The most comprehensive travel guide to Africa      

Lake Victoria

Lake Victoria has a surface area of about 68,000 km2 equal to the size of Ireland and it is the largest of Africas lakes as well as the largest tropical lake in the world.

Kisumu Impala Sanctuary and Lake Victoria
View over Lake Victorias Winam Gulf with Kisumu Impala Sanctuary in the foreground

Lake Victoria is the second largest freshwater lake in the world if Michigan-Huron are counted as two separate lakes. In 1858, John Hanning Speke was the first European to explore the vast lake and he believed it to be the source of the White Nile. The assertion was ridiculed until Henry Morton Stanley eventually proved him right in 1875.

Fishermen and boats Kisumu
The lake basin is not a part of Great Rift Valley and its long line of lakes such as Lake Tana, Lake Naivasha, Nakuru, Elementeita, Lake Tanganyika, Lake Malawi and others. Therefore Lake Victoria is quite shallow with an average depth of about 30-40m and a maximum depth of 81 meters and Kenya actually owns only a tiny 3,785 sq km corner of the lake.

Children in Jinja carrying fresh water back home to the village. Photo © Mikkel Grabowski

Children in Jinja carrying fresh water back home to the village. Photo © Mikkel Grabowski

In Jinja there has been built a large Dam, generating electricity to most of Uganda. This is the beginning of what is also called the Victoria Nile and the lake spills into a series of rapids, perfect for whitewater rafting and Jinja has become a popular stop-over for tourists.

Girl sitting by the shore of Lake Victoria at Hippo Point, Kisumu - Kenya

Girl sitting by the shore of Lake Victoria at Hippo Point, Kisumu – Kenya

A combination of droughts and the growing needs for electricity generated from the Dam has periodically lowered the water level in the Lake and discussions about lake levels between the East African countries sharing Lake Victoria is of course an ongoing issue. In former times there were several ferries on the lake but in 1977 the East African Community broke down and the only lake excursions available today occur between Kisumu and ports farther south.

Hippos congregate in small groups along the shore of Lake Victoria and go on land at night to feed on grass

Hippos are part of everyday life along the shores of many African lakes and their occassional deep series of grunts makes you realize how massive they are and they give a feel of some ancient connection to a nature that reaches long before man. Hippos are territorial animals and they always seek to the water to feel safe, but at night they venture onto land to graze and they can be very dangerous when feeling cut off from their beloved water.

A lone fishing boat in early morning lake victoria at the Winam Gulf off Kisumu, Kenya. Photo © Mikkel Grabowski

A lone fishing boat in early morning lake victoria at the Winam Gulf off Kisumu, Kenya. Photo © Mikkel Grabowski

There are Nile crocodiles in all sizes living in Lake Victoria as well as Monitor Lizards and spotted-necked otters and the cry from the magnificent African fish eagle can be heard along the shores.

Hammerkop at sunrise
A Hammerkop glides before the rising sun over Lake Victoria

The ecosystems of Lake Victoria are not only challenged by decreasing water levels, the ferocious Nile Perch was set out into the lake in the 1960s and it wiped out most of the numerous endemic species of Cichlids in the lake. Until then Lake Victoria was known for its amazing biodiversity and It was inhabited by over 500 species of fish, 90% of which were Cichlids belonging to the Haplochromis genus.

Fishermen in Lake Victoria in Kenya

Fishermen in Lake Victoria in Kenya

Today the tilapia is caught in big numbers and it partly supports the people with protein but the Nile Perch supports a growing fishing industry around the lake with a billion dollar export. The possible effects of this is described in the controversive and award winning documentary film Darwins Nightmare by Hupert Sauper.

Palm tree at sunset, Lake Victoria, Kenya

Palm tree at sunset, Lake Victoria, Kenya

Also the lake has suffered from an increasing number of water hyacinth some places growing a suffocating carpet of greenery, that covers huge surfaces of the lake. A remarkable phenomena is the huge swarms of lake-flies that congregate once in a while and despite sometimes being a nuisance due to their sheer numbers, they are harmless as they dont bite like mosquitos do.

Great white Heron at early morning by Lake Victoria
Great white heron and some cormorants enjoying the morning on some rocks in Lake Victoria

View from Ndere Island

Ndere Island is a small island and a National Park in lake Victorias Winam Gulf. The lake consists a vast number of islands – some of them like Rusinga island are quite big and with tall vulcanoes and others are small like many of the Sese Islands in the Ugandan share of the lake

Tropical paradise island

Diani beach or Pemba island in the Indian Ocean? No – a tropical island called Takawiri located in Lake Victorias 68,000 km2 expanse of water

In the Kenyan part of the lake you will find Islands such as Rusinga, Mfangano, Takawiri, Ndere and the lake has a large number of smaller islands – maybe the Sese Islands being the most visited.

Fishermen take out on the lake in the morning
Fishermen takes off in the morning as a few Hammerkops and Herons watches at Hippo Point, Lake Victoria – a few km outside Kisumu

Ukerewe in the Tanzanian part of the lake is the largest island in Lake Victoria and the largest inland island in all of Africa, with an area of approximately 530 km².

A Goliath heron at lake victoria by sunset

A Goliath heron at lake victoria by sunset

Another interesting island in the southern part of the lake is Rubondo Island. Rubondo Island has gained status of National Park and there are giraffes, elephants, chimpanzees as well as a wealth of other animals and birds to be seen.

Boat trips on Lake Victoria
Setting out in a canoe early in the morning is a great way to experience Lake Victoria and contrary to many other places in Kenya there are no park fees. The bird list exceeds 100 species and also there are monitor lizards and sometimes Giant Otters along the lakeshore so remember to bring your camera and a pair of binoculars.

Fisherman throws his net into Lake Victoria – the highest building in Kisumu being visible in the background

In the morning the lake is usually very calm, but in the afternoons where the wind picks up, sailing on the lake is not without risk and fishermen drown every year because of lack of safety precautions on the lake! If you venture out onto the lake, always ensure that the boatman brings along safety vests for everyone onboard! Also it is a very good idea to bring some sunscreen and a hat because in a boat you will be relentlessly exposed to the sun (and its reflections in the surface) and there will be nowhere to find shade until you reach the shore again.

Lake Victoria sunset, Kenya

Lake Victoria sunset, Kenya

Contact us for any inquiry about your next safari in Africa:


Be Sociable, Share!

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  • Africa-Expert

    Photography safaris in Africa

  • E-books

    Storytelling with film and photography in Africa