Lake Naivasha is a stunning freshwater lake, approximately 13 kilometres wide and situated in the beautiful Rift Valley. The waters are relatively shallow for the most part, averaging just five metres in depth.
According to Kenya’s Tourism Board, at the beginning of the 20th Century, Lake Naivasha completely dried up and almost disappeared. The land was then farmed, until heavy rains came a few years later, washing away the farms and reforming the lake. Hailed as the Rift Valley’s highest lake (1,884 metres above sea level), Naivasha was derived from a Maasai name (Nai’posha), meaning ‘rough water’ – symbolic of storms that can arise in the area, creating waves in the water.
Naivasha is around 2 hours drive to the north west of Nairobi, which makes it accessible as a day trip or as a short-break if you are staying in Kenya’s capital.
A collection of images from our family trip in December 2016. Images copyright Ayaan Chitty.
Having visited Naivasha several times, I have come to love its peaceful charm. A world away from the bustling streets of Nairobi, it’s somewhere you can visit time and time again and never get bored of the magic it offers. I’ve put together this short guide, aimed at providing you with some inspiration and assisting you in planning a trip.
Getting to Naivasha
The easiest way to get to Naivasha is by car or by using a well-reputed tour company. You can find tour companies by asking at your hotel, within shopping malls and also via the Internet. Make sure that you look closely at reviews and do thorough research if you are planning to book via the Internet, to ensure you use the right company. Many tour operators will also be able to organise private tours too, to provide extra flexibility and comfort.
If you travel via your own hire vehicle, it is a fairly easy and enjoyable drive with tarmac roads all the way from Nairobi. Some of the tracks in and around Naivasha can be a little on the rough side, but there’s no need for a 4×4 for most purposes (if you are planning to drive through any of the National Parks, I would recommend one).
I would advise you to allow sufficient time to drive carefully and enjoy the scenery along the way. Also, it would be worth observing caution when driving past the escarpment where, although hazardous, it is not uncommon to find vehicles overtaking each other quite daringly.
Travelling from Nairobi on the main road to Naivasha (A104), you will pass the Rift Valley Viewpoint, commonly referred to as the ‘escarpment’. Most tours will make a stop here to allow you to enjoy the stunning views across the vast Rift Valley. It’s an ideal spot to take a few pictures. There are also a few curio shops too but the prices will be on the high side. Also consider if somebody offers to take photos of you, it is fair to leave a small tip (about KES 200 or USD 2 would be considered reasonable for such a service).
An alternative route, is to use the Narok Road (B3) at the Limuru junction and then take the Old Naivasha Road (C88). This route also has a viewing point across the Rift Valley and passes by Mount Longonot on the left side before arrival in Naivasha.
The route from Nairobi to Naivasha. Image copyright Google.
Rift Valley Viewpoint is a great photo spot en-route to Naivasha. Image copyright Ayaan Chitty.
There are several small curio shops at Rift Valley Viewpoint. Image copyright Ayaan Chitty.
Best Time to Visit
Timing your visit to Lake Naivasha shouldn’t be too onerous. Whilst it is easily accessible throughout the year, there’s a few general guidelines that may help with your planning.
The long, cool dry season (which runs from July to October) is an optimum time for balanced weather and wildlife sightings. During these months, weather is warm and pleasant, without stifling heat. You should consider that Naivasha and many other places are usually at peak in August, as it coincides with many school breaks and the annual wildebeest migration, which occurs in the Maasai Mara at this time of year.
As a general guide, short rains occur at the end of October through to December. January and February are the hottest months, before the long rains arrive from April through June. During the changing of seasons, weather can be a little erratic.
During the wetter months, Naivasha will generally be quieter and whilst wildlife may be more dispersed, the flora and fauna is very lush. It can still be very pleasant to visit; we visited for a long weekend in December and despite the odd, sporadic down-pour, we still had pretty good wildlife sightings.
During and after periods of heavy rains, it is advisable to avoid Hell’s Gate National Park, which is close by. On a few occasions, unexpected flash floods have occurred in the park, claiming lives of visitors and tour guides.
Nature and Wildlife
Naivasha is a beautiful natural haven, with many species of birds and wildlife attracted to the lakeside and surrounding areas. Buffalo, antelope, giraffe, warthogs, zebra, vervet and colobus monkeys and hippo are frequently spotted. There are also leopards in the area but they are very elusive.
Crescent Island, Hell’s Gate and Mount Longonot are good places for viewing wildlife but it’s common to see giraffe and various other animals wandering around the various lakeside trees, along the roads and even from many of the resorts or campsites.
The lake is surrounded by swamp, marshes and forest.
The main wildlife to be cautious of are hippo and buffalo. Be aware that hippo generally come out of the water after dusk and should not be approached. You will see many warning signs and lodges and campsites may put restrictions in place to prevent any attacks. However, it can be interesting to watch them and take pictures from a distance.
