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Old 22 Dec 2010
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a quick few notes about Turkana Route: Dec 2010

A quick few Turkana notes:

We travelled this in December 2010.

For the full story of our travels, you’re welcome to have a look at the Blog on www.pictureafrica.org or PictureAfrica.org. The purpose of this thread is to mention the places we stayed along the route past Lake Turkana, how much we paid and how we found it. I’ll also mention the annoyances of the area to hopefully prepare future travellers a little better.

Admin and process:
Coming from the south you need to stamp your passport and Carnet in Nairobi. Ask Chris at JJ’s about where to get that all done. The process is recognised and all official. Maralal is your last part of relative civilization, so stock up on fuel and water there. They still have Safaricom phone signal. Be prepared for blistering heat and high winds that blow 24 hours a day. We had the luxury of air-conditioning in the car and used it from 8am until we stopped at our camp sites. In Illiret you need to see Charles, the chief of police. He has to record your passport no in a register. He does not have an immigration stamp! In Ethiopia you need to detour to Omorate to get stamped into the country. You can not get a visa there! You should have done that from Nairobi already. At the time of writing the only way was to send your passport to your country of residence and have an agency get the visa for you. There is also no customs in Omorate, so you can not get your carnet stamped there. At the time of writing we were in Addis after two weeks in the country with no intention of stamping the Carnet. There is a camp site in Omorate if you run out of time, but it’s seemed pretty basic and grubby. The route is pretty remote, but with a reliable vehicle in good condition and enough water I would not hesitate to do it solo. With a motorbike or bicycle I think you’ll have a seriously hard time on the rocks and in the sand and with a vehicle bigger than a Land Cruiser/Land Rover I also think you might have issues in the deep sand and narrow tracks. Between the two vehicles that we had we had one puncture on the whole route.

Fuel food and water:
Bizarrely enough we found that fuel was about 10% more expensive in Nairobi than outside. For food stores we stocked up in Nairobi, but the route we travelled and the last major Nakumat Supermarket and fresh fruit and vegetable market in Nanyuki. Fuel was also readily available and cheaper there. The other route will take you up the lakes of the Rift Valley in which case I would guess that Nakuru would be the last of the big towns. We filled our water tank in Nairobi as well. Bogoria Spa had clean water, so you could fill up there. The two routes that we identified from Nairobi merged at Maralal where we met up with our travelling companions and found reliable fuel and water supply. Loiyangalani had fresh spring water and we refilled there. I did not ask about fuel. From Maralal to Jinka, your first reliable fuel stop in Ethiopia was about 800km total.

Road conditions:
Nanyuki to Maralal:
Typical bush tracks for most of the way. They wind through private game ranches and offers spectacular landscape views and plenty of wildlife... The last hour and a half was typical Kenya neglected gravel roads full of pot holes and evidence of people getting stuck in the rainy season. We took a total of 6.5 hours to drive 205km from Nanyuki to Maralal. Our companions drove from Robert’s Camp by Lake Baringo to Maralal in a similar time.

Maralal to South Horr:
Hallo rocks! From Maralal you climb over a high mountain and lava flows and big rocks before descending into a sandy valley far below. It is slow going, but not too difficult and the views are spectacular! In the valley you can speed up on the sandy bush track. Toyota Corollas still drive this route. 143km took us 7.5 hours though.

South Horr to Loiyangalani:
The day starts with a sandy track which can be bouncy, but is mostly smooth. The sand is not deep and hardly challenging, but you can’t expect to beat land speed records. That soon changes into lava flows and boulder fields your speed will decrease dramatically. The sharp rocks eventually give way to tennis ball sized round and slippery ball bearing like rocks and that is about the time you’ll get the first glimpse of the Jade Sea. Not something you can ever be prepared for. The rocky track drops to the lake shore and continues along it to the oasis like Loiyangalani where safe camping and fresh water is available. 90km took us 6 hours, but we did stop for an hour to help a guy with a broken Diff.

