Turkana County

Discover Turkana County

View of a traditional homestead in Turkana County.  Photo Courtesy of Pulitzer Centre
Traditional homestead in Turkana. Image Courtesy of Pulitzer Centre

Brief Overview of Turkana County

Turkana County preserves a long and robust record of biotic evolution, cultural development and the Rift Valley geology, making it one of the most diverse and interesting regions. The downside of it is that Turkana lies in the eye of the sun in Kenya, its altitude rarely rising over 1000 ms and the day temperature hardly falling under 35 C year-round. The present-day isolation of Turkana County is in part due to the current water balance. Other than for a few strips of not more than a few kilometres in width along the shores of Lake Turkana and along the few streams that flow here – often seasonally – Turkana is arid, with hundreds upon thousands of miles of near-desert shrubland. Anyhow, its mysteries and hidden riches have always beckoned the explorer. Exploration and description of the geological features of Turkana has been under way for over a century. The earliest European explorers to visit the region, Teleki and von Hohnel, returned with riveting observations on the geology and superb landscapes they traversed.

Beginning in the mid-1960’s, paleo-anthropological investigations in the lower Omo Valley, at the Koobi Fora Basin on the eastern shore of Lake Turkana, and elsewhere around Turkana, further spurred interest among explorers. Its claim to fame as a “Cradle of Mankind” in Africa is that it is the base for one of the most important archaeological findings of the modern era that’s simply known as the Turkana Boy or “Nariokotome Boy”. In 1984, the world-famous Turkana Boy was found at Nariokotome. A 1.5-million-year-old almost complete Homo-erectus skeleton. Still and all, it may come as a big surprise to think of tourism becoming important in Turkana. As a destination, it gets a putrid press and one that tends to conjure up images of a desert littered with dry bones, sand storms and the worst kind of human suffering.  Conversely, Turkana County is a wildly beautiful area with memorable and rare horizons, and far enchanting than any other County of Kenya. Its remoteness has preserved it as a natural wilderness.

Perhaps, it is the discovery of oil and vast underground water aquifers that has brought to the forefront the plight of Turkana County, previously one of the most investment-devoid and marginalized regions in Kenya.  Benevolently, the discovery of these vital resources has ignited the interest of both the local and foreign players.  The excitement to travel to Turkana County is mounting. Of course, all good people hope that the Turkana People will have the first priority in benefiting from these resources, and that this will finally open up Turkana. Lyrically waxed about is that Turkana is not an an easy destination to reach. Most of its roads are just coming of age. The LAPSSET project, which is set to lay bitumen surface road crossing the entire county, will be a game-changer for Turkana County.  Although not a common travel corridor in Kenya, and for all the difficulty of getting there, Turkana County is a rewarding encounter with all the makings of a spectacular adventure into unfamiliar landscapes and cultures.

Salient Features of Turkana County

  • County Number 23
  • Area – 77000 km2
  • Altitude – 370 to 700 ft
  • Major Towns – Lodwar, Lokichar, Lokichoggio
  • Borders – West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo, Samburu, Marsabit

Brief History of Turkana County

Like most of the other regions in the Northern Frontier, Turkana County had been declared a “closed district” by the British Empire. This meant that no one except for government officials and the resident traders could enter it without written permission of the District Commissioner.  Because of the harsh climate and environment bleakness, once described by Jomo Kenyatta as ‘hell on earth’, the population and importance of Turkana District grew slowly.  As it happens, British clerks working here were not expected to do more than a year of service.

Boy herding livestock in Turkana.  Photo Courtesy of HuffPost
Boy herding livestock in Turkana. Image Courtesy of HuffPost

Places of Interest in Turkana County

1. Ilemi Triangle

Going through many particulars of Turkana County it would be unavoidable to comment on the precarious and mysterious Ilemi Triangle at the northern most corner, which resembles a scalene triangle drawn with an unsteady hand. Ilemi Triangle bobs-up in some maps of Kenya and is left out in others. When Ilemi appears, Turkana County in the largest in Kenya, and without it is the second largest County of Kenya after Marsabit County. The 14,000 km2 Ilemi Triangle is quite literally a triangular piece of land between Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan, dubbed the wedge. Disputes over its ‘unwanted ownership’ began in 1907 in the colonial treaties and arbitrary boundaries. In short order, different caravans of Eurocentric surveyors swayed its complexity. Today, it is almost impossible to outline its definitive limits. On the Kenyan side, Ilemi is roughly demarcated by Nadapal or Mogila Range (west) and Lapurr Range at Todenyang (east). The triangle is home to the legendary Lokwama Moru and the Lorionetom Ranges. Claimed by all three states, it has been at the center of mind-blowing treaties, dishevels and wars unlike anywhere else in Kenya. Likewise, the dead-quiet no-mans land is a much-talked about porous triangle and crisis area for small arms proliferation that have distended and fueled unending affrays for its water and plentiful pasture.  Remarkably, over the last two decades, the Turkana, Didinga, Toposa, Inyangatom and Dassanech tribes (from all the three countries) have by some extraordinary means found ways to co-exist affably in the troublesome Ilemi Triangle. “Long before the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement of December 6th, 1907 was drawn on, the Inyangatom, Didinga, Turkana, Toposa and Dassanech traded and grazed in the ‘Ilemi’ through mutual arrangements” – Nene Mburu.  

Spatial Location of Ilemi Triangle within Turkana County.
Spatial Location of Ilemi Triangle within Turkana County. Courtesy of HRW

2. Mogila Range

The distinctive rock face of the 1,693 ms Mogila Range – just a short hop north of Lokichoggio Airport and south of the Ilemi Triangle – has been a talismanic hiking location now for many decades although rarely travelled. Its proximity to Lokichoggio Airport, which is in air contact with Nairobi and serviced by daily flights, gives it an advantage and prospect for the avid climber as well as great potential for development as an adventure outfit. What’s more, this has superb scenery over the Lokitipi Plains. Also located nearby Mogila Range is the rustic Kate Camp in Lokichoggio Town. This small, ever-busy, township is a cultural passage border-point between Kenya and Sudan. A word of caution is required here: that cross cultural conflicts have become a norm rather than the exception in this neck of the woods, making Lokochoggio unpopular with many travellers.