Wildebeest at Crescent Island. Image copyright Ayaan Chitty.
Giraffe and other wildlife can be seen wandering around the shores of Lake Naivasha. Image copyright Ayaan Chitty.
Be aware that hippos come onto land after dusk. Pay attention to any warning signs. Image copyright Ayaan Chitty.
Places to Visit
There’s no shortage of things to do in Naivasha and the surrounding area. Close by are two other lakes; Oloidien, and Crater Lake. If there’s not enough for you to do at Lake Naivasha, there are also two National Parks close by – Hell’s Gate and Longonot National Parks, which are both within easy reach. Slightly further afield, is Kigio Wildlife Conservancy and Lake Elementaita.
Being a vast lake, one of the best ways to explore Naivasha is by boat. You will find most lodges and campsites have organised boat safaris, allowing you to view the best of the lake and its inhabitants.
Their website calls it “Naivasha’s best-kept secret” and it truly lives up to that reputation. This is a magical private island sanctuary, where you can walk freely among the wildlife, including giraffes, wildebeest, zebra, impala and water bucks. You are also spoiled for vast species of bird, including pelicans, cormorants and fish eagles as well as hundreds of other smaller bird species. The islands can be accessed via boat or by car via Sanctuary Farm. You can enjoy walks (guides are available) and picnic on the island. The island is popular with film crews too, since there are more animals per acre than any other Kenyan Park. Hippos come ashore at night, so for the safety of visitors, you are required to leave the island by 6pm.
If I could only make a day trip to Naivasha, then Crescent Island would be top of my list.
Now a lodge and museum, Elsamere is the former holiday home of Joy Adamson. Joy became famous for the book Born Free, which later also became the basis of a popular film. The story is about how, together with her husband, Joy hand raised Elsa, a young lion cub. The couple taught Elsa how to survive for herself in the wild. Today, the lodge also offers meals, boat trips and excursions.
Located close to Lake Naivasha, Lake Oloiden was also once a freshwater lake but became saline in the late 1990’s, drawing flocks of the beautiful lesser flamingos to its waters. Due to climate changes and a reduction in the water salinity, the lake has seen a significant decline in these birds in recent years. It’s still an interesting place to visit, with boat safaris, sightings of many birds and hippos, as well as fishing. Surrounded by wildlife and acacia trees, Oloiden is perfect for walks and is one of the few stretches of public land in the area allowing you to walk close to the lake.
Kigio Wildlife Conservancy
One of the best ways to explore Naivasha is by a boat safari. Image copyright Ayaan Chitty.
Crescent Island can be accessed via Sanctuary Farm. Image copyright Ayaan Chitty.
Visitors can enjoy walks through Crescent Island. Image copyright Ayaan Chitty.
Hell’s Gate National Park
Named for it’s intense geothermal activity and recognised as one of Kenya’s most atmospheric parks, Hell’s Gate is a just a stone’s throw from Naivasha. The park boasts cliffs, gorges, rock towers, covered volcanoes and geothermal steam. Visitors come here to enjoy mountain biking, rock climbing and of course, viewing wildlife. Buffalo, zebra, eland, gazelle and baboons, as well as many birds grace the park.
Mount Longonot can be seen from the Old Naivasha Road, which runs between Naivasha and Nairobi. The park is most famous for the extinct volcano of Mount Longonot, which features a forest inside its crater. The crater rim also provides great scenic views across the beautiful Rift Valley to Lake Naivasha.
Lava flows last occurred here in 1863 and further activity was reported in the mid 20th century. In 2009, 4,600 hectares of bush land was destroyed by fires and in 2012, there was panic amid rumours of possible eruptions, which were later proven to be a false alarm.
Olkaria Geothermal Spa
Featuring three cascading lagoons, Olkaria is known to be the largest geothermal spa in Africa. Formed from the area’s volcanic activity, the spa is specially constructed to offer visitors an opportunity to relax and enjoy the tranquility of the warm waters in a natural setting. Water temperatures range from 90oC to 35oC across the three pools.
Situated between Lake Naivasha and Lake Nakuru, lies Lake Elementaita, another alkaline lake within Kenya’s vast Rift Valley. Elementaita was formed approximately 12 million years ago and most of the lake is now part of the private 48,000 acre Soysambu Conservancy. Part of the UNESCO Kenya Lake System World Heritage Site, the area is inhabited by colobus monkeys, endangered Rothschild giraffes, larger predators and game. The lake also features flamingos and pelicans but numbers fluctuate, subject to changing conditions and food sources. Like the other lakes in the area, Elementaita is a natural haven for many species of birds, and home to an estimated 450 species, including migratory birds from Europe.
