15 Best Lakes in Africa

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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The second largest continent in the world, Africa is a diverse country both geographically and culturally. It also happens to be surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, the Isthmus of Suez, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, boasting a 26,000 kilometre long coastline. Its home to 54 different countries, nine territories and two de facto independent states, some of which are islands.

Africa is home to mountains, mangrove swamps, lowlands and deserts. It’s also home to the African Great Lakes; a series of lakes within the Rift Valley in and around the East African Rift that dates back 22-25 million years ago. There are also numerous other lakes spread across the continent within valleys, atop mountains and even below sea level. One thing that they all have in common is that they’re pretty spectacular. But there are so many lakes to see throughout the massive continent, so here’s our list for the top 15 lakes in Africa.

1. Lake Victoria; Kenya, Uganda & Tanzania

Lake Victoria, Uganda, East AfricaSource: Pecold / shutterstock
Lake Victoria, Uganda, East Africa

Named after Queen Victoria, Lake Victoria is not only the largest lake in all of Africa, but also the second largest freshwater lake in the world! The African Great Lake also happen to be the world’s largest tropical lake, stretching for 68,800 square kilometres across three countries.

Lake Victoria gets much of its water through rainfall and is drained solely by the Nile River, which is on its northern side in Uganda. Still, the lake is deepest on its eastern side near Kenya.

There are many spots around this massive lake that boast amazing views of the sunrise and sunset, with some people offering boat rides to enjoy the beautiful horizon that much more. It’s also possible to travel by vehicle and passenger ferry across the lake to either of the three countries.

2. Lake Malawi; Malawi, Mozambique & Tanzania

Lake MalawiSource: Scott Biales / shutterstock
Lake Malawi

Also an African Great Lake, Lake Malawi is the third largest lake in Africa at 29,600 square kilometres. It’s located within three countries and is known as Lago Niassa in Mozambique and Lake Nyasa in Tanzania.

Lake Malawi is home to more fish species than any other lake in the world, making it a great place for snorkelling. It’s also a popular lake for fishing and visitors will see many locals fishing for different types of chambo to feed their families.

The lake is an ancient lake that dates back 1-2 million years. It’s also a stunning lake that’s surrounded by beautiful scenery that reflects in the aquamarine coloured water.

3. Lake Retba; Senegal

Lake Retba, SenegalSource: Cyril PAPOT / shutterstock
Lake Retba, Senegal

Also known as the Pink Lake of Senegal, Lake Retba is an amazingly beautiful pink lake. The lake gets its colour from Dunaliella salina algae due to the high concentration of salt in the lake.

There is no other lake like Lake Retba in all of Africa and it’s definitely one that should be on everyone’s check list, what with its mesmerising pink hues. The best time to see the pink colour is in the dry season (November to June).

Fish living in the lake are much smaller in size than normal fish as a result of the high salt content, which has caused fish dwarfism. There’s up to 40 per cent salt content in some areas, and, like the Dead Sea, you can actually float on it.

4. Lake Tanganyika; Burundi, DR Congo, Tanzania & Zambia

Lake TanganyikaSource: Robin Nieuwenkamp / shutterstock
Lake Tanganyika

Dating back 9-12 million years, Lake Tanganyika is the second oldest freshwater lake in the world, the second deepest lake in the world and the world’s second largest in volume. The African Great Lake also happens to be the longest freshwater lake on the planet, stretching for 673 kilometres across four countries!

Lake Tanganyika is surrounded by the walls of a valley, while the mountains reflect within its water. Sunrise and sunset are particularly good times to visit the lake and take in all of its beauty.

Those that are interested in wildlife could get the opportunity to see plenty of it around the lake’s 1,828 kilometres shoreline, which is home to Nile crocodiles, Zambian hinged terrapins and the threatened Storm’s water cobra. The lake is also home to over 300 different species of fish, some of which are unique only to Lake Tanganyika.

5. Lake Kariba; Zambia & Zimbabwe

Lake Kariba, ZimbabweSource: paula french / shutterstock
Lake Kariba

The world’s largest man-made lake lies along the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe on the Zambezi River. Lake Kariba covers an area of 5,580 square kilometres and is home to several islands.

