The Great Rift Valley

The Great Rift Valley is the world’s longest valley running from the Red Sea southwards through Ethiopia, East Africa, Malawi and Mozambique, covering a distance of 5000 kms.  Africa’s Great Rift Valley  reveals itself with breathtaking beauty in Kenya.  It runs North-South almost the entire length of the country.

The Rift Valley is characterized by uninhabitable desert and fertile farmland, flat arid plains and steep escarpments, with a string of alkaline and fresh waters lakes.

The first lake approached from Nairobi is the fresh water Lake Naivasha.  It is the highest lake of the Great Rift Valley and an important ornithological treasure with over 400 different species of birds recorded. The lake’s fresh water supports the largest area of horticulture and floriculture farming.  The parks in the area include Mt. Longonot National Park and Hells Gate National Park. For the active visitor Mt. Longonot is perfect for hiking.  Hells Gate is famous for its natural hot geysers and its cliffs are breeding grounds for vultures, Verreaux’s eagles and thousands of swifts.  It is possible to walk, cycle and rock climb in this park.

Beyond Naivasha is the soda lake Elementaita.  Lake Elementaita attracts large number of flamingos as well as Great White Pelicans.

Driving north-westerly is the renowned Lake Nakuru National Park, home to huge flocks of flamingos and other water birds.  Ringing this alkaline lake are belts of the tall yellow barked ‘Fever Trees’ (Acacia xanthophloea).  The Park is also a sanctuary to huge numbers of  waterbucks, warthogs, impalas, buffalo, Rothschild giraffes, elands, endangered black rhinos, white rhinos and is reputably one of the best places to spot leopard.

Next in the line of lakes is the alkaline lake Bogoria nestled at the foot of the Laikipia escarpment.  Thousands of lesser flamingos congregate at Lake Bogoria amid its geysers and hot springs.  The rugged faulted landscape and the chance of seeing Greater Kudu within the Lake Bogoria National Reserve are other great attractions.

Travelling further north is the second fresh water lake of the Great Rift Valley.  The muddy coloured Lake Baringo lies in the shallow basin between the Laikipia escarpment and the Tugen Hills.  It is one of the world’s most renowned bird areas, with more than 470 bird species recorded. The surrounding imposing cliffs are important nesting sites for many raptor species.  The lake also supports large populations of Nile crocodile and hippos.

Lake Turkana is the northernmost and by far the largest of the chain of Rift Valley lakes in Kenya.  Lying in Kenya’s far hot and arid Northern Frontier, the lake is home to the largest single population of Nile crocodiles.  Lake Turkana’s stark and tortured landscape is the result of millions of years of volcanic activity. Lake Turkana National Parks  include the Sibiloi National Park on the lake’s eastern shores, Central Island National Park and South Island National Park. Some of Kenya’s most remote communities live a semi-nomadic existence around the Lake including the Turkana, the Gabbra, the El Molo and the Rendille. For the intrepid traveller, this land of harsh conditions, spectacular scenery, remarkable cultures and archaeological treasures is  an adventure to be experienced.

The Mau escarpment and the Cherangani Hills form the western wall of the Rift Valley while the Aberdare mountains form the easternmost wall of the Great Rift Valley with Mt. Kenya dominating the Kenyan highlands east of the Rift.  The Aberdare National Park and the Mt. Kenyan National Park lie in the Central Highlands of Kenya.  At 5,199m, Mt Kenya is the second highest peak in Africa and a challenge to keen mountain climbers. Both the Aberdare Mountains and Mt. Kenya are important water catchment areas for the Tana and the Northern Ewaso Nyiro Rivers.

The waters of the great Ewaso Nyiro River in the arid north of Kenya draw wildlife in great numbers to its bank.  Three national reserves are situated along its bank namely Samburu, Buffalo Springs and Shaba.  The Samburu and Buffalo Springs national reserves lie on either side of the Ewaso Nyiro river and the Shaba National Reserve lies on the southern bank of the Ewaso Nyiro river.  The region is characterized by semi-arid, open savannah plains  broken by small rugged hills with bands of doum palm forests scattered along the banks of the river.  The reserves are home to large herds of elephants and the best place to see Gerenuk, Oryx, Reticulated Giraffe and Grevys Zebra.  Birdlife is abundant and colourful with a combination of species of the arid northern bush country and riverine forest species.

The region is inhabited by the colourful Samburu people who share the language and the cultural heritage of the Maasai.

Neighbouring the Samburu region is the Laikipia district.  The Laikipia plains stretch from the Great Rift Valley to the magnificent escarpments which descend into Kenya’s wild Northern rangelands. Much of Laikipia is covered by privately owned ranches and conservancies offering solitude, freedom and space for visitors to walk, ride and cycle among wildlife and wild landscapes which range from snowy peaks of Mt. Kenya to the edge of the Great Rift Valley.