Set within Lake Nakuru National Park in the great East African rift valley, Lake Nakuru is a UNESCO Ramsar site and the largest breeding ground for greater and lesser flamingos in East Africa. The lake is 45 km long, but very shallow with a maximum depth of 1.8 meters, its waters are alkaline yet very rich in aquatic plants known as algae which attract migratory flamingos that come to feed on them between November and May every year. Flamingos can be seen by walks along the shores or from the cliffs that raise above the lake.
The altitude of Lake Nakuru is 1754 meters above sea level with no rivers flowing out, thus the water levels fluctuate in the dry season. June to September the temperatures reach 28˚C and the shores turn into dry lake beds creating a landscapes like those in foreign legion movie. In April to May and November when it starts raining the lake shores fill up with a few inches of water and green algae starts to grow and thousands of flamingos come flying from other rift valley lakes or from the Indian Ocean to feed on the algae during their breeding season.
The landscape of Lake Nakuru national park is one of the most beautiful including rift valley cliffs like baboon cliff and the out of Africa lookout that inspired scenes in the movie “Out of Africa” Other than lake Nakuru, there are other dry lake beds, pools, Makalia waterfalls, savannah plains dotted bush thickets containing acacia and yellow fever trees and rift valley escarpments that rise 2053 meters above sea level. These diverse habitats create home to a variety of mammals and birds found in Lake Nakuru National Park.
Therefore, this park combines the best of Kenyan safari, you can visit it for game drive safaris, hiking, nature photography tours and bird watching. The best time to visit for wildlife safari is dry season between June to July and December to February however, birding watching occurs in short rainy season May and November.
Wildlife in Lake Nakuru National Park
The lake is protected within Lake Nakuru National Park gazetted in 1968 to protect eastern black and white rhinos along with over 50 different species of mammals including lions, Nubian giraffes, plains zebras, leopards, hyenas, waterbucks, hippos, buffaloes. Though, there are no elephants, wildlife viewing in very rewarding almost all of the wild animals can be spotted during game drives except the leopard that’s more elusive.
The park is one of the most popular birding watching places in Kenya. Besides the greater and lesser flamingos, there over 400 bird species including the long tailed widow bird, greater white pelican, eastern imperial eagle, greater spotted eagle, lesser kestrel, white headed vulture, pallid harrier, European roller and many more. November to April is the best time for bird watching but not good for wildlife viewing because it’s the rainy season tracks are difficult to navigate.
Visitors can do game drives for wildlife viewing and hiking best for photography to Makalia waterfalls and to the top of baboon and out of Africa look out cliffs.
The most popular activity, game drives take you into the wilderness of Lake Nakuru National Park to search for wildlife. The attention is mostly focused on seeing the eastern black rhinos with a population of over 60 individuals, this park offers the best chance than in Masai Mara reserve. To achieve this, a professional wildlife guide is required during game drives, you expect to see both big game and birds. The drives usually begin early morning up to evening, giving you a chance to experience sunrise and sunsets.
Flamingos are the highlight but there are over 400 species of birds which make bird watching in Lake Nakuru great. The best time for bird watching is May to November, it’s the time of the year when thousands of flamingos come for their bleeding on Lake Nakuru plus other migratory species like the European roller & pallid harrier.
However, recently sweeping changes in growth of algae has affected the number of flamingos that they no longer flock in large numbers as they used to in the past. Even without the shrinking flamingos, Lake Nakuru remains a great birding destination with most of bird species endemic to Kenya including the grey crested helmeted shrike.
When you hike to the top of the rift valley cliffs such as baboon and out of Africa lookout offer great panoramic views of Lake Nakuru and its landscape. This is best for photographers and drone shots can be permitted once you get authorized to use it. There are also walks to Makalia waterfalls but these waterfalls dry out so they are best visited in the rainy season.
How to get there?
From Nairobi city the distance to Lake Nakuru National Park is about 160 km which takes about 3-hour drive by road with a stopover in Nakuru town 4 km away from Lanet the main entrance gate. Those coming from Masai Mara National Reserve, can also access the park via C12 Kaplong-narok route (347 km) taking about 5-6 hours of driving or by charter flight to Naishi airstrip located near the park.Book This Safari