Lake Tanganyika

Lake Tanganyika

Lake Tanganyika is a large lake in the Great Rift Valley of central Africa. It is divided between four countries: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Tanzania, and Zambia. It is the longest freshwater lake in the world and the second deepest.

 

Lake Tanganyika
Lake Tanganyika

Location and geography

The shoreline of Lake Tanganyika touches four African countries: Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Zambia. But Tanzania boasts the best views and the most convenient access to the lake. Tanzania also owns almost half of the lake’s waters, and the shoreline around Tanzania has pleasant beaches with gently sloping sand. By comparison, the shore on the DR Congo side is formed by rocky cliffs.

Lake Tanganyika is so huge that it seems like a calm sea when you look across its shore. The lake’s average width is 50 km. But the most impressive part is that it is 676 km long—from the northern to the southern tip. This is more than the distance between Paris and Milan—imagine all this water-filled space! This makes Lake Tanganyika the longest freshwater lake on the planet.

The lake is rich in fish, and fishing is a popular activity for the local community. Freshwater fish caught for cooking and aquarium fish are also common here. Dozens of moored boats with fishing rods are typical in this area.

Fishing boats on Lake Tanganyika

Vast stretches of the shore are surrounded by natural tropical forests, which provide homes for chimpanzees. Chimpanzees like to climb down to the lake’s waters, and you can observe them from the territories of national parks.

The largest settlement near Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania is the city of Kigoma. It has a population of over 200 thousand people and is a relatively poor but exciting city. The old railway station buildings, port facilities, and a shipyard built during the colonial era are among the attractions. There is also a small museum dedicated to the research of the famous traveler David Livingston.

On the northern shore of Lake Tanganyika in the neighboring country Burundi, there’s the large capital city of Bujumbura. To the west, in DR Congo, lies the town of Kalemie – the largest western port of Lake Tanganyika. These and other small towns are connected to Tanzanian Kigoma by river transport. The famous German steamship Liemba (MV Liemba) is the most striking among them. Within its century-long history, it sank twice! After each instance, it stayed at the bottom of the lake for several years but was eventually raised and renovated. It is now cruising with passengers around Lake Tanganyika. Read this incredible story at the end of this article.

 

Fishing boats on Lake Tanganyika
Fishing boats on Lake Tanganyika

Things to do while on the lake

Africa’s deepest lake is sure to surprise you with discoveries. You might dive in to find them, but you don’t have to—many exciting activities are on the water’s surface!

Walking and observing chimpanzees in the parks

The most popular type of recreation at Lake Tanganyika is visiting one of the national parks closely adjacent to the lake: Gombe Stream National Park and Mahale Mountains National Park. Both parks have beautiful natural rainforests as their dominant vegetation.

The parks are home to hundreds of species of birds and mammals, including predators. But of most significant interest are the primates living in these forests as families. The most common among them are chimpanzees, the closest relative of humans (more than a 90% genome match). Just imagine how exciting it is to watch our wild brethren in their natural habitat groom one another, play complex social games, and interact in various other ways!

 

Mahale Mountains National Park
Mahale Mountains National Park

The beaches of Lake Tanganyika

Besides walking with chimpanzees, you can indulge in a traditional beach holiday. The city of Kigoma has several beaches, and some of them are ideal spots to relax! They have quiet sandy shores with clear and calm water, lodges with an authentic tropical ambiance, walks by the lake under a canopy of tropical trees, and, finally, breathtaking sunsets. This is a paradise near the very center of the African continent.

However, it is important to only swim on the approved, safe beaches of Lake Tanganyika. Dangerous animals are present in some lake sections, so follow a well-versed guide and directions before entering the water.

 

The beaches of Lake Tanganyika
The beaches of Lake Tanganyika

Diving in Tanganyika

Tourist infrastructure outside the national parks is still in the first stages of development, but fishing enthusiasts can find plenty of opportunities to motorize or use manual boats. There are also diving centers that run underwater excursions to the beautiful, colorful fish that abound in the waters of Tanganyika.

The lake’s calm waters make it ideal for beginners to get their first diving lessons. It’s best to start in shallow water. In some places, water transparency reaches 20 meters and higher, so even experienced divers will enjoy visiting the lake’s inhabitants.

The lake’s water is hot, fluctuating between 24 ° and 28 °С, making dives comfortable and safe. Residents even joke that diving in Tanganyika is safer than taking local shuttle buses!

It’s essential to remember that the lake’s surface lies as high as 773 meters above sea level, and song will occur virtually in high mountain conditions. The best approach is to have diving experience or go with professional guides for your first experience.

