One of the best ways to get away from stress is to spend a few days relaxing by the lake. Luckily, the Great Rift Valley or East Africa has plenty of them to choose from. In this guide, I outline 15 of the most spectacular Rift Valley lakes in East Africa. I’ll explain how to get there and list some of the best activities on each lake.
A Bit of Info About the Great Lakes of the East African Rift Valley
The East African Rift is a geologically active zone where the forces of plate tectonics are pulling the earth’s lithosphere apart. Essentially, the continent of Africa is becoming two separate landmasses. This process began around 25 million years ago during the beginning of the Miocene.
At the current rate of movement of around 6-7 mm per year, it is estimated that the lithosphere connecting the plates will break in around 10 million years. At that time, Africa will be divided into two tectonic plates, the newly formed Somali Plate and the Nubian plate. A newly formed ocean floor will separate the plates.
The evidence that we can see today of this tectonic movement is the African Great Lakes. As these plates break apart, deep valleys form between them. These are called rifts. In these rifts, water collects and forms the beautiful great lakes that we can enjoy today. These lakes are some of the oldest, largest, deepest, and most voluminous lakes on earth.
Scientists are still not exactly sure what is causing the movement of the plates. Some popular theories indicate the plate motion has to do with magnetism, differing densities, or mantle plumes. Today, scientists use geochemistry, seismic tomography, and computer modeling to better understand the geology of the region.
Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda
I’ll start off by talking about my favorite East African Rift Valley lake, Lake Bunyonyi. This beautiful freshwater lake is located in the Southwestern corner of Uganda just a few miles from the Rwanda border.
The picturesque shores are lined with terraced farms, several small villages, and a handful of eco-resorts and campsites. The lake is so beautiful that Uganda decided to put a picture of it on their 5000 shilling note.
One interesting fact about Lake Bunyonyi is that there is disagreement about its true depth. Scientists believe that the lake is relatively shallow at just 130 feet (about 40 meters). Locals believe the lake to be much deeper at 2950 feet (900 meters). If true, this would make Lake Bunyonyi the second deepest lake in Africa.
Things to do at Lake Bunyonyi
- Go for a walk along the shore- The road along the shore has very little traffic and offers excellent views of the lake.
- Rent a kayak or canoe- Explore the lake under your own power.
- Hire a boat and guide- Visit a few of the 29 islands including the infamous Punishment Island where unmarried pregnant girls were left to starve, or if they were lucky, get picked up by a poor man who couldn’t afford a wife.
- Birdwatch- See how many of the more than 200 species you can spot.
- Hike- The surrounding hills offer some spectacular views if you make the trek to the top.
- Swim- Do this at your own risk. No hippos or crocodiles live here but parasites are a concern.
How to Get to Lake Bunyonyi
The nearest town with bus service is the town of Kabale which sits about 7 kilometers from the shore of the lake. You can easily get there by coach from either Kampala or Kigali.
Simply catch one of the multiple daily coaches heading between the two cities and get off in the town of Kabale. From Kabale, take a taxi or motorcycle to the lake.
For more info on this lake, check out my complete guide: How to Visit Beautiful Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda. Here, I explain, step-by-step how to get there as well as list more exciting things to do.
Lake Kivu, Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of the Congo
One of Africa’s Great Lakes, Lake Kivu sits between Rwanda and DR Congo in the Albertine Rift. I found this lake to be the most beautiful of all of the East African rift valley lakes that I have visited.
The views from the eucalyptus and pine-covered hills surrounding the lake are spectacular. The size of Lake Kivu also shocked me. From some points, you can’t see the other side.
Things to do at Lake Kivu
- Hike on the Congo Nile Trail- This 257 kilometer (160 mile) trail runs along Lake Kivu from Rubavu to Kibuye. It’s an excellent place for hiking and mountain biking. For more info and some great pictures, check out this great guide to the Congo Nile Trail from Bikepacking.com.
