Traveling by bus to Lodwar, Kenya in the Turkana district is not for the fainthearted. In 2011 we took the road to the dry Turkana desert. At that time there was a negative travel advice for this region from our Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It had been terrorized by (sometimes violent) tribal conflicts about cattle, water or land for many years. The region is rarely visited by tourists and the Lodwar tourism facilities are limited.
Introduction to Lodwar
Lodwar is the capital of Turkana, one of the most remote regions in Kenya. Turkana is famous for its paleoanthropological sites, colorful Turkana clothing and more recently for its huge wind power project. It is also close to Lake Turkana, with oasis town Eliye Springs on it shores and beautiful Central Island in its waters.
Our bus ride from Kitale to Lodwar / Turkana
Our bus driver was armed (as is common in some parts of Kenya), but this gave us a doubtful feeling of safety. We were suppose to travel during the day, but the bus departed four hours later than planned. Together with the bad road conditions, we ended up riding in the dark. No street lamps in that part of Kenya. Sometimes we stopped to pick up passengers, often Turkana families with colorful robes.
The bus was extremely hot and humid. We had little leg space and small seats. Instead of 2 two-seaters, they had a 3-seater and a 2-seater. Furthermore, the bus itself was overloaded with boxes, bags, chickens, food etc. Since the road was bad, we had the most bumpy ride of our life!
After eight bumpy hours we finally arrived safely in Lodwar in the late (!) evening. Finding a hotel around this time proved extremely difficult because most were full. Eventually, we found a room with a drunken hotel manager. We had to sleep with 3 persons in a terrible and dirty bed so try to reserve a room beforehand (and maybe a pick-up service) ;)!
Where to buy your Lodwar busticket?
We bought our busticket in Kitale, and since the bus passed our hotel ‘The Kazeto Executive Lodge’ in Kapenguria we arranged that the bus would pick us up at the hotel (saving us an unnecessary ride to Kitale). In Kitale there are three big bus companies that travel to Lodwar: Fomoco coach, Dayah express and Eldoret express. The offices of the companies are situated right next to each other. Ask a local and he will know where to go.
We traveled with both Fomoco and Dayah express and found them quite similar in terms of comfort. A one way ticket cost approximately Ksh 2100. The buses leave in the morning.
General tips for taking the bus to Lodwar:
As all those who even consider to travel to the north probably know, the journey by bus to Lodwar can be dangerous and comes with a lot of risks. Chances on delays, major breakdowns and armed robbery are considerably high is this deserted region. Please keep this in mind!
– Check the current security situation
– Ask for a window seat or an aisle seat
– Use the toilet breaks
– Bring enough water and food
– Bring some cash. When we were there, there was no ATM in Lodwar for international cards, however these days Equity Bank has a branch with Mastercard and Visa card. Still, I would advice to bring all the cash you need, just to be sure.
– Keep you valuables close to you during the whole trip. These tips on how to keep your money safe while traveling might be useful!
– During stops stay close to the other passengers
– Keep in mind that they may charge extra luggage fees
– Be flexible (as always when travelling)
– Prepare for the worst ;)
Is Lodwar safe?
Although we did not encounter any real problems during our visit to Lodwar, there are some security issues. Even in 2019, there are also still a lot of armed tribal conflicts in the area. Lodwar is also close to Kakuma, one of Africa’s largest refugee camps. There is also prostitution, and some dodgy business going on.
Lodwar has a real ‘end-of-the-world’ feeling. With no tourist infrastructure and hardly any foreigners present, you should be cautious. In our experience, it is not safe to go out at night.
Please also note photography is not appreciated the Turkana district. You should always ask permission. Make sure to inquire about the current Lodwar security situation online or in Kenya.
Accommodation in Lodwar
In Lodwar, you may arrive at night (like we did). Although we did not arrange a Lodwar hotel, this is probably advisable. Upon arrival we only stayed one night in Lodwar (in some lousy guesthouse) and then traveled to Eliye Springs. On our way back we stayed at the Nawoitorong Guest House, which is recommended. This guesthouse is ran by local Turkana women, and is built entirely out of local materials. It is situated a bit out of the city center, but has some very nice self catered cottages and a camping place. It also has a small restaurant that serves pizzas and burgers. Rooms start around 800 Ksh per night. Another reliable option we heard about is the St Teresa Pastoral Centre, which has rooms starting at Ksh 2500. As in most Kenyan places, it is not safe to go out at night.
Book your Kenya hotel through Hostelworld.com or Booking.com
How to get from Lodwar to Eliye Springs
Eliye Springs (or lle Springs) is a village on the shores of Lake Turkana. From Eliye Springs, you can visit the stunning Central Island National Park. The easiest and only way from Lodwar to Eliye Springs is by taxi. It takes approximately 1,5 hours by car. Prepare for another bumpy ride on sandy roads.
