Kenya’s Two Deserts: A Quick Guide

Kenya’s deserts are quickly rising in popularity among the adventurers who live in or visit Kenya. They provide magnificent vistas and wide open playgrounds where off-road enthusiasts and hikers can fully let themselves go.

There are only two deserts in Kenya: Chalbi and Nyiri. Below is a quick exploration of both, with the best time to visit and activities you can do. If I’ve missed something, let us know and we’ll happily add it in. For now, let’s have a look at what the deserts in Kenya are all about.

Chalbi desert in Kenya

Chalbi Desert

Chalbi Desert is the most visited of the two deserts by a mile so you know it’s a delight. To begin with, the road trip to get there is fantastic, with almost vacant roads, grand open skies, and lots of scenery.

Chalbi used to be a huge lake millennia ago. Now, it’s a wide expanse of sand dunes, oases, and cracked ground. The human population is sparse and consists of the Dasanatch, Gabra, Rendille, and Turkana – some of the most isolated communities in Kenya.

The desert is the hottest and most arid in Kenya, with temperatures reaching up to 45 degrees celsius and dropping to about 15 degrees at night. 


Chalbi Desert is located in the North of Kenya, in Marsabit County. It borders Lake Turkana and stretches about 100KM East to the border with Ethiopia.

Find Chalbi Desert on Google Maps.

How to Get There

You can only get to Chalbi Desert by road. The trip from Nairobi will take about 8 hours in good conditions.

Places to Visit/Things to Do

For a desert, Chalbi has a lot of interesting and fun activities to do:

Explore desert features

If surfing sand dunes and basking by oases are experiences on your bucket list, then Chalbi has the locations you’re looking for. Driving up and down sand dunes in a 4×4 is another thrilling way to explore the desert.

Interact with the communities

The communities found within Chalbi desert are very unique. Hanging out with them, understanding their culture, and learning how they survive the harsh environment could honestly be a life-changing experience.

Camel rides

This is the most authentic camel ride you will have in Kenya because – you know – you’re in a desert. Maybe you can find out if you and a friend can race them?

Lake Turkana

There’s a lot to see in and around Lake Turkana. The islands within the lake are shrouded in mystery and myth by the local people and there are several serene picnic spots where you can spend an easy afternoon.

Marsabit National Park

A short trip away from Chalbi Desert will get you to Marsabit National Park where you can take a game drive with elephants, rare birdlife, and much more in picturesque landscapes.

When to Visit

The best time to visit Chalbi Desert is during the dry seasons: January – February, and July – October. The rainy seasons make exploration a whole lot tougher and it’s just not worth the trouble.

Chalbi Desert Tours

Chalbi Desert is best experienced with a skilled guide. These tour companies are the most knowledgable that we know:

Nyiri Desert

Nyiri Desert is the lesser known of Kenya’s deserts. The dunes are not as high as Chalbi but they are still awesome to climb and drive over. It also has more green and wildlife to look out for.

 There are fewer communities here to interact with, however, mostly due to where it’s located. But if you want a pure, almost solitary desert experience, Nyiri provides in spades.


Nyiri Desert is found in Kajiado County, about 80 Km east of Lake Magadi, and stretches to Kenya’s southern border with Tanzania. 

Find Nyiri Desert on Google Maps

How to Get There

You can get to Nyiri Desert from Nairobi by road. The drive takes 4 and a half hours. 

Places to Visit/Things to Do

Explore desert features

There are various sightings of wildlife and rare vegetation across the desert. Take an off-road drive with a few friends and see who can pick out the most amazing fauna and flora.

National Parks

Nyiri Desert extends into three of the most fascinating national parks in Kenya

These parks offer different wildlife and nature experiences and are guaranteed memorable adventures.

Sunrise and Sunset

The vast, barren landscapes of Nyiri Desert provide a beautiful view of sunrises and sunsets, with shifting shades and colours. Take out your camera and take shots against the light for some of the brilliant.

When to Visit

The best time to visit Nyiri Desert is during the dry season, June – October. The desert is easier to get around and the surrounding national parks have more action.

Nyiri Desert Tours

You could hire a personal car and take the trip to Nyiri on your own. But if you’d prefer to have a guide and just sit back and enjoy the ride, they are the best tour companies you can employ:

Final Thoughts

Chalbi and Nyiri are on opposite sides of the country and offer vastly different experiences. But the main draw for me is that in the desert, you are mostly in charge of your own fun. The open landscapes that stretch to the horizon take you back to being a child, where anything your imagination thinks up is possible.

Let us know below what you got up to when you visited either of the deserts in Kenya.

And if you prefer your sand dunes with a cool ocean breeze, check out my two favourite towns on the coast, Diani and Kilifi.

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