Lake Victoria, African Great Lakes

Lake Locations:

African Great Lakes - Kenya - Nyanza - Western - Tanzania - Kagera - Mara - Mwanza - Uganda - Central -

Also known as:  Victoria Nyanza, Victoria Ukerewe, Victoria Nalubaale

Lake Victoria — also known as Victoria Nyanza, Ukerewe, and Nalubaale — rakes in the superlatives: it is the largest lake on the African continent by surface area, the largest tropical lake in the world, and the second largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. Joined by five others, Lake Victoria is one of the Great Lakes of Africa, extending into three countries: Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania (6, 45, and 49 percent, respectively). Lake Victoria provides drinking water, hydroelectric power, water transportation, and economic development to the area. The lake supports industries such as commercial fishing, agriculture, trade, tourism, and wildlife preservation.

Though Lake Victoria has been around for more than 400,000 years, the first accounts of human arrival come from Arab traders in the 1100s, who arrived in search of gold, ivory, and slaves. Europeans later arrived in 1858, when British explorers John Hanning Speke and Richard Francis Burton arrived on a central Africa exploration expedition. Believing the lake to be the mouth of the Nile, Speke named it after Queen Victoria of England. Debate ensued on whether the lake actually held title as Mouth of the Nile, and many explorers arrived to either prove or refute Speke’s claim. Eventually, the American Explorer Henry Morton Stanley discovered the lake’s outflow at Ripon Falls, thus validating Speke’s original statement: Lake Victoria forms the headwaters of the great Nile River.

Ripon Falls in Uganda was the only natural outlet for Lake Victoria. With construction of the Owen Falls Dam and Nalubaale Power Station in 1954, the original Falls were submerged. An agreement between Uganda and Egypt dictated that water releases through the dam would correspond with the natural outflow before damming. The Uganda Electricity Board (UEB) operates the power station, which supplies electricity to Uganda and neighboring Kenya. Uganda completed a second hydroelectric powerhouse, the Kiira station, in 2003, and a third power station at the Bujugali Falls has been planned. However, due to prolonged drought and hydropower generation, Lake Victoria water levels have fallen to their lowest levels since 1951, with serious negative impact on fishing, transportation, electricity, and tourism. The three countries bordering Lake Victoria have prepared National Environmental Action Plans, acknowledging that cooperation is necessary to address the challenges of water pollution, biodiversity loss, land and wetlands degradation, and deforestation.

Though Lake Victoria extends into Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda, international water travel is not possible. Visitors to the area must choose their country, and the offerings are many. One of the most common ways to reach Lake Victoria is by safari, allowing you to visit the lake, its islands, and several neighboring national parks.

Kenya offers rich natural and cultural offerings, and a visit to the Kenyan shores of Lake Victoria will give you insight into the people and animals that make their home here. Western Kenya is largely unexplored, and absent are the mass of safari vans that so often dot the African landscape. Instead of mass tourism, here you’ll participate in cultural immersion and get even deeper insight to African life by overnighting in a home stay. You’ll soon find that community-based tourism is a central part of life here, educating visitors and helping local communities sustain themselves.

A Kenya-based Lake Victoria safari usually starts in Nairobi to Ndere Island National Park. Located in the Winam Gulf of Lake Victoria, the island has been uninhabited since 1986. Ndere means “meeting place” in Dholou, and here you will first meet the lake’s waters, flora, and fauna. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of African fish eagles, hippopotamuses, swifts, and Nile crocodiles that are known to make their home here. Later, travel to Homa Bay, a town and bay on the southern shore of Winam Gulf. Gaze at the vast Mount Homa, investigate Ruma National Park, and keep your eyes peeled for giraffes, roan antelope, and hartebeests. Next stop is usually Rusinga Island, which includes a history museum, native Luo people, and growing sustainable tourism options. Several safaris will also take you to the Maasai Mara National Reserve, where you will meet the native Maasai and explore the landscape before heading back to your home base.

A visit to Lake Victoria’s Tanzania coast will likely bring you to one spot: Rubondo Island National Park. The only national park in the country, the 93 square mile island is a mass of green trees, sparkling blue waters, and varied wildlife. Nature lovers will enjoy seeing giraffe, elephants, crocodiles, hippos, monkeys, otters, suni antelope, and marsh mongoose, though bird watchers will be those most satisfied by a visit to Rubondo Island National Park. Home to almost 400 bird species, the island is a avian paradise of cormorants, kingfishers, hornbills, ibises, storks, flycatchers, herons, and many birds of pray, including the world’s highest density of fish eagles. There are several tours available on-island, and lodging options are also available, allowing visitors to make the most of their time on Tanzania’s Lake Victoria coast.

Uganda, which Winston Churchill called the “pearl of Africa,” offers Lake Victoria visitors incredible scenery, vast wildlife populations, and volcanic ranges, all with a background of beautiful snow-capped mountain peaks. Rare mountain gorillas live in the mountains, and among Uganda’s tourist offerings are a Gorilla Safari and Chimpanzee treks, offering you scenic vistas and shoreline explorations.

Your days visiting Lake Victoria will be filled with wildlife watching, birdwatching, and appreciation of the varied African landscape around you. Depending on your time constraints and trip goals, choose your country wisely, and you will glimpse the Lake Victoria that Arab traders and European explorers first discovered.

Things to do at Lake Victoria

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park
  • Museum

Lake Victoria Photo Gallery

Lake Victoria Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Surface Area: 17,000,350 acres

Shoreline Length: 2,138 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 3,717 feet

Average Depth: 131 feet

Maximum Depth: 272 feet

Water Volume: 2,229,461,280 acre-feet

Water Residence Time: 23 years

Drainage Area: 71,043 sq. miles

Trophic State: Meso-eutrophic

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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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