Other modes of transportation to Lodwar
– By plane from Nairobi. Fly-540 and ALS operate daily flights to Lodwar airport. You book a flight at their offices near the Naipa Supermarket in Nairoibi (ALS) or near the Africana Hotel (Fly54). Arrange a taxi from the Lodwar airport into town beforehand.
– By train. Not possible.
– By car. Road conditions are very bad. You will need an experienced driver and a 4×4. If a car breaks down, there is a chance you will have to wait for days. Safety is also an issue. Still, many overlanders pass by Lodwar. I would advice to check online forums and Facebook groups, for the latest updates. Or you can ask below in the comments if anyone has traveled to Lodwar by car recently.
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Did you travel by bus to Lodwar? Let us know your experiences and post a comment!
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How to arrange a budget Kenyan safari?
An interview with the Dutch ambassador in Kenya
A guide to Eliye Springs
Visit Central Island in Lake Turkana
Thank you for these useful tips! We are about to go to Lodwar by bus.
Hi Rene, you’re welcome! Can you let us know how it went? Thanks!
All the advice is helpful and well presented .I made the journey once by bus and then last year I used a rental 4×4 from Kisumu.
Very stressful on the second trip as we broke down and I ended up riding for 7 hours in the back of a box truck through the night (Too dangerous) to Lodwar. Ten bandits were killed 1.5 days where we broke down after we were able to move our 4×4. Have made plans for January, 2014, however at this time there are tribal problems along the road. My advice? If God sends you on the road to Lodwar then go. But if your just out for adventure then sleep in the bed you choose, enjoy it, and don’t take anyone with you.
Dear Jim, Thank you so much for sharing. It is very important to be aware of all risks (delays, breakdown, bandits etc.) when someone considers to travel to Lodwar by bus. Your story may help to put his/her future trip in a different perspective. We wish you safe travels in January and look forward to hear about your experiences then!
P.s. We decided to add some additional lines focused on the risks in our post!
Bob, I will try to be faithful to report back to you in March. I think it is important to share ones journeys as a way of encouragement to others. Besides I always have examples of WHAT NOT TO DO! If you want to take a small peek into my past safari 2013 go to renewoutreach,com . It is the company who I bought a solar powered projector system from with the help of my friends. Click on to “Stories” and then “God’s Protection”. God bless, jim
Bob, Just returned State side last night so my mind is a little foggy. Made the trip from Kitali to Lodwar the first week in Feb. on a bus with my five Kenyan partners. Now, in all Kenya, the buses and matatus are not permitted to run at night due to the number of bus fatalities in the past months. Buses have not been running at night to the North anyway due to bandits. Spoke to a friend who had been one of the police who were sent North two weeks prior to my journey to stop the tribal violence. The day he arrived his truck was attacked and they were able to escape into the desert with no water, food, or communications for days. The truck ahead of him lost all policemen. He advised me to go if we stayed on the main road. What the news was not telling the world was when the buses were stopped in December, Turkana were taken of the bus and killed. Without inside information I would have never known the details. Buses were stopped the morning we went through three hours earlier. I saw the crowd and police but didn’t know the story for another 10 days.
Once we went out Southeast of Lodwar all was safe. It is still best to take public transportation and lease once you reach Lodwar if you have a connection. You just need to make your decision at the time based on the conditions. I sidelined my plan to purchase and ride a pic to Lodwar a week prior to leaving Kitali. Another officer friend who is stationed in the North said “We will never be abled to stop this” God bless, Pastor jim
Dear Pastor Jim,
What a story….! I’m glad you’re okay! After reading this I do feel that people who’d like to travel to Lodwar for touristy purposes really should consider whether it is worth the risk. It seems that is very dangerous at the moment. And I hope the northern police officer won’t be right and the (tribal) violence will stop in the future.
Thank you so much for the update and the advice! Safe travels in Kenya and the rest of Africa!
Some ten years ago I did traveled to Lodvar by truck carrying food to Lodvar.Did not had any trouble.
Hi Joe! Thanks for letting us know! Few people travel to Lodwar so it’s great to exchange experiences :)! Cheers, Manouk
It was a long time when I traveled with a truck to Lodvar.I did made the trip twice and nothing troubled me. I did found in Lodvar nice little girl named Ajukon Akisa.She probably married by now, but if you ever go to Lodvar ask about her and She will remember me, I did sent to her
$10.00 every month for a long time. Tell her I am thinking of her and wish all the happiness.
I am now 86 y old, more likely I will not see her again.When I saw her, she was about 8-10 year old.I was working in Kenya that time, All this happened over 25 years ago.Let me know when you find her. If you are young, you can cheaply and safely to take a truck to travel there.You can travel on the front sea
t on the truck for a few shilling.
