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Planning a safari in Kenya and wondering which lake is best to visit between Lake Naivasha and Lake Nakuru? In this comprehensive guide, we will compare and contrast these two iconic Great Rift Valley lakes to help you decide which one is right for your African adventure.
We’ll look at key factors like location, wildlife, activities, accommodations, and more. By the end, you’ll have all the information you need to determine whether Lake Naivasha or Lake Nakuru is the better fit for your safari itinerary.
Overview of Lake Naivasha
Lake Naivasha is a large, beautiful freshwater lake located in the Great Rift Valley of Kenya. Here are some quick facts about the lake:
- Location: 100km Northwest of Nairobi
- Size: 139 sq km surface area; over 200 sq km with surrounding swamps
- Depth: Ranges from 6m to 30m
- Type of Lake: Freshwater
- Known For: Hippos, beautiful birds, lake activities
As one of the few freshwater lakes in the Rift Valley, Lake Naivasha acts as an oasis amidst the arid landscape. It has become a popular weekend getaway spot for Nairobi residents and tourists alike looking to enjoy the lake’s beauty and serenity.
The lake is home to a variety of wildlife, most notably large populations of hippos who wallow in the shallow water. It also attracts over 400 species of birds, offering some of the best birdwatching in Kenya. The fertile lake is surrounded by flourishing agriculture, flower farms, geothermal plants, and lodges catering to visitors.
Lake Naivasha National Park
While there is no official national park designation, Lake Naivasha is bordered by protected land preserves and game reserves. The lake itself, along with the shoreline and nearby Crescent Island, serve as sanctuaries for wildlife including giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, impalas, and more.
Crescent Island is a top attraction, where visitors can walk among giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and other wildlife on guided nature walks. Since predators cannot access the island, it offers a safe yet exciting bushwalking experience.
Hell’s Gate National Park
Hell’s Gate National Park lies just south of Lake Naivasha. Despite its intimidating name, Hell’s Gate offers picturesque scenery featuring imposing cliffs, gorges, and grassy savannas.
Though Hell’s Gate has fewer dangerous predators compared to other Kenyan parks, visitors may still spot lions, leopards and small numbers of cheetahs while exploring the unique landscape. Other wildlife includes klipspringers, reedbucks, buffalos, gazelles, and plentiful bird species.
Hell’s Gate is one of only two national parks in Kenya where you can explore on foot and by bicycle. Activities include nature walks, rock climbing, boat rides, or visiting the geothermal power station located within the park.
Lake Naivasha Wildlife
As a freshwater lake ecosystem, Lake Naivasha harbors a diversity of wildlife species:
- Hippos: Large numbers gather near the lake
- Giraffes: Commonly sighted on the shore and islands
- Black and white Colobus monkeys
- Zebras, wildebeests, and impalas on Crescent Island
- Small populations of buffalo also roam near the lake
- Crocodiles: Up to 20 reside mostly at the river mouths
Over 400 bird species spotted at Lake Naivasha, including:
- African fish eagles
- Goliath heron
- And many more water birds and raptors
Popular activities to enjoy at Lake Naivasha include:
- Boat rides: Cruise across the calm waters for excellent wildlife viewing
- Nature walks: Bush walk on Crescent Island or Hell’s Gate for a walking safari experience
- Birdwatching: Spot over 400 bird species around the lake shore and on the islands
- Fishing trips
- Biking tours
- Horseback riding
- Hippo spotting: See families of hippos along the lake at night or early morning
Lake Naivasha offers a variety of accommodation options for visitors:
Luxury Lodges & Resorts
- Lake Naivasha Country Club
- Great Rift Valley Lodge & Golf Resort
- Naivasha Kongoni Lodge
Intimate Camps & Lodges
- Crater Lake Camp
- Olerai House
- Chui Lodge
From five-star resorts to small boutique retreats, Lake Naivasha features lodging for every budget and style. Most overlook stunning views of the lake within natural bush settings.
Overview of Lake Nakuru National Park
Lake Nakuru lies in its own designated national park about 160km Northwest of Nairobi. Here’s an overview:
- Location: Central Kenya, in the Great Rift Valley
- Size: Small park at 168 square kilometers
- Landscapes: Grasslands, woodlands, forested areas, the lake
- Known For: Flamingo flocks, black & white rhinos, lions, leopards, many bird species
As a protected national park, Lake Nakuru offers guided safari drives into the wilderness landscape that surrounds the lake. The park protects populations of black and white rhino, among Kenya’s highest densities.
Lake Nakuru Wildlife
Diverse wildlife inhabits the park’s grassy plains, forested areas, and lake shores:
- White rhinos: Among highest population densities in Africa
- Black rhinos
- Bohor reedbucks
- Rothschild’s giraffes: An endangered subspecies
- Small antelopes like duikers, klipspringers, oribis and more
Famous for its amazing bird spectacle, Lake Nakuru hosts millions of flamingos and 400+ bird species.
- Up to 2 million Lesser flamingos and Greater flamingos flock to the lake. When present, they completely blanket the lake in pink!
Other Water Birds and Raptors
- Great white and yellow-billed pelicans
- And many more!
Reptiles & Amphibians
The lake area contains pythons, cobras, monitor lizards, agama lizards and various frogs.
Acacia woodlands, euphorbia forests, and riverine forests provide tree cover, forage, and shade for wildlife.