3. Kate’s Camp

The relaxed safari inspired Kate’s Camp in the ever-busy Lokichoggio Border Town – which is a growing logistics and supply town between Kenya and Sudan – is as a serene and useful base from where travellers to this far flung corner of Turkana County may enjoy its offerings.  Among the highlights at Kate’s Camp are its spacious bandas, its neat camp grounds, its swimming pool, its views of the Mogila Range, Lokichoggio Airport and Lokitipi Plains.  From Kate’s Camp, trippers can walk to Mogila Range with the help of local guides who allude to captivating insights of the cultural conflicts in the area and intricate history of the humanitarian agencies based here, and guided tours to some of the villages. 

4. Lokitipi Plains

Turkana County’s immense open-lying plains are epitomized by Kalapata and Lokitipi Plains which form part of the seemingly unending wasteland typified by stunted shrubs and grassland. The latter is roomier and drier, only providing forage for livestock during the rainy season.  At first glance, the gently-pitching windswept aridscape of Lokitipi Plains has has squat to commend it apart from Lokwana Moru Range seen to its north. Of a more recent development, in a rare kairotic moment, teams of local and international experts have discovered vast aquifers beneath the eerily unpeopled tract of the saucer shaped Lokitipi Plains.

Groundwater reserves in Northern Kenya – Published by UNESCO

5. Kakuma Refugee Camp

Visibly associated with a series of high-profile emergencies, the UNHCR found its roots in the Persian Gulf Crisis of 1991, and the following year, 1992, it would encounter a far-reaching test of resolve in Northern Kenya, at Kakuma Refugee Camp. Now hosting 65,000 refugees, this came to being in 1992, concomitantly with the arrival of the Lost Boys of Sudan, part of many Sudanese displaced by the civil war that lasted from 1983 to 2005. “God Grew Tired of Us”, the 2006 American documentary film, tells the story of three of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” on their heartbreaking journey, after their villages were demolished, recounting their unaccompanied journey of over 1,000 kms to Ethiopia, where they resided until their refugee camp was brought to naught, and their journey crossing back into Sudan to get to Kakuma Refugee Camp. Following the civil war, the outflow of refugees from South Sudan and Sudan ensued, many fleeing the persecution based on ethnic grounds. Kakuma Refugee Camp was at the start established to accommodate 23,000 Sudanese refugees. Nowadays, it accommodates refugees from countries all across sub-Saharan Africa including: Somalia, Ethiopia, and the DRC. Inside Kenya, however, the 65,000 Kakuma refugees (and the further 126,000 in Dadaab), enjoy neither basic freedoms available to nationals nor the somewhat restricted but still generous rights enshrined in the 1951 Convention. Experts warn, the financial means with which UNHCR is expected to do so are relative. The hapless refugee population remains in exile and without resolution to their plight, the resource issue becoming especially acute. “Both Kakuma and Dadaab Refugee Camps, a forlorn agglomeration at the best of times, have been subjected to drastic measures taken by UNHCR to comply with financial curbs.”

6. Nayeche Site

The 93 kms expedition from Lokichoggio Town to Kakuma travels through an unfrequented and unusual arid landscape interspersed by fetching hillocks and ranges, most notably of the Songot Mountain (close to Lokichoggio), Pelekech Range and Loima Hills (nearby Kakuma). Just 10 kms south of Kakuma Town, close to Murwana Nayeche Hill, is one of the most culturally important sites in Turkana County. The sacred Nayeche Site is venerated as the final resting place for Nayeche, the Turkana Community’s “heroine of origin”.  As it goes, the Jie People of northern Uganda and the Turkana of Kenya all believe that Nayeche (a Jie woman) followed the footprints of a gray bull across the inhospitable arid plains and settled around the shore of Lake Turkana, where she gave rise to the Turkana Tribe. The site is marked by a pile of stones, neatly arranged around an almost circular enclosure. Traditionally, a layer of stone is usually built over an eminent leader’s grave and anyone who passes by afterwards adds a stone to the top of the pile. Equally august are the views of Murua Ngithigerr or Loima Hills.

7. Loima Hills

The forest cover in Turkana County is estimated at only 4 %. Some of the more impressive forests can be sighted at Loima Hills nearby Kakuma and Murwana Nayeche, in the northwestern region. Because of their higher elevation, Loima Hills are normally green, covered with dense bushes and high woody cover. As a result these support important economic activities like farming, grazing, honey production, wood and charcoal production. The Hills are also famous for their legendary deposits of gold and gemstones which remain untapped except by a few natives who collect the gemstones after the rains. Loima Hills trend in a north-south strike from near Lorugum (in the south) to Kakuma (in the north).

Spatial location of Loima or Murua Ngithigerr Hills in Turkana County
Spatial location of Loima or Murua Ngithigerr Hills in Turkana County

8. Lokiriama Peace Monument

A drive to the untravelled border post of Lokiriama from Lodwar has to be well calculated and one of purpose. It takes to a parched and dusty stretch with few and far between centres, that are no more than a row of dukas. The far-removed Lokiriama is widely-known for two things; its traditional gemstone mining, and the peace accord between the Turkana and the Matheniiko Communities. The Lokiriama Peace Monument, founded in 1973, memorializes the unity between the Turkana Tribe of Kenya and Matheniiko Tribe of Uganda, where they buried their weapons after decades of unsparing wars.  Each year, during World Peace Day, these two tribes, and many other tribes inhabiting Turkana County, hold a euphoric-fiesta at Lokiriama to celebrate years of continued peace and kinship.