Hi Joe! Wow, what a story! Thank you for sharing! Cheers, Manouk
Nice post! I plan to travel to Kenya in the near future so it was very interesting for me to read about your experience and tips. Thanks for sharing!
i traveled to Lodwar by bus daytime ..en i had no issue along the way …by 17th 10.2014 will make a return trip via road as well …by road you get to enjoy the view and colorful people and vast dry lands…..its very scary abit …after insecurity stories …,…i found out if the pokot tribe raid their tulkana neighbors …then the security along this roads are jeopardized…….Lodwar is a very peacefull place and people here are very friendly ….if ur here its good practice to visit Eliye Springs, also known as Ille Springs, is a remote village on the western shore of Lake Turkana in Kenya, near the mouth of River Turkwel. It is located 50 kilometres east of Lodwar…..best of luck cheers
What was the price of a ticket on the bus in October? We will be going that way in Feb., 2015.
My friend in the village of Mbosie talked to my policeman friend who told him there had been problems at Lokichar. But as you know, it changes up there one way to the other over night. Thanks for the post, Pastor jim
Hello Pastor Jim, I’m leaving for Lodwar in mid February, where are you leaving from and what date?
Hi JD! I’ve sent Pastor Jim an email to let him know you responded :)!
Forget the last post. I decided to take a Rover. Anyone else going toward Lodwar in Feb, 2015?
Bob and JD,
I just returned from Kenya tonight. I was there the last of December until February 22, 2015.
Took a Land Rover from Kisumu to Lodwar Feb. 9 – 19 for a mission 80 km Southeast of Lodwar.
Made Kanuik at 11:30 a.m. so we had to move quickly in order to get to Lodwar before dark.
I had just talked the police into letting me go without guards ( They say they want you to take two
instead of the usual one now) when a small truck came along so we “convoyed” together. We flew
up the road without trouble. Two had been killed earlier that week but nothing reported the day I
went. The return ride went without incident aside of a flat tire, however I did take one policeman.
Sad to say but the safety along the road is a real political motivated issue. Just don’t get caught at
the wrong place at the wrong time.
Lodwar it’s self has changed over the past year. The population has boomed due to the oil being
drilled. Many people came for jobs, found none but stayed. Borda Bordas everywhere now. I hate to
say it but I fear the atmosphere of Lodwar is and will be changing due to the influx.
God bless, Pastor jim
Thanks for the update on the current situation! Much appreciated Pastor Jim :)
Has anyone travelled he road from Kitali to Lodwar in 2016?
I need an update.
Can anyone give me updated conditions on the area between Kitali and Lodwar reaching out to Lake Turkana?
Thank you all for your comments… kindly is anyone with recent travel update? I understand there are Dayah Buses from Nairobi direct to Lodwar without necessary going to kitale and charging Kshs 4,000. anyone with accommodation details? thanks & have a blessed year 2017.
Hi Julie, four of us are planning on doing the trip in early Feb from Nairobi by bus. If you’re still interested in going, maybe we can link up?
I love your stories people…. Big up!
Hello all, I plan on going to Lodwar in mid November 2017, updates on security and public transport costs from anyone who has done the journey lately?
Charles, Did you go? I rode a pic in August, 2017. Had no issues except the pay to play game.
Thank you Manouk for the great post and everyone else for the comments. I am heading there in January and I hope it’s safe now!
Leo, Likewise I will be making the safari in January. on a pic. We should meet over a cold Stoney.
Moving to Kainuk Jan 2018, abit scared but looking forward to the experience. Stop by for some refreshments.
Has anyone been to the Ilimi (Elimi)Triangle on the Turkana side. I was heading that way last January but ran into problems near Lake Turkana. Don’t attempt to go there on a pic! I need to hear from someone who has ministered there. I plan on using 4-wheels next year. Stayed in the 300 ksh a night hotel in Kainuk while passing through.
Dear Pastor Jim,
Thank you again for your comment. Hopefully, someone can share his/her recent experience?
Please keep us updated of your travels to Lake Turkana. I truly appreciate it!!
Getting ready for a mission into the Triangle in January 2020 but sure would like to hear from someone who has spent some time in the area. I changed my mind about taking four wheel and have purchased the new Kibo 150 from a dealer friend in Kisumu.
I need current news in the area. tks., Pastor jim
Hi i am pastor Walter we went to lodwar from kitale on bus we did not have any problems whats so ever we are missionary we have a feeding program in lodwar desert and we also trying to open a orphanage home please help us out to feed the children
Walter, What place do you come from? I take it that you are Kenyan? I would be happy to meet with you face to face this January 2020 as I will be traveling from Kisumu to Lodwar. Again, my pressing need is to speak to someone who has gone from Lodwar to the Triangle on the Kenyan side of the border. Thank you for your post, Pastor jim
Heading to Kitale right now does it mean there’s no night transport?