The Niger is the third largest river in Africa, only behind the Nile and the Congo rivers, at 4,180km. Its source lies in the Guinea Highlands in southern Guinea. It runs through Mali, Niger, down the border with Benin before flowing through Nigeria and out into the Atlantic ocean via an eneormous delta, which is known as the Niger Delta, or sometimes the Oil Rivers. The Niger is uniquely shaped for such a large river, almost like a crescent or boomerang shape. This is because the Niger used to be two ancient rivers that joined together. It has been a major economic lifeline for all the countries it runs through, as some smaller vessels can navigate the delta and then continue upstream to deliver and collect goods. It is also a source of hydroelectric power with dams, and as such, the river’s depth is influenced by these dams. In 2009, Nigeria began dredging the river that will see silt removed around a several hundred kilometre radius. This will then make it easier for larger vessels to navigate the river and increase the number of goods being transported from the Atlantic Ocean to more isolated villages and towns in Nigeria. This project is hoped to be completed by 2020, and will promise that the river will be able to invite larger vessels year round, and help Nigeria set its target of moving into the top 20 most industrialised nations in the world.
The source of the Zambezi is located in the North-Western Province of Zambia, at an elevation of 1,524 metres, which is also a forest reserve. The Zambezi is the fourth largest river in Africa, flowing at 2700km into the Indian Ocean. It flows through Zambia, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, and then back again into Zambia, Zimbabwe, and then finally through Mozambique into the Indian Ocean via a delta. This river is important for tourism, as it is a part of the infamous Victoria Falls, while also having 280,000 square km Zambezi Transfontier Conservation Area. Because it is so important for tourism, the building of dams has been restricted to just two which provides power for all the countries mentioned above. However, aside from providing clean, renewable power to several countries in the region, the dams have also controlled the flow of the river and prevented flooding, This is a mixed blessing as many animal and bird migrations were disrupted, and traditional farming and fishing patterns also had patterns distributed. However, it’s argued that the power generated by the river dams has off-set these ecological problems
Africa’s fifth longest river is mainly located in South Africa, but also clips Lesotho and Namibia. From its source in Lesotho, it flows for 2200km, before flowing into the Atlantic Ocean in Alexandra Bay in South Africa. The Orange River is important for both hydroelectric power, irrigation and also tourism, as, during the months of March and April, the rains and dams opening make it a great place for white water rafting and canoeing. To date, the river has a total of 29 dams operating, and it is a vital supply of water for the Eastern Cape in South Africa, via the second-longest supply tunnel in the world. At 83km long, called the Orange Fish Tunnel. Diamonds were discovered on the river near Hopetown in South Africa in 1867, which caused a significant ‘diamond rush’. Today, there are several diamond mines located on the middle and final stretches of the river. It also flows westward and passes through the semi-arid Kalahari and Namib areas, which brings vital water to the region where it rains only 50mm of precipitation per year.
Africa’s second longest river, which flows through the heart of Africa through DR Congo, is 4700km long. Being located on the equator, it receives the highest rainfall in Africa, and thus it discharges a staggering 34,000 cubic metres of water per second into the Atlantic Ocean. This rate of water flow is only beaten by the Amazon River. It also has the largest catchment area in Africa, covering 4.1 million square kilometres, and thanks mainly to its canyons is the deepest river in the world. The source is located in northern Zambia, close to the source of the Zambezi River, however, the rest of the river lies solely within DR Congo and forms part of its borders. It flows through the settlements of Mbandaka, Kinshasa, and Kisangani, as well as the capital of Brazzaville. For this reason, it is a vital domestic trading route for riverboats, as well as the more adventurous travellers, as travelling by the river is regarded as much safer than by roads in DR Congo. The famous novel, the Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad was about the journey up the Congo River in 1899 into the Congo Free State, which at the time was the very heart of Africa. This book also inspired the Vietnam-era film “Apocalypse Now”, which is essentially a modern-day re-adaptation set in South-East Asia rather than Africa.
The Nile is the largest river in Africa and the world, at 6,600km, and is the most well-known river in Africa, being steeped in history. Its drainage basin is an immense 3 million square kilometres – which is 10% of the entire continent – and it has two major tributaries: The White Nile which is located in the Great Lakes region, with its source in Rwanda, and the Blue Nile, which has its source in Ethiopia. These two tributaries collide near the capital of Sudan, Khartoum, and from there it flows north until it flows via a large delta into the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt has always been absolutely dependent on the Nile, as the rest of the country is arid desert. The Nile brings a stretch of life to its shores, and this is why throughout history most the population of Egypt has lived on its banks. This is reflected in the major cities and towns that line its banks: Khartoum, Aswan, Luxor and Cairo are all entirely dependent on it, just as the Ancient Egyptian empire was. Without it, Egypt would just be another scorched and virtually inhabitable extension of the Sahara Desert.
