Katwe Salt Lake


Katwe salt lake

Katwe Salt Lake: Lake Katwe is located in Kasese District in the South Western part of Uganda and is bordered by Queen Elizabeth National Park. The lake was formed by volcanic eruption around 10,000 years ago. The lake covers an area of approximately 8 square miles and is a customary lake that is famous for salt mining. Lake Katwe is actually the chief producer of salt in Uganda.

Location and activities

Geographically, we find Lake Katwe within an explosion crater. In the formerly active volcanic area North-East of Lake Edward and South-East of Lake George. The crater ground has several small ponds for salt production. Rock salt activity and salt winning are the two mining activities at the lake. Rock salt activity takes place in the main lake (by only men) whereas salt winning takes place in the salt pans (by both men and women).

Salt mining- the main economic activity at Lake Katwe

The local community extracts the rock salt directly from Lake Katwe. Afterwards, they take it to the landing site for drying and sale. Visiting this lake, offers an opportunity to learn about the skill of salt mining. Tourists also get a chance to directly interact with the salt miners and find out their experiences with regards to salt mining. Since the 16th century, this mine has been in existence and till today miners are using the traditional methods while harvesting the salt.

Interestingly, miners use Ambutch trees to float on this lake as well as transport the salt from the rim of the lake up to the landing site for sale. The water within this lake is actually 60 percent salty. The area is semi-arid and the soil does not support agricultural activities which makes salt mining the main economic activity in the area.

The history of salt mining

The Salt which is mined from the several tiny plots has been extracted for several centuries back in time. These plots are very fascinating. They actually are not like the usual plots of land that you will come across in other parts of Uganda. They are simply ponds of about 10 by 12 feet wide and 3 to 5 feet deep. These are demarcated along the lake shores. Ownership is (private) by individuals/families or inheritance. Only individuals with licenses can mine within the Central part of the lake.

Salt extraction licenses

The association for Rock Salt Extraction is responsible for issuing the extraction licenses for the rock salt from the centre of this lake. This sort of arrangement was put in place to make sure that the salt in this lake is extracted in a very systematic process so as to prevent the salt mines from running out.

The conditions around Lake Katwe

There is a gradual rise of the land towards the rim of Lake Katwe revealing the vast cauldron-like hole in which Lake Katwe lies. You can actually see from the top that it lies about 95 feet below the level of Lake Edward and its waters at times look reddish from a distance which creates an interesting beauty of its own. The Katwe depression is a collection of three craters and has a relatively consistent level of shallow waters and barely ever changes, a wonder considering the fact that it is about 4 feet deep at the deepest spot. Few places in Uganda can boost higher temperatures than those found at the bottom of Lake Katwe crater in the dry season. Additionally, the lake is unable to support any animal or plant life due to its unbelievably high salt concentration.

Why is Lake Katwe salty?

Several streams drain into the lake, but it has no outlet, so intense evaporation during the dry seasons leads to the water becoming extremely salty. The salinity of the lake is of great economic importance as its waters have massive amounts of Sodium Chloride, Sodium Carbonate and Sodium Sulphate. The lake also has small amounts of potassium Sulphate / chloride and carbonate. The salt concentration of the lake is about 13.5%.

Fascinating facts about Lake Katwe

Lake Katwe is not really a lake per say because it is not a depression in which water collects or fills up with water by gravity but it’s a hollow filled with water by exposure of a high water table. All the streams that feed into the lake are not saline and except for one, they all dry up during the dry season.

Forms of salt mined from Lake Katwe

Katwe Salt Lake

There are 3 main forms of salt mined at this lake and they include the following:

The Edible salt (called sodium chloride), the Crude salt leaked by animals as well as the Unwashed salt. The women crumb the bottom of the salt garden to hollow out the salt. Actually they make use of their feet to smash the salt to smaller and fine crystals, after which they wash these crystals to form edible salt (also called the washed salt or sodium chloride).

Edible salt (Sodium Chloride)

Production of this salt is through evaporation in mud-lined ponds commonly known as salt pans. It has a high quality for human consumption.

Crudec (Kihabule)

This is a by-product obtained, through the process of preparation for Edible salt. This salt is for human consumption and crude for animal consumption.

Rock salt (Mahonde)

This salt is for animal consumption. Rock Salt Extractors are the men that extract this rock salt from the main lake.

The experiences of the salt miners

People in the surrounding area extract salt directly from the lake to the landing site and dry it for sale. The salt miners use traditional methods for harvesting the salt. These people cannot afford protective gears but still work to earn a living. When you visit Lake Katwe you will get a chance to interact with salt miners and how they do it. The main activity in this area is salt mining because the soil does not support agriculture and 60 percent of the water is salty. There are small plots (ponds) where salt is extracted. These ponds are demarcated along the lake shores. Ownership is (private) by individuals/families or inheritance. Ambutch trees are used by miners of float on this lake. Similarly to transport the harvested salt from the rim of the lake up to the landing site ,where it is sold.

The adverse side effects of salt mining

Salt mining has some adverse effects on people’s health and the environment. Unfortunately, for the miners, the protective gears are expensive and thus many of them cannot afford them. In an effort to protect themselves from the toxic water, men tie plastic bags around their genitals or wear condoms. Some women put flour inside their vaginas since they cannot afford to purchase pads.

Even with these alternatives, there is little effect which further leads to high cases of reproductive health problems such as infertility. Cases of back pain are common especially since most of the activities involve bending. It is sad to find out that the miners have to face the side effects because they have to work for a living.

A popular tourist attraction

The lake is a big tourist destination besides the salt mining. Visitors of Lake Katwe include students, tourists and researchers. Visitors can only access the lake with the help of a guide after paying a fee at Katwe Tourism Information Centre.

Access to the lake and accommodation

You can access the lake by using any of the two routes; Mbarara –Kasese route or Mubende – Kasese route. There are no hotels in Katwe but you can find various accommodation options in Queen Elizabeth and Kasese town. Whether you are looking for budget, mid-range or luxury accommodation, you will definitely what you are looking for.


During your next Uganda Safari, visiting Lake Katwe would be a really good idea for adventure and learning purposes. At Pamoja Tours and Travel, we offer safari packages in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zanzibar and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Make your booking with us today and turn your safari dream into a reality!

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