If you’re the kind of traveler that loves a bit of adventure, this article will help you plan a getaway to Lake Turkana’s Eliye Springs Beach and the spectacular Central Island National Park.
Lake Turkana (aka Jade Sea or Lake Rudolf) is the world’s largest permanent desert lake and the world’s largest alkaline lake. It has 3 National Parks listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites: Sibiloi National Park (Eastern Shore), Central Island National Park and South Island national park.
Bucketlist Adventures put together a reasonable flying package to Lodwar then Eliye Springs Beach. This trip had us throwing out all those stereotypes about Northern Kenya. Get ready to unlearn and relearn.
Planning your Travel
To get to the Western side of Lake Turkana from Nairobi, you can either go by road or by air. Road options are many, but you can do Nairobi-Kitale on one day and Kitale-Lodwar-Eliye on another day. The Kitale – Lodwar section road is not the best but this could change in the future.
The distance from Lodwar to Eliye is about 65 km (70+ depending on route) and could take you from 1.5 hours to 2 hours depending on route and speed. There are a number of seasonal rivers so you should plan for those in the rainy season.
The whole stretch is off-road and won’t feel like much if you have a fun crew and an interesting driver (felt like a desert safari to us). There will be plenty of camels and goats and a few manyattas here and there, but its mostly sparse semi desert vegetation.
I will discuss the options by air since it is what I have used, and because it will save you travel days so you spend more time at the Lake.
To get to Eliye Springs Beach on the Western shore of Lake Turkana, you can fly from Nairobi Wilson to Lodwar, then take a land cruiser (or any 4×4 vehicle) to Eliye Springs Beach (approx 70km). Hotels or tour operators can arrange for this. (Eliye Springs Resort mentioned Ksh. 6,000 to 10,000 per car, and a 6 seater chartered flight would cost about Ksh. 32,000 from Lodwar to Eliye)
You can fly from Nairobi Wilson to Lodwar via Skyward Express or Fly Safari Link (I couldn’t find flight info for Fly 540)
Skyward Express flies from Nairobi Wilson to Lodwar via Eldoret. Flight costs approx Ksh. 8,500 one way (Ksh. 17,000 return). Flight time is 1 hour 45 minutes including stopover (approx 1 hour 15 minutes without stopover), and there’s an option of a morning and afternoon flight depending on the day. (as at Oct 2017)
Skyward Express morning flights: Nairobi Wilson to Lodwar (0730hrs – 0915hrs); Lodwar to Nairobi Wilson (0930hrs -1115hrs). Afternoon flights: Nairobi Wilson to Lodwar (1400hrs – 1515hrs); Lodwar to Nairobi Wilson (1600hrs – 1745hrs
Safari Link has 5x weekly flights from Wilson to Lodwar via Kapese. Flight costs about Ksh. 10,000 ($96.39) one way and flight time is approximately 1 hour 45 minutes. The return flight is a direct flight from Lodwar to Wilson and takes 1 hour 20 minutes at the same price of Ksh. 10,000. (as at Oct 2017)
Accommodation at the Western Shore
Accommodation at Eliye Springs Beach will mostly be in tents, manyattas, bomas or simple rooms. The options are more about adventure than they are about luxury, so you may find that bomas (self contained huts) cost more than rooms. The options will be decent, clean and well maintained, but do not expect high end or lavish facilities.
It gets really hot during the day so your tent will be like an oven and you won’t spend much time there, but the nights are cool and you can watch the night skies and relish in the refreshing breeze. Besides, the camps and resorts have bars or common areas in the shade where you have meals and drinks and listen to music. You can then spend the rest of your free time chilling in the Lake Turkana waters!
The camps mostly use solar for lighting (and have back up generators) so you can charge electronic equipment ( do bring a stabilizer* if you can). The mobile network is fairly okay for calls/texts, but you may need to restart your phone several times to use apps that need internet (or try late nights and early mornings)
This is one of the newest Camps at Eliye Beach, and it is where we stayed during our trip. The accommodation option currently available is a tent, which comes with a mattress, pillow and a set of sheets (ditto!). On the upper end of the camp, there’s a washrooms block ( toilet, bathrooms with shower, sinks with mirrors) that is shared. (There’s an open roof makuti walls shower that I loved to use in that heat). Water is cold/warm from the sun, and you want it that way because of the heat outside.
Three things I particularly loved about Jade Sea Camp –
- The Food!
We generally looked forward to meal times in a way I cannot explain. The meals felt like home cooked meals made with love, and our crew cleared plates so well they didn’t need much washing after. There was variety as well and meals came with a side of vegetables and a fruit. In a span of 2 days, we had rice, ugali, and chapati, served with chicken stew, fish stew/dry, beef stew and more fish. For breakfast, there was white/black tea or chocolate, served with mandazi, bread, eggs, sausages and a fruit. The meals made our stay feel so homely.
Jade Sea Camp is a pretty new camp, and they understand good service and doing things differently. There weren’t many people on site but they tended to us very well, and especially at meal times.
I took a nap at some point on Saturday evening after a heavy meal, and it felt like I was on an air bed on the lake, rocking to the waves of water (could have been a dream) 😂. Look, I don’t like camping (must be the sleeping bags) , but the one person tents with mattresses made it so comfortable, I’d do it again and again. I’m not too tall 😄 so the height of the tent wasn’t a problem, but you’ll not spend much time in the tent anyway unless you’re sleeping or dressing.
