Lake Mweru, Congo (DRC) & Zambia

Lake Locations:

Congo (DRC) - Zambia -

Beautiful but remote describes Lake Mweru, located on the border of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (CRC). Mweru means lake in the local language. Covering 1,265,178 acres, Lake Mweru is the Congo drainage basin’s second largest lake, eclipsed only by Lake Tanganyika 93 miles to the east. Although its significance to the local economy is enormous, the lake does not yet receive much tourism. Only in the past few years has a paved road made the lake accessible by car.

Lake Mweru is home to several thousand native fishermen who make most of their income providing fish to markets. Years of civil war on the Congo side have brought many displaced people here to try to eke out a living at Lake Mweru. A small, but thriving economy supports many families. Some work at the copper mine 15 miles west of the lake or own small shops which provide supplies to local people. Although organized tourism has not yet developed, a number of small guesthouses provide somewhat rudimentary lodgings to those visiting the larger towns. The nearest modern hotel lodgings are located in Lubumbashi, DRC, a full 200 miles to the south of the village of Kilwa along the western shore. Currently, only determined adventurers come to Lake Mweru.

Lying on a branch of the East African Rift valley, Lake Mweru’s southern shore includes a large wetland fed by the Luapula River. This large wetland area is one of the main reasons that Lake Mweru doesn’t expand to huge proportions during the annual wet season as do most area lakes. The wetland floods to take extra water, and the fast-flowing Luvua River outlet flows faster and deeper to accept any excess. Several large islands dot the surface of the lake, the largest being Kilwa, opposite the village of Kilwa on the western shore. Some of the larger islands are inhabited, and travel between them and the main shore keeps several boatmen busy. Although in the past a paddle-wheeler used to run a regular route across the lake from village to village, scheduled boats are now somewhat erratic. Boat service can still be found from Kasenga on the Luapula River to Kilwa and on to Pweto at the Luvua River outlet-a distance of 187 miles. Visiting many of the islands can be accomplished by negotiating with a local boat owner to be ferried across.

The waters of Lake Mweru hold a species of tilapia (called pale), tiger fish, catfish, carp, elephant fish and a small sardine-sized fish. Because the lake area population has increased, overfishing has resulted in fewer large fish and far more pale being caught in nets. These fish are dried, smoked or salted for sale both locally and in villages a distance from the lake. Many fishermen are seasonal residents, setting up camp in temporary villages at the times of best catches. Some government efforts at controlling the fishing situation are underway but have not yet been too successful. Only when peace allows recent residents to return to their traditional homes will there be any real solution to overfishing.

Large numbers of typical African mammals used to roam near the shores of Lake Mweru. Elephants were particularly plentiful. Poaching and increased cultivation have significantly reduced their numbers. The black rhino is gone. A short distance east of the lake, the Mweru Wantipa National Park offers some protection to grysbok, blue and yellow backed duikers, warthog, bushbuck, buffalo, sable, eland, roan hartebeest, waterbuck, puku and small numbers of elephant, hyena, lion and leopard. Lake Mweru Wantipa is entirely within the 774,428-acre park, and swampy areas near the lake hold a rare ecological feature called Itigi-Sumbu thicket. The thicket is made up of over 100 species of plants and so thick that it is nearly impenetrable by humans. Even elephants couldn’t be tracked through these thickets. Shy and seldom seen, it is known that sitatunga antelope inhabit the marshes around the lake. Getting into the marshes is possible if visitors hire a local to take them through the swamp in a traditional dugout canoe called a mokoro. There are no visitor facilities for the park, and all supplies must be brought in. Visiting the park is not advised during the rainy season from December to March, and one should hire a local guide before venturing too deeply into the park’s interior.

In many ways Lake Mweru and its environs still closely resemble the lake David Livingston ‘discovered’ in 1867-1868 (he called the lake ‘Moero’). At the time of his exploration, the region was suffering heavily under the raids of Arabic slave traders. His reports led to the slave trade being legally outlawed before 1880, but the trade itself didn’t actually stop until around 1890. Livingston suffered the ravages of several tropical diseases and didn’t survive to get back to England. Although his body was returned to England, his heart was buried in Zambia, and several memorials to his memory are located throughout the country.

Lake Mweru doesn’t appear on most tour itineraries. Only a few adventure tour agencies will be able to guide tourists to Lake Mweru and the nearby park. Fishing is still possible, but regulatory permission to do so is unclear. The primary ‘catch’ for most visitors will be spectacular photographs of this beautiful lake, some of the waterfalls along the edges of the rift valley, and smiling local people who live simply. It is advised that those planning to camp near Lake Mweru contact Zambia tourism offices to be directed to places considered safe to camp. So, if your bucket-list includes exploring like David Livingston, Lake Mweru should be at the top of that list. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

* Statistical data comes from “Update on the bathymetry of Lake Mweru (Zambia), with notes on water level fluctuations”. African Journal of Aquatic Science, 2006. This publication is not available for linking but appears to be the most recent statistics published.

Things to do at Lake Mweru

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Canoeing
  • Camping
  • Waterfall
  • National Park

Fish species found at Lake Mweru

  • Carp
  • Catfish
  • Tiger Fish
  • Tilapia

Lake Mweru Photo Gallery

Lake Mweru Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 1,265,178 acres

Shoreline Length: 271 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 3,009 feet

Average Depth: 25 feet

Maximum Depth: 89 feet

Water Volume: 30,969,244 acre-feet

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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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