Many people come to the lake to fish for tiger fish, which are indigenous of the Zambezi river system. The lake even hosts an annual Tiger Fishing Competition every May.

There are a few lodges right along the lake’s shoreline on the Zambia side that are popular amongst travellers and are great for those that want to spend more time here. It’s also possible to stay on a houseboat, where the scenery is phenomenal.

6. Lake Kivu, Rwanda & DR Congo

Lake Kivu, RwandaSource: Tetyana Dotsenko / shutterstock
Lake Kivu

One of the African Great Lakes, Lake Kivu sits along the border of Rwanda and DR Congo, although 58 per cent of the waters lie within DR Congo. Still, most visit the lake from the lodges along the Rwanda side.

Lake Kivu’s shoreline is home to a few beaches, with the most popular being arguably in the seaside town of Gisenyi. Here, visitors can enjoy the lake’s water and go sea kayaking, swimming or just enjoy the beach, or even can go on a tour to the lake island of Idjwi.

The town of Gisenyi is also the starting point of the Congo Nile Trail that runs along the southeast shore of the lake for around 225 kilometres. The trail is great for both hiking and cycling.

7. Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda

Lake BunyonyiSource: Przemyslaw Skibinski / shutterstock
Lake Bunyonyi

One of the deepest and most beautiful lakes in all of Africa, Lake Bunyonyi is only 46 square kilometres, but it’s home to 29 islands! Some could say that the lake is a natural wonder, what with its lush green hill surroundings and tiny little islands throughout.
Lake Bunyonyi is a tranquil place that is great for swimming, canoeing, kayaking and boating. Hiking and nature walks are popular activities to do in the lake’s surrounding hills, and the views are something out of a National Geographic magazine.

There are places to stay along the lake’s 186 kilometres shoreline, which make enjoying its activities, beauty and serenity that much easier. It’s also possible to go bird watching, with over 200 species of birds calling the area home.

8. Lake Assal; Djibouti

Lake Assal, DjiboutiSource: Kertu / shutterstock
Lake Assal

This crater lake is one of Djibouti’s top tourist sites and it’s not hard to see why. The saline lake sits in the Afar Triangle at 155 metres below sea level, making it Africa’s lowest point and the third lowest point in the world!

The saline levels of Lake Assal are ten times more than the sea, making it the second most saline in the world and the world’s largest salt reserve. It’s a national treasure that is protected by the Djibouti government and is hoping to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Lake Assal is shallow, but it’s quite beautiful with the surrounding Danakil Desert, while hills sit along its western side. The communities around the lake are inhabited by Afar people, though you will see no wildlife due to the desert temperature and the saltiness of the water.

9. Lake Bogoria; Kenya

Lake Bogoria, KenyaSource: pornpoj / shutterstock
Lake Bogoria

Also a salt water lake, Lake Bogoria lies in a volcanic region in Kenya’s Rift Valley and is famous for being home to one largest populations of lesser flamingos on the planet! It’s also known for its geysers and hot springs that sit along its shoreline.

Lake Bogoria is a Ramsar Wetland and a protected national reserve. There are places to stay at the northern end of the lake, while camping is offered along its southern shoreline.

The high concentration of salt in the water makes in inhospitable for fish and not the best place for swimming. Still, tourists flock here to see the flamingos and geysers erupt, which, at times, can be five metres high.

10. Lake Nakuru; Kenya

Lake Nakuru, KenyaSource: worldroadtrip / shutterstock
Lake Nakuru

Lake Nakuru is nestled in the Rift Valley at an elevation of 1,754 metres, and surrounded by the protected Lake Nakuru National Park. Like, Lake Bogoria, it’s known for its vast flamingo population, as well as attracting plenty of other birds.

The surrounding Lake Nakuru National Park is home to much wildlife, including eastern black rhinos, southern white rhinos, warthogs, baboons and giraffes. There are also lions, leopards and cheetahs living within the park.

People come to Lake Nakuru for its flamingos and game viewing, as well as its camping. There are also a couple of lodges along the lake’s shoreline for those that would prefer more comfortable accommodations.

11. Lake Chad; Chad, Cameroon, Niger & Nigeria

Lake ChadSource: Wikimedia
Lake Chad

Although named after the country Chad, Lake Chad is actually shared between four countries and provides water for over 30 million people living in these countries. The lake sits right at the edge of the Sahara, creating some picturesque scenery.

