Lake Lanao, Philippines

Lake Locations:

Philippines - Mindanao Super Region -

Although the second-largest lake in the Philippines and considered one of 17 ancient lakes of the world, Lake Lanao is little known and seldom visited by tourists. Covering over 84,000 acres on a high plateau surrounded on three sides by mountains in the Mindanao Super Region, this jewel is the source of over 50% of the hydroelectric power for this island province. At least two million years old, the huge lake was formed in a rift valley dammed by volcanic action and has developed its own group of endemic fish found nowhere else on earth. The lakeshore has been the home of the Maranao tribe for over a thousand years. In fact, the name Lanao is derived from the Maranao word ranao, meaning lake and they thus call themselves Maranao, or People of the Lake. The name Lake Lanao is then a redundancy, meaning Lake Lake. The Maranao revere their lake, and it is the subject of most folk tales and legends among the tribe.

Lake Lanao has five small tributaries contributing water to the lake: Taraka, Gata, Masiu and Bacayawan. There is only one out-flowing river, the Agus River. Said to be the swiftest running in the country, the Agus River exits in two channels, with one feeding the Maria Cristina Falls and the other creating Cinnamon Falls on its way to Illana Bay. Lake Lanao is home to a highly unusual group of fish known as a “species flock”. All 18 species are thought to have evolved from one specie, the spotted barb. These fish are of great interest to scientists as they represent the rapidity with which fish species can evolve in a closed system. Unfortunately, changes in water levels and the introduction of other non-native species of fish have reduced the number of endemics, and now only about five types remain. The lake is still very important to local economies in that both commercial and sport fishing is engaged in. The varieties now caught include mudfish, tilapia, goby, catfish, climbing perch, eels and freshwater shrimp.

The Maranao use the lake as a primary transportation route, their colorfully-painted dug-out-style boats piled high with goods and people on their way to other settlements along the shore. The lake comes alive especially on market days. Both traditional dug-outs and motorized boats ply the lake, providing transport and communication between lake communities.

A great variety of waterfowl call Lake Lanao home, with egrets, bitterns, herons, ducks, geese, rails, Eurasian coots and gallinules found in large numbers. The lake is well-supplied with wetlands and emergent reeds, providing excellent breeding habitat for shorebirds. Wild pig and deer inhabit the shoreline, which is also used for livestock grazing. Local people grow rice and other crops on their farming plots and use the lake water for bathing and drinking water.

Surveys commissioned by Gen. Douglas McArthur while he acted as advisor to the Philippines before the Second World War identified the Agus River as suitable for the generation of hydroelectric power. The first downstream dam in a series of six dams along the river began producing electricity in 1953. Unfortunately, after the 1978 dam near Marawi City was built, lake levels began to be affected by the continually-changing river levels. A second dam at the other outlet branch enlarged and altered the outflow to the extent that water levels are no longer kept stable. Recent studies show that this is affecting water quality and changing the water chemistry of the once-pristine lake.

Lake Lanao Watershed Protection and Development Council (LLWPDC) was created in 1992 and was responsible for the development of the Lake Lanao Integrated Development Plan (IDP) in 2003. Unfortunately, progress has been slow, interrupted both by frequently-changing authority and failure to abide by environmentally-sound regulation. Although a portion of the watershed is protected forest lands, officials have been known to issue logging permits in defiance of no-cut laws. Efforts to implement and enforce water level regulations have also failed so far as the electrical power is badly needed. And local representatives complain that, although their lake is being utilized to provide electricity for others, locals have seen little benefit and many remain in poverty. As hostilities between the Moro National Liberation Front and Philippine government forces have subsided in recent years, it is hoped that the lake can be protected and managed to better protect the environment and provide necessary improvements for the local residents.

Located on the southernmost group of islands constituting the Philippines, Lake Lanao lies at the heart of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, a self-governed region with the largest Muslim population in the Philippines. This religious majority has existed in Mindanao since the 16th century and pre-dates the arrival of the Spaniards into the islands. Although the former sultanate form of rulership has given way to democratic elections, most of the former royal families still hold the majority of positions of power, both politically and financially. Marawi City is resplendent with ornate and excellently tended mosques, some of great age. Many large torogans, the Maranao houses characterized by an antique royal high roof with curved designs, add to the exotic atmosphere. Scenery at the lake, backed by the mountains, is excellent. Locals are quick to point out the series of peaks called the Sleeping Lady, which look like a reclining woman.

The local people love brilliant colors and dress in colorful handmade garments, particularly the women who wear the traditional malong dyed in violet, purple, green, red, yellow, floral, and geometrics. The Maranao tribe is highly artistic; their numerous ceremonial artifacts and everyday tools are trimmed with the sensuous “okir” (carving) and colorful “nagas” (serpent figures). A section of Marawi City called Tugaya Town produces excellent decorative brassware using the lost wax technique. Visitors often come expressly to bargain for the brassware, carvings and dyed textiles produced by the people. Elected representatives are currently working toward developing a full-fledged tourism industry now that the political strife has subsided.

Local Mindanao State University, founded in 1962, has done much to promote progress in the area. Serving as an educational institute and a center of social and cultural integration, the university provides the only resort hotel in the area and sports a nine-hole golf course. Aga Khan Museum, located on campus, displays a huge collection of indigenous art and cultural materials, ethnic music, native tools and weapons used by the Muslims, and houses of different artistic designs. One of the attractions offered at Dansalan College in Marawi City is the Dasalan Handicraft Building where expert carvers and weavers offer live demonstrations showcasing Maranao arts and skills. Visitors also enjoy Bagang Beach near Marawi City and touring around the lake. Marawi City holds many festivals throughout the year, most of them religiously-based. Like the local landmark Sacred Mountain, visitors may not be welcome at many of these events, and it would be best to ask for information at the university.

Because the fledgling tourism industry here is in its infancy, there don’t appear to be many choices of lodgings available at present. Official Philippines travel websites offer little in the way of tours or itineraries that include Mindanao or Lake Lanao. The lake is accessible by car, and a road travels completely around the lake, entering several local villages. It is unknown if real estate is available for purchase. A visit to Mindanao State University might be the most convenient way to visit Lake Lanao, which devotes much research to the lake and its environment. For those who enjoy the road less traveled, a trip to Lake Lanao should definitely be on your bucket list. No other place has quite the atmosphere or flavor of Lake Lanao!

Things to do at Lake Lanao

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Golf
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Museum
  • Antiquing

Fish species found at Lake Lanao

  • Catfish
  • Eel
  • Perch
  • Tilapia

Lake Lanao Photo Gallery

Lake Lanao Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Water Level Control: National Power Corporation.

Surface Area: 84,016 acres

Shoreline Length: 72 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 2,297 feet

Average Depth: 198 feet

Maximum Depth: 368 feet

Water Volume: 17,251,977 acre-feet

Drainage Area: 649 sq. miles

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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