It can be easy to simply take a look at the statistics to see how special this lake is: It is Africa’s largest lake with a surface area of 68,000 square kilometres. It is also, the largest tropical lake in the world, and comes in second place for the largest freshwater lake in the world, beaten only by Lake Superior in North America. The icing on the cake is that is one of the sources of the river Nile. Bordering Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, it is home a rich and diverse ecosystem of reefs, islands and endemic fish. It draws tourists to it for excellent fishing for Nile Perch, as well as being somewhat of a Mecca for birdwatchers. The lake is named after the British Queen Victoria, after the British explorer, John Hanning Speke was the first European to discover it, in 1858. However, Arab traders were the first people to record the discovery of the lake, around 1160AD. Today, the shores of the lake are densely populated, and it plays a vital economic role through fishing and trading.
Lake Nyasa is frequently referred to as Lake Malawi, as most of the lake lies within that nation. However, it is part of the Great African Lakes region (like Lake Victoria), and is the third-largest lake in the East Rift Valley region. Nyasa means “lake” in Bantu. It’s also bordered by Tanzania and Mozambique, however, the beaches on the Tanzanian side of the lake are less developed than in Malawi. The shores on the Malawi side are becoming very popular with backpackers but cater to all budgets and tastes. Nkhotakota in the central region of Malawi is popular for its unspoilt sandy beaches, and is a real melting pot of ethnic groups. Nkhata in the north is a secluded rocky bay that can be hard to leave, such is the beautiful shoreline and the gentle ambience of the place. In addition, Lake Malawi is also home to the Lake of Stars festival that takes place annually on the last weekend of September into October. It is a festival suitable for children and adults alike, with bands and performers coming from all over Africa and beyond to entertain revellers. It also has yoga workshops and showcases Malawi’s ethnic diversity, all to the stunning backdrop of Lake Malawi.
To describe Lake Tanganyika, it could be tempting to simply list its impressive number of statistics. It’s the second oldest freshwater lake in the world, second largest by volume of water, and second deepest. In fact, it is only beaten by Lake Baikal in Siberia, but Lake Tanganyika is the infinitely more accessible of the two, and has a richer diversity of wildlife. But it’s also the longest freshwater lake in the world, and it covers four countries, including Zambia, Burundi, Tanzania and DR Congo. Tanzania possesses the majority of the lake, with 46% falling within its borders. The water from the lake flows into the Congo River and then into the Atlantic Ocean. The name ‘Tanganyika’ means quite simply “plain-like lake”, and it has an interesting little bit of history attached to it: Che Guevara – the famous revolutionary – used the western shores of the lake to train Congolese guerilla fighters, and in World War I it was fought over by the Germans and Allied forces as a strategic gateway to the Atlantic Ocean. Today there are two ferries that can carry passengers along the eastern shore of the lake. To get to the lake, trains run to Kalemie in the DR Congo, while from Tanzania trains run from Dar Es Salaam to Kalemie on the eastern shores of the lake. If you want to get there faster, there are airstrips in Kiplili (Tanzania) and Bujumbura (Burundi).
Lake Albert is spread over both Uganda and DR Congo. It’s located in the Africa Great Lakes region and is the seventh-largest lake in Africa. It is actually a part of the upper Nile river and lake system. Its source is the Victoria Nile, which itself comes from Lake Victoria, as well as the Semliki River, which connects to Lake Edward in the southwest. The water in the Victoria Nile is much less saline than Lake Albert itself. Its outlet is located at the northern tip of the lake, which is known as the Mountain Nile river heading into South Sudan. At the southernmost part of the lake, the shoreline turns into thick swamps, while at the northwestern shore, the Blue Mountains provide a spectacular backdrop in the distance. British explorers Samuel Baker and Sass Flora discovered the lake in 1846. They decided to name the lake ‘Lake Albert’ after the husband of Queen Victoria. To get to the lake, it is easiest to head to the town of Hoima in Uganda, and then it is only a 80km drive from there. Boats can then be hired for trips around some of the lake. You will be able to see shore side villages and numerous types of fish, due to the lake having very clear and unpolluted water.
Lake Chad is where the nation of Chad got its name from, such is its importance, but much smaller parts of it are in Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon. The shorelines are mostly made up with reedbeds, mud banks and swampland, as well as marshland. The lake is extremely shallow – at only 10 metres at its deepest – and it has no outlet, but despite this it is a fresh water lake. ‘Chad’ means literately “large expanse of water”, and Lake Chad is all that remains of a former inland sea that existed thousands of years ago as a former inland sea. When it was at its largest, the paleolake ‘Mega-Chad’ was the largest of four inland lakes that were found in the Sahara. It was estimated to have covered an area of 1,000,000km squared, which is larger than the Caspian Sea which is the largest inland sea at present. Lake Chad has a population of African manatees which provides evidence to prove that this was a huge inland sea. Lake Chad has – however – shrunk significantly since the 1960’s. This is because there are competing demands from populations living around the lake, with farmers draining some of the lakes for irrigation, as well as overgrazing of livestock. Fishermen have seemed to suffer the most from the Lake shrinking. Fauna around the lake includes crocodile, hippopotamus and elephants, as well as a rusty lark, black-crowned cranes and the river Prinia.
