15 Fascinating Facts About Lake Victoria

Did you know that Africa’s largest lake was discovered while British explorers were looking for the source of the Nile River?

In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about Lake Victoria, one of the most famous lakes in the world!

1. Lake Victoria is located in 3 different African countries

Lake Victoria is located in the eastern part of central Africa and within the boundaries of 3 different countries, namely:

  • Kenya – 6% – 4,100 square kilometers (1,600 square miles)
  • Uganda – 45% – 31,000 square kilometers (12,000 square miles)
  • Tanzania – 49% – 33,700 square kilometers (13,000 square miles)

It’s one of the African Great Lakes located in the East African Rift.

facts about lake victoria
The lake from space / Wiki Commons

2. The lake holds a couple of fascinating records

With a total surface area of 59,947 square kilometers (23,146 square miles), it’s not only the largest lake in Africa but also the largest tropical lake in the world by surface area.

Some other interesting facts about Lake Victoria:

  • Maximum length: 359 km (223 mi)
  • Maximum width: 337 km (209 mi)
  • Length of shore line: 7,142 km (4,438 mi
  • Catchment area: 169,858 km2 (65,583 sq mi)
  • Basin area: 229,815 km2 (88,732 sq mi)
  • Surface elevation: 1,135 m (3,724 ft)
  • Number of islands: 985
Lake victoria facts

3. It’s far from being the deepest lake in the world

One of the most interesting facts about Lake Victoria is that it’s relatively shallow considering its size. It only has an average depth of 41 meters (135 feet) and a maximum depth of 81 meters (266 feet).

Compare this to the deepest lake in the world, Lake Baikal in Russia which has an average depth of 744.4 meters (2,442 feet) and a maximum depth of 1,642 meters (5,387 feet), and you’ll see that it’s pretty shallow.

The lake has a total volume of 2,424 cubic kilometers (582 cubic miles) which makes it the 9th largest continental lake in the world based on volume.

4. Lake Victoria is a relatively young lake

It’s estimated that the lake was formed about 400,000 years ago, which makes it a relatively young lake. It also didn’t always have the form it has now and probably consisted of a large number of smaller lakes at one point.

It’s also assumed that the lake dried up completely at least 3 times in its history, most probably during past ice ages. The last time the lake dried out was about 17,300 years ago, only to be completely refilled in its current state about 14,700 years ago. This correlates with the time that the African humid period began.

Lake victoria surface
The lake’s surface / Ogello Jnr / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

5. The lake’s inflow mainly comes from rainfall

One of the most remarkable facts about Lake Victoria is that most of its inflow comes from rainfall. This source consists of about 80% of the total inflow.

The other 20% of inflow comes from thousands of small streams, as well as some major rivers, including the Kagara River, which is the biggest river to release in Lake Victoria.

6. The lake only has 1 outflow

What’s even more astounding is the fact that Lake Victoria only has 1 outflow, which is the Nile River. That section of the Nile is also sometimes referred to as the “Victoria Nile.”

The lake drains in its northern section near Jinja in Uganda and is therefore effectively the source of one of the largest rivers in the world.

Source of the Nile lake victoria
Source of the Nile / Bernard Dupont / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

7. Lake Victoria is home to numerous endemic species of fish

The lake is extremely rich in fish and contains a vast number of endemic species of fish. The main group of fish consists of Cichlid fish with about 300 species living in the lake and nearly all of these species don’t occur anywhere else in the world.

8. 90% Of endemic fish have gone extinct in the past 50 years

The lake used to contain thousands of species of endemic fish, but a lot of these have gone extinct in the past decades because of the introduction of multiple other types of predatory fish.

Most of these are species of tilapias including redbreast (Coptodon rendalli), redbelly (C. zillii), Nile (Oreochromis niloticus), and blue-spotted tilapias.

This also means that the lake is home to some of the biggest inland fisheries in Africa!

Lake victoria fisheries

9. One of the most infamous predators can grow up to 2 meters (6.6 feet) long

The most feared species of fish that was introduced into the lake is called the Nile Perch, a monster that isn’t just huge in size but is also extremely predatory.

The Nile Perch can grow to a length of 2 meters (6 feet 7 inches) and weigh up to 200 kilos (440 lbs)!

Nile perch in lake victoria
Nile Perch / Daiju Azuma / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

10. It’s home to a very dangerous large reptile

One of the most feared predators living in and around the lake is the Nile crocodile, a mastodont of a reptile!

These animals can grow between 3.5 and 5 meters (11.5 and 16.4 feet) in length and weigh between 225 and 750 kilos (500 and 1,650 lbs).

To make things even worse, these are ambush predators that can wait for hours, sometimes even days to make their move. They are responsible for 100’s of human casualties every year.

Luckily, they mostly eat fish and mammals who either live in or around the lake.

Nile crocodile with tilapia
Nile crocodile with tilapia / Bernard Dupont / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

11. Many major cities are massively polluting the lake

The lake is suffering from pollution as many big cities are located right along its shores. These include:

  • Kisumu, Kisii, and Homa Bay in Kenya.
  • Kampala, Jinja and Entebbe in Uganda.
  • Bukoba, Mwanza, and Musoma in Tanzania.

Most of the pollution comes from raw sewage and the industrial and agricultural waste being released into the lake as a direct result of these urban centers growing exponentially.

Mwanza City lake victoria
Mwanza City / Prof Chen Hualin / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

12. Some parts of the lake are invaded by a particular type of plant

The unlikely result of some of this pollution is the lake becoming enriched with nutrients for a particular type of plant called the water hyacinth.

In some areas of the lake, the water hyacinth is taken over complete areas resulting in the raising toxicity of and disease levels to both fish and people.

Obviously, they also obstruct the fishing boats, which has remarkably a positive effect as they prevent overfishing.

Water hyacinth Lake Victoria
Water hyacinth / Valerius Tygart / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

13. Taking a ferry on Lake Victoria isn’t the safest thing to do

The lake has been one of the easiest ways to travel across the 3 countries it’s located in. Taking the boat from Kenya to go to Uganda or Tanzania has been possible since the 1960s.

This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s the safest mode of transportation. In 1996, the biggest maritime disaster in Africa happened when the ferry MV Bukoba sank and over 800 people lost their lives.

A similar disaster happened in the year 2018 when the ferry MV Nyerere sank in Tanzania and over 200 people lost their lives.

MV Victoria
First ferry on the lake named MV Victoria / Source

14. Europeans saw the lake for the first time in 1858

Even though Arabs already visited the lake many centuries earlier, the first European to see the lake was the British explorer John Hanning Speke, who reached the southern shore of the lake in the year 1858.

Upon seeing the huge lake, he instantly assumed he had discovered the source of the Nile River and instantly named the lake “Lake Victoria” in honor of Queen Victoria of England.

John Hanning Speke Lake Victoria
John Hanning Speke / Wiki Commons

15. The discovery of the source of the Nile was a contentious one

Speke was sent out and financially sponsored by the Royal Geographic Society together with fellow explorer Richard Francis Burton. The remarkable part of the story though is that Speke discovered the lake while Burton was lying sick in bed.

The latter couldn’t take the fact that he wasn’t included in the discovery of the source of the Nile and instantly disputed the claim, resulting in a huge debate and public quarrel between the two.

The famous explorer David Livingstone didn’t manage to prove the claim in the late 1860s and it was Welsh-American explorer Henry Morton Stanley who managed to confirm that Speke’s discovery was true.

Lake victoria sunset