- Go to the beach- Several sandy beaches exist along the shore where you can relax and sunbathe. The best one is near Gisenyi.
- Visit the islands- If you decide to take a boat tour, you can visit the coffee plantations on Nyamirundi Island.
- Go for a walk- The roads along the shore are generally pretty quiet. Views are excellent.
- Birdwatch- More than 60 species inhabit the area.
- Go for a boat ride- You can hire a motorboat and guide or rent a kayak or canoe and explore under your own power.
How to Get to Lake Kivu
Lake Kivu lies about 3 hours from Kigali by bus. The easiest way to get there is to head down to Nyabugogo Taxi Park (also known as Kigali bus station) and catch a minibus to the lake.
The most popular lakeside destination is the town of Gisenyi in the Rubavu region of Rwanda. This is the largest resort town on Lake Kivu. It features the country’s best beach as well as plenty of hotels and restaurants. You can get there by direct bus from Kigali for around 3000 francs. Another popular destination is the town of Kibuye.
For more info on visiting Lake Kivu, check out my complete guide: How to Visit Beautiful Lake Kivu, Rwanda. Here, I discuss exactly how to get there as well as list more things to do.
Lake Victoria, Uganda, Kenya, or Tanzania
The largest lake in Africa by surface area, Lake Victoria is located in the heart of East Africa. The shallow lake was formed around 400,000 years ago when several rivers were dammed by shifting of the earth’s crust. Water collected in a depression that is now Lake Victoria. Over the millennia, the lake has dried out and refilled multiple times. Probably during ice ages.
I didn’t find Lake Victoria to be quite as beautiful as the others that I’ve visited in the region. It does, however, have a lot to offer in terms of things to do and see. Lake Victoria is geographically and historically significant as well. It’s a must-visit if you’re traveling in East Africa.
Things to do at Lake Victoria
- Visit the Islands– Lake Victoria contains almost 1000 islands. Some of the most beautiful are the Ssese Islands in Uganda. This string of islands offers some beautiful secluded beaches and tropical forests.
- Eat some fish- For thousands of years, people have been fishing Lake Victoria. Enjoy a nice fish dinner on the shore.
- Swim- The water is nice but you do need to be aware that parts of the lake are contaminated with the bilharzia parasite.
- Visit the source of the Nile- In Jinja, Uganda.
- Take a ferry ride- Schedules are a bit unpredictable but there are ferries crossing between Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Most passenger ferries operate domestically between the mainland and the lake’s many islands. Do be a bit cautious about which ferry you board. The ferry companies have a tendency to overload the boats. Lake Victoria ferries don’t have the best safety track record. In fact, there was a recent capsize that killed over 200 people.
- Go for a walk- Some parts of the lake are more pleasant than others. A walk along the shore is always nice.
- Go for a boat ride- You can hire a small motorboat and guide to show you around. You can also rent a kayak or canoe.
- Stay at one of the lakeside eco-resorts- These make for a great relaxing getaway.
How to Get to Lake Victoria
The Ugandan side of the lake is probably the most popular place for tourists to visit. Because Kampala lies so close to the shore, you can easily visit Lake Victoria on a day trip. The best towns to visit on the lake are Entebbe and Jinja. The ride to Jinja takes a couple of hours. Entebbe is even closer. The ride costs just a few dollars.
In Kenya, Kisumu and Homa Bay are a couple of the more popular lakeside towns to visit. They can be easily reached in about a day from Nairobi either by minibus or coach. I recommend Easy Coach. You’ll probably want to spend the night as you’ll be traveling all day to get there.
In Tanzania, the city of Mwanza is probably the most popular lakeside city to visit. It’s actually the second-largest city in Tanzania. You can easily reach Mwanza in about a day from Dar es Salaam. Coaches regularly operate between the two cities.
