LAKE NAIVASHA, KENYA
Lake Naivasha’s verdant shores sprawl with cacti, sand olive trees, and historical ranches extending over the Rift Valley’s highest point like a boundless sunlit sea. The lovely blue lake is an oasis for hippo pods, zebra, buffalo, giraffe, and hartebeest herds grazing along its rim and floor. Flamingos wash the lake shores with dashing pink shades, and over 400 bird species fill the surrounding ranches with beautiful birdsong. Only a two-hour drive from Nairobi, visitors vacation among its historical manors like Elsamere, the former home of late Born Free personality Joy Adamson. If you have more time in Kenya and feel like relaxing in Kenya’s countryside for a couple of days, Lake Naivasha’s Happy Valley is worth it.
Lake Naivasha, one of the few freshwater lakes in the Great Rift Valley, is a must-visit destination for Kenya safari day trips and weekend getaways from Nairobi. Although the lake is not part of a national park or game reserve, it boasts pleasant forested surroundings that provide a welcome respite from the congestion and noise of the city. Visitors can expect to encounter a wealth of wildlife, including giraffes, zebras, monkeys, hippos, and an abundance of bird species.
In addition to its natural beauty, Lake Naivasha is also home to Kenya’s premier area for growing flowers for export, particularly roses – an eye-catching feature that can be seen all around the lakeshore.
Historically, Naivasha’s oasis amid Kenya’s wilderness lured a group of British settlers in the mid-1900s, who built idyllic homes on its shores. Known collectively as “Happy Valley,” these colonial ranches were infamous for their decadent, hedonistic lifestyle. The story of Happy Valley is the subject of the 1987 British movie “White Mischief,” starring Greta Scacchi and Charles Dance. The film dramatizes the events of the Happy Valley murder case of 1941 when Sir Henry “Jock” Delves Broughton was tried for the murder of Josslyn Hay, Earl of Erroll.
Where to go, what to see
Lake Naivasha offers a plethora of activities for visitors and the idyllic cabins and camps situated by the verdant lakeside serve as the ideal home base for a few days of relaxation and exploration.
Embark on a tranquil boat journey to the Crescent Island Game Sanctuary, a haven where you can encounter – and even stroll alongside – giraffes, zebras, and other herbivores of the plains. With no predators in sight, it’s a remarkably secure environment.
Make time to explore the Elsamere Conservation Centre, nestled on the southern banks. Once the residence of George and Joy Adamson, famed for their work in ‘Born Free,’ this place now offers a delightful afternoon tea on its lush lawns. A visit to the intimate museum within the compound provides an insightful peek into the Adamsons’ lives and their significant contributions to conservation.
For adventurous souls, Hell’s Gate National Park presents an opportunity to hike or cycle amidst its stunning landscape. The park, named after its striking red sandstone cliffs, hosts an array of plains game and a rich diversity of bird species. Notably, it is home to raptors such as the Rüppell’s vulture and Verreaux’s eagle, a true spectacle for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike.
When To Go
Lake Naivasha is good all year round, though, the rains might interfere with your vacation during the main Wet season of March, April, and May. However, June to March, where there’s little rain, is the best season for a relaxed vacation around Lake Naivasha. It rarely gets overcrowded, but during the holiday season, expats on school holidays flock to the lake shores, especially over Christmas. The best weather is from June to February.
Getting There And Around
Lake Naivasha is a one- to two-hour drive from Nairobi. There are two routes—a shorter but badly potholed route along the escarpment or a longer but better-maintained road, the A104 Uplands, which leads to Naivasha town. Hotels and lodges around the lakeshore will arrange pickups from Nairobi, and taxis can transport you around the area.
Crescent Island Game Sanctuary. Take a boat ride from one of the lakeshore hotels to Crescent Island Game Sanctuary, where you can see (and walk with) giraffe, zebra, and other plains herbivores; there are no predators, so it’s pretty safe. On the way to the crater, keep your eyes open for hippos as you are on the outer rim of a volcanic crater, which is also the deepest part of the lake.
The best Accommodation around Lake Naivasha
Price from $470
Idyllically sitting on the northwest shore of Lake Naivasha, Loldia House is a classic colonial bungalow set on a large and tranquil estate, with guest accommodation in 11 rooms and access to a decent range of activities around the lake. Guests can stay in the main family house or the three other guest cottages (each housing two separate rooms, all en-suite), surrounded by pretty gardens and offering incredible views across the lake to the extinct volcano, Mount Longonot.
Price from $450
Set on the northwest shore of the Lake Naivasha of southwest Kenya, Olerai House is a tranquil and characterful little place, with guest accommodation in 4 rooms and access to a decent range of activities. Your host will be the Douglas-Hamilton family, who personally welcome you to their property, pamper you to the most delicious home-cooked food, and be surrounded by free-roaming giraffes, impalas, zebras, and several native animals.
Price from $475
Set inside the 70 square kilometers Oserian Ranch to the southeast of Lake Naivasha, Chui Lodge is a reasonably upmarket option, with accommodation in 8 luxurious cottages that boast ensuite bathrooms, fireplaces, and private verandas. Soul-satisfying nightcaps and refreshments can be savored in the welcoming bar area, while a sitting room, library, and sparkling heated swimming pool add to the guest’s delight. Multi-cultural dishes to tempt guests to dinners.
Hippo Point House
Price from $600
Set on the beautiful ‘Little Lake’ to the east of Lake Naivasha, Hippo Point House is an incredible 1930’s faux Elizabethan manor, with guest accommodation in 7 rooms on expansive, wildlife-rich grounds between Lake Oloiden and Lake Naivasha. The atmosphere is classy and colonial, and a wonderful sense of peace pervades the whole place – walking the halls here makes one want to whisper.
Lake Naivasha Country Club
Price from $178
Lake Naivasha Country Club sits on a large lakeside property. It oozes a historic character dating back to the 1930s when it served as a staging post for a flying boat service between Durban and Ireland, and the planes landed on Lake Naivasha. Pros: lovely lakeside setting; top-quality buffet meals; large swimming pool. However, the property has tiny bathrooms, staff can be a little impersonal, and the place is occasionally busy with conference groups.
Lake Naivasha Sopa Resort
Price from $347
In lovely forested grounds with giant established trees, very spacious rooms, and loads of facilities, the comfortable and friendly Lake Naivasha Sopa Resort offers everything you’ll need for a couple of days’ vacation at Lake Naivasha. It is kid-friendly with a children’s pool, menu, and babysitting, a lovely forest environment, staff are warm and helpful. However, you should be careful walking on the property after dark as hippos graze on the lawns. Bedding is simple sheets and blankets, but they are warm. Monkeys can be a nuisance around the pools.