How Deep Is Lake Victoria in Africa?

Sunset at Lake Victoria/Kenya
© Stefan Haider/

Written by Kathryn Dueck

Published: November 8, 2023

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Lake Victoria is the largest of the African Great Lakes, a collection of Rift Valley lakes in the region of the East African Rift. Its size can be deceptive: its surface area is enormous, but its depth in comparison might surprise you. So just how deep is Lake Victoria? Read on to discover its maximum depth, surface area, and other fascinating facts!

Lake Victoria is a tropical lake in Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya.

Where Is Lake Victoria?

Named after Queen Victoria, Lake Victoria is the largest tropical fresh water lake in the world. Taken at sunrise this photo is looking out onto the lake with Islands in the distance and a boat.

Lake Victoria is one of the African Great Lakes in East




Lake Victoria is a massive freshwater lake in East Africa. Parts of it lie within three countries: Tanzania (49%), Uganda (45%), and Kenya (6%). Its northern shore touches the Equator. The lake’s catchment area covers an area of approximately 74,518 mi2 (193,000 km2) and includes Rwanda and Burundi in addition to the other three countries. The Lake Victoria basin is home to approximately 40 million people.

Lake Victoria contains hundreds of islands, including 84 islands within the Ssese Islands, an archipelago on the northern side of the lake. The lake receives water from numerous rivers and streams, most critically the Kagera River on its western side. In terms of outflow, its only outlet is the White Nile River to the north near Jinja, Uganda. Most of its water – approximately 80% – comes from rainfall.

How Deep Is Lake Victoria?

Lake Victoria, as seen from a moving boat, Uganda

Lake Victoria has an average depth of 131 feet and a maximum depth of 270 feet.

©Travel Stock/

Lake Victoria has an average depth of 131 feet (40 meters) and a maximum depth of approximately 270 feet (82 meters). The lake is somewhat longer (north to south) than wide (east to west). Its depth is surprisingly shallow compared to its sizeable surface measurements. By surface area, Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest freshwater lake and the world’s second-largest freshwater lake (after North America’s Lake Superior). It also claims the distinction of being the world’s largest tropical lake. To put it in perspective, Lake Victoria is almost as big as Ireland.

The following table lists several other notable measurements for Lake Victoria:

Measurement TypeSize
Surface Area26,600 mi2 (68,800 km2)
Maximum Length209 mi (337 km)
Maximum Width149 mi (240 km)
Maximum Depth270 ft (82 m)
Average Depth131 ft (40 m)
Volume2,760 km3 (662 mi3)
Shore Length>2,000 mi (3,220 km)
Height Above Sea Level3,720 ft (1,134 m)
How deep is Lake Victoria? – Summary of various measurements.

Animals in Lake Victoria

Trimac or three spot cichlid (Cichlasoma trimaculatum)

Lake Victoria is home to over 500 species of cichlids, most of which are endemic.

©Pavaphon Supanantananont/

Lake Victoria is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including hundreds of species of fish, many of which are unique to the lake. It contains over 500 species of cichlids alone, the vast majority of which are endemic. While the lake is home to incredible diversity, it has also seen hundreds of species go extinct since the mid-1900s. This is partly due to the intrusion of invasive fish species (noted in the list below).

Below are a few examples of fish species living in Lake Victoria, both invasive and indigenous:

Here are a few examples of reptiles living in and around Lake Victoria:

Here are a few examples of mammals living in and around Lake Victoria:

Lake Victoria also has many species of crustaceans, mollusks, and spiders.

Is Lake Victoria Polluted?

Unfortunately, Lake Victoria is one of the most polluted lakes in the world. Its massive surface area means it shares its shores with three different countries, all of which contribute to its contamination. Common contaminants include domestic and industrial waste, raw sewage, chemicals like pesticides, and fertilizers.

Lake Victoria’s pollution levels directly impact millions of people who rely on its water and fish for their hydration, food, and livelihood. Because the lake is so contaminated, drinking its unpurified water as well as swimming and bathing are not recommended. Water-related diseases include malaria, bilharzia, and cholera.

History of Lake Victoria

Lake Victoria Fishing

Lake Victoria was first formed approximately 400,000 years ago and currently supports millions of people.

©Tatsiana Hendzel/

Lake Victoria first appeared approximately 400,000 years ago, making it relatively young in geological terms. Originally, a crustal block dammed westward-flowing rivers to create the shallow lake we know today. However, at one point in its history, Lake Victoria may have been several smaller lakes. It has also dried up completely at least three times.

Native Africans have a long history of living and working on the shores of the lake, but the first recorded references to the lake came from Arab inland traders. However, the first European sighting occurred in 1858 while explorers were searching for the source of the Nile River. British explorer John Hanning Speke discovered the lake and named it after Queen Victoria. Despite this, the Arabs already knew the lake as Ukerewe; other local names include ‘Nnalubaale, Nalubaale, Nyanza, and Nam Lolwe.

In 1952, engineers constructed the Nalubaale Dam on the Victoria Nile to control water flow to the Nile River. By 2000, the Uganda government had begun to expand the dam, adding the Kiira Hydroelectric Power Station. Water levels had dropped suspiciously low by the end of 2005, resulting in a dispute over water appropriation.

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About the Author

Kathryn Dueck is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on wildlife, dogs, and geography. Kathryn holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical and Theological Studies, which she earned in 2023. In addition to volunteering at an animal shelter, Kathryn has worked for several months as a trainee dog groomer. A resident of Manitoba, Canada, Kathryn loves playing with her dog, writing fiction, and hiking.

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