Lake Kariba is the largest artificial lake and dam in the world. Its waters come from the Zambezi River, which forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the fourth largest river in Africa that flows into the Indian Ocean. We were lucky to navigate through Zambezi river in the Chirundu area. If you want to know more about our experience, you can click here.
The lake was formed by the construction of the Kariba Dam, which is 128 meters high and 579 meters long. This superconstruction was the idea of a federation formed between the British who ruled North and South Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (Malawi). It began in the late 1950s.
The analysis of the economic consequences was much greater than the disadvantages of doing so: flooding of forests, loss of habitat for existing animals, relocation of local tribes that lived there (mostly Batonga)…
The name Kariba comes from the word Kariva which means trap. This trap, according to the beliefs of the local tribes of the Zambezi River, referred to a rock jutting out of a whirlpool that formed in the nearby river where they later built the dam. It is believed that the god Nyaminyami, the god of the river, lived on this rock, that when a person approached the whirlpool, Nyaminyami punished him and sucked him to the depths of the river.
With the construction of the dam, the local people were opposed to moving from their place of origin, from their lands. They believed that the great god of the Nyaminyami River would be angry to see the course of his river cut off and that he would pour out his wrath on them and destroy the dam as well. In 1957, there was a great flood that destroyed parts of the dam that was being built. Nyaminyami had fulfilled his threat, the river had its course again. From that moment on, even though the man won the battle by finally building the dam, there is more respect for God, and a statue has even been built next to the dam to worship him.
When the dam began to fill up, it was noticed that many animals had been left isolated on the islands and could not get out of there. What became known as Operation Noah began, in which the community mobilized to raise money and funds to buy boats and rescue equipment to move the animals to a safe place. Some 7,000 animals were saved from death.
The Kariba Lake dam provides electricity to the surrounding countries but currently, with climate change and drought, the level of the reservoir is falling and causing the governments of Zambia and Zimbabwe to cut off electricity in their countries to lack of energy and many businesses are affected.
Nevertheless, Lake Kariba is a good place to rest, see the local life that accumulates around the lake especially for fishing and farming, fishing, sailing on it and see its islands, enjoy the sunset…
How to get there?
In order to visit Lake Kariba, the starting point is the town of Siavonga which borders the town of Kariba in Zimbabwe. These two towns are separated by the dam. The only way to get to Siavonga is via the M15 road from the main road from Lusaka to Chirundu. This 70-kilometer road is paved, although we recommend going slowly because of the number of holes in the asphalt.
23 kilometers before reaching Siavonga, there is a dirt road to the west where you will cross different villages along the lake. There, you will also have access to different accommodation options which are indicated on different signs. There are parts of sand on this road and it is therefore advisable to go there by 4×4.
What to do in lake Kariba?
– Walk around the lake shore and swim
This artificial lake is made up of golden sand beaches where you can sink your feet and walk where the water ends and the sand begins… This is one of the little pleasures you can do while watching fishermen cast their nets from their canoe.
Lake Kariba has several beaches including Sandy Beach. Please note, however, that there is a part that is a military zone, so they will warn you that you cannot access it. Think that Zimbabwe is already on the other side, so it is a checkpoint between the two countries. Seeing the sunset from this beach is beautiful.
You can enjoy a swim in one of the lakes where it is safe to do so in certain areas (such as Sandy Beach) or in pools that are within the lake but protect you from potential dangers such as hippos or crocodiles. For example, in Lotri Bay they have a fenced pool that is inside the lake and allows you to swim in its waters with complete peace of mind.
– Canoeing on the lake
Some accommodations offer the possibility to take a canoe and navigate the area. This is the case of Lotri Bay, where we were able to enjoy a good walk from a new perspective and see that fishermen paddle more easily than you do.
Keep in mind how long it takes to get there, because then you have to face the return with less force in your arms, and it’s important that it doesn’t get dark to be clear about the point of departure from the lake. We really enjoyed this activity as we watched people canoeing and visiting friends or playing football on the other side of the shore.
-Do a Sunset Cruise
Seeing the lake during the sunset, where the rays are reflected in the water and everything turns orange while you drink a beer, is a pleasure in life! Many boats offer the opportunity to enjoy a cruise with a few drinks and snacks. Therefore, it is a good time to relax and enjoy the good views of the lake.
