If you are planning a safari in Northern Kenya, stay a couple of nights at Lake Baringo for some fantastic birding and boating. This is the northernmost lake of the Great Rift Valley, just a short drive from the hot springs and flamingos of Lake Bogoria. Lake Baringo is a peaceful, wetland oasis surrounded by mountains and rocky hills. A dormant volcano, Karosi, dominates the landscape at the northern end of the lake. Even if you’re not mad about birdwatching, the passion of the ornithological guides is infectious.
The best way to explore Lake Baringo and its islands is by motor boat. Your guide will know exactly where to find specific birds and wildlife and you’re in for a sensational tour. 130 sqkm Lake Baringo has a high silt content and can appear red, yellow, coral or purple, depending on the time of day and the sun’s location. These colourful waters are teeming with fish, especially Talapia and African Lungfish, and you can enjoy some exceptionally good fishing.
There are 458 bird species in Lake Baringo National Park, which are best seen by motorboat and guided morning/evening walk. On your motorboat tour of the lake, your ornithologist captain will point out many water birds, including the world’s largest flying bird, the Goliath heron. The African openbill stork is amazing to see, a wading bird with a large, unique bill that only meets at the tip. A highlight is when your guide throws fish into the lake to entice magnificent African Fish Eagles which swoop down at incredible speed to grab the fish, just ahead of the crocodiles.
Your guided walk through the bush is taken early in the morning at 7am, or at 5pm in the evening, when most bird species are either active or about to roost. You’ll come across lots of Owls, like the northern White-Faced Owl and the African Scops Owl. There is a stretch of bush along the road at the base of the baboon cliffs where you can spot many rare species, such as the Violet Wood Hoopoe and the male Paradise Flycatcher. If you happen to spot a bird that looks like a mini Pterodactyl, it’s a Hammerkop in flight. Occasionally you may also see Flamingos, migrating from Lake Nakuru and Lake Bogoria.
The villages on the lake’s shores belong to the Njemps tribe, who survive on pastoralism and fishing. You’ll see the Njemps fishing and traversing the lake in wooden boats called “gadich” made from the Ambatch (balsa) trees that grow around Lake Bogoria. Visit the Njemps villages to learn how the tribe lives, including how they create handicrafts, carve out their boats, build their dwellings, and smoke their fish. You can also join in with some wonderfully rhythmic dancing. If you visit during the dry season, you might see their cattle swimming across the lake to graze on island vegetation.
Lake Baringo has several small islands. Ol Kokwe Island is the largest, in the centre of the lake – an extinct volcano dotted with hot springs where you’ll find Njemps villages and a wonderful tented camp. Ol Kokwe makes a great base for exploration. Lake Baringo’s other islands are much smaller, but many are great for birding. You can visit the amazing Goliath Heronry on Gibraltar Island.
Birdwatching is by far the most popular activity in Lake Baringo National Park. The best way to explore is by motorboat, captained by an ornithologist. You can also book excellent morning and evening guided walks, or a full day trip into the bush. The Goliath Heronry on Gibraltar Island is home to the largest population of these incredible birds anywhere in East Africa, and is a privilege to see. Other activities you’re certain to enjoy are fishing, water skiing or windsurfing on the lake, Camel trekking, a cultural tour of a Njemps village and a visit to Lake Baringo Reptile Park. You should also go on a boat excursion to Giraffe Island where you can view the endangered Rothchild Giraffes, Ostrich, Warthogs, Impala and Hyrax.
There are 3 comfortable lodges set on the shores of Lake Baringo. If you’re on a low budget, there is a well-equipped campsite with cottages and self-catering “bandas” for hire. You’ll find more exclusive accommodation on the lake’s islands – Island Camp is a luxury tented camp which offers complete relaxation as well as access to all the lake activities.
Days and nights are always warm at Lake Baringo National Park and you can visit any time of year. There are fewer birds here in the dry season.
Lake Baringo National Park is in the Great Rift Valley, 280km north of Nairobi. It’s a 5 to 5.5 hour drive along reasonable roads, or 45 minute flight. Kampi ya Samaki is the closest town to Lake Baringo.