Top 15 Largest Lakes in Africa

Africa isn’t just where you find jungles, savannas, deserts, and unique wildlife. It’s also home to many lakes. One of them is the second-largest freshwater lake globally. North America has the Great Lakes, but the deep lakes in Africa are impressive as well. And there are still many undiscovered lakes in the region. In this article, we’ll take a look at 15 of biggest African lakes, starting with the largest.

The 15 Largest African Lakes

1. Lake Victoria, Kenya/Uganda/Tanzania

African Lakes
©Stefan Haider/

Lake Victoria, the largest African lake, spans 23,146 square miles (59,947 square kilometers), making it the world’s largest tropical lake. Its vastness rivals Lake Superior among the largest freshwater lakes globally. This lake mainly relies on rainfall, and its only outlet is the Nile River.

Back in 1858, explorer John Hanning Speke named it in honor of Queen Victoria, the first to officially document the lake. With a volume of 2,424 cubic kilometers and a maximum depth of 276 feet (84 meters), Lake Victoria ranks ninth in the world for volume.

This lake touches three African nations: Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Thanks to its size and extensive shoreline, which includes islands covering 3.7% of its total shore, Lake Victoria is a haven for various native fish species. Unique inhabitants of this lake include cichlids, Nile perch, and more.

2. Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania/Burundi/Democratic Republic of the Congo /Zambia

African Lakes
©Naoki Kakuta/

Lake Tanganyika, the second-largest African lake, extends across four countries: Tanzania, Zambia, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s also the second-deepest lake worldwide, following Russia’s Lake Baikal. Covering an area of 12,700 square miles (32,900 square kilometers), it boasts a remarkable 1,136-mile (1,828-kilometer) shoreline, making it the longest freshwater lake on the planet.

With its incredible maximum depth of 4,826 feet (1,471 meters), Lake Tanganyika may appear more like a strait from a distance, resembling a deep trench. Notably, this lake is also one of the world’s oldest, with an estimated age of 10 million years. Fewer than 20 ancient lakes exist globally, and Lake Tanganyika proudly claims a spot among them.

Despite its remarkably slender shape, this lake is home to a diverse ecosystem, hosting around 18% of the world’s freshwater fish and unique marine creatures like sardines, sponges, and jellyfish found nowhere else. Its rich biodiversity supports approximately 10 million people living around its shores.

3. Lake Malawi, Tanzania /Mozambique

African Lakes
©Scott Biales DitchTheMap/

Lake Malawi, often called Lake Nyasa, blankets an area of 11,400 square miles (29,600 square kilometers). Much like Lake Tanganyika, it’s a long and slender lake, with profound depths reaching 2,316 feet (706 meters), ranking as the world’s sixth deepest lake. Formed 1-2 million years ago, Lake Malawi spans two African nations, Mozambique and Tanzania.

What’s unique about this lake is its crystal-clear waters, offering up to 20 meters of underwater visibility on a clear day despite its great depth. In addition to its geographical similarities with Lake Tanganyika, Lake Malawi boasts an extraordinarily diverse ecosystem, home to thousands of fish species. Approximately 15% of the world’s freshwater marine species call this lake their habitat.

4. Lake Turkana, Kenya

African Lakes

Once called Lake Rudolf, Lake Turkana lies in Kenya’s Rift Valley and extends north into Ethiopia. Spanning 2,473 square miles (6,405 square kilometers), it holds the distinction of being the largest permanent desert lake and the largest alkaline lake on Earth. The locals fondly call it the “Jade Sea” due to its mesmerizing turquoise hue. As a desert and alkaline lake, Lake Turkana is typically shallow and briny, owing to its rich salt mineral content. Furthermore, it ranks as the fourth-largest salt lake globally in terms of water volume.

Although Lake Turkana’s water has historically served as a source of drinking water, its high salinity and fluoride levels render it unsuitable for human consumption. Despite these challenges, the lake remains a habitat for various fish species and terrestrial creatures, such as crocodiles, hippos, and numerous bird species unique to Kenya. Notably, Lake Turkana boasts a distinct species of mud turtle found nowhere else in the world.

