Five Fresh Ideas To Spend Your Holidays In Kenya!
There are so many hidden treasures within a few hours’ drive of Nairobi, Kenya, that are often overlooked when Nairobians set about planning their weekend getaways. The trouble is that the big game parks, which are often favoured, are further away and usually require a three-day trip from Nairobi. So where can you go if you want to leave on Saturday morning and return on Sunday evening?
1. Lake Magadi
This vast salt pan attracts myriad water birds, especially flamingos. Lake Magadi lies in the Southern part of Masai Mara land. It is the world second largest source of sodium carbonate. This lake has a thick crust of soda carbonate which is removed using a floating dredge. It is then pumped to refineries, where it is then processed into soda ash which is used in glass making. This lake covers an area of about one hundred and four kilometers. It is surrounded by volcanic hills or escarpments which have covered the area with alkaline ashes which have sodium carbonate. These ashes are then carried to the lake by rain water. Due to evaporation caused by the hot temperatures, the salt is left in the lake.
The sweltering hot plains surrounding Lake Magadi prevent the big cats or predators from reaching the alkaline water lake especially at its center. This encourages thousands of pink flamingos to migrate to this lake each year. Here they nest on the elevated mud mounds at the lakes edge where no predators can reach them. There is only one fish species called Cichlid (Alcolapia Grahami). This species is able to survive in the hot and alkaline waters of the lake basin where temperatures get to below forty-five degrees Celsius. The freshwater springs at the lake’s shores also attracts other bird species, for instance the Spoon Bill, Hero and Pelican. There is a lot of game viewing since the lake lies between the Masai Mara National Park and the Samburu National Park. The animals mostly spotted here include giraffes, antelopes, zebras, gazelles, warthogs and the black rhino.
The Magadi town which is near the lake is owned by the Magadi Soda Company. This town is very clean and well-maintained under the management of the company. There are Schools, hospitals, sport clubs and residential houses build in this town. However, there is a small fee charged at the entrance. You can also visit the Nguruman escarpment which is densely forested and ideal for bird watching and Lake Natron which is also a good site for watching flamingos. In addition, you can also visit the Ewaso Nyiro delta and Shompole volcano.
Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site, which was discovered by Louis and Mary Leakey in 1942 lies in the land of the Masai communities. This site was donated to the government by the Masai people and covers an area of fifty-two acres. There are six different excavated areas where visitors can see animal bones, hand axes and other items dating more than 200,000 years ago. The intense heat, isolation of the lake and the escarpments are a great adventure for every visitor.
Departing Nairobi on a Saturday, stop at Olorgaisailie Pre-Historic Site about half way between Nairobi and Magadi before continuing to Magadi town for lunch. After lunch, enter the Lake Magadi Conservation Area where you can walk, do some bird-watching, swim in the very hot springs or just relax. On the Sunday you can enjoy a lazy morning of swimming, walking or birding before leaving the conservation area to head back to Nairobi. On the way, stop at the famous Olepolos restaurant for nyama choma overlooking part of the Great Rift Valley. Overall, Lake Magadi is one of great ways to spend your holidays in Kenya.
2. Ol Pejeta
Home to a rhino sanctuary and Kenya’s only chimpanzee sanctuary, Ol Pejeta is located just south of Nanyuki in central Kenya. You want to leave Nairobi as early as possible on the Saturday to arrive at Sweetwaters Tented Camp inside Ol Pejeta in time for lunch. Stop at the equator just before turning off the highway for the obligatory photo as you cross into the northern hemisphere. In the afternoon, go for a game drive in the conservancy. On the Sunday, go for a morning game drive and return to Sweetwaters for a hearty brunch before heading back to Nairobi.
3. Lake Naivasha
Lake Naivasha is one of the most popular holiday destinations for Nairobians looking for a weekend escape. However it still bears mentioning as its proximity to Nairobi makes it a perfect candidate for this list of fresh ideas to spend your holidays in Kenya.
The story of Lake Naivasha is one of mixed fortune. In the past century alone it has dried up completely, effectively disappearing, then returned to existence through heavy rainfall, has been used for irrigation for local flower farms and had encountered problems from pesticide and fertiliser seepage. It has even faced ecological interference from a breed of large aquatic rodent, the coypu, which originally escaped from a nearby fur farm!
In response to such issues, this national park has since been declared a Ramsar site (wetlands of international importance for migratory wildfowl), and is the focus of various initiatives such as the Lake Naivasha Riparia Association and the Elsamere Conservation Centre. With this help, the Lake is now thriving, and draws visitors from all over the world, as well as locals from Nairobi in search of a bit of peace!
The Masai people have long deemed the Naivasha area to be prime grazing land, and the name Naivasha itself is actually a misspelling of the Masai name Nai’posha, meaning “rough water,” a reference to the strong winds which can stir up the lake’s waters in the afternoons. This shallow freshwater lake is 12km across, fringed by feathery papyrus and yellow-barked acacia, and surrounded by marsh and lagoons.
The very fact that this particular body of water is one of only two freshwater lakes in the Rift Valley group means it attracts various birds of prey with its many fish. The magnificent Fish Eagle can be spotted swooping from the highest treetops to snatch a fish from the lake, or even from the beak of another unfortunate bird! You’ll certainly remember the shrill, haunting territorial call of this powerful predator. Another common sight is of a Great White Pelican diving below the lake’s surface to emerge moments later with a bucket-like billfull of fish. You might even see a bright and showy Pied Kingfisher!