There is a small bar where you can lounge over a drink and charge devices. You can buy water at the camp during your stay (sh. 50-100), and you should carry basic toiletries to use and maybe some snacks (can buy at Lodwar). For Pricing and Reservations, Check out the Facebook Page Jade Sea Camp or call/text Angela +254 706 505604.
Eliye Springs is right next to Jade Sea Camp and it is one of the oldest resorts at the Beach. It is referred to as “Kwa Mzungu” by the locals owing to its white ownership.
Eliye Springs Resort offers Rooms, Bomas (manyatta with private bathroom, own fence and verandah with sun chairs) and Manyattas (with shared bathroom) in addition to Tented accommodation. The Rooms are pretty standard – a simple bed or two, a table and an adjoined washroom.
A lot of guests who are out for an adventure prefer the Bomas (self contained manyattas) because of the unique experience. For this reason, accommodation in Bomas is more expensive than in rooms.
Eliye Springs Resort has a swimming pool that’s basically a collection of spring waters from Eliye Springs. It is described as a natural pool and photographs very well, but it is apparently not very popular with local guests partly because of the algae.
Our friends who swam there estimate that it’s about six feet deep and provides for a refreshing swim. Eliye Springs Resort has more activities having been around for longer, but you can pay for the day facilities even when staying at other camps.
For more details on pricing and reservations, please visit the website via this link: Pricing and Reservations
Napak Tented Camp is along the Lake Turkana shore just a walking distance from Eliye Springs and it provides accommodation in tents as well.
Kristine Camp Eliye offers accommodation in tents that come with a mattress and beddings and separate bathrooms and toilets for men and women.
This is a hotel in Lodwar (not at the Lake Turkana Eliye Beach like camps above), but you can check it out if you have spare time in Lodwar. Accommodation costs about $100 and charged for swimming are Ksh. 500 for adults and Ksh. 300 for children.
- Day trip to Central Island National Park
Central Island National Park is about an hours boat ride away from Eliye Springs Beach. The excursion involved hiking up the rocks to see the 3 crater lakes – Crocodile Lake, Tilapia Lake and Flamingo Lake, which are breeding grounds for the world’s largest concentration of Nike crocodiles.
Central Island is beautiful!!! We had a bit of adventure when it rained heavily on our boat trip, but the views made the drenching all worth it.
Small boats (5-6 seaters) cost Ksh. 18,000 for the Central Island day trip, while the bigger ones (6-8 seater) cost about Ksh. 32,000. Best to go with a crew of at least 6 so you split the cost.
- Swim in Lake Turkana
A swim at the Lake feels like an ocean swim, except that the water is fresh.
It’s shallow for quite a distance from the shore and the tide is generally not rough. Sometimes you don’t even want to swim but given the heat, you’d rather chill inside the water.
- Catch sunrise at the beach
- Play Beach volleyball at Eliye Springs Beach
- Chill by the beach
- Boat rides / Jet skiing
- Tour of Lodwar town/ Hike up Mt Lodwar
You can go on a boat ride / rent out Jet Skiis at Eliye Springs Resort
- Hike up to the Lodwar Shrine (mirror image of Christ the Redeemer monument in Rio, Brazil)
This is in Lodwar town, and you can do it on your first or last day. Hike up and learn some history.
- Go clubbing in Lodwar
Lodwar has an active nightlife do if you’re there during the night, do check out Marble, The Lounge and Antidote!
- Go on a fishing excursion in Lake Turkana
- Ask your camp manager for more activities
Random Travel Tips
- Meal Plan
Most of the camps will offer Bed & Breakfast, Half Board and Full Board options. Unless you plan to be away during the day and have reservations for meals elsewhere, my recommendation would be to pay for Full Board. This helps hotels plan for all your meals during the stay and they can cater to special requests (eg, if you’re vegetarian)
In addition, the restaurants at the beach are linked to hotels and I don’t remember seeing stand alone food outlets. The town at the Beach is much much smaller than Lodwar (65+ km away) so Full Board plan will save you a lot of hustle(well, unless you want to discover places in that heat)
Drinks – the camps and resorts have bars where they sell a variety of alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks. You can call in advance to ask about the selection available.
If you’re flying from Wilson for the first time, note that although the Departure Lounge is near the entrance, you need to go further in to the Airline offices first to check in and get a boarding pass, then use the airline shuttles to come back to Departures.
Please note the flight information above is provided as a guide and is subject to change at the discretion of the airline and subject to availability. At your time of travel, please check the airline websites linked below for up to date information.
- Dress code
It is generally very hot (but bearable) , so bring out your summer clothes and swimming costumes. The nights are cooler so long sleeved tops and bottoms will help (also keep off mosquitoes) but no need for sweaters.
For the hike to Central Island, loose fitting shorts/trousers and simple hiking shoes will do.
- People and Culture
It helps to be a bit decent if you’re walking around the town, but no need to overdress in that heat.
Be respectful of the people and their culture, don’t take photos of people without asking. The people are generally very friendly, but should you meet any intolerant ones just back off and don’t engage.
Have water with you nearly everywhere (or have it easily accessible) as it can get really hot. Energy bars or snacks like cakes, biscuits, juices can help keep your energy up especially if you’re hiking on Central Island or between mealtimes.
- Sun hats, sunscreen, caps – carry anything to help cope with the sun
- Mosquito repellant – very important for the nights
While it is possible to plan your own trip to Northern Kenya, it helps to have local guides and contacts to help move around. Bucketlist Adventures Kenya and Turn Up Travel (links below) can organize group packages so just reach out when you’re ready/ join upcoming trips like I did.