About Kalambo Falls
Kalambo Falls is said to be the second tallest free-leaping or single-drop waterfall in Africa at 221m (second to one of the tiers of Tugela Falls in South Africa).
However, in this instance, the Kalambo River defined the border between Zambia and Tanzania while the Zambezi River defined the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The Kalambo River ultimately made its dramatic drop as the Kalambo Falls before flowing and feeding the vast Lake Tanganyika, which itself is shared by a four countries – the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Zambia, and Tanzania.
Our visit occurred right at the end of May or start of June (depending on where in the globe you are), and the falls appeared to have its highest volume for the year.
Thus, I’d have to believe that the rainy season feeding the drainage of the Kalambo River must have been between January through April.
Then, the waterfall’s flow would diminish as the year progresses.
Some of the locals we’ve spoken to said that around October or November, the falls probably wouldn’t look impressive, but then the river’s flow would be low enough that one could simultaneously put one foot in Zambia and another foot in Tanzania.
Accessing the Kalambo Falls Trail from Isanga Bay
We definitely had to earn our sighting of Kalambo Falls as we had to partake on a minimum 2-3 hour walk in each direction (or about 5km each way).
Not only was the hike long, but it also involved a relentless climb up a steep, dry canyon.
Moreover, the Lake Tanganyika Basin was very hot on the day we made our hike, which caused us to sweat bullets and drink plenty of water.
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.
Then, the hike began at 7:55am as village kids swarmed us waiting for us to give them handouts.
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.
Our Hike to Kalambo Falls
Next, we followed a local guide who was a young adult that also came 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 to maintain our balance.
At about two-thirds the way up the climb, we had lost our morning shade and the heat of the day already started stifling us.
As the trail started flattening out (it was around 9am by now), we passed a few isolated huts and fields before walking amongst more tall grass.
It appeared that there was some local farming that took place up at this plateau, and we suspected that the adults tending the land up here must have also come from the village by Lake Tanganyika down below.
About 40 minutes later, our guide took us into an overgrown spur trail amongst tall stalks, which towered over all of us.
Given the height of these stalks, we easily could have been lost here so we had to pay close attention whiloe keeping up with our young guide.
Eventually, we’d make it past the tall stalks, and then we made a pretty steep descent towards a rocky ledge.
The dropoff besides the ledge was the wide valley formed by the Kalambo River, where at its head sat the Kalambo Falls plunging off the lip of the escarpment.
Kalambo Falls and the Return Hike
During our visit, we arrived in the late morning, but we had to look against the sun in order to see the waterfall plunging right into the shadowy gorge.
In order to see the entire drop of the falls, we had to get right up to the edge of the cliff, and we had to be careful not to get too close to the cliff exposure.
As much as I wanted to chill out here longer in the hopes that the sun would move more above us for better lighting, Julie had no interest in waiting it out given how stifling the sun’s heat was.
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.
So it was probably the right call to not get a later start in the name of better lighting at the Kalambo Falls.
Anyways, as we made our return hike, we saw a bit more activity amongst the adults, including some of the local village women who carried things in baskets skillfully on their heads.
I recalled Claire from Thorne Tree Lodge in Kasama 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 rest of our 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.
Kalambo Falls resides in the Northern Province near the town of Mbala, Zambia. It is also shared with the Ruvuma Region of Tanzania. On the Zambia side, it has been administered by the National Heritage Conservation Commission, and after our visit, it has been included on the UNESCO list of tentative World Heritage Sites. For more information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you can try visiting their website.
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 (possibly even longer than that due to many potholes on the roads).
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