The freshwater lake is home to over 40 species of algae and is one of the world’s largest producers of spirulina. It also happens to be a Ramsar Wetlands site.

Lake Chad houses around 85 fish species and is a migrating spot for many birds. Visitors may also get the chance to spot an elephant, crocodile, hippopotamus, cheetah or striped hyena hanging around its shoreline.

12. Lake Turkana; Kenya & Ethiopia

Lake TurkanaSource: Piotr Gatlik / shutterstock
Lake Turkana

Formerly known as Lake Rudolf, Lake Turkana is the world’s largest alkaline lake and the world’s largest permanent desert lake, as well as being the world’s fourth-largest salt lake. The lake is known for its vapour, which comes out of the Central Island; an active volcano within the lake.

Lake Turkana is surrounded by national parks, with Lake Turkana National Park and Sibiloi National Park being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Both of these parks are home to some great wildlife, including Nile crocodiles, snakes and hippopotamus.

The lake is also home to hundreds of species of birds that are native to Kenya alone, as well as some more common bird species. Lucky visitors may even spot a Turkana mud turtle, which is endemic to the lake.

13. Lake Nasser; Egypt & Sudan

Lake NasserSource: matias planas / shutterstock
Lake Nasser

One of the largest man-made lakes in the world, Lake Nasser sits between Egypt and Sudan, although more than 80 percent of it lies within Egypt. The lake was created a result of the construction of the Aswan High Dam along the Nile River between 1958 and 1970.

Lake Nasser was named after Gamal Abdel Nasser, the second President of Egypt, though the Sudanese call it Lake Nubia. Due to its location along the Nile, it’s swarming with Nile perch, making it a top fishing site.

One of the most popular things to do at Lake Nassar is to take a boat cruise around the lake to get incredible views of statue of Ramses II at Abu Simbel Temple, which look out to the lake. The view from the temple down to the lake is also mesmerizing, especially during sunsets.

14. Lake Naivasha; Kenya

Lake NaivashaSource: Sopotnicki / shutterstock
Lake Naivasha

This freshwater lake lies just northwest of Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi and is part of the Great Rift Valley. Lake Naivasha gets its name from the local Maasai name Nai’posha, which means “rough water”.

At 1,884 metres above sea level, Lake Naivasha sits at the highest elevation of the Kenyan Rift valley. The 139 square kilometre lake is surrounded by swamplands, making it a Ramsar Wetland.

The lake is a popular stop on many safari tours, especially because it’s not too far away from Maasai Mara and Hell’s Gate National Park. The lake itself is also a great place to go boating or spot wildlife, like hippos, giraffe, zebras and Colobus monkeys.

15. Lake Edward; DR Congo & Uganda

Lake Edward, CongoSource: Duncan Wright / Wikimedia
Lake Edward

At 2,325 square kilometres, Lake Edward is the smallest of the African Great Lakes and sits in the Albertine Rift on the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda. The lake was named after Prince Albert Edward, The Prince of Wales and son of Queen Victoria.

The lake is located within the Virunga National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, the park is one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet, with the lake itself being home to numerous species of fish.

Visitors may get the chance to see crocodiles, chimpanzees, elephants and lions on the banks of the lake, all of which are protected by the national park. The park also happens to be home to the critically endangered mountain gorilla.

15 Best Lakes in Africa:

  • Lake Victoria; Kenya, Uganda & Tanzania
  • Lake Malawi; Malawi, Mozambique & Tanzania
  • Lake Retba; Senegal
  • Lake Tanganyika; Burundi, DR Congo, Tanzania & Zambia
  • Lake Kariba; Zambia & Zimbabwe
  • Lake Kivu, Rwanda & DR Congo
  • Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda
  • Lake Assal; Djibouti
  • Lake Bogoria; Kenya
  • Lake Nakuru; Kenya
  • Lake Chad; Chad, Cameroon, Niger & Nigeria
  • Lake Turkana; Kenya & Ethiopia
  • Lake Nasser; Egypt & Sudan
  • Lake Naivasha; Kenya
  • Lake Edward; DR Congo & Uganda