9. Christ the Redeemer Statue

On arrival at Lodwar by air the eminent statue of Christ (with arms open wide) stands-guard over Lodwar Town atop a moderate hill adjacent Lodwar Airport. It is an all-embracing welcome to the dusty Lodwar Town. Unmistakable and reminiscent of its opposite-number namesake in Brazil, howbeit on a slip of the scale, this Christ the Redeemer Statue at Lodwar is impressive considering its location. It was built by the Catholic Diocese of Lodwar to re-enacts the way to the cross.  There is a stairway, with guard rails, that takes to the top of hill and to the base of the Statue and where spectacular views of Lodwar Town, Turkwel River, Lodwar Airport, and Loima Hills unfold quite dramatically. Of interest at Christ the Redeemer are Portcaeli Resort, Lodwar House, and River Kawalasee.

Spatial Location of Lodwar Airport in Lodwar Town
Spatial Location of Lodwar Airport in Lodwar Town

10. Lodwar House

The small Lodwar House set on a hillside near St. Augustine Cathedral Church is acclaimed for housing the unforgettable Kapenguria-Six during Kenya’s wend for independence. It is, by the same token, one of the most significant historic landmarks in Turkana County.  Among those detained here, and sentenced to seven years with hard labour, was Kenya’s first President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta placed in custody at Lodwar House between 1959 to 1961; before he was moved to Kenyatta House in Maralal in Samburu County to serve the remainder of his term under house arrest.  Lodwar House, sometimes known as Kenyatta House at Lodwar, had been originally constructed (in late 1958) by the Public Works Department for the Prison Department for the prison officials. “On the grounds there are seven houses, one toilet and a water tank pillar” – Enzi Museum. It is situated close to the Lodwar Law Courts and the Lodwar-Lokichoggio Junction.

11. Ceamo Lodge

The fast-growing tourism industry in Turkana County has brought with it a rise in its number of commendable resorts which include the Ceamo Lodge.  This tastefully-outfitted resort at the heart of Lodwar Town caters to both business and leisure travellers, on a middle-budget, in a homey and serene environment.  Ceamo Lodge offers a variety of accommodation options – standard, executive and the governors suite – with all the rooms spruced-up with climate control air conditioners. What’s more, Ceamo Lodge is located within easy reach of Lodwar Airport, Central Island National Park, Eliye Springs and Cradle Camp.  It is also a perfect jumping-off place to many of Turkana County’s lighthouse attractions.

12. Cradle Tented Camp

To the same degree and equally impressive in the growing index of resorts is the award-winning Cradle Tented Camp christened “an oasis of peace and comfort in Turkana County.”  Its 20-detached bandas are set-up on a 16-acres property just a short distance south of the banks of Turkwel River and 4 kms southeast of Lodwar Town. The area is interspersed with fine acacia trees, manicured lawns and flourishing gardens – earning its reputation for being a tranquil and idyllic paradise in the middle of the arid Turkana.  One of the outstanding features at the Cradle Tented Camp is the sprawling pool which offers a stupendous comfy chaises where guests can surround themselves with the cool cobalt blue waters and escape the heat.  Cradle Tented Camp is within easy reach of Central Island National Parks, Turkana Boy, and Eliye Springs.  It is located along Kerio Road.

Cradle Tented Camp Lodwar. Published by Turkana Films

13. Turkana Films

Turkana Films, a media and film start-up which is focused on documenting the a-gogo and galore touring resources in Turkana County and the diverse cultural diversity found across the untravelled Turkana County, is a useful stopover for adventure-makers looking for information and history of the area.  At Turkana Films there is an elaborate exposition of photographs, insightful reads and even catchy documentary films illustrating both people and places.  It also has fully-functioning stand-alone filming project, media school, workshops and cultural chronicles.  Turkana Films is found within Republican House in Lodwar Town.

14. Eliye Springs

Eliye Springs is the most distinguished and progressive lakeshore along Lake Turkana’s 250 kms shore. It’s said the sun and sand here is as salubrious as any and matches-up well to the 512 kms shore at the Coast Region of Kenya.  Here, away from mass tourism and congestion, the beach is far prettier, secluded and perhaps even more indulgent considering the sheer element of surprise. One of the earliest and well-reputed destinations at Eliye Springs is the Eliye Springs Resort exemplified by its woven palm-frond traditional hut cottages which pay homage to the traditional designs of the Turkana Community. Situated on the western flank of Lake Turkana near River Turkwel, Eliye Springs has steadily grown in popularity over the last decade, not least for, its virgin sandy shores, superb sunsets, cultural passages and its proximity to many areas of interest. It is also a place of unprecedented tranquility. From Lodwar, the junction to Eliye is about 10 kms en-route Kalokol. From the Eliye Springs a ringroad rejoins the Lodwar-Kalokol Road nearby Namoratunga. It’s located 60 kms east of Lodwar.

15. Lobolo Swamp

10 kms north of Eliye Springs and just south of Kalokol sits the Lobolo Swamp, located on the shores of Lake Turkana. This is well-known for its springs which supports a palm groove at its littorals and the plenitude of birds, notably of the flamingos. But even without the flamingos the remaining birdlife is still lovely. Lobolo Swamp makes for a lovely afternoon’s walk for trippers staying at the 8-safari-tents Lobolo Camp. Since 1990 this has also been a fisherman’s retreat. “They have a specially outfitted 30 foot boat for sport fishing, with slots for 4 fishing rods and a shaded area to patiently wait during the hunt and a large space that allows the thrill of the hook and excitement of reeling in the catch without obstruction”. It is also within reach of Eliye Springs and Central Island.

16. Namoratunga Dancing Stones

Namoratunga, a term which loosely describes a number of stone pillar sites in Turkana County marked by large upright stones, is specially associated with the Namoratunga Dancing Stones Pillar Site situated on the eastern side of Losidok Hill about 25 kms from Kalokol. Initially documented by Mark Lynch and L.H. Robbinsp in 1978, and dated back to around 300 BC, Namoratunga Dancing Stones Site holds 19 basalt pillars, surprisingly aligned with seven star systems – Triangulum, Pleiades, Bellatrix, Aldebaran, Central Orion, Saiph and Sirius. In Turkana mythology the mysterious and fascinating Namoratunga Dancing Stones nicknamed ‘the miniature Stonehenge of Kenya’ represents dancers who were turned to stone after they mocked a malevolent spirit. Also of interest at this site is a grave partially circled by upright stones indicative that a complete circle of stone cobbles may have once formed an intricate inner circle. This site appears to have some striking similarities to the Jarigole Pillar Site in Marsabit and especially in the use of large basalt pillars. Both these the pillar sites appear to have had great social importance for centuries after their construction began.

