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Lake Tanganyika: Border to the West

Updated: May 26

Sitting on the Tanzanian shore of Lake Tanganyika, we watch as the sun sets below over the densely forested hills of the Democratic Republic of Congo. As we do, fishing boats gently chug down the lake, bringing home the days haul. It’s an idyllic spot and has long been a local secret. The place is Jakobsen, a campsite located outside of Kigoma, where zebras roam free through the campgrounds and a myriad of beautiful native birds flit between the trees.

Lake Tanganyika is known as the lake of seconds. It is the second oldest freshwater lake in the world as well as the second deepest and the second largest. Along with Lake Nyassa and Victoria, it is one of Africa’s great lakes. Although well off the beaten tourist trail, local missionaries, aid workers and intrepid travelers have been traveling to this area for years.

Amongst its most famous visitors is none other than Jane Goodall, her fabled Gombe NP where she undertook her seminal research into chimpanzees is nestled on the northeastern shores of Lake Tanganyika. The national park is open to visitors and it is for this reason that we have come. The trip to Gombe NP and how to go about it can be found in a separate post, this here will deal with the beauty of the lake itself.

Aside from Gombe a visit to the shores of Lake Tanganyika can also incorporate trips into the National Parks of Katavi and Mahale. Like Gombe, Mahale is also famous for containing one of the last wild chimpanzee populations in the world. The Mahale NP is considered difficult to access and for large parts of the year is only accessible by plane. We opted out of exploring Mahale NP, knowing that we would instead be tracking chimps in a couple of weeks time in Gombe NP.

We couldn't, however, pass up a day in Katavi, we had heard that it was one of the most idyllic and untouched of Tanzania's national parks and we weren't disappointed. Through the entire day, we spent driving through the park we saw only one other visitor. Katavi is a combination of floodplains and heavily wooded forest, the surroundings are lush and the landscape picturesque, it would be a beautiful place even without the huge concentration of wildlife. For anyone that has made it to this remote part of Tanzania than it is an absolute must. Tours can be organized in Mpanda cheaply and easily.

Plying its way up and down Lake Tanganyika is the Legendary MV Liemba, a relic of Tanzania's colonial German past. This ferry service used to operate much in the same way as the Illala on Lake Malawi, making continuous loops across the lake ferrying cargo and passengers between lakeside towns. In recent years however it has been otherwise engaged with the humanitarian crisis in central Africa, spending its time ferrying refugees into the Burundian camps. We have long wanted to travel aboard this might old vessel so if you are in the area be sure to look up the operational status of the MV Liemba.

There are many different vantage points for taking in the beauty of Lake Tanganyika. Jakobsen's which I referred to earlier is a beautiful camping spot situated south of Kigoma. The area of the lake claims to be entirely free from Bilzharzia (the waterborne parasite that is the scourge of sub-Saharan fresh water).  Kigoma will be a stop off for all visitors to the region, it is one of the major regional towns along the lake. There are plenty of hotels, many of which have balconies that look out over the lake and are perfect for sundowners. Boat trips, fishing trips and visits to Gombe NP can all be organised easily from Kigoma.

Lake Tanganyika can be accessed by public transport, we travelled up from Mbeya on buses before finishing in Mwanza and had no issue accessing any of the attractions above. Better yet though would be self-driven, the roads are rough but manageable and the distances can be broken down into more comfortable sections. Swahili is not always the first language in this area, visitors will find in a few areas that a few words of French can be handy, while English is almost non-existent.

If you have any recent experience with the area or some photos you want to share then leave a comment and join the conversation!