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).
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.
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.
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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