Top things to do at Lake Nakuru National Park include:
- Wildlife safaris: Spot diverse species on game drives
- Birdwatching: View massive flamingo flocks and 400+ bird species
- Black rhino tracking: See these endangered giants up-close
- Walking safaris: Guided forest and bush walks available
- Night game drives: View nocturnal animal behavior after dark
- Picnic sites: Dine alongside beautiful lake views
Lake Nakuru National Park offers several lodges just outside the park boundaries:
- Sarova Lion Hill Game Lodge: Luxury option overlooking the lake
- Lake Nakuru Lodge: Lodge and tents amid acacia forest
- Lake Nakuru Sopa Lodge: Comfortable hotel-style lodging
- Mbweha Camp: Intimate tented camp on a private conservancy
Staying near the park allows easy access inside for wildlife viewing. Night stays inside the park are not permitted.
Lake Naivasha vs Lake Nakuru
Now let’s directly compare these two Rift Valley lakes:
|Soda lake (alkaline)
|100km NW of Nairobi
|160km NW of Nairobi
|139 sq km
|168 sq km (park area)
|Varies with rainfall; generally shallow
|Hippos, giraffes, zebras, over 400 bird species
|Rhinos, hippos, buffalo, lions, leopards, zebras, and massive flamingo flocks
|Grasslands, acacia woodlands, forests
|Open grasslands, forests, erupted craters, hot springs
|Boating, fishing, nature walks, horseback riding
|Game drives, bushwalks, birdwatching, picnics
|Lodges, country clubs, small boutique camps and retreats
|Lodges, tented camps just outside park
|Accessibility from Nairobi
|Easy 2 hour drive, very accessible
|Easy 2-3 hour drive
To summarize the key differences:
- Lake Naivasha offers a tranquil freshwater retreat with hippos and abundant birdlife, along with a variety of lodging and lake activities perfect for families.
- Lake Nakuru National Park promises exciting wildlife game drives and massive flamingo flocks within a protected wilderness setting better suited to hardcore safari enthusiasts.
So in deciding which lake to visit on your Kenyan safari, consider whether you prefer a relaxed lakeside retreat or more active wildlife viewing adventure.
Below we’ll explore additional pros and cons when choosing between these two iconic Rift Valley lakes.
Lake Naivasha Pros
Reasons to visit Lake Naivasha:
- Kids will delight seeing friendly giraffes, zebras, and wildebeests wandering the shores
- Abundant hippos gather near lake shores within view
- Prime location for birdwatching with over 400 species spotted
- Boating, fishing, and peaceful lakeside picnics
- Visit Crescent Island Game Reserve to walk within a wildlife sanctuary
- Proximity to Hell’s Gate National Park and stunning natural scenery
- Great sunsets and views from your lakeside lodge
- More affordable lodging compared to luxury safari camps
Lake Naivasha Cons
Downsides to consider regarding Lake Naivasha:
- Not an officially protected reserve, less regulated
- Prone to droughts and rainfall changes altering water levels
- Invasive wildlife species disrupting the ecology
- Not as abundant big game like lions, leopards, buffalo etc. compared to national parks
- Very popular now, can feel crowded with tourists at times
Lake Nakuru National Park Pros
Why visit Lake Nakuru National Park?
- Chance to see up to 2 million flamingos carpeting the lake pink!
- Highest black and white rhino densities in Kenya
- Spot lions, leopards and other predators on guided drives
- Fantastic birdwatching with 400+ species including vast flamingo flocks
- Stunning viewpoints like Baboon Cliff overlook the lake and beyond
- Less crowds than other Kenya safari circuits like Maasai Mara
- Protects endangered Rothschild’s giraffes, black rhinos, and African wild dogs
- Educational visitor center provides background on wildlife conservation efforts
Lake Nakuru National Park Cons
Factors to keep in mind regarding Lake Nakuru National Park:
- Less accommodation choices compared to Lake Naivasha area
- Very reliant on Lake Nakuru’s fluctuating water levels and temperatures
- Being fenced in prohibits natural wildlife migration patterns
- Peak visitor periods and weekends may feel crowded within the park
- Less amenities and activities overall beyond wildlife viewing safaris
When to Visit Lake Naivasha or Lake Nakuru
The best times to visit these Rift Valley lakes are during Kenya’s dry months from June through February.
At Lake Naivasha, you’ll enjoy pleasant sunny weather ideal for boating, walking safaris, or lounging lakeside. Prime game viewing on safari at Lake Nakuru National Park also aligns with the annual migration of flamingos to East African lakes during dry months.
Lake Nakuru’s Flamingo Seasons
If seeing thousands of flamingos is a priority, peak months at Lake Nakuru National Park are:
- Main flamingo breeding season, best chance to witness vibrant pink lake
- Flocks drawn by ideal water temperatures and algae growth
Keep in mind the flamingo migration is somewhat unpredictable, as heavy rains or other conditions alter the lake ecology. Check with your safari guide for recent Lake Nakuru updates.
We hope this comparison guide helps you decide whether to visit Lake Naivasha or Lake Nakuru on your Kenyan safari adventure. While Nakuru promises prolific wildlife within a spectacular national park, Lake Naivasha charms with its laidback lakeside atmosphere.
Consider visiting both lakes to experience the diverse attractions of Kenya’s magnificent Great Rift Valley region. A lake safari here combined with the renowned Masai Mara Game Reserve makes for an unforgettable African journey.
To recap key details:
Lake Naivasha Ideal for…
- Relaxing retreat with views
- Walking with wildlife
- Birdwatching haven
- Family-friendly safaris
Lake Nakuru National Park Best for…
- Epic flamingo spectacles
- Abundant rhinos and predators
- Ornithologist paradise
- Hardcore safari experience
Have a wonderful trip exploring these remarkable Rift Valley lakes!