No visit to the “dark continent” is complete without spending some time in the regions that surround Lake Victoria, Africa.
Extending into three separate African countries – Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda – Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa.
But it’s also the world’s largest tropical lake, and the second-largest freshwater lake.
Because of its size and the area that it covers, this immense lake boasts a wealth of different geographical wonders, as well as various cultures.
From sanctuaries to caves, open plains to rainforests, busy towns to archaeological sites, this region is one of the most dynamic in the world.
Lake Victoria, Africa, Has Something for Everyone
With so much to do and see in this amazing region, it’s hard to believe that it’s not jammed with tourists. Yet, it’s not.
In fact, visitors to this region of excellent natural sites encounter a surprising lack of tourism traffic.
1. Serengeti National Park
The most well-known wildlife sanctuary in the world, Serengeti National Park in Tanzania has the greatest concentration of plains game in Africa.
This stunning park is divided into three distinct sections.
The southern/central part is what the Maasai called the “serengit,” or land of endless plains. This is a wide-open savannah, filled with wildlife and dotted with brushy acacia.
The western corridor is marked by the Grumeti River. It has more forests and the bush is much denser. The third area in the north, Lobo area, meets up with Kenya’s Masai Mara Reserve.
Established in 1952, Serengeti National Park is home to an impressive population of lions, cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, and birds. But it’s also more famously known as the place to witness the great migration of wildebeest and zebra.
Every October and November, over a million wildebeest and about 200,000 zebras flow south from the northern hills to the southern plains for short rains that fall at that time.
After the long rains in April, May, and June, they then swirl west and north. Their instinct to make this migration is so strong that nothing can stop it. Not even drought or crocodile-infested rivers.
The Serengeti ecosystem is considered one of the oldest on earth. In the past million years, its essential features of climate, fauna, and vegetation have barely changed.
Two World Heritage Sites, as well as two Biosphere Reserves, have also been established within the region.
2. Mwanza City
The city of Mwanza is the major Tanzanian port on Lake Victoria. It’s also the main center of economic activities in the region.
Lake Victoria borders Tanzania’s East African neighbors – Uganda to the northwest, and Kenya to the northeast. Mwanza’s economy is reliant on the export and transport of their agriculture among these countries.
Tea, cotton and coffee plantations throughout the area produce huge cash crops that pass through Mwanza’s industrial harbor and bustling streets on their way to market.
Mwanza is also the center of the Sukuma – the largest tribe in Tanzania. They have inhabited and farmed the region for many centuries and cultural tourism programs to their local villages and farms are available through local centers.
The city also makes a good starting point from which to explore nearby Rubondo Island National Park.
3. Rubondo Island National Park
Located on the lake’s southwest shores, Rubondo Island National Park includes Rubondo Island and several other small islands.
The park is known for its rich and diverse variety of butterflies and bird life – all of which are easily viewed from this tranquil lakeshore setting. It is also known for the rare and highly endangered Sitatunga – an amphibious antelope that hides and camouflages itself in the lakeshore marshes.
Other animal species include elephants, giraffes, hippos, chimpanzees, pythons, bushbucks, crocodiles, bush pigs, and Suni.
A visit to Rubondo Island National Park is the ideal place to plan some day trips. Fishing expeditions into Lake Victoria are easily arranged through major lodges.
But it’s also the perfect place to kick back and relax.
4. Ukerewe Island
Ukerewe Island lies about 50km north of Mwanza and can be reached by ferry from the city. It is the largest island in Lake Victoria, as well as the largest inland island in Africa.
The shoreline of Ukerewe Island includes numerous bays. The island itself is surrounded by 27 smaller islands. All but three of those islands are inhabited by fishermen and their families. The other three are not occupied.
The largest community among these islands is Nansio. It sits among rocky terrain broken by lake vistas and small patches of forest, and its inhabitants exemplify what it means to live a simple life.
