The end of the road   

Published  Saturday magazine Nation media 18 November 2017

Kigoma Railway Station- Copyright Rupi Mangat
Kigoma Railway Station- Copyright Rupi Mangat

Superlatives fill the lake as l dive into the dazzling blue warm waters Lake Tanganyika. It is Africa’s longest and deepest lake – a veritable African Great Lake in the Albertine Rift, the western arm of the Great Rift Valley. It is also the world’s longest freshwater lake stretching 675 kilometers and holds 18 per cent of the world’s fresh water.

In 1858, John Speke and Richard Burton reached its shores looking for the source of the Nile and from here Speke continued to the lake he named Victoria, making an intelligent guess that it had to be the source of the Nile.

It’s simply picture perfect – a gold beach laced with huge grey boulders, hilly forest and edged by Tanganyika. It’s so clean and clear l can see the bottom – and it’s bilharzia-free. To my annoyance l haven’t carried goggles to look for the hundreds of cichlids – little fish with many species only found in this lake – or the fish-eating Storm’s water cobra that is only found in this lake and so shy that it’s seen more dead than alive in the fishers nets.

We’re finally in Kigoma the busiest port on the lake.

We’re here for two reasons. One is to sail to Gombe National Park that’s a three hour sail by motor-boat to look for chimpanzees and two is to drive to Ujiji that’s six kilometres from Kigoma where the famous words were uttered on 10 November 1871 – ‘Dr Livingstone l presume?’

Kigoma town - some relic of old German architecture - copyright Rupi Mangat
Kigoma town – some relic of old German architecture – copyright Rupi Mangat

Kigoma is the town the Germans built as the last sleeper on the 1,252-kilometer Central Line was hammered in just before the start of World War 1 in 1914 that had made its way from Dar es Salaam on the Indian Ocean along the old caravan route. Ostensibly Kigoma Railway Station is the most impressive building in the quiet little town cocooned by the lakeshore.

At Kigoma we’re also close to Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo. We see local boats ferrying passengers to and fro so heavily laden with all sorts of ware. Had we planned it better with a few more days, we could have sailed on MV Liemba to Zambia.

MV Liemba is no ordinary ship. Built in 1913 in Germany and christened Graf Goetzen after the governor in the German colony, it was used with two other ships to patrol the lake. But in 1916 when the Germans were forced to retreat from Kigoma, the ship’s captain had her scuttled in Katabe Bay in Kigoma.  In 1924, the British Royal Navy salvaged her and she’s been in service since 1926 when she was restored. Liemba is also the only vessel from the German Imperial Navy still sailing in the world. She’s been featured in many movies including The African Queen and though l don’t see her on the lake, l’ve seen the model at the Railway Museum in Nairobi.

Strolling on the private beach at Jakobsen Beach and Guesthouse, l climb the slope into a natural garden left for the zebras and antelopes to browse away. It’s a few minutes’ drive into the narrow-laned town where l meet Dr Anthony Collins of Jane Goodall Institute based in town who recommends a local eatery for the mgebuka – a delicacy of Lake Tanganyika. It’s a subspecies of the Nile Perch, fried and so delicious that only the bones remain.

Sunrise over Kigoma - copyright Rupi Mangat
Sunrise over Kigoma – copyright Rupi Mangat

In the first light of the morning as the red-hot sun goes up, we’re on the motor boat to Gombe in search of the chimpanzees.

At Kigoma

Road map of Tanzania - trace our journey from Nairobi via Arusha to Tabora and then L.Tanganyika
Road map of Tanzania – trace our journey from Nairobi via Arusha to Tabora and then L.Tanganyika

The road from Arusha to Kigoma (1,053km is smooth tarmac except for three sections after Tabora but easy for saloon cars). Map your journey with overnight at Tabora or Singida – nice hotels on route – average Ksh 5000 for a room BB.

For the intrepid, The MV Liemba sails every week from Kigoma to Mpulungu in Zambia at the southern tip of the lake, stopping at a number of other lakeside towns in Tanzania on the way. The MV Mwongozo sails from Kigoma to Baraka , Uvira and Bujumbura at the northern tip of the lake Tanganyika.


In Kigoma stay at Jakobsen Beach and Guesthouse – it’s has a private beach. They will help hire a motor boat to Gombe and other places like Katavi National Park or Mahale National Park (130km south). You can camp, or take one of the cottages equipped with a kitchen.


Remember for Tanzania you need your passport and Yellow fever card – for Kenyans entry into national parks is East African rate and very affordable.