Lake Malawi, Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania
The southernmost of East Africa’s Great Lakes of the Rift Valley, Lake Malawi lies between Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique. One interesting fact about the lake is that it contains more species of fish than any other lake in the world. It is also the 4th largest freshwater lake in the world. Lake Malawi is known as Lago Niassa in Mozambique and Lake Nyasa in Tanzania.
I found this lake to be the most relaxing that I visited in Africa. Maybe because of the beautiful sandy beaches and ocean-like view.
Things to do at Lake Malawi
- Eat some fish- The lake has provided food for the surrounding area for thousands of years. Enjoy a fresh fish dinner at one of the restaurants along the shore.
- Go snorkeling or scuba diving- Lake Malawi is pretty famous for its 700 species of Cichlids. Many only live in Lake Malawi.
- Go sailing- Several sailing clubs exist on the beach. You can take a tour or rent a yacht.
- People watch- I sat on the beach and just watched people wash their dishes and do their laundry. It’s interesting to watch a person do basic tasks like this in such a different manner than you’re used to back home.
- Rent a kayak or canoe- You can explore the lake under your own power. Be sure to negotiate hard with the rental guy. They love to rip off foreigners.
- Go for a swim- The water is beautiful but you should be aware that parts of the lake are contaminated with the bilharzia parasite.
- Lay on the beach- Beautiful sandy beaches surround the lake. Bring your beach towel and a book and get some sun.
- Take a ferry across- Several international ferries operate on the lake. For more info, check out this great guide to the famous MV Ilala ferry.
- Visit Likoma Island- You can catch a ferry to this beautiful island from both Malawi and Mozambique. The Island sits in Mozambique waters but belongs to Malawi. For more info, check out this guide to Likoma Island from malawitourism.com
- Water sports- Paddleboards are available to rent. You can even go water skiing.
- Go fishing- Rent some gear and try your luck. To increase your chances of catching something, consider hiring a guide. Make sure you have the proper licensing before throwing in a line.
How to get to Lake Malawi
The most popular places to visit on Lake Malawi are the towns of Monkey Bay and Cape Maclear on the Malawi side. Getting there is, unfortunately, a bit of a hassle. The only way to travel to the lake from Lilongwe is by a series of minibusses. Head down to the main bus station on Devil street in Lilongwe and ask around for a bus heading to Monkey Bay.
You can also visit the Tanzania and Mozambique sides of the lake. As the capitals are far away, the best way to get there would be to take a coach to the nearest lakeside city then a minibus to the lake.
The best lakeside destination in Tanzania is probably Matema or Mbamba Bay. The best lakeside destination in Mozambique is probably Cobue or Metangula.
For more info, check out my complete guide: How to Visit Beautiful Lake Malawi. Here, I detail exactly how to get there from each country as well as list more things to do.
Lake Tanganyika Burundi, DR Congo, Tanzania, and Zambia
The Great Lake Tanganyika is the second oldest, second largest, and second deepest freshwater lake in the world. In all cases following Lake Baikal in Russia. Lake Tanganyika is the world’s longest freshwater lake at 672 kilometers. This ancient lake is believed to have started forming around 9 million years ago.
Even though Lake Tanganyika is absolutely beautiful and has so much to offer, it doesn’t receive many tourists. Probably due to its remote location. The lake is not situated near any major tourist attractions or national parks. Around half of the lake belongs to two of the least visited countries in the world, DR Congo and Burundi. The other half belongs to Tanzania and Zambia. Security is also a concern around parts of the lake.
Things to do at Lake Tanganyika
- Go Fishing- Throw in a line and try your luck. There are 350 species of fish living in the lake. Know that fishing is banned on much of the lake between December and March. Catch and release is recommended to keep populations healthy. You may need to pay a small fee for a fishing permit depending on which country you visit from. You’ll probably want to hire a guide as well.
- Take a ferry across- The legendary 100-year-old MV Liemba ferry travelers between Mpulungu in Zambia and Kigoma in Tanzania about once per week.
