The 2nd largest lake in the world
Few inland waters measure up to Lake Victoria, which has a surface area of 68,800 sq km, of which Kenya claims only 3,785 sq km. The lake is also bordered by Uganda and Tanzania.
The 2nd largest lake in the world
Unlike the lakes further west, Lake Victoria is not part of the Rift Valley system and is wide and shallow, being only 80 meters deep. The world’s second largest freshwater lake (after Canada’s Lake Superior), Lake Victoria is fed mainly by rainwater and drains more than 6,450 km to the north, via the Nile, to the Mediterranean Sea.
Source of the Nile discovered
First settled by the Luo peoples some five centuries ago, Lake Victoria was ‘discovered’ as a potential source of the Nile by the English explorer John Hanning Speke in 1858.
Rare birds, massive fish
As a result of its unique climate and unusual composition the lake features papyrus beds and marshlands that harbour birds found nowhere else in Kenya. It also offers vast fishing potential, the main commercial species being tilapia, which grow up to 2 kg in weight, and the massive Nile Perch which can weigh up to 227 kg and make up 85% of the catch.
Host to ancient creatures
Other creatures include the lungfish, a unique snake-like creature so-called because it can breathe air into its swim bladder, which then acts as a set of primitive lungs. An earth survivor for over 300 million years, the lungfish may represent one of the transitional phases between aquatic and terrestrial vertebrates.
Realm of the cichlid
Until the 1960’s the lake was also home to around 320 different species of brilliantly coloured tropical fish known as cichlids. Now only 8 species remain, their demise being due to the re-introduction to the lake in 1956 of the rapacious Nile Perch, which had been absent from its waters for millions of years.
Carpeted in water hyacinth
Today the lake suffers from an infestation of water hyacinth, which spreads like a floating green carpet across its waters. Originally a native of Brazil, the plant is thought to have been introduced to the lake from Rwanda.
Marine Parks and Reserves
Kenya now has seven Marine National Parks and Reserves and was the first African country to offer protection to these sensitive aquatic ecosystems.
Western Kenya, land of diversity
Western Kenya has it all. To the far west lie the mighty inland waters of Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest freshwater lake after Canada’s Lake Superior, and the regional capital of Kisumu.
Kisumu is Kenya’s third largest town and provides a natural base for touring the region. Local attractions include: Kisumu Museum (open 8.30am-6.00pm daily), The Kisumu Impala Sanctuary (open 6.00am -7.00pm daily) and Ndere Island National Park (accessible by boat, open 6.00am – 7.00pm daily).
South-west of Kisumu, lying in the waters of Lake Victoria, are the islands of Rusinga (where Mary Leakey discovered the skull of Proconsul Africanus, a primitive anthropoid ape that lived on Rusinga three million years ago) and Mfangano (a centre of pre-history famous for its rock art). A short distance to the north of Kisumu is the famous Kakamega Forest Reserve, a unique patch of lowland rainforest renowned for its abundant wildlife. And travelling further north, but still within easy reach, are the contrasting wildernesses of the vast and rugged Mount Elgon National Park on the Ugandan border, famous for its bat-filled caves and salt-mining elephants, and Kenya’s smallest National Park, Saiwa Swamp, the sanctuary of the semi-aquatic sitatunga antelope.