f you are planning a trip in Kenya, you will find many tour companies offering packages that include Lake Naivasha aside from the usual national parks and reserves. We chose to have a quick stop at the lake on our way from Masai Mara to Lake Nakuru, as a break in the long road trip and because we heard it was great for bird watching, which Andre loves to do.
Lake Naivasha is a beautiful freshwater lake, home to families of hippos and thousands of birds. Its inner island hosts numerous wild animals, some of which brought for the shooting of American movie Born Free.
The lake is surrounded by papyrus and forests of yellow barked Acacia trees, known as the yellow fever tree. This habitat is excellent for bird life, so Naivasha soon became known as a wold class birdwatching destination.
While it looks quiet and calm, winds can make the lake rough without notice. For this reason, the local Maasai community called the lake Naiposha (from which Naivasha is derived), meaning “rough water”.
Lake Naivasha is home to many hippos. They like the shallow waters and abundant vegetation on which they feast at night. Approaching the hippos with a tiny boat can be scary. We panicked when a hippo turned, his popping eyes scrutinizing us. Our local guide laughed and reassured that everything was fine.
They know their lake well and no attacks to boats have been recorded in Naivasha so far. We passed the hippo family and moved along the coast among groups of pelicans and cormorants until we reached the highlight of our boat safari.
What our guide called the hippo nursery, was just a corner where females move just before giving birth. And there we glimpsed it, a newly born hippo, barely a week old, hiding behind the protective mother. The mother didn’t like us a bit. She showed us her long and sharp teeth more than once, advising us to go away. Our guide complied to her wishes and slowly moved forward.
It doesn’t really matter from where you start your boat safari, there will be fishermen close enough to hear them talking to each other. The lake is an important source of income, not only for the tourism industry but also for those involved in the fishing activity.
Standing on dead trees, walking in the shallow waters with their nets or on a boat, hundreds of people try their luck for a rich bounty. The fish is usually sold to restaurants or hotels around the lake or to people driving on the busy road connecting Naivasha to either Nairobi or Nakuru.
Pollution and overfishing have almost decimated the fish population in the past. Nowadays the government restocks the lake every year with new fingerlings to sustain the local economy.
July is the end of the breeding season and you can expect to see hundreds of cormorants calling at each other from the top of the acacia trees. They dive in the lake for food and once they are done, they spread their wings in the sun to dry them up. The cormorants are so many that they cover everything under the trees with a thick layer of white guano. They aren’t the only birds around, but definitely they are the most numerous groups. We are not sure they will stay on the same trees all year around, but in July they made quite an impression.
We were offered to add a stop at the Crescent Island for a chance to walk among zebras, giraffes and wildebeest. During the boat safari, your guide will stop the boat at the island for 30-45 minutes allowing you to walk around at liberty. The extra cost is 30 USD per person circa.
The experience didn’t convince us. After staying four days in Maasai Mara and two days in Nakuru National Park at close contact with the wild animals, we thought the walking experience to be a downgrade. We decided to skip it but we kept a close eye on the island with our binocular.
It seems a great activity if you don’t have a safari organized. If you just came back from a safari where you saw thousand wild animals at few meters from your car, it is not worth it.
We stopped at lake Naivasha on a Friday for lunch and the following day for the boat safari. Friday the lake was packed with people. Our guide told us that schools usually come to the lake on Fridays and for that reasons it is usually very busy.
Since it is on the way to Nakuru National Park, it became very popular among safari goers. Indeed, it is a convenient stop to break the long journey from Maasai Mara to Nakuru or from Nakuru to Nairobi and is becoming a victim of mass tourism. Hippo families are sometimes fed by the locals to be sure they stay in the lake for the visitors’ happiness. Our guide fed an eagle with a dead fish in what seemed like a consolidated routine. We wonder if the local eagle population has to hunt any longer or simply need to wait for a boat to pass.
The boat ride concept is nice and it is a good addition to your Kenya trip if you have two hours to kill. We did it on our way from Nakuru to Nairobi airport and it was just perfect to fill the afternoon. It costs around USD 20 per person for an hour in a private longboat with a guide. The boat can fit up to 8 people, so if you are a family or group, you can share.
If you want to spend more time in the area, aside from the boat tour and walking safari, you can also visit the Elsamere Conservation Centre, the former home of conservationists George and Joy Adamson.
We wouldn’t recommend staying in Naivasha for more than a night. However, if your trip is already packed with activities and you don’t have much time to spend here, a boat safari is enough.
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