Loiyangalani to Sibiloy NP gate.
From the time that you leave the oasis you can expect sandy tracks. Again, apart from a few dry river crossings, the sand is not deep and hardly challenging. We did use 4 wheel drive, but only really needed it two or three times. We did not drive on a road that was on any maps either. We followed the C77 north to N2 51.294 E36 42.214 and veered left. The tracks were quite clear and easy to follow. You basically keep the lake on your left and head north. At N3 17.398 E36 16.587 you need to turn right again. We carried on straight and ended in a quite aggressive village, Moite, with a totally impassable river at the end of it. We found the right road by backtracking to that point and headed through the hills. Some parts were very rocky but nothing rubber destroying. At N3 31.027 E36 24.933 you will find the main road from North Horr again and turn left towards the park gate. That is mostly sandy and easy to drive as well. Here you will start to see people and livestock again. 161km took us 8 hours and was horrifically windy.

Sibiloy NP gate to Illiret:
That was where things became interesting. The river crossings are dry but have very fine and very deep sand. You should not stop in the middle of them. A bit of savvy and a little momentum sort you sight out though but I would hate to try it on a bike or bicycle. We detoured to a Petrified Forest at N3 41.286 E36 20.185 which was good and the Koobi For a camp and research station at N3 56.872 E36 11.183 which was a waste of time. At N3 57.108 E36 11.847 we found the junction to a track that leads north along the lake, but be very aware! If conditions are even slightly damp you will not make it! Asking at the research station is a good idea. At N4 13.335 E36 15.397 you will exit the park (There is gate) and join the main Illiret North Horr road which is compacted sand and in good condition. 112km took us 6 hours and the wind was still relentless and never ending.

Illiret to Turmi in Ethiopia.
Probably the hardest part of the journey. From the Illiret police station you get into very deep and sticky sand. The tracks change every season, so follow the road most travelled rather than the GPS. One such example was where we ended in the middle of a cull de sac inside a village at N4 24.003 E36 13.315 where we should have turned right to avoid the houses. The tracks are sometimes not so clear and the language barrier is very prominent, so asking for directions is not always possible. However, your gps will show the dominant direction you need to go in, so use a little common sense and you’ll be fine. There are some very serious dry river bed crossings and deep sandy holes and we definitely needed 4 wheel drive most of the way. We also got stopped by a boom across the road where a policeman tried to convince us that we needed an armed escort to Omorate. Refuse in a friendly manner for long enough and he’ll get the message. At N4 44.901 E36 10.453 you will meet the main Turmi/Omorate road which is wide compacted gravel. It’s a little corrugated but 60km/h felt comfortable to us. Remember that you need to drive on the right side of the road in Ethiopia. After completing immigration (No customs) in Omorate you need to backtrack the 18km and head to Turmi where you can find accommodation and perhaps change some $ for Birr at a reasonable rate. The 158km, including immigration stop took us 6 hours.


Kogoni Camp (N0 01.253 E37 05.458)
We met up with a friend in Nanyuki and his company rented a block of rooms in the lodge. We asked the owner about camping which was possible at Ksh 500 ($6) per person. There were no facilities for camping, but you could use the toilets in the really nice restaurant. We ended up staying in a room rented by our friend’s company, so I don’t know the rate. We inspected the Sportsman’s Arms Hotel and the Nanyuki River camp and neither of them was nice at all. A little further south out of town the Mt Kenya Leisure Lodge and Camping (T4A S0 10.885 E37 05.400) was recommended to us, but we did not stay there.

El Kharama Ranch (T4A N0 12.366 E36 54.244)
Right… they try very hard to discourage camping and charge $100 for their campsite. I think that is for the whole site, so if the group is sizeable it may be worth it. It also includes a night watchman. They also have Banda’s on the river for Ksh 4 500 ($55) per person. We fortunately arrived when they were closed and managed to negotiate a very small fee for abusing their hospitality. The place was really nice and offered the cheapest beds in the area, but hardly catered for the independent traveller. It only took an hour to drive there from Nanyuki, so you’d be better off staying in town for cheaper and leaving an hour earlier.

Maralal Safari Lodge (T4A N1 04.804 E36 41.322)
The famous Yare Camel Club is no more…. Rumour has it that they did not pay their taxes and that the town council closed them down. The only other camping we could find was at the Safari Lodge. They charged us Ksh 500 ($6) per couple. They also don’t really have a camp site, but you can park by the swimming pool, use the toilets at reception and jumps in the cold water if you feel the need to get clean.

Lekuka Campsite (T4A N2 05.760 E36 54.926)
It was described as having basic facilities and that was just what it had. There was a simple shower in a tin shed and a hole in the ground with a concrete floor in the next field. It all worked and was clean though. We paid Ksh 300 per tent ($3.60) for the night. The drunk owner wanted to charge us more for a guard but we refused. Privacy is NOT possible here as the camp site is not fenced and you will be the most interesting show in town. It is perfectly safe though. As we drove out the next morning we saw another sigh for another camp site around N2 06.275 E36 55.359 which would have been worth investigating. We were the first guest in 11 months to camp there.