- Go scuba diving or snorkeling- See how many species of cichlids you can spot. The Nile perch is another interesting species to look out for.
- Visit the islands- From Mpulungu, Zambia, you can visit the nearby islands of Mutondw and Kumbul. On the DRC side of the lake, Kavala Island is the most significant.
- Rent a kayak or canoe- Explore the lake under your own power.
- Watersports- Go water skiing, tubing, or paddleboarding.
- Relax on the beach- Enjoy the sand.
- Go for a swim- Being that the lake is in the tropics, the water stays comfortable year-round.
How to Get to Lake Tanganyika
Probably the most popular part of Lake Tanganyika to visit is the Zambian side at the town of Mpulungu. You can easily reach the lakeside town from the capital, Lusaka by bus or minibus.
Burundi’s capital and largest city Bujumbura sits on the northern shore of the lake. Unfortunately, Burundi is not considered safe to travel at the moment due to political unrest and violent crime.
In Tanzania, the easiest lakeside town to visit is Kigoma which can be accessed by train from Dar es Salaam. For more info on Tanzanian trains, check out this article from seat61.com.
Lake Nakuru, Kenya
Lake Nakuru is a small alkaline lake in Kenya. It is protected by Lake Nakuru National Park. This fascinating Rift Valley lake is famous for its wildlife. Particularly the millions of pink flamingos that come to nest along the shore and feed on algae. Black rhinos have also been introduced to the park. Lake Nakuru sits at an elevation of 5755 feet (1754 meters).
Things to do at Lake Nakuru
Lake Nakuru isn’t the kind of lake where you go sit around, relax, and go for a swim. The main draw here is the nature and wildlife.
- View the wildlife in Lake Nakuru National Park- See the flamingos, black rhinos, Southern white rhinos, baboons, giraffes, cheetas, as well as a multitude of bird species.
- Go camping- There are several campgrounds along the shores to choose from.
- Take a hike along the shore- The landscape is quite unique and beautiful.
- Visit Lake Naivasha- This beautiful Rift Valley lake is located about 90 kilometers away. You can get there in just a couple of hours by minibus or make a day trip out of it.
How to Visit Lake Nakuru
This lake is one of the easiest African lakes to visit. From my favorite African city, Nairobi, catch a bus heading to the town of Nakuru. Many bus companies operate this route. I like Easy Coach.
You can also take a matatu (shared minibus) to save a bit of money. The ride between Nairobi and Nakuru takes about 3 hours. Once you arrive, you can hire a guide and driver or arrange a tour of Nakuru national park.
Lake Turkana Kenya and Ethiopia
This unique lake, located mainly in Northern Kenya, is the largest permanent desert lake and the largest alkaline lake in the world. The surrounding area is made mostly of volcanic rocks. An aptly named island near the center of the lake, Central Island, is an active volcano.
Lake Turkana is relatively untouched due to the heat, lack of freshwater, and general uninhabitability of the region. Several national parks protect parts of the lake including Sibiloi National Park, Central Island National Park, and South Island National Park.
Unfortunately, the future of Lake Turkana is unknown. The Gilgel Gibe III Dam, which is currently being constructed on the Omo River in Ethiopia, will dam the river which supplies most of Turkana’s water. For more info, check out this article about the expected impact of the Gilgel Gibe III Dam from National Geographic.
What to do at Lake Turkana
- Visit Central Island National Park- View the volcanic craters on this remote island.
- View the wildlife- Massive herds of hippos and Nile crocodiles inhabit the lake. If you’re lucky, you may be able to spot a Turkana mud turtle which is a species that is endemic to the lake.
- Go for a walk or hike- The volcanic geology is pretty unique and beautiful in its own way.
- Birdwatch- Hundreds of species of birds inhabit the area around the lake including wood sandpiper, African skimmer, flamingo, and little stint.
