Locally known as Nalubaale, Lake Victoria is part of the African Great Lakes located 1°S 33°E shared by three East African countries of Uganda (45%), Kenya (6%) and Tanzania (49%).  It derived its name from after Queen Victoria by the explorer John Hanning Speke, the first British to document it. Speke accomplished this in 1858, while on an expedition with Richard Francis Burton to locate the source of the Nile River.

The lake is Africa’s largest lake by area and the largest tropical lake in the world and the second largest freshwater lake by surface in the world after Lake Superior in North America. The Lake Victoria wetland system is estimated to be about 184,000 km2 and the lake 68,800 km2 with an average depth of 40m in an area estimated at 1,133 m above sea level.

There are many rivers that feed into the lake but the main one being River Kagera running from Rwanda through Tanzania to the north shore. The lake is known to have about 84 islands that make up Ssese Islands in Uganda as well as Bukoba Island, Mwanza, Island and Musoma in Tanzania. Lake Victoria is relatively young, about 400,000 years old during the up thrust movement that took place in the parts of Eastern and western Uganda. During the process, most of the rivers were forced to reverse their direction pouring water into the basin that was creates and filled with water to form the lake.

History and exploration

The first recorded information about Lake Victoria comes from Arab traders plying the inland routes in search of gold, ivory, other precious commodities, and slaves. An excellent map, known as the Al Idrisi map from the calligrapher who developed it and dated from the 1160s, clearly depicts an accurate representation of Lake Victoria, and attributes it as the source of the Nile.

In the past, the famous British explorer and missionary David Livingstone failed in his attempt to verify Speke’s discovery, instead pushing too far west and entering the River Congo system instead. Ultimately, the Welsh-American explorer Henry Morton Stanley, on an expedition funded by the New York Herald newspaper, confirmed the truth of Speke’s discovery, circumnavigating the lake and reporting the great outflow at Ripon Falls on the lake’s northern shore.

Since the 1900s, Lake Victoria ferries have been an important means of transport between Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. The main ports on the lake are Kisumu, Mwanza, Bukoba, Entebbe, Port Bell and Jinja. Until Kenyan independence in 1963, the fastest and most modern ferry, MV Victoria, was designated a Royal Mail Ship. In 1966, train ferry services between Kenya and Tanzania were established with the introduction of MV Uhuru and MV Umoja. The ferry MV Bukoba sank in the lake on May 21, 1996, with a loss of between 800 and 1,000 lives, making it one of Africa’s worst maritime disasters. MV Kalangala serves from Nakiwogo, Entebbe to Ssese Islands or you can get to the islands from Bukakata in Masaka.