Lake Turkana | Jade Sea Northern Kenya | Lake Turkana National Parks | Lake Turkana Safari | Turkana County
Lake Turkana – also called the Jade Sea, was originally named Lake Rudolph by Count Samuel Teleki and Lieutenant Von Höhnel in 1888 and was renamed Lake Turkana in 1975.
At a length of 300 km long in North-South direction and a width of 50 km wide, Lake Turkana is the largest alkaline lake in the world as well as the largest lake in Kenya though Lake Victoria shared between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania is is much larger.
At an altitude of only 300m above sea level lake Turkana is one of the hottest places in Kenya (and the world) with temperatures in the region often reaching 50 degrees C.
The area is regarded by many as the birthplace of humanity and the fossil humanoid skulls discovered here by the Leakey family in the 1960s are around 2.5 million years old.
In Sibiloi national Park on the lakes eastern shore you can visit some of the excavations and also you can see many different species of animals.
There are a several ways to approach the lake; the most commonly used is the road from Nairobi going northwards to Isiolo, over Marsabit, Kalacha – across the Chalbi Desert to Loiyangalani at the south-eastern shore of the lake.
Also there is a western route going from Kitale over Kapenguria to Lodwar eventually leading to Eliye Springs.
There are three islands in Lake Turkana – South Island, Central Island and North Island and it is possible to visit them by boat from various take off points along the shore.
Central Island is breeding ground of the worlds biggest population of Nile Crocodiles with an estimated number of 12,000 animals living in the lake.
It is believed that at that time the lake was much larger than it is today, supporting a richer and more varied plant and animal life.
Yet today there are about 400 species of birds and the lake boasts 200-300 kg Nile Perch, making it a heaven for sport fishing.
Also there are populations of hippo in the lake and in some places there is bilharzia (a microscopic parasite that can cause severe illness), so you should be cautious about swimming in the lake.
Situated in northern Kenya, about 700km from Nairobi, Turkana is the second largest county in Kenya covering 68,680 square kilometres.
Turkana shares its borders with four counties; Marsabit to the east, Samburu to the south-east, Baringo and West Pokot to the south-west. The county also borders with South Sudan to the north, Uganda to the west and Ethiopia to the north-east.
The name Turkana is widely believed to be a corruption of Turkwen which means 'cave people' in Kiturkana, the language of the Turkana people.
People of Turkana
Turkana County has 855,399 people (male – 52.03% and female – 47.97%), according to the 2009 National Census. The Turkana people are the dominant community in the county, although several other tribes such as El Molo have settled there over the years.
The Turkana are nomadic pastoralists who mainly keep cattle, donkeys, camels and goats. The animals are their main source of food and wealth.
The Turkana are the second largest pastoral community in Kenya after the Maasai people.
On the other hand, the Elmoro people – who live on the southern shores of Lake Turkana, are the smallest ethnic group in Kenya with a population of about 300 people.
They are said to have originated from either Somalia or Ethiopia and are renowned for their fishing and basket weaving skills.
Turkana County Religion and Culture
Close to 95% of the people living in Turkana County adhere to traditional beliefs while 5-10% of the residents are Christians.
Livestock, especially zebu (humped) cattle, are very important in the Turkana culture. They serve both as a source of food (milk, meat and blood) and as a form of traditional currency used to negotiate for brides and dowry payment.
Due to the high value placed on livestock, it is common for Turkana to raid their neighbouring communities – especially the Marakwet and Pokot of southern Kenya – in effort to enlarge their herds.
The Turkana have maintained their traditional way of life, including dressing and traditional religion. The majority of Turkana believe in a god of skies, Akuj, whom they call upon during calamities such as droughts and disease outbreaks.
Among the Turkana, men are traditionally responsible for looking after livestock and protecting the community in case of an attack.
Women are tasked with constructing huts for their families, taking care of children, fetching firewood and cooking.
Children usually look after sheep and goats, although some families take their children to schools. About 122,000 pupils are currently enrolled in the county's 202 primary schools, with another 48,000 students attending high schools.
Major Towns of Turkana County
Lodwar, the capital of Turkana County, is the biggest town in north-western Kenya. The town is a commercial centre whose principal activities are fish trade and basket weaving.
Lodwar is the town where Kenya’s first president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, and other political prisoners were detained for two years during the colonial period.
Often called Loki, Lokichogio is situated about 30 km from the Kenya-South Sudan border. Loki is basically a small commercial centre whose main activity is basket weaving.
The town hosts UN offices and several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as World Vision, Oxfam-GB, among others.
Other major centres in Turkana County include Lokitaung, a remote outpost near the Ethiopian border; and Kakuma, which hosts the Kakuma Refugee Camp.
The camp is home to over 100,000 refugees from neighbouring countries, mainly Somalia and Sudan.