5. Lake Rukwa, Tanzania

Africa Lakes
©Lichinga / Creative Commons – License

Covering an expanse of 2,220 square miles (5,760 square kilometers), Lake Rukwa ranks as Africa’s fifth-largest lake in terms of area. Interestingly, its size can shift, causing it to exchange positions with Lake Albert on the list of the continent’s largest lakes. Situated in Tanzania, this lake frequently sees its surface area change due to the irregular flow of seasonal streams, which serve as its primary water source. Notably, in 2016, a remarkable find was made when 1.53 billion cubic meters (or 54.2 billion cubic feet) of helium gas were discovered in Lake Rukwa.

6. Lake Albert, the Democratic Republic of the Congo/Uganda

Africa Lakes
© Bunt

Lake Albert remains a hidden gem, with only a few intrepid travelers venturing into its domain due to the formidable mountains that encircle it. However, those who persevere are in for a truly awe-inspiring sight. Spanning a generous 2,046 square miles (5,300 square kilometers), Lake Albert holds the distinction of being Africa’s sixth-largest lake. This great body of water, once known as Lake Mwitanzige and Lake Mobutu Sese Seko, graces the borderlands of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Notably, Lake Albert stands as one of the primary sources of the White Nile River, bestowing its life-giving waters to this iconic waterway. While its basin reaches a depth of 82 feet, Lake Albert’s waters are relatively shallow when compared to other African lakes, with the deepest point plummeting to 167 feet below the surface.

7. Lake Mweru, the Democratic Republic of the Congo/Zambia

Lakes in Africa
©Makandwe Mwape / Creative Commons – License

Lake Mweru, with its sprawling 1,976 square miles (5,120 square kilometers) of surface, ranks among the grandest lakes in Africa. It straddles the border that separates Zambia and the Republic of Congo. Its main lifeline, the Luapula River, channels water into Lake Mweru through southern swamps. As the second-largest lake that touches Congo, Lake Mweru sits 93 miles to the west of the vast Lake Tanganyika.

This serene lake is home to numerous fishing villages, and it boasts three inhabited islands, offering additional opportunities for angling. Lake Mweru is renowned for its longfin tilapia, a sought-after commodity in the country’s markets. Anglers around the lake can also reel in a variety of other fish species, including elephantfish, catfish, carp, and tigerfish.

8. Lake Kivu, Rwanda/Democratic Republic of the Congo

Lakes in Africa

Lake Kivu graces the borders of Congo and Rwanda in the heart of Africa. Its unique, meandering shape makes it a challenge to gauge its surface area precisely, but experts estimate it to be around 1,040 square miles (2,700 square kilometers), securing its position as the eighth-largest lake on the continent.

This enigmatic lake plunges to a maximum depth of 722 feet (220 meters), earning it the distinction of being the 19th deepest lake worldwide. Nestled within a rift valley undergoing a gradual separation, Lake Kivu experiences volcanic activity near its basin, adding to its mystique and geological allure.

9. Lake Edward, Uganda

Lakes in Africa
©Arnold Mugasha/

Lake Edward, with a sprawling expanse of 897 square miles (2,325 square kilometers), ranks among Africa’s top ten largest lakes, though it stands as one of the smaller members of the African Great Lakes family. Nestled between Uganda and Congo, this lake is nourished by the flow of five rivers and rests at an elevation of 3,020 feet (920 meters). Over countless years, signs of volcanic activity have left their mark on the lake’s surroundings.

Lake Edward’s domain hosts a rich diversity of wildlife, both within its waters and on its shores. It provides a habitat for various fish species, while the land around it is home to remarkable creatures such as elephants, chimpanzees, crocodiles, and majestic lions.

10. Lake Tana, Ethiopia

Lakes in Africa
© undefined

Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s grandest lake, not only reigns as the largest in the country but also serves as the birthplace of the Blue Nile’s waters. Its vast expanse covers 832 square miles (2,156 square kilometers). Nestled within the Ethiopian Highlands, this lake rests at a lofty elevation of 5,866 feet (1,788 meters) above sea level.

In the year 2015, Lake Tana garnered international recognition for its profound significance, both in terms of its natural beauty and its cultural heritage.

