Uganda is a part of the African Great Lakes region and almost a fifth of its surface area is covered by open water or swamp land. Uganda’s lakes are critical to the nation’s biodiversity and economy, but their future is threatened by environmental issues.
The African Great Lakes region includes a number of countries which surround the African Great Lakes, including Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, and Tanzania.
Of the African Great Lakes, Lake Victoria, Lake Albert, and Lake Edward are partly located in Uganda. These lakes all drain into the White Nile, one of the two main tributaries of the Nile. Almost all of Uganda’s surface area lies within the Nile basin.
Located in south-western Uganda, Lake Bunyonyi is sandwiched between Kabale (53 km away) and Kisoro (48 km away). Bunyonyi’s breath-taking views make it the perfect place to wind down after gorilla trekking in nearby Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
The depth of the water is debated, but its maximum depth is around 40m. Bunyonyi extends northwards for 25km and its maximum width is 5km.
Lake Bunyonyi is one of the safest lakes in Africa. There are no crocodiles or hippos, and there is no risk of bilharzia. Bunyonyi translates as ‘the place of the little birds’, and the lake is home to over 200 bird species.
It is a great spot to see weaver colonies, and the surrounding marshlands also support a good variety of water birds. Larger favourites are the crowned crane, herons, and egrets.
Lakes of Uganda
The lake also contains an exciting range of marine life, including the African clawless otter and the spotted-necked otter.
Swimming is a great way to explore and immerse yourself in the environment.
Alternatively, you can explore a selection of the 29 islands that Bunyonyi encircles. Glide through the glistening waters in a dugout canoe and soak up the beautiful scenery.
Long nature walks at Bunyonyi are a therapeutic experience and there are several trails to choose from. There are also a number of fantastic community walks available in the surrounding villages.
A small, freshwater lake in the far southwest of Uganda, close to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and a 30-minute drive from Kisoro, Lake Mutanda is drained by the Rutshuru River and flows northward to Lake Edward.
With an altitude of 1,800m, Lake Mutanda offers excellent hiking routes which provide breath-taking views of The Virunga Mountains. Three extinct volcanoes are within viewing range of the lake: Mount Muhabura, Mount Sabyinyo, and Mount Gahinga.
With an elevation of 4,127m, Mount Muhabura is the third highest of the Virunga Mountains. This steep hike is the most physically demanding, but it provides breath-taking views of Lake Edward, Bwindi, and the peak of the Rwenzori Mountains.
With an elevation of 3,473m, Mount Gahinga is smaller than Mount Muhabura and Mount Sabyinyo. The hike is gentler, and it is suitable for less experienced hikers.
The starlight by the shores of Lake Mutanda. The starlight by the shores of Lake Mutanda.
The Garama Cave is a major attraction for adventurers who wish to learn more about local cultures.
This tourism trail was created as a collaboration between the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and The United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda. The trail is designed to support the Batwa, who inhabited the caves for many years before being resettled.
Island tours allow you to see Lake Mutanda from a different perspective. The lake contains 15 small islands, and 'Mutanda Island' is inhabited by a clan called ‘Abagesera’.
Travel to the island in a traditional dug-out canoe or boat and see the church that the Abagesera have built on the top of the island.
Africa’s largest lake is nestled between Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Uganda is home to 45% of Lake Victoria’s 68,800 km² surface area, and Entebbe is located on a peninsula. As well as being an attraction for adventurers, Lake Victoria is integral to the livelihoods of millions of East Africans.
Named after Queen Victoria by the explorer John Hanning Speke, the lake had been a part of local legend long before Speke’s discovery of it in 1858. Lake Victoria’s wildlife, archipelagos, and sheer vastness make it an integral part of any Ugandan adventure.
Lake Victoria is home to a plethora of wildlife. The region of Lake Victoria is inhabited by many mammal species, including the hippopotamus, the marsh mongoose, and the giant otter shrew.
The lake contains reptiles such as the Nile crocodile and the African helmeted turtle, and many crustaceans, including 4 different species of freshwater crab.
The future of Lake Victoria is tragically threatened by environmental issues.The future of Lake Victoria is tragically threatened by environmental issues.
Lake Victoria contains over 200 species of fish and the haplochromine cichlid is the main endemic group. However, many species have become extinct in the last 50 years and scientists estimate that Lake Victoria's indigenous fish species have decreased by 80%. The Nile perch is Lake Victoria's most notorious invasive species.
Located around 27 kilometres south-east of Entebbe, Ngamba Island is one of Lake Victoria’s most popular islands. A worthwhile visit is the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary where you can spend an unforgettable day with 50 orphaned chimpanzees.
The Ssese Islands area secret paradise of white sandy beaches and sapphire waters in the north-west of Lake Victoria. The unique archipelago of 84 islands is unmissable for any adventurer.
Situated on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lake Edward is shared between the two nations.