Also known as the Kalokol Pillar Site, this special ring of huge basalt stones that stands over a platform of smaller rounded stones is a stone monument thought to depict the astrological know-how of the hunter-gather people that resided here hundred of years ago.  The Kalokol Pillars were lugged in by dedicated herdsmen.  The small piles on top are recent, left by latter day folks and passersby as an emblem of respect.  Kalokol is found 58 kms from Lodwar.

17. Lake Turkana

Lake Turkana is the largest and most saline lake in Kenya’s Lake System in the Great Rift Valley. Spread over 250 kms long and 30 kms wide it is the world’s largest desert lake covering a mind-boggling 7,000 km2. With no outlets and a high evaporation rate it increases in salinity year-in year-out as a result of the depositing of salt in its soil and capping on the surface-river. Lake Turkana is principally fed by the River Omo from Ethiopia, and Rivers Turkwel and Kerio. Originally dubbed as Lake Rudolf and renamed after the native Turkana, Lake Turkana lying on the floor of the Great Rift Valley was formed by faulting. No amount of infographics quite prepares anyone for the sight of Lake Turkana. Perhaps the most exciting and most memorable way to explore this oddity it to cruise along the shore by boat. There are three exceptional National Parks in and along its bays – the Sibiloi National Park, Central Island and South Island National Parks – which are all listed within the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Lake Turkana National Parks.  It’s located 800 kms from Nairobi.

18. Lake Turkana Fishing Lodge

There are few things creepier than an abandoned building but arriving at Lake Turkana Fishing Lodge (also known as Ferguson’s Gulf Fishing Lodge) nearby Kalokol is akin to visiting an institution. The dissipating lodge set on a split at the mouth of Ferguson Gulf and surrounded by water on three sides was a thing of beauty and a splendid fishing base widely-popular among anglers on fishing expeditions and explorers visiting Central Island National Park. And there was nothing pretentious about the rustic simplicity of Lake Turkana Fishing Lodge. Unobtrusively glam and in harmony with the landscape, the six-wooden-cabin bandas were outfitted with a thatched-roof that extended to form a sun-awning deck. It is, perhaps, needless to point out that the star-gazing here was glorious.

Spatial Location of Lake Turkana Fishing Lodge in Turkana County
Spatial Location of Lake Turkana Fishing Lodge in Turkana County

19. Ferguson Gulf

More impressive for its potential rather than the location itself, Ferguson Gulf located on the western shore of Lake Turkana and mostly utilized as a place to board the hop-on hop-off boat taxis to Central Island National Park was poised to be one of the largest fishing ports in Kenya. It is widely suggested that Lake Turkana is the largest, virtually untapped, fishing resource within Kenya. In an attempt to develop this untapped lake, a fishery station had been set up in 1964 at Ferguson Gulf to encourage and assist the local Turkana to scale-up fishing. Even so, the fishery station was in dead water from the onset and its challenges unrolled back to back. The problem of transporting fish to Lodwar, 60 kms away, on an all weather road, was the first of many setbacks to stall the project. Still largely a fishing spot, typified by a sandy ridge overgrown by doum palm trees, Ferguson Gulf is not where it was imagined though it’s still an impressive landscape containing a respectable number of flamingos and pelicans. It is also the usual jumping-off spot for adventure-fishing at Lake Turkana: Kenya’s most notable fishing destinations and which since the early 1900’s made its distinct reputation of being the first-rated destination for Nile perch fishing enthusiasts.

20. Central Island National Park

Central Island National Park, the second largest of the triad of islands in Lake Turkana, is aggrandized for its three separate crater lake tubes which hold three beguiling lakes filled with emerald-green water. Each of these lakes – Flamingo Lake, Tilapia Lake and Crocodile Lake – are named after the native inhabitants; with the latter providing breeding grounds for the world’s largest concentration of Nile crocodiles. Central Island is within reach of many sites of interest about Turkana County and easily accessed on a short boat ride from various bays like Ferguson Gulf and Eliye Springs. It’s located 5 kms coastal from Ferguson Gulf.

Turkana County – An Aerial Tour by MicroDrone Pictures

21. Lokallalei Site

From Kalokol the road which is motorable throughout year marches along the shores of Lake Turkana, passing through Kataboi; a much-liked fishing spot. It provides memorable views of Lake Turkana and on the opposite side of road the vast plain before arriving at Nachukui. Lokallalei, forming part of the Nachukui Formation, is the oldest archaeological site along the Rift Valley System and its importance in the understanding of hominid “knapping activity,” the early days hominidal tool factories, and technical artistry (dating back 2.34 Mya) makes it an important location in the understanding of human evolution.  Lokalallei Site is found at the edge of the Lake Turkana and lies about 61 kms north of Kalokol.

Nachukui Formation, is a sedimentary sequence, 730 ms thick, that includes deposits from formation members including the Lonyumun (4.2-4 million years ago or Ma), Kataboi (3.9-3.4 Ma), Lomekwi (3.4-2.5 Ma), Lokalalei (2.5-2.3 Ma), Kalochoro (2.3–1.9 Ma), Kaitio (1.9–1.6 Ma), Natoo (1.6–1.3 Ma), and Nariokotome (1.3–0.6 Ma). Most deposits fer formed under lacustrine, fluvial and alluvial fan contexts including remains of the Kenyanthropus.

