photography and outdoor meals and drinks.
There is the Hyrax prehistoric site just near the town and the Lord Egerton Castle at Ngata, managed by the National Museums and Egerton University. Accommodation outside Nakuru Park is abundant and varied to suit everyone’s desire and budget. There are hotels, guesthouses and private campsite all with unique ambience and individual features to suit diverse tastes and interests.
Travelers with little more time would find visiting Baringo a worthy experience. It is just about 100km from Nakuru and traffic is minimal although goats and potholes on the road become increasingly unpredictable, especially after the Equator. Important landmarks include the Lake Bogoria entrance to the right and the Kabarnet junction on the left, a few kilometres ahead. Drive towards Marigat and after passing the town look out for a road diversion after which you enter Kampi Ya Samaki shopping centre, the commercial base of Lake Baringo. It is rather hot and humid, but it is a beautiful place to be. There is something for everyone here again, from bird watching, water sport, and cultural and historical sites. Over 450 species of birds have been viewed around Lake Baringo, which is also famous for reptiles like crocodiles, tortoises and snakes.
A story is told of how at the end of the 18th century, the Maasai and Samburu who had lost their cattle in raids arrived to settle in this once-fertile land. The Maasai named the residents I’I Chamus for their strange ability to anticipate raids. Towards the end of the 19th century, they stole and began to fish. The European then gave them the name ‘Njemsi’ and today’s Njemps still keep livestock, fish and cultivate crops. The Njemps are a key attraction and a visit to them is made more luxuriant by the boat ride through the lake. Hippos and crocodiles are numerous in this lake and swimming is therefore not advisable. The first European to see Lake Baringo was Joseph Thomson in1883. He had to stand on a table to shoot an elephant because the grass was very tall! Permanent streams from the surrounding hills fed the lake and the area was rich in wildlife. Today, rivers have dried, and human population grown with its corresponding agricultural activities and settlements. The place retains an aura of a wilderness, though.
In the 1950s, David Roberts, a crocodile hunter for the Dragon Tanning Company, set up home on the lakeshore with his wife Betty and started a fish factory before building Fish Eagle Camp for tourists. In 1963, the lake rose 20 feet, submerging their house and destroying the fish factory. In 1966, the newly widowed Betty stayed on with six children but sold the Fish Eagle Camp to Mike Skinner who built the family lodge that is now part of the Block Hotels’ Lake Baringo Club. Betty still lives above the defunct fish factory beside the popular Roberts’ Camp. Lake Barinog Club is still one of the leading tourist hotels in the region offering full board accommodation, self-catering in attractive cottages and cheaper bandas or camping tent. The Thirsty Goat Restaurant has fully stocked bar and reasonably priced mouth-watering dishes.
It is convenient to walk along the lake shore and watch the birds. Hippos graze on the lawns at night, while crocodiles can also be spotted basking along the lake shore. Guests can swim at Baringo Club’s pool for a small fee. For a slightly lower budget, the Soy Safari Lodge within Kampi ya Samaki is a safe alternative. It beautifully sits next to the lake. One can get a view of the lake ad its island in the distant. The lodge has a swimming pool and offers boat rides in the lake and the Njemps islands at a fee.
For those with time and heavy pockets, the Island Camp is worth the price. Advance booking is always recommended, as it is a popular site and transport has to be arranged from the lake shore. The visitor leaves the car on the mainland and boards a hotel boat. The Island Camp is an exclusive luxurious spot, which has won several national awards. From Baringo, one can visit the neighboring Lake Bogoria, which is equally popular. It is 15km from the main road and about 20km from Baringo. Lake Bogoria is famous for rich bird life. It is Kenya’s second home of flamingos, sometimes recording up to a million birds. This is besides numerous other water birds.
Another geographical feature to marvel at here are the hot springs. The hot springs have continued to fascinate visitors for generations. The Tugen myths surrounding the feature make it the visit worthwhile. It is fun to see how fast the hot water streaming from the ground can boil eggs. There are camping sites where families on picnics can spend the day basking in this well sheltered national park. If you are lucky, you might see the rare antelope known as the Greater Kudu.
The Lake Bogoria Lodge, a three-star hotel in a nice setting just outside the park, provides accommodation. The hotel is a haven for bid lovers and one can swim in the natural hot water tapped from the underground springs. At the gate of the park is the Papyrus Hotel, a slightly low budget outfit suitable for visitors who are just keen on a drink or nyama choma. Baringo has one of the most successful irrigation projects supported by Pekera River, one of the rivers that feed Lake Baringo. The Pekera Irrigation Scheme produces watermelons, onions and tomatoes. Stop at Marigat, a township between lakes Baringo and Bogoria, to buy these fruits and vegetables.However, a visit to Baringo is incomplete without a circuit through the Kabarnet-Sacho loop. You branch off after Marigat from Baringo on the right. While you are at it, you find the tastiest goat meat popularly known as koriema, after a village Marigat and Kabarnet where the goats come from local wisdom has it that the area has special medicinal plants that constitute the diet of the local goat. Koriema meat is available at Koriema shopping centre along the road or in Kabarnet town.
Kabarnet is set on the slopes of Tugen Hills overlooking the highly scenic Kerio Valley to the west and lakes Baringo and Bogoria to the East. The Kabarner Hotel is just 2km from the town to the north and is a nice stopover with beautiful lawns that are perfect for relaxation and a bite or drink. To see the Kerio Valley properly, you drive a few kilometres on the west towards Iten. There are convenient viewpoints from where you can take pictures. If time allows, a drive to Kerio River at the bottom of the Valley may enrich the experience. After Kabarnet, you follow the Sacho route along Tugen Hills towards Eldama Ravine.This is one of the most scenic roads I have ever driven along. It is highly panoramic and is made even more picturesque by the beautiful natural vegetation. At Kiptangich, there is another viewpoint and a campsite where a group can stop to take pictures or eat. Not far from here is Sacho, the home of retired President Daniel Moi. The road leads you to Eldama Ravine, which brings you back to the Nakuru – Baringo highway near Kabarak.