The area features grasslands, acacia forest and similar volcanic hills to the other areas in the Rift Valley. Craters, lava flows and the Kekopey hot springs are reflective of the areas volcanic history.
Hell’s Gate National Park is close by. Image copyright Ayaan Chitty.
Naivasha is rich in wildlife. Image copyright Ayaan Chitty.
Zebra can be observed grazing at Crescent Island. Image copyright Ayaan Chitty.
Naivasha has a good variety of accommodation to suit all budgets. From the 5 star Enashipai Resort, luxury tented camps and a host of other campsites, you will find something suitable for your budget and preference. As a family, we have visited several places and I have made a couple of recommendations below, based purely on our own experiences.
Enashipai resort is a multi award-winning, luxury resort set within acres of private gardens, close to Lake Naivasha. It is a true paradise escape and a world away from the busy city life in Nairobi. You will feel relaxed and at home here. The large resort features villa style accommodation in various styles, a restaurant serving delicious Kenyan and international cuisine, bars and a coffee lounge. There is also play facilities for children, a large pool, gym, a spa, conference facilities and even a nightclub. The resort is a popular location for weddings, due to it’s beautiful location and backdrop of Lake Naivasha. In the evening, you can safely watch the hippos come ashore close to the lake, under the watchful eye of a guard. If you are a guest here, the hotel offers boat trips and other excursions to suit you needs.
Great Rift Valley Lodge and Golf Resort
Built at 7,000 feet on the Eburru, a mountain that the Maasai call Ol Donyo Opurru (meaning mountain of smoke), you will benefit from stunning panoramic views across Lake Naivasha, Mount Longonot and sometimes, even across to the Aberdare Mountains.
Sopa is set in 150 acres of grassland, surrounded by acacia trees. There are resident giraffes, water buck, monkeys and of course, hippo that come ashore of an evening.
There are 84 rooms, split between smaller villas within the grounds, featuring different configurations to suit your needs and options for inter-connecting rooms or disabled access. The beautiful resort features a large swimming pool (including a children’s section) with bar, snack kitchen and pizzeria. There is also a health spa, tennis court, conference facilities and stables. There is a large restaurant featuring a delicious mix of continental, Swahili (Kenyan Coast) and Mediterranean cuisines, fresh breads and fresh fruits.
Catering for families on more of a budget or who prefer camping as an option, as opposed to luxury resort style. Carnelleys features a camp site and also offers comfortable budget rooms with en-suite bathroom. Bedding, blankets, lamps and mosquito nets.
The campsite is situated on the lakeside and features hot showers, clean toilets and fresh water. Although we haven’t stayed at Carnelleys, we usually come to visit Lazybones restaurant – see below and have walked around the camp a few times. I would love to try 1 or 2 nights camping here on a future visit, as everyone always looks relaxed and chilled.
There’s plenty more options if you wanted to take a look at alternatives. The following are some of the popular choices but I would recommend to do your research, considering your budget, preferred style, location, proximity to the lake and look at a cross-section of reviews before deciding on where to stay.
Pool area at Enashipai, Naivasha. Image copyright Ayaan Chitty.
Lounge and dining area of a villa at Great Rift Valley Resort. Image copyright Ayaan Chitty.
Lazybones at Carnelleys has a relaxing and natural ambiance. Image copyright Ayaan Chitty.
The Best Food @ Camp Carnelley’s
So, I thought about which places I would recommend for food. To be honest, all of the hotels and camps have a places to eat – usually some form of hot buffet, which is generally pretty good. The larger resorts such as Enashipai have a variety of options for guests.
But I have one place in mind if you fancy something different. It’s somewhere that we always go to – often multiple times in one trip and sometimes opting to drive there in place of the resort buffet!
Lazybones restaurant (and bar, for those who drink) at Camp Carnelley’s is a relaxing, chilled out place to enjoy a late lunch or early evening meal. The food is exceptional quality and very reasonable (the wood-fired pizzas are our firm favourite). It has a fabulous holiday feel, with colourful cushions and a relaxing, natural ambiance.
Specials menu at Camp Carnelley’s. Image copyright Ayaan Chitty.
The restaurant cooks fresh wood-fired pizzas. Images copyright Ayaan Chitty.
With the relatively short distance from Nairobi, but feeling like you’re a world away from the hustle and bustle, Naivasha makes a fantastic day trip or short break. It can also be a great add on option or stop off for many of Kenya’s safari destinations, such as the Maasai Mara, Nakuru National Park or the Aberdares National Park.
There’s so many happy memories that I have from our visits to Naivasha but still lots more I want to see – and many more photographs to capture! I hope that this post has given you some inspiration and that you will consider putting Naivasha on your list of places to visit while in Kenya!
Please let me know if you have any questions or comments via the comments box below, I would be very happy to hear from you. If you have been to Naivasha and would like to add anything, please do post a comment below.
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