Lake Edward is the smallest of the African Great Lakes and its northern shore is just a few kilometres south of the equator. Lake George drains into Lake Edward via the 32km long Kazinga Channel. Kazinga Channel boat cruises are a major attraction within Queen Elizabeth National Park.
In 1888, the British explorer, Henry Morton Stanley, named the lake after Prince Albert Edward, the son of Queen Victoria. However, in 1973, the Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, named the lake after himself. The original name was reinstated after Amin was overthrown in 1979.
Lake Edward is the smallest of the African Great Lakes.Lake Edward is the smallest of the African Great Lakes.
Like Lake George, Lake Edward is designated as a Ramsar site due to the importance of its wetland habitat. Lake Edward is visited by many species of migratory water birds, and the lesser flamingo has been spotted several times.
The lake is inhabited by many fish species, including the Nile tilapia and the blue-spotted tilapia. There are several local fishing villages and Vitshumbi is the largest.
The banks of Lake Edward are home to elephants, chimpanzees, buffaloes, and crocodiles.
Located in central Uganda, Lake Kyoga is a shallow, 129km long lake which is part of the African Great Lakes system. The Victoria Nile flows through Lake Kyoga on its journey from Lake Victoria to Lake Albert.
Lake Kyoga has many arms, and its surface area is around 1,720km². The lake is relatively shallow, and its maximum depth is around 5.7m.
Lake Kyoga is separated into three sections: the open water is deeper than 3m, the shallower water is covered by water lilies, and the swampy shoreline is almost completely covered by papyrus and the invasive water hyacinth.
Lakes of Uganda
Lake Kyoga contains 46 fish species, and the majority are endemic. Like Lake Victoria, Lake Kyoga has suffered in the aftermath of the introduction of the invasive Nile perch in the 1950s. Over the course of several decades, the Nile perch has disrupted the natural balance of Lake Kyoga’s ecosystem. Lake Kyoga is also home to the Nile crocodile, which can reach up to 5m in length.
Lake Kyoga is a great place to unwind via fishing, or a long nature walk. The Nyero rock paintings are just 12km from Lake Kyoga. These ancient geometric paintings are one of the most important rock art sites in Uganda and guided tours are insightful.
The closest accommodation to Lake Kyoga is Soroti Hotel 2001. Located 27 miles from the lake, Soroti Hotel 2001 is a comfortable base for adventures. Located 44 miles from Lake Kyoga, Strikers Hotel offers a broader range of accommodation, including deluxe double rooms.
Located in the Kiruhura District in the Western Region of Uganda, Lake Mburo National Park is virtually equidistant between Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Entebbe.
Lake Mburo (13km²) is the largest of five lakes within Lake Mburo National Park. Alongside 13 lakes in the surrounding area, Lake Mburo is part of a wetland system which stretches across 50km.
Lake Mburo National Park covers 260km² and 20% of the park’s surface area is formed of wetland habitats including lakes and marshland. The park also contains other rich habitats such as grassland and acacia woodland.
The park contains 68 mammal species, several of which are endemic. Lake Mburo National Park is the only place in Uganda where you can see the majestic impala.
Alongside Kidepo Valley National Park, Lake Mburo National Park is one of two Ugandan destinations home to the common eland and Burchell’s zebra. The park is also home to around 315 bird species.
Boat safaris are a great way to explore the wonders of Lake Mburo. A 90-minute morning boat safari takes you along the shore of Lake Mburo. Fortunate adventurers may see buffaloes, hippos, kingfishers, fish eagles, and hammerkops.
Located in southwestern Uganda, Lake George is a shallow lake with an average depth of around 2.4 metres. The lake is in the western part of the Great Rift Valley and the explorer Henry M. Stanley named it after King George V.
Lake George has a surface area of 250km², and it is fed by various rivers and streams which flow down from the Rwenzori Mountains.
Lake George drains into its larger neighbour, Lake Edward, via the Kazinga Channel. This 32-kilometre-long freshwater channel is a key feature of the Queen Elizabeth National Park. It is home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of hippos (around 2,000).
Lake George is surrounded by wetland grass and this wetland habitat is home to a plethora of wildlife, including over 150 bird species. Several mammals reside around the wetlands, including Sitatunga antelope and elephant.
Lake George is inhabited by many fish species, including the Nile tilapia and the Haplochromis, and it supports several fishing villages.
Located on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lake Albert is the second largest lake in Uganda and the seventh largest in Africa. The lake has a surface area of 5,300km² with a maximum length of 160km and a maximum width of 30km.
Lake Albert is home to a wide range of wildlife, from African softshell turtles to Uganda kob antelopes. The lake is home to 55 fish species, including the native Nile perch which is an invasive species in Lake Victoria.
Albert is also inhabited by various water birds, including the elusive Shoebill.
Lake Albert is a great option to break up the journey between Murchison Falls National Park and Kampala or Entebbe. Travellers can visit the local fishing village, take in the stunning views, or visit the nearby Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve for game drives and fossil hunting.