Kalambo Falls

Lake Tanganyika / near Mpulungu, Northern Province, Zambia
Ruvuma Region, Tanzania

Rating: 4.5     Difficulty: 4.5
Kalambo Falls

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

Kalambo Falls is said to be Africa's second tallest free-leaping or single-drop waterfall (second to one of the tiers of Tugela Falls in South Africa) at 221m. Moreover, it is also Zambia's other cross-border waterfall as it's shared with Tanzania (Victoria Falls, which is shared with Zimbabwe, is the more famous cross-border one). As a matter of fact, the Kalambo River defines the Tanzania-Zambia border all the way into the vast Lake Tanganyika, which itself is shared by a foursome of countries (i.e. Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Zambia, and Tanzania).

The waterfall is in high flow in the May/June timeframe. But this depends on how much rainfall the region gets during its rainy season from January through April. The flow diminishes as the year progresses. Some of the locals we've spoken to said that around October or November, the falls probably won't look impressive. However, under these conditions, they also said that they once stood atop the falls with one foot in Tanzania and one foot in Zambia.

We definitely had to earn our sighting of Kalambo Falls as we had to partake on a minimum 2-3 hour walk each way (or about 5km each way) with a steep, relentless climb up a dry canyon. Plus, the Lake Tanganyika Basin seemed to be very hot so we were sweating bullets and had to drink lots of water (much of which ended up being warm as the day got hotter).

Following our guide beyond the back of the local village by Lake Tanganyika Since we were staying at the quiet Isanga Bay, our excursion began with an early morning start as we boated from the resort to the village at the trailhead at 7:45am. The hike began at 7:55am as we were being swarmed by the village kids waiting for handouts from us. We did bring lots of pens and even a plastic bottle so they could use them. I don't recall if it was Claire's suggestion (from the Thorn Tree Lodge near Kasama) or from someone else before our trip, but we came prepared.

We then followed the local guide who was a young adult who was also from the village. He promptly led us right through the village, and we were quickly behind the village and right up the trail. The kids would await us back at the village.

The trail was well-defined through tall grass, but soon enough, it started climbing in earnest. The first hour's climb was steep with lots of large rocks requiring either large steps or the use of all of our limbs. At about two-thirds the way up the climb, we had lost our shade and the heat of the day was already stifling.

Looking back towards Lake Tanganyika, which gives you a perspective of how far up we had climbed as the village we came from was right besides the lake After the first hour (it was around 9am by now), the trail started flattening out. We passed a few huts and fields before walking amongst more tall grass. It appeared that there was some local farming that was going on up at this plateau. We suspect that the adults tending the land up here must also have come from the village we had just passed through.

About 40 minutes later, our guide took us into an overgrown spur trail amongst tall stalks. These stalks were taller than us and it was real easy to get lost here so we had to pay close attention and keep pace with our young guide. Eventually, we'd make it past the tall stalks, and before us was a pretty steep descent towards a rocky ledge. The dropoff besides the ledge was the wide valley formed by the Kalambo River.

It was from this point that we finally got to see Kalambo Falls plunging off a cliff and right into the shadowy gorge below against the morning sun. We had to get right up to the edge of the cliff in order to see all of the falls, but we had to be careful not to get too close to the cliff exposure. I wanted to chill out here longer hoping the sun might move more above us so we wouldn't be looking against its light as much, but Julie had no interest in waiting out that event as the sun's heat was already starting to stifle us.

By the time we left the waterfall, it was 10:30am. With the heat that must've totally surpassed 90F and maybe even 100F [definitely well into the 30-40C range], it was a good thing we were now going downhill. I wasn't sure we would've made it even to Kalambo Falls had we started the hike any later than we did given the heat and the long uphill climb.

As we made our return, we saw there was a little more activity amongst the adults, including some of the local village women were carrying things in baskets skillfully on their heads. I recalled Claire from Thorne Tree Lodge mentioned to us that this was actually a way to keep the hands free to do other things like maintain balance or navigate the steep terrain. Keeping things on the head was a matter of balance and posture, which can be learned with enough practice.