22. Nariokotome Boy Monument

Turkana is home a handful of the monumental archaeological locates in Kenya, many of which have garnered plenty of global interest.  One of the unsurpassed archaeological finds in Turkana, which was excavated in 1984 by a team led by Richard Leakey, and simply named Turkana Boy or Nariokotome Boy (symbolic of the locality where it was excavated), is also one of world’s earliest discovered hominids: A nearly complete skeleton of a “Homo erectus” youth who lived 1.6 million years ago. It is, by far, the most complete early hominid skeleton found. Turkana or Nariokotome Boy added to a very impressive history of the study of pre-human history in Turkana County which is widely christened as a Cradle of Mankind. The original Turkana or Nariokotome Boy was moved to a climate controlled safe at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi; catalog number KNM-WT 15000. At Nariokotome, a monument bearing the replica of Turkana Boy and the tall monumental obelisk are symbolic of Turkana’s Boy value in the story of evolution. A trip to this site should not omit a visit to the Nariokotome Catholic Mission Church and lagoons of Nariokotome from where the Northern Island is superbly sighted.  Nariokotome Site is located 81 kms north of Kalokol.

23. Nariokotome Catholic Mission

Not too far from the Nariokotome Boy Monument sits one of the most beautiful village Churches you’ll ever set your eyes opon in Kenya. With its unparalleled beauty of landscape, set midpoint between the lake and the mountains (Murua Rith), the Nariokotome Catholic Mission is blessed with a timeless charm that is only amplified by its near desolate surrounding. Established in 1993 by Mons. John C. Mahon, the then Bishop of Lodwar, it appreciably adds to the beauty of Nariokotome, in an unobtrusive and graceful way. Its roughcast finish topped by a mosaic of stones found in this area shows a care and respect for the region, and, in many ways, makes this shrine part of the landscape. “Inside the catholic church of Nariokotome; the beautiful building is airy and friendly and offers a view onto Lake Turkana. The church’s bell bears inscriptions in four languages: Turkana, Kiswahili, English and German” – TurkanaLand. The Nariokotome Mission is also the Mother House of the MCSPA worldwide. It is at the center of building dams, drilling boreholes, establishing dispensaries, and aiding schools.

24. North Island

North Island within Lake Turkana is most notable as the only island of its large islands not to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 2 kms wide North Island is also the most compact and the northernmost of the three major volcanic islands in Lake Turkana. Similar to the other two, this is endowed with a hatful of wildlife notably of hippos, crocodiles and fowls.  It also offers great fishing adventures. While North Island is not a popular touring destination, the aerial view of its 1 km ring enclosing smaller older rings in middle of the island are especial and entrancing. It is located 16 kms coastal from Nariokotome Bay.

Location of North, Central and South Islands in Lake Turkana
Location of North, Central and South Islands in Lake Turkana

25. The Golden Hill

The 121 kms journey from Kalokol to Lokitaung (30 kms north of Nariokotome) finally reaches the Golden Hill, a title that recalls the perceived deposits of gold believed to exist on the hill. When mining commences it will permanently alter a most impressive landscape. And likewise, it will reaffirm Turkana as Kenya’s unsurpassed mining frontier which was confirmed by the 2012 discovery of oil. If, instead of doubling back through Nariokotome and Kataboi back to Kalokol, one proceeds westerly, the Mlangoni Gorge is guaranteed to make this decision worthwhile. Here, the road goes through the Mlangoni Gorge at nearly 1,000 ft deep, with precipitous sides, before reemerging on the plains to the views of the Lapurr Range. From here, there is a death-or-glory 150 kms route to Makutano terminating halfway between Kakuma and Lodwar. From Lokitaung, northerly heading, the road terminates at Todenyang which roughly marks the northern tip of Kenya. Lining up to the west, 140 kms away, Nadapal marks the other tip.

26. Turkana Basin Institute

The southern area of Turkana County, or the area south of Lodwar Town (which almost sits in the middle of the County) is in much the same league in places of interest as the northern area just alluded to en passant. Turkana Basin Institute found 50 kms west Lodwar is specially worth the drop-in by trippers interested in the prehistory of man. Founded by the renown paleo-anthropologist Richard E. Leakey in conjunction with Stony Brook University, this aims to advance the studies on Human Histories and Related Earth.  The Turkana Basin Institute has two operational field centers, at Turkwel and at Illeret, that both contribute to the understanding of early human pre-history.  Turkana County, of course, has a long history of research in unearthing human origins and evolution and this center is a huge-step forward in advancing this school of knowledge. The Turkana Basin Institute is patronized by students, experts and researchers from the world over who converge here to gain valuable experience in the fields of anthropology and paleontology.  A trip to Turkana County, which is revered as the ‘Cradle of Mankind’, cannot omit a visit to one or more “human pre-history sites.” And T.B.I is a one-stop-shop. It is also within easy reach of Eliye Springs.

27. Lothagam Valley

The exemplary Lothagam Valley found near the shores of Lake Turkana, which it was part of until just 8000 years ago, is not only one of the geologically varied and scenically-splendid areas along the shores of Lake Turkana, but’s one of the most intriguing historically.  As it goes, 5000 years ago, the first people to settle here built a medieval settlement which would have been at the littorals of Lake Turkana.  In 2017, a team of experts led by Turkana Basin Institute unearthed the 120 m2 ‘ancient burial shrine’ containing the remains of 600 men, women and children. It also contained a vast holding of ornaments and other artefacts.  “Lothagam is about an hour away from TBI Turkwel. Geologically, it is known for its distinctive red sediment beds that were laid down during the late Miocene, about 7 million years ago. Because of the tectonic activities in the basin over millions of years, the beds have been tilted, deformed and eroded. Some of the iron-rich sediments have been slowly chiseled away by rain, leaving behind winding gullies and gorges. The landscapes are so stunningly bleak that they resemble the surface of Mars. Because of the lack of vegetation and shade, a typical day in Lothagam is very challenging, with temperatures hitting 40 ℃”.

