About The Great Rift Valley in Africa

Map showing the extent of the Rift Valley

Map of the Great Rift Valley
Map of the Great Rift Valley
Viewing game at the floor of the Ngorongoro crater
Viewing game at the floor of the Ngorongoro crater

The Great Rift Valley a heaven for wildlife

The Great Rift Valley is a geologic depression (rift) that extends from Syria in south western Asia to Mozambique in south eastern Africa. It takes the form of a series of valleys and bodies of water that are bounded by parallel fault lines. The Great Rift Valley is widening slowly but surely, in the process causing many volcanic eruptions and earthquakes in the area. The Great Rift Valley is also visible from outer space as a rift of two parallel lines.

Some 20 million years ago, the earth's crust weakened and tore itself apart creating a jagged rift, thousands of kilometres long, across the Eastern end of the African continent. The land on either side erupted creating great volcanic mountains, while the valley floor gradually sank into a low flat plain. This geologic phenomenon, dubbed the Great Rift Valley by the Scottish explorer John Walter Gregory, divides Kenya neatly down the length of the country essentially separating east from west. Today, The Rift Valley is characterized by uninhabitable desert and fertile farmland, flat arid plains and steep escarpments. The Great Rift Valley is also the home to millions of wildlife and hosts the worlds most renowned game parks and reserves (the Maasai Mara in kenya and The Serengeti in Tanzania)

In some places this natural divide is up to 100 km (60 miles) wide, while it reaches its narrowest point just north of Nairobi at 45 km wide. The valley floor is at its lowest near Lake Turkana where there is virtually no distinction between the Great Rift and the surrounding desert. As it heads south, however, the valley walls form sheer cliffs rising to 1,900 km (6,232 ft) at Lake Naivasha. After Naivasha, the valley descends again to 580 meters (1,902 feet) at the Tanzanian border.

Subterranean movement is common today as the Rift Valley is home to thirty active and semi-active volcanoes and countless hot springs along its length. This string of alkaline lakes and boiling springs northwest of Nairobi includes Lake Baringo, Lake Bogoria, Lake Nakuru, Lake Elementaita, Lake Naivasha, and Lake Magadi in the south. These lakes are unique because their water is highly concentrated in sodium carbonate. This situation is caused by the high alkalinity from the surrounding volcanic rocks coupled with poor drainage outlets due to the steep sides of the valley. The high evaporation of the surface lake water results in sodium carbonate which, in turn, creates an ideal breeding ground for algae. Several species of fish, tilapia in particular, thrive in this environment. As a result, millions of birds flock to these soda lakes to feast on the abundant food supply of algae and fish. Each of the lakes in the Rift Valley string have a slightly different water composition ranging from freshwater to extremely alkaline, highly saline to brackish.

Because the Great rift Valley hosts a large number of animals, Kenya and Tanzania offer great safari experiences with national parks and game reserves traversing these great safari countries.

Kenya, ‘the cradle of mankind’, across all of Africa, no other country can match the sheer range of scenery and landscapes found in Kenya, coupled with a great variety and concentration of wild animals and birds.

This is a land where the world's remaining populations of big cats, big mammals and plains game still roam free in their natural habitat. A great spectacle worth seeing is the annual migration of millions of wildebeest, zebras and gazelles from the great Serengeti plains in Tanzania and the crocodile infested Mara River to reach Maasai Mara grazing fields from July of every year. Check out our Kenya Lodge safari itineraries.

Tanzania on the other hand has an excellent collection of National Parks and Game reserves. They are highly populated with wildlife and like the Kenyan National Parks; they offer a very relaxing atmosphere and an awesome safari experience. A true East African safari is not complete without visiting the Ngorongoro conservancy area where you descend the steep walls of the caldera into the crater itself whose floor is a vast plain teeming with wild animals including the ‘big five game’. Check out our Tanzania lodge safaris itineraries.

Email us at info@east-africa-safari.com for more information save

Coutesy of East African Safari

Comments 5 comments

Vicki 5 years ago

Thanks for this post it helped me with a project.

mr clelland 4 years ago

hi hi hi hi

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utkarsh 2 years ago


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