Climate and Weather of Turkana County
Turkana is one of the driest counties of Kenya. It experiences very high temperatures during the day and moderate temperatures during the night all year round. The temperatures are estimated to be 25-35°C.
The county receives between 150mm and 400mm of rainfall annually, with average precipitation being 250mm. The rainfall pattern is unpredictable and at times Turkana receives no rain in a whole year.
As a result, the residents of Turkana County are faced with a persistent threat of starvation.
Economic Activities of Turkana County
Life in Turkana County revolves around livestock. Cattle, camels, donkeys, sheep and goats are a major source of income for the Turkana residents.
Most farmers sell their animals to the Kenya Meat Commission particularly during severe drought.
Fishing is practised in Lake Turkana, mainly by the El Molo people, with Nile perch and Tilapia being the main fish species found in the lake.
Most fish are dried in the sun before being sold to brokers who come to the lake shores from Kalokol and Lodwar. Basket weaving is also a major income generating activity in the county, especially among women in Lodwar and other urban centres.
Recently some Turkana families have begun to grow crops in irrigation schemes along Kerio and Turkwel rivers as a means to fight starvation.
ome of the crops grown in the area include cassava, millet and sorghum – which do not require much water and can grow under harsh climatic conditions.
Turkana is poised to become the oil-rich county of Kenya due to the recent discovery of commercially viable oil in by British oil firm, Tullow Oil.
This great discovery is expected to attract all sorts of businesses and investments into the county.
Health Facilities of Turkana County
Turkana County has three district hospitals; Lodwar District Hospital, Katilu District Hospital and Lokitaung District. The county has over 100 heath centres serving the health needs of the residents.
Turkana County Attractions and Places of Interest
Turkana County has a great potential as a tourist destination. Some of the top attractions of the county include Lake Turkana, Koobi Fora, Dancing Stones of Namoratunga and Sibiloi National Park among others.
Turkana boasts beautiful sceneries of mountains, waterfalls and beaches.
With a length of over 250 km Lake Turkana is the world's largest desert lake. The lake has a huge number of hippos and the world's largest population of Nile crocodiles.
It is a source of life for the Turkana, El Molo and other communities who depend on fishing in the lake.
Lake Turkana National Park, which lies on the north-eastern shore of Lake Turkana, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Located on the north-eastern shores of Lake Turkana, Koobi Fora – popularly known as the Cradle of mankind – has one of the longest living histories on earth.
This is the site where Turkana Boy, a 1.5 million-year-old skeleton of a boy was discovered in 1984 by Kamoya Kimeu – a Kenyan fossil collector.
The Namoratunga Site, often called the Dancing stones of Namoratunga, is made of a small cluster of attractive cylindrical stones beside the Lodwar-Kalokol Road close to the western shore of Lake Turkana.
Namoratunga is widely believed to have been a stellar observatory many years ago.
Getting to Turkana County
Turkana is accessible from Nairobi via Kitale, a 700km road journey. The 380km road between Nairobi and Kitale is tarmac. On the other hand, the 320km between Kitale and Lodwar (via Kapenguria) is in a bad state and may require a 4wd vehicle.
Turkana is only accessible via Kitale. Due to cases of insecurity in the area, a police escort is required between Kapenguria and Lodwar. This is usually provided twice daily at 11am and 1pm.
The 75 km road from Lodwar to the shores of Lake Turkana via Kalokol is well maintained and police escort is not required along this section.
Turkana is also accessible by air. Fly540 and ALS operate daily flights between Nairobi-Kitale-Lodwar. Fly540 operates through the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport while ALS operates through Wilson Airport in Nairobi.
Both airlines fly into Lodwar Airport.
Turkana County Accommodation
Turkana County offers accommodation of various kinds; from lodges to camps and camp sites.
Some of the top facilities include Eliye Springs Camp and Lodge, Desert Rose Lodge, Lake Turkana Lodge, Oasis Lodge and Lobolo Tented Camp – the first permanent tented camp in Turkana County.
Turkana County Guest Information
Turkana County is currently served by three commercial banks; Kenya Commercial Bank, Equity Bank and Post Bank.
The county has several micro finances serving the local residents including KWFT, Kadet Micro-Finance, Elimu Sacco and Turkana Teachers Sacco.
The Turkana people are renowned for their basket weaving skills. Their beautiful baskets and other crafts are available in villages, shopping centres and towns around the county.
Lodwar has several supermarkets including Naipa and Kassmatt serving the shopping needs of the people of the town and its environs.
There are several livestock marketing centres along the main highway linking Kenya and South Sudan.
Most of the animals marketed in these centres are consumed locally in the county, although Nairobi and Kitale are also great markets for goats and cattle.
Lake Turkana Northern Kenya Information Contacts;
Booking Office Tel: + 254 718-179-967
Mobile/ Whatsapp : + 254 721-242-711
Mobile : + 254 780-242-711