Palm Shade Camp (T4A N2 45.385 E36 43.258)
Absolutely fantastic oasis in a very harsh area. We parked right on a thick grassy lawn in the shade of some huge trees. The fee was $12 per couple but the facilities were good. Clean long drop toilets and mineral water showers. You can drink straight from the taps and fill your tanks. The owner is a fantastic man and the is cheap! Beware of people offering to sell you fish or bread. It’s a scam to get money out of you and disappear with it. It was also insanely windy when we were there. Parking as far away from the palm trees as possible is the best way to get some sleep.

Sibiloy NP Korso gate (N3 39.413 E36 18.922)
OK, Park fees are $20 per person and they charge another $15 per person for camping. We somehow convinced the gate guard to let us camp at the gate (Not official camp site) for no charge. There is water tank and hole in the ground for a toilet and we managed to sneak our vehicles in behind the buildings for some shelter from the insane wind that never stopped. There was no obvious safe place to bush camp close by, but on the road between Moite and joining the main North Horr road you would be able to.

Illiret Catholic Mission (N4 18.738 E36 13.651)
Step one as you get into town is to meet Charles, the very impressive, friendly and nice police chief. You can free camp at the police station with no facilities or camp at the Catholic Mission for Ksh 500 ($6) per couple. Parking was on the top of a hill overlooking the traditional and poor community village and the lake. Once again, you will be the hottest news in town, so don’t expect to be left alone. The mission boasted showers and flush toilets and had a lounge we hid in until the sun went down. The wind was relentless but completely died down once it was dark and the children also left after sunset. Robert, the manager came to socialize and told us long sad stories about poor children with no money. When we paid the agreed fee the next morning he was visibly upset.

Buske Lodge and Camping (T4A N4 58.384 E36 30.952)
Mango camp was recommended to us, but after establishing that we did not have local currency they wanted to charge us $50. Yeh right! We eventually stayed at Buske, which was the pick of the lot as far as accommodation is concerned. It was typical car park camping but we had access to communal cold showers and nice clean toilets. The price was $15 per couple. The Omo Valley has turned into a bustling tourist trap so don’t be alarmed to find yourself in the middle of a sea of 80 series Land Cruisers with Farenji (Mzungu) packed inside. Entering Ethiopia without local currency was a great oversight, but apart from in Nairobi we had no chance to change currency.

Other places that had been recommended and where we did not stay:
Bushcamp 1: N1 34.267 E36 43.210
Bushcamp Rutters: N1 44.699 E36 52.258
Kurungu Camp: Approximate N2 09.826 E36 54.411
Bushcamp 2: N3 11.750 E36 47.302

If I had to do it all again:
We ran out of time on our visas so had to exit the country fairly quickly. If time was no issue I would have considered staying more inland and exploring more. The best part of the lake is south of Loiyangalani and that is also the part without the wind. Paying $20 per person to enter the Sibiloy National Park is ridiculous and I would highly recommend skipping that. The man who could advise on an alternative route is the owner of Shady Palms or if you’re coming from the north, ask Charles the policeman at Illiret.

Is it all worth it?
I would drive that route twenty times over rather than braving the Moyale Marsibit hell once. The tracks are mostly clear and smooth and the wear and tear on your vehicle will be minimal. The scenery is fantastically breath taking and that first glimpse of the lake is a truly life changing experience. From a security point of view we had no issues at all. Charles did say that in February/March there are usually some clashed between tribes because of stock theft. I think the route will be interesting, but not impassable in the wet season. You would need to get local advice on which tracks to use. If any overlander tells you long stories about a big river that you can not cross, they probably mean the Omo River, which you will only need to cross if you take the route on the western side of Lake Turkana.
Dawie du Plessis
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Old 2 Jan 2011
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Fantastic post mate. If I had used an LC I would have followed it to the letter, sounds like it was an amazing journey.

All the best and drive safe

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Old 3 Jan 2011
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Dawie, awesome post, thanks so much for the info. We are keen to try this route going south in May, will have to see how the conditions are and whether we can get a bit of a convoy together. Have been reading your blog too, some fantastic info in there too. Cheers!!
Ness | two turkeys and a rope | www.greenturkey.co.nz
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Old 5 Jan 2011
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Cheers guys.