Lake Tanganyika is a substantial natural aquarium because of the many cichlids (fish) living here and nowhere else. The waters of Lake Tanganyika have many different types of cichlids in an array of colors that attract scientists from around the world. You can watch the beautiful cichlids up close in shallow water—dive only five meters deep, and shoals of these colorful, nimble fish will surround you!

 

Diving in Tanganyika
Diving in Tanganyika

Boating and fishing

You can always take a boat trip from the lake shore. Local guides will take you to the best spots accessible only by water. Nature here is untouched by man: a world of tropical vegetation and the richest diversity of the animal kingdom that you must see for yourself.

Lake Tanganyika is also famous for sport fishing. In March-April, a unique fishing championship is held on these shores. It is a perfect event for fishing for fun. Besides, many of the world’s beautiful aquarium fish are caught here and dispatched to aquarium enthusiasts.

Among the highly prized “trophies” chased both by the local and visiting fishermen are “elephant” and “tiger”. “Water elephant” is a name in the Hausa language for a Nile Perch. It’s about 0.5 meters long (over one and a half feet) and weighs 15 kg (33 lbs). The largest Nile Perch recorded was a massive 180 cm and 140 kg. “Tiger” is a giant tigerfish, also known as a hydrocyanic goliath – 1.5 meters long, weighing 50 kg (110 lbs). The most impressive thing about this fish is the 32 canine teeth. They say that tigerfish are so aggressive they will even attack baby crocodiles.

 

Boating and fishing
Boating and fishing

The water in the lake is getting warmer.

According to some observations, the average water temperature in the lake’s surface layers has increased by two °C over the past century. This is a rapid and significant jump. Water warming brings about changes in the life of organics. For example, the number of algae is decreasing, and more poisonous water hyacinth, also called a malicious weed, appears on the surface instead.

This has led to a decrease in fish in Lake Tanganyika. Countries with access to the lake and international conservation organizations are looking for solutions to protect the ancient lake’s unique ecosystem.

 

The water in the lake is getting warmer
The water in the lake is getting warmer

The unique fauna of Tanganyika

The fauna of the lake is made up of a great variety of species – more than 2 thousand in total. Many of them have walked their evolutionary paths and are only to be found here, at the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Lake Tanganyika and its surroundings are a habitat for many endemic species. For this reason, it is highly prized by research biologists and rare fish collectors.

 

Lake Tanganyika
Lake Tanganyika

Fish of Tanganyika

Sardines, sprats, and four types of perch are the most popular fish anglers seek. All are considered endemic to Lake Tanganyika. Catfish and eels inhabit these waters in several distinctive species, and even a unique poisonous pufferfish is found here.

But most of all, the lake is famous for fish from the cichlid family. At least 250 species of cichlids live here, and almost all are unique. Despite the ongoing scientific research, some species remain unexplored.

 

Fish of Tanganyika
Fish of Tanganyika

Among the most beautiful and popular ones are:

  • lobed cyphotilapia zebra (“Queen of Tanganyika”);
  • several types of trophies;
  • Julidochromis;
  • many lamprologus, including the multi-striped lamprologus and Princess Burundi.

National parks near Lake Tanganyika

As mentioned earlier, there are two national parks of Tanzania whose tropical forests border with the shore of Lake Tanganyika.

Gombe Stream National Park

The first is the smaller Gombe Stream National Park on the northeastern shore, which has an area of only 71 km2. As a funny saying goes, “The number of chimps in the park is equal to the number of scientists watching them!”

Observing chimpanzees is the most popular activity here, and it is over half a century old, making it a tradition now. In this park, the legendary primatologist and anthropologist Dr. Jane Goodall spent her entire professional life overturning common public preconceptions about chimpanzees. The scientist is still actively advocating for animal rights, even though she is now about 90 years old.

 

Gombe Stream National Park
Gombe Stream National Park

Mahale Mountains National Park

To the south of Kigoma lies one of the most beautiful parks in Tanzania, Mahale Mountains National Park, which covers an area of 1613 km2.

As the name implies, the park stretches along the Mahale coastal mountain range, with a peak of 2462 meters. The rainforest spreads over the mountains like a gentle natural blanket, giving all its inhabitants shelter, shade, and abundant food. Local chimpanzees live here like absolute royalty, their life and habitat as they were a thousand years ago. The mountainous terrain makes the park’s remoteness challenging to access. Without human involvement, chimpanzees have bred here in numbers that no other Tanzanian park can boast.

 

Mahale Mountains National Park
Mahale Mountains National Park

Port City of Kigoma

Kigoma’s main appeal as a city is as an access point to Lake Tanganyika and nearby National Parks. It is straightforward as a city, except for a few unique attractions.

The city has a railway station, from which trains cross the country to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, located along the coast of the Indian Ocean. For travelers seeking a faster journey, Kigoma also has a domestic airport.

 

Port City of Kigoma
Port City of Kigoma

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