Lake Nakuru, Rift Valley, Kenya

Lake Locations:

Kenya - Rift Valley -

Lake Nakuru is the most-visited lake in the country of Kenya. That might seem odd once people realize that this alkaline lake in Kenya’s East Rift Valley isn’t known for fishing, boating or swimming. What draws over 300,000 visitors a year to Lake Nakuru is flamingos, specifically the lesser flamingo, which collects in flocks numbering more than a million along the lakeshore. One of Africa’s most stunning sights, the huge number of birds feeding along the lake margins turns the entire shoreline pink. It’s no wonder that Budget Travel named Lake Nakuru one of the 10 most beautiful lakes in the world.

Lake Nakuru’s beautiful birds have been a major attractant for many years. The lake’s convenient location only a couple of hours’ drive from Nairobi makes a day trip here an easy jaunt for the holiday traveler. Lake Nakuru National Park encompasses 73 square miles surrounding the lake and provides not only the continent’s largest bird sanctuary but also a protected parkland for black rhinos, white rhinos and Rothschild giraffes. These species were translocated from Western Kenya as a protective measure and join waterbuck, lions, cheetah, leopards, huge pythons and other native African species. Joining the lesser flamingos near the water are a wide variety of other birds such as pelican, African fish eagle, verreaux’s eagle, goliath heron and over 400 different kinds of birds.

The size of Lake Nakuru varies greatly from year to year and season to season: in dry years the lake may be as small as two square miles, while wet conditions may expand it to as much as 17 square miles. The name Nakuru in Maasai means ‘Dust’ or ‘Dusty Place’ and indeed the dry muddy flats in arid years can make it appear so. At one point 10,000 years ago, Lake Nakuru was large enough that it joined two other lakes in the area into one huge lake. Drier climate eventually lowered the water levels so that today there are three separate lakes-Nakuru, Elmenteita and Naivasha, with the other two about 40 miles to the south.

The lake is what is called a ‘soda lake’, made alkaline by falling ash from now-inactive Menengai volcano a few short miles from the lake. The unique chemistry of the shallow lake, combined with the droppings of millions of birds, produces a bumper crop of algae along the margins, which the birds consume in huge quantities. Kenya’s third-largest city, Nakuru, lies at the north end of the lake. Nakuru is primarily an industrial and agricultural marketing city whose waste water has likely created stress upon the lake’s natural eco-system. The water level in the lake has risen in recent years, possibly due to increased surface run-off. There have been concerns that certain fish appear to be dying, and many flamingos are deserting the lake for other nearby alkaline lakes. Locals say that this is not that unusual; the flamingos desert the lake for better algae-producing lakes nearby when water conditions change – and such water level changes are common at Lake Nakuru. Scientists are investigating the situation but don’t yet believe there is cause for serious alarm.

Because of the ease in reaching the Lake Nakuru region, it is a popular day safari destination from Nairobi. Vacationers staying in Nairobi can easily add a day or two at Lake Nakuru to their holiday itinerary. Lake Nakuru National Park and the Rhino Sanctuary aren’t the only local attractions to interest visitors. Many visitors to Nairobi take a day or two to visit attractions in the city itself, such as the National Museum which contains excellent exhibits of both prehistoric humans and more than 900 mounted animals and bird species. Nearby are the Snake Park, Nairobi National Park, an Ostrich Park and the ‘Bomas’ of Kenya: re-created traditional homesteads of the Kenyan people. Here visitors can experience the traditional dances, songs and handicrafts of the Kenyan people. A visit to the Menengai Crater just north of Lake Nakuru is an excellent side trip for those who wish to hike to the bottom of the huge crater, or simply enjoy the vista from the rim of one of the continent’s largest volcano calderas.

There are numerous forms of lodgings at and around Nakuru, from excellent hotels with wi-fi to luxurious tented ‘camps’. The camps are the epitome of the dreamed-of African vacation, with beds draped in mosquito netting, en-suite baths, private verandas and excellent meals prepared by the camp kitchen staff. Here, guided tours including ‘night tours’ can be arranged to view the many nocturnal inhabitants of the park. Hot air balloon trips are also a popular way to enjoy the view over both Lake Nakuru and the surrounding park. Although visitors can drive the roads in the park themselves, a guide is useful to lead visitors to the best areas for viewing such sights as the swinging, white-fringed colobus monkey that inhabit the acacia forests in the southern part of the park. The park doesn’t hold many lions, but that makes the leopards more plentiful and easier to spot. Other park inhabitants, besides those listed above, are cape buffaloes, Thomson’s gazelles, impalas, warthogs, olive baboons, black backed jackal, reedbucks, dik diks (dwarf antelopes), and elands among others. Nearly 550 species of plants are found in the park.

Lake Nakuru is both a destination and an excursion. For those with limited time in the country, it is well worth a day or two spent at Lake Nakuru. Visitors who are looking for a truly African destination will find there is plenty to occupy a week or more at Lake Nakuru. Plan for plenty of sun and excellent photographic opportunities. And make sure to bring your binoculars and a good bird identification book so you don’t miss any of the glorious natural sights. You’ll want to come back again and again to beautiful Lake Nakuru and Lake Nakuru National Park!

Things to do at Lake Nakuru

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Birding
  • National Park
  • Museum

Lake Nakuru Photo Gallery

Lake Nakuru Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Saltwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 9,664 acres

Shoreline Length: 17 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 5,771 feet

Average Depth: 8 feet

Maximum Depth: 9 feet

Water Volume: 75,396 acre-feet

Drainage Area: 695 sq. miles

Trophic State: Eutrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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