At almost 1,900 m above sea level, Lake Naivasha is the Rift Valley’s highest lake. The glittering shores used to be home to Joy Adamson – the author of Born Free. And the 1987 classic ‘Out of Africa’ was filmed on Crescent Island in the middle of the lake. A short drive from Nairobi, it’s now a popular and accessible wildlife watching destination for day-trippers from the city. The lake is a mecca for birdwatching and provides a home to hundreds of grumpy hippos. While the swamps, grasslands, and woodlands around the lake support giraffe, zebra, and Cape buffalo.
It’s also a great place to access the nearby Hell’s Gate National Park and most day tours will include visits to both sites in one trip. Another gem in the area is Crater Lake set inside an extinct volcano’s crater – located on the south-east end of Lake Naivasha. There is a floating restaurant set on the saline lake where you can enjoy a four-course set meal. From the restaurant, you can embark on a stunning hiking trail around the crater’s edge with impressive views across Lake Naivasha and the surrounding area. The lake’s popularity means it can be a busy place with lots of boats and tourists, and it faces a number of conservation challenges around fishing, water use, and pollution.
Average rating: 4.3 (very good)
Average cost: access to the lake can be tricky as most of the water’s edge is owned by luxury hotels, flower farms, and private houses. Sanctuary Farm on the south side of the lake offers access to those not staying there for around $5 per person. From here you have access to the grounds and can walk among the wildlife. You can also access Crescent Island from here but will need to pay an additional entrance fee of around $30 per person. Alternatively, you can get a good view of the island from one of the boat rides in case you want to save some pennies. Boats can be arranged at most hotels and campsites surrounding the lake. Most tend to charge per boat so the more people, the cheaper the trip!
Best time to visit: wildlife watching is best during the long, cool dry season from July to October as the wildlife congregates near the remaining areas of water and the roads are in good condition.
How to get there: Lake Naivasha is around 2-hours drive from Nairobi and easily accessible by car, package tour, or even taxi. A train from Naivasha has recently opened up although the final stop is at Longonot. This means you have to arrange transport or take a matau to Naivasha. You can head to the southern end of the lake or the town itself.
Typical activities: 4×4 safari, animal watching, bike riding, bird watching, boat trip, hiking, horse riding, rock climbing
Number of reports: 4
WILDLIFE IN Lake Naivasha
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the species visitors most want to see here include:
Hippo – 100% of visitors (4/4) reported sightings
The lake is home to a population of around 400 hippos – so if you want to see these enormous creatures you have come to the right place! Taking a boat trip is an excellent way to see them close up – wallowing, half-submerged in the water. Boat trips can be organised from many of the lakeside lodges and campsites. At night they leave the water to graze on the lakeshore. At some lodges and campsites, you can see them grazing outside your windows or tents! Care needs to be taken as hippos are dangerous animals, and there have been several deaths recorded.
Giraffe – 50% of visitors (2/4) reported sightings
The world’s tallest mammal can be found in the area. The Maasai giraffe is the tallest subspecies of giraffe – reaching up to 5.5 metres tall! The Naivasha area is home to the northernmost population of Masai giraffe in Kenya. Cresent Island game sanctuary on the eastern side of the lake is a good place to see them. The terrain on the island is easy and walking safaris give you a chance to walk amongst the herds. This allows for some great close encounters with these incredible animals.
zebra – 75% of visitors (3/4) reported sightings
Lake Naivasha acts as a drinking hole for zebras, buffaloes, waterbucks, impalas, and a range of other grazers. Good grazing around the shoreline of the lake attracts large herds of zebras year-round. They are easily spotted grazing in the farms and expansive grounds of the lodges and campsites that line Moi South Lake Road. If you want to get close to zebras your best bet is to head on a walking tour around Crescent Island.
Cape buffalo – 25% of visitors (1/4) reported sightings
Cape buffalo can be seen year-round, spending their time grazing the floodplains around the lake. Both Sanctuary Farm and Cresent Island on the eastern side of the lake are good places to see them. A word of warning – Cape buffalos have a reputation for suffering a severe lack of humour, taking on anything they dislike. They can charge at great speed when they feel threatened – making them the most feared animal on any walking safari!
Photo credit: WildSide user Chris Eves