Africa has so much to offer a western traveler including world-renowned lakes. Second only to the Great Lakes of North America, the Great Lakes of the East African Rift Valley offer stunning vistas and unique wildlife.
This article will review the top-visited lakes in all of Africa. We’ll explore what is the largest lake in Africa, where are the best places to visit, and we’ll discover the unique cultures to be found along the way.
First, here is the answer to your question:
What is the largest lake in Africa?
It straddles the borders of Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. It was once thought to be the source of the Nile River since the Nile is the only river flowing out from Lake Victoria.
Is Lake Victoria the largest lake in Africa really? If you’re going by surface area, which is the correct way to determine the largest lakes, Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa.
Unlike many of the Rift Valley lakes, Lake Victoria is much more shallow than its neighbors. The 3,440 km of shoreline is heavily populated and diverse.
Lake Victoria has some specialized flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world. Many of these species have become extinct in recent decades. This is due to the introduction of invasive species like the Nile perch. Nile perch can grow to be larger than the size of a full-grown man.
A parasite known as Bilharzia makes swimming in Lake Victoria a risk. Bilharzia is found in many African lakes. It is easily treated, but it’s best to have the medication on-hand if you plan to swim. Some larger threats lurk under the waves. It’s becoming more common to hear about attacks from hippopotamus or the Nile crocodiles since much of their smaller pray have been hunted away.
The Seese Islands are located in the northwest corner of Lake Victoria in Uganda. There are over 80 islands in this archipelago, about half of them are populated with the Bantu-speaking Bassese tribe.
Most travelers come to these islands for the spectacular scenery, wildlife and relaxation. Several hotels are located on or near the Seese Islands, especially on the largest island of Buggala.
The Bassese people make a living through fishing and agriculture. Palm oil plantations are located on the islands. Many work in the tourism industry. Several resorts and camping sites are located along the Kalangala Bay off of Buggala Island.
A free car ferry departs every few hours from Bukakata and travels east to Buggala Island 36 km away. Buggala and Banda islands are the most visited of the Seese Islands.
Learn more about the cichlids of Lake Victoria.
9 Largest Lakes in Africa
Africa's largest lake is Lake Victoria. Now let's learn about Africa's other 8 largest lakes in Africa.
2) Lake Tanganyika
Tanganyika is the longest freshwater lake in the world and the second oldest lake in the world.
Contained on either side by the Great Rift Valley and surrounding mountains, Lake Tanganyika is exceptionally deep. The average depth is 570 m (1870 ft). The deepest area is found in the northern basin, which is a depth of 1470 m (4820 ft) deep. It holds 16% of the world’s available freshwater.
Lake Tanganyika flows through four African countries including Burundi, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Zambia. In this lake, you’ll find the Nile crocodile, various terrapins, and the storm’s water cobra.
Lake Tanganyika is a great place for sport fishing and other water sports.
3) Lake Malawi (Nyasa)
Lake Malawi, also known as Lake Nyasa, is considered to be one of the East African rift lakes. It is the third largest lake in Africa. It falls within the borders of Tanzania, Mozambique, and Malawi. Steep mountains border the lake.
This lake was initially named Lake Nyasa by David Livingstone, one of the first Europeans to explore the area. Like several of the Rift Valley lakes, Lake Malawi was a scene of a naval battle during World War I.
Upon hearing that World War I had broken out, the British high command ordered the local regiments to sink, burn and destroy any German boats, especially gunboats, in the area. A single cannon shot destroyed the boat and was touted as the British Empire‘s first naval victory of the war.
4) Lake Albert (Nyanza)
Lake Albert is the fourth largest of the great rift lakes and is notable as the source of the White Nile River. It is bordered by Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This lake is rarely visited by tourist because it is it has a sparsely populated shoreline due to the high mountains that border in the lake.
The lake was originally named after Prince Albert, the spouse of Queen Victoria. Congolese President Mobutu Sese Seko temporarily name the lake after himself.
Activities around the lake would include visits to the Bugungu Wildlife Reserve in the Murchison Falls National Park to the north in Uganda, and the Semliki Wildlife Reserve in the south.
5) Lake Chad
Lake Chad is a desert lake and is bordered by the Sahara Desert. It is an important water source for the people living in the area. It’s surrounded by four countries including Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria.
It’s a very shallow lake and, depending on drought conditions, it can vary widely in size. The lake experiences very high levels of evaporation. Due to this high rate of evaporation, the shores are primarily marshlands.
The word Chad itself means large expanse of water in the local language. Geologically, it’s part of a former inland sea. At one point in its geological history, it was larger than the Caspian Sea located in Asia.
6) Lake Bunyonyi
Lake Bunyonyi is located in the southwestern part of Uganda. This lake, unlike so many African lakes, is safe to swim in. It is free of the parasite bilharzia, and also free of hippos and crocs. It is the second deepest lake in Africa.
This lake is known for its extraordinary birding. The name itself means place of little birds and is home to over 200 species of birds.
Read more about the most beautiful places to visit in Uganda.
Another activity that makes this area unique in Africa is the interactive cultural village visits within the villages. Here you can stay in a village, visit a school, and learn to cook in traditional ways.
7) Lake Retba
Lake Retba is known as the Pink Lake of Senegal. This lake is located just a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean. It contains almost the same amount of salt as the Dead Sea. The pink hue is caused by the Dunaliella Salina bacteria, which grows there because of the high salinity.
The salinity of the lake makes living organisms rare, but neither the Dunaliella Salina bacteria nor the high salinity are harmful to humans. Salt is harvested from the lake and used to preserve fish by the locals.
8) Lake Kivu
Lake Kivu is located on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s part of the Albertine Rift.
The lake forms two large fingers, one completely within the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo and one split between the DRC and Rwanda. This lake is on the rift, where the continent is breaking apart and occasionally experiences volcanic activity.
Several National Parks are located nearby. Volcanoes National Park, in Rwanda, is home to active volcanoes and primates, including gorillas. Virunga National Park lies just over the border in the DRC. This park is a terrific location to witness the wilds of the heart of Africa.
This lake offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. Quaint lodges and huts speckle the shoreline. Be sure to read recent reviews before booking. Lake Kivu is full of methane gas that they are pumping and certain areas have become less desirable because of the industrial activity nearby.
9) Lake Assal
Lake Assal is a must-visit spot if you are in Djibouti. It’s a crater lake located just inland from the Gulf of Tadjoura near the Gulf of Aden. This salty lake lies 155m (509 ft) below sea level. It’s the lowest point in Africa. Water primarily leaves the lake through evaporation. It is ten times saltier than the ocean.
This lake is located in the middle of the Danakil Desert. It’s surrounded by dormant volcanoes. Much of the lake bed is made of black lava fields. Visitors describe the lake and surrounding area as eerie or apocalyptic.
The salt makes strange formation is it collects and erodes and is a favorite feature of visitors there. The array of green hues the lake gives off due to the shallowness of the lake and the salt content also make for interesting observations.
Africa is noted for its unique wildlife and spectacular terrain, but the diverse and plentiful grand lakes on this continent should not be overlooked. Is Lake Victoria the largest lake in Africa? Yes, but don't miss out on all the other wonders of the lakes of Africa.
Have a question to ask – or maybe a fact to share? Join us in the comments!