Exploring Kenya's side of Lake Victoria (Nam Lolwe locally) - prehistoric cave art, famous sons and sunsets and fish dishes to beat.
AfricaKenya7 days / January - February - March - April - May - August - September - October - November - December 2019
Highs & Lows
The sunsets over the lake on all islands are a sight to behold!
Only a few accommodation options on each island.
Lake Victoria, known as Nam Lolwe in Kenya, is Africa’s largest freshwater lake and the lifeline of several communities in the country as well as Uganda and Tanzania. It also is the source of the River Nile in Eastern Uganda.
There are several islands on the lake both inhabited and not, but the three most interesting are Rusinga, Takawiri and Mfangano in my opinion. Given the size of Nam Lolwe and the location of the islands away from the bays and shores of the mainland, there is a coastal feel on the beaches with sweeping views over the water and even some waves – not to mention Takawiri’s white sands.
This trip was peak ‘unspoiled and authentic’ village island life with fishing, churches and mosques, farming and more daily life going on alongside my hikes, beach days and strolls through museums.
Historically the best known of the lake islands, Rusinga is connected to Mbita town and the mainland by a causeway that can be driven on. The island is the home of the family of well-loved statesman ad independence activist Tom Mboya (and where he is buried) as well as the flamboyant and exciting Rusinga Cultural Festival over 2 days in December of every year.
The festival is a celebration of the rich culture of the AbaSuba people – the original Bantu inhabitants of many of the lake’s islands. Expect two days of fashion, food, music, literature and the main event, the boat races where teams from different villages compete for bragging rights.
If you don’t make it in December then not to worry – there is still the lovely lake to enjoy with those famous Western Kenya sunsets as well as day trips to Ruma National Park to spot some game and some fantastic restaurants where you need to try the fresh fish at least once.
Takawiri Island is ideal for lazing at the beach, bird watching, taking calm boat trips, going on chilled walks and other laid-back activities. The white sandy beaches lined with palm trees are a rarity for Lake Victoria which is the island’s main claim to fame.
As the only accommodation on the island is Takawiri Island Resort which offers mid-range rooms and camping on request, some people prefer to keep this to a day trip from Mbita on the mainland or one of the other islands.
If you do opt for a day trip then be sure to call ahead and let the resort know to expect you – transport here is either via the water bus, the public motorized boats or private boat – all 3 available to book from Mbita or Mfangano Island.
My time at Mfangano Island was spent walking and hiking often, watching for a hippo sighting at the hotel waterfront and marvelling at the millions of tiny fishing boat lights out all night.
The island enjoys calm waves from the lake due to most sides facing out to the watter borders with Uganda and Tanzania, as well as dramatic views at many points owing to the elevation change from the central mountain to the lake shore.
For an introduction to the first inhabitants of Mfangano Island – the baTwa and abaSuba people groups – head to the Abasuba Community Peace Museum in the east part of the island.
The big attraction however is the rock art in the caves at Mawanga – ask at your accommodation or the aforementioned museum to organize for a guide to take you to them and give a little background information.
Q & A
Anything go wrong during the trip?We arranged an 'early morning boat trip' with one fisherman who didn't show up at the jetty at our agreed-upon time - best leave such arrangements to staff at your hotel or to your local hosts (including negotiating a price!).
Tips you would give a friend?Come with as much cash as you need unless you have access to M-Pesa or Airtel mobile money - no ATMs or card facilities on either Takawiri or Mfangano islands.
Packing tips?Double-check that you've got the insect repellent and remember to consult a doctor about anti-malarial medication.
Transportation Tips?Catch the yellow water bus between Mbita and Takawiri and Mfangano islands. Fares are paid in cash just before you get on board and reliable schedules are available at the ticket offices as well.
Any surprises?Being in the lake really does feel like the ocean in some points, particularly at Takawiri Island but Mfangano too - remember to ask your guide or hotel staff what spots are safest for swimming though.
Booking details?Best to make your accommodation arrangements over the phone than rely on online booking platforms.