Reaching Kigoma in western Tanzania can be a challenge. Okay, Precision Air has recently resumed regular flights to Kigoma and then there’s still the option of travelling 40 hours by train from Dar-es-Salaam on the central line. But driving there with your own 4x4? You may think twice if you look at the map. We wanted to do chimpanzee tracking in the Mahale National Park and the access to this park is preferably done via Kigoma. We left from Mbeya in South Tanzania at 06h00 and managed to cover 580 kilometres to Mpanda by 18h30. 490 kilometres on a road under construction with numerous deviations, only 90 kilometres on tar road.
In a year’s time, you will have a smooth drive. (Ed: conditions have changed since writing) On the second day we still had to drive more than 300 kilometres or eight hours on mostly sandy tracks (except the last 25 kilometres) until we reached Kigoma and Lake Tanganyika. Kigoma seems much more relaxed than other Tanzanian towns. However, after two days on the road, we longed only for a nice place to chill out and prepare for the Mahale adventure. We found the perfect place for this. From the central roundabout at the railway station we took the road running parallel to the shoreline, direction south, passed the Hilltop hotel after four kilometres and after another three clicks, spotted the small board proclaiming “Beach” which directed us right through a village to Jakobsen’s Beach.
You can just follow the directions on the T4A mapset. If you’re thinking that this is not a typical African name, you are right. A retired couple from Norway built this place. They are not always present, but have very good staff to take care of the visitors. They offer a guesthouse, which sleeps 12 people, a cottage with two bedrooms, a fixed tent under a thatched roof and camping. There is no restaurant. We opted for the campsite. A staff member guided our cars down the slope close to the lake. We found a level grass area, where we could park our two campers. I guess it can accommodate a maximum of four vehicles.
The current rate for camping is Tshs10 000 (R45) per person. There are western toilets and a shower. Every evening the staff will bring you kerosene lanterns and if you want to braai they will provide charcoal for free. On the campsite you find a sink, a braai area and a lapa. The campsite is surrounded by trees and some vervet monkeys come for a visit from time to time. They can be naughty but are not aggressive. Every night a pair of spotted genets came quite close and took a major interest into our refuse bag. You have to go down some steps to reach the beach. What a surprise! You would not expect red-gold sand between some major rocks and palm trees creating a secluded cove like one on a tropical island.
In fact there are two beaches that belong to the Jakobsens and you can swim around the rocks from one to the other. It’s the perfect place to relax; we were told that the caretakers have never seen a crocodile or a hippo near this place, so swimming is safe. Lake Tanganyika is said to be at least 24° C. In October, during our visit, it felt much warmer. You can snorkel in the clear water and admire a variety of tropical fish. If you do not have your own gear you can rent it from the staff. You can also hire a sailing boat, a kayak or a rubber duck. You should ask the staff for the best track to the next fishing village if you want to buy fresh fish. There is another braai area on the beach between the rocks. So nothing can stop you from having your beach party with grilled steaks (they sell good rump steaks in town) and grilled fish and enjoying a sun-downer while the sun is setting behind the hills on the Congolese shoreline.
About Kigoma and Lake Tanganyika
Kigoma is the capital of the Kigoma region and is the most important port on Lake Tanganyika. Most of Burundi’s imports and exports are handled here. It’s also the end of the central railway line from Dar-es-Salaam. In the past, Kigoma and its surroundings accommodated thousands of refugees from DRC, Burundi and Rwanda.
With improving political stability in these countries, the number of refugee camps has decreased in recent years. Kigoma is the ideal place to start your adventure trip to Gombe Stream or Mahale Mountains National Park; both parks are famous for their chimpanzees. At 677 kilometres, Lake Tanganyika is the longest lake in the world, and with a depth of 1 436 m, the second deepest. It’s estimated to be 20 million years old and is said to contain 17 percent of the Earth’s fresh water.