11. Lake KyogaCentral Uganda

Lake Kyoga, Central Uganda
©Joanne Mumbey ( / Creative Commons – License

Lake Kyoga is a prominent natural gem nestled in the heart of Central Uganda, offering a picturesque and ecologically diverse landscape. This expansive freshwater lake, covering an area of approximately 1,720 square kilometers, holds a unique charm with its tranquil waters, lush surrounding wetlands, and abundant wildlife. Its shores are dotted with vibrant fishing communities, showcasing the vital role the lake plays in the livelihoods of the local population. Beyond its cultural significance, Lake Kyoga’s rich biodiversity, including an array of fish species, waterfowl, and terrestrial wildlife, further underscores its ecological importance, making it a crucial component of Uganda’s natural heritage.

12. Lake ChadChad Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon

Lake Chad, Chad Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon
©NASA / This file is in the public domain in the United States because it was solely created by NASA

Lake Chad, straddling the borders of Chad, Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon, stands as a remarkable but beleaguered emblem of both natural beauty and environmental challenges. Once Africa’s fourth-largest lake, it has been dramatically shrinking over the years due to climate change, unsustainable water use, and increasing population pressure. This ecological crisis has severely affected the communities that depend on its resources, exacerbating regional challenges, such as food security and displacement. Despite these issues, Lake Chad’s waters still support various life. Thus, it offers sustenance to countless local fishermen and supporting a unique ecosystem of wetlands and wildlife. Its uncertain future underscores the urgent need for cooperative efforts and sustainable practices to ensure the preservation and vitality of this vital resource for the four nations it touches.

13. Abaya LakeEthiopia 

African Lakes
©Rod Waddington / flickr – License

Abaya Lake, also known as Lake Abaya, is a captivating freshwater jewel with a story of stark contrasts. The lake, spanning approximately 1,162 square kilometers, dazzles with its deep blue hues and picturesque surroundings, which include the lush Arba Minch forest and the nearby town of Arba Minch. Abaya Lake, part of the famous Nechisar National Park, is a testament to nature’s resilience, coexisting with the awe-inspiring crocodiles and hippos that populate its waters, as well as a remarkable variety of bird species that grace its shores. Simultaneously, the lake faces challenges, including pollution and overfishing, which highlight the importance of conservation efforts to protect this vital Ethiopian treasure and its unique biodiversity.

14. Lake EyasiNorthern Tanzania

Lake Eyasi, Northern Tanzania
©Gabor Kovacs Photography/

Nestled amidst the undulating landscapes of Northern Tanzania, Lake Eyasi stands as a tranquil and lesser-known gem in the East African Rift Valley. This soda lake, covering approximately 1,090 square kilometers, is framed by ancient escarpments and vast, open plains, offering a serene and remote haven for both wildlife and the indigenous Hadza and Datoga tribes who call its shores home. Lake Eyasi is a vital watering hole, attracting a diverse array of birdlife and serving as a seasonal refuge for large mammals like giraffes and zebras. Beyond its natural beauty, the lake holds cultural significance as it provides sustenance and a traditional way of life for the local indigenous communities. Thus, it a unique and culturally rich destination for those seeking an authentic Tanzanian experience.

15. Lake NatronGreat Rift Vally, Tanzania 

Lake Natron as seen from space on 3 March 2017 Image by NASA

Lake Natron stands as an otherworldly spectacle, a place where nature’s artistry takes center stage. This highly alkaline soda lake, covering approximately 56 square kilometers, is renowned for its surreal, blood-red waters, a result of the pigmented microorganisms thriving in its extreme conditions. Despite its seemingly inhospitable environment, Lake Natron is teeming with life, including vast flocks of flamingos that visit its shores to breed, creating a breathtaking contrast with the surrounding arid, lunar-like landscape. Its unique characteristics and the surrounding petrified scenery, with ancient Maasai communities in the backdrop, make Lake Natron a place of captivating beauty and ecological wonder, drawing both naturalists and adventure seekers to its remote and mesmerizing shores.

Make sure you check our guide for the best lakes in Switzerland.

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