A bird lover’s paradise, Lake Nakuru National Park got its name from the Maasai word Nakuru which translates to “Dusty or Dusty place”.
Located on the floor of the Great Rift Valley in Nakuru district of the Rift Valley Province, Lake Nakuru National Park is flanked by rocky escarpments, pockets of forest, wooded and bushy grasslands and at least one waterfall, making the park strikingly amazing all year-round.
The park covers 73 square miles equivalent to 188 square kilometers that not only includes the lake, but also the savannah, forests and swamps, also the southern end of the park encompasses a waterfall known as the Makalia Falls.
Travelers can enjoy an array of ecological diversity ranging from Lake Nakuru to the surrounding ridges and not forgetting the mesmerizing picturesque ridges within the park.
The park was established in 1961 as a bird sanctuary hosting over 400 species of birds including 5 globally threatened species, and is an important stopover for birds on the African-Eurasian Migratory Flyway.
The park started off small encircling only Lake Nakuru and the surrounding mountainous vicinity but since its inception the park has been expanded to cover large parts of the savannah.
The park marches for 12.1 km on the south eastern boundary with the Soysambu conservancy which represents a possible future expansion of habitat for the endangered rhinos and the only remaining wildlife corridor to Lake Naivasha.
The park got its fame and glamour as a bird’s lovers paradise largely due to the astronomical numbers of flamingos present in the park, the flamingos can number from thousands to millions nesting on the shores of Lake Nakuru.
There are two types of flamingo species; the lesser flamingo and the greater flamingo, the lesser flamingo can be distinguished from its counterpart due to its deep red carmine bill and pink plumage while the greater flamingo has a bill with a black tip and a white plumage.
The lesser flamingo is the abundant specie within the park and are commonly pictured in wildlife documentaries.
The number of flamingos has been decreasing recently, perhaps due to too much tourism, pollution or simply because of changes in water quality which makes the lake temporarily unwelcoming.
Usually, the lake recedes during the dry season and floods during the wet season.
Lake Nakuru National Park also offers a safe haven to huge numbers of native African animals including waterbucks, warthogs, impalas, buffalo, Rothschild giraffes, elands, endangered black rhinos and white rhinos.
A large herd of hippos have a territory in the northern part of the lake, among the predators of the park are Maasai lions, cheetahs and leopards, the latter being seen much more frequently in recent times.
The park also has large sized pythons that inhabit the dense woodlands, and can often be seen crossing the roads or dangling from trees making the area interesting for game viewing.
The most notable absentee is the African Elephant which cannot be support within the park because Lake Nakuru National Park was fenced to protect endangered Rhinos and Giraffes.
HOW TO GET THERE – Lake Nakuru
The park is located about 156 kilometers Northwest of Nairobi and 4 km from Nakuru town.
From Nairobi to Nakuru via the Nairobi-Nakuru highway, a traveler will have a great view of the Great Rift Valley so it is advisable to drive slowly and enjoy the scenery.
The park can be accessed by either air or road, due to the well-established and maintained roads and the majority of the different sections of the park are accessible throughout the year.
The park is reachable through the following gates; the Main Gate and the Lanet Gate, that link the park with the Nairobi-Nakuru highway and the less-used Nderit Gate.
The Lanet Gate via the Nderit Gate is mainly used by travelers from the Masaai Mara or Elementaita.
Two-wheel drive vehicles can travel most parts of the park while the less travelled parts of the park and most viewpoint hills will require a four-wheel drive vehicle to get there.
A traveler can either choose to use their own vehicle, take public transport, or book an open-topped minibus or safari van tour with a tour guide.
By air it is a 25 minutes flight from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi to the Naishi airstrip within the park. Also chartered light aircrafts land at the airstrip within the park.
Best time to visit Lake Nakuru National Park
Lake Nakuru National Park is officially classified as dry sub-humid to semi-arid, which basically means it’s not too wet and not too dry, or too hot or cold.
The climate in this area is really beautiful, travelers won’t fry in the sun here like they would in Amboseli or Tsavo.
You are likely however, to get rained on. Late afternoon is the most common time for rain showers. If a traveler wants the best chance of avoiding these rains, consider coming sometime between July to December and January to March.
However, avoiding the rain is not guaranteed, even during these drier months. Also, these months are in the peak tourism season, so the park will be very crowded with tourist vehicles.
If the traveler doesn’t mind a little rain and wants to avoid the crowd, one should consider visiting in December or April to June and it’s also cheaper to visit the park at this time so one can actually save up some money.
Another good thing about this is that the park is fenced, so even during the wet months one will see wildlife because they do not migrate away from the park.
The best months to visit are June to September and January to March. However the rainy seasons are generally not as wet as other areas and the roads are good year-round.
ATTRACTIONS, BIRDS WATCHING SAFARI AND THINGS TO DO – Lake Nakuru
Bird Watching On Lake Nakuru
The major factor that makes the park famous and one of rare breeding grounds for the flamingos and an array of bird species is the never ending presence of algae on Lake Nakuru which is a major source of food for these birds.
Lake Nakuru is part and parcel of the Great Rift Valley Lake System at an elevation of 1754 meters above sea level, the lake has also been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The warm, shallow and high saline waters of the lake make it the ideal growing ground for the blue and green algae, the lake is also surrounded by a grassland of highly adaptable alkaline grasses making it the ideal feeding ground for birds.
The lake is fed by three main rivers; the Njoro, the Makalia and the Enderit rivers, as well as other several springs.
Its abundance of algae attracts a vast legion of flamingos that make the surface of the shallow lake hardly recognizable due to the continuous shifting mass of pink color that superbly line the shore.