28. Andrew’s Cone

The step-sided scalp of the Andrew’s Cone found on the volcanic-barrier which separates Lake Turkana and Lake Logipi and whose rugged appearances results from erosion is also known as Teleki’s Volcano. Or again as Likaiu. Geologically it is a scoria cone complex and part of the barrier volcanic complex to the south of Lake Turkana. It reaches a height of 213 ft. (65 m) and the complex stretches lengthwise in a east-west direction. Three main craters are set along the center of the barrier complex comprised of the cones Kalolenyang, Kakorinya, Likaiu West and Likaiu East. The largest crater of the three measures 80 ft. (24.4 m) in depth and has a width of also 80 ft (24.4 m). “The outside of Andrew’s cone is covered with ash and scoria spattered with bombs. Basalt lavas from Andrew’s cone stretch south to Lake Logipi”. Andrew’s Cone first gained international interest in 1888 when the duo explorer team of Andrew and Cavendish reported volcanic eruption, fresh lava flows and rows of active geysers which was plainly an indication of some recent volcanic whirls at the site. Since then, a few more citations of volcanic activity at the Andrew’s Cone have been made; mostly of spewing mist clouds.  Not easily accessible, round about 61 kms east of Lokichar through rough-and-ready dusty roads, Andrew’s Cone is situated between Lake Turkana and Lake Logipi, on the ‘barrier’, and is only accessible to 4×4 vehicles.

29. BVC Geothermal Project

The Barrier Volcanic Complex (BVC) geothermal prospect is situated along the floor of the northern sector of the Great Rift Valley, immediately south of Lake Turkana. It is composed of four distinct polygenetic volcanic edifices or cones: Kaloleyang, Likaiu East, Likaiu West and Kakorinya, which are characterised by a wide spectrum of lava types including basanite, basalt, hawaiite, mugearite, benmorite, trachyte, phonolite and pyroclastics. Geothermal manifestations occur in the form of fumaroles, silica sinters, Logipi hot springs and abounding hydrothermally altered rocks characterised by argillic alteration deposits of alunite, kaolinite, and other clay minerals fanned out in the areas of fumarolic activity in the Kakorinya caldera and its summit. This caldera is the youngest volcanic centre and has the most promising geothermal potential. This project presents the evaluation of the hydrogeochemical characteristics of the sampled seven Logipi hot springs and six Kakorinya fumaroles in the BVC with the aim of developing a conceptual model. It is inherent that the key to BVC’s successful exploration, development (which includes drilling) and subsequent sustainable utilization and optimization of the geothermal resource is to clearly define and understand the form, components, and characteristics of its geothermal system.

30. Lake Logipi

The photogenic 6 kms long and shallow Lake Logipi that is separated from Lake Turkana by a volcanic-complex at the northern edge of Suguta Valley is famous as a hotbed for flocks of flamingos is best explored on a flying-safari, according to avid trippers to the region.  Another striking feature at Logipi is the monolith Cathedral Rock in the middle of the lake, locally known as the ‘Naperito’, which is a favoured rendezvous point for the hundreds of thousands of flamingos that throng the pretty-as-a-picture alkaline Lake Logipi. The lake is partly fed by numerous, weak alkaline hot springs and seepages, which issue along the base of the southern flanks of the BVC. Silica veins and sinters indicative of former hot-springs activity also occur at a number of sites on the rim and floor of the caldera. Minor occurrences of “weak steam seepages” occur on Andrews’s Cone.

Logipi Ride – Tuum to Logipi. Published by Osadabwa

31. Lake Alablab

At most times of the year just a dry salt-pan in the Turkana basin, Lake Alablab is recharged by the River Suguta during the rain season and lasts for only about a month, before it is eventually evaporated by the scorching and brutal sun in Turkana County.  The non-perennial Lake Alablab habitually connects with the Lake Logipi to form a broad 81 km2 lake, almost two times the extent of Lake Nakuru.  Lake Alablab launches or forms along the southern end of Lake Logipi.

32. Namarunu Cone

Namarunu Cone, which geologically resembles Andrew’s Cone (on the northern end of Lake Logipi) is found on the southern limit of Lake Logipi. It also bears many geological similarities of its counterpart. And similar to Andrew’s Cone, Namarunu Cone is a barrier volcano and active shield volcano, last known to have erupted in 1921. Getting to Kakorinya caldera and surrounding domes like Teleki’s Volcano, Namarunu and Luguruguru Cones, may only be possible by alternative means like using helicopter or walking to such sites by foot through the rugged fresh lava. Namarunu Cone is part of the nine axial volcanoes found within the northern sector of the Kenyan Rift along with Lake Turkana Islands, Andrew’s Cone and Barrier, Paka Shield, Emuruangogolak, Silali, Chepchuk and Korosi. It also forms part of the lava-plateau west of Lake Logipi that also includes Limi, Kowum, Nasaken, Kailimerlim, Kafkandal, and Oliyamur Cones.

Map of the Kenya rift showing the volcanic complexes
Map of the Kenya rift showing the volcanic complexes

33. The Suguta Valley

Few adventures capture the imagination of a rugged and untamed Kenya better than a flying-safari over the parabolic Suguta Valley, sensationally dubbed the “Valley of Death”. Bounded by Samburu Hills, Losiolo Escarpment and Mount Nyiro in the south and with Lake Logipi marking its northern end, the 30 kms-wide, 80 kms long, flat bottom valley, is thought to have once been occupied by the mythical Lake Suguta. “The valley is a vast segment of the Rift Valley, set between Lake Baringo to the south and Lake Turkana to the north. Towards the northern end, bordering Turkana, the valley floor is only a few hundred metres above sea level, making it one of the lowest parts of the Rift Valley” – The Star. It is a landscape of unusual beauty. Resembling an endless mud flat, with no or little sign of life, Suguta Valley is typified by scoria cones ring-shaped hills and stupefying boulder beds, formed by outwash fans of the rivers draining into it. Despite its beauty, Suguta Valley (which sits at 400 ms asl) is one of the most brutal and inhospitable sun-scorched valleys in Kenya, rarely topping road trip objectives. A jaunt to the Suguta Valley by road is reserved only for the strong-minded death-or-glory intrepid with a pedestrian regard for safety and harsh climate. By road, the journey to view the treacherous Suguta is best achieved on C77 Maralal-Loiyangalani Road. Remarkably, the biggest danger is neither the sun nor the terrain but the gun-trotting bandits who sway the Suguta Valley: “In this part of Kenya, raids and counter-raids are part of the violent pastoralist economy” – Nation Media. There are however some safe viewpoint of Suguta Valley specially at Malaso Viewpoint 36 kms from Maralal, in Samburu County. 