Tugela Falls is located in South Africa, and they are by far the highest waterfalls in Africa, as well as being the 2nd highest waterfall in the world, just behind Angel Falls. The drop over five cascades takes it down to 948 metres, almost a whole kilometre. Luckily, they are much more accessible than Angel Falls (in South America), being situated in Drakensberg in the Royal Natal National Park in KwaZulu-Natal Province. The falls are at their best after heavy rainfall, which makes them easily visible from the main road into Drakensberg. At the top of the falls there is a rustic, basic camp site and a mountain hut. To drive here, the best trail by far is to the top of Mont-Aux-Sources, and from there the climb is relatively easy. Access to the summit, however, is only accessible by 2 chain ladders. Be warned it is still a 4.5 to 8 hour round trip depending on your fitness level and how many photos you want to stop and take. Another interesting trail to take is to the foot of the falls, which starts at Royal Natal National Park. The climb is a fairly easy gradient up through the Tugela Gorge for 7km, which passes through indigenous forests, while the final part requires some scrambling over boulders. A small chain ladder marks the end of the hike, with fantastic views of the falls gushing down in a series of five cascades.
Konhou Falls are based in Gabon, and this waterfall is another world record-breaker. It claims to have a width of 3,200 metres (3.2km), and a fall height of 56 metres. It is also one of the strongest flowing waterfalls in the world, with an average flow of 900 cubic metres a second. Being part of the Ivindo River system, it is a major centre of fish and biodiversity. And being part of the Ivindo National Park, created in 2002, has helped to protect this stunning, powerful waterfall and its rich biodiversity of aquatic life. The ecosystem surrounding the falls is forest woodland, and has some of highest concentrations of forest elephants, chimpanzees and gorillas in Africa. The falls themselves have islands dividing it, there are even separate trees growing within the falls, and the waterfall is really beautifully entwined with the rainforest. In fact, it is so beautiful that local people believe the falls are a highly important spiritual place. However, the future of the falls was put into jeopardy in 2007 when it was announced that a dam was to be built over most of the falls to supply a nearby iron mine. This caused outrage in Africa and throughout the rest of the world, and eventually due to international pressure from NGOs caused the dam to be cancelled and operations at the iron mine were downscaled. The Falls future seems – for now at least – secured as an adventure tourist attraction, with around 200 people visiting it every year, with massive potential to expand this by making it more accessible.
Victoria Falls is probably the undisputed king of waterfalls in Africa, if not the world. It’s the second widest falls in Africa, at 1,700 metres, and second for largest waterflow, at 1,088cms. So, it doesn’t quite top the charts in rankings, but it makes up for this with its sheer beauty, with lunar bows at night time when the moon is unobstructed by clouds and is shining bright. It also has the advantage of being very accessible, and with tonnes of activities to do around the falls, such as white water rafting, swimming in a natural pool right on the edge of the falls or for the brave and bungee jumping off one of the highest leaps in the world. The Fauna around the waterfalls include good populations of Lions and African Elephants, and the river around the falls have the greatest populations of Tiger Fish in the world. Other activities include microlight trips for an aerial view of the views in all their glory, river safaris on the Zambezi River, Kayaking and fishing.
Boyoma Falls is actually a series of cataracts (located in the DR Congo) with the highest being 5 metres high, extending over an area of over 100km, winding their way around the Luabala River between important economic port towns of Ubundu and Kisangani. The cataracts creates a series of extremely powerful rapids, and they end they reach the Congo River. With all the cataracts combined, they have a total drop of 61 metres, with the largest two being below Ubundu and the last one which can be seen from Kisangani. A 1 metre gauge railway bypasses these deadly rapids, connecting Kisangani and Ubundu. For what Boyoma Falls lack in height or depth, they more than make up for with having the strongest volume of annual flow rate in the world. This makes it a mindblowing ten times stronger than the next largest waterfall in the world by volume annual flow rate.
Murchison Falls is a waterfall located between Lake Kyoga and Lake Albert on the White Nile river system, in Uganda. At the top of the falls, the Nile squeezes its way through rocks just 7 metres apart, before tumbling west into Lake Albert. The outlet of Lake Victoria sends around 300 cubic metres per second of water over the falls, and again is squeezed into a gorge just 10 metres wide. Tourists can come to the falls via a boat up the Nile, while enjoying some prime scenery and wildlife in the surrounding Murchison National Park, including hippos and large crocodiles. Another great feature of these falls is that there is more or less a permanent rainbow in the falls. You can also see most of the big 5 in the surrounding national park. Uganda is often referred to as “The Pearl of Africa”, and these falls certainly contribute to that description, because they are some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world.