The number of flamingos on the lake varies with water and food conditions and the best viewing points are from Baboon Cliff and Lion Hill.
At times on the lake due to favorable conditions, there can be up to two million greater and lesser flamingoes, scientists estimate that the flamingo population at Lake Nakuru consumes about 250,000 kg of algae per hectare of surface area per year!
For the bird lovers, flamingos are not the only avian attraction that flourishes in the area, the lake is frequently canopied by pelicans, herons, storks, African Jacana and other wading birds.
Overhead, a traveler can see the distinct brown, black, white and bright yellow coloration of the African fish eagle looking for meaty carcass of flamingos while gliding on wings that span six to eight feet, also present in the park are two large fish eating birds, pelicans and cormorants. Other bird species in the area include;
African fish eagle, Goliath heron, hammerkop, pied kingfisher, Verreaux’s eagle, thousands of both little grebes and white winged black terns are frequently seen as are stilts, avocets, ducks, and in the European winter the migrant waders.
One of the most colorful birds at Lake Nakuru is the African pygmy kingfisher, as one of the smallest in the kingfisher family.
This little insect-eating bird is about five inches long, but the brilliant plumage that it possess, more than makes up for the small size of the body.
While not forgetting the plants in Lake Nakuru National Park, a traveler can be able to see a wide variety of beautiful landscapes from grasslands to dense forests, the very rare tarchonanthus bush lands and Africa’s largest euphorbia forests.
Game Viewing – Lake Nakuru
The park is also home to fifty six different species of mammals including an array of endangered creatures, the park is a haven for wildlife.
The National park has very good roads for game drives and some excellent viewpoints overlooking the lake from Baboon Cliff and Lion Hill for the picture perfect scenery.
Lake Nakuru National Park was the first national rhino sanctuary and it hosts one of the world’s largest concentration of Black Rhinoceros.
The other two endangered species are the Rothschild’s giraffes and the white rhinoceros, and it is for this reason that a traveler will see an electric fence around the park for which its purpose is not to restrict the movement of the animals but to keep them protected out of reach of poachers.
This three species have found great solace at Lake Nakuru National Park.
The Rothschild giraffe is also known by the names; the Baringo giraffe after Lake Baringo or the Ugandan giraffe, the distinguishable characteristics of the Rothschild giraffe is that they are much taller than the other population of giraffes in the wild, measuring up to 5.88 meters (19.3 feet) tall and also they have no markings on their lower legs making them seem like they are wearing socks.
All of the remaining Rothschild giraffes living in the wild are in protected areas in some areas of Kenya and Uganda.
A highly endangered species of Eastern Africa, the Black Rhino once located in Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania, and Kenya, as of 2010 they can only be found in Kenya (594 rhinos), Rwanda and in northern Tanzania (80 rhinos).
Their population however has plummeted to 90% in the last three generations. In 2010 their total numbers were estimated at 740 rhinos worldwide, they are threatened mainly from illegal poaching for their horn.
Hopefully the park now has more than 25 eastern black rhinoceros, one of the largest concentrations in the country, plus around 70 endemic southern white rhinos.
Game drives in the park will take a traveler into the woodlands where they may be able to sight the colobus and vervet monkeys who are known to be quite messy eaters, a habit that helps promulgate the forest trees and vegetation.
Thomson’s gazelles, impalas, Grant’s gazelles, waterbucks, reedbucks, buffalos and hippos are just some of the other herbivores found in the park.
The traveler should keep a constant watch over some of the prey animals such as the striped hyenas, lions, the rare wild cats, golden cats, wild dogs, pythons and other highly elusive predators.
The forested area below the Flamingo Hill is a favorite lion-spotting point where lionesses love to sleep in the trees while the leopards frequent the same area.
Travelers travelling to the park are guaranteed enough tales to narrate when they return back home after their trip.
Sundowner in the Park
The traveler can be able to sit back, relax and enjoy a cold beer, a well-aged red wine or an expertly made cocktail after a day’s dusty game drive while watching as the sun sets on Lake Nakuru National Park.
Nature Walks – Lake Nakuru
Lodges within the park offer guided walking safaris to those that are interested, with an armed ranger for the traveler’s protection and safe to explore the local area.
Guided nature walks offer the unique opportunity to explore the park and feel the African soil on the soles of one’s feet.
Mountain Biking and Horse Riding in the Park
Due to the varying terrains of the park, it is the ideal place for the traveler to go and explore the park either on a bike or a horse. Various lodges in the area have bikes and horses for hire at the traveler’s disposal.
ACCOMMODATIONS – Lake Nakuru
In the vicinity of Lake Nakuru National Park are various lodges, camps, hotels and guesthouses available to spend a night or two tales in Lake Nakuru.
The lodges at the park include Lake Nakuru Lodge, Merica Hotel and Sarova Lion Hill Lodge.
A traveler can also stay at Crater Lake Lodge in Naivasha, which is one of Kenya’s best tent camps and is only 30 kilometers from Lake Nakuru National Park.
There are two types of campsites on offer in the park namely special campsites and public campsites.
The special campsites are campsites that do not offer public facilities like washrooms, a dining place and are in a more secluded and surrounded by nature kind of campsites.
Travelers must have their own tents and all other supplies that they will need during the duration of the safari, but not to worry they are available for rent in the vicinity and the nearby town.
The special campsites therefore are; Naishi, Chui, Rhino, Soysambu, Nyati, Nyuki and Reedbuck while the public campsites include; Makalia and Backpacker campsites.
The only known guesthouse within the vicinity of the park is the Naishi Guesthouse.