Lake Tanganyika, at a Glance
Bordering four countries, Lake Tanganyika is the longest freshwater lake in the world.
Considered one of Africa's great lakes, it is second only to Lake Baikal in Siberia for depth, volume and age.
This ‘landlocked sea’ covers 12,700 square miles and stretches from Burundi to Zambia, with the majority in Tanzania (46%).
When standing on the lake's sandy beaches - staring across the glassy blue waters to the horizon - this great expanse of water appears more like an ocean than a freshwater lake.
On the Tanzanian shoreline, Kigoma is the only nearby town. However, smaller villages are dotted along the coast and are connected mainly by lake taxies. These are rarely visited but offer a fascinating insight into local life.
Estimated to be between 9-13 million years old, the lake and the several rivers that flow into it have created a spectacular ecosystem scattered with ravines, forest and cascading waterfalls stretching to the Mahale Mountains, perfect for hiking and chimpanzee trekking.
The lake is a great spot for snorkellers and keen divers, as brightly coloured cichlids (an endemic fish), and clear waters make perfect viewing conditions (not all parts of the lake are Bilharzia free so check before diving in).
The MV Liemba, a 100-year-old 'indestructible' warship brought over when East Africa was still under Germany's colonial rule, serves as a passenger and cargo ferry connecting Tanzania to Zambia. It's a brilliant piece of history that can still be experienced by travellers today.
Where Does Lake Tanganyika Fit in Your Tanzanian Adventure?
Lake Tanganyika sits on the western safari circuit, which consists of Katavi National Park, the Mahale Mountains National Park and Gombe Stream National Park.
This circuit is seldom visited due to its remote location and high expense. However, visitors are rewarded by untouched wilderness, great wildlife densities and a secluded safari experience away from Tanzania's busier parks.
Gombe Stream and the Mahale Mountains are two of only three locations where chimpanzees are found in Tanzania.
The Western Safari Circuit
Katavi National Park is just over 4,000-sq-km of unspoiled wilderness and is known for its high concentration of large mammals, including hippo, elephant, and lion.
Katavi is also a refuge for wild dogs, a critically endangered species.
Bordering Lake Tanganyika, the Mahale Mountains National Park is a primate paradise. Home to just under 1,000 chimpanzees, the rare Red and Angola colobuses, and the red and blue-tailed monkeys who swing across the forest canopy, are the main attractions. The forest is also teeming with colourful forest birds, an ornithologists dream.
Gombe Stream National Park, Uganda's smallest, is also nestled on Lake Tanganyika's shores and is the site where Jane Goodall carried out the majority of her pioneering chimpanzee research.
The park is a spectacular forest habitat, consisting of steep valleys, streams and rivers. The flora varies from tropical rainforest to alpine bamboo and vast grasslands neighbouring, just like the neighbouring Mahale Mountains National Park.
The western safari circuit is mainly accessed by boat or flight from Arusha and Dar es Salaam, which is why it is often more expensive than other circuits. Driving distances are too far from the main cities and the forest terrain makes it almost impossible.
Things to do
Snorkelling and Diving
Lake Tanganyika is a great spot for diving and snorkelling.
The water is a consistent 25 degrees Celsius year-round, and visibility in the dry season goes as deep as 20 m. The lake is teeming with vibrant and colourful cichlids. 98% of the 250 known cichlid species are present in this lake.
Most diving takes place close to the shores, so it is great for beginners and intermediate divers. You're required to have PADI certification.
You'll be snorkelling with a local expert. It's important to note that there are crocodiles and hippos, as well as Bilharzia in some areas of the lake, so going with a local professional is essential.
Several other water sports activities may be available through your accommodation, including kayaking, wakeboarding, and water-skiing.
Fishing and angling trips on Lake Tanganyika are very popular.
There are 350 fish species recorded in the lake, giant Nile perch being the largest, weighing up to 80 kg. Other large fish include lake salmon and the goliath tiger fish.
There will be a small fee for fishing on Lake Tanganyika, and catch and release is the consensus.
Fishing is banned between December and February, for conservation purposes, so avoid these months if you plan to fish.
Sunset dhow cruise
One of the most popular evening activities is climbing aboard a dhow (traditional boat) and joining the throng of lantern-laden dug-out canoes heading out to fish for the evening.
Onboard, you can enjoy romantic sundowners and watch the sunset over the lake on a 1.5 hour tour.
Just along the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika lie the spectacular Mahale Mountains and the Gombe Stream National parks. Both thriving forest habitats, with approximately 1,000 chimpanzees (the only parks in Tanzania with chimpanzees).
Many of the chimpanzee troops are habituated, thanks to Dr Jane Goodall's pioneering research in the 1960s in this area.
Head out on a guided forest walk to catch a glimpse of our closest relative, as well as up to 82 other wildlife species that call the parks home.
A chimp sighting is never guaranteed. However, with experienced guides, the chance is good. Once you have located the troop, you will have up to one hour to observe them.
You will need a permit for chimpanzee tracking. At the time of writing, a chimpanzee permit for Mahale Mountains National Park costs $150, and Gombe National park is slightly cheaper at $100.
Places to Stay
Lake Shore Lodge
Nestled on a white sandy bay on Lake Tanganyika's southern Tanzanian shores, Lake Shore Lodge is a beautiful privately owned lodge that offers accommodation to suit all budgets.
Set up your DIY tent underneath a 100-year-old mango tree or fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves in your luxury beachfront chalet.
The luxury chalets are all en-suite and open right out onto the beach with uninterrupted views of the azure blue waters.
They also offer a honeymoon suite with a sunken bath, twin showers and a private dining deck.
For those who want to spend a little less, lawn bandas are a great option. Offering the same uninterrupted views of the lake and surrounding mountains, it doesn't feel like you're missing out. However, the lawn bandas do have shared bathroom facilities.
There are many ways to unwind at a Lake Shore Lodge. Spend the afternoon in the spa, or take an early morning yoga class or a dip in the jacuzzi.
The lodge has a fantastic menu and offers the aforementioned activities and more.
Nestled in a cluster of small islands on Lake Tanganyika, Lupita Island is a remote, untouched private island on 110 acres of uninhabited space.
The lodge is perched atop a hill and boasts panoramic views of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
The resort offers luxurious, comfortable and secluded accommodation in the form of 10 beautiful cottages.
The lodge offers a good range of facilities and amenities, including fine dining, a spa, a swimming pool, a games room, a bar & lounge, and a gym.
Getting to Lake Tanganyika
Located in the South West of Tanzania on the DRC border, Lake Tanganyika is quite far from the normal safari and beach circuits in Tanzania. However, it can be reached by a short flight from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma.
For something a bit different, The MV Liemba, a 100-year-old 'indestructible warship', travels between Tanzania and Zambia as a passenger ferry ever other Wednesday on a five-day trip.
Popular Trips to Tanzania
The tours below showcase just some of what is possible. Use these itineraries as starting points, or to draw inspiration. Then get in touch, and let our expert team help craft the perfect itinerary for you.
Combine the wilder side of Tanzania with the tropical beaches of Zanzibar. Journey through the southern safari circuit of Ruaha National Park and Selous Game Reserve, before a short flight brings you to the border between Africa and the Indian…
- 10 Days
The classic northern safari circuit in Tanzania. From the verdant slopes of the Ngorongoro crater to the vast savannahs of the Serengeti, there's enough wildlife experiences here to last a lifetime. Close out your adventure on the island paradise of…
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