Although there are many river beds in Suguta Valley, which might suggest that rivers flow here, none of them is faintly permanent. They are all intermittent, that is, they flow immediately after a period of rain, but dry up completely. This obviously indicates a very dry climate. Similarly the marshes near Mount Nyiro and Lake Logipi – are seasonal.

34. Loriu Plateau

One the significant livelihood zone in Turkana County is at the riverine belt in Lokori and Katilu Wards of Turkana East Sub-County and Kerio Delta Ward of Turkana Central Sub-County. The invaluable asset in this zone is the presence of the Kerio River and the adjacent riverine forest – although the river’s water level and flow varies seasonally concomitant with the rain seasons. Still and all, this at no time dries up completely and occasionally it floods. South of the river rises the Loriu Plateau. The hill range offers better grazing but the area borders Pokot territory and is often abandoned due to conflict. To the southeast beyond the Suguta Valley is Samburu territory that provides safer grazing options when migration is inevitable. The Loriu Plateau is an elevated Precambrian bedrock exposure, west of the Barrier Volcano, extending 64 kms north to south and is almost 8 kms wide. It is capped by Tertiary volcanic lava flows, the west margin rising gradually while the eastern margin is defined by a fault scarp more than 366 meters high in some areas to drop into the Suguta Valley with a maximum elevation of 1,463 meters. Loriu has a heterogeneous floral profile with acacia trees, bush and scanty grassland. Part of the ‘plateau’ is too steep for vegetation.

Spatial Location of Loriu Plateau in Turkana County
Spatial Location of Loriu Plateau in Turkana County

35. Lokichar Plains

Leaving Lodwar the next major town is Lokichar 80 kms south. The peripheral area between Lodwar and Lokichar is dominated by Lokichar Plains. Trending north-south, the 60 kms long and 30 kms wide Lokichar Plains typified by bare soils, shrubland and a semi-deciduous forest for miles upon miles, is bound to the east by Lochreesokon Hills and to the west by Kamutile Hills. Lokichar Hills are found at the southern region of Turkana County. In 2012, these plains made global headlines when 600+ million barrels of recoverable oil were discovered. The principle reservoir unit was Lokone Sandstone, which belongs to a larger family of sandstones called Turkana Grits. Ngamia 1 plant at Lokichar marked the genesis of a huge program of drilling-activities in Turkana. This success has since been followed by further exploration at Amosing, Twiga, Etuko, Ekales, Agete, Ewoi, Ekunyuk, Etom, Erut and Emekuya.  A total of 21 appraisal wells have at present been drilled at the Lokichar Plains by the Tullow Oil East Africa.

36. Katilu Irrigation Scheme

31 kms west of Lokichar Plain sits the not well known oddity of Katilu Irrigation Scheme. In 1964, the Government of Kenya in the company with UK’s Freedom From Hunger Campaign set up the first irrigation scheme in Turkana County, at Lorengipe, which was to be naturally irrigated by flood-water and provide a useful place to farm. The first crop was maize, but this was a failure. The next year, 1965, the scheme was taken over by Range Management who were more successful with grass seed. During 1969 they established three other schemes – two at Turkwel Valley (at Lokichar and Lokorikippe) and a third at Narongole. Eventually, the problems of unreliable rainfall, its remoteness and marketing outweighed their attempts and they eventually wound down their operations. Katilu Irrigation Scheme, west of Lokichar, was launched in 1966, along River Turkwel, which is one of two perennial rivers in Turkana. Irrigation water was diverted by gravity through earth canal to the scheme. Today, it still stands as a relic of the ambitious projects aimed at enriching the lives of the Turkana. The scheme has been under rehabilitation since 2011, with the aim of reinstating its furrows. The main crops grown here include maize, green grams, and sorghum.

37. Lokichar Hills

The scattered scrubland covered with herbaceous flora seen along the Lokichar Plains only subsides nearby Lokichar Hills. The increasing density of the woody plants on the higher reaches of these hills breaks the monotony of the shrubby vegetation; which is repeated again and again until it becomes exhausting. “The Lokichar Hills with their impressive rocks stretch, offer tempting opportunities for hiking and a wonderful view from the top. Lokichar Town doesn’t offer any touring attractions but you could decent accommodation, food and petrol here”.

38. South Turkana National Reserve

Leaving Lokichar en-route Kainuk 65 kms southerly one finally arrives at South Turkana National Reserve nearby Katilu. This little oasis, teeming with a variety of fauna and flora, defies the odds of this austere, seared and arid inhospitable Turkana County.  Some of the notable wildlife are gazelles, dik-diks, lions and cheetahs, zebras and hyenas. South Turkana National Park is also home to large basks of crocodiles, over 80 species of birds, sweeping landscapes, hiking trails and camps.  There is a ring-road that runs across the park from near Lokoro in the east, to Katilu in the west. It remains fairly underdeveloped and unexplored.

39. Lokori Pillar Site

In contrast to the four prominent pillar site around Lake Turkana Lokori Pillar Site (also known as Nariokotome II) lacks massive basalt pillars. In instead, the site is comprised of dozens of upright black slabs driven into ground to profile low-lying concentric circle formations – with the larger often surrounding the smaller. These circular rings of short, upright slabs enclose burial pits covered by several layers of stone slabs. Also of interest nearby this site are several huge rocks bearing ancient rock arts depicting mainly animals. Not easily spotted from the road as is with the Namoratunga Stones, Lokori Pillar Site is located 5 kms east of South Turkana National Reserve, and about 64 kms from Lokichar.

40. Turkwel Dam

Just over the border of Turkana County in West Pokot County sits the 150 ms Turkwel Dam. Built between 1986-1991, this is Kenya’s tallest. Its hydro plant supplies the grid with 106 MW. Despite its relatively large output, power from the Turkwel Dam only connects to Kainuk Centre, south of Katilu and all other regions in Turkana rely on costly diesel powered generators.  Callers to Turkwel Dam can enjoy boating on the expansive dam or walk along its walkway to view the Turkwel Escarpment.  Also found nearby Turkwel Dam is Nasolot National Reserve and the abandoned State House. It is situated 42 kms west from Katilu.