By about 12:15pm, we passed through the village once again where we were greeted by the local kids. We tipped our guide, handed out the rest of the stuff we had on us (including the empty water bottles), and we were back at the boat. Fifteen minutes later, we got to relax for the rest of the day at Isanga Bay Lodge.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

View of Lake Tanganyika at the height of the day.  Notice the patch of clearing on the shore of the lake?  That was the village where we started the hike fromView of Lake Tanganyika at the height of the day. Notice the patch of clearing on the shore of the lake? That was the village where we started the hike from
Closer look at the sheer drop of Kalambo Falls in the late morning shadowCloser look at the sheer drop of Kalambo Falls in the late morning shadow
We stayed at the Isanga Bay Resort further south of Kalambo Falls, where we caught this near sunset as well as seeing many fisherman from DR Congo with mosquito nets as their tool to catch fish (possibly too well, since the locals have told us that the lake has been overfished)We stayed at the Isanga Bay Resort further south of Kalambo Falls, where we caught this near sunset as well as seeing many fisherman from DR Congo with mosquito nets as their tool to catch fish
Buffy greeting us in the morning at Isanga BayBuffy (the local dog at the lodge) greeting us in the morning at Isanga Bay

Approaching the boat ride to the starting point of our hikeApproaching the boat ride to the starting point of our hike

Swarmed by kids at the local village near the trailhead to Kalambo FallsSwarmed by kids at the local village near the trailhead

Walking behind the back of the village and up towards Kalambo FallsWalking behind the back of the village and up towards the falls

Embarking on the climb under some morning shadeEmbarking on the climb under some morning shade

The trail climbed steeply pretty quickly after it started and we were appreciative of the morning shadeThe trail climbed steeply pretty quickly after it started and we were appreciative of the morning shade

Taking a quick break for a look back towards Lake TanganyikaTaking a quick break for a look back towards Lake Tanganyika

Some parts of the climb were steep enough to require us to use all our limbsSome parts of the climb were steep enough to require us to use all of our limbs

By the time the climb leveled out, we were out of the shade and it got hot quicklyBy the time the climb leveled out, we were out of the shade and it got hot quickly

The trees that were here provided little shadeThe trees that were here provided little shade

Here was a section where we had some brief relief from the unrelenting sun, but such sections were few and far betweenHere was a section where we had some brief relief from the unrelenting sun, but such sections were few and far between

Walking besides very tall stalksWalking besides very tall stalks. We had to stay close to the guide when we actually had to go through them to avoid getting lost

Descending towards the rock ledges below to finally view Kalambo FallsDescending towards the rock ledges below to finally view Kalambo Falls

Kalambo Falls as seen in late morning in high flowKalambo Falls as seen in late morning in high flow

Looking downstream towards Tanzania and the Kalambo River with jungle beneathLooking downstream towards Tanzania and the Kalambo River with jungle beneath

Precipitous view of Kalambo FallsPrecipitous view of Kalambo Falls

Going past some of the huts on the way back downGoing past some of the huts on the way back down

The descent was about to beginThe descent was about to begin

Always looking ahead at Lake Tanganyika as we made the steep descentAlways looking ahead at Lake Tanganyika as we made the steep descent

Notice our guide and Julie struggling on the steep descent, but then the local village woman was still able to make this climb while balancing stuff on her headNotice our guide and Julie struggling on the steep descent, but then the local village woman was still able to make this climb while balancing stuff on her head!

Local villagers like this woman have done this climb numerous times so they've mastered the art of keeping their hands free while carrying stuff on their headsLocals villagers like this woman have done this climb numerous times so they've mastered the art of keeping their hands free while carrying stuff on their heads

Back at the bottom of the descent and only a few minutes more before we reach the awaiting boatBack at the bottom of the descent and only a few minutes more before we reach the awaiting boat

Waving good-bye at the village kids as we boated back to Isanga BayWaving good-bye at the village kids as we boated back to Isanga Bay


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


Fixated on Kalambo Falls


Right to left sweep starting from the falls and ending well downstream at the gorge marking the political boundary between Tanzania and Zambia


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

We were staying in Isanga Bay and the caretakers (Sean and Rene) accommodated us in our boat ride to the trailhead. But in order to even get to Isanga Bay, we were driven up from Kasama for the roughly four-hour drive north towards Mpulungu on the southern shores of Lake Tanganyika. From there, we caught a 45-minute boat ride to the Isanga Bay Resort.

I understand that there was also another approach to Kalambo Falls. This was said to require an all-day all-land approach from the town of Mbala where there were apparently other accesses to the rim of the gorge containing the falls (as opposed to the access trail that we ultimately took). I'm sure a guide would be needed for this option as well.

For geographical context, Mpulungu was around 12.5 hours long drive from Lusaka.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES




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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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What Other Visitors Have Said

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Kalambo on Christmas Eve 
I visited Kalambo on Christmas Eve of 2010, it was rainy and foggy our entire trek up the mountain & the fog cleared shortly after we arrived. It was …

Kalambo Falls 
I first visited Kalambo Falls in 1956 when I was working as a Government Medical Officer in the nearby town of Abercorn in the Northern Province of Northern …

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