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.
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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