- Go to the beach- Near the village of Eliye, you can visit a small beach and even stay in the nearby resort. Sit out on the sand and enjoy the view.
- Visit Sibiloi National Park- This fascinating but difficult to reach the national park is known for its palaeontological sites where many early human fossils have been found including those of Australopithecus. In 1997 this area became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
How to Visit Lake Turkana
The closest decent sized city to Lake Turkana is Lodwar in Kenya. You can easily reach the city by bus from Nairobi. You may have to transfer in Eldoret or Kitale. If you’re on a budget, you could also get there by minibus. This will require a few transfers along the way.
Once you reach Lodwar, you can either organize a tour to Lake Turkana or take a minibus or shared taxi to one of the lakeside villages. From there, you can find a hotel, campsite, or lakeside resort to stay in. There really isn’t much infrastructure around Lake Turkana so be prepared to rough it a bit.
Lake Naivasha, Kenya
Lake Naivasha is a freshwater lake is located at an elevation of 6181 feet (1884 meters) just northwest of Nairobi in the Kenyan Rift Valley. It is shallow with an average depth of just 20 feet (6 m). The land surrounding the lake is mostly swamp. It varies in size depending on the amount of rainfall.
A visit to Lake Naivasha makes for an excellent stopover while traveling West from Nairobi on your way to Maasai Mara, Western Kenya, or Uganda. The lake is close enough to Nairobi that you could even travel there as a day trip.
Things to do at Lake Naivasha
- Visit Hell’s Gate National Park- This popular park is located just south of the lake. It’s known for its wildlife and natural beauty. You can go for a hike or ride a bike through the park and visit Fischer’s tower, Hell’s Gate Gorge, Central Tower. Entry costs $26. No guide is necessary but you can hire one for around $15 if you prefer.
- Go for a bike ride- Rent a bike in the town of Naivasha or from one of the locals near the lake and explore the area under your own power. Cycle along the lakeside or through Hell’s Gate National Park. Bike rental costs $5-$10 per day.
- Go for a boat ride on the lake- Watch the hippos and see how many bird species you can spot. Pelicans and cranes are commonly found on the lake. Along the shore, you may spot a Cape Buffalo or other grazing animals.
- Hike in nearby Mount Longonot National Park- The hike to the top of the mountain takes 4-5 hours and offers some incredible views of the surrounding area.
- Visit Crescent Island Game Sanctuary- This island offers a unique experience. Here, you can walk among the animals on a foot safari. There are not dangerous predators on the island. You’ll see zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, and more. The entry price is a bit steep at $20 but it is a nice place to go for a walk.
- Go birdwatching- Over 400 species of birds inhabit the lake and surrounding area.
- Visit Lake Nakuru- This beautiful Rift Valley lake is located only about 90 kilometers away. You can get there in a couple of hours or make a day trip out of it.
How to Visit Lake Naivasha
Getting there from Nairobi is easy. Coaches and matatu shared minibusses travel between Nairobi and the town of Naivasha all day. The ride takes 2-3 hours depending on how many stops the bus makes and traffic. A ticket costs 300-400 shillings (about $3-$4) depending on your negotiation skills.
For a bit more comfortable ride, I recommend you take a coach over a minibus. They offer more comfortable seating and aren’t overcrowded. If you must take a minibus, look for one with fewer seats. It will stop less and be less crowded.
Lake Edward, Uganda and DR Congo
The smallest of Africa’s Great Lakes, Lake Edward is located in the Albertine Rift just a few kilometers south of the equator. The lake lies between Uganda and DR Congo and is completely surrounded by national parks.
Queen Elizabeth National Park surrounds the Uganda side of the lake. The UNESCO World Herritage site of Virunga National Park surrounds the DR Congo side of the lake.
This truly unique region contains some of the most biodiverse land on the planet. The lake itself is home to numerous species of fish. The surrounding area is home to the beautiful yet critically endangered mountain gorillas. The Lake Edward region contains some of the best wildlife viewing in all of Africa.