In addition, they tell you about the different islands in the lake, approach the part of Zimbabwe and show you the different local fish farms and, more recently, the Chinese one that has started operating in the lake. As in many parts of Africa with lakes, you will see many locals approaching the shore to use the water for washing or cooking.
– Visit the Kariba Dam Bridge
Finally, an excursion that was also recommended to us but that we did not do because we were too far behind is to visit the bridge of the Kariba dam from Siavonga. In order to do this, you will need to approach the Zambia Immigration Point, leave your passports there and walk across the Kariba Dam Bridge. Then you will return to Zambia where you will recover your passports. Think that you’re in a cross-border area, so watch out for the pictures you take.
Where to sleep in lake Kariba?
Lake Kariba is a tourist destination for many locals living in the city, such as Lusaka. We found different groups coming to spend the weekend there. Among the different accommodations that exist, we highlight mainly:
– Sandy beach Lodge and campsite: Situated on the shores of Lake Kariba, on a beautiful golden sandy beach, this lodge has rooms with lake views as well as camping grounds. Their restaurant is very good and they have a swimming pool. All with reasonable prices and also local customers. It is a perfect place to relax, enjoy good sunsets and swim in the lake. You can contact Herman, whose owner is German but who has lived most of his life there, sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or booking directly on his Facebook here.
– Lotri Bay Lodge and campsite: Situated on the shores of Lotri Bay, about 25 km from Lake Kariba, this Lodge offers a good place to spend a few days of rest and many activities around the lake (hiking, canoeing). , navigation and fishing, bird watching, sunset cruises …). It is located in a natural conservation area where zebras, impalas, Sable antelope, etc. have been introduced with great views of the bay. It is only accessible by 4×4 but offers boat transfers from Siavonga. They have houses in the trees and also camping. We camped with our car at the campsite for one night, but we would have stayed much longer! You can contact them by phone or Whatsapp at +260 974 775 477 (Bruce) or +260 975 684 848 (Marlene) or check his website here.
DAY 1: After crossing the Zambezi River, it was time to go up the river to reach the Kariba Dam. We took the road from Chirundu to Siavonga, and 23 kilometers before reaching the border town (we never liked border towns), we turned towards Sandy Beach, where we slept for the first night.
There, we were greeted by Herman, and we had a very interesting conversation about current affairs, as Covid was at the time. After lunch and a dip in the pool, we walked along the beach as we watched local tourists returning by boat from an excursion; fishermen entering the lake with their canoes and nets; people taking pictures of models in the sand; and, military playing football. And there is a part of Sandy Beach that is a military zone and, very kindly, we were told that we could not cross that area. So we headed back to the apartment to enjoy a great sunset and dinner at Sandy Beach.
DAY 2: Today we would take the opportunity to continue visiting the lake from another perspective. In this case, Lotri Bay. We walked along the same road that we had left and that passed between local villages. The road was getting more complicated with pieces of sand and crossing dry rivers that forced us to put the 4×4. Once in Lotri Bay, we alerted Marlene and they came to open the gate for us.
Lotri Bay is fenced off because they are doing a very interesting wildlife reintroduction project. Many years ago, that area was full of animals but they had been disappearing and now they were repopulating it with herbivores like zebras, antelopes…
Lotri Bay is a paradise on earth. It has shaded campsites right next to the lake and a fenced pool in the lake itself. In addition, you can walk around the reserve in search of animals and enjoy different activities. We took the opportunity to go canoeing and ended up (unintentionally) at the owner’s house, thinking it was the Lodge. Anyway, he greeted us very kindly and we were able to share a drink with him.
Returning from our canoe trip, we decided to go on a Sunset Cruise with other guests. These, however, got stuck in the sand and didn’t arrive on time, so we did the cruise on our own and it was great. Being able to sail on Lake Kariba while the sun was hiding behind the horizon, with a cold beer in hand and a good conversation with Marlene and the captain of the boat was one of the little pleasures we enjoyed on the lake.
It was time to go to bed after a busy day at Lake Kariba, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. The next day, we would head west; but it is already inland, leaving the lake behind and approaching the main road from Lusaka to Livingstone, the next destination for visiting Victoria Falls.