There was one road that would not be passable in the wet and one river crossing that may be an issue. However, the locals use tracks and roads all year around and your man Charles in Illeret would be able to advise you.
Dawie du Plessis
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Old 6 Jan 2011
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Great post - thanks. We will be trying that route out in a few months time
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Old 27 Jan 2011
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Our experience this month, crossing from Ethiopia to Kenya on the WESTERN side of Lake Turkana at Omorate and WITHOUT OWN TRANSPORT (my text is copied from another forum):

It is possible to cross from Ethiopia to Kenya (or vice versa) with your own 4x4 or with local "private taxis", but it is tough!
On the Kenyan side you can take an uncharted sandy track (in the dry season) from Lodwar via Kalokol to Todenyang or the rocky track shown on the maps from Lokitaung to Todenyang. The crossing of 60kms no-mans-land is almost impossible without a guide!
On the Ethiopian side you can take the tough track through the Omo Valley Park via Kibbish and Maji to Jimma or get your car lifted over the Omo River by crane (at least US$ 120) and drive on a good piste via Turmi and Konso to Arba Minch.
This border area is disputed. There is no immigration post on either side, but crossing is not illegal either. Get a police stamp in Omorate and report to either Nairobi or Lokichoggio or Addis Abeba for your immigration stamps.
Gentleman Adventurer

Last edited by Travelbug; 8 Mar 2011 at 19:15. Reason: Clarified that WESTERN side of Lake Turkana and crossing the Omo is possible, with or without a car. EASTERN side ok anyway.
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Old 30 Jan 2011
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Sometimes you find EXACTLY the kind of info you're looking for, thanks to someone taking the time to make such as post as this one - so many thanks for going through the trouble. We're going to head this way in the next couple of weeks from JJ in Nairobi. I'll report back on any additional useful info, if any emerges.
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Old 28 Feb 2011
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*Some Updates*

Remember folks, don’t believe everything you read on the internet (even this post!)…things change.

We took this route from Kenya to Ethiopia at the beginning of February 2011.

In Maralal Yare Camel Club and Camp is back in business. They just closed for a short time but whoever had the hump with them, the problem is now sorted out. It’s a nice campsite with friendly staff and we drank the tap water. Reasonable value at 300KSH per person.

We filled up with diesel in Maralal. Diesel was also available from a pump in Baragoi (2 fuel stations) and from jerry cans in South Horr and Loyangalani.

If you want to avoid the rocks out of Maralal take the road via Barsaloi instead. We were told by locals it’s a better road and shorter. Not sure if it’s any shorter in distance, but you’ll save some time and it’s also scenic.

In South Horr we stayed at New Directions, on the northern edge of town. It’s a Christian place, with no drinking, smoking or profanity allowed. Probably no-one will be checking up on you and the camping area is away from the restaurant. They have nice toilets and showers.

If you want to avoid paying the park fees for Sibiloi NP don’t try taking the road that on some maps looks like it goes along the boundary from the gate. Actually it passes inside the park. There’s no office at the northern end of the park though, so if you wanted to be really naughty you could pay the park fees for one day then bush camp and no-one will check how long you’ve been in the park for.

In Turmi we stayed at Evangadi. Nothing special, but they changed money at very good rates, basically the same as at a bank.

The road conditions we encountered were not a problem. Our car has selectable 4wd and we didn’t use it at all between Maralal and the border with Ethiopia. Once inside Ethiopia there were a couple of dry river bed crossings where we used 4wd, but it was more for security than necessity.

If you’re thinking twice about taking this route because of difficult conditions, don’t worry about it, you’ll be fine. You definitely don’t need to be a super experienced off road driver, just have a bit of common sense and take it easy.

We travelled with another car, not because of security but because of the remoteness. North of Loyangalani until meeting the main road to Sibiloi NP you probably won’t see any other vehicles unless it’s another tourist.
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Old 7 Mar 2011
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As promised: our own comments after traveling the same route (February 2011):

Admin and process:

In Nairobi, immigration is located in a yellow office tower called the “Nyayo House”, near the roundabout/intersection of Kenyatta and Uhuru roads, very near the Intercontinental Hotel (S1.28742 E36.81830). There is public parking in the streets around the building.