There are many points of interest on this fascinating island:
- Kagunguli – an old Roman church built in 1895
- A school and dispensary built between 1902 and 1913 that are still in use
- Bukindo – the Chief’s palace, built 1922-23
- Irondo Point, offering views of Mwanza City in Tanzania, Entebbe in Uganda and Nairobi in Kenya
As part of the activities on this island, visitors also have the opportunity to fish, canoe, cycle, and take village tours. But the true zest of this island lies in the deeply rural life and the culture around it.
5. Rock Paintings Archaeological Site in Mfangano Island
The rock paintings at this site on Mfangano Island are believed to be the work of the island’s earliest inhabitants – the Bantu Pygmies from Uganda.
Sun motifs feature heavily among these rock paintings. And the paintings themselves are both revered and feared by the locals. – both of which keep the artwork from being vandalized.
While there is an entry fee to view the rock paintings, the funds are used to help very needy children at the local orphanage nearby.
6. Kakamega Forest National Park
Stray about 30 miles from Lake Victoria and into Kenya to see the last vestige of this once-great rainforest.
Kakamega Forest National Park is what remains of a forest that used to spread across the entire continent. Due to human population growth and cultivation, it now only comprises 90 square miles.
But it’s still the considered an avian and reptile hotspot, not to mention a world-famous destination among those in zoological and botanical circles.
The largest city on Lake Victoria is Kisumu in Kenya.
Originally founded as a market town and built to serve the railway and the lake port, it is still known for its busy and colorful markets tucked along the shady streets.
Kisumu’s main market is one of the largest. It’s also one of the most animated, spilling out onto surrounding roads and offering all sorts of interesting wares, including suits and wigs.
Having been economically and culturally stagnant for three decades, visiting Kisumu can feel very much like stepping back in time. But this has allowed traditional culture to thrive, rather than be uprooted by the progress of many of the other bigger cities in the region.
8. Ndere Island National Park
Established in 1986, this national park has yet to see tourism thrive.
This is due in part to the fact that there is no place to stay. And the only reliable option to get to Ndere is with chartered boats that will take you there for half-day trips.
But once there, you’ll be enveloped by a beautiful forest that houses a variety of bird species. You may also catch a glimpse of a hippo or two, as well as the spotted crocodile – a lesser-known cousin of the larger Nile crocodile.
9. Musoma Town
Musoma Town is located on the shores of Lake Victoria near the Kenyan border in northern Tanzania. It is a point of cultural interest for those who want to experience the vibrant life of people around the lake.
As an administrative town of the Mara region, Musoma houses the Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere Museum. Exhibits in the museum document the early history of Tanzania, as well as the rise of nationalism and the independence movement under Nyerere.
The town also has an old German building which is used as a government office and offers visitors an introduction to other historic mementos in the area.
Mukendo hill in Musoma is the perfect place to experience panoramic views of the town and Lake Victoria. And at the base of the hill, there are caves that hold stories and legends of the town.
For those less historically-inclined, there are boat trips to exotic islands, deep sea fishing, camping, cycling or simply walking along the cool, wind-swept beach. There are also village tours to give visitors an eyeful of how the locals live.
But to truly experience local life and businesses, a simple visit to the fish market is recommended.
10. Thimlich Ohinga Archaeological Site
If you have a serious taste for archaeology, then head south of Ruma National Park to one of East Africa’s most important archaeological sites.
Thimlich Ohinga archaeological site holds the remains of a dry-stone enclosure thought to date back as far as the 15th century. The name comes from the Luo and is translated as ‘frightening dense forest’.
Getting to Thimlich takes some patience though. And if you don’t have transportation, it could take a while to get there.
If you’re really committed to seeing this archaeological wonder, your best bet is to take a matatu from Kisii towards Isebania on the Tanzania border and hop out at Suna. From there, take another matatu towards Karunga and ask to be let out at the junction for Thimlich Ohinga or Miranga.
From the junction, hunt about for any kind of transport to the entrance of Thimlich Ohinga.
Embrace the Beauty and Culture of Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda
The stunning geography and vast diversity of Lake Victoria, Africa, is not to be missed. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a safari excursion.
To get more information on planning a safari excursion to Tanzania in the near future, contact us. And prepare for the sheer wonder of Africa.