41. Nakegere Falls

Rather exceptional in that it is fed by warm water from the Kapedo geysers, the phenomenal 50 ms Nakegere Falls, more properly Kapedo Falls, is also one of the most scenically-spectacular waterfalls in Kenya, overlooking the impressive Silale Hills. Occurring along River Kapedo, Nakegere (which in the local lingua means crack) has also been a key meeting place for the juxtaposed communities living around it and where peace has been maintained for decades despite the differences between the fierce tribes – Turkana and Kalenjin – who rarely see eye-to-eye. A trip to Nakegere Falls is well worth all the trouble of getting there. It is located about 100 kms south of Lokori Town and 68 kms north of Baringo.

Kapedo Waterfalls 4K Footage by NorthLink Production

42. Marich Pass

The steep descent from 6,110 ft in Kitale to 1,500 ft at Lokichar Plains loops and bends on a rocky cleft carved where Muruny River emerges from Cheranganis’. 43 kms from Kapenguria, at Ortum, the excitement with many motorists eager for a memorable drive and superb scenery is almost palpable. Ortum marks the beginning of the wondrous joyride of sometimes sheer drops running through the Cheranganis’ along wholesome hairpin bends and along lusty escarpments. On the map, the road appears to go straight as an arrow through the hills, yet, nowhere is the loss in altitude from 6,110 ft in Kitale to 1,500 ft at Kainuk better demonstrated. From Ortum, the road begins to loop and bend on a rocky cleft carved where the Muruny River emerges from the Cheranganis, simply known as Marich Pass. The hair-raising drive down Marich Pass cuts the Cherangani Hills from the Sekerr Ranges, passing past the abrupt peaks of Morobus Hill, to its north, and the Samor Hills, to its south, which mark the unofficial gateposts of the superb Marich Pass. It’s a heart-stopping and memorable 41 kms joyride.

43. The Desert Mountains

Sizable volcanic activity in Turkana County has produced a chain of impressive mountains seen on any direction you take within the county.  These mountains, owing to their high elevation, are normally green year round, covered with thick bushes and high wooded covered peaks.  The salient mountain ranges include, but not limited to: Loima, Lorengippi, Mogila, Songit, Kalapata, Lokichar Loriu, Kailongol,Kamutile, Taiti, the Pelekech Range, Morua Rith, and the Silale Hills. 

View of Cradle Tented Camp in Lodwar.  Photo Courtesy of Wangechi Gitahi Travels
Cradle Tented Camp in Lodwar.  Image Courtesy of Wangechi Gitahi

Geography of Turkana County

The leading topographic features of Turkana County are: low-lying open plains, mountain ranges and river drainage patterns. Lake Turkana is at an elevation of 360 meters (1,181 feet) while the surrounding basin is set at 375 to 914 meters (1,230 to 3,000 feet). The main mountain ranges in Turkana County are Loima, Lorengippi, Mogila, Songot, Kalapata, Loriu, Kailongol and Silale Mountains. The notable hills in Turkana County consist of Tepes Hills in Kibish Division, Lokwanamor Hills and Lorionotom Hills in Kaikor Division, Pelekech Hills in Kakuma Division and Loima Hills in Loima Division which are characterized by large forests. The open-lying-plains consist of the Kalapata and Lotikipi Plains.

Land Use in Turkana County

The settlement patterns in the Turkana County are determined principally by climate, soil fertility and infrastructure. Katilu has the largest number of people because of irrigated agriculture at Katilu Irrigation Scheme along the Turkwel River. The Turkana People are traditionally pastoralists and their only notable migration pattern is rural to rural movement in the form of nomadism.  Most of the land in Turkana County is communally owned and the land is held in trust for the community by the County Council of Turkana.  Since land in the County is owned communally, there are very minimal incidences of landlessness. In the far-flung rural areas pastoralist herders are free to graze and settle at any place. 

Highlights in Turkana County

The main tourism attractions in the county are: Lake Turkana, inscribed as part of the Lake Turkana National Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Central Island National Park and South Turkana National Reserve. It is the largest and most saline of the Rift Valley lakes. It is situated on the eastern part of Turkana.

Population in Turkana County

Turkana County’s population during the Kenya Population and Housing Census of 2009 stood at 855,399. The County’s population average growth rate is 6.4% per annum. The projected population for Turkana County in 2012 and 2017 was 1,036,586 and 1,256,152. Turkana County has a very juvenile population with 60% being under the age of 19 years.  Lodwar Town has the highest population projected to be 54,978 in 2012 – attributed to influx of people seeking jobs and the availability of infrastructure.  That said, Turkana County is the poorest of the Counties of Kenya, with 92% of the population living below the poverty line.

Lothagam Valley North Pillar Site.  Photo Courtesy of Turkana Basin Institute
Lothagam Valley North Pillar Site.  Image Courtesy of Turkana Basin Institute

Airports in Turkana County

Turkana has only 1 airport, at Lokichoggio, and 22 air strips across the County. Lodwar Airstrip is tarmacked, while the rest are all-weather. Over the past five years Lodwar Airstrip has become busy and four airlines operate regular flights.

Roads in Turkana County

Turkana County road network is poorly developed. The County has a total road network of 5,496.2 kms of which 488.5 kms are bitumen and 5007.7 kms earth surface. The challenges faced by this sub-sector include seasonal rivers that cut through roads and its poor soils that increase the cost of maintaining the roads.

Climate in Turkana County

Rainfall in Turkana County follows a fairly erratic pattern, varying significantly both over time and space.  Turkana County is arid and semi-arid, with warm and hot climate that ranges between 20ºC and 41ºC with a mean of 30.5ºC. The driest months are January, February and September. The long rains season falls between April to July. Short rains occur between early October and November.

Turkana County Distance Chart
Turkana County Distance Chart

View of Missionary Community of Saint Paul the Apostle in Nariokotome
Missionary Community of Saint Paul the Apostle at Nariokotome

National Monuments in Turkana County

There are no designated national monuments in Turkana County.

Turkana County Map

Turkana County Map