Lake Victoria is the largest lake on the African continent and the second largest in the expanse of freshwater in the world, measuring about 250km long from north to south and with an average width of roughly 200km. Lake Victoria fills a relatively shallow basin on the elevated plateau that separates the eastern and western forks of the Great Rift Valley, and it is divided between three countries, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.
The Ugandan portion is, without doubt, the most attractive, it’s lushly vegetated and forested shores contrasting starkly with the more arid, stony landscapes of the northern part.
The first European to see Lake Victoria was John Hanning Speke. Together with Sir Richard Burton, Speke travelled to Lake Tanganyika in 1858, and then later in the same year, after living Burton at Tabora, he reached the southern shore of Lake Victoria near the site of what is now Mwanza in Tanzania. On returning to Lake Victoria in 1862, Speke followed its western shore from Mwanza to the Buganda capital near Kampala hill. He then travelled east to the own falls, near modern-day Jinja, which he asserted were the source of the Nile. As it turned out Speke was correct in his belief that the Nile flowed out of Lake Victoria. The Own falls, now submerged beneath a hydro-electric dam, is officially regarded as the source of the Nile, which travels a distance of almost 6,500km between leaving Lake Victoria and flowing into the Mediterranean Sea.
The most important towns on lake Victoria are Kisumu in Kenya, Mwanza, Musoma and Bukoba in Tanzania; Jinja, Entebbe, and Port Bell in Uganda.
Lake Victoria is the primary food source for the many Ugandans who live around its shores. However, the lakes long term fishing prospects have been dramatically affected since the Nile perch was introduced by British colonials in 1956. It was intended to be a boon to local fishermen, but the voracious appetite of this large predatorily fish has instead resulted in the extinction of many smaller endemic species.
As for the lake-shore towns, Entebbe is little more than a satellite town to Kampala, and its main interest to tourists is as the site of Uganda's only international airport. That said, Entebbe is an attractive place, with good access to the lake, and the superb Entebbe Botanical Garden should not be overlooked by bird-watchers. Jinja has rather less inherent appeal, but it has adequate tourist facilities in the form of several hotels and restaurants, and few visitors to Uganda would want to miss out on the nearby Source of the Nile. There remains a surprising amount of latitude of genuinely off-the-beaten-track exploration of Lake Victoria’s more remote corners, and Lugala and Bugadi between Jinja and the Kenyan border.