Introduction to Lake Victoria
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 its waters are integral to the prosperity 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. Speke’s claim that Lake Victoria is the source of the Nile caused uproar in the scientific community and led to fierce debate.
Lake Victoria’s wildlife, archipelagos, and sheer vastness make it an integral part of any Ugandan adventure.
Lake Victoria supports a plethora of wildlife. The region of Lake Victoria is home to many mammal species, including the hippopotamus, the marsh mongoose, and the giant otter shrew.
It also contains reptiles such as the Nile crocodile and the African helmeted turtle, and many crustaceans, including 4 different species of freshwater crab.
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%.
Lake Victoria is also home to many invasive species, including the notorious Nile perch. In 1954, the colonial government introduced the predatory Nile perch upstream of Murchison Falls to improve Lake Victoria’s fisheries.
Over the course of several decades, the Nile perch has disrupted the natural balance of Lake Victoria’s ecosystem.
A rapid decrease in the number of algae-eating fish allowed algae to grow at a rapid rate. In turn, more detritus fell to the deeper sections of the lake before being decomposed, reducing oxygen levels in the deeper water, and forcing fish into shallower sections.
The future of Lake Victoria is threatened by water pollution, overfishing, and water hyacinth invasion.
Unsustainable activities within the catchment also pose a significant threat. Scientists estimate that over 70% of the forest cover in the catchment has already been lost.
Things to do at Lake Victoria
Is it safe to swim in Lake Victoria?
It is only safe to swim in designated areas of Lake Victoria, but some locals and visitors choose to swim outside of these areas at their own risk. Local officials estimate that around 5,000 people die on Lake Victoria each year, and drowning is tragically a common cause of death.
There is also a risk of contracting bilharzia (schistosomiasis), a tropical disease which is caused by parasitic flatworms.
Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary
Located around 27 kilometres south-east of Entebbe, Ngamba Island is one of Lake Victoria’s most popular islands. Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary cares for 50 orphaned chimpanzees which have been rescued across East Africa.
The sanctuary is run by The Chimpanzee Trust, an NGO which aims to sustainably protect chimpanzees and offer captive care for chimps which cannot survive in the wild.
You can choose between half and full day trips to the sanctuary and chimp enthusiasts can even spend the night at Ngamba Ecolodge.
The Ssese Islands are a secret paradise of white sandy beaches and sapphire waters in the north-west of Lake Victoria. This unique archipelago of 84 islands is unmissable for adventurers who want to unwind in a remote utopia.
Bugala Island is the most developed of the Ssese Islands, and it is easily accessible from Entebbe via ferry. You can enjoy a range of activities at Bugala, from quad biking, to fishing and birding.
Banda Island is more remote, and the island has a beautiful simplicity. Escape other travellers and savour meditative walks along the beach, immersing yourself in your idyllic surroundings.
Located on the northern shore of Lake Victoria, this wetland is Uganda’s most important birding site. Mabamba is home to over 300 bird species, including the enigmatic Shoebill.
Birding in Mabamba is a great experience. You will climb aboard a traditional canoe, and a local guide will weave through the maze of channels whilst educating you about the local ecosystem and the best photography spots.
You have the highest chances of seeing the Shoebill in the early morning, but you can also expect to see other remarkable species like the African marsh harrier.
Uganda Wildlife Education Centre
‘Entebbe Zoo’ is an animal orphanage which serves as a sanctuary for animals that are unable to survive in the wild. Situated on the shore of Lake Victoria, this is a great adventure for any animal lover.
Whether you watch chimpanzees swinging through the trees or lions patrolling their territory, the zoo is a great way to learn more about a range of animals species.
We recommend the ‘behind the scenes’ tour which provides insight into how the centre cares for its animals. The tour allows animal lovers to get even closer to the lions and elephants.
Where to stay at Lake Victoria
Lake Victoria Hotel (Entebbe)
Just 13 minutes from the shore of Lake Victoria, Lake Victoria Hotel is a popular base for adventurers. The restaurant serves delicious African and continental dishes as well as afternoon tea.
The hotel includes a range of excellent facilities, including a gym, spa, and outdoor pool. The sun deck is the perfect place to relax after a day exploring Lake Victoria.
There is also a free airport shuttle service to Entebbe International Airport, which is only 3.1km from the hotel.
Protea Hotel Entebbe
Located next to Entebbe International Airport, Protea Hotel Entebbe is a luxury 4-star resort hotel which provides excellent access to Lake Victoria.
Its restaurant offers a delicious à la carte menu and its daily specials are very popular. They often include Tilapia and Nile perch.
A visit to the Tides Spa is a fantastic way to unwind after a day of adventures at the lake.
Mirembe Resort Beach Hotel (Bugala Island)
Mirembe Resort Beach Hotel is located on the shoreline of Bugala Island, near to Kalangala. The resort’s name, ‘Mirembe’ is derived from the Luganda word for 'peace', and the accommodation is designed to blend in with its stunning surroundings.
Mirembe contains a variety of accommodation options, and you can choose between deluxe rooms, cottages, block houses, and tents.
The Mukusu Restaurant has a traditional African grass thatched roof, and it serves a blend of African and continental dishes which are prepared with fresh, local ingredients.
When is the best time to visit Lake Victoria?
The best time to visit Lake Victoria for birding, fishing, and biking is during the peak season of June to October.
During the dry season, fewer water sources are available inland, causing a greater variety of birds to gather at Lake Victoria. Paths and biking trails will be drier and safer during these months.
However, the long rainy season of March to May can also be an exciting time to visit Lake Victoria. If you are unperturbed by downpours and rougher waters, you can watch as Lake Victoria is rejuvenated by new flowers, grasses, and avian chicks.
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