The lake’s shores vary in aspect. The lake’s southwestern coast is backed by precipices 90 metres high, which give way on the western coast to papyrus and ambatch swamps marking the delta of the Kagera River. The lakes deeply indented northern coast is flat and bare. A narrow channel leads into the Kavirondo Gulf, which has an average width of 25 km and extends for 64 km eastward to Kisumu, Kenya. The Ugandan cities of Kampala and Entebbe lie along or near the northern coast. At the lake’s southeastern corner is Speke Gulf and at the southwestern corner Emin Pasha Gulf. Of the numerous islands in the lake, Ukerewe, north of Speke Gulf, is the largest, with wooded hills rising 200 metres above the lake. It is densely populated. At the lake’s northwestern corner are the 62 islands of the Sese archipelago, some of them of striking beauty.
The Kagera River, the largest and most important of the lake affluents, enters the western side of Lake Victoria just north of latitude 1° S. The only other river of note entering from the west is the Katonga, north of Kagera. The lake’s only outlet is the Victoria Nile, which exits from the northern coast.
The search by Europeans for the source of the Nile led to the sighting of the lake by the British explorer John Hanning Speke in 1858. Formerly known to the Arabs as Ukerewe, the lake was named by Speke in honour of Queen Victoria of England. A detailed survey of the lake was made by Sir William Garstin in 1901.
Lake Victoria has more than 200 species of fish, of which the Tilapia is the most economically important.