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The Great Lakes of East Africa

An alternative sort of Safari



Travel Writer
Published on

02 Mar 2018

Updated on

23 Nov 2020

Mumbo Island Sea Kayak

It’s always a good idea to combine a safari with something a little different. Variety is the spice of life after all. Often it’s the beach, and both Kenya and Tanzaniahave some beautiful spots to relax in the sun after your adventuring in the bush. Yet there is another option – the Great Lakes of East Africa.

The three largest lakes are Victoria, Tanganyika and Malawi, and between them they hold over a quarter of the world’s fresh water. It’s the most ecologically diverse freshwater system in the world, and with colourful endemic fish species, crystal clear warm waters for snorkelling and even yellow sandy beaches, the Great Lakes are understandably a popular option to explore after a safari.

Found along the Rift Valleys in East Africa, the lakes are some of the oldest and deepest in the world and are known for their beauty and history. Loldia House boasts beautiful views over the Lake,

Loldia House Lake View
Loldia House Lake View

Lake Victoria

Africa’s largest lake is located along the continental fault lines between the Eastern and Western Rift Valleys and is surrounded by mountains and highlands. Bordered by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda it is one of the sources of the River Nile and the shores are densely populated with local communities who rely on the lake for their survival.

At less than half a million years old it’s one of the ‘youngest’ lakes (it’s all relative!), with shallow water and a diverse ecosystem of reefs and islands. Whilst it isn’t considered a suitable lake for swimming, there are plenty of other activities to enjoy, such as fishing, bird watching and island hopping.

The jungle clad island of Mfangano (Mfangano Island Lodge) is famous for its numerous bird species, as well as potted-neck otters, monkeys and monitor lizards. If you’re into archaeology, go back in time to Rusinga Island where 18 million year old fossils of early humans have been found.

Mfangano Island Camp
Mfangano Island Camp

Lake Tanganyika

Lake Tanganyika is an older big sister with millions of years under her belt. Also found within the Rift Valleys, this lake is the second oldest in the world (after Lake Baikal in Siberia) as well as being the second deepest – down to 4,700 feet in places. Tanganyika is long and narrow and runs along the entire border between Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It has superb water quality which makes it perfect for swimming and sport fishing. Snorkelling and scuba diving are popular, thanks to more than 350 fish species living here. In fact 10% of the world’s entire fish species are found in the Great Lakes of East Africa.

The lake is less populated than Victoria because the surrounding land is steep and unsuitable for human inhabitation. The perfect place to come if you want to get away from it all. If you haven’t quite had your fill of animals, then the remote Katavi and Mahale Mountains National Parks in the far west of Tanzania are considered to offer some of the best wild chimpanzee viewing in the world. Take a look at Kigoma Hilltop Hotel that over looks Lake Tanganykia

Kigoma Hilltop Aerial View
Kigoma Hilltop Aerial View

Lake Malawi

Another ancient lake clocking in at millions of years old, Malawi (or Nyasa as it is known in Tanzania) is the third largest lake in Africa at 365 miles long and 52 miles wide. Bordered by Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique, it is the most southerly lake in the Rift Valley system.

The waters here are warm, clear, and full of freshwater tropical fish, whilst the shores are sandy and golden. Tourist developments (Nkwichi Lodge) can be found along the shoreline of the Malawi side of the lake, with everything from upmarket lodges on private islands to rustic backpacking guest houses where visitors can indulge in the ultimate of lakeside beach holidays. It’s a fabulous place for sailing, snorkelling, kayaking, scuba diving and even windsurfing and water skiing. Or even just swinging in a hammock. By night, Lake Malawi is known as the ‘Lake of the Stars’ due to the celestial reflections in the clear waters. It’s a place of magic and romance, and the ideal accompaniment to any safari in East Africa.

Nkwichi Lodge Snorkelling
Nkwichi Lodge Snorkelling

For more inspiration, take a look at our 26 favourite safari holidays, our best African honeymoon ideas or our top family safari holidays.

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    Africa Specialist

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