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A Safari to Lake Tanganyika

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

Lake Tanganyika.
Lake Tanganyika.

Lake Tanganyika is the second-largest freshwater lake in the world by volume, second only to Lake Baikal in Russia. It is also the second-oldest freshwater lake in the world, and the longest freshwater lake in the world, measuring 670 kilometers (417 miles) long and 80 kilometers (50 miles) wide. Lake Tanganyika is located in the Great Rift Valley, and is shared by four countries: Tanzania, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Zambia. The lake is home to a wide variety of fish species, including the Lake Tanganyika sardine, the Tanganyika killifish, and the Tanganyika lates. It is also home to a number of crocodiles and hippopotamuses.

Discovering the Majesty of Lake Tanganyika:

Nestled between four countries, Lake Tanganyika stands as the world's longest freshwater lake, its grandeur second only to Lake Baikal in Siberia in terms of depth, volume, and age. This immense 'landlocked sea' spans 12,700 square miles, extending from Burundi to Zambia, with Tanzania claiming the lion's share at 46%.

When standing on the sandy shores, gazing across the glassy blue expanse, Lake Tanganyika resembles more an ocean than a freshwater lake. Along the Tanzanian shoreline, Kigoma serves as the main town, while smaller villages, connected by lake taxis, offer a glimpse into local life.

A Natural Wonder of Old:

Estimated at 9-13 million years old, Lake Tanganyika and its tributaries have sculpted a breathtaking ecosystem adorned with ravines, lush forests, and cascading waterfalls, extending to the Mahale Mountains—an ideal terrain for hiking and chimpanzee trekking.

Aquatic Beauty and Exploration

The lake entices snorkelers and avid divers with its vibrant cichlids, an endemic fish species, thriving in its clear waters. While certain areas may have Bilharzia concerns, the overall spectacle makes it a diver's paradise.

A Living Legacy:

Witnessing history, the MV Liemba, a century-old 'indestructible' warship from Germany's colonial era, serves as a passenger and cargo ferry, bridging Tanzania and Zambia. This living relic offers travelers a remarkable journey back in time, sailing on the waters that have silently witnessed centuries unfold.

Where Does Lake Tanganyika Fit in Your Tanzanian Adventure?

Situated on the western safari circuit, Lake Tanganyika is flanked by Katavi National Park, the Mahale Mountains National Park, and Gombe Stream National Park. While this circuit is less frequented due to its remote nature and associated costs, it promises unparalleled rewards. Visitors are treated to pristine wilderness, abundant wildlife, and an exclusive safari encounter away from the bustling parks of Tanzania.

Notably, Gombe Stream and the Mahale Mountains stand as two of just three locations in Tanzania where chimpanzees can be encountered, adding a rare and fascinating dimension to the wildlife experience in this secluded corner of the country.

Katavi National Park: Wilderness Haven

Covering over 4,000 sq km, Katavi National Park is an untouched wilderness renowned for its abundant large mammals, featuring hippopotamus, elephants, and lions. It serves as a critical refuge for the endangered wild dogs, adding to its ecological significance.

Mahale Mountains National Park: Primate Paradise

Bordering Lake Tanganyika, Mahale Mountains National Park is a primate haven, housing nearly 1,000 chimpanzees, rare Red and Angola colobuses, and vibrant red and blue-tailed monkeys. The lush forest also hosts a plethora of colorful birds, offering a treat for ornithologists.

Gombe Stream National Park: Jane Goodall's Legacy

Nestled on Lake Tanganyika's shores, Gombe Stream National Park is renowned as the site where Jane Goodall conducted groundbreaking chimpanzee research. Its spectacular forest habitat, featuring steep valleys, streams, and rivers, mirrors the adjacent Mahale Mountains National Park.

Accessibility and Remote Beauty

The western safari circuit, accessible by boat or flight from Arusha and Dar es Salaam, boasts unparalleled beauty. Though often pricier due to its remote location, the circuit offers a unique and secluded safari experience, accentuated by its diverse landscapes and rare wildlife encounters. Driving distances are impractical due to the challenging forest terrain, further enhancing the exclusivity of this remarkable safari destination.

Underwater Wonders: Snorkelling and Diving

Lake Tanganyika invites adventure enthusiasts to explore its underwater wonders through diving and snorkelling. With a consistent temperature of 25 degrees Celsius year-round and visibility up to 20 meters in the dry season, the lake is a haven for vibrant cichlids, with 98% of known cichlid species present. Diving, suitable for beginners and intermediate divers, requires PADI certification and guidance from local experts due to potential hazards like crocodiles, hippos, and Bilharzia.


Fishing aficionados can relish angling trips on Lake Tanganyika, boasting 350 recorded fish species. The giant Nile perch, weighing up to 80 kg, dominates the waters along with lake salmon and the formidable goliath tiger fish. Fishing, subject to a small fee and catch-and-release consensus, is prohibited between December and February for conservation reasons.

Scenic Cruises and Evening Delights

Experience the beauty of Lake Tanganyika with a sunset dhow cruise, where lantern-laden canoes set out for evening fishing. Enjoy romantic sundowners and witness the breathtaking sunset during a 1.5-hour tour. For primate enthusiasts, the Mahale Mountains and Gombe Stream National Parks along the eastern shores offer guided forest walks to observe chimpanzees and other wildlife species.

Chimpanzee Encounters and Permits

Chimpanzee tracking in Mahale Mountains National Park requires a permit, priced at $150, while Gombe National Park charges $100. Though chimp sightings aren't guaranteed, experienced guides increase the likelihood. Once a troop is located, visitors have up to one hour to observe these remarkable creatures.

Chimpanzee Encounters
Chimpanzee Encounters

Where to Stay.

Lake Shore Lodge and Lupita Island

Lake Shore Lodge, situated on Lake Tanganyika's southern Tanzanian shores, offers accommodation for all budgets, from DIY tents under a 100-year-old mango tree to luxury beachfront chalets with en-suite facilities. Lawn bandas provide a more economical option with shared bathrooms. The lodge features a spa, yoga classes, jacuzzi, and diverse activities.

Lupita Island, a remote private island on Lake Tanganyika, offers luxurious cottages with panoramic views. The resort provides fine dining, spa services, a swimming pool, games room, bar & lounge, and a gym, ensuring a secluded and comfortable retreat.

Getting There: A Unique Journey

Lake Tanganyika, located on the DRC border in South West Tanzania, is accessible by a short flight from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma. Alternatively, the MV Liemba, a century-old 'indestructible warship,' serves as a passenger ferry, providing a unique five-day trip between Tanzania and Zambia every other Wednesday.

Embark on a journey of exploration with Travel Wise Safari, your gateway to an extraordinary tour that encompasses the captivating wonders of Lake Tanganyika. If the idea of delving into the unique charm of this majestic lake has ignited your wanderlust, our dedicated team is ready to curate an unforgettable experience for you.

Contact us directly to unlock the doors to a fascinating adventure that combines scenic beauty, underwater wonders, primate encounters, and the comfort of exquisite accommodations. Let Travel Wise Safari be your companion in crafting a tour that promises to be both thrilling and enriching.

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