Things to do at Lake Edward
Because the lake is contained completely within national parks, activities are limited and regulated. There aren’t many human settlements on the shores of Lake Edward. The benefit of this is the fact that the lake is kept pretty pristine. A few lakeside activities include:
- Go on a safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park- The park contains all of the ‘big 5’ African safari animals. While the natural landscape is less impressive than the Serengeti in Tanzania, all of the same animals are there.
- Eat some fish- Locals people have been fishing Lake Edward for thousands of years. You can enjoy a fresh fish meal in any of the nearby towns.
- Watch the sunset over the lake- There are a few lodges on or near the lake within Queen Elizabeth National Park. You can catch some stunning African sunsets here.
How to Visit Lake Edward
Because Lake Edward is surrounded by national parks, pretty much have to visit on a tour. Both Queen Elizabeth National Park and Virunga National Park require that you have a guide with you while visiting. There is no self-drive option as far as I’m aware.
To organize a tour of the Uganda side of Lake Edward, you have two options:
- Book a safari in Kampala or online- Plenty of companies offer safaris in Queen Elizabeth National Park. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Uganda. Tours start around $350.
- Organize your own safari- From one of the nearby towns outside of the national park, you can book your own accommodation and arrange a guide and vehicle. This may or may not save you a bit of money. I did something similar in Kenya when visiting the Maasai Mara in Kenya and saved a good chunk of change. I haven’t done this but it is worth pricing out if you’re on a tight budget.
Visiting the DR Congo side of the lake takes a bit more effort. The visa can be an issue and there are numerous safety concerns to consider when visiting Congo. You’ll also have to book a tour with a guide to visit the park.
Even though it’s a hassle, it may be worth the effort. Virunga National Park is meant to be one of the most spectacular destinations on the continent. I haven’t yet visited but hope to on my next trip to Africa.
For info on organizing a visit to Virunga National Park, the tours available, pricing, and the DR Congo visa, check out visitvirunga.org.
Getting a DR Congo visa is notoriously difficult. Luckily, tourists who book a tour through an accepted tour operator can get a 2 week visa relatively easily. This is due to an agreement between the Congolese wildlife authority and the department of migration.
Lake Tana, Ethiopia
The largest lake in Ethiopia, Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile. This lake is actually not part of the Rift Valley. It was formed by volcanic activity in the region around 5 million years ago. Lake Tana is a shallow lake with a maximum depth of around 49 feet (15 meters).
Even though it’s not Rift Valley lake, I wanted to add Lake Tana to the list as it is an interesting place to visit in the region.
What to do at Lake Tana
- Visit the monasteries- These beautifully painted monasteries date back to the 14th century. They are constructed from mud and bamboo. From Bahir Dar, you can organize a boat tour across the lake to visit. The two most important to monasteries to visit are Ura Kidane Mere, the largest, and Bete Maryam, the oldest. Various other monasteries surround the lake. For more info, check out this list and map of the monasteries from Lonely Planet.
- Visit the Blue Nile Falls- These spectacular waterfalls are located about 50 minutes by car south of Bahir Dar on the Blue Nile River. For more info, check out this great guide to the Blue Nile Falls.
- Go for a walk along the shore- From Bahir Dar, you can take a stroll on several trails along the lake.
- Stay at a resort on the lake- Various resorts and lodges sit on the shore of the lake. Some are better than others.
How to Get to Lake Tana
Lake Tana lies in the Northwest of Ethiopia in the Amhara region. The largest city on the lake is the popular tourist destination of Bahir Dar. The city can easily be reached from Addis Ababa by bus or air.
The best bus company offering this route is called Selam Bus. They operate a daily service between the two cities. The service is reliable, safe, and relatively comfortable. They have newer coaches with air conditioning.