The police in Iliret (Charles was on leave for a couple of months) registered our passports (but didn’t put any further stamp in them), Immigration in Omorate was no problem. There is a check-point with a boom at the border, where they check if you have an Ethiopian visa, and direct you to Omorate. No mention of an escort was made.

Fuel and water:

Don’t know where Dawie looked when checking fuel prices, because at the time we travelled, fuel was cheapest in Nairobi, and got more expensive the further you got...

Road conditions / Route

We needed pretty much the same time as Dawie for the daily sections, but we’re admittedly slow-moving. In the dry period that we drove in, you could easily shave off an hour or two per day if you’re in a hurry (for whatever reason).

Also, probably due to the extreme dryness, the whole trip didn’t present a single off-road challenge: we never had to engage the diff locks, the sandy river crossings were very easy, you could definitely stop in the middle of them, take a pic or two, and just go on. The rocky sections are slow-going and will take the occasional bite out of your rubber, but there’s nothing hard-core.

About Sibiloy NP: we wanted to go to the gate, then use the road that appears on maps and T4A that tightly follows the park’s eastern boundaries. Problem is, that road doesn’t seem to exist (any more). The gate is already inside the park, and the only way around seems to be via North Horr, a significant detour. So significant that we bit the bullet and paid the 20USD entry fee (per person) and some more for the car. We camped for free at the gate, by special permission (because it’s already in the park...).

A note on security: there was a relatively strong police force present in the area, as a local tribesman had been killed the previous night: the yearly cattle rustling season had begun. We had met armed herdsmen along the way, they visited us nearly every time we bush-camped. They do seem to keep their conflicts to themselves and never appeared thereatening.

A note on the wind Dawie mentions: there was no wind at all along the way. There was some during day-time on the lake shore (feeling like a hot fan blowing straight at you), but it always died down at night (unfortunately). So this phenomenon seems to vary according to the seasons.

A note on the maps of the south-west corner of Ethiopia: the Michelin map (and several other ones I checked) incorrectly positions Turmi near Key Afar; the “road” from Iliret to the Omorate-Turmi intersection goes straight north, and does not loop in an eastern fashion as shown on the map. T4A tracks are correct.

From Turmi, we headed east through the Lake f.k.a Stephanie area via Arbore and Woyto to Konso. There is a fuel station in Konso, but there was no power, and we filled up after 950km in Yavello.

About lodging:

We bush-camped most of the way, there are many good spots to be found along the route. The Palm Shade is a welcome oasis after several days of sun, dust and no showers! And the is indeed available and cheap!

The catholic mission in Iliret, run by father Florian, is a spartan, but welcoming spot. It’s not at all a campsite, you can use their simple facilities and make a donation - there is no fixed price. Guards chase away the myriad of kids around nightfall. Hundreds of kids reappear in the morning to attend the large school opposite the mission - quite a spectacle!

Our next stop was in Turmi, at a restaurant/camp spot just after the (dry) river crossing on the eastern route, about 2km from the main intersection. Excellent pizzas!! We also exchanged USD here at an acceptable rate.
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As a further update, if you're carrying on to Sudan and wondering whether to get your carnet stamped in Addis I didn't and it was no problem leaving Ethiopia.

The customs guys were cool, asked me if we'd come from Omerate and just stamped the carnet out.
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Presumably, the Turkana Route via Omorate is also the most feasible way to travel overland from Ethiopia to South Sudan (Juba). Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) to Juba (South Sudan) - Gentleman Adventurer

Or has anyone tried the road via Gambela and Bor lately?
Gentleman Adventurer
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Can this route be done in May?
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Old 25 Jun 2012
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But can +you+ do it in May?

It depends on what you are riding, how well equipped it is, how good a driver you are, how much food and water you can carry and most importantly how, if any, the rains are.

I did it at the end of last year, the small rains should have finished, but actually Kenya had 3 months of big rains. I had good luck avoiding the rains until Illerit where I was stuck for 4 days until the river beds to the Ethiopian border dried out again.

So, if you have plenty of time and like an adventure, then it would be possible like it was for me, but if you just want to get through and it is raining then there could be long delays. I was in a Land Rover.

The rainy seasons aren't so rigid as they used to be.
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Old 23 Aug 2012
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I did this route in August 2011 and here's a video from that ride. It's a bit long but it captures the changing landscape:

J A Y | Riding a 98 Suzuki DR650
Current ride thru Latin Am and Africa > Jammin thru the Global South
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