While overlanding through Kenya on our travel sabbatical, Lake Turkana was one of our microadventures that took us on a four day journey through the Samburu region from the town of Nanyuki near Mount Kenya up to the exquisite “Jade Sea”. While it is possible to complete this journey in one day by driving the tarred A2 up towards the Ethiopian border; challenging roads, vast landscapes and of course some of the most intriguing tribal cultures await any overlander keen enough to take on the old route through the mountains and valleys of the Samburu region. Based on our experience using Tracks4Africa and maps.me, we have outlined our route to Lake Turkana and put together useful information to help you on your way.
Day 0: Preparation
Nanyuki is an oasis for any overlander who has been on the road for a while. Here you can mingle with other travellers and enjoy the wifi at any number of quaint coffee shops in town. In preparation for the trip ahead to Lake Turkana you will need to refuel and you can stock up on provisions at the local Nakumatt supermarket. Try and have a chat with one of the locals about road conditions and be sure to also fill your water tanker as water availability on the route will depend on the season and the amount of rainfall received in the area.
Day 1: Nanyuki – Maralal (±160km)
Option 1: Route Via Isiolo and Archer’s Post
- Depart Nanyuki early and drive up the tarred A2, through Isiolo and Archer’s Post. This section of road takes you through dry terrain dotted with camels and Samburu herdsmen in the distance
- Shortly after Archer’s Post, turn left onto the C79 dirt road. Unfortunately the road takes on that well known “corrugated iron” effect forcing us to reduce speed to 30-50 km/h and make sure that items on the roof rack were strapped down securely.
- As you are now driving through the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy keep an eye out for game.
- Before reaching Wamba village, turn left onto the C78 which will take you through Lodungokwe village and on towards Kisima village and Maralal located on the Loroghi Plateau.
- The climb up to the plateau is slow going as the road is steep and rocky but affords the most fantastic views out over the valley.
Our Experience on Day 1: What to Avoid
- We were only able to leave Nanyuki later in the day and once on the deteriorated road conditions of the C79 it became apparent that we would only arrive in Maralal well after dark.
- We stopped to camp next to the road close to a local ranger station in the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy where tough discussions were had over the amount of money that the Mzungus should pay. Armed with AK-47s, the locals were definitely in a stronger bargaining position starting negotiations at US$100. We eventually got them down to US$10.
- Needless to say, if you find yourself in this position we strongly recommend rather staying at one of the accommodation options in Archer’s Post and continuing on in the morning.
Option 2: Route Via Naibor, Khamba and Suguta Marmar
- Depart Nanyuki heading towards Naibor village on the C76 tarred road.
- The drive from Naibor village to Khamba village will take you off road, reducing speed to 30-50 km/h.
- This section passes between private reserves so keep an eye out for game.
- From Khamba village turn onto the C77 to Suguta Marmar village and onwards over rougher, rocky terrain to Kisima and finally Maralal.
Maralal is a relatively large town on the route up to Lake Turkana where you can refuel and restock at the markets. Don’t forget to stop in at the iconic local version of the “Hard Rock Cafe” for a bite to eat. Accommodation options include the Ngari Hill Lodge, Maralal Safari Lodge and the Yare Safari Lodge. We stayed at the latter where at US$10 pp a hot meal was available and we could refill our water tanker. Rooms are also available if needed but unfortunately the ablutions were dismal.
Day 2: Maralal – South Horr (±130km)
- Depart Maralal and continue on the C77.
- Approximately 15km out of town you’ll find the turn off to the World’s End view point if you are keen on taking this detour for the spectacular views out over the Suguta Valley (GPS viewpoint N01 13,366 E36 32,445). Camping here is also an option.
- The C77 will take you through the villages of Morija, Marti and onward to Baragoi and finally South Horr.
- The road comprises of tough, rocky, corrugated dirt track and is particularly bad on the descent down from the plateau. Having found renewed appreciation for our vehicle modifications and increased ground clearance we strongly recommend taking it very slowly and carefully as we passed a few less fortunate vehicles abandoned on the roadside.
- The scenery on this drive is remarkable with the surrounding vegetation changing from local farming to acacia scrubland. However the best is saved for last as driving the leg from Baragoi provides views of vast grasslands framed by the surrounding mountain range. Closer to South Horr you’ll approach the mountain pass driving through dry river beds where woodlands gather awaiting the rains.
Baragoi is the last place to refuel on the route to Lake Turkana and you can also find a hot meal and snacks here before continuing onwards to South Horr. As South Horr is a small community, you cannot refuel or restock here. Accommodation options are limited and most overlanders stay at the Samburu Sports Club where at US$6 pp you might not be able to get a meal but the campsite is shaded and flushing toilets are available.
Day 3: South Horr – Loiyangalani on Lake Turkana (±90km)
- Depart South Horr and continue on the C77 northwards.
- Approximately 20km out of the village the road becomes graded, joining up with the road from Marsabit allowing for a much welcomed increase in speed.
- After passing through the windfarm the road deteriorates once again and is scattered with shards of volcanic rock from the area.
- Approximately 60km into the drive Lake Turkana comes into view, it’s jade colour striking a stark contrast against the surroundings.
- Concrete sections have been built on the descent down to the lake and you’ll begin to encounter Turkana herdsmen driving their camels and fishermen who have set up small villages along the shoreline.
- In Loiyangalani we stayed at Palm Shade Camp where at US$ 5 pp, in addition to a restaurant, showers and flushing toilets you can enjoy the luxury of camping on grass under the shade of palm trees which offer protection from the strong winds and harsh surroundings.
Where to Next?
- Leaving Lake Turkana we decided to head back to Nanyuki, retracing our route before turning off onto the graded dirt road towards Marsabit and the tarred A2 south.
- The very brave might want to repeat the route outlined above back to Nanyuki.
- An alternative option is to head north towards Koobi Fora and the Sibiloi National Park.
Important Points to Keep in Mind
- Fuel points on this route to Lake Turkana are only located in Nanyuki, Isiolo, Archer’s Post, Maralal, Baragoi and Marsabit.
- If you are heading to Lake Turkana with a fly rod and the intention to pursue the resident Nile Perch, note that this area can be affected by strong winds depending on the season.
- We completed the journey to Lake Turkana solo, however due to the road conditions, possible vehicle complications and incidents of travellers being stopped and held at gun point it is recommended that overlanders drive in convoy. While the Samburu herdsmen armed with AK-47s can be quite intimidating, we did not find ourselves in any threatening situations. Nonetheless, we would strongly discourage anyone from attempting to bush camp in the region.
- Adorning their traditional garments and jewelry, the Samburu women are truly striking. Equally so, the young Moran warriors make quite the impression with their lean forms, draped beads and accompanying weapons. While outbreaks of violence have been known to occur between tribes over grazing rights and cattle rustling, this tribe has also fought a hard resistance against colonial influence so do not be offended as an Mzungu if your smiles are not returned. The people do not like to be photographed and it is imperative that you respectfully ask permission before snapping away. It is likely that you will either be dismissed or asked for money in return.
- Please have a look at our Kenya Travel Journal blog post if you would like to read up more on our adventure and what you can expect along your journey up to Lake Turkana.