Central Island National Park is just 5 square kilometres in size, but it is so visually and archaeologically unique that it is a must-see on every adventurer’s Kenya itinerary. Central Island rises starkly above the emerald waters of Lake Turkana, the largest permanent desert lake in the world, and is composed of three hissing and belching active volcanoes and many smaller volcanic cones. Each of the volcanoes houses a crater lake, making Central Island the only place where you have the remarkable opportunity to view lakes within a lake!
Lake Turkana is the most saline of Africa’s great lakes, and is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Central Island is one of three National Parks (the other two are the Sibiloi National Park and Southern Island National Park) situated on Lake Turkana, and together these three parks provide an incredible store-house of archaeological and paleontological sites, making Lake Turkana and her Islands a treasure-trove of fossils and other deposits required for the study of plant and animal communities. In addition, Central Island provides a major breeding ground for Nile Crocodiles and many species of water birds.
The three major crater lakes on Central Island are known as Crocodile Lake, Flamingo Lake and Tilapia Lake respectively, and each of these provide a perfect breeding ground for the animal it is named after.
It is important to note that the lake can be quite rough in windy weather, and the boat trip from the mainland takes between an hour and 90min, depending where you embark – motion sickness medication is a good idea if you are not a good sailor!
It gets extremely hot on Central Island and since there are not trees, there is absolutely no shade! A hat, sunscreen and plenty of drinking water are essential
The remote location of this amazing little park has resulted in it being largely overlooked as a tourist attraction, and the island projects a totally unspoilt and pristine atmosphere. Yours could well be the only footprints to reach Central Island this week! As there are no roads and no game-viewing vehicles you will need to explore on foot, which makes this destination suitable only for mobile and adventurous visitors, who will be rewarded with some of the most outstanding views and sights on the planet. The following are highlights of a visit to Central Island National Park:
Central Island is probably Africa’s largest and most accessible natural Crocodile nursery! These pre-historic reptiles have walked the planet for centuries before the arrival of man, and here on Central Island they continue to live in harmony with Nature as they have done for over 130 million years. Some of them are immense, growing to several metres in length, and to ensure your safety you will be accompanied by an armed guard while you walk on the island. (However, Central Island’s crocodiles are used to feasting on the prolific fish found in the lakes, and have not developed much of a taste for humans!).
The main breeding time is between April and May, when hundreds of baby Crocs can be heard squeaking in their eggs, which the parents have buried under the sand or in burrows along the shores of Crocodile Island. (The eggs need to be hidden from the resident Monitor Lizards who are very partial to Crocodile eggs!) If you are lucky enough to be there at the right time, it is an amazing sight to watch! The cries of the babies quickly gain the attention of the parents who come and dig up the eggs and carry the babies to the shallows of the lake, where they will be closely guarded for the first few months of their lives.
Central Island provides a refuge to many birds, including over 84 species of water birds for which the island is a true oasis in the midst of an arid environment. The endemic population is joined by about 34 species of European migrants, which are most successfully viewed here during March and May when they return to the island to rest and breed. Some of the species you are likely to see around the fresh water lakes include:
Goliath and Grey Herons
Little and Great White Egrets
The alkaline crater- lake within “Flamingo Crater” attracts Lesser Flamingos (sometimes numbering several thousand!), as well as Black-winged Stilts, Pelicans and Spur-wing Plovers.
There are also several birds of prey to be seen, including:
Although the entire island is great for hikers, offering interesting sights all along the way, a short but steep climb to the top of “Flamingo Crater” will reward you with one of the most arresting views in Africa! Gaze out over the amazing coloured cliffs and the brilliant opal-coloured waters of the alkaline lake, rimmed with beautiful pink Flamingos, while birds of prey silently catch the thermals almost at eye level. Simply outstanding!
Smaller, but no less interesting are the large numbers of insects, including Butterflies and Dragonflies to be seen and the spectacular display of wild flowers which pop up almost miraculously after the rains.
There is no accommodation on the island, but intrepid adventurers who do not mind roughing it a little can spend a night at the camp site. There is something really special about watching the sun set and the moon rise over the black volcanic beaches of Central Island. There is limited accommodation on the mainland, and Eliye Springs Resort is about the closest place to stay.
At Eliya Springs resort you can choose from a traditional Boma-style room made in the original Turkana hut fashion, from reeds and grass. Each spacious boma has a private bathroom, double bed, solar lights, veranda and sun chairs, and faces the lake. The resort offers various water sports on the lake as well as organised trips to Central Island.
Central Island National Park is really remote! If you do choose to travel by road, getting there will be a two-day adventure, passing through some excellent scenery, but not always on very good roads! The only really sensible option is to fly in to one of the two airstrips near Lake Turkana and then travel to the island by boat.
Are you ready to explore the path less travelled and be rewarded by the astonishing sights to be seen on Central Island?
Step out of your comfort zone and make your Kenya safari truly unforgettable by coming to visit Central Island National Park with Africa Point! There is no need to worry about logistics, leave all the details to our dedicated and experienced team of Kenya Travel Experts.
Read more about Kenya’s fascinating Northern Territories here: Exploring Kenya's Northern Territories
Find out all about the amazing research happening around Lake Turkana here