If you prefer to fly, Ethiopian Airlines offers direct flights between Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar.
Lake Albert, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Another African Great Lake, Lake Albert is the Northernmost lake of the Western Rift Valley. It lies between Uganda and DR Congo. Lake Albert is fairly shallow with a maximum depth of around 190 feet or 60 meters.
Things to do at Lake Albert
- Visit Murchison Falls National Park- Located on the northern shore of Lake Albert, this national park offers beautiful landscapes, wildlife viewing, and a spectacular waterfall on the Victoria Nile River.
- Visit Semuliki National Park– Located on the southern shore of Lake Albert, this national park is made up mostly of marshland. The area is excellent for birdwatching. See if you can spot the rare shoebill stork or a number of other endemic bird species which inhabit the area.
- Go fishing- 55 species of fish live in Lake Albert. It is estimated that about 30% of Uganda’s fish production comes from the lake. You can hire a guide to fish for catfish or a number of other species.
- Visit Bugungu Wildlife Reserve- This park lies on the shore of the lake, just west of Murchison Falls national park. Here, you can view several species of wildlife including buffalo, hippos, leopards, antelope, warthogs, dik-diks, reed bucks, and more. For more info, check out this article about Bugungu Wildlife Reserve.
- Go birdwatching- over 240 species of birds inhabit the Lake Albert region
- Visit Bugoma Forest- This lowland tropical forest is home to 23 species of mammals including about 500 chimpanzees. Unfortunately, deforestation and illegal logging threaten the reserve.
How to Visit Lake Albert
Lake Albert is a bit tricky to visit as there aren’t any major towns on the shores. The area is also one of the hotter and more impoverished regions in Uganda. There are, however, a handful of popular destinations near the lake.
To get to Lake Albert from Kampala, you could take a bus to Hoima, one of the larger towns in the region. From there, you could take a minibus north to Murchison National Park or Bugungu Wildlife Reserve. There are also a few lakeside towns that you could access by minibus such as Butaiba.
You can also access the lake’s southern shore. The nearest larger city is Fort Portal. You can get there by bus from Kampala. From Fort Portal, you can catch a minibus toward the lake.
Lake Kyoga, Uganda
This large, shallow lake located in Northern Uganda is part of the African Great Lakes system but is not considered to be a great lake. Lake Kyoga is fed by the Victoria Nile. Water flows in from Lake Victoria then flows out to Lake Albert. Lake Kyoga reaches a maximum depth of just 5.7 meters. Much of the area surrounding the lake is swampy wetlands covered in papyrus.
Things to do at Lake Kyoga
Lake Kyoga isn’t really a popular tourist destination. Having said that, there are a few interesting things to do on and near the lake.
- Go fishing- 46 species of fish live in the lake. You can hire a guide and try your luck.
- Birdwatch- Numerous species of birds inhabit the area including the rare Fox Weaver.
- Take a boat cruise- You can look for wildlife like the Nile Crocodile and various species of birds. The lake is pretty scenic as well.
- Visit the local villages- Learn about the way of life of the locals living in various fishing villages around the lake.
- Visit the Nyero rock paintings- This ancient site is located nearby.
Lake Chamo and Lake Abaya, Ethiopia
These two Rift Valley lakes are located just a couple of miles apart near the town of Arba Minch in southwestern Ethiopia. Even though they are located very close to each other, the lakes have very different limnology.
Lake Abaya is the larger of the two lakes. It is surrounded by savannah and is known for its wildlife. This is also an important fishing lake in Ethiopia.
Lake Chamo is much smaller. The lake is mostly surrounded by wetlands and is known for its population of Nile Crocodiles and hippos.
The best way to visit the lakes is to take a bus from Addis Ababa to Arba Minch. The town lies on the southern shore of Lake Abaya. Lake Chamo lies just down the road to the south. You could easily visit both lakes in one day then return to Arba Minch.
