Lake Turkana – Kenya - Atlas Obscura

Lake Turkana

The world’s largest permanent desert lake is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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Lake Turkana, Africa’s fourth largest and most saline lake, is a desolate wonder located in the arid desert region of the Kenyan Rift Valley, piercing the border of Ethiopia at its northernmost end.

Also referred to as Lake Rudolf after European visitors named the lake after a 19th century Austrian prince, and Jade Lake for the verdant color of the water, Lake Turkana is a vast but shallow body of water that stretches over 150 miles long and up to 20 miles wide.

The lake is an imperative resource for peoples in the surrounding desert region, migratory birds including flamingos, cormorants, and kingfishers, and local wildlife like the Nile Crocodile, hippos, and fish such as Nile perch, tigerfish, and tilapia. Lake Turkana and its islands were designated national parks in the 1970s and 80s.

In 1997, Lake Turkana National Parks were collectively made a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the region’s extraordinary biodiversity. While UNESCO status requires the lake’s protection, Lake Turkana has since been placed on the World Heritage “In Danger” list for poor conservation practices and overdevelopment.

Know Before You Go

Visitors can reach Lake Turkana by car, boat, and public bus. The region is strictly accessible by 4-wheel drive vehicles only, and muddy roads make for difficult driving conditions during the rainy season. It’s recommended that visitors who choose to drive don’t venture solo in case of a breakdown in this remote area.


The eastern side of Lake Turkana is slightly more populated, but supply stations are few and it’s suggested that travelers bring extra gas, drinking water, and camping supplies. Daily buses provide transportation between towns. Schedules are typically unreliable, but several bus companies offer routes within the region. Those who wish to cross the lake by boat must hire a private boat far in advance. Lake journeys are only possible in fair weather conditions.


It is not advised to go swimming in Lake Turkana as the lake is home to saltwater crocodiles, including the Nile Crocodile.