The forests in particular are a hive of activity for hundreds of other bird species, such as the grey-capped warbler, spectacled weaver and the red-billed firefinch. This truly is a haven for bird lovers. And for the rest of you, there are the striking black and white colobus monkeys swinging from the treetops, giraffe picking the choicest leaves from the tallest branches, and solid, stoic buffalo wallowing in the swamps.
Within the park are a couple of separate sanctuaries which are well worth a visit. The Crater Lake Game Sanctuary is a volcanic crater lake situated in the eastern side of the park. In this tiny park dwell over 150 bird species, plus gazelle and zebra, and the buffaloes lurking in the woods will only make a walking or horse-riding safari there even more exciting! The Crescent Island Wildlife Sanctuary, lying in the western part of the lake itself, is a great place to organise a boat trip, where you can watch hippos lazing in the water and marsh. Do remember to keep a respectful distance! Or, you could simply wander amongst the acacias, spotting giraffe and waterbuck. Watch out for the huge pythons though!
Naivasha is accessible by main road, and is just over an hour’s drive away from Nairobi, and you tour operator should be able to arrange a transfer for you. The climate in this part of Kenya is generally gentle, rarely surpassing 28 degrees Celsius, and the rainy seasons are from March to end of May, and October to the end of November.
You can leave Nairobi early on Saturday morning and get dropped at the entrance to Hell’s Gate National Park for a cycling safari. Once your energy is spent on the bicycle, you can relax with a late afternoon boat cruise on Lake Oloiden to see the spectacular birdlife of the area. On Sunday morning, go for a walking safari in one of the conservancies next to the lake to see giraffes, zebras, eland, impala, and gazelles up close.
4. Lake Baringo
A little bit further afield, but so beautiful it is definitely worth a visit while on your holidays in Kenya. Lake Baringo, a fresh water lake located in the Great Rift Valley region, approximately 150 kilometers North of Nakuru town, lake Baringo is a must visit for the adventurous spirited. The lake is situated approximately 280 kilometers from Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. The lake has seven islands within it; Samatian, Ol Kokwe, Devil’s Island, Lokoros, Parmolos, Lengai and Rongena islands. Ol Kokwe Island is the largest of the seven islands and is a home for the local Njemp community.
The lake is a vast mass of faintly brown colored water due to slight soil deposits during rains; however, it is a habitat for various animals such as hippopotamuses and crocodiles. The hippos can be seen at dusk as they come out from their hide outs in the waters, and go to the lake shores to feed on the grass. On the other hand, the crocodiles can be seen with their mouths wide open as they wait for birds to come peck off their meal remnants from between their teeth. The crocodiles feed on the large numbers of fish found in the lake. The fish is as well used by the locals to supplement in their pastoral diet, the fishermen use small narrow boats made of hollow local indigenous trees.
Apart from crocodiles and hippos, there are many species of birds within the lake’s surrounding area. The most well-known of these birds is the African fish eagle which can be seen swooping down on its prey at a very fast pace. The eagle first singles out the fish in the lake from afar, it then comes down swiftly and seizes the fish as it flies away. Other bird species found at the lake are horn bills and storks.
A visit to the local communities surrounding the lake will not only leave a visitor informed on their ways of life, but will also ensure one experiences an authentic feel of being a local community member, even if it is for a few hours. The dances are entertaining, their way of dressing interesting and interacting with them on a one-on-one basis is an experience one can find nowhere else. The main local communities to interact with at the lake area are the Njemps and Turkana, from the villages visitors can also buy locally made handcrafts.
Accommodation at the lake ranges from permanent camps, cottages, bandas, campsites, hotels, and lodges, some of these facilities are located on the lake shores while others are situated on the various islands within the lake. Located on a hill on Ol Kokwe island in lake Baringo is Island Camp a luxury tented camp. The camp has twin, double and triple luxury tents with en-suite bathroom. The tents have a great view of the lake and one is sure to view the sunrise. It is a perfect place for a honeymoon getaway as they have a big and beautiful honeymoon suite.
Activities at the lake:
• Boat trips on the lake can be organized at a fee, charged on an hourly basis.
• Bird watching
• Visits to Njemps and Pokot villages
• Water skiing and wind surfing
• Walks along the lakeside
Leave Nairobi early on Saturday morning to reach Lake Baringo in time for lunch. In the afternoon you can go for a nature walk up to the escarpment overlooking the lake. On Sunday morning take a cruise on the lake to see the water birds and hippos waking up for the day. Fishermen are also out on the lake in their dugout canoes. Enjoy a relaxing breakfast after the boat cruise (it is best to get out on the lake around 7am for the best bird-watching opportunity) before driving back to Nairobi, stopping for lunch in Nakuru.
5. Suswa Caves
On the way to the Maasai Mara as you enter Maasai-land is the small town of Suswa and Mt Suswa rises to your left as you travel towards Narok. It’s a very dusty road as you turn off the highway and head into the Suswa Conservancy. There are two campsites, one right above the caves and another on the rim of Mt Suswa’s crater. Local Maasai guides can take you for hikes to the crater rim and through the caves – it is recommended to do one hike on the Saturday afternoon and the other on the Sunday morning. Neither is very strenuous but it can get very hot with little shade.
If you are an expat or Kenyan citizen living in Nairobi these five ideas for two-day weekend trips should help you explore more and create lifetime memories of holidays in Kenya!
Visit the African destinations category to learn more about other tourism opportunities available in Africa!