Things to do at Lake Chamo and Lake Abaya
- Visit Crocodile Market on Lake Chamo- Here, you can see Nile Crocodiles in their natural habitat. You’ll also see hippos and various species of aquatic birds. You can take a boat ride as well to get a better view.
- Visit Nechisar National Park- This park covers the southern part of Lake Abaya and the northern part of Lake Chamo. This includes an area known as the ‘Bridge of God’ which is the isthmus between the two lakes. This is a great place to view wildlife. You can see zebra, gazelle, baboons, dik-dik, and crocodiles as well as a large number of birds including pelicans, storks, and kingfishers.
- Go for a boat ride- for more bird and wildlife viewing.
- Visit the islands- Both lakes have a number of small islands that you can visit. The largest is Aruro island on Lake Abaya.
Lake Bogoria, Kenya
This saline-alkaline lake is famous for housing one of the largest populations of lesser flamingos in the world. Lake Bogoria is a Ramsar site and is a protected national reserve in Kenya.
Lake Bogoria lies just north of the equator in a volcanic region of the rift valley. Due to the volcanic activity, multiple geysers and hot springs can be found around the shores of the lake.
The easiest way to get to the lake from Nairobi would probably be to take a bus or matatu to Nakuru then transferring to a northbound bus.
Things to do at Lake Bogoria
- View the flamingos- At times the population can reach numbers of up to 2 million individuals. They don’t live there all the time. They divide their time between several lakes in the region including Lake Nakuru, Lake Logipi, and Lake Magadi.
- Go camping- Several campgrounds can be found near the shore of the lake.
- Watch the geysers erupt- Some can spew water up to 5 meters high. The geyser activity depends on the water level of the lake.
- Visit Lake Bogoria National Reserve- This semi-arid park was opened in 1970. Here, you can spot wildlife such as the Greater Kudu, zebra, buffalo, cheetah, baboon, impala, and more.
Lake Kariba, Zambia and Zimbabwe
This isn’t a Rift Valley lake but I thought I’d add it to the list because it’s in the same general region. Lake Kariba is actually the world’s largest man-made lake. It lies on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The lake is very new. It was filled up between 1958 and 1963 after Kariba Dam completed construction. The dam now supplies power for Zambia and Zimbabwe. The lake is the result of the flooding of the Kariba Gorge on the Zambesi River. Lake Kariba covers 5,580 square kilometers.
Things to do on Lake Kariba
- Go fishing for Tigerfish- These fish are indigenous to the Zambesi River. Fishing for tigerfish is a popular activity for both locals and tourists due to their strong and fisty nature. They put up a great fight. The biggest event on the lake is the annual tiger fishing competition in May. Other species of fish in the lake include the bream, tilapia, and karpenta. If you plan to fish, make sure you have the proper permit and know the fishing regulations. If you fish from shore, don’t stand too close to the water as crocodiles are common in Lake Kariba.
- Stay in a houseboat- This is a great way to experience the tranquility of Lake Kariba and see some spectacular sunsets.
- Visit Matusadona National Park- This park, located on the Zimbabwe side of the lake, is home to the ‘big 5.’ It’s located near the town of Kariba.
- Take a boat ride- Look for wildlife and experience the unique scenery of the lake. You can also participate in your favorite water sports.
Final Thoughts: About Visiting the Great Rift Valley Lakes of Africa
Going to the lake is a great way to get away from the city. African lakes are picturesque. Lakeside towns are usually very relaxed. The Rift Valley region between Ethiopia and Malawi contains dozens of spectacular lakes to explore. This guide just outlines a few of the most popular. Which lakes you choose to visit comes down to what kinds of activities you enjoy.
Some of the smaller lakes are almost exclusively for wildlife viewing. Many of the larger lakes offer a range of activities including boating, diving, swimming, fishing, and sailing.
Have you visited any of the Great Rift Valley lakes of Africa? Share your tips and experience in the comments below!